Now that the 2009-10 regular season is in the books it’s time for us to reflect on just what the heck happened over the past few months in the NFL. This fall and winter had some great stories and some major controversies. But frankly, none of that interests us here at R & R. What we’re into, what really gets our juices flowing, are those teams, players and situations that didn’t live up to the ridiculous hype surrounding them before and during the 2009-10 season.
So without further ridiculous hype and preamble, I present to you the biggest flops of the 2009-10 NFL season.
5. The New York Giants’ Defense
When Plaxico Burress tried to ice himself last year and got thrown in the clink, everyone thought the Giants’ could struggle on offense, especially as teams were likely to load the box to stop running back Brandon Jacobs. No one, and I mean no one, thought the Giants’ defense would be the team’s weakness for the entire season. Despite a 5-0 start, the Giants wrapped up the season with an 8-8 record after dropping a 44-7 Week 17 blowout at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings.
While offensively the G-Men averaged 366 yards (8th in the league) and scored a respectable 25.1 points per game (also 8th) they surrendered 324.9 yards (13th) and 26.7 points per game (30th in the league). To give you an idea where there points allowed ranked, only the St. Louis Rams (27.3) and the Detroit Lions (30.9) gave up more. The 427 points the Giants surrendered were the most by the franchise since 1966.
So where did things go wrong for the only tenet of the Meadowlands not headed to the playoffs? It’s hard to say. They ranked in the middle of the pack in both rushing and passing yards allowed – 15th and 14th respectively. Then again, the defense only took the ball away 24 times all season though, contributing its lousy share of the team’s -7 giveaway/takeaway margin.
Despite a defensive line that boasts Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka, the Giants totaled just 32 sacks all season, tying them for 18th in the league. When you’re a team that thrives on pressuring the quarterback, that just isn’t getting it done. The team’s 13 interceptions ranked 22nd in the NFL, while its 11 fumble recoveries finished tied for 14th.
4. JaMarcus Russell
After being drafted with the No. 1 overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft, JaMarcus Russell got a contract worth $32 million in guaranteed money. He looked the part, was a humble, quiet kid with incredible potential and made the Raiders look like they’d finally made a smart move via the draft. Some checked to see if hell had finally frozen over, while others prepared themselves for Armageddon.
Then Russell actually took the field and we all realized the world was safe from the wrath of the Son of Perdition for now.
Entering the 2009 season, analysts were split on what to make of Russell and what kind of season was in store for he and the Oakland Raiders. After flashing some signs of brilliance in December of 2008 – he threw two touchdown passes is each of his final three games and finished each contest completing better than 50 percent of his passes – some thought Russell could finally come into his own in 2009. They were wrong. Not only did the LSU product not improve, he actually regressed.
After playing in 15 games during the 2008 season, Russell’s numbers looked like this: 198-of-368 (53.8 completion percentage), for 2,423 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions, with a 77.1 quarterback rating.
He finished 2009 with the following numbers in 12 games: 120-of-246 (48.8 completion percentage), 1,287 yards, three touchdowns and 11 interceptions, with a 50.0 quarterback rating.
Not surprisingly Russell is dead last in quarterback rating in the NFL among the 32 signal-callers who qualify. His 5.23 yards per attempt is also tied for last in the NFL with the Browns’ Brady Quinn.
At this point it’s safe to say that JaMarcus Russell is shaping up to be the NFL’s biggest bust since Ryan Leaf.
3. The Pittsburgh Steelers
When you’re the defending Super Bowl champions, return virtually everyone and are unanimously picked as the top team in ESPN’s season-opening power rankings, you really shouldn’t miss the playoffs. But that’s just what the Steelers did.
Despite not having horrible statistics for the year on either side of the ball, Pittsburgh improbably dropped games to some of the worst teams in the league. After a 6-2 start, they went on a five-game losing streak, falling to the Bengals 18-12, 27-24 to the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime, 17-14 to the Baltimore Ravens in overtime, 27-24 to the Oakland Raiders and 13-6 to the Cleveland Browns. The Browns, Chiefs and Raiders combined for just 14 wins this season, had the Steelers won any of those three games, they’d be in the playoffs right now. Instead they’re at home, looking up at both the Bengals and Ravens in a division they were supposed to own.
Ben Roethlisberger had a fantastic season, but the Steelers and their normally punishing rushing attack placed 19th in the NFL (112.1 ypg), and the usually opportunistic Pittsburgh defense only forced 22 turnovers. The Steelers also finished with a -3 turnover margin. When you’re struggling to run the ball, you can’t turn it over and you need your defense to make plays. The Steelers also allowed opponents to convert 42 percent of third down opportunities, fifth worst in the league, while on offense they converted just 39 percent, 17th in the NFL.
2. The Denver Broncos
Not much was expected of the Broncos this season, but entering Week 8 Denver was 6-0, coming off a bye and held the tie-breaker in the AFC West. Nine weeks later they finished the season 8-8 and missed the playoffs. Wow.
After the red-hot start, first-year coach Josh McDaniels was universally hailed as a genius, quarterback Kyle Orton was an MVP candidate and Denver’s defense was a monster that could not be tamed. Since then, McDaniels has pissed off his best player, Orton has become Kyle Orton again and the Broncos have given up 128.7 rushing yards a game (26th in the NFL). The franchise’s second consecutive disastrous finish is both hilarious and well, more hilarious.
As mentioned above, Denver opened the season with six straight wins, then dropped its next four games. After blowout wins over the Giants and Chiefs, things looked to be back on track. Then they lost to the Colts, Raiders, Eagles and Chiefs to finish the season. How schizophrenic is this squad?
The Broncos finished the 2009-10 season right where they ended it last year, at 8-8, out of the playoffs, looking up at the San Diego Chargers and questioning whether their quarterback and coach are the right men for their respective jobs.
1. Jay Cutler in Chicago
While some Bears fans (most notably TheBaker) refuse to call Cutler’s performance this season a flop, I wholeheartedly disagree. When Cutler arrived in the Windy City, it was with much hoopla and fanfare. The frumpy former Pro Bowler arrived in Chicago praised as a savior, the franchise quarterback the Bears had always been missing and a guy who could lead his new team, if not to the Super Bowl (thanks for that Peter King), then at the very least to the playoffs. The former Bronco was spoken of so reverentially in Chicago sports circles, you’d have thought he had cleaned up the Chicago River and promised the city a 20-degree warming of winter temperatures. And this was all before playing a single game, and despite “football scientist” KC Joyner’s warnings.
As we now look back on the season, Cutler did exactly what we should have expected him to do. He went to Chicago and played like a guy with a huge arm, terrible decision-making skills and an awful set of receivers should played. He also had the worst season of his four-year career. The Bears finished the season 7-9 and missed the playoffs. Cutler has still never taken a team to the postseason. His record as a starter in his career is 24-29.
Sure, the Bears’ defense was a shambles this season, but Cutler did virtually nothing that would make you believe he could have taken the team to the postseason with an average defense. He finished the 2009-10 season with these numbers: 336-of-555 (60.5 completion percentage), 3,666 yards, 6.61 yards per attempt, 27 touchdowns, 26 interceptions and a 76.8 quarterback rating.
Cutler’s completion percentage was 17th in the NFL, he was 13th in yards, 20th in yards per attempt, tied for 8th in touchdowns, had the most interceptions in the league (second place was rookie Mark Sanchez with six fewer picks), and his quarterback rating put him 21st in the league.
The following players finished with better quarterback ratings than Cutler: Alex Smith (81.5), Vince Young (82.8), David Garrard (83.5), Jason Campbell (86.4), Joe Flacco (88.9) and (gulp) Kyle Orton (86.8).
Just to drive the nail in a little further, Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman combined to finish last season with a quarterback rating of 77.1 for the Bears. This year, Cutler finished at 76.8.
Obviously, I’m not saying the Orton/Grossman combo was better than Cutler, but the Bears also didn’t have to part with two first round picks and a third-rounder to get either of those guys, cost the team $10 million in 2009 and then sign them to a $30 million extension.
On top of all that, we were led to believe that Cutler had matured this offseason. He was out of Denver and the situation with the Broncos was what had made him so sullen and unhappy. But Cutler’s on-field demeanor hasn’t changed, he’s still immature enough to tell a reporter just what he can do with himself, he still drinks a lot, makes horrible decisions with the ball and blames others for his mistakes.
The bottom line is this, Cutler entered his term with the Bears being heralded as the second-coming of an-in-his-prime Brett Favre and ended up delivering like Jeff George. That’s not what Bears fans had in mind. That is why he’s the top flop of the 2009-10 season.
Just missing the cut: Terrell Owens in Buffalo, the Tennessee Titans, the Houston Texans, Albert Haynesworth in Washington.