Denver Broncos safety T.J. Ward, one of the most-flagged and heavily fined players in the NFL this season, recently ripped the officials, suggesting the way to fix the league’s spotty officiating is to give the men in stripes full-time jobs. ”I mean, how would you feel if you came to watch a game on Sunday and you had part-time players?” Ward asked. … He barely knows the rules,” complained Ward.
The Miami Dolphins’ house cleaning continued on Monday, as there were mutiple reports that the team fired offensive coordinator Bill Lazor . Head coach Joe Philbin and defensive coordiantor Kevin Coyle were fired in October. On its website , the team confirmed the reports, posting that interim head coach “Dan Campbell announced that the team has made the following changes to the coaching staff. Zac Taylor will serve as the team’s play caller and remain as quarterbacks coach. In addition, Phil McGeoghan has been promoted to wide receivers coach and Bill Lazor has been relieved of his duties as offensive coordinator.” (An earlier version of this story pointed to a report saying Taylor had been named the new offensive coordinator, but per the team’s announcement, Taylor has not been given that title.) Miami lost to AFC East rival New York, 38-20 , dropping its record to 4-7. The Dolphins were a paltry 4-for-15 on third down on Sunday, not converting an attempt until 4:25 left in the third quarter. They were 0-for-12 against the Jets in London in October. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw for 351 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, but the bulk of his yards came in the second half, as Miami was trying to dig out of a 21-0 hole. After the loss, interim head coach Dan Campbell said Miami’s offense is “anemic right now,” an indication that perhaps Lazor’s days were numbered. Like Campbell, who is the youngest head coach in the league currently, Taylor is quite young and inexperienced as a coach: the 32-year-old was a two-year starter at quarterback at Nebraska, and had a cup of coffee in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2007. He has been with Miami for four years, first as assistant quarterbacks coach for one season and then as quarterbacks coach. Prior to joining the Dolphins, Taylor was a grad assistant/tight ends coach at Texas A&M. Both jobs came thanks to his tie to former A&M head coach and Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman – Taylor is married to Sherman’s daughter, Sarah.
Indianapolis signed Matt Hasselbeck three years ago to help groom Andrew Luck. After the 40-year-old quarterback threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s 25-12 victory over Tampa Bay to improve to 4-0 as a starter this season, Hasselbeck acknowledged he is actually getting better with age. On a day Hasselbeck joined Brett Favre and Warren Moon as the only Super Bowl era starters to win four straight starts in their 40s, Hasselbeck outplayed a highly touted rookie nearly half his age.
The Atlanta Falcons are in a tricky place with quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan isn’t bad. A lot of teams would trade their quarterback for Ryan without thinking twice. Is that list 15 teams long? 20? Clearly, Ryan isn’t terrible. But is he good? Ryan was really good at one point; that can’t really be debated. He had 4,719 yards, 32 touchdowns and a 99.1 rating in 2012. The Falcons came 10 yards from going to the Super Bowl. Ryan was just 27 years old. But this year, with the Falcons in absolute free fall after a great start, it’s hard to put him in that franchise quarterback category anymore. Ryan was 22 of 31 for 230 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in a bad 20-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. And 79 of those yards and his only touchdown came in absolute garbage time with the game well out of reach. By the way, Ryan has the luxury of throwing to arguably the greatest receiver in the NFL, Julio Jones. The Falcons were down 20-3 when Ryan padded his stats, and he did nothing to make the game competitive before that. The Falcons haven’t had a good performance since Oct. 4, when they demolished the Texans to improve to 4-0. They won two ugly games since then – an overtime home win on a pick-six of Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins and a sloppy 10-7 win against a Zach Mettenberger-led Tennessee Titans team – and have lost five. They’re still in the playoff hunt at 6-5 but light years removed from that great start. And Ryan hasn’t been terrible during this dry spell. He hasn’t been good either. He has 16 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, and has had some really bad moments. His interception that D’Qwell Jackson returned for a touchdown was a big turning point in the Falcons’ home loss to the Indianapolis Colts last week. Ryan’s interception into the end zone on Sunday, after a Tevin Coleman rushing touchdown was nullified due to a penalty, was another costly mistake. The Falcons might be entering no-man’s land with Ryan. He’s still good and nobody would suggest Atlanta should go forward with anyone else at quarterback. But he’s also 30, and if you asked for honest opinions, most would probably guess Ryan isn’t good enough to carry the Falcons to a title. And when your cap hit is $23.75 million, as it is each of the next two years, you better be in that elite category. He’s too good to let go and not good enough to carry the Falcons anywhere meaningful. Ryan once was in that elite category, and maybe he can get there again if the Falcons improve his supporting cast. Though, again, he has the incomparable Jones and most of this season he has had help from a tremendous running game led by Devonta Freeman. Cam Newton scoffs at the notion Ryan needs more help. The Falcons are struggling. Teams in slumps like that need their franchise quarterback to put everyone on his back and snap them out of it. But, the Falcons don’t really appear to have the type of quarterback who can do that. Here are the winners and losers from Sunday’s Week 12 NFL action: WINNERS Matt Hasselbeck: Before we start here, “quarterback wins” and “quarterback record” are nonsensical stats. Football is a team sport. Quarterbacks don’t play one-on-one. With that out of the way, the craziest story of the NFL season might be that the Indianapolis Colts are 4-0 with Hasselbeck starting, and just 2-5 when Andrew Luck starts. I’m not sure exactly how to explain that, either. Nobody is going to say that the 40-year-old Hasselbeck should keep starting when Luck is healthy, but Hasselbeck is giving Luck something to come back to. Even with the Houston Texans suddenly on a roll, the Colts are keeping pace and are still tied for first place in the AFC South, and they’ve won enough to be in the wild-card mix as well. Hasselbeck threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday as the Colts beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 25-12. The situation in Indianapolis is the opposite of the one in Denver, where the old veteran quarterback was replaced by the young backup. In fact, almost every situation follows the Denver template. It isn’t often that a 40-year-old who hadn’t been a full-time starter in four years replaces a young stud who was predicted by many to be MVP, and the team takes off with the old man under center. It’s a fantastic story in this NFL season, and totally out of the blue. Washington Redskins: How about those first-place Redskins, huh? There’s an asterisk, because the NFC East has taken over the AFC South as the division most likely to produce a 7-9 champ, but nobody in Washington will complain. The Redskins were supposed to be awful, and they’re not. Washington improved to 5-6 with a 20-14 win over the New York Giants and is tied for first place in the division. They can run the ball, have a big-time playmaker in DeSean Jackson back, Kirk Cousins is up and down but his good days are generally pretty good, and the defense has been way better than anyone expected. The Redskins have a really weird split, with a 5-0 home record and a 1-5 road record. But hey, if Washington wins the NFC East they will be hosting a playoff game. Nobody predicted that before this season. Carson Palmer’s spike: This Arizona Cardinals team is fun to watch, and quarterback Palmer’s great comeback from ACL surgery is a big part of that. Palmer made the big play of Sunday’s 19-13 win over a feisty San Francisco 49ers team. Palmer ran for an 8-yard touchdown with 2:28 left. He went back to pass, saw an opening to the left and outran the defense to the corner of the end zone, lunging in. That’s not Palmer’s game, but whatever it takes. Then came the real highlight: Palmer spiked the ball so hard he did a somersault afterward. If anything sums up how fun this Cardinals season has been, that was it. Russell Wilson: Wilson hasn’t had the greatest season for the Seattle Seahawks, right after he became one of the NFL’s highest paid players. But when the Seahawks really needed it on Sunday, Wilson had one of his best days as a pro. Wilson threw for a career-high five touchdowns and threw for 315 yards in Seattle’s 39-30 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Wilson has had a fantastic start to his career but has never been viewed as the type of quarterback who can carry an entire offense. He did that on Sunday, however. Now the Seahawks are 6-5 and very much alive in the NFC playoff race, which would be very promising except … LOSERS What has happened to the “Legion of Boom”?: The Seahawks had the NFL’s best defense from 2012-14. It wasn’t just the best in the league, it compared favorably to some of the greatest defenses ever. That defense is gone, it seems. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 456 yards before he went out with an injury late in the game. Landry Jones came in and threw for 34 more. The Seahawks have never given up that many passing yards in a game, and they’ve had many, many defenses in their history that weren’t as well thought of as this group of stars. Many of the key figures on this defense are still on the roster, which makes the decline very strange. Depth has been chipped away through free agency, and that factors in how many times they’ve given up a fourth-quarter lead and how they could allow almost 500 passing yards on Sunday. But it’s still a shock to see a defense with players like Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril have so many holes. The Seahawks might make it into the playoffs. But unlike the past few years, it’s hard to imagine this defense carrying them very far if they do. Jeff Fisher: A lot has been said in this spot about Fisher, the St. Louis Rams coach who has somehow coached two decades despite a startling run of mediocrity, but it really appears his time with the Rams is done. Right? Unless the ownership group is way too distracted by the franchise’s possible move (don’t rule that out) it’s impossible to believe Fisher has earned another year on the job. The Rams lost their fourth straight on Sunday, and it was a 31-7 blowout at the Cincinnati Bengals. Superstar rookie running back Todd Gurley got nine carries. Fisher got testy with the media afterward. Fisher insisted it was not an effort problem, so the most reasonable assumption is that it’s a coaching issue, right? This Rams season is ugly. There’s plenty of talent, particularly after the bounty of the Robert Griffin III trade. There’s enough talent that the Rams won at the Arizona Cardinals this season. But they were good enough last year to beat the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos. They were good enough in 2013 to win at the Indianapolis Colts. And yet the Rams haven’t posted a winning season in any of Fisher’s four seasons, mostly because they sleepwalk through multiple games each year, and it seems clear at 4-7 that this season won’t be the breakthrough. It’ll be surprising if Fisher gets a fifth shot at it in St. Louis, or wherever the Rams play next season. Buffalo Bills playoff chances, again: The Bills probably needed Sunday’s game at the Kansas City Chiefs. And they held a 10-point lead and a 9-point lead in the first half. But the game ended in disappointment, as the Bills stopped going to white-hot receiver Sammy Watkins for some reason, the defense couldn’t get off the field enough times, and the Chiefs pulled off a huge win. The Bills are 5-6, not technically eliminated from the playoff race, but they need a ton of help. The Chiefs lead them by a game, have the tiebreaker and a really easy final five weeks on the schedule. The Steelers lead the Bills too, as does whoever doesn’t win the AFC South among the Texans or Colts. Anything can happen with five weeks to go, but it seems like another lost season for the Bills. They haven’t been to the playoffs since 1999. There have been some strides this year. Tyrod Taylor has given them pretty good quarterback play, Watkins has played well at times and LeSean McCoy adds some pop to the running game. The defense has been shaky, but one would figure that with an offseason to work on it, Rex Ryan will have better results. But it’s also a team that has the third-most money allocated to the 2016 cap according to Spotrac (behind the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints … ouch). There’s not a ton of flexibility to improve dramatically. But the Bills will likely enter 2016 still holding the longest streak without a playoff appearance. Another long offseason in Buffalo is coming. – – – – – – – Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? 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