TORONTO - A couple of NFL teams got a head start on the off-season blame game, axing their head coaches with three games left on the schedule.
Perhaps conscious of getting a head start on recruiting one of the big names available Jeff Fisher, Jon Gruden, or perhaps even Bill Cowher the Chiefs dismissed Todd Haley and the Dolphins cut Tony Sparano loose.
Haley got the word Monday morning that his services were no longer required. Sparano didn't find out until Monday afternoon that he won't be making the trip to Buffalo with the Dolphins next weekend.
When you take the long view, Haley's dismissal as coach of the City isn't nearly as surprising as the fact of his hiring three years ago.
From day one, Haley's style a lot closer to Rex Ryan than to Hank Stram was not a good fit in the button-down, midwest culture that the Chiefs have fostered forever. As time went on and the losses mounted, it became more and more clear that Haley could never be comfortable in this organization. It was dead certain that the organization could never be comfortable with him.
As recently as last week, he confided to a Kansas City writer that it might be nearly time to resign. Of course, that would never happen when it could cost him his severance, but GM Scott Pioli took care of that by firing him Monday morning, less than a day after the Chiefs had gone down to their eighth loss of the year, five of them by blowout scores.
The coaching change doesn't even come at the Chiefs' darkest hour because, Sunday aside, recent efforts, especially by the defence have been encouraging. Injuries on offence especially QB Matt Cassel and RB Jamaal Charles quickly robbed Haley of any chance to compete this year. There was talk that Haley almost lost his job after last season, and that was when the Chiefs nabbed a surprising playoff spot. Kansas City went 19-27 in Haley's three seasons, including the playoff loss to the Ravens.
"Todd helped this team in many valuable ways over the past three seasons, and I am thankful for his contributions," said Pioli in a statement. "Unfortunately, we have not been able to establish the kind of consistency we need to continue to build a strong foundation for the future and we believe a change is important at this time."
Haley was Pioli's choice as head coach, but the friction between them was the NFL's worst kept secret. The two men seemed to diverge on how a team should be run.
Defensive co-ordinator Romeo Crennel has been named interim coach in Kansas City and secondary coach Todd Bowles will take over in Miami but you can be certain that both teams will be going after an experienced, big name coach going forward.
Sparano's dismissal comes after the Dolphins were ripped by the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday. Miami got off to a horrible start this season, losing its first seven games. Sparano probably thought he had saved his job by winning four of his next five but now owner Stephen Ross wants to clean house after this latest debacle at home and is planning to install former Kansas City executive Carl Peterson at the top of his football organization.
NO LEAD WAS SAFE
It was fitting that the Dallas Cowboys collapsed on cue Sunday night against the Giants, capping off an historic day of fourth-quarter comebacks. No fewer than five teams overcame 12-point deficits to win Sunday, more than any single day in NFL history, according to ESPN.com's Mike Sando.
That total didn't even include the most improbable comeback of the day by Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos, who scored 10 points in the last 150 seconds of regulation to tie the Bears, then beat them in overtime.
For the Cowboys, it was the third time this year they have blown at least a dozen-point lead in the fourth quarter.
In addition to the Giants, the Falcons, Jaguars, Texans and Cardinals, all pulled it off on Sunday. The Texans and Giants did it in especially exciting, last-minute fashion.
Centre Maurice Pouncey and QB Ben Roethlisberger both suffered Grade 1 high ankle sprains in Thursday's win over Cleveland. Even though Roethlisberger came back to play the second half, his sprain is considered the more severe of the two players. Pouncey expects to play next Monday when the Steelers face the 49ers in San Francisco. Roethlisberger is less certain ... If anyone was prepared to write off the Texans after Matt Schaub was injured, T.J. Yates is changing that perception. He has led Houston to back-to-back game-winning drives, the first rookie to accomplish that since 1970. Sunday's rally that ended with the game-winning TD on the last play, was an 80-yard drive accomplished without leading receiver Andre Johnson.
MARINO'S RECORD UNDER ASSAULT
Who could blame Hall of Famer Dan Marino if he asked the NFL for a piling-on penalty?
His single-season record of 5,084 passing yards has stood for 27 years but it's unlikely to last the rest of this month.
No fewer than four quarterbacks, led by New Orleans' Drew Brees, are piling up yardage that will threaten Marino's place in the record books.
With three games left, Brees leads the league with 4,368 yards and needs to accumulate just 717 more to pass Marino. That would require an average of about 240 yards per game, which is about 100 yards less than Brees has averaged in his first 13 games. Only once this year has Brees thrown for fewer than 240 yards.
Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Eli Manning have also thrown for more than 4,000 yards this year and each has a very good chance to pass Marino as well.
It's a near lock that someone is going to break Marino's record. When it happens, we should congratulate the man who does it and also take a minute to appreciate what an amazing 1984 season Marino had. In the 2011 offensive environment, four different quarterbacks may surpass 5,000 yards. When Marino set the record, he did it in a season when only three quarterbacks passed for 4,000 yards.
with files from Bill Lankhof