To understand how easily an NFL team's season can get lost, consider the Giants Miracle in Philadelphia on Sept. 17. If Eli Manning gets knocked off his pins instead of completing a 22-yard pass to Tim Carter with 35 seconds to play, the Giants probably lose. If the Eagles Trent Cole doesn’t kick Kareem McKenzie in the jewels with 10 seconds to play, Jay Feely has to make a 50-yarder to tie the game and the Giants probably lose. And if Feely doesn’t make the 35-yarder with 7 seconds to go, the Giants DO lose. But Manning stayed up and completed the pass, Cole put his foot where it shouldn’t have been, Feely made his field goal and the Giants won in overtime.
What’s your point?
The point is that if the Giants lost they’d be heading to the House of Noise this week at 0-2 and with the very bad (and very real) prospect of a lost season to come. Instead they’ll go to Seattle, a lot more relaxed and able to deal with this game no matter the result. Win and they’re 2-1 and looking like a playoff team; lose and they’re 1-2 but through their most difficult portion of the schedule and still with high hopes.
No such luxury exists for the 0-2 Redskins against Houston, the 0-2 Dolphins against Tennessee, or the 0-2 Panthers and the 0-2 Buccaneers, who play each other. For these guys (all with playoff expectations) this week’s game could feel like lose and go home. Lots of fans will feel that way for sure.
We’re not going to the record books to let you know which teams in NFL history have made the playoffs after starting 0-3. We’ll leave that to the filberts and to the end of the season, when that stat actually matters. And, yes, there are other 0-2 teams playing this Sunday, in fact Miami hosts one in the Titans, and Washington visits one in the Texans. Two others play each other—Packers at Lions—but no one could seriously have considered those four as potential playoff teams. (Yes, the Lions were picked as a playoff team by a lot of people but not here.)
For Miami, Washington and Tampa Bay the desperation has to feel a little worse because they’re all 0-2 and totally unsure of their quarterbacks. Is the Dolphins Daunte Culpepper as immobile as he has looked? Can it possibly be that there are calls for Joey Harrington to replace him? If that doesn’t illustrate desperation, what could?
Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs has to be looking at his QB Mark Brunell and wondering if that birthday he publicly celebrated last Sunday night was his 56th and not his 36th. Washington goes back to Texas this week and better come home with its first victory or owner Dan Snyder could start throwing hissy fits and new boy toy Tom Cruise could jump from Snyder’s couch.
And Bucs coach Jon Gruden can’t feel good about Chris Simms. His numbers are off the charts awful. (THREE points for the Bucs in two games? Don’t you guys realize that one genius I know—that would be me—picked the Bucs to go to the Super Bowl?)
Carolina can at least feel some optimism even though they’re on the road this week. The Panthers can’t possibly do anything as stupid as those special teams’ fiascoes of last Sunday. (For a great reflection at Carolina’s brain cramps have a look at this FanNation blog posting: Losing battles in the War of 2006.) Coach John Fox has a QB who seems trustworthy in Jake Delhomme, the potential return of Steve Smith at wideout and a defense led by the incomparable Julius Peppers.
So for Carolina, it should be a good day; for the others, hold your breath and fasten seat belts. By Sunday night a lot of fans will know what they have to look forward to—a chance in the NFL or the hockey season.