Monday, December 11, 2006

I woke up this morning wondering whether Dan Shaughnessy would tell us what his own words taste like. After all, last week he came out and told us that the two best teams in their respective conferences were the Cowboys and the Patriots. Of course that was a rash statement, made more to anticipate a potential "now the student has become the master" scenario which might be ripped from the script of any one of a thousand martial arts films or Star Wars Episodes II, III and IV in the Super Bowl in the unlikely event that Dallas and New England should advance to the title game. He didn't. Instead he wrote two articles on the same subject, it seemed.

After this weekend's action this much is clear: at this moment Dallas is much worse than New Orleans and Miami is much better than New England. With the way this NFL season has progressed, that could change at any minute. Of course one ought to watch more teams play more games before making pronouncements of any kind. Then again I have been wrong with alarming frequency and in spectacular fashion when I have made predictions this season.

San Diego right now looks 1,000,000 times better than New England. Their offense has been better than any one dreamed it would be in the hands of Philip Rivers. Yes, Tomlinson is an amazing back and will likely win the MVP. Their defense has weathered some strange times. Linebacker Steve Foley was shot by the San Diego police, safety Terrence Keil was arrested on the practice field by federal authorities and the man, the myth, the legend Shawne Merriman sat out four games after a positive test for performance enhancing drugs. They crushed Denver (which looks like a sinking ship, to the point where the boys might want to put Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead on their Netflix list), and right now look like they might not lose again, ever.

It brings me to an interesting question. Can Shawne Merriman really win the Defensive Player of the Year trophy this season? I have a friend who lives in San Diego and happens to have a giant man-crush on Merriman. He is convinced that Merriman is the defensive MVP, but then he tried to convince me that Marcus McNeal (the current Chargers left tackle) should win rookie of the year. Now that is patently absurd on several levels. First, no offensive lineman will ever win that award. Second, Colston and Vince Young have had incredible seasons and Reggie Bush has show flashes of brilliance. Third, my friend was kidding. I could provide a few more reasons, but it's late.

I think Merriman has had an amazing season. It's great to watch him play. Few players have ever had the amazing combination of size, strength and speed that he brings to the table. But there is the fact that he tested positive for a banned substance. He sat out four games, and still managed to put up impressive numbers. But he tested positive. I am not comfortable with awarding the defensive most valuable player trophy to a guy who lost a quarter of the season for a steroid violation. I don't know who else deserves it, outside of maybe Jason Taylor. But I'd rather see Taylor get it, even though the Dolphins won't make the playoffs.

Then there is the issue of Tony Romo. As tonight's Bears-Rams game came to a close, ESPN informed us that Sportscenter would be answering the question: "is Tony Romo regressing?" I've complained about this media trend several times in this space, and I'm sure I will have many more chances to do it again in the future. We live in a world of 24 hours news coverage, and people need to fill the programming lineup with something. So we have instant and incessant breakdown of every single thing that happens in news, politics, sports and entertainment. A little moderation and time for reflection would be nice, from time to time.

Tony Romo finished the game with 250 yards passing, a TD, 2 INTs and 2 sacks. It wasn't a horrible performance, but he wasn't very good either. His throws weren't as crisp as they had been in past games. He wasn't quite as lucky as he had been (although that TO TD was very lucky indeed). But is it regression or simply one bad game?

Joe Montana had at least one bad game in his career. Tom Brady was dreadful against Miami. Young, Elway, Marino, Manning, Unitas, Namath and Bradshaw had a game or two they would like to forget. But Tony Romo is outplayed by Drew Brees (by a vast margin, certainly), and all of a sudden it's all over for him. People need to let him have a couple of bad games before this talk starts. The great game he dropped on Tampa on Thanksgiving didn't make him a Hall of Famer and the egg he laid last night isn't a career ender. Let him build a resume before we carve his status in stone as great or terrible.

Consider this: who should know more about Tony Romo than his former offensive coordinator and quarterback coach? So it seems likely that Sean Payton had an advantage as he drew up a game plan to beat the Cowboys, knowing Romo as well as he did. The Saints outplayed the Cowboys, and outcoached them too. The Cowboys were manipulated by Payton and Brees, hence the massive beating the Saints put on them. Romo may or may not be regressing. Time will tell, provided we don't place too much emphasis on one game.

Take a look at Rex Grossman. After last week, people were demanding the appearance of Brian Griese. Then Grossman played fairly well in St. Louis tonight. So I imagine the heat might be turned down for a time. One thing that I did not see mentioned as folks broke down Grossman's breakdown is the fact that this is essentially his rookie season. It's the first time he's been healthy for a full season. He has played more games this year than at any other time in his life.

Maybe fatigue was a factor. Maybe he had a little less on his deep throws, which led to the interceptions. Maybe he's learning how to deal with that fatigue and protect the football at the same time. Maybe tonight was a brief return to normalcy, and the mistakes and turnovers are coming back with a vengeance in the playoffs. Who can tell? So maybe a bit more time is in order before we condemn or praise Rex too much.

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