Each Monday, Pat Kirwan provides six observations from Sunday's action.
Should the Big Apple hit the panic button?
Like anyone who lives in New York, I can feel the pressure mounting in the Big Apple after both football teams lost this weekend. The Giants and Jets still have time to right the ship but getting things straightened out is now only an option for one of them since they play each other this Saturday. Both teams are used to bouncing back from disaster. Which team has what it takes this time?
The Giants looked flat in their loss to the Washington Redskins. When the Giants coaching staff studies the Jets-Eagles game they will see LeSean McCoy rush for three touchdowns, and Tom Coughlin will see ways to feature Ahmad Bradshaw next week. The Giants have issues with their pass rush and their coverage. The Redskins came into New York with a beat-up offensive line and still only gave up one sack. It's clear the G-men miss Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck. The Giants need at least one of them back for the Jets game or their corners will be exposed by Santonio Holmes and former Giant Plaxico Burress.
The Jets may be in more trouble than the Giants. Without safety Jim Leonhard on the field, their pressure defense just wasn't the same. It rarely happens that a Rex Ryan defense doesn't get to a quarterback once in a game, but Michael Vick wasn't sacked on Sunday (three late sacks of Vince Young didn't represent the true nature of the game). Mark Sanchez, on the other hand, was sacked four times. For the Jets to beat the Giants, running back Shonn Greene has to have a big day, but the Giants weren't bad in slowing the Redskins' Roy Helu down (23 carries for 53 yards), and they will get after Greene.
The Giants can still win their division if they win their last two games, but probably won't get a wild card because the Lions and Falcons are two games ahead of them. The Jets can only hope for a wild-card berth with the Patriots already clinching the AFC East, but Gang Green has losses to wild-card candidates Oakland, Baltimore and Denver. The Giants rarely do much talking while the Jets will let you know how good they are when there are microphones in front of them. The Giants do not have to leave their home stadium for the rest of the regular season, while the Jets have to go to Miami at the end of the year.
Spoilers turning into contenders?
In my guide to Week 15, I picked the Eagles and the Seahawks as top spoilers. The Eagles dismantled the Jets and Seattle put it to the Bears, leaving both losing teams in trouble. Add the San Diego Chargers to the list of spoilers after they mauled the Ravens and you really have to wonder how dangerous these three teams would be if they got into the playoffs.
The Seahawks are a young team building a foundation for years to come, and when you consider they have beaten the Eagles, Giants and Ravens this year before this win over the Bears, it is time to get excited about Seattle. Next week, they play the division-leading 49ers at home with San Francisco coming off a short week.
The Chargers finally got healthy on offense and Philip Rivers hasn't thrown an interception in four games. Ryan Mathews was very effective against Baltimore's No. 2 rush defense. In the last four weeks, Mathews has touched the ball 93 times for 513 yards. Next week the Chargers travel to Detroit -- another team holding onto a playoff spot.
Packers concerns increase
It was easy to see the Green Bay Packers as a machine just running over the rest of the NFL. It started back in the 2010 playoffs and continued until this week, when the Pack's 19-game winning streak came to an end on the same weekend that the 1997 Broncos ended their winning streak at 13 with a loss to the Giants. I sat with Shannon Sharpe Sunday and we talked about how that loss actually helped propel the Broncos to a Super Bowl championship. Will it be the same for the Packers in 2011?
All season, I have stated my concern about the Packers protecting Aaron Rodgers. This week Rodgers was sacked four times, tackled twice and hit at least another five times. Right now he is being sacked once every 14 pass attempts. With tackles Bryan Bulaga and Derek Sherrod injured this week and the Bears coming to Lambeau Field next week, who is going to keep Julius Peppers and the blitzing Bears off of Rodgers?
Chicago experiment is tough to watch
The Chicago Bears were looking like an elite team back on Nov. 20 when they won their fifth in a row and were sitting at 7-3. Then came injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte and then came the losing. Caleb Hanie came off the bench in last season's NFC title game and completed 13 of 20 passes for 153 yards. Prior to that day, he had completed 8 of 12 passes in his career. The Bears liked what they saw in that playoff game and in practice -- so much so that they gave Hanie the backup QB spot this year (although they put in a claim for Kyle Orton when the Broncos released him). After Sunday's loss to the Seahawks, Hanie is now 0-4 as a starter with three touchdown passes, nine interceptions and 19 sacks. The playoffs are fading fast for the Bears. Ironically, Orton led the Chiefs to a win over the Packers this week and could have done the same for Chicago -- which, by the way, plays the Packers next week.
Hats off to the interim head coaches
Firing a head coach in season isn't a very good business decision most of the time. Players start to wonder whose next and the interim coach doesn't have a lot of time to effect change. But my hat is off to Romeo Crennel of the Chiefs and Todd Bowles of the Dolphins for getting their "new" teams ready to win this week.
The more I think about Crennel in Kansas City, the more I'm convinced he should emerge as the top candidate for the job. Crennel knows the way Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli does business and it would be a perfect transition. Pioli could find a smart young offensive coordinator to be groomed as the future head coach, but for the next few years, the Chiefs would be wise to turn this team over to Crennel.
As for Bowles down in Miami, he's in a tough spot with the owner trying to make a splash. Nonetheless, it did not go unnoticed how the team responded to him in the snow up in Buffalo. I remember like it was yesterday when a certain New York Giants head coach (Ray Perkins) left the club for college and the team hired a young assistant from the staff no one really knew, and that turned out OK. His name was Bill Parcells. Sometimes the best candidate is right under your nose.
Forget Tebow Time: It's Skelton time
Skelton Time started Nov. 6 when the second-year QB from Fordham took over for the injured Kevin Kolb. The Cardinals were 1-6 and going nowhere. Skelton was considered a project at best but all he did was win games and he did it again this week, raising his record to 5-1 with 313 yards in an overtime win vs. the Browns. In six games Skelton has eight touchdown passes, 10 interceptions and 16 sacks. It's not pretty but it is getting better and I have to wonder why he hasn't earned the right to start even when Kolb is healthy.