Nick Saban, head coach of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide said in a recent interview "success is not a continuum". So true. It is one thing to create a winning football team, and another to keep it winning.
Each and every week it changes. The NFL creates a unique interest of not who is "the best", but much more who is "the best this week". I can't believe the Dallas Cowboys gave up 40 first downs and 625 yards of offence to the Saints. I didn't think they would win and logic says the Saints would move the ball. But 40 first downs? At first I didn't believe what I thought I was hearing and when I saw it in print I figured it was a misprint. But it is the truth - 40 first downs allowed which is 10 per quarter.
Are there reasons for what has to be classified as a major breakdown? Yes and they are genuine. Just like last year the Cowboys can't stay healthy. Of the 12 starters that were to be every-play players, only four now remain. On offence your absolute key component is the quarterback and on defence if you lose one particular player, it's not as easy to define as it affects everything.
When Dallas lost Sean Lee at the middle linebacker position they fell apart. It truly shows the value of Lee in that you don't know what you have until it's gone. I honestly believe that in modern football it is not the best team that wins as much as it's the team that can stay the healthiest the longest or get healthy at the right time that wins. When Dallas started the season their defensive line was DeMarcus Ware, Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer. All that remains is Ware who is not 100 per cent. With 6 games left Dallas has a winnable schedule but confidence through this bye week must be low. 40 first downs, an NFL record is an amazing accomplishment for the Saints and an amazing concern for the Dallas Cowboys.
So Richie Incognito spoke and I don't buy it and wish it would go away. I was fortunate to play five years of Division I football against excellent competition. 12 years of pro football in both leagues and I'm finishing my 15th year following football as closely as I can for TSN. I have never heard any player say what Incognito said to Martin in a private message. I have heard plenty of moments involving threats, race and every possible subject. But they were in the heat of the game or more often practice and they were very short bursts and completely within the reality of the intensity of the game. I don't buy it. I do feel, as many others so, that the analogy of this was a domestic situation gone public but for those who may think this is the norm, it is not. The locker room can be a rough place but it also is an intelligent place. Both extremes can exist at any given moment. Jonathan Martin should not have left the Dolphins and I sense he has had enough of football and that's okay. But the source is Incognito, and the reality is his values and personality are abrasive.
That is putting it mildly.
In Detroit the Lions are in control of the NFC North. Green Bay has to wait for Aaron Rodgers, Chicago has lost twice to Detroit this season already and the Vikings are re-building. And there is a discussion that Calvin Johnson should be the NFL MVP in 2013. I have no problem with that. Sometimes in football it's very easy to define why you win or lose. On offence if you can keep both safeties off the line of scrimmage because you have a receiver so good that you must play deep coverage you are going to move the ball with a good or even average running back. Detroit has that with Johnson and now Reggie Bush. Many talk about the physical gifts of Calvin Johnson, but there's not enough talk about the fact he is a very good receiver. Pattern runner. Catches everything. Blocks effectively. His value to Detroit is that he influences even the best NFL defences which does make him a viable MVP candidate.
More Than Their Record
I was watching the Monday Night Football game and thinking that that was a pretty good 1-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneer team. I often talk about opportunity in football. Recognizing it is Step 1 and taking advantage of it is Step 2. Often it is about players that don't but when it comes to Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon, you know that he is. Jon Gruden had the perfect comparison when he connected him to Joe Flacco but Glennon at this point may have a better arc. His throws are, well, pretty. They look good. Fast, hard, accurate and parallel to the ground when needed. Glennon is going to put on a bit more weight, continue to lead and establish himself this year as the present and the future of the Bucs. Carl Nicks is one of the best guards in football. When he played beside Donald Penn the Bucs had the best left side in football but now Penn is injured and you can't see it happen. I know many have said fire head coach Greg Schiano and it is an easy argument. But now I say wait and play the season out.
Heart of the Eagles
In Philadelphia the future is Nick Foles. Sixteen touchdown passes and one interception for a quarterback in his second year is not luck. It is understanding offences and directing everyone. Understanding defences and reacting correctly to all of them. Philadelphia has exceptional speed and this is without Jeremy Maclin so with that speed you must have a good deep ball thrower with time. Foles is an excellent deep ball thrower and left tackle Jason Peters and No. 1 pick Lane Johnson will provide the time.
The NFC is a wide open division. Both the Redskins and Giants at 3-6 have to win all seven of their remaining games to get to 10. The Cowboys and Eagles are 5-5 and need to win five of six to get to 10. The NFC East easily could be represented by an 8-8 team or may I say a team with a losing record. All that aside, the Philadelphia Eagles have the inside lane in the race for the NFC East crown.
The Real Deal
And finally the Carolina Panthers are for real. There are two key games in their future. The first is Dec. 8 at New Orleans and the other is Dec. 22 when they host New Orleans. The unknown was after four wins over weaker teams like Minnesota, Tampa Bay, St. Louis and Atlanta, how would they play in San Francisco with the 49ers coming off the bye? A 10-9 road victory over Colin Kaepernick and company proves that Carolina is indeed for real.