The most interesting day in modern NFL history

Monday, December 29, 2008 - 07:52 AM

Listen to Jeff Beresford-Howe discuss the eventful NFL Sunday on The Takeaway.

Yesterday may have been the single most interesting day in the modern history of the NFL, and it was certainly the most amazing final day of the season in any sport in a long time. Any one of the following would be a big story, but all of them in the span of about 12 hours?

The Detroit Lions go 0-16

The Detroit Lions lost 31-21 at Lambeau Field to a mediocre Green Bay Packers team and became the first team in the history of the league to go 0-16. That's pretty terrible, obviously — great comic fodder — but some of the accompanying handwringing may be a tad overwrought.

The NFL season is only 16 games long. Virtually every sport has a team that loses around 16 games in a row at some point during their seasons. It's kind of amazing that it took this long for it to happen in the NFL. Over the last two seasons, the Lions have lost 17 in a row — nowhere near the NFL record of 26 set by the expansion Tampa Bay Bucs.

This season doesn't even mean the Lions are doomed next season. Things turn around fast in the NFL. How fast? Last year at the halfway point of the season, the Lions were 6-2 and the Miami Dolphins, this year's AFC East champs, were 0-8.

Doomed Lions' head coach Rod Marinelli said after the game that the main reason the kittens finished 0-16 record was "lack of execution," which brings to mind the famous quote from John McKay, who coached that 26-loss Bucs team. Asked after a game about his team's execution, McKay responded, "I'm in favor of it."

Four teams blow it

Four win-and-in teams, Denver, Dallas, Chicago and Tampa Bay, blew their shot at the playoffs, three of them in humiliating, clean-out-the-organization fiascos. The Dallas Cowboys lost 44-6 to the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Denver Broncos looked like they were giving flag football a shot in a 52-21 loss to the San Diego Chargers. At least they were playing in front of jacked up, hostile crowds. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, playing at home against the almost preternaturally hapless Oakland Raiders, lost 31-24. The Chicago Bears missed out too, losing on the road by a touchdown to the improving, but definitively mediocre, Houston Texans.

Tom Brady may be out for another year

ESPN reported that the NFL's best player, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, is having a disastrous post-knee surgery rehab experience and may miss the 2009 season after having already missed all but a couple of plays in the 2008 season. This leaves perennial powerhouse New England with an agonizing decision. One option is to retain Brady and re-sign this season's QB, Matt Cassel, who's going to be a very pricy free agent. The problem with that is that it leaves the Patriots with very little money in the salary-capped NFL to bring in any other talent. Or, the Patriots can dump Brady, cutting ties with the three-time Super Bowl champion, face of the organization and emotional heart of the team. Or they can let Cassel go on to free agent riches elsewhere, pray that Brady can play in 2009 and face disaster if he can't. No matter what they do, this may be the end of the line for New England's domination of the AFC.

Bill Parcells may leave Miami

It also emerged yesterday that Cassel won't necessarily by the biggest free agent out there. That title may go to nonpareil team architect and fixer Bill Parcells, who may leave the Dolphins. It came out Sunday that Parcells's contract is essentially a personal services deal with Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga, who is selling the team in a fit of pique over the end of Bush-era tax policies. Parcells has an out in his contract if Huizenga sells, and after turning the Dolphins around from 1-15 last year to 11-5 this year, exercising that out would make him the hottest free agent ticket in football.

The tiebreaking system picks the Dolphins over the Patriots (thanks to the Jets)

The NFL's byzantine tiebreaking system bit the league in the ass yesterday in a way that challenges the integrity of the games. In order to make the playoffs, the New York Jets needed a victory over Miami and, in a game played simultaneously in Charm City, a Jacksonville Jaguars victory over the Baltimore Ravens. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around in both games, however, the Ravens were crushing Jacksonville and the Jets found themselves in a bizarre situation: With their season essentially over, a Jets victory would put their hated rivals the Patriots in a the playoffs while a Jets loss would put the Dolphins in.

(The "rivalry" isn't one of those cutesy things; the coaching staffs have a tangled history including accusations of disloyalty, cheating and ratting out friends.)

How the Jets responded is the scandal: They laid down and died in a miasma of blocked punts, dropped interceptions, over- and underthrown passes and even a penalty of almost unicorn-ish rarity: an offensive facemask call. It turned an otherwise excellent game into a disgrace. It didn't help that Jets coach Eric Mangini and his quarterback, Brett Favre, spent most of the quarter watching from the sidelines with disgusted, I'd-rather-be-anywhere-else-than-with-this-bozo looks.

The End of Favre?

And oh yeah, on an unexpectedly balmy night in Giants Stadium, the 39-year-old Brett Favre, the winningest quarterback in league history, may have played his last game. Favre is complaining about a sore shoulder — again — and retirement talk has begun — again. Favre has about as much credibility talking about the future as George W. Bush. It's not worth paying attention to anything he says until next summer.

Listen to Jeff Beresford-Howe discuss the eventful NFL Sunday on The Takeaway.


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Comments [2]


It's not clear whether you're blaming the NFL's tiebreaking system for the situation the Jets were in, but if so, it's misplaced blame. ANY tiebreaking system will potentially put one team in a position where they can keep another team out of the playoffs by beating that team in the final week. Therefore, that team will also have the ability to put a third team in the playoffs with a final-week loss. If there was anything scandalous about the Jets' loss, blame the Jets, not the NFL.

Jan. 01 2009 09:15 PM

The Patriots aren't going anywhere soon. Think about this for a second--they started the greenest QB in NFL history for an entire season, had injury lists that would doom nearly any other team, had a run of bad weather games almost unparalleled in NFL history, and had almost every possible break go against them all season long--and STILL were in the playoff hunt after their Week 17 game.

Add back all the injured players and, oh yeah, extra draft picks, and I see no reason to think that the Patriots aren't going to contend like they have every season since 2001.

Dec. 29 2008 10:12 AM

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