It will hit John Harbaugh over the coming days, weeks and months just how thin the line is between winning a Super Bowl and missing the playoffs.
The Baltimore Ravens coach just wasn’t in the mood to reflect upon it Sunday afternoon, in the wake of the defending champs being eliminated from postseason contention.
“I’m not really thinking about that. Does it make you guys appreciate what we’ve done?” Harbaugh said when asked if his team’s going home early puts last year’s run to a title in perspective. “It’s a tough league. The question (from the reporter) is ‘appreciate,’ but we’re not ever going to be content with not making the playoffs. That’s just not something that’s going to be OK with me personally or any of us, (GM) Ozzie (Newsome) or any player here. That’s what makes it tough and disappointing.”
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Though it would be of no solace for Harbaugh to hear this, it’s a surprise to few that the Super Bowl champs missed the playoffs and didn’t sniff another Lombardi Trophy. In fact, over the past five years, it’s the norm.
This year’s Ravens joined the 2012 New York Giants and the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers as defending champions that didn’t even make the playoffs the following season. So over the past five years, three champs didn’t even make it to the following postseason.
Making matters even worse for those looking to repeat is the fact that even those who have made the playoffs haven’t been able to advance. Since the Patriots became the last team to repeat eight years ago, defending champs have won only one playoff game. That one came via those Patriots in 2005, when they knocked off the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the four postseason games for defending champs since then, there’s not a win to be found.
This is what the NFL wanted. Parity. It has it. And for defending champions, whose seasons extend into February and then find themselves back to work in less than six months, it continues to be extremely tough to replicate that success right away.
Five quick takes
1. The focus right now is on the head coaches, as it should be, but there will be a lot of turnover with coordinators in the weeks to come, even where head coaches are expected to remain in place.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys and St. Louis Rams are all teams that fit into that category. Todd Haley could be out in Pittsburgh, Kevin Gilbride might be gone with the Giants, Brian Schottenheimer could get his walking papers in St. Louis and Greg Schiano could be making lots of changes to his staff — if he keeps his own job, of course. And as FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer reported on "FOX NFL Sunday," the Cowboys might be making another switch at defensive coordinator, thus sending Monte Kiffin on his way after an extremely disappointing year for the Cowboys’ defense.
It’s a good year to be a highly touted position coach. Lots of those guys will be making their way into those coordinator spots for the first time. And a few head coaches who get bounced will find safety nets.
2. The Cleveland Browns went hard after Chip Kelly last offseason, pretty much going all in to try nailing him down. They didn’t get him. Then, they had to “reboot” their coaching search, as one report put it, and tried to sell Rob Chudzinski as their guy all along. Well, now Chudzinski is gone after less than a full year, and owner Jimmy Haslam can’t be happy about eating the rest of that contract.
Chudzinski’s dismissal is an embarrassment for a front office that got a jump-start on last offseason when CEO Joe Banner was hired in October and Mike Lombardi was slated to come aboard as general manager well before the end of the season. This is a duo that has received plenty of criticism in the past and will get plenty more starting, well, now. They picked up an extra first-round pick with the trade of running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts, though that’s about the only move that could possibly garner them some good will in the Cleveland region right now. Browns fans, we feel for you right now. You deserve better.
3. The Eagles-Saints game Saturday will be a fantastic matchup between two outstanding offensive minds. It’s a short week to form a game plan, but you’d still have to think the advantage goes to Chip Kelly and Sean Payton and their personnel over the two defensive coordinators and their players, even though Billy Davis and Rob Ryan have directed their units to be much better than expected this season. Kelly and Payton will put their guys in position to make plays.
As long as the forecast remains decent for Saturday in Philly — as of this filing, they’re calling for a high of only 29 degrees, though no precipitation is expected — don’t be surprised if the Saints shake off the road woes offensively. They’ll listen all week long to how they can’t play in the cold, on the road and/or on grass. They’ll be ready to play and score. Expect Kelly’s offense to keep up, as well.
4. There’s a serious poker match going on right now between New York Jets coach Rex Ryan and owner Woody Johnson. Ryan played his hand early on by telling his players in a meeting the word on the street was he was going to be fired at the end of the season — something he surely knew would eventually get out. That shifted the narrative and got Jets fans and players to pledge their support for Ryan. That suddenly put the pressure on Johnson, who responded by announcing after Sunday’s victory over the Miami Dolphins that Ryan would be back in 2014. Johnson followed that by posting a picture of a smiling Ryan on Instagram along with a caption that read, “Great end to the season. Looking forward to more success with this guy.”
Ryan is under contract for next year. If he’s not the coach, it’ll be because he resigned. Johnson has clinched that with his public declaration Ryan would be retained. Remember, it took Johnson more than a week to address Ryan’s fate with the media after last season. In this case, he was extremely eager to do so. That puts the ball back in Ryan’s court. Ryan wants a long-term extension and feels he has enough leverage to push for one now. Will the Jets give him one? That’s unclear right now, which is why it’s still not a lock Ryan will coach the Jets next season. Stay tuned.
5. It’s so hard to win a game in this league when you’re a team that needs the victory and you’re facing a team that doesn’t need it. The pressure is enough to get a team to tighten up. The Miami Dolphins’ losing to the Buffalo Bills and the Jets the past two weeks illustrated that, as did the Giants’ victory over the Detroit Lions last week. Even the teams that were able to hold on had to sweat it out. The Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers learned that in two hard-fought games against the suddenly scrappy Atlanta Falcons. The Chargers were obviously much tighter than the Chiefs’ backups Sunday. And last week, the Cowboys and Tony Romo had to gut one out against the Washington Redskins.
Remember this next year when you look at the Week 16 and 17 matchups and chalk up what seem to be easy victories for teams needing to get into the playoffs.
Ten even quicker takes
• Aaron Rodgers: He’s only going to get more comfortable. This isn’t a sprain or a tear he’s battling through, where he has to work through pain. It’s just about mental comfort, and even Rodgers stated after Sunday’s game he’s going to improve in that department. He knocked off the rust quickly on Sunday. Look out, NFC.
• Cary Williams: The Eagles cornerback got off to a horrendous start with the coaching staff and the fan base by missing much of OTAs and saying the reason he did so was to pick out sconces for his new house. But give Williams credit because he played very well this season and broke up the 2-point conversion that was the difference in Philadelphia’s win Sunday over the Dallas Cowboys.
• Brandon Boykin: Another Eagles corner who deserves a ton of credit. His interception to seal the win over Dallas was his sixth of the season. And he’s not even a starter.
• Jerrel Jernigan: One of the few bright spots for the Giants down the stretch, the 2011 third-round pick had 16 catches for 237 yards and two touchdowns over the last three games. At this point, Hakeem Nicks seems on his way out of town as a free agent. Having Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and Jernigan as a trio if Nicks walks isn’t too shabby.
• Mike Tomlin: To even have that Pittsburgh Steelers team in contention and be a missed field goal by the Kansas City Chiefs (plus a missed penalty against the San Diego Chargers on that play) away from being in the postseason speaks to Tomlin’s ability as a head coach. The fact some have even mentioned he’d be on the hot seat earlier this year is a joke.
• Marvin Lewis: Time to get that first career playoff win. He and the Cincinnati Bengals haven’t lost at home this year, so maybe it’s about to happen.
• Indianapolis Colts: Don’t sleep on them. In their last three games, they gave up a total of 20 points. I understand two of those games were against the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars, but the other game was against the Chiefs. They could at least make a little bit of noise in the postseason.
• Leslie Frazier: The way he embraced each player and coach as they made their way to the postgame locker room indicated he knew what his fate would be. He’ll be back on his feet as a defensive coordinator soon.
• 49ers: If you’re all about the hot team going into the postseason, they’re your crew. Six straight is the longest winning streak in the NFL heading into the playoffs.
• Tony Gonzalez: A class act from start to finish who could play in 2014 if he so chose. Odds are he’ll stick to his word on this one but will be successful in whatever he decides. It was a pleasure to watch him play.