Commentary

10 Spot: Brees' fate affected many

Originally Published: October 23, 2009
By Adam Schefter | ESPN.com

So much time, so much energy, so much attention is heaped upon the negative in the NFL.

But for a moment, a brief moment, let's flip it. Let's turn the cup upside down and make it go from half empty to half full.

In the same game in which the pressure on Washington head coach Jim Zorn was ratcheted up even higher, Kansas City's Todd Haley won his first game as an NFL head coach. Haley turned into a sidebar, barely. So congratulations to Haley.

On the day when Eagles coach Andy Reid failed to inspire his team, Raiders coach Tom Cable did and led Oakland to a victory that few expected. Cable was a footnote, maybe. So kudos to Cable.

And in a game in which Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez's performance led to questions, Bills coach Dick Jauron rallied a team with 10 players on injured reserve to victory. Praise for Jauron didn't match previous criticisms of him. So props for Jauron.

One more time, let's salute Haley, Cable, Jauron -- who stayed in the spotlight when they struggled and left it only when they didn't. They did their job. They did a great job.

Now let's move on to this week's 10 Spot:

Drew Brees
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesIf the Dolphins had signed Drew Brees, New Orleans might not be thriving today.

Fates intertwined: In March 2006, Miami made one decision that shaped the lives of men, franchises and cities. After putting quarterback Drew Brees through a rigorous six-hour physical, the Dolphins decided not to sign the free-agent quarterback and instead opted to trade a second-round pick to Minnesota for quarterback Daunte Culpepper. As a courtesy, the Dolphins told Brees they would wait two hours to announce the trade for Culpepper so he would not lose any leverage with the Saints. A short time later, Brees and the Saints agreed on a six-year, $60 million deal.

Had the Dolphins ignored their doctors and signed Brees -- who at the time preferred to play in Miami -- two franchises would have reversed course, and the football world would look very different today. Nick Saban might still be coaching in Miami rather than Alabama. Bill Parcells likely would not be in Miami with all the coaches he brought with him. New Orleans might not be thriving the way it is now. And nobody would be reflecting on the circumstances that led Brees to leave Miami for New Orleans, and the game he has against the Dolphins on Sunday.

Another test for All Day: How's this for a one-two? One week after facing Baltimore's defense, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson gets Pittsburgh's. Last Sunday, Peterson lit up Baltimore for 143 rushing yards, the most against a Ravens defense since former Bears running back James Allen went for 163 against it in 1998, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Now Peterson will try to do to Pittsburgh what he did to Baltimore. And Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and the rest of Pittsburgh's defense will try to do to Peterson what they do to most running backs. This is the immovable force versus the irresistible object, the irresistible force versus the immovable object. This is many things, this matchup of football's best running back and the league's perennially toughest defense. But most of all, it's must-see.

Roethlisberger
AP Photo/Don WrightSteelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has a 72.5 completion percentage.
Big Ben soaring: While the Patriots and Buccaneers will get to see London's Big Ben this weekend, Minnesota will get to see Pittsburgh's. Though Ben Roethlisberger led Pittsburgh to two Super Bowl titles in his first five seasons, he never has played better than right now.

This season, Roethlisberger has become a weapon of pass destruction, throwing for an NFL-best 1,887 yards. Imagine that -- more passing yards than any other quarterback in the league. Roethlisberger's completion percentage is an impressive 72.5 percent, a mere one percentage point lower than the ever-precise Peyton Manning. Very quietly, Roethlisberger has transformed Pittsburgh from a run-first to a pass-first team.

European vacation: The Buccaneers and Patriots will meet in the third regular-season game at London's Wembley Stadium. New England played a 2007 throwback game in Week 6, putting up 59 points on the Titans. The Buccaneers are playing throwback football, too -- unfortunately, it's more like the 1976 Buccaneers, who went 0-14. In fact, once the Buccaneers return from England, they will have a bye and then host Green Bay in their replica Creamsicle uniforms.

For now, these Bucs are 0-6. Questions have begun to be asked about head coach Raheem Morris' future. But know this: The Bucs' owners, who still owe Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen two more years' worth of salary, do not want to fire their head coach. But Morris also must win a game to justify keeping him.

Rams approaching record low: Speaking of the old Bucs/Yucks -- the St. Louis Rams would prefer not to hear about them. At all. From 1976 to 1977, the Buccaneers lost an NFL-record 26 straight games, a record not even last and this year's Detroit Lions could touch. But these Rams now have lost 16 straight -- the equivalent of an oh-fer season and the NFL's longest active losing streak. In those 16 games, the Rams have been outscored 456-190.

[+] EnlargeSteve Smith
Kim Klement/US PresswireTimes are tough for Steve Smith and the Panthers' receiving corps.

St. Louis will try to snap its losing streak against a Colts team that has the NFL's longest current active win streak, 14 games. If St. Louis loses its 17th straight, it'll be time to peruse the schedule to see when victory No. 1 might come. In Week 8, the Rams play at Detroit, then return home for three straight games against New Orleans, Arizona and Seattle. A couple of those are winnable. Yet if one is not won, then the Rams could be making an unwelcome run at the record.

Smith's shared misery: Carolina's Steve Smith, who sounded off again last week about his lack of use in his team's offense, should not be the only upset Panthers wide receiver. No Panthers wide receiver has caught a touchdown pass. All season. In other words, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel has caught more touchdown passes this season than all the Panthers' wide receivers combined.

Somehow, this must change, though it probably won't this week. Despite their many shortcomings, the one thing the Bills have done very well is shut down wide receivers. No team has done a better job at keeping wide receivers off the scoreboard than the Bills. This season, the Bills' defense has allowed only one touchdown pass to a wide receiver. If Buffalo succeeds again, Smith could go off again.

Sanchez's growing pains: Now come the whispers. Now come the suggestions from NFL personnel men that Sanchez's hands are too small and his arm too weak, especially playing in the chilly and windy New Jersey. These thoughts might turn out to be true. It also might be true that Sanchez is "Mark Sanchize," a quarterback talented enough to become the winner most New Yorkers thought he was. But it's not easy for quarterbacks to excel right away. Just look at the quarterback who plays in the same stadium, Eli Manning. For what it's worth, compare Manning's statistics in his first six NFL games to Sanchez's in his first six NFL games.

Manning vs. Sanchez (first six games)
  W-L Comp pct. Passing yards TD-INT Rating
Eli Manning 0-6 45.9 833 3-8 47.5
Mark Sanchez 3-3 52.1 1,035 5-10 56.6

The Jets plan to scale down what they ask Sanchez to do. And maybe expectations, at least for the time being, should be scaled down as well.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Kyle Terada/US PresswireMatt Ryan has been sacked just twice this season.
Pressure point: In his last game before the Cowboys' bye last weekend, Dallas' DeMarcus Ware rang up two sacks against the Chiefs. He did this after changing up some of his rushes, relying as much on his power as his speed. It worked, too. But now comes another big test for Ware -- an Atlanta Falcons offensive line that has not allowed a sack in its past four games and has surrendered only two all season.

Last time Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked was with 9:06 left in the third quarter of Atlanta's opening-day win over Miami. Since then, Ryan hasn't needed to have his uniform cleaned. Whether Ware and his defensive teammates can pressure Ryan will go a long way toward determining whether Dallas can win and vault itself back into the NFC East race -- or whether it will lose and face the prospect of being nothing more than an average team.

Zorn's last days? No night has produced drama quite like Monday night. Three Monday nights ago, Brett Favre played versus the Packers. Two Monday nights ago, Braylon Edwards made his Jets debut in Miami. This past Monday night, Denver and San Diego nearly had a pregame rumble.

This Monday night's storyline is a simple one -- Jim Zorn isn't calling plays, and Redskins fans are calling for his job. Redskins exec Vinny Cerrato said on his Washington radio show Friday that Zorn will not be fired this season. But Redskins owner Dan Snyder will get awfully impatient and itchy if losses continue to mount. Yet for the time being, Zorn is safe.

But it's easy to say a coach will be when a team is 2-4. It's another thing to say it when a team continues to slide and is out of the playoffs. Even though the Redskins' bye is next week, it no longer appears as if Zorn will be saying bye anytime soon. For now.

Kudos to Broncos: Denver is not playing this weekend. But there are some defensive statistics that are so jaw-dropping, so Steel Curtain-like that the Broncos must be mentioned. Denver has not allowed an opponent to convert a single third down in the second half of its past four games. Not one. San Diego was the latest victim Monday night, going 0-for-5 in the second half on third down. Altogether this season, Broncos opponents have converted a mere two of 35 third-down conversions in the second half (5.7 percent). And this is from what was an absolutely atrocious defense last season. Those third-down stops have translated into victories, as Denver has outscored its opponents 76-10 in the second half. Kudos to head coach Josh McDaniels, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and all of Denver's defensive coaches.

The Schef's specialties

Game of the week: Minnesota at Pittsburgh: A rematch of Super Bowl IX and a potential Super Bowl XLIV preview. It's the quarterback seemingly made of steel versus the football franchise built on it.

Player of the week: 49ers WR Michael Crabtree: His last game was Nov. 29, 2008, when Texas Tech hosted Baylor and Crabtree caught nine passes for 63 yards. Not sure how much Crabtree will contribute, but everyone will be focusing on him.

Upset of the week: Miami over New Orleans: Hard to imagine how Miami can keep up with New Orleans, but can the Saints match the effort they put forth the past two games against the Giants and Jets?

Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.