Thursday, September 25, 2008

Jon Kitna: 1. Matt Millen: 0.

Either I am some kind of impressive psychic or Jon Kitna's influence on the heavenly ear is far more than even he thought. In news that nobody is at all sad about except for Matt Millen, Matt Millen finally got fired from his reign of terrorizing ineptitude in Detroit, in news that came about 114 games too late for Lions fans. Earlier this year, in my "roundup" of NFL news, I mentioned that Jon Kitna and Kurt Warner had a prayer session to deliver them from Matts, and thus far, it seems to be working. Millen finally got the boot, and Warner won over the starting QB job from Leinart, which means we need to steal their prayer diaries to see what else they're planning to call down on us now that they've finally succeeded in securing God's attention. (Kitna must be on it to get his knee fixed and throw fewer picks. First one: in the realm of possibility. Second one: call in the backups, Gabriel). Lions-Cardinals NFC championship game, here we come!

In case you haven't noticed, I really like writing snark about quarterbacks. I promise I may write an actual football post soon, but there's just so much other material to follow up with, especially since all my tongue-in-cheek recaps have turned out to be remarkably accurate. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Also, my boy Jay is still pretty awesome. Just thought I'd throw that out there.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I mean, Gawddd, you'd never notice him. He's so, you know. Like, so. Inconthpicuouth.

Derek Anderson has to be hearing the footsteps now. After amassing a stunning stat line of 2 TD/5 INT/405 YD/43.5 RTG to start the season, GUESS WHO is lurking, waiting to take his place, to shock everyone with an explosion of starlight and pixie dust, and just be super duper fabulous on his way to leading the Browns to 13 straight wins, an AFC North title, a first round bye, dramatic victories over the Colts and Steelers, and an epic showdown in the Super Bowl against the Cowboys. Which he will then win, of course. Because Brady is just that cool. Because there is no resisting the allure of his shaggy hair, soulful eyes, chiseled abs, and overwhelming douchebaggery. Because the Brady Quinn Era is coming NOW. Because there ain't nothin' that can stand before the Cumslinger, Reborn.

But hey, don't go thinking that about Brady. He's just a nice Catholic boy who's been waiting for his chance. He hasn't been spiking Anderson's Gatorade with laxatives or anything nasty like that. He's just been doing his duty, serving his time, waiting patiently. He's a good kid. He's not gay, not if there was anything wrong with that if he was. Just because he can match color samples better than anyone on the team doesn't mean anything. You guys are so hard on him, seriously. Brady's not that bad. Sure, he's kind of got that spoiled athlete look down pat, and it's hard not to be jealous that the guy is making five kabillion dollars to stand on the sideline and perfect the angle of his pout, but c'mon. Wouldn't you want to be paid a lot of money to do something you loved? How can you fault him for working hard all his life to be rewarded like this? He's taken what he's been given and he certainly doesn't wish ill on Anderson so his time will come, since he knows it will. He just trusts in his God-given talent and lets the chips fall where they may. Seriously. You're too hard on him. Lay off.

I... uh....

Well, um, hem...

I'm sure there's a perfectly innocent explanation...

My dearest Mr. Quinn, I regret to inform you that you make it much too easy.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Matt Cassel Iz A Believer

Earlier this year, I touched on the fact that Matt Cassel had become the Patriots' resident sports theologian after continuing to struggle with the question of why God hates him so much and does not want him to play football. Behind Tom Brady, it looked as if the next time he played any sort of meaningful snap, it would be in Madden. But all Matt's years of imploring God and promising blood sacrifices have evidently not been in vain. Everyone has heard by now what happened -- Brady got Bernard Pollarded and is a wash for the year, Masshole fans have been committing suicide en masse, and Matt is rather taken aback at the success of his voodoo -- he was hoping for results, but not nearly so fast. He would have really preferred another few months to hide the evidence learn the playbook, dump his wife, and find a better, hotter supermodel to take her place, before turning into a flaming metrosexual and GQ cover boy, plus adding another hundred points or so to his career passer rating. Only then does Matt Cassel, Patriots Starting Quarterback *, feel confident enough to take over the reins.

* He and Aaron Rodgers have a lot to talk about.

Matt Cassel Sees God.

Now Matt, not Tom, will be in control of the Patriots offense, responsible for taking the snaps, reading the coverage, scanning for receivers, perfecting his fist pump, washing his jersey, developing a picture-perfect cleft in his chin, impregnating at least three women out of wedlock by the end of the year, buying a pashmina, bringing Laurence Maroney Gatorade on the sidelines, giving Tedy Bruschi his medicine, keeping Tawmmy from Quinzee in the stands and not on the field, instructing Kevin O'Connell in the serious art of holding the clipboard and pretending he has one iota of self-esteem, informing any gullible young supermodel that happens to be walking by that he's the Patriots' starting quarterback, selflessly volunteering to be the crash test dummy for the Giants' defense to practice on, and serving as Bill Belichick's general dogsbody, whether it's seducing his latest conquest, picking up his dry cleaning, re-painting his car, arranging his newspapers, making his coffee, sharpening his pencils, approving his evil smirk, or bending over in the shower room and taking it like a man after a bad defeat. Not, of course, that this would ever happen to the Patriots. Shock. Horror.

Honestly, you almost have to feel bad for the poor kid.

Get it together, chucklehead.

I'm serious, your days of sitting on the sidelines and dozing off are over.

Come on. Serious face! SERIOUS FACE!

You guys are screwed.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Psychology of Sports Fans, Vol. I

[In which I place on my philosopher, rather than comedian, hat. First posted last night at Mile High Report, now archived here. I strongly suggest you also read "The Philosophy of Sports Fans," a lengthy and thoughtful continuation of the questions raised herein, written over at MHR by poster styg50.]

I count myself under the "rabid, tending to dysfunctional due to extreme emotional attachment" brand of sports fans. I watch spring training and preseason games, whether on TV or on Gamecast. (My plans for Saturday night consist of: Get pizza. Watch Broncos game. Heckle the Cowboys even though they can't hear me through the TV screen. Make unimaginative cracks about Jessica Simpson. Yell at Jay to throw the ball to the open guy in blue (or orange, as the case may be). You get the idea). I read every stats sheet in existence. I check an average of five or six different sites a day, five or six times, for news on my teams. My evening is planned around how I can check on the games in progress -- or avoid them, if they are currently too painful to be endured. (This April, I went to a big dance party at college. During breaks on the sidelines, I was constantly texting MLBscores to keep updated on the progress of the Rockies game). I am happy if the team wins, and feel as if life is all a sham and should be disallowed in the (sadly all too common) event that my teams get their behind handed to them on a platter. This is a routine that likely sounds very familiar to all of you, since I'm sure all of us have similarly proudly displayed our lack of social skills and bizarre emotional swings all having to do with a bunch of guys in matching colors.

This can make you do strange things. As an example, I work at Starbucks, and today a guy came in wearing a raiders hat. My first impulse was to ignore him, or pretend to throw holy water on him, or make more cracks about Al Davis. (Earlier this year, I recounted my triumphant encounter with a raiders fan while leaving the Rockies game, in which wit wasn't even needed to outmaneuver the poltroon -- just a simple stating of his team's crappy record). Of course, it is my job to be nice to the guy, so I just took my sweet time finishing the drink I was working on and eventually got around to him, where I was very nice indeed. So nice he might have suspected something was up. So nice that I certainly didn't spit in his drink or anything... (As a matter of fact, to be perfectly honest, I didn't. Mainly because he didn't GET one. Nope, he just stood there with a bagel, one bagel, for me to ring up. And couldn't have gone somewhere else. Nope, needed the bagel. One bagel. Right then, raiders fan). And the guy wasn't even wearing a chargers hat. I wonder what I might have done if that was the case. (Although a kid did come in wearing a chargers shirt a while ago. I decided not to tell him that his choice of football allegiance sucked harder than Phyllis on dollar drinks night. Being as poor as I am, I can take no chances with losing my job).

I'm a psychology student and a chronic overthinker in addition to a sports fan, which of course got me wondering. I had never met this guy in my life. I am sure he was a perfectly ordinary fellow, but the colors which he had chosen to brand himself immediately sparked a "that guy has gotta be a dipshit, oh god" reaction in me. We have the choice of following, or not following, a team that wears some assortment of colors and throws some shape of ball around. We don't play the games, we don't manage the team (at least in reality, as we do our best armchair-jockeying). We don't pay the salaries (although we grumble at how much money we blow on them with so little results). We don't even write the newspaper coverage of them. (Although we should, since I swear to God your average fan at MHR could do a better job than some of the hacks in the press boxes. But that is another diary which has already been written and not by me...) Is it a primal emotional thing, to glorify in Us stomping on their heads? Do we identify ourselves with the players or as their followers? And for heaven's sake, why does it absolutely ruin an otherwise perfectly acceptable evening when we don't cross home plate more times/make more three-pointers/shoot the puck in the net more times/throw the ovoid to the guy in the end zone more times? There is enough insanity going on in the world, so is that the precise reason sports evoke such a response in us -- we know it's not Darfur or Russia/Georgia, but dammit, it DOES matter that the guy didn't aim right in getting the ball through the yellow uprights. People make a lot of money on this crap. Or lose a lot of emotional stability, as the case may be.

I get philosophical about sports, especially when my teams lose. (Since I am a diehard Rockies fan, I have this experience frequently). The more I think about it, it just doesn't entirely make sense. And then I go to the stadium on a summer night, have a dog and a drink, settle down, watch the opening video montage, and feel like, "Hell yeah! These are my guys! We're awesome! We rule! We kick butt! Hell yeah!" (And then this does not usually happen). Not your deepest emotional reaction, but no one would deny that it is deep. It does matter. Good luck explaining to your non-sports-crazy significant other that yes, the reason you want to put a paper bag on your head and die is because the one guy hit the ball three inches too far to the right for the game-ending double play instead of the game-winning single. Yes. That is the reason. And yes, you are an infidel because you don't get it. Wait, you have a life? Well, screw you.

(Interlude while I watch Michael Phelps win his record-tying seventh gold medal in his most exciting race since the 4x100 freestyle relay. Same thing goes here. Aside from the fact that Phelps is probably from another planet, he is from the USA, so I root for him. My sister and I leapt off the couch and roared when he somehow got in first. This at least has somewhat more sense in the fact that that's where I'm from, so national solidarity.... so.... state solidarity? Is it that we decide this particular group represents us, so we come together in a unity show? Is it the old pack mentality? Since we are from one place, we are better than you from another place?)

If I can get away with it during the course of my cognitive psychology Ph.D (still a few years off) I would like to be able to trick the department into letting me study if being a sports fan appeals to something in primal human nature. We all jump off the couch, pound our chests, and shout like cavemen when Jay threads the needle with a pass to a double-teamed Marshall in the endzone who somehow pulls it down... we don't waste time on analyzing why we are doing what we are doing, we just know that it feels good and HAHAHAHA EAT IT CHARGERS EAT IT HAHAHAHA. This is not particularly intellectual stuff. No one thinks that being a sports fan will save the world, but sometimes it does. Or at least our world. Maybe the whole rest of the day sucked, but at least the boys won, so we can deal with it. Or maybe you read a feel-good story about a dying kid getting to meet their favorite athlete. Or you have a get-together with your friends and talk about sports, it's something you can connect with. (MHR fulfills this role).

So, my question to you all is this. What makes us sports fans, and what keeps us there through the bad parts? I don't think that any of us would doubt that what we feel for these guys, these moments, these teams -- none of whom we've ever met unless we're stupidly lucky, none of whom we know aside from soundbites provided to the paper, yet who we watch devotedly every day or every Sunday -- is real love. And yet we put up with so much crap from them, like boneheaded passes into double coverage in the endzone that Marshall doesn't catch, but which instead get picked and run back for a touchdown. They break our hearts. They do stupid things like signing Kip Wells and failing to have a run defense capable of stopping a paper bag blowing in the wind. But we stick. They become a part of us.

And why, in chicken-pickin' hell, is this the case? Would we all be happier if we had the answer? Or would it really not matter? A lot of us start watching teams because we live in a certain geographic location, or because our parents did, or because of total accidents. And then we start obsessing. And then it generally goes badly. But hey, there we are, sitting with teeth clenched through one more five-run inning or three-and-out drive. And if we're bona fides we come back for more pain. And curse existence. And do it again, so we really have no excuses.

In short, I am watching the Rockies play the Nationals, a few games removed from a disastrous 3-7 homestand in which the Nats were responsible for 3 of these losses. But watching them anyway since they are my team. And waiting for the Broncos game to start, as I have all day. Despite the fact that it is preseason. Despite the fact that it is against the Cowboys, who schooled us in preseason last year (I tell myself that this will be an interesting opportunity to judge progress. For Pete's sake, I had to watch the entirety of the Colts/Redskins Hall of Fame Game to get my football fix. I want to see what the defense looks like, how sharp Cutler is, how well Clady matches up against DeMarcus Ware this week after drawing Mario Williams last week. I will probably be posting updates on the affair over at MHR. My name is Hilary and I have a sports problem, but at least I own up to it freely. There are far worse things to be obsessing about).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The NFL In A Nutshell

* Not all of the herein reported events may have occurred precisely as I describe them. Then again, they may have. I leave it to your discretion, dear reader (then again, that is deluding myself into believing that I have readers).

** This post contains the advised daily serving of BRETT FAVRE for your sports-fan health.

Since my last post on March 25, 2008 (a total of 141 days for those of you keeping score at home) a great many things have happened in the wonderful world of football. Training camps opened, for a start, and every Lions/Dolphins/Jets fan has talked him/herself into believing that the acquisition of Gosder Cherilus/Jake Long/TEHHH CHEESEHEAD GODDD!!!11 (BRETT FAVRE) will get them back to the playoffs for the first time since John Madden began walking upright. Teams got a look at their new finds from the 2008 draft, particularly some who were relying on fresh blood to lead the offense. Boston College's Matt Ryan (the first quarterback off the board, taken at #3 overall by the quarterback-challenged Falcons) inaugurated his new life as Michael Vick's successor by going to a production of Oklahoma! with a teammate and looking terrifically awkward when a camera caught him, but then threw for 113 yards and a TD in his first preseason game, raising everyone's hopes that they have a signal-caller who a) is competent at the job and b) doesn't have a side hobby involving cruelty to animals. Delaware's Joe Flacco, the second quarterback taken (#18 by Baltimore) looked as if the Ravens' modus operandi of fail had rubbed off on him, losing a fumble on his first snap and completing precisely zero of three passes, but still probably looking better than Kyle Boller, who may win the job again by default.

Hawaii's Colt Brennan, the former Heisman Trophy finalist who saw his draft stock slip dramatically after a bad Sugar Bowl showing, made his pro debut with the Redskins, who picked him in the sixth round (186 overall) and looked good in his first showing under quarterback guru Jim Zorn -- he finished the Hall of Fame Game against the briefly Manning-less Colts with 9 completions in 10 attempts, 123 yards, and a pair of touchdown passes. (BRETT FAVRE) San Diego State's Kevin O'Connell, taken in the third round (94th overall) by the New England Patriots, asked himself if God hates him and does not want him to play football, a question that resident sports theologian Matt Cassel has been struggling with for years. Louisville's Brian Brohm and LSU's Matt Flynn (taken 56th overall and 209th overall, respectively, by the Green Bay Packers) briefly wondered the same thing but then accepted Aaron Rodgers' breathless, euphoric, and misspelled e-mail invitation to join "A-Rod's Pack o' Thugz." Washington State's Alex Brink, the thirteenth quarterback off the board (#223 by the Texans) enjoyed a nice breeze and wondered if a seventh-rounder's signing bonus is enough to buy a Maserati. (BRETT FAVRE)

Speaking of quarterbacks (BRETT FAVRE) Tom Brady put up his "injured" foot, took a bath in Cristal and $100 bills to remind himself that he's still cooler, wealthier, better-looking, more successful, and gets laid more by a supermodel than you, Eli Manning got married and wondered why everyone suddenly liked him, Peyton Manning had surgery to remove an infected bursa sac from his knee, hoped to be ready for the regular-season opener, and made himself such a giant irritant to Ashley Manning by sitting around the house, bitching, and constantly watching game film of his 2006 AFC Championship win over the Patriots that she made him go wash Tony Dungy's car. Five times. BRETT FAVRE retired, unretired, retired, unretired, and made Cheesehead Nation spontaneously combust before returning to the Packers, getting messily divorced from them a few days later, and going on his merry way to the Jets, where we are now treated to (I'm serious) stories about how he had to run a penalty lap since he fumbled a snap. Fans across the Meadowlands reacted in delight, both to the fact that one of their teams had acquired an aging gunslinger (BRETT FAVRE) with a penchant for interceptions and bad facial hair, and the other had, I dunno, oh yeah, beaten some team with a really good record in the Super Bowl. In other news, BRETT FAVRE will also supplant Eli Manning, Trent Edwards, that Brady guy, Kyle Boller, and every other quarterback on the Eastern Seaboard, while breaking every record in existence and nailing your wife.

In other news, there was a tragedy at the University of Wisconsin where a college co-ed was found dead -- apparently the unfortunate was playing a drinking game, had to take a shot every time the sports media mentioned FAVRE, and died of alcohol poisoning in half an hour. Speaking of drinking, Aaron Rodgers got drunk in euphoria. Aaron Rodgers got drunk in crushing depression. Aaron Rodgers got drunk in euphoria again and then he smoked a really good bowl and shaved his porno-stache to prepare himself for the rigors of being the Packers' starting quarterback and wondering if they'd name a street after him one day. Also, he got so fed up that he swore he'd send an Andrea Kramer/Suzy Kolber-fronted sideline bimbo assassination squad after the next lazy sportswriter who titled a piece "Now It's Mr. Rodgers' Neighborhood." Bill Belichick, meanwhile, wondered where he could hire this squad to put Eric Mangini out of his misery, and made five thousand copies of the "Spygate" tapes before hijacking a B-52 to drop them all on Arlen Specter's rooftop at the dead of night while playing "Start the Machine" by Angels & Airwaves at 1,529 decibels.

David Tyree enjoyed a winter of never having to pay for his drinks anywhere in New York and the fact that people pretended they could tell him from Domenik Hixon before the Hail Manning in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. Michael Strahan retired, but got arrested for assault when, reacting out of habit when the doorbell woke him from a nap, he violently sacked the teenage babysitter (this coming as the third strike after he had already leveled the mailman and used the tax collector to pick the gap between his teeth). Ben Roethlisberger spent his offseason building a better motorbike, which backfired when Terrell Owens helped himself to it. Maurice Jones-Drew spent his offseason overturning garbage trucks for fun. Brady Quinn spent his offseason matching curtain prints, drinking Mai Tais, and shouting homophobic slurs at anyone wearing better hot pants than him. Rex Grossman impregnated 1,000 women from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to the Philippines (where his successor as Florida Gators quarterback, too-good-to-live and desperately devoted Christian Tim Tebow, was doing his part to save the world by circumcising poverty-stricken children. And that is actually not a joke).

Tony Romo got a STD from Jessica Simpson, dumped her, and desperately tried to keep it a secret until he could ask his Cabbage Patch Kid for advice -- unfortunately the Kid advised him to take her back, which he did, which will end badly after the Cowboys' first preseason loss when Dallas riots en masse to burn pink-jerseyed effigies. Elsewhere in Tixas, Wade Phillips, driven to the brink by megalomaniac Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, expanded to the approximate size of Chad Johnson's sense of self-importance and Mario Williams jumped up and down in a corner, wanting to know if anyone was going to remember the Texans, which everyone took as some kind of Alamo reference.

Jon Kitna and Kurt Warner held a prayer session asking God to deliver them from Matts: Millen and Leinart, respectively. In Arizona, everyone cared much more about the Super Bowl than they ever gave a crap about the Cardinals. In California, the 49ers continued the process of total irrelevance to everyone outside the Bay Area, changed their names to the Fightin' 39ers to sound more plucky and gritty, resigned when it didn't work, and then got scared awake by their alarm clock and a stern phone call from Roger Goodell telling them that doing anything without his express authorization, including breathing, is a violation of NFL conduct policy. (BRETT FAVRE)

The San Diego Chargers had to put a limit on Philip Rivers' offseason activities when they discovered that his new favorite hobby was daring his antagonists (a list ranging from the guy at the grocery checkout to Kofi Annan) to eat his surgically reconstructed ACLs. Los Angeles -- oh wait, Los Angeles didn't do anything since they don't have a pro football team, but laughed in the face of every other college program since they still have the USC Trojans and you don't. (Although they share their name with a well-known brand of condom, they still couldn't get Matt Leinart to wear one, which is a bit of a problem when you consider that he probably slept with all of the approximately 8,364 female undergraduates during his tenure there). (BRETT FAVRE) The Oakland Raiders retained Al Davis for the 134th consecutive year, thereby ensuring another year of disastrous and well-earned fail, and showed their commitment to their policy of making losers the face of the franchise by selecting Darren McFadden (two children by two different women at the tender age of 20) with their first pick, fourth overall. In doing so, they also ensured that McFadden, a top-performing running back at the University of Arkansas, will be able to tear unencumbered by the Denver Broncos' mesmerized defense, who somewhere along the way got a key tenet of football backwards and think that you are supposed to step aside and let the little guy with the ball plow easily through your big guys, who look imposing in theory but in practice are worse than useless. (BRETT FAVRE)

Jay Cutler discovered that diabetes were the reason he was so sick and drained last year, losing 35 pounds, as he'd initially attributed it to the fact that he'd stopped eating after receiving mysterious, threatening notes from "Jack Eldham," who is certainly not a legendary quarterback for any Denver team and certainly not interested in ensuring that nobody likes Jay better than they liked him. If he ever played, that is. Brandon Marshall, meanwhile, had a fight with his brother, a McDonald's bag, Roger Goodell, and common sense, and lost all four by a resounding margin while getting slapped with a three-game suspension to open the season. Jason Elam took his game-saving leg and Christian thriller novels off to Atlanta, leaving the Broncos with Matt Prater in return, which initially looked like a livable trade-off until everyone discovered that Prater had been padding his resume to say that he went to football powerhouse Florida when in fact he actually went to Central Florida and almost got eaten by an alligator while drunk at a frat party. (BRETT FAVRE) Mike Shanahan was named Broncos King for Life by Broncos Emperor for Life Pat Bowlen in a secret underground ceremony, where he honed the psychic powers that allowed him to cut troublesome wide receiver Javon Walker two weeks or so before Walker, who should be commended for exemplifying the principles of his new employers, went out and got drunk and beaten up in Las Vegas to celebrate his signing with the Raiders. And in an explosive revelation sure to upset almost no one, the Carolina Panthers were actually discovered to be a long-running urban legend. (BRETT FAVRE)

In short, it was a very busy offseason. With one week of preseason games under the nation's collective belt, everyone has discovered (BRETT FAVRE) it's time for pigskin. Will I be back? Well, hopefully. As the long hiatus between posts attests, I get distracted. But I'm feeling in a football mood, may actually finish the Quarterback Quizzes, and will write some crap on Denver's new "look" and "acquisition" and try to determine if this is any different from last year's -- which was to say, losing. (BRETT FAVRE) That was annoying.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Brandon Marshall Vs. McDonald's Bag. Brandon Loses

Well, isn't this just the kind of news I want to hear on the heels of the Broncos opening their offseason strength and conditioning program in Englewood today. Brandon Marshall, the Broncos' top WR, has some kind of arm injury that will keep him in a cast for a few weeks and a splint for months after that, although they say he will supposedly be ready for full-fledged training camp in July. Nor was it just a little cut, as he said, as the NFL Network has said that the injury is serious -- Marshall somehow having managed to sever an artery, a vein, a nerve, and tendons of five muscles, which sounds incredibly painful and pretty serious, especially when your job description involves hauling in footballs for a living. It's hard enough to catch them with two good arms and hands, and definitely close to impossible with one. Marshall is by far our best WR and this is not good news.

How did this little mishap coming about? Marshall evidently told the team that it was incurred by wrestling with his family members -- some wrestling match, I hope some deadbeat uncle didn't pull a switchblade or something. But in a published report in the Rocky Mountain News, he claimed he slipped on a fast-food bag, and when trying to break his fall, put his arm through an entertainment center. Naturally, I'm a little suspicious of both these explanations, and I pray that Marshall hasn't been doing something stupid like his teammate Marcus Thomas, or like Tim Hudson in the 2003 ALDS, getting into a bar fight in Boston. He's already waiting a delayed trial on DUI charges, and I have a really low tolerance for the consistently thuggish behavior of NFL players. Besides, the Broncos are doing their best to catch up with the Falcons or Bengals in terms of the All-Con team, and that naturally reflects poorly on the team and city. (They were also named as primary customers of a high-priced escort service, but I haven't heard anything more on that, yet...) I wish they'd give it a rest, and I hope that Marshall gets better quickly, as we need him catching passes. We also need him telling the truth and staying out of trouble. Le sigh.

With baseball season starting, I've been getting back to Sparks of Dementia more, and I know I have left the Quarterback Quizzes unfinished for the moment, with the Raiders, Seahawks, Cardinals, 49ers, and Rams left to go. When the draft rolls around on April 26-27, I'll probably be ready to post some football and will cover both draft results and (hopefully) finish the quizzes. Then again, I might even do that beforehand. Possibly.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Tom Brady's Big Mistake

That is, of course, if you believe this story. Allegedly, Tom and his arm-candy supermodel could not contain their bounteous lusts, and had to give in to a session of the horizontal (vertical) mambo in a NYC restaurant wine cellar, which would have been standard-issue behavior for your young, insanely rich, attractive, famous power couple... if they hadn't been caught on videotape doing it. Yep, sounds like a juicy, and probably untrue, celebrity sex tape scandal to me, and if this by some chance actually did happen, then I hope it gets disseminated everywhere and Bill Belichick gives Brady a reaming. The funny thing is, Brady's incredible on the field and pretty much an ever-worsening douchenozzle off it, but even I can't see him having the phenomenally bad judgment to do this. (Assuming it is true, and not just some rabid anti-Patriots weirdo raving about a fictional tape that, to be honest, most Patriots fans would watch, if only to imagine themselves in Gisele's place... I mean, what?) Brady already isn't the most popular figure in the NFL, but he does have the image of the Golden Boy, for better or worse, and he had to know that things like this don't stay quiet. Does he really want Sextapegate looming over his head at every turn like Babygate (the fact that he has a son with his ex-girlfriend, which was returned to ad nauseam at various points during the season) did last year? Does he really WANT to give Patriots-haters even more ammunition, crumble his image, and kick away the last idea that he is anything other than your typical shallow, vain, overly horny and minimally intelligent celebrity?

Hey, you never know. Sticking it in a Victoria's Secret model on Candid Camera? That's worth a whole friggin' ton of lifetime memories, and I guess he has to console himself somehow for not winning that fourth Super Bowl ring. I mean, aside from playing football and not seeing his son, how many hobbies can a guy have? Besides, it was a traumatic loss, so after being the Giants' little bitch all night, he feels the need to prove his masculinity and the fact that he is still better than you. Idiot. If the boy isn't careful, he's going to have a little Brady-Bundchen to go with the Brady-Moynahan model already in existence, and wouldn't that be a tragedy? Although he might see this version a little bit more... don't worry, Tom, knock up seven more starlets and you'll be the glitterati version of Travis Henry! You will also need every penny of that $60 million contract to pay child support, although you might recoup it all if you go on Jerry Springer.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Aaron Rodgers Is Whooping It Up

...and waiting for the other shoe to fall. So in the 24 hours between now and Favre changing his mind, Aaron is living the good life, swaggering around to every suburban-Wisconsin restaurant and saying slyly to every pretty blonde thing, "You know I'm the Packers' starting quarterback, right?" and chartering private jets and drinking Cristal and hosting mad parties and yukking it up. This is a yearly routine for poor Aaron, because before the aforementioned time frame is through, Favre is going to say, "What, I'm letting the KID play? Arr! Gimme me my spikes back and get outta my way, whippersnapper!" and crush Rodgers' dreams all over again. He will be left to sleep off his hangover and think about long-haul truck driving in the offseason to pay off all the debts he has amassed. Unless, of course, he actually is the Packers' starting quarterback.

Yep, it's official. Cheesehead Nation is flying the flags at half mast. Brett Favre has retired.

This shifts the balance of power in the NFC North, even if it's not entirely certain to who. The Vikings need a new quarterback, the Bears re-signed Rex Grossman, and the Lions didn't fire Matt Millen, and now the Packers will be helmed by a rookie instead of the Cheesehead Messiah for the first time in 17 years. It'll be interesting to see who emerges from that scrum, and how long Packers fans give Rodgers to turn into Favre; he and Cutler will have a lot to talk about about succeeding a beloved, career-long franchise quarterback. Rodgers will, however, have to avoid playing the part of Jake Plummer/Brian Griese (inept and generally disliked) and jump straight to the Jay Cutler part (young and on the rise, could make them forget about Elway/Favre).

Favre says he can still play, but is "tired," and was upset by the Packers' failure to get Randy Moss, so he's deciding to hang it up on his terms, evidently. It's been confirmed, evidently that early post on about his retirement ended up to be correct, but I'm still not buying it. Nor, I imagine, is Aaron Rodgers. Quick, Aaron, do your yearly max-out of your black AmEx and go talk to your Vikings friends about organizing a Love Boat... but only if you're sure Favre is in fact coming back. Otherwise, take it easy, son. You're suddenly going to get a lot more popular.

Perhaps I am not being charitable enough to a guy who spent his whole career with the team, who is one of the best QBs in the sport, who made himself beloved to a lot of people in subzero temperatures wearing replica dairy products on their heads. Maybe I should put an animated .gif of an American flag and candles, along with little dolls bowing and a tinkly background version of an Avril Lavigne song. I actually have nothing against Favre, believe it or not, aside from hating all his media fellatio -- he was pretty good for a quote (My favorite, to a referee while on the sidelines: "Here's some advice for you. Take two weeks off, then quit.") and he's genuinely a tough guy and did a lot, to say the least, over his career. I just can't bring myself to be that, you know, sad, since you know he'll probably be back anyway.

As a matter of fact, it already happened. Rodgers had a chance to cement his role, but sadly, he came in for his final training session still suffering the aftereffects of his party last night, which led to Favre un-retiring on the spot. I continue to imagine conversations between quarterbacks and their backups below. Stereotypes (first Quinn, now Favre) are fun.

Favre: And you're gonna throw it that far. Allll the hell way down thar. That's how you throw a touchdown pass, son, just rear back and air it out down there, one of them speedy lil' black fellers'll catch it.
Rodgers: [laughs incoherently]
Favre: 'Cuz that's what I done all this 17 long years. 17 years, boy! How old were you when I was startin' out? 2?
Rodgers: [laughs, distracted by shiny object]
Favre: You probably wasn't born yet!
Rodgers: [eats sweatshirt sleeve]
Favre: Goddamn, boy. You smell like WEED!
Rodgers: [giggles]
Favre: You want some damn Doritos?
Rodgers: [giggles]
Favre: Shuddup, you're screwin' with my concentration. I'm tryin' to bequeath you my legacy, boy!
Rodgers: [munches on Fritos from pocket]
Favre: I cannot f*ckin' believe I am handin' the keys to my empire to this here chickenshit.
Rodgers: Have any [laughs for ten minutes]... cookies?
Favre: What the sam hill is so damn funny?
Rodgers: I'm feelin' GOOD! I'm feelin' FLY! [laughs] [falls over]
Favre: Oh fer the love of cotton-pickin' baby Jesus... how the hell am I supposed to go if they give the Pack this ...
Peter King: That's the point, Bretty! [is muffled]
Favre: [nudges Rodgers with his toe]
Rodgers: [snores beatifically]
[Long pause]
Favre: Gimme the ball.
Packers Fans: Never leave us!!!
Favre: Gimme the damn ball or I'm leavin'.
[Long pause]
Favre: Wait.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Brady Quinn Is Not Amused

Derek Anderson got a new contract from the Browns, who were reluctant to tinker with the juju that brought them their first winning season in quite a while -- leaving Queen to warm the bench, hold the clipboard, and mutter fruitlessly and be in denial for another few years. Despite being rich and self gay-hating, Queen just CAN'T get to be the starter on his own TEAM! It was never this bad at Notre Dame! In any case, I don't think the two Browns quarterbacks are exactly friends at this moment.

Due to my super-powered listening skills, I have determined that the conversation at the time this picture was taken was going something like this:

Anderson: I'm rich now, Brady.
Queen (grumpily): So am I, Derek.
Anderson: And I get to start.
Queen (muttering): Up yours.
Anderson: I'll pass.
Queen: You're just jealous 'cuz YOU'RE not a sex symbol.
Anderson: [long look] [decides against commenting]
Anderson: Dude. Chill the f*ck out.
Queen: I hate my life.
Anderson: Sorry to hear that. You still have it better than 99.9% of the people on this planet.
Queen: Somebody buy me a Mai Tai.
Anderson: No.
Queen: Be my friend, Derek.
Anderson: No.
Queen: Want some skittles?
Anderson: No.
Queen: Wanna taste the rainbow?
Anderson: No.
Queen: Come on, Derek! It was just a question! Why do you have to be so tempera--mental --
Anderson: Mr. Crennel? Is that you, Mr. Crennel! Yes, of course, I'm ready to run a scrimmage!
[runs off]
Queen (suspiciously): The defense is on the field, genius. See, I'm going to be a starting quarterback, I should notice these things.
[Anderson fails to return]
Queen (depressed): I must suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune alone.
Queen (nobly): It is my destiny. I, Brayden Tyler Quinn, will be a star one day, and no one can tell me otherwise for following my heart, for living my dream, for doing my best, and standing aside and waiting until the opportune moment. I have only one life, I must live it to the fullest. I must put aside those who do not care for me, who do not love me, and trust in myself in this wild, strange, long journey across the heartland of America into the hearts of pigskin-loving souls the country over. They will love me then, and I will love them back, and I will show them all along, I have held them in the same tender regard in which they esteem me.
Queen: [bursts into tears]
Queen: Damn, Brady, that was good.
[Anderson runs by, muttering]
Anderson: I changed my mind. I think I'll go to free agency after all.

Roethlisberger Re-Upped, Other Signing News & Notes

Big Ben is now making big bucks, per the Rocky Mountain News. The Steelers QB and motorcycle enthusiast signed an eight-year, $102 million extension that will keep him in Pittsburgh black and gold through 2015, and includes over $36 million guaranteed money. Just think of how many motorbikes that'll buy! Hopefully, now that he doesn't have to, hem, pinch pennies, he can buy a few helmets to go with it. But this is a show of commitment by the Steelers to their playmaker, seeing how much space he'll now be taking up on the Pittsburgh payroll, and exceeds even the $98 million deal Manning signed with the Colts in '04. Steelers fans probably think it's worth it. Roethlisberger has proven what he can do for them, and this will move him further toward his stated wish of wanting to be like "the Dan Marinos, like the John Elways, guys who played with one team their whole career." (Props on citing Elway, Ben, always a good idea). Still, you'd think they'd spend a little of this money on guys who can actually protect Roethlisberger, who was sacked a whopping 47 times last season.

As for other market rumblings, Asante Samuel was snapped up by the Eagles almost as soon as free-agency period opened, despite some talk about the Saints being the front-runner. Randy Moss has said he is frustrated with the Patriots' lack of motion on getting a new contract hammered out after they declined to franchise-tag him, and that's led to some horrifying (if you're a Patriots fan or a fan of a team in the NFC East not Dallas) rumors of him landing with the Cowboys. Moss and Terrell Owens on the same team? Can the world take the united forces of douchebaggery (more than usual, that is) emanating from Texas? Will Moss yank out a machete if Romo throws to T.O. more often? Oy vey. I wouldn't envy anybody in that clubhouse if this should somehow take place.

Broncos DT Marcus Thomas has fallen back into iniquity with his (non) rocket-scientist friends, and was arrested after he was in the car with a friend who was busted for coke. Thomas's problems go back to his playing days at UF, where Urban Meyer was so convinced that he was hanging out with the wrong sort that he tried to stop him from going home. Yet again, it's the same old song, that Thomas is hanging out with all the wrong kinds of people, and he needs to wake up and realize that he's an NFL athlete and fulfilling the dream of playing pro sports isn't going to last forever. Dump those losers and put in some actual effort to change, Marcus... Unfortunately, being an NFL athlete these days entails being busted for just about every offense under the sun, so maybe he's taking notes. Thomas is also lucky he plays at DT, and behind him is The Ghost of Matt Lepsis (switched to the D-line instead of the O-line since there's practically no one else) and if we cut him, we'd be in even more dire straits than we are now. Denver is not going to have any leeway to point and snicker at the Falcons and Bengals if their offseason of arrests keeps up. Oy.

The Broncos also signed WR Keary Colbert, formerly of the Panthers, to a three-year contract. Colbert is only 25 and was a second-round pick out of USC, and had 47 catches in 2004, which he hopes to replicate in competing for the #2 WR job. This isn't exactly a stellar pickup, but the team is being quiet in free agency and hoping to get enough selections to address all their needs in the draft. (They did, however, sign Seattle linebacker Niko Koutouvides, Pro Bowler Lofa Tatupu's backup and special-teams ace, since they need somebody, anybody, to plug in the D-line). Brandon Stokley is not an every-down receiver and therefore will be in the #3 spot, no matter what that article says. Also, Denver has a surfeit of DEs with Jarvis Moss's return and Elvis Dumervil entrenched, plus re-signing Engelberger and Ebenezer Ekuban (who didn't play last year due to injury). Dumervil and Moss, if he's healthy, figure to be the starters on the frontline corners.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

John Lynch Makes It Back, A Couple Cuts

In news that comes as a relief, the Broncos and John Lynch have finally come to terms on a new contract. And the story as to how that happened is kind of amusing. Lynch had decided that he was, in fact, going to move on, had even drafted a letter thanking his fans and teammates, and then called Broncos owner Pat Bowlen to tell him about it. Fortunately, in one of those little coincidence/splinter of fate things that get traced back to turning points by weird people like me, Bowlen had gone out for a late dinner and didn't answer his phone, and when he got back and answered Lynch's call, Lynch himself had gone to sleep. When he woke up the next morning, the decision didn't feel right.

"I could probably go make more money elsewhere in the free agent market," Lynch said. "And I had really gone to bed excited about that.

"And then I woke up thinking, "What am I doing?" I've got four kids who are happy here. I've found a home here and I didn't want to be one of those guys going from team to team. I felt I had earned what I had coming to me but sometimes you have to step back and look at the big picture. And the big picture to me was: I had to find a way to make this work."

So he took a pay cut to play a fifth season in Denver and help stabilize an uncertain position. Nick Ferguson is an unrestricted free agent and is likely moving on, and Hamza Abdullah is a restricted free agent and will also garner some interest. Denver will still probably be drafting a young safety in April -- their secondary is thin, Lynch is 36 and suffered a neck injury last year similar to the one that almost ended his career, and the contract situations of their other safeties are unresolved. But in the age of athletic mercenaries, it's nice to see a guy waking up and realizing that there are more things that matter than simply getting the most money. Lynch has lost a step with age, and has never been blessed with blazing speed to keep up with the fastest receivers, but makes up for it by being one of the hardest hitters in the NFL and a guy who plays the game, both on the field and off it, the right way. He'll provide a voice of experience to all the kids and if things should go too dramatically south, it's still only for one year. I'm happy to have him back in orange and blue!

Also, the Broncos officially released Javon Walker, to no one's surprise, and after designating Stokley the number three receiver, need to look for a #2 to slot in between him and Brandon Marshall. It's doubtful they go for the WO with their first pick due all the help they need on defense, though; they also released linebacker Ian Gold. One boon is that they will have 17th-overall pick DE Jarvis Moss (hopefully) healthy this year, and when paired with Elvis Dumervil, can display a more effective frontline corner than we saw this year. They also brought DE John Engelberger back, and the contract situation with K Jason Elam is still unresolved. I say, sign the guy and have done with it. Elam can't make 50-yarders (not many except the Titans' Rob Bironas can) but he was responsible for four game-winning FGs last year and is relatively automatic from 40 yards.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Quarterback Quiz: Denver Broncos

At last, we've gotten to the Quiz I really wanted to do, as Cutler is my favorite player on my favorite team and I actually know something about him that is not the result of quick research around the Internets in order to put together a coherent piece. But the quizzes have been good for me as well, because they give me a better sense of each team and how the draft chips might fall in April. One thing I do know about the Broncos -- they need defensive help like whoa. Firing defensive coordinator Jim Bates, who wanted to use a system that he didn't have the right pieces for, may be a start, but new coordinator Bob Slowik has been on teams that have been record-setting in all the wrong ways for the amounts of points yielded. He was formerly the secondary coach, however, and prized corner Champ Bailey has spoken highly of him, saying he's more willing to listen to players and to run systems that are catered to the team's defensive strength -- namingly, their All-Pro tandem of Bailey and Dre Bly at the corners, and safety John Lynch (if he returns, which isn't a certainty, and he's lost a little of his edge with age). But one thing they also need is an offensive lineman who will adequately protect Cutler, regarded as the new face of the franchise, and that's why a number of mock drafts have them taking Boise State's offensive tackle Ryan Clady (the Boise State team, interestingly, is also named the Broncos) or Cutler's fellow Vanderbilt alum Chris Williams, also an OT, with the 12th overall selection. If they decide to beef up the safety position to account for Lynch's possible departure, Miami's Kenny Phillips is an option, as is Washington State's Husain Abdullah, younger brother of current Broncos safety Hamza. Neither of those would be the first pick for Denver, but may be available in the later rounds.

Denver Broncos (7-9): Jay Cutler

Playing quarterback in Denver ever since the Post-Elway years has always been a trial by fire. Brian Griese had one Pro Bowl year in 2000, but was plagued by too many interceptions and general inconsistency, and Jake Plummer was dubbed "Jake the Snake" by snarky Denver sportscasters for, well, you can probably guess why. I can't believe I am going to write this, but Plummer wasn't entirely as terrible as everyone tended to think he was, as he rated 91.2/84.5/90.2 in his first three seasons with Denver and did in fact once beat the Patriots in a playoff game. He did throw 60 touchdowns in those seasons, but also 34 interceptions, not exactly the desired ratio for a quarterback, and even I, who did not yet really follow football at the time, knew of Denver's general loathing for Plummer and his constantly recurring ineptitude.

For everyone still basking in the Elway glow, Plummer just didn't fit the bill, and his hesitance in passing and decision-making, plus his knack for being picked at inopportune times, led Mike Shanahan to start emphasizing the run more, something which carries over to this day; he doesn't seem to realize that he can again try some of the longer passing plays with Cutler that he did with Elway. Denver employs a West Coast offense that requires a quarterback able to open lanes for the run, and if said quarterback cannot complete passes to stretch a defense horizontally, the running back is going to head smack into all those big guys on the other side of the line of scrimmage. (Hell, this happened a lot this year, as Shanahan kept calling running play after running play after running play...) But now that they have a quarterback who has the arm and smarts to be able to make passing plays work of their own accord, not simply to clear holes for running backs Travis "Da Babymaker" Henry and Selvin Young, hopefully we'll see some difference. The problem with plugging Plummer into this (or any) system, of course, was that it didn't matter if you were trying to complete long or short passes, he just wasn't a guy you could trust to complete them -- period.

People forget as well that Elway was really only a very average quarterback for the first 10 years of his career (the highest he rated in between 1983-1992 was 83.4) and although he has over 50,000 career passing yards and 300 TD, he has 226 INT as well. (His career rating, for the record, is 79.9). He was, however, a strong-armed gunslinger in the model of Brett Favre, and leading the team to consecutive Super Bowls in '97-'98, including one over Favre's Packers, ensured that didn't matter. Watching Plummer attempt mightily just to get it to the guys in blue and orange didn't quite match up. Besides, Elway had that steely-eyed, jaw-set charisma of a natural-born leader, and the much-ballyhooed and parodied "intangibles" that could will a team to win. He was responsible for orchestrating one of the best and most mythic comebacks in NFL playoff history (The Drive, 1987) and was a guy that you could always feel confident would inspire the others to play at their highest potential. Plummer, on the other hand... let's just say he didn't invoke that kind of confidence. The best you could hope for was that he wouldn't mess up too badly, or he'd stumble his way into a good game, and that reaches the players as well as the fans. They're professionals, they always play hard because it's their job, they're being paid, and they (presumably) all love football, but there's a big difference between having a quarterback with average skills and an Elway mindset and a quarterback with average skills and a Plummer mindset. But enough about J.C.'s predecessors.

Jay Christopher Cutler, future saviore to a Denver team weary of Plummer's farting around, was born on April 29, 1983, in the festively named Santa Claus, Indiana (yes, the one where they send all those Christmas letters to get the Santa Claus postmark) and grew up in a subdivision named Christmas Village, which means he probably got sick of Christmas when he was a teenager. Attending Heritage Hills High School in Lincoln, Indiana, he, like many other of the quarterbacks we've examined, played three sports; he made All-State in basketball and baseball (where he was a shortstop). But he excelled in football, and started for three years both as a quarterback and as a safety. (Cutler was good at safety, too. He intercepted 9 passes as a senior -- only one short of the 10 put up this year by San Diego's Pro Bowl corner Antonio Cromartie. Of course, this is the NFL, that was high school, but still). But when he wasn't making other quarterbacks miserable, he was doing a decent job of it on his own -- more than decent. (It should also be noted that Jay Cutler was the best Patriots quarterback in organizational history. Er, the best Heritage Hills Patriots quarterback, that is). But like his NFL counterpart Tom Brady, he also led the Patriots to a perfect season -- 15-0 his senior year after going 11-1 as a junior. Also like the NFL's Patriots, they tyrannized the competition -- the Heritage High Patriots scored 746 points while permitting only 85, and Cutler presided over a 90-0 shutout of Pike Central High School at one point, an embarrassment that would have made Belichick proud. But unlike the real Patriots, they sealed the deal. (Burn). Cutler led Heritage High to the school's first 3A state championship, in which Zionsville High School was unable to play the part of the New York Giants and pull an upset. The Patriots won 27-24.

Cutler chose to attend Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, an unfortunate member of the SEC (Southeastern Conference) alongside heavyweights UGA, UT, UK, and UF, and generally their doormat. (Seeing as Vanderbilt is the most scholastically inclined of the lot, that explains why it becomes a problem when they face off against their football-minded rivals, who get all the best athletic recruits). But Jay started 45 games at quarterback for the Commodores, not missing a game to injury or, ahem, unavailability, which was a school record. A four-year starter (and team captain for three) Cutler wasted no time in making his mark -- as a freshman, he set records for rushing (393 yards) and touchdowns (9, plus 10 passing ones) running more than any other QB in the SEC, and was named to the All-SEC team. As a sophomore, he threw for 2,347 yards, 18 TD, 13 INT, and a 127.7 rating, as a junior it was 1,844 yards, 10 TD, 5 INT, and a 134.8 rating, and as a senior, it was 3,073 yards (only the second Commodore to throw over 3,000 in a season) 21 TD, and 9 INT with a 126.1 rating. For his performance, Cutler was the first Commodore to be named SEC Offensive Player of the Year -- in a division with the Volunteers, Gators, and Bulldogs, remember -- since 1967 and Bob Goodridge. At one point, Vanderbilt almost upset the Gators in Florida, lasting until double overtime before succumbing 49-42. They still managed to put up the second most points ever on the Gators in the Swamp, and when evaluating the Broncos' pickup in 2006, that led John Lynch to remark, "If this guy can take a bunch of future doctors and lawyers and have them competing against the Gators, this guy is a stud." He seems to be quite right thus far, and another year will only help.

Cutler went out with a flourish, closing his college career with a 28-24 win over the Volunteers in Knoxville -- the Commodores' first at their in-state rival's field since 1975, and their first overall since 1982. When he was all through, he held school records for total offense, TD passes, yards, completions, attempts, and total touchdowns, and graduated in December 2005 with a degree in human and organizational development before attending the annual NFL Scouting Combine the next spring. He impressed there as well, completing 27 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press (higher than some linemen and able to press as high as 400) and recording a 4.77 40-yard dash, being rated as the third-best quarterback prospect behind UT's Young and USC's Leinart. (Although Leinart was later selected by the Cardinals, some mock drafts had Cutler going there instead. I am glad this wasn't the other way around).

Although the Cardinals, Ravens, Raiders, and Lions had all expressed interest (dear god, I pity poor Jay if he ended up on any of those teams, especially the Raiders -- I wouldn't like having to hate him) the 11th-overall selection by the Broncos stunned everyone, Jay himself included. The Broncos had traded their 15th and 68th picks to the St. Louis Rams to take their selection, and nabbed the third ever first-round pick from the Commodores. Plummer had done nothing to endear himself in the last game the Broncos had played, a 34-17 AFC Championship game loss to the Steelers in which his three fumbles and one interception led to three Pittsburgh touchdowns, and Denver was less pleased with him than ever. It was time for a changing of the guard.

Cutler didn't bother with any silly Quinn/Rivers holdouts, signing a six-year, $48 million contract with the team in July 2006. But despite all, the brain trust wasn't ready to hand the keys to the Denver offense to a rookie just yet, and gave Plummer one last chance to prove he wasn't a total tool and could be trusted to run the team. Plummer, however, failed unequivocally at this; in passing for 1,994 yards, 11 TD, 13 INT, and a 68.8 rating, it was a miracle that the team got to 7-4, which is where it stood when Shanahan finally gave him the boot, ending weeks and weeks of Cutler/Plummer debates in the Mile High City. Plummer had his supporters, mind you, who argued that he'd gotten the team all the way to the AFC Championship the year before and that Cutler was still a rookie from a less-heralded program. But it's safe to say that nobody was really too broken up to see Plummer go.

Cutler started out with a 23-20 loss to the Seahawks on Sunday Night Football, completing 10 of 21 passes for 143 yards, 2 TD, and 2 INT. One of these TDs, however, was a 71-yard bomb to rookie WR Brandon Marshall, offering the first glimpse of what eventually could become a lethal combination in the Denver offense; if not Brady/Moss, then maybe Romo/Owens or Manning/Harrison. (Marshall is a big receiver with speed, good hands, and strength -- he excels in getting after-catch yards and it generally takes a double team to bring him down. He and Cutler took advantage of it this year, as Marshall had a 102-catch, 1,325-yard, 7-TD season and looks only to build on it next season. He and Jay, along with tight end Tony Scheffler, are spending the winter training together in Atlanta, Georgia). It took Cutler a few tries to win his first game, as he lost to the Chargers on the road the next time out, but even that wasn't without its highlights, as he and Scheffler connected for two touchdowns in the space of 48 seconds.

But he at last got his first win as a starter on December 17 against the Arizona Cardinals, 37-20, and again showed off the howitzer attached to his right shoulder by bombing a 65-yard TD pass to Javon Walker on the offense's third play from scrimmage. He finished with a 101.7 game rating, the highest for a Broncos rookie QB since Elway (of course) and earned praise from Shanahan. He definitely wasn't making anyone miss Plummer (which would have been hard anyway, but still). The Broncos won against the Bengals on Christmas Eve, 24-23, but just missed the playoffs in the last game of the season against the 49ers. Cutler had a chance to show his own toughness -- although he got concussed in the first half, he stayed in the game (this is either totally admirable or total lunacy) and even led the Broncos on a game-tying drive in the last minutes to force overtime. They didn't get as lucky there, as the 49ers kicked the winning field goal to deal Denver a heartbreaking 26-23 loss, which was made even more heartbreaking in the wee hours of January 1, 2007, only hours after they'd been eliminated. Cornerback Darrent Williams was killed in possibly gang-related violence during a New Year's party. One shot to the neck killed him instantly, and he fell onto Javon Walker, who was with him in the limousine -- what a terrible experience to have to go through, with your friend and teammate dead in your lap and gunshots outside. The team honored him by placing his #27 in prominent view during the next season, but it understandably left them stunned and grieving, marking a very somber close to the 2006 campaign. Jay finished the year with a 59.1 CP, 1,001 yards, 9 TD, 5 INT, and an 88.5 rating in 5 starts.

Cutler opened 2007 as the unquestioned starter, and in Week 1, led the Broncos 12 plays and 42 yards in the last seconds of the fourth quarter to set up Jason Elam's game-winning last-second field goal for a 15-14 triumph. (However, this was the game in which Buffalo TE Kevin Everett sustained a career-ending injury that led to doubts about if he'd even walk again after colliding with Denver kick returner Domenik Hixon; Hixon is now with the Giants. Everett's recovery is a truly heartwarming story and if you're a football fan, go read it now). But Jay also did it again the next week -- at home in Invesco against the archrival Raiders, he moved the chains 15 plays and 78 yards with 2:18 left in the fourth quarter to set up another Elam game-winning field goal. Unfortunately, there were three straight losses after that -- all to playoff teams Jaguars, Colts, and Chargers -- that left Denver fans muttering and grumbling. They went into the bye and came out of it beating the Steelers, 31-28, and lost to the Packers again in overtime the next week. However, the fact that they even got to overtime was remarkable, as Cutler proved to Favre that the young gunslinger could sling just as well as the old one, leading an 89-yard drive with 2:27 remaining to get Elam to tie it at 16. Unfortunately, they lost the coin toss and Favre unleashed a bomb to Donald Driver to win it, no doubt feeling threatened and wondering if Cutler was going to run at him and launch him into the stands with a T-shirt gun. (Yet again, I have no evidence for this, but it's fun anyway).

Cutler suffered a leg injury early on against the Lions, which led to backup Patrick Ramsey taking over instead. (Due to a video showcasing Cutler's game-by-game performance, and in which Ramsey was partnered with the "It's peanut butter jelly time!" song, I can no longer think of him as anything but Peanut Butter Ramsey). This, um, did not go well. Firstly, Denver lost to lowly Detroit in embarrassing fashion, 44-7, and Ramsey painfully proved the difference between him and Jay. He lost a fumble that was immediately run in by the Lions for a touchdown, threw another interception that was run back for another touchdown, and ended up with a 76.5 rating for the game. Fortunately, Jay was back the next week, and he rebounded in fine fashion, completing 17 of 29 with a TD and INT to lead the Broncos to a very rare 27-11 road win in the Chiefs' notoriously hostile Arrowhead Stadium. (Then again, the Chiefs just weren't that formidable this year, finishing 4-12, which might help). He also led them to a 37-20 Monday Night Football triumph against the Titans and friend Vince Young, completing 16 of 21 passes for 2 TD and no INT, but the week after that was the Bear Game That Will Not Be Spoken Of, in which all you really need to know is that Sauerbrun kicked it to Hester, twice, and Broncos fans everywhere may never get over it.

Jay and the Broncos had their best performance in Week 14 against the Chiefs, this time at home in Invesco. The Broncos slaughtered Kansas City 41-7, and Jay, in completing 20 of 27 passes for 4 TD and 0 INT, registered a career-best 141.0 game rating. Unfortunately, they lost to the Texans the next week, as the O-line might have put paper bags on the field in their uniforms for all the protection they gave Cutler, and dug themselves further with a 23-3 Christmas Eve defeat to the Chargers which saw Cutler record his lowest rating (32.7) and get shouted at by a smug prick in a lightning-bolt suit. But the Broncos rebounded to close the season in the same way they'd started, with a game-winning Elam field goal to seal a 22-19 overtime victory over the Vikings. However, their overall record was only 7-9, they lost four of their last six, and they missed the playoffs for a second straight year, which is never acceptable in football-country Denver. The Rockies made inroads into reclaiming their audience with their magical NL-winning pennant drive, but Colorado is and remains very much Broncos territory.

Cutler finished the year and made all 16 starts, later admitting it was a fatiguing grind to go through every game at the pro level, but he did quite well for it. The NFL's 12th-ranked quarterback at 88.1, he had the tenth-most yards at 3,497, which was good for seventh all-time in Broncos history. He also had the third best-ever franchise completion percentage at 63.6, and threw for 20 TD and 14 INT. He was the ninth-best in the league on third-down conversions, with a 92.0 rating (73-of-125) with 8 TD and 3 INT coming when the Broncos needed to keep moving the chains. However, he needs to work on controlling the ball better -- he fumbled at least once in 10 of 16 games for 11 overall, losing four of them. He has a formidable skill set already -- strong arm, good head, quick feet, and he is so cool under pressure as to lead to accusations of lethargy (there are always the type who want him to be a screaming leader, and apparently he's been working on taking charge of the clubhouse after a few veterans told him to make himself more of a presence). He does, however, have the mental makeup that Plummer lacks, is already a more polished talent, and shows every sign of finally being the signal-caller worthy, at least in the minds of the public, to succeed Elway. (He has already well outdone Elway's rookie and sophomore years. Starting 10 games in 1983, Elway threw for 1,663 yards, 7 TD, 14 INT, and a 54.9 rating. Starting 14 in 1984, he threw for 2,598 yards, 18 TD, 15 INT, and a 76.8 rating).

So why were the Broncos so terrible this year (at least by their standards?) One word: defense. As mentioned above, the Broncos had a porous, to say the least, D-line, and their run defense was particularly abysmal; no matter who had the football for the other team, they let him find the gaps. Their run defense was a 30th-ranked 142.6, and believe you me, for someone who watched or game-tracked all 16 games, that is very accurate; I can't count the number of times I was yelling at them to dogpile the little guy with the ball, but they never listened. Their strong corner tandem of Bailey and Bly kept their pass defense at a much more respectable 7th, but the defense ranked 28th in points allowed, permitting 25.6 on average a game, and they ranked 19th in total yards, allowing 336 on average a game. When your offense is only averaging 20 points a game and your defense is giving up 25, you can see how that becomes problematic. The Broncos will be drafting both offensive and defensive tackles, probably a safety, and at some point, need to look into taking a wide receiver as well. They have superstar in the making Marshall, but Javon Walker has worn out his welcome and will probably be leaving, Glenn Martinez is better as a kick returner only, and veteran Brandon Stokley, at 31, isn't getting any younger. The Broncos do have the pieces to effectively run a three-tight end set, with Tony Scheffler, Chad Mustard, and Daniel Graham, but they'll need more wideouts to help effectively spread the field and give Cutler more targets. The offensive run game was 9th, which isn't as bad as I was fearing, but with the Broncos' offense structured the way it is, it needs to stay there.

If they can find or sign the offensive lineman that protects Cutler and gives him time to throw, and make sure he has enough options on the other end to catch them -- plus upgrade their sad-sack defense -- the Broncos will have a chance to return to prominence next year, although they'll have a tough time with the Chargers to get atop the AFC West. They lost to San Diego twice this year, failing to score a touchdown as they combined for two field goals, one in each game, but that could always change next year. Cutler, as I and many other Broncos fans believe, is the type of player you can build a franchise around, and after he's spent the winter with Marshall and Scheffler, the three of them will have a better rapport than ever. I plan to thoroughly enjoy the Rockies' season first (BASEBALL HOLLA) but I am looking forward to September and the Broncos showing me what they can do. Hope springs eternal.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Quarterback Quiz: San Diego Chargers

So yes, I am actually spending an entire evening writing about Phyllis... er, Philip Rivers, possibly my least favorite QB in the NFL. I even managed to do it without being too snarky, although if one or two zingers slip in, I swear that isn't my fault. For the last few days, I've been reading combine news like a madwoman (the Dolphins will probably take Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long first overall, Boston College's Matt Ryan may be the first quarterback picked, I do not care about Glenn Dorsey's injury, Darren McFadden may already be turning into Travis Henry, De'Cody Fagg may have had the worst result a player can imagine in possibly suffering a career-ending injury (aside from his last name, which is also a problem) Joe Flacco is nice to little children, and will you people stop bashing Colt Brennan already? It's not his fault he was dying of flu at the Senior Bowl, so he gains weight like you want him to and you grumble some more. Notice to sports reporters: Brennan did have an NCAA career before the Sugar Bowl, and one of the best in a while, too. Fortunately, his passing performance on Sunday was one of the best -- 20 of 21, but since his only incompletion was a perfect chest-high laser that bounced out of the wide receiver's hands, they gave him a perfect 100% accuracy rating anyway. They have complained about his lack of arm strength -- several completions went for 40+ yards. Okay, off my high horse now, but I have a fondness for the former Hawaii Warriors QB and would like to see him do well).

Now, do I have a fondness for the former NC State Wolfpack QB? Not so much.

San Diego Chargers (11-5): Philip Rivers

The Chargers, after going 14-2 last year under the stewardship of Marty Schottenheimer, took the #1 AFC seed into the playoffs but lost to the Patriots 24-21 in San Diego, courtesy of one of Tom Brady's patented late-game comeback drives, and consequently bitched about the Patriots celebrating too much by dancing on their field. (It's kind of a habit). They fired Schottenheimer and thought it would be a brilliant idea to hire Norv Turner, which they did, and finished 11-5 as the third seed in the AFC, beat the defending champion Colts 28-24, and then ended their season by losing to the Patriots again 21-12, this time in Foxborough. Coming into this year, they sadly didn't have much competition, as the Broncos were in rebuilding phase, the Raiders are owned by Al Davis (the Peter Angelos of football) and the Chiefs, well, took a little tumble this year. Which meant that Marmalard, as Kissing Suzy Kolber so adeptly calls P. Rivers (and if I keep plugging that blog, it's because you need to go and read it, especially the Adventures of Marmalard) was able to lead the Chargers to the AFC West title, or at least sit back and take credit while LT continued to do the grunt work. Boo. (I told you I wasn't being snarky. I swear. It ends here. I'll try).

Philip-spelled-with-one-i-after-the-Apostle-Rivers was born in Decatur, Alabama, on December 8, 1981, but evidently he's yet to make such an impression as to get a day named after him. (There is no Philip Rivers Day, as far as I know, so at least we have been spared that horror). If you want a really terribly corny story, young Phil, who was the waterboy for the football team his father coached, made a project in fifth grade that showed his head pasted over the body of a Vikings player on the cover of Sports Illustrated. (Too bad the jinx couldn't kick in by association). Attending Athens High School, Rivers played quarterback and free safety, got named Alabama Player of the Year, and graduated with a 3.70 GPA, all of which he carried off to North Carolina State. There, he led the Pack to four bowl games (two Tangerine, one Gator, one Citrus) won three of them and got named MVP, and was also named MVP of the Senior Bowl in his last year as he went about setting just about every NC State record for quarterbacks. His won-loss in his time at school was 34-17 out of a NCAA-record 51 starts, he is second all-time with 13,484 yards, fifth all-time with 95 TD passes, seventh in Heisman voting his senior year, the 2003 ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) Player of the Year, first ACC player with 3 3,000-yard seasons, and second-team All-America as a senior. He graduated with his degree in business.

(YOINK! Now that I've just said plenty of good things about Rivers....) Coming into the 2004 draft, Rivers was rated as the third-best quarterback available behind Ole Miss's Eli Manning and Miami University's Ben Roethlisberger. Interestingly enough, a number of draft prognosticators had Rivers, not Roethlisberger, taken by the Steelers at the eleventh overall slot, but of course, that didn't happen. The Chargers took Eli first, the Giants took Rivers fourth, and the two teams swapped young, promising QBs, along with New York flinging a pair of draft picks San Diego's way. The Chargers made good use of these, selecting outside linebacker Shawne Merriman and kicker Nate Kaeding, and until recently, the trade looked like total highway robbery. (Eli's Super Bowl MVP may herald his emergence as a totally different player, or it may herald him getting on the mother of all lucky streaks. Time will tell). Rivers eventually was signed to a 6-year, $40-million deal, but this took so long, and he was off holding out, that the Chargers gave recently-profiled Drew Brees the chance to start another season while Rivers was counting zeros and cackling diabolically, probably calling Brady Quinn and giving him advice on what to do when he hit the big-time. Either that or since his signing bonus was $14.5 million, Rivers was too busy selecting a personal yacht and would not be bothered until this delicate operation had concluded. Naturally, this didn't do wonders for his playing time, as he saw action in only two games, neither starts, in 2004, in which he completed 5 of 8 passes for 1 TD and 0 INT, resulting in a TEH AWESOME passer rating of 110.9.

Philipotamus again only saw 2 games, no starts, in 2005, completing 12 of 22 passes for no TD and 1 INT, rating a 50.4 and getting most of his action after Brees suffered the season-ending shoulder injury against Denver. Since the Chargers didn't re-sign Brees after that, Rivers finally took over the starting quarterback job in 2006 and did (ulp) quite well, completing 284 of 460 attempts (a 61.7 percentage) for 3,388 yards, 22 TD, 9 INT, and a 92.0 rating. But since he had the 2006 MVP LT on his team, you have to wonder to whom all the offensive credit really goes. Rivers did indeed play well, and showed that he could back up his big NCAA numbers with success in the NFL, but as of February 4, 2008, both Roethlisberger and the much-maligned Manning have won a Super Bowl, leaving him the only member of the highly touted Class of '04 that has not. (Get on that! No actually, don't, definitely don't, it's all right if you never do). Rivers didn't exactly improve on his strong showing this year, however. While he still threw for 3,152 yards and 21 TD, he added 15 picks and a 10-points-lower rating (82.4) while listing his hobbies as jawing at everybody from Jay Cutler to old ladies, mailboxes, and vending machines, along with promoting celibacy and AAAAASSKING SOMEBOOODAAAY. However, to give credit where credit is due, he did play the AFC Championship Game on two bad knees (and supposedly without an ACL in one) so although he may not be able to walk when he is 45, he is doing his best at staking a claim to Brett Favre-like Tuffness. He is undergoing surgery this offseason and hopes to be ready for an all-new campaign of blinding Bolting awesomeness this 2008, coming to a Qualcomm near you.

All right, I've had enough of writing about Marmalard. My favorite team tomorrow, and my favorite player! Expect a novel. If I can get up the ambition, and the memory, to actually get down everything I want to say, which can always be an issue.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Quarterback Quiz: Atlanta Falcons

Now this is an easy one, if only because I don't have to really write about any guy in particular; the Falcons are in a state of Armageddon at quarterback. Also, can I be the only one that thinks their logo looks like a llama, not a falcon? I swear, the claw looks like a llama head, the actual falcon looks like its little topknot, and every time I see the damn thing, I'm reminded of Kuzco from the Disney cartoon The Emperor's New Groove. Also, funny note: I once had a dream that Falcons quarterback Byron Leftwich (former Falcons quarterback, I should say, since they cut him a few days after the Super Bowl) did not like one of my books, and was getting all up in arms about it. I must be an insecure writer indeed, if I'm dreaming of Byron Leftwich's displeasure. Byron Leftwich, people. I'm serious.

Atlanta Falcons (4-12): Whichever Summabitch Wants The Damn Job

Now that Ron Mexico... excuse me, Michael Vick, is enjoying the comforts of the federal penitentiary system following his extremely well-publicized trial and conviction for running a dogfighting ring, the Falcons have been left with no successor behind center. They tried all sorts of bit parts -- Matt Schaub, Byron Leftwich, Joey Harrington, yo momma -- and since they won the third overall pick in the draft on a coin flip, they almost have to take either Boston College's Matt Ryan or Delaware's Joe Flacco, a pair of QBs from slightly smaller schools who created a lot of buzz at this week's just-concluded scouting combine. Ryan is projected to be the first QB off the board, is as close to a finished product as is available, and Flacco has physical size, arm strength, confidence, and all the other qualities you'd want in a young QB to re-build the franchise around. Since the Falcons don't pick again for some time, all the best options may be gone by then (unless they can take advantage of a Colt Brennan/Andre Woodson/John David Booty-type slipping to the later rounds, as may happen with any or all of those three).

Either way, quarterback is by far the Falcons' biggest need in the draft, and once they choose somebody from the above list, I'll come back in April and give them a proper preview. In the meantime, it's just not worth profiling any of their internal options, as clearly those aren't the answer. So, I shall issue an IOU on the Falcons for now, conclude the NFC South, and move onto the AFC West tomorrow. Which means our star will be... brace yourself... Philip Rivers! YOU BETTA ASK SOMEBODDAAAYYYY!!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Quarterback Quiz: New Orleans Saints

(Fuck it, Firefox tries to open some stupid "anti-spyware" program -- read, spyware-installing program -- freezes, and loses everything I had thus far. At least it wasn't too much, or I'd be spitting tacks -- effing computers). Just the Saints and then the Falcons to go, and then I'll be into the division I know best, which is the AFC West; after that, there's just one division to go until I'm done. (Small note: How the hell were the Saints once in the NFC West and the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC East? Did somebody get their directions backwards or what?) If you aren't watching the Academy Awards, or are checking later, here's the latest installment.

New Orleans Saints (7-9): Drew Brees

The Saints' quarterback is better than the team's record indicated this season, as they took a tumble to a sub-.500 showing a year after making the NFC Championship game. They probably should have won, if you ask me, since a) it was a good story to come out of New Orleans after the devastation of Katrina, and b) who really wanted the Bears in there anyway? But they didn't, and instead finished third in the South this year despite another strong showing from Brees. With star running back Reggie Bush under investigation for allegedly accepting over $300,000 in endorsements while at USC -- a big no-no under NCAA rules -- it falls to Brees to bear the most scrutiny as the chief component of the offense in the meantime. It wasn't an entirely terrible offense, as 23.7 averaged points a game ranked 12th, and 361.2 yards a game ranked 4th, but that was far and away generally due to Brees, as the 269.6 passing yards a game for the Saints ranked a surprising third, only behind the Patriots and Packers. The run game, meanwhile, languished at a 28th-ranked 91.6 (hey, thanks a zillion, Reggie) and a great deal of the Saints' problems can be attributed to their porous defense -- they were ranked 25th in points allowed with 24.2 on average, 26th in yards allowed with 348.1 on average, 30th in pass defense with 245.2 on average, and a slightly more respectable 13th in run defense with 102.9 allowed on average.

Born in Austin, Texas, Brees attended Westlake High School and as a senior, led them to a 16-0 season (see, if he can do it in high school, it's not such a big deal for the Patriots, right? Heh). He garnered offensive MVP honors for Class 5A with 3,528 yards and 31 TDs, and ended up going all the way to Indiana for college, where he enrolled at Purdue, majored in "Industrial Management" (does that mean he's going to work with the "Steelers" when he's done with football? Heh, heh, heh, all right I'll cut it out) and set Big 10 records left and right for the Boilermakers, including passing yards, (11,792) completions (1,026) attempts (1,678) touchdown passes (90) In his sophomore year, he got the unranked Boilermakers to upset #4 Kansas State in the Whosi Whatsit Bowl (actually the Builders Square Alamo Bowl, but I think my name fits better -- I wonder how they pick bowl names, anyway -- stick their hand in a fishbowl of corporate names and see what comes out?) He came in fourth and third in Heisman voting in 1999 and 2000, and in his senior year, was named Academic All-America Player of the Year, so evidently he was very good at whatever Industrial Management actually entails. He capped it all off by beating powerhouse Ohio State to get Purdue to Pasadena (read: Rose Bowl) for the first time since 1967. Unfortunately, that didn't help them against the University of Washington Huskies, who beat them 34-24, but it was a great accomplishment for them nonetheless.

Brees was taken with the Chargers' first pick in the second round of 2001, ending up alongside LaDainian Tomlinson, who he had played against in college (Tomlinson was on the TCU Horned Frogs). Together, they decided to whip an underachieving San Diego team into shape. Brees spent 2001 on the sidelines behind then-starter Doug Flutie, but got his chance in 2002, when he started all 16 games. He threw for a 60.8 completion percentage, 3,284 yards, 17 TD but also 16 INT, and a a 76.9 rating in his first pro season, and the Chargers finished 8-8, but that was better than the next. The Chargers went 4-12, Brees started 11 games and Flutie started 5, and Brees finished with a career-low 2,108 yards, 11 TD/15 INT, and 67.5 passer rating. However, Brees made a remarkable rebound in 2004 with a breakout season; he still holds the highest single-season rating for a Chargers QB because of it. He started 15 games and completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 3,159 yards, 27 TD, 7 INT, and a 104.8 rating, earning NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors. But after that, he was a free agent, and the club had just pulled off the Manning/Rivers trade the year before to send Eli to Jersey and bring Phyllis to San Diego. In fact, Rivers might have been the starter that year if he wasn't too busy pulling a Brady Quinn-style holdout (who's surprised?) which gave Brees the chance to keep his job.

However, he didn't leave San Diego just yet, as the Chargers franchise-tagged him and paid him $8 million for the 2005 season. And he started 16 games that year, letting Rivers sit and think about whatever he was planning to do with his signing bonus. Brees, meanwhile, set career highs (for then) in passing yards with 3,576, throwing for 24 TD/15 INT and an 89.7 rating. A highlight of that year was leading the Chargers into Gillette in Week 4 and dumping the Patriots' home winning streak on its ass with a thud; 41-17 was the final. Brees had a 137.5 rating for the game, with 19 completions in 24 attempts, 248 yards, 2 TD, and 0 INT. But at the end of 2005, he was injured in a game against the Broncos; while trying to recover a fumble that John Lynch had helped him along with, he was leveled by Denver tackle Gerard Warren and suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder, along with rotator cuff damage. The injury was quite serious, and it eventually led to Brees' departure from the Chargers; although they wanted him back, they were concerned that the shoulder would never be at full strength again. They offered him a reduced-rate deal to re-sign, but Brees demanded franchise-quarterback-type money and the two sides couldn't come to a compromise.

The Dolphins and the Saints expressed interest, and Brees ended up signing with the latter for 6 years and $60 million on March 14, 2006. It was a sound investment for New Orleans, as Brees surpassed his career passing yards-high with 4,418 to go with a 64.3 completion percentage, 26 TD, 11 INT, and a 96.2 record in leading the Saints to a 10-6 record (first in the South). They beat the Eagles in the divisional playoffs, 27-24, and moved on to meet the Bears. Although Brees threw for 354 yards and 2 TD, he also turned the ball over three times, and the Bears beat them handily, 39-14. All was not lost, as Brees did finish second in MVP voting behind former Chargers teammate LT, but surely he'd have liked a chance to face the Colts in Miami just a bit better. The Saints had the popular sentiment behind them after Katrina, but it didn't pan out. (To his credit, Brees has also been invested in restoring his adopted hometown, donating generously to hurricane-relief charities and renovating a historic home in the Uptown district of New Orleans).

Brees continued to be successful this year and took every snap, with 28 TD and 18 INT; he again threw upwards of 4,000 yards with 4,423, his highest career total by 5 yards over last year's. He had an 89.4 rating and completed 440 of 652 attempts, but failed to galvanize the Saints to a repeat playoff appearance. Nor was Reggie Bush the dynamic difference-maker he was in college, with 157 carries, 581 yards, and only 4 TD. And of course, the defense was a problem. But with Brees under contract for the next three years and only 29, it's not likely they need to go quarterback-hunting in the draft. What they should do is go fishing in the deep defensive pool instead.

(Sheez... it's 11:46... that took forever).