Turner, Phillips seemingly given new life -- for now

It could have easily gone the other way for Norv Turner and Wade Phillips, given the respective nightmares they experienced on Sunday.

The San Diego Chargers could have fired Turner on Monday. Instead, they extended his contract.

The Dallas Cowboys could have fired Phillips on Monday. Nothing's official, but reports are that the Cowboys have exercised an option to retain him through 2010 and are working on an extension.

But just how good, really, should Turner and Phillips feel about their "survival" after the Chargers' stunning loss to the New York Jets and the Cowboys' surprising lopsided defeat against the Minnesota Vikings?

When taking the topic to a couple of other coaches in the NFL, I found the typical response to be the following: Although a contract extension is everyone's goal in the coaching business, Turner and Phillips will be under enormous pressure in 2010.

The natural follow-up question, of course, is could the pressure possibly be any greater than it was entering the 2009 season?

The answer: Yes, for Turner, and about the same for Phillips, who was already presumed to be in a get-to-the-Super-Bowl-or-get-out circumstance.

"They screwed up," one NFL coach said. "The bar's set high, so they've got to perform. They've got to win in the postseason, because nothing else matters anymore with these teams."

Turner had seemingly secured his extension by leading the Chargers to an 11-0 finish to the regular season after a 2-3 start. Still, he's going to have an extremely hard time living down the fact the Chargers, once again, turned a regular season of great promise into a postseason of crushing disappointment.

Turner no doubt will hear endless criticism for allowing the second-seeded Chargers to lose, 17-14, at home to the fifth-seeded Jets, whose playoff entry was viewed as more of a gift than something that was truly earned. And there no doubt will be all sorts of questions about how the Chargers lost -- by being careless with the ball, drawing too many penalties, and making what looked like a panic move with an onside kickoff following a late touchdown.

"(Former NFL coach) Ted Marchibroda used to say, 'More games are lost than won in the NFL,'" another NFL coach said. "That game is typical of that. That game was lost, not won.

"Maybe (the Chargers) were too uptight, maybe (Turner) had them too gunned up. But you also have to look at that kicker (Nate Kaeding, who missed three field goals). They ought to cut that guy. There are guys that perform in the regular season and there are guys that perform in 'show time.' You need guys that perform in 'show time,' and that guy didn't do it."

Kaeding isn't likely to go anywhere; he reportedly has a contract, worth $12.65 million, that runs through 2012 and would at least keep him with San Diego through 2010. But his misses might have cost the Chargers more than a playoff game. It could very well have cost them public support in their efforts to get a new stadium. An appearance in Super Bowl XLIV would have been the strongest possible marketing campaign they could have had. Another failed playoff experience could be extremely damaging, especially with the Super Bowl window of opportunity only likely to get smaller.

The same NFL coach who thought the Chargers might have been uptight also thought the Cowboys might have "outsmarted themselves" with some of the coverages they used against the Vikings. Brett Favre burned Dallas' secondary for four touchdown passes.

"On that first touchdown (47 yards to Sidney Rice) down the sideline, the corner (Terence Newman) was supposed to jam that wide receiver, and if you looked at the safety (Gerald Sensabaugh), he turned around (in the end zone as if to say), 'Where's the jam?'" the coach said. "So something was messed up. I'd also say, as a team, they didn't look ready to go. It seemed like they were saying, 'Don't give up the big play, play cautious,' instead of, 'Let's cut it loose and let it fly.'"

For Phillips' sake, the Cowboys did avoid their typical December swoon. They did score a resounding win against the Philadelphia Eagles, thought to be another hot team entering the playoffs, in the wild-card round.

Cowboys linebacker Bradie James might have best summed up the logic team owner Jerry Jones applied to picking up Phillips' option when he told the Dallas Morning News: "In three years we've won two division championships. I think that's a pretty good résumé. It wouldn't make any sense to let him go right now."

Perhaps an even bigger lingering issue from the loss to Minnesota is the terrible showing by quarterback Tony Romo, who needed this postseason to validate himself as a top-level quarterback. Romo had been on the right path with a strong December and with his performance in the wild-card game.

However, when he shared the same field as Favre, he experienced a meltdown. An NFL coach used a different term to describe it, but you get the idea.

Observation points

» At least one AFC coach says he would not at all be surprised if the Jets beat the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game. Here's his reasoning: "The Colts have speed (on defense), but the Jets can run the ball on them, and that's going to be the key. The Jets' offensive line is so much bigger than the Colts' (defensive front). The Colts have a bunch of little guys who run around and go sideways. And sideways guys get pushed backwards."

» Running back LaDainian Tomlinson has almost certainly played his final game with the Chargers. He has pretty much resigned himself to that fact, although he vows to continue to play somewhere. The bottom line is, despite once being the face of the franchise and as classy a player as there has been in the NFL, he lost his effectiveness in a pass-oriented offense. And when the Chargers tried running the ball with him, especially in the divisional round, he consistently slammed into a wall of Jets defenders on plays that seemed to do nothing but give the defense a chance to rest. It's hard to see another team being excited about adding an older running back at the end of his career, but perhaps he could find a complementary role somewhere. Maybe Kansas City?

» The Chargers have one of the longest lists of players due to become unrestricted and restricted free agents this offseason. On the presumption that no collective bargaining agreement will be reached in time to prevent an uncapped year in 2010, these players originally slated to be unrestricted free agents will be restricted free agents: Linebacker Shawne Merriman, wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, running back Darren Sproles, and offensive tackle Marcus McNeill. The fact they are restricted would seem to make it easier for the Chargers to retain them. And retaining them would make sense for a team looking to make another Super Bowl run.

» Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Joe DeLamielleure is asking to get the word out on a "Celebrities for Charity" raffle that he has helped organize to raise funds for the City of Children Orphanage in Matamoros, Mexico. In addition, he and two of his former teammates from Michigan State are part of Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos (Spanish for "Our little brothers and sisters"), which has orphanages in nine countries, including Haiti. A building serving children with disabilities at the orphanage in Haiti suffered severe damage from the earthquake that struck there last week. The raffle prizes include: Two tickets to Super Bowl XLIV in South Florida, two tickets to the Taste of the NFL event at the Super Bowl, and a $1,500 travel allowance. You can participate in the raffle by clicking here.

Championship Game rankings

  1. Minnesota: The Vikings were too dominant in beating the Cowboys, arguably the hottest team entering the postseason, to be anywhere but at the top of this list.
  1. New Orleans: Dominating any opponent in the divisional round is impressive, but you have to wonder just how much the Arizona Cardinals had left after that shootout against Green Bay. You also have to question a Cardinals defense that couldn't stop anything in back-to-back games.
  1. Indianapolis: That was a solid victory over Baltimore, although the Ravens are a beat-up bunch whose key players are getting too old to perform in the big games.
  1. New York Jets: They are, by far, the best story of this NFL season. Their reaching the Super Bowl would make the game far more interesting than it would be otherwise, regardless of the opponent.
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