Week 16 showed Pro Bowl voting flaw, weakness of No. 4 seeds

Week 16 couldn't have been scripted any better, as the results left us with as many questions as answers.

1. Hold off on Pro Bowl voting

As Panthers RB DeAngelo Williams ran for four touchdowns, Chargers QB Philip Rivers threw for four scores and Dolphins QB Chad Pennington connected on three TD passes Sunday, I again wondered why Pro Bowl voting can't take place after the regular season is over. Some of the year's biggest games always happen after the Pro Bowl teams are announced, and it doesn't make any sense to eliminate those performances from the decision-making process.

Wouldn't you like to vote on the AFC quarterbacks next week after Rivers challenges Broncos QB Jay Cutler for the West title and Pennington meets Jets QB Brett Favre in the Meadowlands for the East crown?

Kirwan's unsung heroes

Jim Washburn

Defensive line coach,
Tennessee Titans

The Titans played the Steelers without defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, so Washburn, a 10-year coach for Tennessee, called on rookie Jason Jones (3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles), Jacob Ford and David Ball to beat Pittsburgh. Washburn is a great coach who always has his players ready to complete.

Greg Blache

Defensive coordinator,
Washington Redskins

The Redskins almost shut out the Eagles, who could have been in the driver's seat for a playoff spot with a win but lost 10-3. Blache, a 21-year NFL veteran, devised a game plan that led to two sacks, one fumble recovery and total domination on third downs (3-of-14, 21 percent).

Kevin Coyle

Defensive backs coach,
Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals blanked the Browns in Cleveland, and cornerback Leon Hall had more interception-return yards and points (three picks for 87 yards and one touchdown) than any of Cincinnati's wideouts had in receptions. Safety Chinedum Ndukwe added a sack on an excellent day for the secondary.

Turk Schonert

Offensive coordinator, Buffalo Bills
Schonert recently has been criticized because of questionable calls and his offense's struggles, but he has dealt with injuries, especially at quarterback and wide receiver. In Week 16, the former QB with 13 years of coaching experience led an offense that scored 30 points in a victory over the Broncos. Denver went into the fourth quarter with a 20-16 lead, but two touchdown passes from a healthy Trent Edwards to two backup players gave Buffalo the win.

Tom Rathman

Running backs coach, Oakland Raiders
It's hard to tell who deserves credit in Oakland, but I do know that Ratham is one heck of a coach and has done a terrific job with the running backs during this season of turmoil in Oakland. Rathman was a great NFL player for nine years before dedicating the next 10 to coaching. Under him, Oakland's running backs had 139 yards, caught six passes for 45 yards and did a fine job blocking for QB JaMarcus Russell in a home victory over Houston.

Clarence Shelmon


*Note: For nine years, I have written the Unsung Heroes column during the season to bring attention to the people behind the scenes who help make some of the extraordinary things happen in the NFL on any given weekend.

At the end of the year, the Unsung Hero of the Year is presented a trophy made in the name of Chip Myers, a longtime NFL assistant coach and former player who passed away just days after he was elevated to his first coordinator position with the Minnesota Vikings. Chip was well respected by everyone in the coaching ranks and embodied all the virtues that assistant coaches need to be successful. He was humble, a good teacher, a loyal friend and a tireless worker.*

2. Wild-card teams look better than No. 4s

The No. 4 seed in each conference has a very good chance of finishing with eight or, at best, nine wins. The 8-7 Cardinals didn't look good while being run over by the Patriots on Sunday, and the 8-7 Broncos likely will struggle to beat the Chargers in San Diego next week.

But the wild-card teams in each conference will have better records and appear to be more dangerous. No one wants to play the red-hot Colts (locked in as the AFC's No. 5 seed at 11-4), the 10-5 Ravens or the 10-5 Patriots, or NFC wild-card candidates such as the 11-4 Panthers and the 10-5 Falcons, one of whom will win the South.

It looks like another season in which a wild-card team will go deep into the playoffs.

3. Towel off, Titans

I was sitting with Bill Cowher when the camera at the Steelers-Titans game zoomed in on Tennessee's Keith Bulluck and LenDale White stepping on a "Terrible Towel," the symbol of Pittsburgh. For a moment, it seemed like Cowher was back as coach of the Steelers, and he warned the Titans that it was a big mistake to do such a thing after a game.

Credit Tennessee for the win, but the towel stomping fuels the fire for a rematch, and it won't be pretty if these teams meet again. I'm sure Titans coach Jeff Fisher didn't think his players' method of celebration was a good idea.

4. Officials keep flags in pockets

It always seems that when playoff berths are on the line, the officials let teams play. The number of calls are reduced, and the game is left to the players to win or lose. I don't mean that officials ignore the calls, but they aren't hung up on a lot of ticky-tack penalties.

In the 15 games played Thursday, Saturday or Sunday, 14 teams were called for three or fewer penalties. The Texans had only one penalty, and the Cowboys were the lone team in double digits with 10 infractions. With fewer calls, games had better flow, and eight of them finished in under three hours.

5. Spoilers do their part

Some teams controlled their own playoff fate and dropped the ball -- partly because of their opponents' desire not to let them clinch. Pride can produce one last stand when an opponent is playoff-bound and you're not.

The Bills spent the whole week hearing that they needed a new coach, a front-office overhaul and better players, but they refused to let the Broncos walk into the playoffs. Buffalo has another chance to play spoiler this weekend against New England.

And even though they were 3-11 entering the game, the Seahawks weren't going to hand the Jets the win they desperately needed to stay atop the AFC East.

Redskins coach Jim Zorn called himself the worst coach in America last week to absorb the pressure surrounding his players. They responded by beating the Eagles, who had their playoff path cleared when the Cowboys and Buccaneers had already lost. It was interesting to see Redskins LB London Fletcher on the sideline letting his coach know that the players appreciated him for taking the heat for the team's recent problems.

6. Singletary should stay

Sometimes, it's a good thing to fire the coach and tear down the team, and sometimes, it's a big mistake.

The right thing for the 49ers is to give Mike Singletary a contract extension and be grateful that they stumbled onto a coach who can motivate men. I want to see what Singletary, who's 4-4 as San Francisco's interim coach after Sunday's 17-16 victory over the Rams, can accomplish when given an offseason to mold the team and the staff.

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