As we do every week, let's take a swing around the NFL and look at a bunch of stories that have grabbed my attention...
So, what's been up?
1. It's not his fault, but Tim Tebow has distracted us. We've spent all this time focusing on his inclusion in the Jets offense, wondering how he'll be used, championing the role of the punt protector, discussing the Wildcat like it was fire or the wheel. And as much as I'd like to criticize this obsession, I'm as much to blame as anyone, not just as a producer but as a consumer.
As much as I like to write about Tebow, I also find myself clicking on every article written, just because I'm curious. But still, we've spent far too much time on Tebow and far too little time on what the Jets aren't: they are not a circus; they are not a clown car; they are not a trainwreck.
Despite what you saw against the Patriots, the Jets aren't a joke. There's nothing funny about getting blown out by your rival on national TV. The fact that Mark Sanchez ran into his offensive lineman's butt only punctuated it.
What has Tebow distracted us from? That the Jets are bad; bad team, bad talent. Why was Tebow active against the Patriots despite having cracked ribs? Because it sounded like he convinced Rex Ryan that he wanted to be standing there and supporting the team, whatever that means.
He wasn't really a backup QB, since he was injured. Greg McElroy should've dressed. But Rex succumbed to Tebow's wishes, which may be the only time I can remember Ryan didn't put winning first. And think about how many skill position players on offense would start on good teams in the NFL? Would Stephen Hill, Chaz Schilens or Shonn Greene? What about those aging linebackers, including fading Bart Scott? I swear I hadn't heard of most of their reserves.
Don't forgot the stars they've lost -- Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes. After the game, as the New York Daily News pointed out, their three healthy receivers were Jeremy Kerley, Hill, and Jordan White. Really. Who are these guys? That's why Sanchez is still the quarterback, because it's not him. It's why the Jets will really have to think long and hard before jettisoning Ryan at the end of the year.It's why, as angry and frustrated and embarrassed as owner Woody Johnson is, he'll need a serious understanding of what Ryan is working with as he judges him. If this gets worse -- and it may -- I think Ryan should be safe. As knee-jerk as Johnson wants to be, it's tough to blame a coach with this scraggly group of players. The person picking the players? That's another issue.
2. Midway through the Texans' dramatic and improbable win over the Lions on Thursday, the cameras caught all-time nice guy and Houston sack master J.J. Watt in a screaming match with defensive line coach Bill Kollar. It was uncharacteristic, I thought, considering Watt isn't known as the kind of guy who would get into it with his coach.
But maybe he should be. Maybe the Watt we think we know isn't him at all.
Everyone loves the feel-good story, the college walk-on who made good. Yet that didn't come with a little fire. It didn't come with an attitude that was fine with taking crap from anybody.
Asked by the Houston Chronicle about the incident, Watt joked, "We were telling each other how thankful we are at Thanksgiving," then admitted he was in the wrong. Watt said they argued over whether he ran the play call wrong. Koller told reporters, "(Stuff) like that happens all the time. I'm gonna do it earlier next week."
Watt had three sacks, by the way. Sounds like this is part of who Watt is. Remember, this is the same Watt who is a notorious trash-talker, who told diminutive Ravens RB Ray Rice that he has eaten burritos bigger than him.
No, Watt is not a mild-mannered nice guy on the field, nor on the sidelines. I'd guess that's one reason why he's so dominant. He doesn't like anyone informing him that his way is wrong, even when it is. It's one of the intangibles that separates the pretty good from the really dynamic.
Oh, and one more thing. I received plenty of messages that this would be all over the news if the same scenario happened to Bears QB Jay Cutler. First of all, the Watt story was all over the news. Second of all, seeing Watt engaged and fiery with his coach is different from Cutler walking away from his.
3. The Cowboys have an identity crisis, and until they get it figured out, they aren't doing anything. At 5-6, even with all the doom and gloom following the loss to the Redskins, they do have a chance at the playoffs.
Yet having watched them this year, I would be surprised if they have it in them for a real, hardcore playoff push. But hey, it's possible.
The issue I have with the Cowboys? Their injury problems are bad. They've had so many. Against the Redskins they had six defensive starters out -- that's brutal. But other teams deal with similar issues. As owner Jerry Jones said, "We just have to do like you have to in the NFL. You have to put guys out there that can make up for them. We have no other choice. You can't just manufacture players."
But the Cowboys have depth issues. Unlike, say, the Patriots who lose right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and simply slide in stout Marcus Cannon. Not like the Giants, who are never healthy and never care.
Instead, the Cowboys lose a center and have to find one on the street with Ryan Cook. Then he gets injured, and the answer is guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, who had only played once at center during the preseason. At linebacker, Sean Lee gets injured, and suddenly off-the-couch Ernie Sims is starting. Same with safety Charlie Peprah, who was also off the couch.
Really good teams have a strong middle class, players 30 to 53. That's how you get good special teams, that's how you get good depth.
Dallas doesn't have nearly enough. They have stars, yes. Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarcus Ware, etc. But that's not what wins. It's the players who emerge into key roles when guys get hurt that win. And Dallas doesn't have enough of them.
4. On Friday afternoon, NFL.com and NFL Network's Albert Breer reported that the NFL's Competition Committee will considering the abolition of below-the-waist blocks. He cited officiating czar Ray Anderson. As in, Jets guard Matt Slauson would not have been allowed to dive at the knees of Texans linebacker Brian Cushing, ruining this season. It was that way for Chiefs safety Eric Berry last year, too.
NFL Gives Back to the CommunityTake a look at how the NFL gave back to the community this Thanksgiving.
When I argued for outlawing cut-blocks earlier in the season, it was after talking with Cushing. To review, Cushing talked with me mostly about how front-on cut-blocking could be OK, but hitting from the side (as happened to him) should not be. Cushing said, "It's a gray area because everyone's going to be arguing 'Did he see him when he cut him?' Maybe after this situation, and review of this play, some things can change."
I hope so. And now, there is hope. Cut-blocking should be illegal. What part of diving at a player's knees makes sense? How was that even legal to begin with? So, yes, I'm for it.
It does raise several issues. Including: Should blocking at the knees be illegal, but blocking at the thigh pads is OK? Will it re-focus offensive linemen on fundamentals, as it should? How will running backs block blitzing linebackers? Will the fullbacks suddenly be back in style for third downs? And if blocking below the waist isn't allowed, why is tackling a runner below the waist totally fine?
Lots of questions, but all stuff that can be figured out. I love this idea.
5. I know coaches like to say every year is different and every team is different. Sure. I'll allow it.
But there are some characteristics that follow teams from year to year. It's why some things never change and some teams never change -- the Lions, the Cowboys, the Patriots, the Steelers, etc. All the same as always.
Yet I can't help but think what the Redskins are going through now will help them for years. There is a ton of youth, including at QB with Robert Griffin III, and they were 3-6. Their coach Mike Shanahan already admitted the season was over. Except, all they did was beat two division rivals -- the Eagles and the Cowboys -- doing so on RG3's back. That's fighting against all odds.
I don't think the 'Skins can get to the playoffs, though math says they still can. But this stretch will have meaning. As RG3 said after the game, after another four-TD performance, "I feel as if something is building. Being 3-6, the character of your team is tested. If you don't beat the Eagles, now you're 3-7 and you're likely to kill your season or the morale of your team ... we come out on Thanksgiving. Hey, we might have thought we could do it. Now we know we can do it and it's in our hands."
This may be where it begins for the Skins.
I've watched him kick Texans QB Matt Schaub in the junk about 10 times. I have no idea whether he did it on purpose or not. He couldn't be dumb enough to flagrantly foul another player on Thanksgiving with the world watching, could he? Hey, maybe Schaub kept trying to untie Suh's cleats like Packers lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith did (or not).
Suh fled the locker room before reporters could speak to him, either to dodge the reaction because of something he knows he did or to get his thoughts together before speaking publicly.
But here's the crazy thing: Suh played great. He was a disruptive force all game. For all the flack he's gotten about lack of stats, he's really playing well. Dominating. And he's only had one penalty this whole year.
No one cares, which is really sad for him and also seems to be his fault. Off-the-field incidents are bad, but forgivable in our world. On-the-field incidents are much more indelible. That's why Suh will never get the benefit of the doubt ever again.
I don't know if he kicked Schaub on purpose. But I bet most people out there do. It's to the point with Suh that, even as good as he's been this year, I wonder if the Lions still view him in their long-term plans. How can they?
At some point, you wonder if it's worth it to hitch your wagons to this guy. And I wonder if that point came when his toe met Schuab's...ya know, stuff.
I talked to three scouts this week about the move, and they were all over the map. One said Kaepernick made the 49ers better immediately because of his deep-ball skills. Another scout said he is the future of the team, but stressed Kaepernick isn't ready to give the team more than Alex Smith can right now. And a third said he wasn't buying the media hype of Kaepernick.
Yes, he threw for 240 yards and two scores against the Bears, and yes his pocket presence has improved. But the scout is not ready to call him the next Brett Favre. Yet it appears Harbaugh is going with the future now.
Two things that jump to mind: One takes me back to part of the rationale of Bill Belichick when he chose between Patriots QBs Tom Brady and Drew Bledsoe. Brady was ascending, Bledsoe was flat-lining as far as talent, so Belichick chose Brady. Simple. The future is important. Same with this situation.
And the other thing is, nothing is permanent. The 49ers have an offense that is feared on many levels, but not QB. If there is a chance to have a QB that is dynamic, they need to take that. Smith has shown over and over he can handle being slighted. He can deal with being overlooked.
If he has to come in and relieve Kaepernick, Smith can deal. That's one reason Harbaugh had to take this chance. Smith's ability to withstand slights helps the team, though it doesn't do him any favors.
8. The Jaguars put disappointing QB Blaine Gabbert on injured reserve earlier in the week, ending his woeful season. He had a non-throwing shoulder injury, along with a bunch of other ailments, and he wasn't getting it done. Could he have played, though? Absolutely.
Instead, coach Mike Mularkey changed course, inserting Chad Henne in as the starter. And then Mularkey took it up a notch, saying Henne could essentially win the starting job for 2013 by playing well. As Mularkey said, "I could probably say yes based on finishing that way."
So what does this mean?
Well, one thing is that Gabbert's draft status no longer matters. He's their first-round pick from last year, but who cares? He'll have to earn everything now. You wonder why it wasn't that way at the beginning.
The other thing is, I don't believe the Jaguars ownership is enamored with Mularkey and his staff. I do believe his job status is up in the air. But what if Henne pulls out a few wins? And the team gets Maurice Jones-Drew back next week and looks solid? Could that convince owner Shahid Khan that it was Gabbert who was the problem, and not the coaching? Could Khan decide that GM Gene Smith's pick of Gabbert was the crushing blow, not Mularkey's coaching?
How well Henne plays could have wide-ranging ramifications, including possibly saving Mularkey's job status. Things just got very interesting in Jacksonville.
9. Late into the night on Thursday, after the Patriots had destroyed the Jets on national TV, Tom Brady took to the podium for his post-game news conference. It was a rather mundane interview, with even Brady asking for questions when none came at the beginning. But mixed in there somewhere were some eye-opening words from Brady.
It was something I've never heard before. He was asked about Bill Belichick's 200th win, and Brady began waxing poetic. "There's no coach I'd ever want to play for than him," Brady said. Oh. This is significant because the QB's contract runs through 2014, at which point Brady will turn 37.
He has said he wants to play until 40. Meanwhile, it's entirely possible that Belichick will want to find the next Brady at that time, and -- much like happens with every other veteran in the world -- the Pats could go with a younger, cheaper option who presents the most upside for the future. It's not crazy -- look what the Colts did.
My personal opinion has always been that Brady would then end up in a place like San Francisco, back home, and finish his career. Perhaps my guess is wrong. Thursday's statement wasn't definitive. But Brady simply saying he wouldn't want to play for another coach besides Belichick was the first time I've thought that maybe Brady will be done after his contract expires. And that's something.Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @rapsheet.