Kicking and screaming
In a corner of the visitors' locker room at the RCA Dome on Sunday evening, Jacksonville Jaguars
place kicker Josh Scobee
was slumped in front of his locker stall, staring with his head tucked into his hands at a floor littered with athletic supporters, towels and tape.
Many more performances like the one he authored on Sunday, when Scobee clanged a "gimme" 24-yard field goal off the left upright in the second quarter and then was wide left (and not even close) from 49 yards on a third-quarter attempt, and the third-year veteran's noggin may soon have a much more treacherous perch.
Like on a guillotine.
Pouya Dianat/US PRESSWIRE
Matt Stover celebrates with teammates after making the game-winning field goal against the Browns.
The third weekend of play produced late, game-winning field goals from three kickers: John Kasay
of Carolina nailed a 46-yard kick with two seconds remaining, his fourth conversion of the day, all from 46 yards or more, to lift his team 26-24 over the Tampa Bay Bucs. In Miami's first victory of the season, a 13-10 squeaker over Tennessee, Olindo Mare
converted a 39-yard field goal with 3:39 left. And ever-steady Jeff Stover of Baltimore kept the Ravens undefeated by hitting a 52-yard field goal with 20 seconds left to spoil the upset efforts of the Cleveland Browns
And that doesn't count Jeff Wilkins' third-quarter field goal, his third of the day, that provided the winning points in St. Louis' victory over Arizona.
Such monumental moments have been sparse for kickers so far in 2006. Fact is, the Sunday heroics aside, the 2006 season to this point has been a relatively inglorious one for kickers as a group.
"Totally unpredictable," said Kasay, who connected on kicks of 46, 49, 50 and 51 yards on Sunday. "The trend has been on an upswing [for conversions], and guys just keep getting better and better. Maybe it's just an aberration at this point."
Some teams, and certainly some kickers, better hope that's the case.
Not counting the Sunday night game, kickers had made 136 of 177 field goal tries in 2006, a success rate of 76.8 percent. Through the first three full weeks of the 2005 season, the conversion rate was 82.1 percent, with kickers hitting on 133 of 162 tries. There were a dozen games decided by three points or fewer in the first three weeks in 2005; there have been 10 such games so far this season. It isn't as if there have been a lot of egregious placement pratfalls so far in 2006, although Atlanta kicker Michael Koenen's 0-for-4 performance last week was pretty ignominious and cost him his job.
But sooner or later, such unusual good fortune is going to run out for the bad kickers, especially given that nearly 25 percent of all NFL games are decided by three points or less. For the entire 2005 season, kickers converted 81.0 percent of their field goal tries, and they will have to get on a pretty hot streak to approximate that success rate this year.
Said the special teams coach of a team whose kicker has been pretty close to impeccable in 2006: "There is nothing like a short missed field goal to take the air out of a team. The 'real' players, the positional guys, if they start looking cross-eyed at your kicker, well, then you've got a problem. I haven't looked at the [third week] statistics yet, because I'm just getting home, but I'd guess there are a few [kickers] on thin ice. And it shouldn't be that way this early. It's going to be interesting to see how some shaky guys respond."
One of the kickers who was being closely scrutinized even before the season began, John Carney of New Orleans, certainly has responded in clutch fashion. The week before the season began, Saints officials had four kickers in town for a group audition, telling the group they were concerned about Carney, and how he might react to some subtle changes the new coaching staff had asked him to make. Uh, not to worry, Saints executives. Entering the Saints' first game at the Superdome on Monday night, Carney has converted all six of his tries, one reason New Orleans is among the NFL's most surprising teams right now.
There have been others who have kicked well besides Carney and Kasay. Robbie Gould of Chicago is 10-for-10. Indianapolis' Adam Vinatieri, who missed the Sunday game with a groin injury, has converted all seven attempts. Buffalo's Rian Lindell is 6-for-6, as is Nate Kaeding of San Diego. Stover has hit all nine of his attempts, and Wilkins is 11-for-13.
But before the Falcons' brass mercifully removed the placement chores from his too-crowded to-do list, Koenen was a miserable 2-for-8. Seattle's Josh Brown is only 3-for-6. The New York Jets' Mike Nugent is batting just .500 on four tries. Ditto Tampa Bay's Matt Bryant. Scobee has made just 4 of 7 tries.
Heck, even Neil Rackers of Arizona, who set a new record with 40 field goals last season, already has missed as many field goal tries in three weeks as he did all of 2005.
Maybe the Sunday clutch performances by a few kickers will break the placement specialists out of their collective funk for the 2006 season. There are more than a few guys who had better hope that's the case.
Clayton's Quick Hits
• The NFL is making a huge effort to clean up end zone celebrations and taunting. While a lot of the rules were made to stop the end zone celebrations of Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson
, the Steelers were the biggest losers Sunday. Two plays were educations in how the new rules will be called. Willie Parker
put the Steelers ahead, 17-14, with a touchdown run. He celebrated the touchdown with fellow running back Verron Haynes
. Parker jumped at the same time as Haynes and they crossed arms. Because the celebration involved a teammate, the Steelers were penalized 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff. In the fourth quarter, Steelers safety Mike Logan
was called for taunting after a sideline block on a Steelers punt return. If a player makes a hit, he's not allowed to move toward the victim as if he is trying to taunt him. The penalty put the Steelers at their own 11-yard line with 2:42 left in the fourth quarter. Steelers Bill Cowher called both plays stupid and selfish. "There is no reason for those things,'' he said. "That will not happen again."
• The Bucs were the one team in football that couldn't afford a devastating injury to a quarterback. Chris Simms' spleen injury virtually kills their season. He's probably going to be out two to three months after having his spleen removed, so it's likely they will shut him down for the season, although there will be no rush to make that decision. The Bucs released Brian Griese for salary cap considerations in the spring. That left them with Tim Rattay and Bruce Gradkowski, the team's sixth-round choice. Jay Fiedler was signed but his shoulder wasn't right, so he was released. Luke McCown blew out his knee during the offseason and might be available by midseason. That probably means the Bucs will have to sign Tommy Maddox or another veteran to get them through.
• The Bears' rushing statistics haven't looked good this year, but the play-action passes called by Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner are one of the reasons for the team's 3-0 start. The Bears rushed for only 51 yards against the Vikings. The Bears averaged only 2.8 yards a carry during the first two games. But Rex Grossman is doing a very good job getting defenses to react to play-action passes. Grossman has completed 71.7 percent of his passes during the first two games and Turner's play-action calls are one reason why.
-- Check out John Clayton's blog
Heard in the press box (in Indianapolis)
• Indianapolis isn't yet getting Edgerrin James
-type production from the tailback duo of Dominic Rhodes
and first-round draft pick Joseph Addai
in the running game. But the pair has done a surprisingly solid job in pass protection, one of James' most underappreciated strengths, and picked up blitzes well enough to eliminate any real jail-break rushes against quarterback Peyton Manning
. The Colts coaches feel that the running game will get significantly better as the season progresses.
• Jacksonville's coaches need to do a better job of monitoring the number of snaps being logged by defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson. The loss of end Reggie Hayward has left the Jags shorthanded on the defensive line in general, and impacted the substitution rotation, because "swing" lineman Rob Meier is forced now to start at end. But Henderson and Stroud probably didn't get more than five snaps each on the sideline in Sunday's loss at Indianapolis, and the 300-pounders can't keep up that pace. In fact, part of the Colts' strategy in continuing to use their trademark off-tackle "stretch" play, even though it wasn't netting many yards, was to force the Jaguars' tackles to chase plays to the outside. Every team in the league talks about needing a three-man tackle rotation. Jacksonville needs to locate a No. 3 tackle or Henderson and Stroud are going to be worn down by halfway through the season.
• The quarterback whom Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden was most interested in acquiring, even before Sunday's injury to struggling starter Chris Simms, was Marques Tuiasosopo of the Oakland Raiders. Gruden was the coach and current Bucs general manager Bruce Allen held the same job in Oakland when the Raiders chose Tuiasosopo in the second round of the 2001 draft. The problem is, with Aaron Brooks out for a few more weeks with a shoulder injury and Oakland down to just two healthy quarterbacks, the Raiders can't afford to deal Tuiasosopo. Expect the Bucs to make some kind of move for a veteran passer though, this week.
• Wide receiver Darrell Jackson had seven catches, two of them for touchdowns, in Seattle's victory over the New York Giants on Sunday. But it still won't be surprising, especially if Deion Branch picks up the offense quickly, if the Seahawks dangle Jackson before the trade deadline. Jackson wore a handwritten message on his cleats last week, "I need DB money," referring to Branch's new six-year, $39 million deal in Seattle and alluding to his desire for a new contract. Jackson is a talented guy, but some Seattle players don't feel they can count on him to stay healthy, and team officials are bored by his complaining about his contract.
• It's probably just a matter of time until Indianapolis second-year nickel cornerback Marlin Jackson, the team's first-round pick in 2005, breaks into the starting lineup. The former Michigan standout is bigger than any of the other Colts cornerbacks, is a tough hitter and very sure tackler, and really comes up fast to support to run. Veteran Nick Harper, who starts opposite Jason David for the Colts, is in the final year of his contract and Jackson is the likely replacement at some point.
• Kansas City resumes play next Sunday, hosting San Francisco after a bye this weekend, but Chiefs officials have no clue when quarterback Trent Green will return to the field. Green still can't drive a car or throw a football and, given the severity of the concussion he sustained two weeks ago, the Chiefs are going to err on the side of caution. For now, and maybe for several more weeks as well, journeyman Damon Huard remains the starter.
• Even with Sunday's three-interception performance, Pittsburgh coaches and team officials deny that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is gun-shy against the pass-rush. They contend that Roethlisberger is still suffering from rustiness and from lack of work with some new receivers. But on tape, it certainly looked like Roethlisberger was falling off some throws in the loss at Jacksonville last week.
• Pass protection around the league might be shakier through the first two weeks of the season than it has been in a long time. The increase in sacks per game, nearly 10 percent above the 2005 levels through the first two weeks, is attributed by some to more blitzes from defensive coordinators desperate to do anything necessary to attack the pocket. But there really hasn't been much more blitzing, just more sacks, and some line units look absolutely lost in their protection schemes.
• In his two stints as a head coach, Norv Turner didn't do much. But given his handling of San Francisco second-year quarterback Alex Smith, one can see again why Turner is so respected around the league as an offensive coordinator. It's only the first month, but Smith, the top overall pick in the 2005 draft, looks like one of the most improved players in the league.
Scouts Inc. Takes
• After an emotional, come-from-behind victory at Philadelphia, the Giants took their game to Seattle but their defense missed the plane. The Seahawks scored 35 unanswered points in the first half off Giants turnovers and defensive blunders in coverage. Eli Manning
, the hero from last week, could not get the Giants' offense going. He threw some good balls, but his receivers had too many drops in the first half.
• The crucial divisional matchup between the Bengals and Steelers was, surprisingly, a rather poorly played game littered with turnovers, special team errors and mental mistakes. Pittsburgh made more critical mistakes, including a muffed punt late in the game and an early interception in the end zone that killed a drive which could have really put the Steelers in the driver's seat. The conditions were extremely windy and became a brutal disadvantage when the offense was going into wind. The Steelers won the battle in the trenches in a very hard-hitting game, but Ben Roethlisberger did not play well at all and Pittsburgh simply had too many individual errors.
• Despite struggling on both sides of the ball, the Dolphins came away with their first victory. Miami QB Daunte Culpepper flashed effectiveness, but still appears uncomfortable in the offense. The Titans played a solid game and appeared to get the best of the trench battle. Some tough rushing yards by Ronnie Brown and two big reverse runs by WR Chris Chambers were enough to tip the score in Miami's favor.
-- For more from Scouts Inc., check out the Briefing Room and all of their divisional blogs: AFC East | AFC North | AFC South | AFC West, NFC East | NFC South | NFC North | NFC West
The Green Room
Jeremy, if the Packers continue their losing ways, can you see Aaron Rodgers getting a start this season?
Eventually, later in the season the Packers will have to play Rodgers. They have to find out what he brings to the table because this will be Brett Favre's last season in Green Bay.
Question: Was Billy Volek a good move for the Chargers?
Green: I think it was real solid for them. It gives them a veteran QB that can come in and be effective if Rivers goes down. I don't like Volek as a starter but he is a guy that can come in and get you a split over a two week period.
Question: Why does Indy start Rhodes when Addai is a clearly better back?
Green: I talked with someone there and they told me Addai is not quite comfortable yet with some of their pass protection schemes. It will only be a matter of time though before Addai takes over as the starter.
|Pasquarelli's Game Ball
If you had bet us at the outset of the season that Brett Favre would appear even once in this space in 2006, we might have stolen the mortgage check out of the family out-box near the front door, and taken the wager. And, of course, we would have lost and probably faced imminent divorce.
In the twilight of his Hall of Fame career, and under duress even from some loyalists, the Green Bay star completed 25 of 36 passes for 340 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in Sunday's 31-24 victory over the Detroit Lions. His first touchdown pass, a 75-yarder to rookie wide receiver Greg Jennings, allowed Favre to join Dan Marino as the only quarterbacks in league history to notch 400 touchdown passes. Then he added two more to lift his total to 402. And, as usual, the three-time most valuable player put the accomplishment in perspective. "We needed a win," noted Favre, "a lot more than I needed 400 touchdown passes." Truth be told, there may not be many more wins for the Packers in 2006, or many more touchdown heaves for Favre this season. But for one day, one of history's greatest performers turned back a ticking clock.
Favre spread the ball around, completing passes to 10 different receivers. And his 127.1 passer rating was Favre's best since last Oct. 9, and represented only his third efficiency rating of 100.0 or more in his past 25 outings.
|WEEK 3 RUNDOWN
• Redskins 31, Texans 15
Clinton Portis' healthy return (164 total yards) allows the Redskins' offense to click for the first time this season.
• Jets 28, Bills 20
If Chad Pennington continues his efficient play, the Jets could end up being one of the surprise stories of 2006.
• Packers 31, Lions 24
On a day when he throws his 400th career TD pass, Brett Favre proves he's still capable of playing at a high level.
• Colts 21, Jaguars 14
The Jags are finding out that holding Peyton Manning in check doesn't necessarily equate to beating the Colts.
• Bears 19, Vikings 16
That Rex Grossman responded well after making a critical mistake is a great sign for Bears fans.
• Dolphins 13, Titans 10
Ugly win. But at this point the Dolphins just needed any win.
• Bengals 28, Steelers 20
Steelers made some huge mistakes and the Bengals turned them into touchdowns.
• Panthers 26, Bucs 24
Bucs fought back. But this wasn't a game for moral victories, just victories, and this one went to Carolina.
• Ravens 15, Browns 14
Offense might have more confidence with Steve McNair there, but it's still the defense that carries the Ravens.
• Seahawks 42, Giants 30
The Giants finished with a flourish (not that it mattered), but everyone will be talking about their dreadful start.
• Rams 16, Cardinals 14
With the Cardinals' ground game struggling, Kurt Warner can't be turning the ball over as often as he did Sunday.
• Eagles 38, 49ers 24
Talk about getting the most out of your chances. Brian Westbrook had 12 touches on offense for 164 yards and three TDs.
• Broncos 17, Patriots 7
Maybe it's not having Deion Branch, maybe it's not. But the Patriots are clearly scuffling on offense.
Lovie Smith's Bears improved to 3-0 behind another dominating defensive performance. How would you grade Smith's coaching in Week 3? What about Tom Coughlin, whose Giants fell to the Seahawks 42-30?
Our Coach Ratings give you a chance to cast your vote for all 32 coaches.
• Coach ratings
From Brian Westbrook's huge performance to another subpar game from Daunte Culpepper, Eric Karabell goes game-by-game recapping all of the fantasy action from Week 3. Also, Scott Engel offers his top observations of Sunday's action.
• Karabell: Week 3 wrap
• Engel: Week 3 observations
• Complete fantasy football coverage
|Jaguars at Colts
|It wasn't pretty, but the Colts held on to their perch atop the AFC South by showing more poise and discipline than the Jaguars, writes Len Pasquarelli. Story
|Bengals at Steelers
|Instead of buckling in the face of adversity, the Bengals were able to bear down and beat the Steelers, writes John Clayton. Story
|Bears at Vikings
|With apologies to the Ravens, Jaguars and Chargers, the debate about who owns the NFL's best defense ends with the Bears, writes Pat Forde. Story
|Eagles at 49ers
|Mike Patterson's improbable TD return sealed an easy Philly win and spruced up a boring afternoon by the bay, writes Wright Thompson. Story
|ONE TO GO
||Falcons at Saints (8:30 ET, ESPN)
Emotions will be high as the Saints return to the Superdome for the first time since Hurricane Katrina to take on the Falcons in a battle of undefeated NFC South rivals.
• Monday Night Surround
Saints return to the Superdome.
Chris Simms, QB, Bucs
Ruptured spleen and suffered bruised ribs in loss to Carolina.
Desmond Clark, TE, Bears
Suffered a strained foot vs. Vikings.
Frank Gore, RB, 49ers
Strained his abdomen vs. Eagles.
Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers
Cracked a bone in his leg vs. Eagles.
• Week 3 infirmary report
Palmer and Bengals get revenge
Sunday, Oct. 1
Indianapolis at N.Y. Jets, 1 ET
New Orleans at Carolina, 1 ET
Minnesota at Buffalo, 1 ET
Arizona at Atlanta, 1 ET
San Diego at Baltimore, 1 ET
Miami at Houston, 1 ET
San Francisco at Kansas City, 1 ET
Dallas at Tennessee, 1 ET
Detroit at St. Louis, 4:05 ET
Jacksonville at Washington, 4:15 ET
Cleveland at Oakland, 4:15 ET
New England at Cincinnati, 4:15 ET
Seattle at Chicago, 8:15 ET
Monday, Oct. 2
Green Bay at Philadelphia, 8:30 ET, ESPN
Bye: Denver, N.Y. Giants, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay
• Complete 2006 schedule