In September, the Jacksonville Jaguars were considered to be Super Bowl contenders; in December, after a 30-17 loss to the Houston Texans dropped them to 4-8, the only thing that they are contending for is the title of most disappointing NFL team of 2008. Houston's rookie running back Steve Slaton rushed 21 times for 130 yards and two touchdowns. Sage Rosenfels completed 14 of 24 passes for 200 yards and one touchdown but his most important statistic is that he only had one interception; the Texans have moved the ball effectively this season but shot themselves in the foot with turnovers, usually committed by quarterbacks Rosenfels or Matt Schaub. Andre Johnson caught seven passes for 75 yards and one touchdown; he is so frequently being called "underrated" that he may be close to actually getting the recognition that he deserves as arguably the best receiver in the game today. ESPN's Steve Young, a Hall of Fame quarterback, said that Johnson's approach to the "art form" of football--something that Young also refers to as learning the "craft" of the game and that he holds near and dear to his heart--reminds him of the great Jerry Rice, Young's teammate for many years in San Francisco.
Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard put up similar numbers to Rosenfels--25-35, 287 yards, one touchdown, one interception--but he lost a fumble and on a few occasions he literally tripped over himself (or his linemen) as he dropped back to pass. In recent years, the Jaguars have been a big, physically powerful team that featured a dominant running game but this season the Jaguars are running the ball much less often and much less effectively than before. As ESPN's Ron Jaworski noted during the telecast, the decline in the effectiveness of Jacksonville's running game has negatively impacted the Jaguars' passing game as well by lessening the effectiveness of the play action fake.
Before the game, Young said that Jacksonville's subpar season indicates that there is a lack of mature leadership on the team; the players bought into the preseason expectations and did not work hard enough to turn those expectations into reality. After the game, Young offered these comments: "I got to be honest with you, it's hard to describe much about the Texans when in my mind it was really, really was about the Jaguars' inability to do anything but let's talk about the Texans for a minute. This is a young football team. When they're healthy, they look like a team that could turn the corner and really start to dominate. They have a great defense. They need another corner(back). They've got this young back (Slaton), if he can stay healthy--he's smaller, and that's a real risk. They've got this West Coast Offense and both quarterbacks seem to be able to handle it. When Matt Schaub gets back, I think that they are an above .500 football team." The Texans are 5-7, so a playoff run this season is not likely but the future seems to be bright for this franchise.
Here are some notes/comments about Sunday's action:
*The Baltimore Ravens handed yet another embarrassing defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals, who dropped to 1-10-1; the final score was 34-3 but could have even been worse considering that Baltimore controlled the ball for almost 39 minutes and rolled up 451 yards of offense. At least the Bengals are consistent: they gained 155 yards in this game, nearly matching the 154 yards that they totaled in their season-opening 17-10 loss to Baltimore. Bengals Coach Marvin Lewis neatly summed up the game and the season: "When you get your head kicked in like that, there's not much to say."
*New England's playoff chances took a hit in a 33-10 home loss to Pittsburgh. The Steelers forced five turnovers and those field position shifts helped them to score 30 straight points. Matt Cassel had thrown for more than 400 yards in two straight games but he completed just 19 of 39 passes for 169 yards and two interceptions versus the Steelers; he also lost two fumbles. Perhaps Patriots' fans can take solace in this obscure statistic: the last time that New England gave up 30 straight points--in a season-opening 31-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills five years ago--the Patriots went on to win that season's Super Bowl. In other words, it is possible for a good team to be thoroughly dominated in a game but still be a championship caliber club when it counts; for now, though, the Patriots have to concentrate on simply qualifying for the playoffs.
*After all of the tumult about whether Derek Anderson or Brady Quinn should be the starting quarterback, season-ending injuries to both players will force the Cleveland Browns to put Ken Dorsey at the helm of their anemic offense. Anderson's statistics in a 10-6 loss to the Colts were nothing to write home about (16-26, 110 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions) but the Browns led 6-3 in the fourth quarter before his pass protection broke down, first leading to a strip sack fumble that Robert Mathis returned 37 yards for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown and then resulting in another sack during which Anderson suffered a season-ending knee injury. Similar to Jacksonville, the Browns entered this season with high expectations that they will not even come close to fulfilling. Since the Browns rejoined the NFL in 1999 they have never established an identity, something that they consistently do well; they should take a cue from the Super Bowl champion New York Giants and build their team from the inside out by assembling dominant offensive and defensive lines. Last year, the Browns seemed to be on track toward putting together a good offensive line and in the offseason they made some moves to bolster their defensive line but they still need to improve in both areas. Of course, they also have to find--and stick with--an effective quarterback, whether he is already on the roster or has to be acquired from elsewhere.
For some inexplicable reason, the Browns have a history of not only playing the Colts very tough but shutting down their usually high powered offense; the last time the Colts failed to score an offensive touchdown was a 9-6 victory at Cleveland in 2003.