The Detroit Lions are back in the driver’s seat in the wild-card race as they, along with the Atlanta Falcons, are holders of the two final playoff spots.
The Lions are travelling to the west coast this week to battle the unravelling Oakland Raiders, a team that has been blown out in its past two. If the Lions can win two of their final three, they can punch their own ticket.
As well as their advantageous timing, the Lions will be buoyed by the return of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, back in their lineup following a two-game suspension for kicking Green Bay’s Evan Dietrich-Smith during their Thanksgiving Day game.
Prior to Sunday’s victory over Minnesota, a game the Lions came close to blowing, Detroit coach Jim Schwartz told his team he no longer would condone the parade of stupid penalties that have cost them some games.
Given that lecture and the knowledge that the league will be watching him closely the rest of the season, Schwartz believes that Suh won’t have any further incidents.
“I’d be very surprised if it showed up on his radar again,” Schwartz said. “He’s a very prideful person. He wants to do anything he can to help the team, so I would be surprised if something like that happened again.”
FALCONS COACH BRIEFLY HOSPITALIZED
Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith received a scare following Sunday’s win over Carolina when he experienced chest pains and was taken to a Charlotte hospital for examination.
Smith received a clean bill of health and is back at work in directing the Falcons over their final three games. First up is Thursday’s home game against Jacksonville.
“I feel a whole lot better today than I did yesterday, I can assure you that,” Smith told reporters.
He said he doesn’t plan on lightening his load during the short week, chest pains or no chest pains. His Falcons are 8-5 and holders of a wild-card spot.
“Any time you’re in a short week, it’s a stressful week simply because you don’t have enough hours in the day to get what you normally get accomplished,” Smith said. “But, hey, we’ve got to go play and we’re going to be ready to go on Thursday.”
What about his health?
“I’m going to have to evaluate some of the things that I do, but not coaching this team,” Smith said. “In terms of how we coach this team, we’re going to keep doing it the way we’ve always done it simply because it’s the only way I know how to do it.”
Perhaps he should check his priorities.
FITZPATRICK’S STOCK CRASHES
Fans of the Buffalo Bills not only have seen another season go down the drain — they have lost six in a row after a 5-2 start — but they also are questioning whether the team made a terrible decision by giving quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick a six-year, $59-million contract extension halfway through the season.
Despite his lack of success of late, head coach Chan Gailey is sticking with Fitzpatrick and has no doubts that he is their quarterback of the future.
“No, none, zero,” Gailey told the Buffalo News. ”We’ve all seen him do it. We know he can do it. I think as we continue to work on getting everybody on the same page Fitz will be fine. If that was my biggest problem I don’t think I’d have any problems.”
Gainey can hardly go against his GM and flog his quarterback publicly. His comments aside, Fitzpatrick these days hasn’t looked anything like the quarterback that led the team to their good start.
In his first seven games, Fitzpatrick completed 68% of his passes (155-for-229) for 1,739 yards, 14 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
Over the six-game losing streak, he has completed 56% (123-for-220) of his passes for 1,274 yards, six touchdowns and nine interceptions.
That’s not the trend you want to see.
SHANAHAN DISAPPOINTED IN DeANGELO HALL
Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan has been disappointed about a lot of things this season but Sunday’s loss to New England in a game they could have won ranks right up there.
Especially upsetting to Shanahan was a costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty given to cornerback DeAngelo Hall at a critical juncture of the game.
After he was called for defensive holding, Hall reacted by picking up the flag and throwing it. So he was tagged for an additional 15 yards.
It didn’t impress Shanahan.
“Especially when guys are in a leadership role, we understand that you have to keep your cool, regardless of if you like a call or don’t like a call,” Shanahan said. “That’s your job to handle yourself in a professional manner, and more importantly, not put your team in a hole by having a 15-yard penalty. That’s one of the things that I talked about to our football team. You make too many of those mistakes and you’re not with us.”