Luck, skill and Jones-Drew carry Jaguars
What a week in the NFL.
We honor America, question the Jets and Packers, predict the AFC West, help the NFL with the Vikings schedule, and pay tribute to Brett Favre. Seriously.
Time for the SCHEIN 9, assuming Sal Alosi doesn’t trip us.
1. America’s Team
If you watch “Cosmic Schein” on FOXSports.com or listen to the Sirius Blitz, you know that we call the Jaguars “America’s Team” because they are always slotted 32 out of 32 in the annual Harris Interactive Poll ranking a team’s popularity. The Jaguars barely register as Jacksonville’s team, which is a true shame. “America’s Team” is a catchy underdog role that players like Maurice Jones-Drew and David Garrard have embraced when they come on the radio show, trying to get some rightful pub for the Jaguars.
And preseason, let’s be honest, the morale was low. Nobody picked the Jags to make the playoffs. Nobody picked the Jags to finish third! Most had the Colts, Texans and Titans all rightly ranked ahead. The owner and coach publically criticized the quarterback in the offseason. The unknown general manager seemingly reached for a player in the draft. There were talks about the team moving at some point to Los Angeles or London. And the big debates weren’t about win totals, they were about the dates the quarterback would get benched and when the head coach would get fired.
Well, something happened en route to unemployment, relocation and the cellar of the AFC South. The Jaguars, after another slow start, after looking flat-out wretched and hapless in gruesome losses, have won five of their last six. And with a win in Indy on Sunday, the Jaguars would clinch the AFC South.
And here’s the beauty: I fully expect the Jaguars to beat the Colts on Sunday.
Last season, the Jaguars marched into the Meadowlands and beat the Jets to control their own destiny for making the playoffs. And then the Jaguars collapsed. Both Garrard and Jones-Drew have told us that they were motivated all offseason by what happened, vowing to never let it take place again. While I most certainly believed them, never did I think it would translate to a winning season.
Monday on Sirius NFL Radio, Mike Sims-Walker explained, “Last year we didn’t finish. We had a lot of young guys who hit the wall. Those guys have returned and matured. We now have a different mind-set and attitude. Everyone is buying into Jack (Del Rio) and Gene (Smith). There is not a better coach in this league than Jack. He’s been so positive, keeping us together after the bad losses early, after the San Diego and Philly games. He’s never shied away from criticism. He is the coach of the year.”
Ah, yes — Jack and Gene.
Del Rio seemed to be a goner after those aforementioned losses earlier in the year. Del Rio, who recycles assistants at an alarming rate, seemed just to be buying time. But according to Sims-Walker, Del Rio convinced his 1-2 Jaguars to focus and avoid criticism for the Week 4 showdown against the Colts, winning it on a Josh Scobee bomb field goal at the gun. After the Jaguars’ losing way reared its ugly head again with consecutive losses to the Titans (in disgraceful fashion on Monday Night Football) and the Chiefs, Del Rio rallied the troops for a shocking win in Dallas before the bye week.
Have the Jags been lucky? Absolutely. Are you questioning how good they actually are? Of course you are. When the Jaguars are bad, they are an eyesore. But they shouldn’t apologize for Scobee’s field goal, or Mike Thomas’ catch on the Hail Mary against Houston, or Indy being ravaged by a stunning number of key injuries. And in the five losses, Jacksonville has looked really, really bad. But when they’ve been on, they’ve had sizzle, and they’ve also earned it.
Garrard has evened out his play, survived an early witch hunt to have him benched or cut, and has become the leader that the coach and owner begged him to be. Marcedes Lewis has been a touchdown machine at tight end.
But the real difference maker is Jones-Drew. When we asked Colts coach Jim Caldwell about what makes MJD so good, he quipped, “Besides the balance, power, speed, deceptiveness and the fact he can catch the ball out of the backfield?”
Or as Sims-Walker said, “I need new pads and I love it. We are a running team. Our running game is so good. Maurice is so small but so powerful. And our offensive line has gelled." At 1,278 rushing yards, doing it with injuries along the offensive line, Jones-Drew has been the single most valuable running back in the league this year and worthy of being named to the All-Pro team. Jones-Drew has carried the Jaguars. He leads the NFL in rushing yards and is a top-five candidate for league MVP.
The defense has been up and down all year but clutch during the recent stretch. Gene Smith’s “reach” of defensive tackle Tyson Alualu has played beyond expectations. Smith smartly traded for Kirk Morrison, who has anchored the linebackers. And the defense deserves a ton of credit for surviving the season-ending loss of pass rusher and team leader Aaron Kampman.
I get it. Nobody wants to see the Jaguars in the playoffs. You want Peyton Manning. He’s an all-time great.
Jacksonville is used to being disrespected. In Sims-Walker’s words, “It would mean everything to be the AFC South champs. Nobody on the outside thought it was possible. To bring a division title to Jacksonville, when everyone talked Los Angeles in the offseason, it would mean everything to the guys and everything to the city.”
It would. Now, unlike last year, seal the deal and make it happen in the big spot. Prove you have learned your lesson. It’s America’s Team. Everyone loves the underdog. The Jaguars are good for the soul, good for the country.
2. Road warriors
Great job by the NFL putting the Giants and Vikings in Detroit after the Metrodome roof collapsed. You couldn’t play outside at the University of Minnesota because the Giants packed for an indoor game.
But the Vikes and Giants felt like a preseason atmosphere on Monday night. With ample time to prepare, the Vikings should play the remainder of their home games, starting this Monday against the Bears, outside in Minnesota. That will give them a distinct advantage with the home crowd.
3. Wild, wild West
Sometimes stats lie. The Chargers outgaining the Chiefs 426 to 67 tells you all you need to know. And I don’t want to hear that K.C. was missing Matt Cassel. The Chargers were that good.
But here’s a strong take for you.
I think BOTH the Chargers and Chiefs run the table. San Diego is 7-6 and has the Niners at home on Thursday before playing at the pathetic Bengals and Broncos.
Kansas City is in St. Louis then has the Titans and Raiders at home.
Think about it.
Which puts the pressure on . . .
4. Same old Jets
I thought the culture was changed. This was a pathetic, wretched, fraudulent loss at home to Miami. How do you come out flat against the Dolphins after losing by 42 to the Patriots? How do you lose a game in which Chad Henne completed five total passes and was begging you to win the game?
Mark Sanchez was horrible for the third straight game. Rex Ryan’s in-game decisions were awful. The Jets offensive line and running attack were nonexistent.
The Jets are 9-4 with dates in Pittsburgh and in Chicago coming up. Uh-oh.
Panic in New York and panic in . . .
5. Pack it in, Packers?
Injuries happen. And Aaron Rodgers' second concussion is a major concern. But the fact is, Green Bay was leaving points on the field in Detroit even before Rodgers went down.
At 8-5, the Packers have the Patriots, Giants and Bears. My preseason Super Bowl team is in trouble, especially after the Bucs survived Washington to improve to 8-5.
6. Schein’s anatomy
Perhaps lost in the Philly win in Dallas was the Eagles losing Stewart Bradley, the pulse of their defense. And the Eagles’ young pass rusher, Brandon Graham, is done for the campaign. These are major, devastating injuries for the Eagles heading into the showdown in New York on Sunday against the Giants.
Tashard Choice — How do you ask division rival Mike Vick for an autograph on the field after a loss? That's inexplicable!
Mike Shanahan — His game and clock management at the end of the first half was awful.
The Redskins field-goal team — Graham Gano missed two easy field goals. And how do you botch an extra point to tie the score at the end with nine seconds to go?
Tarvaris Jackson — My guy had a chance. My guy failed.
9. Three nuggets of wisdom
• I’m so sick of the annual Brett Favre drama, his self-love, the love his lackeys in the media give him. But he deserves so much credit for being an iron man all these years.
• The Ravens win a wild one on Monday night with Josh Wilson picking off Matt Schaub in overtime for a “walk-off” win. But Baltimore blew the game in the fourth quarter. If the defense doesn’t play better, the Ravens will be walking out of the playoffs early.
• Imagine this. An overtime decided on defense! Here’s a brilliant idea: Let’s change the overtime rules!