Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made it abundantly clear Thursday night following his team’s 26-15 loss to the Bills that he’s not going to fire coach Jason Garrett before the end of the season.
“I’m just not going to make a coaching change. It’s not impossible for us to do more than just show up in the playoffs,” Jones said in a postgame press conference that went more than 25 minutes.
But Garrett’s seat is so hot it has grill marks. If Garrett, whose contract expires after this season, doesn’t make a deep playoff run, Jones looks ready to move on to a new head coach after 9½ seasons.
Garrett isn’t the only coach with a lot to prove over the final month of the season. Now that the calendar has flipped to December, several jobs across the league are on the line.
Let’s take a look at those who are on the hot seat:
■ Everyone in Carolina. That would be head coach Ron Rivera, general manager Marty Hurney, and quarterback Cam Newton. Rivera has been a great leader for the last nine seasons, and Newton won an MVP in 2015, but it’s looking like time is running out for both.
Newton is constantly banged up, and could save the Panthers $19.1 million in cash and cap space if they move on after the season. Rivera is in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the second season under new owner David Tepper, while Hurney was hired on an interim basis in 2017, and has kept the job since then. The Panthers are a disappointing 5-6 after dropping four of their last five games, and probably need to win out to make the playoffs — no easy feat, with Seattle, Indianapolis and New Orleans still on the schedule.
While Tepper declined to speak on the record with reporters about Rivera’s job security a couple weeks ago, he did say that, “Every time we have a loss, my mood is [poopy].”
■ Giants coach Pat Shurmur. Big Blue is 2-9 and finishing off its third straight season without the playoffs, and seventh in the last eight years. Shurmur was brought in two years ago to fix the offense, but the Giants are 24th in points this year. Shurmur wasn’t able to get anything out of Eli Manning, and rookie Daniel Jones has been a turnover machine, with eight interceptions and 10 lost fumbles.
The Giants’ roster has a lot of issues, but the coaching staff hasn’t shown much creativity or ability to overcome those issues, either. Only one of the Giants’ final five games is against a team with a winning record (Sunday vs. the Packers), so Shurmur really needs a strong finish to bolster his case to return for a third season.
■ Chargers coach Anthony Lynn. One bad season shouldn’t be enough to get Lynn fired. He was dealt a bad hand in 2017, accepting the Chargers job a day before the team announced it was moving to Los Angeles. He went a respectable 9-7 his first season, and 12-4 with a playoff win last year.
But the Chargers are struggling badly this year at 4-7, and are all but out of the playoff race. And the team is moving into a shiny new stadium next year, and is desperate to sell tickets. There’s no better way to create a little buzz and sell the fans on hope than by bringing in a new coach to open the new stadium.
■ Rams GM Les Snead and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. The 6-5 Rams are one of the NFL’s biggest disappointments, and like the Chargers, also need to create a little buzz as they move into a brand-new stadium next year (the same one). Someone’s head should roll for this year’s struggles, and it probably won’t be wunderkind head coach Sean McVay.
Snead, the Rams’ GM since 2012 who survived the change from Jeff Fisher to McVay, has made several questionable roster moves, such as giving $110 guaranteed to Jared Goff this September, trading a first-round pick for Brandin Cooks in 2018, and trading the team’s next two first-round picks for Jalen Ramsey.
And the defense under Phillips is struggling, ranked 15th in points allowed after giving up 55 to the Buccaneers in September and 45 to the Ravens last week.
■ Bears coach Matt Nagy and quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Nagy has not been so swaggy this year, with the Bears mired with a 6-6 record and ranking 28th in points and 29th in total offense. The Bears’ previous two coaches, John Fox and Marc Trestman, got only three and two years, respectively, and a poor finish in December could put Nagy in trouble. He also hasn’t done anything with Trubisky, who ranks 27th out of 34 quarterbacks in passer rating (84.4) and whose 6.08 yards per attempt rank dead last. Trubisky is only owed $4.4 million next year, with a cap number of about $9.2 million, in the final year of his contract. It shouldn’t prevent the Bears from looking for another quarterback.
■ Lions coach Matt Patricia. Count me as someone who believes Patricia deserves more time. The Lions were 3-4-1 when Matthew Stafford went down with a back injury, and have since lost four straight (but have remained competitive) with Jeff Driskel and David Blough at quarterback. But Lions fans are already pointing out that previous coach Jim Caldwell was fired after back-to-back 9-7 seasons, while Patricia has since gone 9-18-1 in his two seasons.
■ Falcons coach Dan Quinn. At this point, there’s probably not much Quinn can do. The Falcons are 3-9, and though they had a couple of nice wins in November, there is no doubt that this season has been a massive disappointment, no matter if the Falcons win their final four games. Owner Arthur Blank is either going to stick by his guy, or more likely, make sweeping changes after the season.
■ Broncos executive VP John Elway and coach Vic Fangio. It may seam like heresy in Denver to get rid of Elway, but other than sign Peyton Manning, what has he done in nine years as the Broncos’ football boss? He has whiffed on several quarterbacks, hasn’t found the right coach, and is going to miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season. As for Fangio, I’m usually not a proponent of one-and-done, but his defense ranks 24th in sacks and 29th in turnovers (10 in 11 games). And the Cardinals are proving this year that it’s better to cut your losses and move on than to try to force something to work.
Bills’ record credit to coaching staff
A few more thoughts from the Thanksgiving games:
■ For the Bills to be 9-3 — the second-best record in the AFC (prior to the Ravens playing on Sunday) and on the verge of the playoff spot — with the headless chicken that is Josh Allen at quarterback is a sign of a tremendous coaching job from the staff. The Bills have had the NFL’s easiest schedule so far, but Sean McDermott has built a tough, disciplined team that plays great on defense (third in points allowed) and doesn’t make many crippling mistakes on offense.
And while McDermott rightfully deserves a lot of the credit, so does offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who has done a great job of masking Allen’s deficiencies and minimizing turnovers (just 13 in 12 games). Daboll, who has been an offensive coordinator for four teams (plus Alabama), deserves head coaching interviews this winter.
■ I got a good laugh out of Cowboys defensive end Michael Bennett’s tirade to his teammates following Thursday night’s loss.
Bennett’s message: “The champions are the people that get remembered,” he said via the Dallas Morning News. “They don’t remember who got the biggest contract. A whole bunch of great players got great contracts, but they don’t get remembered as champions.”
This from the guy who got into a fiery confrontation with his position coach in New England because of lack of playing time, and forced his way off of a team that was 7-0 at the time, and is now 10-1.
■ Also, Jerry Jones isn’t wrong to question Jason Garrett’s coaching performance, as he did last Sunday in New England. But he’s ensuring that he won’t be able to hire a top-flight coach the next time around. Which coach in his right mind would want to work for an owner who also doubles as the GM, and who vents to reporters for 15-30 minutes after games?
■ Taysom Hill has been the ultimate Swiss Army knife for the Saints as a runner, receiver, change-of-pace quarterback, and special teams maven, scoring five touchdowns this year and providing invaluable toughness and versatility. And he kept it going Thursday night, rushing for a touchdown, catching a scoring pass, and blocking a punt in the win over the Falcons.
Undrafted out of Brigham Young in 2017, Hill spent his first preseason with the Packers, got cut, and was claimed off waivers by the Saints the next day, where he has been ever since. My question: How is this guy not a Patriot? Hill may be the most “Bill Belichick player” of all time.
MISSING THE POINT
Less offense not hurting Patriots
Scoring 17 or fewer points is usually a bad sign for the Patriots — they are just 22-42 when doing so with Tom Brady at quarterback since 2001, per the Pro Football Reference database. But they have now won four in a row when scoring 17 or fewer: Last season’s Super Bowl, and wins this season over the Bills, Eagles, and Cowboys.
The Patriots hadn’t won consecutive games when scoring 17 or fewer since 2003, when they went 5-2 in such games. Last season, the Patriots lost all three such regular-season games (Steelers, Titans, Lions).
The Patriots’ 64 games of 17 or fewer points since 2001 are the fewest in the NFL (Saints are next at 76), and they have the NFL’s best win percentage in such games (.344).
But they are happening more frequently. The Patriots had one such game in 2015, one in 2016, none in 2017, but four in 2018 and three this year.
The Patriots’ magic number appears to be 24 points. They have a sub-.500 record with Brady when scoring 23 points or fewer, but have a .549 win percentage when scoring 24 or fewer. The Steelers are at .500, and the 30 other NFL teams have losing records.
Replay rule isn’t helping matters
Sean Payton got his wish last offseason, strong-arming the competition committee and the 32 owners into adopting a new rule about instant replay and pass interference that many in the league didn’t want to happen.
But that wasn’t enough for Payton, who is still complaining about the decisions being made by Al Riveron in the instant replay command center at league headquarters.
The bar for winning a challenge on instant replay has been set incredibly high, with Roger Goodell stating in October that the NFL only wants to use the rule to correct obvious mistakes, not to re-officiate calls made on the field. Payton hasn’t been shy about expressing his disappointment in how the rule is being applied, and when the Saints had a pass interference replay decision go against them last week, Payton complained about Riveron and the process, saying it was not “New York’s best game.” Payton believes Riveron has too much power.
“We don’t have one Supreme Court justice,” Payton said. “I think it merits three experts. I think it’ll help immensely. And Al’s outstanding. I think he’s got a tough job and I think when you have a group of three, I think you’re going to arrive at more consistent calls.”
But Payton is forgetting that Riveron already has help — he is joined in the command center every Sunday by Russell Yurk, the vice president of instant replay and administration who consults with Riverson on every call. And, let’s be honest — Riveron is just doing what he’s told, in terms of setting a high bar for overturning pass interference calls.
Payton got his way by ramming the new rule through the approval process, yet he’s still complaining. The best decision for the NFL will be to simply do away with it next year, because it’s too much of a headache.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was brutally honest this past week when asked why he switched to third-string quarterback Devlin Hodges for Sunday’s game against Cleveland: “He has not killed us.” The quarterback who has, apparently, killed the Steelers is Mason Rudolph, who has thrown five interceptions the last two weeks to earn his demotion. But the fact that the Steelers are 6-5 and currently hold the No. 6 playoff seed despite playing with their second- and third-string QBs for nine games speaks to how bad the NFL is this year. Rudolph, somehow, went 5-3 as a starter . . . One of the strangest stories of the season happened this past week when offensive tackle Jared Veldheer surprisingly came out of retirement. The Patriots granted him his release, and the Packers, who recently lost Bryan Bulaga to injury, picked Veldheer up on waivers. The Patriots took the high road by releasing Veldheer, and I wouldn’t have blamed them for squatting on his rights, because he really put them in a tough bind earlier this season. The Patriots signed Veldheer as an important depth piece at offensive tackle behind Isaiah Wynn, yet he retired after just one spring practice, saying he physically couldn’t do it any longer. It thinned the Patriots’ depth at tackle, and they struggled to replace Wynn when he went down with an ankle injury in Week 2. Now, suddenly, Veldheer wants to play again? Veldheer could have made up to $6.5 million with the Patriots this year, but instead could make about $650,000 if the Packers activate him for the final four weeks . . . The Patriots are 18th in total offense, which if they finish there would be their lowest ranking since 2003. They have finished lower than eighth just twice since 2003, ranking 11th in 2006 and 2014 . . . Baker Mayfield doesn’t seem too fazed about facing a hostile crowd in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Mayfield, who began his college career at Texas Tech before transferring to Oklahoma, said that his 2016 game at Texas Tech had “40,000-50,000 people screaming ‘[expletive] you, Baker,’ ” he said. “I don’t think Pittsburgh could match that. I really don’t.” I’m sure Steelers fans will try . . . Most Giants players didn’t have a very jolly Thanksgiving. The players had their weekly weigh-in on Friday, and got fined $670 for each pound they were overweight. “It’s torture. It doesn’t let you enjoy your meal in peace,” guard Will Hernandez said via The Athletic. “Two pounds and you’re paying over a grand.”