In the holiday season, we honor the ultimate rags to riches story and the two most unsung heroes on offense and defense this year.
And a certain coach could be getting a pink slip this Christmas.
Happy Football Friday! It’s time for our weekly NFL sizzle and fizzle.
This offseason, the Jets finally cut the epic bust that was Vernon Gholston. When Mike Tannenbaum and the Jets brought in Aaron Maybin in August, the Bills version of Gholston, it drew eye-rolls and laughs. Maybin, like Gholson, was a top-10 pick drafted to rush the passer, who had accumulated a total of zero sacks. And when Maybin was in Buffalo, those on the team, in the brass, and around the team whispered in unison whether or not he even wanted to play football. His name in Buffalo, with complaints about his work ethic and how much he liked football, quite frankly, was mud.
A funny thing has happened over the last few months. Aaron Maybin has become the single best pass rusher on the Jets. It’s more than fair to wonder aloud where the Jets defense would be without him. He sealed the win last Sunday against Washington with a dagger fourth-quarter sack of Rex Grossman. Not bad for a guy who was actually cut by the Jets in early September and on the street and available for the 31 other teams. Not bad for a guy who was at a career crossroads three months ago.
Catching up with Maybin this week, he went out of his way to praise the Bills, telling us, “The Bills organization changed my life.” But in an in-depth interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Maybin explained why things have changed for him, while taking responsibility for what went wrong in lovely Western, NY. The outside linebacker said, “The faith this coaching staff has in me I didn’t earn in Buffalo. I couldn’t convince Coach (Chan) Gailey I could be the difference maker. I don’t think any rookie has a complete handle on how to be a pro. I was young. It was a transition period. I needed to mature. Sometimes, for whatever reason, things don’t work out. Nobody was more frustrated about what happened in Buffalo than I was. I wanted to be the player the Bills saw when they drafted me. In New York, Coach (Rex) Ryan, (defensive coordinator) Coach (Mike) Pettine, and I all believe the game is supposed to be played the same way. They don’t have to tell me how hard to go. They understand me. They understand my speed and my effort. They know I want to win more than anything.”
I had very little expectations in talking to Maybin. It was a genuine treat. He was humble and contrite. I received several texts and emails from NFL types, ranging from executives to journalists, who came away impressed and had their perception of Maybin changed.
In nine games with the Jets, Maybin has six sacks. In 27 games with the Bills, he had none. Ryan and Pettine don’t play Maybin on every down. They ask him to solely rush the passer and he’s done so in superb fashion.
I ripped the Jets for taking a flyer on Maybin. I couldn’t find anyone associated with the Bills to say a good word about him. But he deserves a ton of credit for persevering. He’s a legit candidate for comeback player of the year, coming back from being the ultimate bust to key difference maker.
I can’t get enough of this cat. The Patriots’ star tight end is a trip. He has a great attitude and adds character to the usually vanilla Patriots. And the reason Gronk’s personality is accepted is because he loves football and grooves on being a Patriot.
He works incredibly hard.
Talking to Gronkowski on the SiriusXM Blitz on Wednesday, Gronk told us that extra practice is the reason he’s enjoyed success to the tune of 14 touchdowns this season. Gronkowski explained, “It started when I got here. Tom and I stay late together and I run routes after practice.”
Gronkowski has emerged as a true match-up nightmare for defenses and Tom Brady’s go-to-guy, especially in the red zone.
Patrick Willis has the name, but Bowman, arguably, has had the better season. Willis’ partner-in-crime at linebacker is one of the elite tacklers in the NFL. Bowman has 110 tackles on the season with 7 pass break-ups. Bowman told us this week he deserves to make the Pro Bowl and be on the Associated Press first team All-Pro squad. Bowman said, “I think I deserve it. I put in more work than anyone this offseason. I’m not complacent. I’m playing next to one of the best. I learned from Patrick how to pay attention to the little things.”
Bowman stressed to us how important it is for the Niners to keep winning and get the No. 2 seed, even after clinching the division last week. I totally agree. Bowman said, “A bye would be huge. We can’t rest on our laurels. We need to keep doing the things that got us this far.”
The Ravens guard has had an outstanding year. He’s on my short list for first team All-Pro at guard. Do you realize he hasn’t committed a penalty all year? Do you realize how successful Ray Rice is running behind him?
Yanda took one for the team and moved to tackle last year because of injury. Talking to Yanda on the SiriusXM Blitz yesterday, he explained how much more comfortable he is at guard. He’s playing like it. He’s got a great nasty streak and has been a model of consistency for John Harbaugh.
Think about all of the clueless diva receivers we have in the NFL. I won’t even mention DeSean Jackson by name. Now think about how Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target is the open receiver. Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb form the best and deepest group of receivers in the league. That’s not even including tight end Jermichael Finley. And the receivers have checked their egos at the door. They stay humbled and focused, even when Rodgers looks for someone else. Or as Mike McCarthy explained to us, “We have great character in our receiver room. They want the ball but they have great chemistry and they know it starts with the quarterback. And with the quarterback, they benefit.”
I don’t feel good singling out Raheem as the lone negative this week. He’s a great guy, a weekly guest on our radio show. But the ship in Tampa is sinking, and fast. After a great season filled with overachievement last year, the Bucs are an unmitigated disaster. They have completely fallen apart after a good start. The Bucs were 4-2 after a Week 6 win against the Saints. They are currently a grotesque 4-8. Tampa plays the horrible Jaguars on Sunday. And I can’t stress enough how much I like the Jaguars to win, solely based upon effort, Maurice Jones-Drew and fundamentals.
What’s truly troubling is Raheem’s answers on why the team is losing. It is the same thing, week in and week out. The offense starts slow. They can’t establish the run. The tackling is poor. Yet, there are no adjustments. That’s coaching. The Bucs have talent. They shouldn’t have been bludgeoned by the Carolina Panthers.
And that’s what truly tipped the scales for me. On our radio show, Morris called the Panthers the better team. That’s just wrong and totally unacceptable.
Morris chased Brian Price to the locker room during the Carolina game. It seemed to be a major overreaction and frustration at the losing.
This is Morris’ third year. And his seat is roasting. There is no guarantee he makes it to Year 4 in Tampa.