We’ll avoid touching on the two officiating issues dominating the headlines after the NFL’s eleventh week, or the constant deluge of Richie Incognito stories. Instead, here are five other topics that seem relevant as the season hits its final quarter…
1) Robert Griffin III’s star sure dimmed quickly.
Amidst a 3-7 season, inexorably the discontent from a fan base is usually directed at one of two people: the quarterback or the head coach. In this case, both are getting their comeuppance from supporters invigorated by an NFC East title and playoff appearance last season. After an offseason in which Griffin had knee surgery and publicly lobbied to play while Coach Mike Shanahan insisted he wait until the opener, the Redskins look to be in total disarray following a disheartening loss to the Eagles on Sunday. Perhaps worse, Griffin seems to be blaming the coaches in his appearances with the media while players like Santana Moss are insinuating he start sharing the blame. There’s even talk of whether Shanahan will survive to see the final year of his contract next season, with many saying his seeming disillusionment with his quarterback could seal his demise. What a public relations tumble for everyone’s golden boy of last season, RGIII.
2) Last year’s Super Bowl participants are about to get key members of their offense back.
Word is that tight end Dennis Pitta is set to begin practicing again for the Ravens, and not a moment too soon. Joe Flacco has looked lost at times following his ascendancy to Super Bowl champ last year, mostly because he’s really only had one viable throwing option in Torrey Smith. As a result, teams have largely shut down Ray Rice (though he appeared to have a nice bounce-back game against the Bears this past Sunday). Pitta will help the offense loosen up a bit and hopefully make Flacco more confident in his pass-catching corps. The San Francisco 49ers just got Mario Manningham back and Vernon Davis is finally (seemingly) healthy again. While it didn’t lead to a win over the Saints on the road, once Michael Crabtree returns as expected in the coming weeks Colin Kaepernick will finally have his full complement of passing weapons for the first time all year. Both Baltimore and the Niners are making playoff pushes for the Wild Card, so these players’ insertion into the lineup comes at a crucial time in helping to decide whether they earn a chance to repeat their feats from last year.
3) The San Diego Chargers are still the same ol’ Chargers.
After a solid 4-3 start to the year and talk of the revitalization of Philip Rivers, the team has gone out and lost three consecutive games. Mike McCoy replacing Norv Turner was supposed to open up the offense and make it less stagnant, so how did they blow several chances at the one yard line to beat Washington or lose to the eternally distracted Dolphins this past Sunday? While the Denver loss sandwiched in the middle of those games is understandable, this is a team that needs to show a killer instinct when it has a chance to make a playoff push. Much like their counterparts, the Dallas Cowboys, they just don’t seem to have the “it” factor. You can’t blame Rivers this year, but you have to blame someone don’t you?
4) That was a bad loss for the Detroit Lions.
After leading the Pittsburgh Steelers late and with Matthew Stafford having no problem dicing up the Steeler secondary, the Lions ran a mind-boggling fake field goal attempt up by three early in the fourth. It failed, and so did their chance to earn a solid non-divisional win. The Lions are still in the driver’s seat in the NFC North thanks to a tiebreaker they hold over Chicago and the fact that Aaron Rodgers is still injured. But this team has to close out the season on a high note, not go stagnant like they have in the past. Their schedule the rest of the way out is a fairly easy one, so they must take advantage. The playoffs are a good bet, but losses like this one Sunday also speak to a team that may not have what it takes to make much noise in the postseason.
5) Matt Schaub’s era has to be over in Houston.
This had to be expected when Schaub returned from injury and was still looking up at Case Keenum on the depth chart. His early-season interception issues were well-chronicled, but it was the scene of he and Andre Johnson having it out on the sideline that is a true microcosm of Schaub’s standing with the Texans. Johnson has performed far better with Keenum under center, who seems perfectly happy throwing to him early and often no matter who’s in coverage. Coach Gary Kubiak, once a very staunch Schaub supporter, is going back to Keenum this week with the season in the tank and needing to analyze the quarterback situation long-term. Even the hometown fans prefer Keenum. It’s a perfect storm for the once ascending Schaub, and he will likely be on his way out after this year.