Tag:Jay Cutler
Posted on: November 27, 2011 10:32 am
Edited on: November 27, 2011 10:33 am
 

Martz won't ask Caleb Hanie to be Kurt Warner

"I've said my whole career you have to be pragmatic," Martz said when asked about Chicago's offense. (Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Great news for the guy responsible for keeping things going in Chicago now that Jay Cutler is on the shelf with a broken thumb: offensive coordinator Mike Martz won't intentionally design plays to get Caleb Hanie continuously clobbered Sunday against the Raiders.

Specifically, Hanie won't be asked to do in this version of Martz's offense what Kurt Warner did a decade ago in St. Louis when Martz was the coach there. The obvious response: Well, no kidding.

But we're not talking about putting up Warner-ian type numbers. We're talking about the offensive philosophy of throwing the ball all over the yard and making the quarterback the centerpiece of the offense.

"The things we were doing in St. Louis — get it out quick, things happen so quick — we'd never ask him to do that kind of stuff," Martz said, according to the Chicago Tribune.

This revelation seems like a no-brainer, but remember that it took Martz about a month to admit to himself that, to paraphrase Rick Pitino, those "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams aren't walking through that door. So instead of trying to fit the Bears' run-first offense into the old Rams' pass-first schemed, Martz finally relented, acknowledged that Chicago's pass protection had some issues, and started showcasing the offense's strengths: namely Matt Forte and Cutler's ability to throw well from a moving pocket and when he's allowed to get the ball out quickly.

And the results have been beyond impressive. Chicago's now 7-3, second in the NFC North, and in great shape for one of the two wild-card spots. This assumes, of course, that the Bears -- and Martz -- continue to do what they do well now that Hanie's under center. And that starts with Forte. That means having Hanie rely on the running game, but also screen passes, too.

"I've said my whole career you have to be pragmatic," Martz said. "People don't believe you when you say it. You have to find the strengths, what's working for you. In the off week I had a chance to reflect on my approach, make sure I wasn't putting our guys in a position where they weren't going to have as much success as they can."

Nobody would've believed Martz had he said that back in September. Now it's hard not to.

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Posted on: November 23, 2011 4:17 pm
Edited on: November 23, 2011 5:22 pm
 

Chiefs claim Kyle Orton off waivers

Orton, Tebow

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Kyle Orton and the Bears won’t be reunited after all. Rapid Reporter Bob Gretz has confirmed an ESPN report that the Chiefs have claimed him off waivers from the Broncos.

Which makes perfect sense for Kansas City. Considering Matt Cassel is out for the season and Tyler Palko wasn’t great (but not completely terrible) last Monday against the Patriots -- he went 24 for 37 for 230 yards, three interceptions and a 48.3 rating in a 34-3 loss -- the Chiefs obviously feel like Orton gives them a chance to compete for the AFC West title.

Where they’re competing against (surprise!) the Broncos for a potential division championship. The two squads will face each other Jan. 1 in Kansas City in a contest that could have major playoff implications, especially if Tim Tebow continues to lead Denver to wins and Orton can reinvigorate the Chiefs. Entering this week, the Raiders are 6-4 to lead the AFC West, but the Broncos are 5-5 and are followed by the 4-6 Chiefs and Chargers.

The Tebow, Orton eras begin ...
So, basically, the entire division is up for grabs.

For those who wonder if Orton would decline to travel to Kansas City to fulfill his obligations, I think you can safely close the door on those thoughts. Don’t you think he would vastly enjoy ruining the Broncos season for his new team’s own benefit?

Yet, that’s also what makes this transaction strange. The Broncos must have known there was an awfully good chance the Chiefs would claim Orton -- I mean, John Elway probably watched that Monday night game and saw what Palko means to that team , right? -- if they waived him. Since Orton will be a free agent after this season, there’s a decent chance he’ll sign elsewhere in the offseason, and that means the Chiefs could win a compensatory draft pick* if they lose him.

*Can you imagine if the Chiefs beat the Broncos, expose Tim Tebow, win the AFC West and THEN get a mid-round draft pick for him?

On the Denver side, Tebow, who knocked Orton out of the starting quarterback role, seemed happy for his former colleague.

"Congratulations to him,” Tebow said, via the Denver Post. “That’ll be fun to play him the last game of the year."

But won’t Orton have a big advantage in knowing what kind of offense the Broncos run and the signals they use? After all, Orton ran that offense for the first five games of the season.

"Obviously he knows it pretty well, so he could probably give away a few things,” Tebow said. “But I think we’ll be OK.”

The Bears and Cowboys also made waiver claims on Orton, meaning that even if the Chiefs didn’t win him, Orton would be traveling to Dallas now based on the waiver order. What’s interesting about the claim made by the Cowboys -- who obviously have a starting quarterback named Tony Romo but have a backup in Jon Kitna who has a balky back -- is that it smells like Dallas claimed him simply to block Chicago from getting him.

That’s because the two teams will battle for one of the NFC wild card spots, and the Cowboys know as well as anybody that Chicago would have a better chance of accomplishing that if it played Orton instead of Caleb Hanie.

Meanwhile, the Bears announced that Jay Cutler underwent thumb surgery Wednesday and should begin rehab “within the next few days.” Chicago will still have Hanie starting this week and the forseeable future, though the team also announced that it’s signed Josh McCown to a one-year deal Wednesday. Not quite as exciting as landing Orton. But it’s something, I suppose.

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Posted on: November 22, 2011 1:52 pm
Edited on: November 22, 2011 2:51 pm
 

Tebow responds to Plummer, will keep praising God

Despite appearances, Plummer isn't Tebowing. We think. (US PRESSWIRE/Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

It wasn't that long ago that Jake Plummer was Denver's winning quarterback. From 2003-2006, the Broncos never won fewer than 10 games, and made it to the AFC Championship game in 2005.

Plummer retired after the 2006 season, when then-head coach Mike Shanahan handed the offense over to Jay Cutler. They haven't been to the playoffs since.

Now the honor of "Denver's winning quarterback" falls to Tim Tebow, who is 4-1 as a starter this season. He's also very vocal about his religious beliefs, something Plummer could do with less of.

During a recent radio interview (via Sports Radio Interviews), Plummer said this: “I think he’s a winner and I respect that about him. I think that when he accepts the fact that we know that he loves Jesus Christ then I think I’ll like him a little better. I don’t hate him because of that, I just would rather not have to hear that every single time he takes a good snap or makes a good handoff … like you know, I understand dude where you’re coming from … but he is a baller."

On Tuesday, Tebow, appearing on ESPN's First Take, responded to Plummer's remarks (transcription courtesy of ProFootballTalk.com):

“If you’re married, and you have a wife, and you really love your wife, is it good enough to only say to your wife, I love her, the day you get married? Or should you tell her every single day when you wake up and have the opportunity? And that’s how I feel about my relationship with Jesus Christ,” Tebow said. “It is the most important thing in my life, so every opportunity I have to tell him I love him, or I’m given an opportunity to shout him out on national TV, I’m going to take that opportunity.”

One distinction might be that, in general, men don't proclaim their love for their wives during the course of their workday. To put this in football terms, we've never heard a player preface every media interview or press conference by stating that he loves his spouse. Same with after a big play or a touchdown.

As PFT.com's Michael David Smith points out, Plummer has nothing against Tebow's religious beliefs, just that he doesn’t think Tebow should inject said beliefs into a football discussion.

Tebow continued:
Jesus? Nope, that's Plummer. Ironical, we know.

“I look at it as a relationship I have with Him, I want to give Him the honor and glory every time I get the opportunity. And then after I give him the honor and glory I always try to give my teammates the honor and glory, and that’s how it works. Because Christ comes first in my life, and then my family, and then my teammates.

"I respect Jake’s opinion, and I really appreciate his compliment of calling me a winner, but I feel like every time I get the opportunity to give the Lord some praise he is due for it because what he did for me, and what he did on the cross for all of us," said Tebow. "I really appreciate his opinion and I respect him, but I still will give all the honor and glory to the Lord because he deserves it.”

Put differently: Plummer may like Tebow the football player, but could do without the constant reminders of his faith. And Tebow has no plans to do anything but pronounce his love for Jesus every chance he gets.

Whatever you think of Tebow, there's no denying that divine intervention has a lot to do with his success. Because there's no way a guy completing 44.8 percent of his throws, and who completed just two passes against the Chiefs in Week 10 would be on an NFL roster, much less a starting quarterback with a 4-1 record.

So, yeah, he has good reason to be thankful.

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Posted on: November 21, 2011 6:46 pm
 

NFL Week 11 podcast review + MNF preview

Posted by Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

Week 11 is almost wrapped up and so we take to the airwaves in order to break down the football action from the weekend.

We discuss whether or not the Bears can make the playoffs with Jay Cutler missing, whether the Giants are about to start their annual late-season collapse, if Adrian Peterson's injury matters in the big scheme of things, whether Norv Turner will be fired, if the Redskins are showing life, if the Lions found a running game, if the Dolphins are the hottest team in the NFL.

Then we dive into how bad the Bills are, why no one should pay running backs, if Baltimore is the class of the AFC, if the Eagles can make a playoff run and whether Oakland or Denver is the best in the AFC West.

All that and much, much more, below.

Did we mention that you should subscribe to the podcast via iTunes?

If you can't listen to the podcast below, download it here. And if you'd like to keep working while listening in your browser, pop that puppy out in a new tab here.



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Posted on: November 21, 2011 11:42 am
 

Which free agent QBs could fit Bears needs?

Cutler, Martz

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Now that Bears coach Lovie Smith has officially confirmed the news that Jay Cutler broke his thumb* while trying to make a tackle after an interception during Chicago’s win against the Chargers on Sunday, we wonder where the Bears offense goes from here.

*You can see video of the play here.

The Bears QB Future
The quick reaction from across the league has been definitive: the Bears are screwed. And it’s hard not to disagree, especially when you consider Caleb Hanie is the new starting quarterback and fifth-round pick Nathan Enderle (if you haven’t heard of him, that’s OK -- he played his college ball at Idaho) is his backup. That could be a recipe for disaster.

Hanie has played a total of seven games in his three-year career, and in the regular season, he’s completed 8 of 14 passes for 66 yards. But his real moment to shine occurred during last year’s NFC championship game (you might remember it because Cutler injured his knee, couldn’t return to the game and got toasted for it by his colleagues on Twitter) when he completed 13 of 20 passes for 153 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in Chicago’s 21-14 loss.

The Bears most likely will have to sign a third quarterback for the roster (or a fourth, assuming they don’t place Cutler on IR, and for now, the Bears don’t have a timetable for his return), and they’ll have to troll the free agent market to do so. Chances are, they won’t get somebody more prepared to play in this offense than Hanie, but an experienced quarterback could add depth and keep Enderle from having to come into the game.

Here is a list of five potential free agents the Bears could target.

BulgerMarc Bulger: This one seems the most obvious, because Bulger worked under Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz when Martz was the head coach in St. Louis. In order for an incoming free agent to have any chance of playing this season for the Bears, he most likely would need to have knowledge of Martz’s style of play. Bulger has that. But Bulger has made it clear he’s not interested in returning to football. He told the Ravens at the beginning of season to give him a call if Joe Flacco suffered an injury, but since then, Bulger has told at least one team that he’s not interested in playing football anymore. Unless Bulger was guaranteed that he would be a backup, the Bears probably should move on.

Chances of this happening: 10 percent

Trent Edwards: After he didn’t make the Raiders squad out of training camp, Edwards actually had a chance to sign with the Dolphins once they lost Chad Henne. But Edwards took one look at that franchise and said thanks, but no thanks (Matt Moore, by the way, is forever grateful). Edwards actually had a decent year as the Bills starter in 2008, but he eventually lost that job to Ryan Fitzpatrick. The problem with Edwards, though, is that he’s not been especially good for the past three years. I mean, if Kyle Boller beats you out of a backup job, that’s not a very good sign.

Chances of this happening: 8 percent
T. Collins struggled in last year's NFC championship game (US Presswire).
Todd Collins: Just because Collins is 40 years old (!) and got yanked for Hanie after Collins briefly replaced Cutler in the NFC championship game last year (as seen in the picture at left) doesn’t mean the Bears shouldn’t look at him anyway. Collins spent a season with Martz, so he should know the offense relatively well. The problem is that Collins has never been anything more than an NFL backup, and if you had to pick between Collins and Enderle, you might be better suited to go with the rookie. But for some reason, I think there’s a chance Chicago could turn back to Collins if things get desperate.

Chances of this happening: 20 percent

Jake Delhomme: If the Bears were looking for a Collins alternative who is four years younger with infinitely more NFL success, they could do worse than Delhomme. That said, Delhomme was a disaster last year in Cleveland and eventually gave way to Colt McCoy. Though there reportedly was interest in him by the Browns and the Dolphins this year, Delhomme isn’t doing much of anything these days (except for sending John Fox congratulatory text messages). Fortunately, the Bears coaching staff would have the ability to watch film from Delhomme’s stay in Cleveland last year. And that should be enough to force the coaches to toss Delhomme’s number in the trash.

Chances of this happening: 5 percent

Brett Favre: Stop it. Just … stop it.

Chances of this happening: 0.5 percent

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Posted on: November 21, 2011 2:15 am
Edited on: November 21, 2011 12:23 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 11

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Make sure and listen to our Week 10 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.

 

1. Bear Down

The only thing surprising about Chicago's 31-20 victory -- their fifth-straight win -- over the Chargers was that the Bears let San Diego keep it that close. But not all is good news in Chicago right now, as multiple reports indicate that quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a broken thumb during Sunday's game, may need surgery and could be lost for the season.

At a minimum, Cutler's likely to miss six weeks, so let's assume he's done for the regular season. So can the Bears still make the playoffs? Well, surprisingly, yes, but it obviously won't be easy.

If the Bears beat three of their final six opponents (we'll guess the Vikings, the Seahawks and the Chiefs) they'll finish 10-6. No one from the NFC West will cause any damage and it looks like Chicago just has to fight off the Giants or the Cowboys, the Lions and the Falcons.

They've got the tiebreaker over Atlanta, although right now the Bears lose out to the Lions because of division record. (Fortunately for them, Detroit has to play Green Bay twice.)

And Chicago has a formula for winning games without a ton of offense. The Bears defense knows how to score and Devin Hester can alter the outcome of a game every time he stands back to return a kick. The passing game should all but disappear, however.

Which means that Chicago will lean heavily on a below-average offensive line and ... Matt Forte.

Perhaps they should reconsider their stance about paying him after all.

2. Little Giants

Everyone always expects the Giants to swoon late in the season (because it's something they do, which is fair I suppose) but this year looked different after New York's win over New England two weeks ago and a tough loss in San Francisco last week.

Until Sunday night, when the Giants coughed up a 17-10 loss to the Vince Young-led Eagles anyway.

"This is as big a disappointment as we have had around here in a long time," coach Tom Coughlin said Sunday.

It should be, because things aren't going to get easier for Coughlin's squad any time soon. They face the Saints in New Orleans next week and then welcome the potentially undefeated Packers to New York in Week 13 before squaring off against the Cowboys in Dallas in Week 14.

That's about as big a nightmare as a schedule can be for an NFC East that just kicked itself out of the playoffs, and the Jets still loom, as does a second matchup with Dallas.

The Eagles wanted to give away this game too. DeSean Jackson had a ridiculous taunting penalty that (also somewhat ridiculously) resulted in a loss of 50 yards for the Eagles. Vince Young had three terrible picks. LeSean McCoy never really got going (53 yards on 22 carries before his final 60-yard run to end the game). Riley Cooper was the top receiver.

But the Giants wanted it less, and couldn't get any offense going, as receivers egged on easy passes and the offensive line got no push. Some of the playcalling was suspect, and it put the Giants in a pretty untenable position late in the game.

Which is probably fitting since that's where their 2011 season stands as well.

And even though it's OK to anticipate a Giants swoon, let's hold off on talking about the Eagles running the table just quite yet, please. We were here three weeks ago when they handled the Cowboys too.


3. Missing Pieces

One look at Cincinnati's 31-24 loss to Baltimore, and it's pretty clear how much the Bengals missed wide receiver A.J. Green and cornerback Leon Hall.

Andy Dalton got a shot at boosting his Rookie of the Year stock on Cincy's final drive, but came up short when the Ravens defensive line stepped up in a big way in their own red zone. Dalton missed Andrew Hawkins on first down, was busted for intentional grounding on second, threw incomplete to Jerome Simpson on third and was sacked by Pernell McPhee on fourth. One has to wonder how the goal line playcalling changes if Green's in the game.

On defense, the previously stout Bengals unit was gashed by the Ravens own rookie, Torrey Smith. Smith notched six catches for 165 yards, one touchdown and a number of different catches where he was wide open but made some fantastic grabs on throws from Joe Flacco that was a bit off.

There were three big plays that stand out for Baltimore's passing game: a 35-yard touchdown catch by Anquan Boldin (he was wide open), Smith's 38-yard TD (also wide open) and a 49-yard bomb that Smith reeled in near the goal line, where he just torched Nate Clements (watch below).


It's clearly not a coincidence when a team loses its best cornerback and subsequently gives up a bunch of big passing plays the next week.

And lest we leave this game without pointing out the obvious, the Ravens won once again when Ray Rice was productive and got more than five carries. That's not a coincidence either.

4. Silent Bob Strikes Back

Three weeks ago, Kevin Smith was unemployed, sitting at home, doing nothing. Or signing himself to various Madden rosters, which is even more depressing. On Sunday, he piled up 201 all-purpose yards, revived the Lions rushing attack, and was the catalyst in a 49-35 comeback win for the Lions over the Panthers that kept Detroit at the forefront of the NFC Wild Card race.

It's an awesome story, and Smith deserves all the love he's getting from analysts and all the love he got from the Detroit sideline every time he scored on his three touchdowns.

Three questions stand out to me with respect to Detroit's playoff hopes. 1) Can they avoid early deficits? 2) Can Smith sustain this success? 3) Did Matthew Stafford get healthy at halftime?

With no running game and an injured Stafford, the Lions look like the walking dead against Chicago last week. It was much of the same story in the first quarter against the Panthers, as Stafford threw two picks, looked terrible and the Lions mustered less than 10 yards on four rushes. But a Keiland Williams fumble with 2:30 left in the first quarter gave way to Smith, and he started off his second-chance Lions career with a 43-yard run and followed it up with a 28-yard touchdown catch on the next play.

If Smith is the answer -- and I'm not completely sold yet, but only because a one-legged homeless guy off the street could put 100 yards on that Panthers defense -- and Stafford's healthy, the answer to question No. 1 should be "yes."

We'll find out when Detroit plays Green Bay (twice) and New Orleans over the next six weeks whether they can avoid needing comebacks to win. If they can, there won't be a question about whether or not the Lions are playoff-worthy.

5. More Like a Tropical Storm

For 149 consecutive weeks of NFL action, a former Miami Hurricane has scored a touchdown. Consider that there are 17 weeks in each NFL season, and it works out to more than eight and a half years since a Hurricane failed to score in the NFL. That's bananas.

And yet we sit here, heading into Monday night's Patriots-Chiefs matchup and no member of "The U" has scored in Week 11. (Yes, this is considerably ironic since the 'Canes announced Sunday they wouldn't accept a bowl bid.)

Complicating matters for fans of Miami is the fact that it's pretty unlikely that a Hurricane will score on Monday night. There are only two players left that went to school in Coral Gables: Allen Bailey, a rookie defensive end for the Chiefs who's played in nine games, started none and recorded four tackles, and Vince Wilfork, veteran defensive tackle for the Pats who's inexplicably got two interceptions this season.

Wilfork's the best bet to score, but it'll almost certainly have to come on a fumble in the end zone or a red-zone interception. We've already seen Wilfork try to take on to the house this season, and it didn't work well.

So if you see Bill Belichick trot Wilfork out in a goal line formation during a late-game blowout, you know why. Of course, that alone would totally be worth seeing "The U" continue to tout itself as a producer of fine athletics.

Perhaps the craziest part of Miami alums not scoring? As pointed out Monday by my colleague Bruce Feldman, ex-Cane Kellen Winslow scored a touchdown but it was called back because he pushed off a defender. That defender was Sam Shields ... also a Miami alum.

6. The Jermaine Gresham Rule

I understand that Gresham actually fell victim to the "Calvin Johnson Rule" but he might deserve his subsection at the very least if/when the NFL addresses this disastrous rule.

See, the rule got the nickname when Calvin Johnson lost possession in the end zone. But that's the key -- he was in the end zone. Johnson caught the ball there and then lost it there. (Watch here at the 2:20 mark.)

Gresham, on the other hand, actually crossed the plain with possession. He had his feet in-bounds.

If he was a running back, we wouldn't have this issue, right? I'm pretty sure we wouldn't. Because possession would've been established (vis-a-vis the handoff, etc).

Technically, the officials got the call right, because Gresham lost possession as he fell to the ground, and he didn't make a "football-related move" inside the end zone.

But if you are in possession of the ball and cross the plain with said possession, that should be a done deal, right there. That's the reason why the goal line extends in hypothetical perpetuity. If a running back dives into the end zone over a big pile of people and fumbles after the ball's crossed the plain, it's a touchdown.

But if a wide receiver crosses the plain with possession of the ball, gets a freaking foot into the end zone and then doesn't maintain control all the way to the ground -- even if he had possession before he got into the end zone! -- it doesn't count?

Come on. That makes no sense. Let's fix it, please.

7. Chris Johnson Is 'Back,' Alright

Over the last week, I was repeatedly blistered by people who didn't believe me when I said that Chris Johnson was not "back" to his CJ2K form, despite a 130-yard rushing effort against the Panthers.

I watched that game closely, and what stood out to me was that Johnson's effort and burst and general running ability didn't mesh with the statistics he produced.

After Sunday's 23-17 loss to Atlanta, well, there's no question that Johnson's 2011 season remains lost. The Titans leading rusher in Week 11 was Matt Hasselbeck (one carry, 17 yards). Matt Ryan had a higher yards-per-carry average than Johnson. There were nine -- NINE! -- quarterbacks with more rushing yards than Johnson in Week 11, and it was almost ten as well as two on his own team:


If you take out Johnson's "long" run of the day, he finished with seven rushing yards on 11 carries. That's just flat-out embarrassing and any opponent with a modicum of rush defense can shut him down and make him ineffective.

That's really quite a shame, too, because Hasselbeck's renaissance season would be a lot more interesting with a rushing attack.

And while I'm doing rookie Jake Locker a disservice by not pointing out how good he was in backup duty for Tennessee, it's not as big a disservice as Johnson is doing to the team and the rookie quarterback who might have to overcome one of the most-talented backs in the NFL getting paid and totally disappearing from relevancy.

8. Moore Please

There's a fun little debate about whether the Dolphins, on a three-game winning streak that seemed unfathomable just, um, three weeks ago -- or the Bills -- on three-game losing streak after holding with the AFC East lead as late as the middle of October -- are the bigger story after Miami knocked Buffalo around 35-8.

But maybe the bigger story is the convergence of these two teams on a metaphorical NFL elevator, with the Dolphins trying their best to get out of the lobby and the Bills falling like Dennis Hopper rigged their ride.

To me, it might just be more about these two teams playing closer to what we expected. Buffalo's early-season run was an awesome storyline, but it was unsustainable, particularly with the loss of Eric Wood at center and Kyle Williams on the defensive line. Add in defenses figuring out that the Bills don't have a legit deep threat, and it's no surprise that they're not winning anymore.

Although considering the ridiculous amount of money they handed Ryan Fitzpatrick, they'd probably like to see something resembling offense. At least there aren't a ton of great quarterbacks in this upcoming draft class!

The Dolphins will likely be taking a quarterback at some point in the upcoming draft, but the question is how high they'll be picking, and that largely depends on how sustainable Matt Moore's current level of play under center is. Well, history tells us it's actually possible for him to succeed the rest of the way in.

In 2009, while playing with the Panthers, Moore stepped in for Jake Delhomme and closed out a lost season with a shocking 4-1 record for Carolina that saw him average 16 of 25 passing (62.7 percent) for 198 yards and two touchdowns per game. And that was in a John Fox offense, no less.

Don't expect him to backdoor the Pro Bowl or anything, but don't be surprised when the once-hapless Dolphins keep playing spoiler because Moore keeps streaking.

9. Best Draft Class ... Ever?

I've noted in this spot a couple times in the past few weeks that the 2011 NFL Draft class is one of the best we've seen in a long time, and maybe, dare I say, ever.

The first seven picks of the draft have been outstanding thus far into the season, and that doesn't even factor in Andy Dalton or DeMarco Murray, who might be the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors.

Well, two more guys made their mark on Sunday for this class.

Jake Locker entered the game for an injured Matt Hasselbeck against the Falcons on Sunday, and proceeded to nearly lead the Titans to a comeback, completing nine of 19 passes for 140 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Atlanta was up 23-3 at the time, so it's not like they were playing their opening-game defense, but Locker looked darn good in relief duty and the Titans should be excited, even though Hasselbeck will remain the starter.

Prince Amukamara, who the Giants took at 19th overall when he fell past Houston, made his first start on Sunday and also picked up his first career interception, while generally looking like a veteran against the Eagles. And yes, it still counts as an interception, even if Vince Young threw it.

10. Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving

Early in the season, the Thanksgiving games contained only a little bit of drama, thanks to the Harbaugh family reunion in Baltimore. But suddenly we've got three of the best games in the NFL taking place on Thursday, and one of the most memorable Turkey Day slates we've seen in a while.

All six teams playing on Thursday won on Sunday and, collectively, those six teams are on a 26-game winning streak this season.

The Lions and Packers square off with Detroit getting its first shot at ending the Packers undefeated season, the Cowboys have a shot at really generating some separation in the NFC East as they host the inexplicably hot Dolphins and the Ravens/49ers square off to determine who gets all the pie at the Harbaugh household.

It's a collection of three fantastic games and it's almost enough to make me boycott my family's lunch-time festivities away from electronics. Thank goodness for DVR. And 200-person pot-luck lunches.

MUFFED PUNTS

Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... Cam Newton set the rookie record for rushing touchdowns on Sunday (twice, technically) as he's got nine on the season now.
... Aaron Rodgers is just the second quarterback in history to throw for 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in his team's first 10 games; the other was Tom Brady in 2007.
... 2011 is the first season in NFL history to feature three quarterbacks with 3,000 yards and 20 or more touchdowns through 10 games, as Rodgers, Drew Brees and Brady all met the criteria this year.
... The Dolphins became just the third team in NFL history to win three straight games after losing their first seven or more games.
... After Keloah Pilares' TD return, six 100-yard kick returns have happened so far in 2011, which is one short of the NFL record.
... The Lions became the first team in NFL history to record three comebacks of more than 17 points in a single season on Sunday.

WORTH 1,000 WORDS


GIF O' THE WEEK

No Michael Vick and too many Vince Young interceptions make Andy Reid go something-something.


Hot Seat Tracker

  • Mike Shanahan: Six losses in a row for the Redskins, who showed some promise by only losing in overtime. Or something.
  • Norv Turner -- The Chargers keep collapsing and there's nothing promising about their schedule. Three games against Jacksonville, Denver and Buffalo have to mean 2-1 at worst, or it might be time for Turner to move on.
  • Todd Haley: If the Pats whip the Chiefs on Monday night while the Raiders and Broncos keep winning, his seat just gets warmer.
  • Jim Caldwell: The Colts were upset by their bye. What can I say?
  • Steve Spagnuolo: I don't really understand the heat, but it's there.
  • Tom Coughlin: Also don't understand this heat, but let's just go ahead and get out front on this before the fans do.

Chasing Andrew Luck

Colts (-1000): Haha, but no really, they were upset by their bye. Do you see?
Vikings (+125): See: below.
Panthers (+150): The Colts have to win two games.
Rams (+250): Again, it would require the Colts winning games.
Redskins (+300): If only they hadn't won three games early.

MVP Watch

Despite playing -- ahem -- "poorly," Aaron Rodgers is still the clear-cut favorite to win the MVP at season's end. I'm not sure what it would take to derail him, but I think it's probably an injury and an injury only. Tom Brady's got a shot to come from the outside because he's Tom Brady and the Pats schedule stinks, but if the Packers go undefeated, he won't have a chance. Meanwhile, I still like Tony Romo to get darkhorse candidacy by Week 14. Maybe we should just talk about the other awards.
Posted on: November 20, 2011 9:19 pm
Edited on: November 21, 2011 12:09 pm
 

Jay Cutler breaks thumb, to have surgery

Posted by Eye on Football Staff

Bears coach Lovie Smith confirmed Monday that quarterback Jay Cutler has a fractured thumb.

Smith acknowledged in a radio interview that his starting quarterback suffered a fractured thumb on his throwing hand trying to make a tackle after an interception in the fourth quarter.

"Jay does have a right thumb fracture," Smith said on WBBM radio in Chicago. "He hurt it on the tackle, on the interception. Of course we took X-rays last night and he'll be seeing specialists this morning and we'll be able to tell you a little bit more after that."

The Bears said Cutler will have surgery to repair his fractured thumb and the team is hopeful he will return before the end of the regular season.

At any rate, the Bears are in serious trouble as Caleb Hanie will take over as the Bears starter, unless the Bears opt for the free agency route.

Their schedule over the next few weeks is reasonably easy, with Oakland, Kansas City, Denver and Seattle on the horizon, but losing Cutler for an extended period of time is clearly a season-changing issue.


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Posted on: November 20, 2011 1:35 pm
 

Bennett to be removed if he wears orange shoes

Posted by Will Brinson

Earl Bennett's orange shoes have cost him $15,000 already this season -- though the Bears are 2-0 when Bennett rocks the kicks, the NFL's fined him twice this season, once for $5,000 and the second time for $10,000.

According to CBS Sports' Charley Casserly, if Bennett wears the orange shoes on Sunday against San Diego, he'll be fined another $15,000. And he'll be removed from the game until he changes.

"The NFL told me they called the Bears this week and told them this: if Bennett wears the shoes today during the game, he will be fined a minimum of $15,000," Casserly said on The NFL Today. "But more importantly, he will be removed from the game and he will not be allowed to go back into the game until he has the proper footwear on."



Bennett's decision to continue wearing the shoes obviously didn't sit well with the league office -- and it sets a dangerous (well, relatively dangerous) precedent if the league simply continues to fine Bennett. There's a strict uniform policy around the NFL, but if there's no substantial punishment for breaking that policy apart from financial incentivizing, it wouldn't be shocking to see players do what Bennett did over a longer period of time.

The NFL clearly wants to nip that in the bud, and they're doing so by potentially keeping Bennett from playing on Sunday.

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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