As we do every week, let's take a swing around the NFL, looking at a bunch of stories that caught my attention...
So, what's been up?
1. The Cowboys are a run-first team. Or, I should say, they were.
That was their thought going into the season, especially with the way running back DeMarco Murray ended last season and started this one. Run the ball, play-action, play keep-away. And even when Murray went down and it was clear Felix Jones was too banged up to really help, coach Jason Garrett still stuck to his guns. They tried like crazy to pound it. Then... they fell behind 23-0 to the New York Giants. And Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo led four scoring drives in 20 minutes in an eventual loss.
Against the Atlanta Falcons, it was more of the same. Down 16-6, Romo went 6-of-6 for 78 yards and a score, though his defense couldn't get him the ball back in time. Romo has thrived in two-minute, hurry-up situations. It's the one look where he's been his best.
With a leaky offensive line, with playmaking receivers, with no running game, it's time. In my view -- particularly against a Philadelphia Eagles defense that allows you to drive as much as you want -- it's time.
The Cowboys need to go hurry-up Sunday against the Eagles, and do it a lot. There are negatives. In my mind, they are far out-weighed by the positives. Even if you put your defense in a bad spot time-of-possession-wise, they are good enough to deal with it.
Romo was asked about it this week and said, "I think it's great." Offensive coordinator Bill Callahan said, "It's a good way to get a spark in your club."
If the Cowboys falter at all on Sunday, even early, this is the answer. Plus, if they really start going fast, it'll tire out that Eagles' front and make it harder to block. Risky? Maybe. Sometimes, a risk is OK.
2. Really rough times in Jacksonville, which is a supreme understatement.
The Jaguars' starting running back Maurice Jones-Drew is out, their starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert is among the top five-worst in the NFL based on his passer rating of 76.9, and they haven't won since September. Yeesh.
The Jags aren't competitive. Afterward, they said all the right things, with first-year coach Mike Mularkey trying to put his best foot forward, though even Mularkey admitted he's tired and doesn't have the energy he did earlier in the season.
"We would like to finish this thing strong on an upward course in every direction," Mularkey said.
Seems it'll only get worse. Which is why I'm told so many in that organization are walking around like their fate has been determined. Coaches are fearful, those in the organization are, too. They are scared a housecleaning is coming, with general manager Gene Smith likely taking a fall. This is the opinion of, well, anyone I speak to with knowledge of the business. They have reached the point of doing their jobs and waiting for whatever comes. So, maybe it was no surprise that owner Shad Khan went on the team's website and made some stinging comments that did nothing to change anyone's minds.
"It's sad. It's embarrassing, but I think there are better days ahead," he told Jaguars All-Access. Later, Khan added that he won't rush to judgment, which indicates he will let the season play out. Mercifully, it will. And then? No one is safe with the Jaguars.
3. Let me say, I support charitable endeavors. And I love how devoted the NFL is to the communities it supports, and teams are fantastic about giving what they can.
When Superstorm Sandy hit, it was the NFL at its finest. The league and the NFL Players Association got together to donate $1 million to the recovery efforts. The New York Giants sprung into action, giving and visiting affected areas. So did the Miami Dolphins and owner Stephen Ross. Yet... where were the New York Jets? Even Lady Gaga gave $1 million immediately before Gang Green got involved.
Finally, on Friday the Jets gave $500,000. A nice gesture, of course, but what took so long? More than a week? Why does it seem like the Jets caved to public pressure when everyone else had given and they hadn't? Only when everyone started yelling did they act. It should be a no-brainer, not something you wait eight days for.
Now, I understand from the Jets' point of view. They wanted to make sure they gave to the right charities and ended up splitting the donation between the Mayor's Fund for NYC Hurricane Relief (for New York City), the Salvation Army (for Nassau and Suffolk Counties) and the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund.
So, good. They hit all of their fan base spots. I also get the view that it shouldn't be a PR battle -- but it is. That's reality. When a major organization or someone famous gives money, it spurs others. The effect on the public is part of it.
And, considering the anger from the Jets fans I talked to over how long it took for the organization to notice, it didn't help their standing in the public. I may be wrong. But I was miffed by this.
4. I wonder what's gotten into Stevie Johnson. Maturity, perhaps? Say it ain't so. But, I think it is so.
The Buffalo Bills receiver had been one of a dying breed of NFL divas, decorating the end zones with dances that got him penalized and fined. He also entertained us with ridiculous acts (that I loved) like revealing an undershirt that said, "Why so serious?"
Old sages like Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, no doubt, were proud.
Yet... Johnson sung a different tune this week while speaking with New England Patriots' reporters. Last time he was in Massachusetts, he fired a (fake) musket in Gillette Stadium. Asked what he has planned this time, Johnson said, "I pretty much just want to get in the end zone and keep my team ahead."
Wait, what? Yup, Johnson is turning over a new leaf. Yes, he wants to celebrate. He believes team-oriented celebrations should be allowed. But it sounds like he's over tweaking the NFL, maybe because it just doesn't pay off. You won't win, you'll lose money, and you kinda look like a jerk, even if you're not. Sounds like he just wants to score. And so, I'd be shocked if Johnson broke out an outlandish celebration in Foxborough if he scores. Still ... listen to his plea for celebration leniency.
"We put in this work from Monday all of the way to Sunday," Johnson told reporters Wednesday. "You know how hard it is to get in the end zone. Just to get there is like, 'Man, I did it.' Just want to celebrate a little bit. I think it should be legal to celebrate at least with your teammates. You put in a lot of work throughout the week to get in the end zone and when you get there you feel like you cannot even do anything."
Now, I'm starting to change my mind. After visiting Philly this week, listening to the Eagles coach and talking to people, I'm thinking Reid will essentially follow the model set by owner Jeffrey Lurie.
What Lurie wants is for Reid, Vick and everyone to finish the season and provide a complete view of the team and where it's headed. Then he'll make a decision.
Lurie has said playoffs or bust, and everyone has adopted the mindset. But to get there, Reid is appearing set to do what he's done. Keep Vick as his starter (and how can you start Nick Foles behind that offensive line?). Make a few small changes. Then go out and do it.
"We gotta sharpen our game," Reid said. "A few small things we need to take care of."
I don't know if this ship is going down -- evidence would suggest it's more than possible -- but Reid looks like he's going wherever this ship is headed with his guys.
When I ask people around the NFL who they think the Eagles quarterback will be at the end of this year, the response I get is always something like this: "Understand how loyal Andy is." As in, understand he's sticking with Vick. Suddenly, that prospect doesn't seem so crazy, especially since maybe he's the only one who can thrive behind that terrible O-line.
The only worry is that losing and failing will become the norm. Philly D-lineman Cullen Jenkins addressed that.
"When things are going bad now and it's not happening it's starting to become normal now, guys are accepting it of being normal now," Jenkins said. "And we've got to make sure we don't let it get like that."
Easier said than done.
He's just a weird dude, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. Actually, I kinda like him because he does what he does and he doesn't seem to care about the criticism of nonsensical stuff.
And while we spend too much time trying to judge his body language, I think he spends that time laughing at us for trying. Can't argue that. Why do I bring this up now? I was reading his comments from Showtime's Inside the NFL, where he talks about how he showers his linemen with gifts.
"I've got them everything from suits to watches, first-class airline tickets. I take care of them," Cutler told Showtime.
Um, he does? I thought he was supposed to be a disciplinarian with his line. Well ... then he says, when the line was playing terrible last week, he had to crank it up.
"I told them halfway through the game, 'Guys, I can't be nice to you if we're going to play like this,'" Cutler said. "'I'm going to have be mean to you.'"
Huh? That's pretty hilarious. It just means I don't understand any of the other interactions, including when he pushed left tackle J'Marcus Webb. So, I'm done trying.
Jay, do whatever you want. I won't pretend to get it.
7. Speaking of the Bears, they play the Houston Texans on Sunday night. Big game. Two 7-1 teams, two of the NFL's best, plenty of time to make an impression. Yes, time to win, too. Plenty at stake, but there is something about showing the nation you got game.
I've seen the Texans play. I think they're really good, one of the AFC's two best teams. But few others have gotten a chance to watch them. And the last time they were on prime time, the Green Bay Packers beat their butt.
That's why Sunday's game against the Bears is so big. If the Texans beat Chicago, Houston will have earned the respect of the football-watching public. Not that it actually means anything. The results on the field are more important. But, for an organization that has done things the right way but is so often under the radar, it would be nice. Listen to pass-rusher Connor Barwin explain.
"Last time, we didn't play very well," Barwin said, talking about the Texans' last Sunday night game. "So hopefully we can go out and have a better showing and show that there is another really good defense that will be playing on Sunday night."
Added J.J. Watt: "We will have an opportunity to show the world what we're about."
Yup, they know.
Sounds like the team is in really good hands, though Banner's resume probably told us that already. I just really liked his view on hiring in general, noting how plenty of peeps hire their friends or those they have history with. He stressed going out and being open to hiring whoever, not just someone he knows.
"For me, the pool of potential talent is the entire league and all the relationships I've developed over the years," Banner told The Plain Dealer. "I'm not just going to be plucking people out of my past. You see coaches come in and the whole staff is somebody they used to work with. They're not hiring the best of the best when they do that."
That's just great to hear. There's probably a bunch of talented people without great connections who nodded at that statement. On the other hand, the interview didn't have great news for coach Pat Shurmur, who is trying to keep his job. Banner noted how his bias is for a coach who has say over the 53-man roster ... and Shurmur isn't a personnel guy.
He has a chance, but that statement probably wasn't great for him.
9. The New Orleans Saints struggled for much of this year, failing to find offensive efficiency. Without coach Sean Payton, Drew Brees flailed in ways he usually didn't, and there were some growing pains for the unit. Yet credit where it's due. Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael found a way to neutralize the Eagles' wide-nine look on "Monday Night Football," and running backs Chris Ivory (10 carries for 48 yards), Mark Ingram (seven carries for 44 yards) and Pierre Thomas (six carries for 44 yards) thrived in the run game.
"We looked at the film in New Orleans, one of the things New Orleans did, they did a lot of things to get us out of the wide-nine," Jenkins explained. "They were keeping the wings in and it turns our ends into inside players and they're not outside. They're coming, getting the ends inside and then bouncing a lot of the things to the outside. And a lot of the plays, we were in position to make plays for a loss or no gain. And we just didn't. We gotta do more to get it stopped."
Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.