Tag:Atlanta Falcons
Posted on: January 13, 2012 11:19 pm
Edited on: January 13, 2012 11:20 pm
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Report: Falcons interested in Spagnuolo, Nolan

Atlanta head coach Mike Smith is looking for more consistency from his team. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

The Falcons lost their offensive and defensive coordinators are consecutive days last week. Mike Mularkey was announced as the Jaguars' new head coach on Tuesday and the day before, Brian VanGorder bolted Atlanta to take the same job with the Auburn Tigers.

Given how the Falcons' season ended -- managing just two points and watching their third-ranked run defense get treaded by Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw in a punchless wild-card loss to the Giants -- it's probably best that Mularkey and VanGorder got other gigs because there's a chance they may have been relieved of their duties.

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Whatever the speculation, the reality is this: the Falcons are looking to fill two very important positions for a team that owner Arthur Blank admits has some work to do to be considered elite.

“We’re on the door, we’re knocking, but we’re on the other side of the door,” he said Thursday according to CBSSports.com Rapid Reporter Knox Bardeen.

As for potential candidates, we've already mentioned the organization is reportedly looking at Brian Schottenheimer and Brian Billick to replace Mularkey. The former doesn't exactly evoke images of a high-powered aerial assault.  And neither does the latter, frankly, although Billick had great success as a coordinator in the late '90s with the Vikings when he wasn't responsible for drafting and developing the quarterback. That's the case in Atlanta too, so maybe that's a good sign … except, as CBSSports.com's Josh Katzowitz points out, Billick may be too rich for the Falcons' taste.

On the other side of the ball, more encouraging news: the team is reportedly interested in Steve Spagnuolo, the recently fired Rams coach, and Mike Nolan, the former 49ers head coach who also served as a defensive coordinator with the Ravens, Broncos and most recently the Dolphins.

“Moving forward, this defense needs to continue its growth and evolution as a passionate and fiery defense, one that is going to fly to the football, disrupt, be opportunistic and capitalized on opportunities to turn the game around; flip the game in critical situations,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter. “We’ll look for a coordinator who will [aid] Coach Smith and his approach to putting that type of aggressive defense on the field.”

Spagnuolo may have been mostly unimpressive during his three years in St. Louis, but he was the architect behind the Giants' defensive game plan to stop the Patriots' explosive offense in Super Bowl XLII. Ledbetter adds that "Nolan is considered a 3-4 coach. But [Falcons head coach Mike] Smith’s respect him from their days together in Baltimore runs deep. They could likely mold the principles of Nolan’s 3-4 with Smith’s 4-3 if necessary."

Another guy Smith's close to? Jack Del Rio; the two worked together in Baltimore and Jacksonville, but apparently there are no plans for a reunion in Atlanta.

Here's to hoping that whoever the Falcons hire they instill in the players a sense of consistency. Because to hear Smith tell it, that was lacking this season.

“There was inconsistency in our focus, there was inconsistency in our will to play and inconsistency in our enthusiasm," he said.

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Posted on: January 12, 2012 3:15 pm
 

Report: Falcons looking at Schottey, Billick

By Josh Katzowitz

While we speculate about whether former Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer would join his father if Marty Schottenheimer got the Buccaneers head coaching job, another potential job has emerged for the younger Schottey.

According to NFL.com’s Jason La Canfora, Schottenheimer is on the list to be interviewed for Mike Mularkey’s old job as the Falcons offensive coordinator.

Latest Coaching Rumors, News
While Schottenheimer is set to interview for the open University of Alabama offensive coordinator position as well, Atlanta also appears interested in Super Bowl-title winning coach Brian Billick, former Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, and Packers quarterback coach Tom Clements.

Assuming Billick wouldn’t want that job (and assuming that if Billick did want the job, the Falcons wouldn’t want to pay the salary Billick would desire), Koetter seems like a decent option. Although the Jaguars offense was a disaster this year when running back Maurice Jones-Drew wasn’t running the ball, Atlanta coach Mike Smith and Koetter worked together in Jacksonville.

Clements, meanwhile, was apparently a candidate for the Penn State job that ultimately went to Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien.

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Posted on: January 10, 2012 10:13 pm
Edited on: January 10, 2012 11:10 pm
 

Jaguars hire Mike Mularkey as head coach

By Will Brinson

On Monday we passed along the news that Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder left Atlanta for the same position at Auburn and wondered if offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey might be out the door also. Well, he is, and he's headed to Jacksonville as the next head coach of the Jaguars.

The Jaguars made the news official on Tuesday night; CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman earlier confirmed a report that Mularkey was set to be hired.

Mularkey will become the third head coach in Jaguars history, and the first under new owner Shahid Khan after interviewing with the Jags on Tuesday.

Mularkey's lone head coaching experience came with the Bills from 2005 through 2007; he resigned in the middle of the 2007 season after the organization hired former Bills coach Marv Levy to work in the front office and the two didn't see eye-to-eye.

He also left the Dolphins early; those two factors led one NFL head coach to tell our Pete Prisco that he "didn't get it" when it came to the Mularkey hire.

On Tuesday, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden pulled his name out of the running for any head-coaching vacancies; he was considered one of the top candidates in Jacksonville for his work with rookie Andy Dalton.

Mularkey's had similar success with a young signal caller, helping to turn Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan into one of the premiere passers in the league.

The knocks on Mularkey the past few years have been a) conservative play-calling and b) a lack of success in the playoffs.

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He fits the bill in Jacksonville, though, because he's upgrading at running back (Maurice Jones-Drew is significantly better than Michael Turner and much more dynamic), and because the Jaguars would've been a borderline playoff-caliber team in a weak AFC South if they could've mustered any offense.

It's a good move on his part because, as our own Pete Prisco pointed out, there will be plenty of "Falcons fans and some players happy to see him go." Those are the breaks that come with going 0-3 in the playoffs over the course of four years though.

Mularkey's chief job will be working with former first-round pick Blaine Gabbert, who showed promise in 2011 but was submarined by being thrust into a starter's role before he was ready and without any help at wide receiver.

If the organization can make a splash in a deep free-agent market and Mularkey gets a full offseason working with Gabbert, it wouldn't be shocking to see rapid improvement from the Jaguars in 2012.

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Posted on: January 10, 2012 11:02 am
 

Coach Killers, Week 18: Taylor needs time machine

Coach Killers is your postseason look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that ends Super Bowl aspirations and begins "So, where should we vacation?" discussions.

By Ryan Wilson

Ike Taylor, Mike Wallace - Steelers

It's not a stretch to say that cornerback Ike Taylor had his worst game as a professional at the worst possible time. In fact, he said as much after he spent Sunday afternoon helplessly chasing on-target Tim Tebow passes to Demaryius Thomas. By the time it was over, Thomas had 204 receiving yards, including the game-winning touchdown grab on the first play in overtime. (Incidentally, overtime took less time than explaining the new overtime rules.)

Understandably, Taylor, who a lot of people (us included) thought had a Pro Bowl-caliber season right up until the moment of the Steelers-Broncos kickoff, was upset and saddened by his performance. According to ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley, after the game Taylor "sat in front of a ripped-up locker, staring blankly down at the floor."


Hey, at least the locker didn't outrun him to the end zone.

A day after choosing to not talk to the media (and we don't blame him), Taylor took to Twitter to take responsibility for what transpired in Denver.

"I apologize for playing the worst game at the wrong time apologize to my teammates steelernation and family. Luv y'all to def."

There is no doubt that Taylor's performance had everything to do with the outcome, but wide receiver Mike Wallace deserves some mention here, too.

The former third-round pick out of Ole Miss spent much of his first three seasons running go-routes past defenders who couldn't believe just how fast he was. At the beginning of the 2011 season, after Wallace had 16 touchdowns in 20 starts, the joke was that Ben Roethlisberger couldn't overthrow him deep. And for the first eight games or so that proved to be true.

But a confluence of events changed that over the final two months: the emergence of Antonio Brown, new defensive strategies to slow Wallace, and Ben Roethlisberger's ankle injury, which hampered his ability to throw accurately down the field, all affected Wallace's productivity. But the biggest problem was that Wallace just wasn't playing well.

A microcosm of his inconsistency was on display against the Broncos. With the Broncos leading 7-6, Roethlisberger completed what looked like a 52-yard pass to Wallace that was eminently catchable except for that Wallace didn't actually catch it. Denver challenged the ruling on the field, won, and Pittsburgh punted a play later.

But that wasn't the worst of it. With the Steelers trailing 17-6 in the third quarter, Wallace dropped a Roethlisberger lateral that was recovered by the Broncos on the Pittsburgh 18-yard line. Because the officials had blown the play dead it couldn't be reviewed which effectively means that horrible officiating had saved Wallace, who had dropped another throw (even if it would appear in the box score as only an incompletion).  If the play is called properly on the field, it's game over. Denver was already in field goal range and Pittsburgh seemed incapable of moving the ball on offense.

Yes, Taylor had his troubles Sunday, but Wallace wasn't far behind.

Atlanta Falcons offense

We could jus stay "everybody in the Falcons organization is responsible for the debacle in the Meadowlands" and just get on with our day. And in fact, the defense is a close 1a) for coach-killing honors this week because their third-ranked rush defense allowed the Giants' Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs to go to town on the ground (Football Outsiders ranked New York's run game 20th.) 

But it's Altanta's offense that never gave this team a chance. Atlanta scored two (TWO!) points, and technically, that was thanks to Eli Manning throwing the ball to no one out of his own end zone. Matt Ryan, meanwhile, was 24 of 41 for a measly 199 yards. His leading receiver on the day was rookie first-rounder Julio Jones (seven catches, 64 yards).

While there's no disputing that Jones had a great rookie season (54 receptions, 959 yards, 8 TDs), he wasn't worth what the Falcons gave up to get him on draft day 2011.

Quick refresher: Back in April, Cleveland traded the sixth-overall pick to the Atlanta in exchange for the Falcons' 2011 first, second and fourth-round picks, as well as a first and fourth-rounder in 2012.

Wild Card Recap
Atlanta promptly selected Julio Jones, who along with A.J. Green were considered can't-miss prospects. (And at the end of the season we can agree that they were just that.)

It's hard to fault the Browns for making that deal with the Falcons. After all, on draft day, New England coach Bill Belichick told Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff, "Thomas, I'm just telling you as a friend. I wouldn't do it."

Belichick added that he thought Jonathan Baldwin was "just as good if not better" than Jones. Which leads us to this: the Browns weren't wrong to trade out of the No. 6 pick, but they really could've used a playmaker. And the Falcons could've settled for Baldwin, kept their draft picks, and been just as well off. (This has nothing to do with Jones' performance against the Giants, more a commentary on how the Falcons went all in and lost.) 

You could argue that the Jones deal wasn't a one-year, all-or-nothing proposition. Except that it sorta is. Yes, Jones will be in Atlanta for years but the trade was made because Dimitroff thought it gave the Falcons the best chance to win now. Why else would you give up a '12 first-rounder, too? 

Put differently: could Atlanta have made it to the playoffs with Baldwin, who went late in Round 1, instead of Jones (and they would've still had their 2011 second-rounder)? If you're willing to accept that as a possibility, then this season was a failure from the perspective of the Jones trade.

Another way to think about it: let's say there's a three-year horizon on the deal. Are the Falcons, as currently constituted, favorites to win the Super Bowl next season? Of course not. They'll be in the conversation as one of the NFC's playoff-caliber teams but not much else. Again, would that conversation be any different if they had Baldwin -- and a full complement of draft picks -- over Jones? Not likely.

And that's the point. This isn't an indictment on Jones' ability. Clearly, he's a special player. But the Falcons' front office took a gamble, it failed, and now, like 24 other teams, they're sitting on their couch wondering what happened.

Detroit Lions defense

It's hard to fault anybody faced with the task of slowing Drew Brees and the Saints offense, but as Lions head coach Jim Schwartz mentioned several times during his post-game comments Saturday: missed tackles, the inability to get off the field on third down and dropped interceptions (not to mention the happy whistle that negated a possible Lions defensive touchdown) conspired against a Detroit team that otherwise exorcised any remnants of Matt Millen's presence in the organization.

"Well, there is no question that they are a good team," Schwartz said. "They're 13-3, scoring 44 points a game (on average the last four weeks) and undefeated at home. There is no question that they are a good team. But when you face a team like that, you can't give them second opportunities."

And that's it right there. The difference between advancing in the playoffs and packing your bags one last time until minicamps usually comes down to a play, maybe two. There's no guarantee that the outcome would've been different if the Lions had twice picked off Brees, or had been allowed to return the Saints fumble for what looked like a touchdown, but it wouldn't have hurt.

“Should have been a touchdown because every other time in this league they let that play go and they don’t blow the whistle,” Schwartz said. “We were a victim of that last week (when officials ruled Titus Young didn't have two feet down on a touchdown catch and the Lions didn't have a challenge left to dispute the call) and for some reason in this game they decided to blow the whistle when that would have been seven points in this.”

Brees' numbers were, well, Brees-ian -- 33 of 43 for 466 yards and three touchdowns. But it will be the two interceptions that got away that will haunt Schwartz for some time.

"We were able to score on offense, missed a couple opportunities there but it was really more about missed opportunities on defense," he said during his Monday end-of-season press conference.

"With a team like the Saints, they are going to get some yards, but you got to find a way to stop drives and that is going to come from third downs that is going to come from turnovers. We stopped some drives in the first half with turnovers and had some other plays that we didn't make. We didn't do a very good job on third down. Even when we stopped them on third down, we allowed the conversion on fourth down and they were able to keep drives alive and then big plays, particularly in coverages that we shouldn't give up big plays. It just made it that we couldn't score enough with them because of those things."

Andy Dalton - Bengals

We could just as easily give this to Pacman Jones for getting toasted by Andre Johnson for a touchdown, or Chris Crocker for getting trucked on the way to the end zone by Arian Foster, but it was Andy Dalton, a rookie in name only, who played one of his worst games of the season.

A long day for Dalton. (Getty Images)
When it was over, he was 27 of 42 for 257 yards with three interceptions, although one -- the "wait, what just happened?!" pick-six from rookie defensive lineman J.J. Watt -- doesn't count. Dalton will throw thousands of NFL passes and he'll never ever see anything like that again.

Watts' acrobatics aside, Dalton was off and it played no small role in the outcome. To be fair, he was in the hospital three days before the game because of the flu, but this is the time of year when no one's healthy. Just ask the Texans' quarterbacks.

The Bengals remain winless in the playoffs under Marvin Lewis (the sad truth: Cincy hasn't won a postseason game since 1990 -- Dalton was three), but unlike previous teams, this one is young, full of promise and without egos. Which means no offseason reality shows or MLS tryouts or bull-riding stunts. Just a focus on getting better.

“I don’t want to end in the first round of the playoffs anymore,” Dalton said Monday, as he talked about becoming more of a leader next year. “You get to come back and critique all of the little things that you did in the season,” Dalton said. “You get to work with the guys and not just come into training camp where you have two weeks before your first preseason game. It will be nice to come in and watch stuff, try to get better and do a few things with everybody and make sure everybody is on the same page.”

“I’ll fly wherever he needs me,” Green said of Dalton and their offseason workout plans.

That used to be Carlson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco. Now it's Dalton and Green, who after just one season have the potential to be much better than their predecessors.

“[The past 12 months have] been a freaking whirlwind,” Dalton admitted. “Starting with the Rose Bowl, getting ready for the combine, Senior Bowl, pro day, getting drafted, getting married, a couple of weeks later moving up here. It’s been a crazy year. It seems stuff like that happened a long time ago, but its crazy it’s already over. It’s already 2012.”

And training camps are just seven months away.

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Posted on: January 10, 2012 10:03 am
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Posted on: January 9, 2012 4:30 pm
 

Brian VanGorder bolts Falcons for Auburn DC job

VanGorder left the Falcons for Auburn. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, known for good defenses and a better mustache, left his gig in Atlanta for the same job at Auburn, the team announced on Monday.

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VanGorder's departure is a bit of a surprise, as the Falcons are coming off a strong defensive season, ranking third in the NFL against the rush and 12th in total yardage allowed. In his four years as coordinator (albeit under a defensive coach in Mike Smith who was hired at the same time), the Falcons defense has steadily improved in most categories, though they did slip in points allowed per game.

Plus, it's not often that a coordinator for an NFL team takes the same job at the college level. Though the title is the same, it's clearly a step down.

Which is why VanGorder's departure may be an indication that changes are coming for the Falcons; Smith is obviously safe, with the Falcons making the playoffs in three of his four years in Atlanta.

But should Mike Mularkey be worried about his job now? The Falcons offensive coordinator has done good work with Matt Ryan in his four years there, and he's up for some nice head-coaching opportunities, but if he doesn't land a gig, it's hard to imagine he wont' be scrutinized heavily in the offseason.

The Falcons offense is good and it has been good. But it's struggled mightily in three playoff games, even though two of the three were against the eventual NFC Champions (we'll let you know about the Giants).

This is nothing more than speculation, of course, but considering that VanGorder's unit outscored Mularkey's unit 2-0 on Sunday in an embarrassing wild-card loss in New York, it's hard to imagine that Thomas Dimitroff and Smith won't take a long, hard look at the coaching staff in preparing to reload for 2012.

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Posted on: January 9, 2012 10:27 am
 

Pierre-Paul guarantees Giants win over Packers

Pierre-Paul guaranteed a New York victory in Green Bay on Saturday. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

The New York Giants have a lot of confidence right now. That's totally understandable. But making guarantees about beating the defending-champion Packers, in Lambeau, already? That seems silly.

But it's not stopping Jason Pierre-Paul, who guaranteed a Giants win over the Packers on Sunday.

"We’re going to win," Pierre-Paul said, per Paul Schwartz of the New York Post. "One hundred percent we’re going to win ... because we’re the best."

Wild-Card Weekend Recap

The Giants are quite good. They might be the best team in the playoffs and it's great that JPP is confident. (Interestingly, the only quotes to make it onto the Giants official site are the follow-ups about how sure JPP is.) He should be, given the way the Giants dismantled Atlanta's offense on Sunday afternoon.

But the vibe we get from him is that the Packers aren't as pumped up about a rematch against the Giants. And that's simply not the case. There are plenty of guys on this roster who remember what happened back the last time the Giants won the Super Bowl.

"The team that kept us from our potential Super Bowl in 08 is back on OUR turf now," Jennings tweeted on Sunday. "Trust me,we haven't forgotten. Here. We ... GoPackGo! #BeGreat"

What's interesting to us is the heavy amount of comparisons to the 2007 season. Obviously, there are some similarities. But there are a lot of differences as well. For one, the Packers are better. (And maybe the Giants are better too.)

“We might be a better team than we were in ’07, but I think Green Bay is a better than they were in ’07, too," Tuck said per our Giants Rapid Reporter Alex Raskin.

The more logical comparison, then, is to the last time these teams played. Which, uh, was this year. That game was played in New York, but the Packers still managed to win 38-35.

Which is why, regardless of how confident Pierre-Paul is, he might want to consider scaling back any public declarations about the outcome of the game until victory is actually in hand.

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Posted on: January 8, 2012 8:51 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 10:12 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile, Wild Card: Ranking Tebow

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action, figures out the winners and losers and asks the big questions. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Listen to the Pick-Six Podcast Wild-Card Weekend recap below and don't forget to
subscribe via iTunes
.

Ranking the Remaining QBs

Are you ----ing kidding me? Did that just happen? That, of course, is Tim Tebow hitting Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard, walk-off touchdown in the first-ever game featuring the new NFL overtime rules to push Denver past Pittsburgh and into the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

The lesson, as always? You're gonna want to have someone who can sling the rock when the playoffs roll around and Tebow somehow morphed into that in the first round of the playoffs against one of the all-time great defenses. But where does he rank with the rest of the quarterbacks remaining in the playoffs?

8. T.J. Yates, Houston Texans
With all due respect to the only former UNC quarterback to win a playoff game, he just doesn't stack up with the rest of the folks in the playoffs. That being said, he's a perfect fit for the zone-stretch offense that the Texans run, and as long as he doesn't have to do too much, he's fine. He's probably gonna have to do too much against the Ravens this week.

7. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Smith's been incredibly improved in 2011 so it's not like this is taking a potshot at him. Smith had his best season -- by far -- of his career, throwing just five picks and completing 61.3 percent of his passes. But you're telling me you're taking Smith if you need to win a game? No, no you're not.

6. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Flacco's had great moments this year, but his inconsistency is absolutely terrifying. Seven times (seven!) he's gone under 200 yards passing on the season, and many times this year the Ravens have been forced to overcome his poor play. Some of those times, they just don't lean on Flacco because they have a beasty run game and a really good defense. But that's not exactly helping his cause, you know?

5. Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos
COME ON DOWN THE OLD KOOL-AID FILLED RABBIT HOLE! But, no, seriously. Tebow made throws on Sunday night that he's not supposed to make. And he did it against a defense that doesn't let most quarterbacks make throws like that, much less a would-be remedial QB like Tebow. But he brings a running game, he brings an improved passing game, he brings along the worst wide receiver corps (by far) of anyone in the playoffs and he brings along the dreaded intangibles.

4. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Eli's a top-five quarterback in the NFL this season, and he's got a legitimate case to be right there in Tom Brady's class (just like he said before the season!). When it comes down to it, though, you're not taking him for a playoff stretch run over any of the rest of the guys on the list. At least not yet anyway ... (But yes, there's a HUGE gap between 1-4 and 5-8.)

3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
People keep saying that Brady does the most with the least but that argument's kind of ridiculous when Rob Gronkowski just wrapped up the greatest season by a tight end in the history of the NFL. Three here, by the way, is like "1c."

2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
The third quarterback in NFL history to throw for 450 yards in a playoff game.

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Last I checked he's still the defending champion. Plus, he's got the mobility that no one else on this list (even Tebow) has, he's the most accurate quarterback on the run and he's working on a week's rest in addition to two weeks of hearing everyone talk about how he's not the best quarterback left in the playoffs.

Winners

Josh McDaniels: Not only is the former Broncos head coach and Patriots offensive coordinator now back with the Patriots but he's going to play against Tim Tebow next week. This is a good thing because McDaniels basically got fired for drafting Tebow. I mean, not entirely but it didn't help things. Doesn't everyone look kind of silly for not trusting him now.

T.J. Yates:
Yates was the rookie who was going to screw things up for his team, but instead he played the perfect foil to Andy Dalton's inconsistency, going 11 of 20 for 159 yards and a touchdown. Those aren't mind-blowing numbers, and 40 of the yards came on one touchdown pass to Andre Johnson, but Yates did exactly what he was supposed to do, which is "don't screw things up."

Overtime Rules: It -- literally -- took Ron Winter longer to explain the new overtime rules than it took the Broncos to end the overtime. One play to DeMaryius Thomas and that's it. Which is good for the NFL because a longer, more prolonged overtime opened up the possibility for mistakes by refs and scrutiny by media and fans. Instead now we think it works perfectly!

Pierre Thomas: Dude was kiliing it on Saturday and might be the biggest reason New Orleans won. He "only" scored once and but he put up 121 total yards and he fought for every freaking one of them; there's a reasonable chance 115 of them were after contact. Thomas' refusal to go down to the turf resulted in a lot of Saints drives getting extended a lot further than they should have, and he deserves props for his effort.

Cleveland Browns: When the Falcons were eliminated, the Browns locked up better draft picks in 2012, thanks to the Julio Jones trade. (They'll now pick a lot earlier, no worse than 23rd, in the first and fourth rounds.) Tom Heckhart also looks a little bit smarter today -- even if Julio Jones is special (he is) and even if the Falcons will eventually be more explosive (they should), that deal didn't work out the way the Falcons and Thomas Dimitroff thought it would. Yeah, they made the playoffs, but it was as a wild card and they didn't score a single point on Sunday.

Smith would like you to re-spot that ball, sir. (AP)

Losers

Mike Smith: Twice on Sunday, Smith had a controversial fourth-down decision to make. OK, the decisions weren't really that controversial, but the playcalls -- and the result -- were. Each time, once with Michael Turner on the freaking sideline, the Falcons snuck Ryan against a stout Giants defensive line, and each time, he was stuffed. Those decisions don't change the outcome of the game, per se, because the Giants still outscored Atlanta by more than six points, but Smith's going to answer a lot of questions about his decision-making.

Chris Crocker
: Crocker's a friend of the blog, so we don't want to rip him too hard, but that was a pretty terrible game from the Bengals safety. He dropped a crucial would-be pick-six at the start of the second half, he missed a sack of Yates, and his incredibly poor "tackling" on Arian Foster's 42-yard touchdown run is going to be replayed all week long. Not a good day for Crocker.

Lions Defense: It's not rare for a defense to get surgically dissected by Drew Brees. But the Lions have to be shaking their heads at missing a good chance at up-ending the Saints on Saturday because their defense couldn't get any penetration on Brees, couldn't make any stops on fourth downs, didn't make the Saints punt a single time and generally looked lost in coverage. They also dropped a pair of easy interceptions, one of which Eric Wright should've taken to the house.

Mike Mularkey: After a great season from the Falcons and a strong finish to the year, Mularkey's been a hot name as a coaching candidate and has a slew of interviews lined up. But the people looking to hire him for a full-time job are going to wonder about the incredibly conservative gameplan Mularkey dragged into the Meadowlands on Sunday, and how he managed to get outscored by Eli Manning 2-0. And then there's the short-yardage stuff (see: Mike Smith above). Smith's saying "go" but Mularkey's the guy dialing up the plays, and it might behoove teams to put him through a "Fourth-and-Short Playcalling Quiz" before giving him the gig.

John Elway: At halftime against Pittsburgh, Tim Tebow had thrown for 185 yards (all in the second quarter) and tied two of Elway's playoff records with the Broncos: he and Elway are the only Broncos quarterbacks with a) two 50-yard passes in the same game and b) a rushing and passing score in the same game. Oh and then he walked off the Steelers in overtime with an 80-yards pass. Please tell me how he's not going to bring Tebow back in 2012.

The Big Questions

 
Marvin needs to challenge his challenges. (AP)

1. What was Marvin Lewis thinking on those challenges?
He wasn't. The Bengals didn't lose because Lewis bungled a pair of first-half challenges, but that shouldn't excuse him for the actual bungling. Lewis gave away two timeouts and any chance of challenging in the second half by deciding that the Bengals (4/4 on short-yardage conversions against the Texans in Week 13) needed to challenge a bad spot on a second down and two that only went for one yard. Then he compounded it by challenging a catch in the second quarter, which allowed him to enter halftime with a deficit and no challenges.

2. Can the Saints win on the road?
Of course they can. But will they? The Saints are 0-4 in franchise history away from the Superdome when it comes to the playoffs and that's an applicable lesson for this year's team, who only played five games outside of a dome the entire year.

That's right: just five games. Now, the Saints know this. They talked about it with our own Pete Prisco after their win over Detroit on Saturday. The Saints are guaranteed nine games inside a year, because of eight home matchups and a game at division rival Atlanta. Here's what happened when they did venture away from the comfort of turf:

Week/Location Result Points Scored Passing Yards TD/INT Total Yards
Week 1 @ Green Bay L 34 419 3/0 477
Week 4 @ Jacksonville W 23 351 1/2 503
Week 5 @ Carolina W 30 359 2/1 444
Week 6 @ Tampa Bay L 20 383 1/3 453
Week 14 @ Tennessee W 22 337 2/0 437
Weekly Average N/A 34.2 334.2 2.9/0.9 467.1

Two of the Saints three losses this season came outside on the road, and they only went above 30 points twice on the road, despite averaging 34.2 points per game this season.

To paraphrase our Vice President, that's a big freaking deal.

3. Do Matt Ryan's playoff losses make him a bad quarterback?
No. But Ryan's the guy who'll be heavily judged over the next year with respect to his postseason performance, since he's now 0-3 in the playoffs. In those three games, Ryan's 70 of 110 for 584 passing yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. He's definitely the victim of a) conservative gameplans and b) playing against good teams (the NFC Champion Cardinals, the Super Bowl Champion Packers and this year's Giants), but that isn't going to stop people from discussing the fact that his stats stink in the playoffs and he can't win. It's the same thing people said about Aaron Rodgers before last year.

4. Can the Giants really win the Super Bowl?
Damn right they can. The "shades of 2007" storyline is a bit played out at this point ... but it's just kind of true. They're a wild card that everyone counted out, Eli Manning's hitting his stride at the absolutely perfect time, they've got a running game that's shaping back up and their pass rush is absolutely deadly. This is the kind of the same team, just with different players. (San Fran up-ending the Saints and keeping the Giants away from the Superdome would help a lot, too.)

5. Did you really rank Tim Tebow FIFTH on the remaining quarterbacks list?
Yes. Let's just move on before I emerge from my overtime-induced blackout.

6. How bright is the future for the Lions?
Very bright. They'll obviously want to lock down Calvin Johnson at some point, and they need to get some secondary help this coming offseason, and getting Mikel Leshoure back to provide a power running game is critical. But Matthew Stafford's primed to be the next quarterback who warrants a debate for "elite" status, in case the 5,000+ yards he tossed in 2011 didn't clue you into that. 

7. Why did the Saints draft Mark Ingram?
Not sure. But it at least seemed like a good idea the time, right? Ingram was supposed to be the power runner for the Saints, but in his first season he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and scored only five touchdowns. He's not playing now and Chris Ivory's performance on Saturday night really leads me to believe New Orleans could've gotten better value at a different position in April's draft.

8. Could Kevin Kolb land another big contract?

Possibly! Doing so would mean that Kolb would lose his first big contract though: Charley Casserly reported on Sunday that the Cardinals are a sleeper candidate for Peyton Manning if the Colts let him go. To make that happen, they'd obviously have to bail on Kolb's contract, which they can reportedly do at a fairly cheap cost. The timing is the issue though, since Kolb's roster bonus is due in March as well. But if it happens, Kolb could instantly become the third- or fourth-best quarterback available on the market, along with Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Matt Flynn. It's a longshot, but an interesting situation to watch nonetheless.

9. Does Tebow deserve all the credit for the Broncos win?

As usual, no. Tebow gets a ton of credit because he does some amazing things late in games, but let's be clear: the Steelers played pretty freaking badly on Sunday night. Their pass defense was AWFUL and they ran Ben Roethlisberger out on a bad ankle and looked anemic early on on offense. The Broncos defense deserves some credit too, of course, because they played a nice game. And so do Tebow's wide receivers. Just figure out a way to spread it around.

GIF O' THE WEEK

OH NO Hakeem Nicks DID NOT JUST DO THE DIRTY BIRD. OH YES HE DID Jamaal Anderson.

Worth 1,000 Words


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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com