Models of inconsistency
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Sep 28, 2009
(Ed. note: Read more about inconsistency and the "curse of 13" here.)
The Panthers suffered another mistake-filled loss Monday night, falling to the Cowboys in the Taj Majones, 21-7.
It was a good solid win for Dallas, following up a loss to the Giants and a week of criticism with 212 yards on the ground behind back-up ballcarriers Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. The Cowboys move to 2-1 to keep pace in the rough and tumble NFC East. Even with Washington's loss to Detroit Sunday, the NFC East boasts a cumulative 8-4 record.
But the story here was the decimation of Carolina – division champs at 12-4 last year, a bumbling 0-3 this year.
Of the eight division champs in 2008, the Panthers are one of three that will enter October 2009 without a victory. The Titans (13-3 last year) and Dolphins (11-5) are the others.
That's 36-12 last year; 0-9 this year.
We got an inkling that something was not right when these three division champs all failed to win a single playoff game. In fact, all three were embarrassed in the playoffs:
- the Panthers got smoked at home, 33-13, by the Cardinals
- the Dolphins suffered a 27-9 loss at home to Baltimore, in a game that proved they just weren't ready for the big time
- and the Titans made more mistakes than we did on our SATs in a 13-10 home loss to the Ravens.
Their performances, to us, make the great winners of the 21st century all the impressive. The success of the league's model franchises is the great exception in the NFL, not the rule. But the success of these organizations, namely the Colts, Patriots and Steelers, is so constant that we take it for granted.We shouldn't. In fact, we should stand in even more awe of them.Consider these four organizations against the yo-yo like performance of the Carolinas, Miamis and Tennessees of the world.Denver – Yes, the Broncos are a model of consistent success. And, yes, we know they haven't won a Super Bowl since John Elway hung up the cleats after the 1998 season. But 24 other NFL teams have failed to win a Super Bowl since then, too. If you want to use Elway as a milestone, consider that the Broncos have suffered just four losing seasons since the Hall of Fame quarterback joined the organization way back in 1983 – the virtual Stone Age in terms of football history – and only one of those was a really bad team. The Broncos went 5-11 in 1990, 7-9 in 1994, 6-10 in 1999 and 7-9 in 2007.As recently as 2005, the Broncos hosted the AFC title game. And they're racing out of the gates at 3-0 here in 2009, under first-year coach Josh McDaniels and the luckiest quarterback in history, Kyle Orton. The schedule gets much tougher over the next several weeks. But so far in 2009, Denver is looking like the perpetual competitor they've been now for more than a quarter century. It's a remarkable streak of consistency that must seem as eternal as the tides to the Carolinas, Miamis and Tennessees of the world.Indianapolis – You know the story. The Colts are in the midst of an unprecedented run of six straight seasons of 12 or more wins. At 3-0 out of the gate and looking just as good as ever, the Colts will pad their record with a seventh straight 12-win season here in 2009.Since Peyton Manning's second year in the league (1999), the Colts have suffered just one season in which they failed to win at least 10 games (6-10 in 2001). The Colts will reach the playoffs for the eighth straight year here in 2009 – a number that must seem as unreachable as Pluto to the Carolinas, Miamis and Tennessees of the world.New England – You also know the 21st century story here, since the Tom Brady ascendancy. The Patriots have won outright or shared the division title every year since Brady became a starter in 2001, losing out only on tiebreakers in 2002 (9-7) and in 2008, when they became the first 11-5 team to miss the playoffs since the NFL adopted the 12-team playoff format in 1990. But the consistency goes back further and it speaks to the importance of management.Since the Kraft family bought the franchise in 1994, the Patriots have suffered just two losing seasons, 6-10 in 1995 and 5-11 in 2000, Bill Belichick's first year as New England's head coach. To the Carolinas, Miamis and Tennessees of the world, the organization's faultless consistency must seem as shocking as the faultless construction of the pyramids appear to us 4,000 years after aliens came down from the heavens to build them.Pittsburgh – In the world of consistency, the Steelers are truly the Model T assembly line of the football world. The Steelers have suffered just seven losing seasons going all the way back to 1972, the organization's very first playoff season. One owner, three head coaches, a record six Super Bowl trophies – and remarkable consistency at quarterback, at least by the standards of pro football.Even in the Bradshaw-Roethlisberger interregnum, from 1983 to 2003, most Pittsburgh quarterbacks enjoyed several consecutive seasons at the helm. A couple even played at a Pro Bowl level. There was little to none of the chaos at the position we find in teams like Chicago and Detroit or, this year specifically, Tampa and Cleveland. Even in the years between the Hall of Fame QB and the likely Hall of Fame QB, the Steelers were one of the league's most consistent playoff contenders. They've stumbled out of the gate here in 2009, with a 1-2 record. But they're the defending Super Bowl champs and we're not quite ready to count them out of contention.The industrial might of the Pittsburgh's assembly line approach to success is the envy of the football world and has simply overwhelmed the rest of the league. The Carolinas, Miamis and Tennessees of the world must look at the ruthless capitalistic efficiency of Pittsburgh's victory machine with the same combination of fear, awe and admiration that the German defenders looked at the crushing steel wave of the Allied air and sea armada on D-Day. They knew right then and there that a superior system of military organization existed overseas and that the end for them was near.***The Cowboys were once that model of consistency. In fact, in one of the most remarkable runs in sports history, the Cowboys reached the playoffs every year but one (1974) from 1966 to 1983 – that's 17 playoff appearances in 18 years. And most of those years were when only four teams from each conference (or league) reached the postseason.The Cowboys also gave us one of our all-time favorite Cold, Hard Football Facts during this period: they played in the NFC title game in 12 of 17 seasons from 1966 to 1982. For nearly two decades, during the period which the marked the ascendancy of the NFL, the Cowboys were battling for the right to go to the Super Bowl year after year.But they've no doubt fallen on hard times in recent years. They haven't had a losing season since 2004 – but they've famously done zilch in the playoffs since 1996, the last year they won a postseason game.Right or wrong, Tony Romo is the symbol of that inconsistency. He's a big star who sparkles at times, like the organization itself, but is downright awful at others. His performances certainly decline in clutch situations. In fact, ESPN ran a great graphic last night.Here's Romo's record as a starter each month of the season:
Seems like a trend to us – a trend of clutch inconsistency.***Speaking of inconsistent performers, Jake Delhomme lost one fumble against the Cowboys, and threw two INTs, one of which was returned for a game-clinching 27-yard touchdown by Terrence Newman.He's a symbol of the importance of the QB position: the Panthers are competitors when he plays well. They're second-rate losers when he goes into one of his spiral-winding nosedives.The Panthers, 12-4 entering the playoffs last year, are 0-4 since.During the 2008 regular season, he committed just 15 turnovers (12 INT, 3 fumbles).In the four-game losing streak, he's also committed 15 turnovers.Arizona – 5 fumbles, 1 fumblePhilly – 4 INTs, 1 fumbleAtlanta – 1 INTDallas – 2 INT, 1 fumble
- September – 9-2 (.818)
- October – 4-2 (.667)
- November – 11-1 (.917)
- Dec/Jan – 5-10 (.333)
It's easy to blame the quarterback for all the mistakes. And he certainly deserves criticism. After all, turnovers = losses in the cold, hard calculations of professional football.
But the most inconsistent force on Monday night was John Fox and the Carolina coaching staff.
The Panthers boast a pair of great ball carriers in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Steward. Williams, in fact, is fresh off the best season by any running back in franchise history.
But on Monday night, the Panthers called just 14 rushing plays all night ... they even had success against the vulnerable Dallas run defense. Williams picked up 64 yards on 11 attempts, an average of 5.8 YPA.
Instead of handing these guys the ball, Fox insists on leaving the ball in the hands of his struggling, mistake-prone quarterback. The results -- four straight losses -- speak for themselves.
It's a dereliction of coaching duty.