2006 NFL Season – Looking Back
Now that the regular season is over, except for a meaningless Favre-fest on NBC featuring the Packers and Bears, I’ve decided to put down a few reflections. This has been a strange season for many teams because of unbelievable inconsistency. The pendulum swings teams suffered this year will not be easily forgotten. The Giants, as a New York team, garnered most of the spotlight. They began the season 6-2, then proceeded to lose 6 of their next 7. The Denver Broncos began the season 7-2. They managed to limp across the finish line at 9-7 and miss the playoffs following a home loss to the 49ers. The Tennessee Titans began the season 0-5, and 2-7. With a rookie QB at the helm, they won 6 in a row and beat playoff hungry teams like Indianapolis, Philadelphia, the New York Giants, Jacksonville, and Buffalo. The Eagles played a high-flying, but inconsistent brand of football all season long. They lost on a 62-yard field goal to the Buccaneers, and then lost Donovan McNabb while playing against the Titans. The Eagles dropped that game and fell to 5-6. They haven’t lost since. They flew to 10-6 with road wins over the Giants, Cowboys and Redskins.
I can’t recall another season with so many ups and downs. At the beginning of the season, I had some bright ideas, and some that I’d prefer not to repeat. Here are some random thoughts about the season – as the Packers return an interception of Rex Grossman for a touchdown:
- I picked the Saints to win 10 games this season – and I thought Drew Brees would have a great year. I drafted Brees as my first QB in my FFL. The Saints, however, won those 10 games in a more convincing fashion than I imagined possible. The emergence of Marques Colston was totally unexpected. The team deserves a great deal of credit for their performance and their focus during this season.
- The Saints will likely approach the post-season with a great degree of composure. I suspect that Coach Sean Payton and QB Drew Brees will be able to call upon their experiences in big games to set the right tone on both sides of the ball. If the Saints can keep a commitment to the running game, they should be able to dominate weaker defenses like the Bears, Seahawks, Giants and Cowboys. Heavy doses of Deuce could go a long way.
- I didn’t have a good feeling about the Steelers this season. They turned out to be a bit worse than mediocre. The Steelers beat only 2 playoff teams this season: the Chiefs and Saints. I have to say that I was pleased to see their W over the rival Bengals today. The Bengal-Steeler rivalry is intense in large part because the coaches and veteran players respect one another, but many of the younger Bengals do not respect the Steelers and believe they have a superior team. Carson Palmer and TJ Houshmanzadeh have consistently stated as much. Of course, this position is becoming increasingly untenable as the Steelers consistently knock the Bengals out of the playoffs. Both teams may be tremendously disappointed with their seasons, but the entire Steeler Nation is smiling after knocking Cincy out of the playoffs.
- There were three calls on a single drive in the 4th quarter of the Pitt-Cincy game where officials ruled against the Steelers and allowed the Bengals to take repeated shots at the end zone. The first call was a roughing the passer call which likely ends the drive. Palmer is hit in the chest (it appeared the ball was still in his hands – OR – he’d just released it). The second call was a clear fumble which was ruled an incomplete pass. The third call was ruled pass interference. The Steeler DB was face guarding, but did not appear to touch the Bengal receiver. In the end, it matters little because the Steelers put these calls behind them just as they did in last year’s playoff game against the Colts. These were the same types of calls the Seahawks were not able to overcome in the Super Bowl…and even though they had the ball in the Red Zone three times, they couldn’t get the job done. Resilience does not have a permanent home, but it’s nice to see it show up occasionally.
- The Colts are a smoke and mirrors team who will not have a long run in the playoffs. Next week, they’ll play a team that I thought could make a strong playoff run this season. The Chiefs were lucky to make the playoffs. They dropped tough mid-to-late season games at Miami, home to Baltimore, at San Diego, and at Cleveland. However, they made the playoffs by beating a tough Jacksonville team. I’m wondering how the Colts will stop Larry Johnson next week. I know they did just fine against Rudi Johnson and the Bengals, but the Chiefs are fully committed to the running game. The Chiefs also have Ty Law and Patrick Surtain. I know they can’t run with Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, but Ty Law has lived “rent free” in Peyton Manning’s head for nearly a decade.
- The Bears are in trouble. Grossman is not the answer. Griese is definitely not the answer – he’s just not Grossman. Without Tommie Harris and Tank Johnson, the Bears defense is not scaring anyone. Without the ability to pass the ball, the Bears simply cannot rely on Devin Hester to save their bacon in the playoffs. Perhaps the football gods (Papa Halas and Walter Payton) can scare up a blizzard or two to equalize home games for the Bears.
- The Steelers do not have an attractive Head Coaching candidate to replace Bill Cowher. If he leaves this year, the franchise must make sure that Dick LeBeau does not leave. The Steelers have considerable talent on both sides of the ball, but that may not be enough. There are significant needs along the offensive line. Alan Faneca is the lone star on that line. He needs help.
- I wonder if the Patriots were happy that Denver missed the playoffs? The Pats last few losses have been to AFC playoff teams Indianapolis, the New York Jets, and the Denver Broncos. The Chargers and Ravens are clearly the class of the conference. I don’t know that the Chiefs are much of a reprieve for anyone, but the Pats cannot be expecting to be around for long. I like the tandem of Dillon and Maroney, but I don’t suspect they can dominate teams who can use 7 defenders to stuff the run (Baltimore/San Diego).
- The Atlanta Falcons need a serious overhaul. They have a light defense which is susceptible to wearing down against physical teams. They have undersized running backs who cannot score rushing touchdowns in the red zone. They have wide receivers with questionable hands. They have a QB who is erratic and is ill-suited to the current system. I don’t know how much of this is attributable to the coach. Much of this sounds like the general manager has a long-term plan which has not come to fruition. The Falcons are run by the Bucs former GM who did a great job in Tampa…but McKay honestly has not been in Atlanta long enough to make the Falcons over in his own image. The team was not fashioned in Jim Mora, Jr’s. image either. The Falcons are a hybrid team missing several pieces and lacking direction. Firing the coach is not likely to solve all of the issues facing this team.
- Back to the matter of the Bears…Ahman Green just tossed a couple of guys off of his body – as if they were diseased. Don’t think McAlister and Marion Barber and Tiki Barber won’t do the exact same thing.
- The two rookie linebackers that I liked to have standout seasons were Houston’s DeMeco Ryans and Cleveland’s Kamerion Wimbley. I had opportunities to watch both play on several occasions collegiately – Ryans at Alabama; Wimbley at Florida State. Both were impressive then, and both were impressive this year. I didn’t see enough of them to decide which one merited consideration for an award, but some accolades are sure to follow.
- Maurice Jones-Drew is my offensive Rookie of the Year. Until his late season injury, my choice was the Saints breakout WR Marques Colston. Colston, after all, was a seventh round draft pick. I still like Colston a ton…but for me, what Jones-Drew did while playing behind Fred Taylor was remarkable. The 5’7″ (according to his measurements) Jones-Drew scored 15 touchdowns, finished 3rd in the league with 27.6 yards per return. He had a 93 yard return against the Colts (303 total yards for the game). He finished the season with 2,033 all-purpose yards. That’s getting work done. That’s my rookie of the year.
- Grossman threw another pick for a touchdown. The Bears are in trouble. It’s just too late to change QBs. Griese is not the answer. Thomas Jones, Cedric Benson and a healthy dose of trick plays? 1.3? Nope. Zero! 2-12, 33 yards, 3 picks!! I’ve seen this before – TWICE – at Arizona and home against Minnesota.
- Reggie Bush was not my choice for Rookie of the Year. His role was nearly identical to that of Maurice Jones-Drew. He was the backup to an established power runner; he was featured in the passing game and in the Red Zone and on Special Teams. Bush was very good this season – and he was often spectacular. He scored 8 touchdowns and had 1,490 total yards.
- Vince Young was the real deal during the stretch run for the Titans. Of course, QB is infinitely more difficult for rookies to play than running back, but I’m going with the little guy with the big game. Vince already gets prop. I suspect there are a few GMs who are wondering about Wunderlich tests and their applicability to the game.
- When is Norm Chow going to get a shot as a head coach? Can he coach the Steelers if Cowher heads to North Carolina? Noll-Cowher-Chow: Steeler Coaches from 1969 to 2020.
- Alex Smith and Frank Gore will be brutalizing teams in 2007. If you have a soft defense with a serious disdain for defending the run (that means you Seattle, St. Louis and Arizona), you’d better get a plan for next year because they will be bringing the pain. If the Niners get a reliable wide receiver, they could be lethal.
- As much as I like LaDainian Tomlinson, I can’t help thinking that his assault on the record book is greatly aided by changes in the rules. In the past few years, we’ve seen Priest Holmes and Shaun Alexander score tremendous numbers of touchdowns in similar fashion. It’s impressive, but I am more impressed by Jerry Rice’s touchdown records when DBs had more latitude than they have now – and more impressed by Marino’s record when DB’s had more latitude than they do now and more impressed by the exploits of Jim Brown and OJ Simpson and Earl Campbell because the deck is as stacked as its ever been against defenses.
- Football is the ultimate contextual game. The rules are not always the same. As the rules change, the statistics change. Great players are likely to be great regardless of the generation in which they play. 33 total touchdowns are 33 total touchdowns. Amazing…but these seasons should always be viewed in context – especially when two other players have done similar things in recent years. Is this a trend or a singularly great performance? I opt for the former.
- Shawne Merriman should not be going to the Pro Bowl after having failed a test for the use of steroids.
- Terrell Owens is not worth the trouble. He’s worth the touchdowns, but not the trouble. If you want TD’s, you have to go through Owens, Moss or Harrison for consistently high numbers. Only Harrison is drama-free. Aside from Michael Irvin’s verbal gymnastics to justify the antics, Owens’ production does not exceed the overwhelming majority of elite receivers in the league with respect to catches and yards. The real question before a GM is whether or not his “issues” merit a roster spot in lieu of another elite wide receiver. I can think of 10 receivers who are better route runners, have better hands and are less trouble than Owens – moreover, given his advanced age, these receivers are more likely to be productive four or five years down the line: 1) Steve Smith and 1a) Torry Holt; 2) Chad Johnson 3) Larry Fitzgerald 4) Anquan Boldin 5) Santana Moss 6) Andre Johnson 7) Reggie Wayne 8) Roy Williams 9) Lee Evans 10) Donald Driver. And then there are Hines Ward and Deion Branch. Whether these players will amass 100 touchdowns in their careers is still open for debate, but the ride will be quieter – and there will certainly be fewer dropped passes.
I’ll have more later on during the week.
Another Griese pick…he’s NOT the answer and the Bears are in trouble. Now, watch ‘em go out and win the Super Bowl.