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The Value of Conservatism in the NFL: An Editorial
You know, friends, I am a "conservative" in this respect: I do not believe in fixing things that are not broken; and I do not believe in reinventing a wheel. I do not like to see people outsmart themselves; that is known as a failure "to get out of one's own way." This happens when we get an attack of The-grass-is-always-greener-on-the-the-side-"it is." In retrospect, when we look back during our more sober moments, we realize that the lawn we had was pretty special after all.
I know what you're asking yourself by now: What on Earth is he talking about now?!?! Or, perhaps its, "What you talkin' bout, Willis?" for those of you old enough to remember.
Let's see if we can make this quick and painless. Friends, we have seen teams in the National Football League suffer because of what I'm talking about: fixing things that were not broken; getting caught up in the bells and whistles of the latest gimmick; getting that attack of The-grass-is-always-greener-on-the-side-"it is."
As Exhibit A I offer the Chicago Bears. The fact is, friends, that organization, in terms of its on-the-field product has suffered since Lovie Smith was released as head coach. That is not simply my opinion. The numbers, in terms of wins-losses, say that this is so.
According to Wikipedia---Where would I be without Wikipedia?---Mr. Smith was head coach of the Bears from 2004-2012.
Okay, his first season the Bears struggled: 5-11.
But in 2005 they went 11-5, while finishing second in the league in terms of earned yardage, and allowing the fewest points of all 32. Smith won the Associated Press Coach of the Year Award.
2006: 13-3 and NFC's top playoff seed. They had the second ranked scoring offense and the fifth ranked overall defense. They won the NFC championship that year, and consequently played in the Super Bowl.
2007: Okay, another hiccup at 7-9.
2008: Something of a partial bounce back at 9-7
2010: 11-5. They won the divisional playoffs and played in the conference championship, losing to the Packers.
2011: 8-8. Okay, another hiccup but at least they kept at .500
2012: 10-6. Did not qualify for the playoffs. Head coach released after this season.
Now, that is a pretty good record. Out of nine seasons, the Bears---under Lovie Smith's leadership---had five winning seasons and one even one. Which means that they only had three losing seasons; and I don't even think you can fairly hold the first season against him all that much. The first year of anything is always transitional.
Only two of those losing seasons can be fairly placed at his doorstep---if one even wants to play that blame game at all...
Now then, there is some issue about missing x playoff appearances, blah, blah, blah...
I say "blah, blah, blah," because this world is full of gum flappers who talk about things they know nothing about. I'm not saying I know more than anybody else, but at least I recognize my own ignorance, which appears to be far more than can be said about the aforementioned gum flappers.
What I mean is this:
1. It is gruelingly hard to win in the National Football League.
2. It is gruelingly hard to compile a winning record in the League.
3. It is gruelingly hard to win a double digit number of games in the National Football League.
4. It is gruelingly hard to make the playoffs in the League.
5. It is gruelingly hard to win your division in the NFL.
6. It is gruelingly hard to make the playoffs and advance deep into them.
7. It is gruelingly hard make the conference championship and win it.
8. It is gruelingly hard to get to the Super Bowl and win it.
Now, we all know that no team can do these things every year. But we sometimes act differently. I'm really talking about owners and management that come down with The-grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side-"it is," of course. There is no coach that can make any team do these things every year, not with 31 other teams filled with personnel just as good, striving mightily for the same thing.
The record I cited before is the record of a head coach and team that were not broken. It wasn't perfect but that team was hanging tough; that is what those numbers tell me.
But this is a "What have you done for me lately?" League.
Here's what I would say about that: Playing that game hasn't done anybody good in the long run. As you know, after the owners/management of the Chicago Bears got their attack of The-grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side-"it is," they replaced Lovie Smith with Mark Trestman, from something called the Montreal Alouettes, a Canadian football team.
I remember there was talk about Mr. Trestman being an offensive guru. I'm not necessarily saying that claim is not true; I am in no position to say. All we can say is that, ultimately, that move did not work out. The Bears have taken a "step back," as they say.
2013: 8-8. Okay, not bad under the circumstances of a coach's first year.
At least Lovie Smith's Chicago Bears had not had back-to-back losing seasons. I believe Mr. Trestman is now an offensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens.
Now then, we come to Marvin Lewis, the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. There are people who have called for something to be fixed there, which again, is simply not broken. They seem to have a pretty good wheel there.
However, I have heard Stephen A. Smith of ESPN's First Take, say that perhaps the Bengals ought to think about moving in another direction, with regards to the head coach. Mr. Smith's reason for this is the fact that Mr. Lewis has been head coach of this team for thirteen years now, without having garnered a single playoff victory.
Now, to be fair, Mr. Smith often says this in connection with what he sees as a dearth of opportunities for talented young coordinators, who are otherwise struggling in obscurity. Smith feels that thirteen years is long enough without even a single playoff victory; and that Lewis should be put aside so that a new voice can be given a shot.
Okay, so Marvin Lewis has spent thirteen years as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals without a single playoff victory.
You know what I call that? Nothing more than a fluke of fate. Unless anyone can point to any specific incompetence on the part of Mr. Lewis and/or his coaching staff, that is all we can say. It is a fluke of fate and nothing more; these things happen in sports.
On the other hand, Mr. Lewis has only had two-time pro bowler QB Andy Dalton since 2011. They have compiled winning records since then and have at least been to the playoffs every year of Dalton's tenure as the signal caller. And the Bengals won their division, the AFC North, for the fourth time (12-4) last year.
They are building something there: consistent regular season success. They are "trending in the right direction." Again, the numbers say that this is so.
2015: 12-4. Won AFC North
Now, when's the last time the New York Jets have had five straight winning seasons? Or the Giants? Or the Ravens? Or the Raiders? Or the Bears? Or the Chargers? Or the Buccaneers? Or the Cowboys?
Or anybody outside The All Mighty New England Patriots or the Green Bay Packers? That's Five. Straight. Winning. Seasons.
Now, we have a little more business to conduct. Did you know that there are certain sports commentators who have had the temerity to use the word 'choke' in application to Mr. Andy Dalton and 'big games'?
Really? And when did these sports commentators become psychologists all of the sudden? And even if they were psychologists, is it considered professionally responsible to make such an analysis from a distance, without even getting Mr. Dalton "on the couch," as it were?
Nobody has any basis for making such a damning assertion about what Andy Dalton was or was not feeling during his games.
Question: During the five times the Cincinnati Bengals went to the playoffs and wound up "one and done," were they favored to win all of those games?
Answer: It doesn't matter. Even if they had been favored to win every one of those games, it doesn't matter. The fact is, that is precisely the reason games are played on the field and not on paper. That's sports for you. And I will repeat something I said before: "fluke of fate."
Now, one last thing.
Question: Speaking of The All Might New England Patriots, why do they have the spectacular post season success that they do.
Answer: In my opinion, it is due to something that is all too undervalued by both commentators, and fans, apparently.
The spectacular post season success of The All Mighty New England Patriots, is built upon a foundation of consistent regular season excellence.
There are certain things that the Patriots do every year, in this Bill Belichik/Tom Brady era:
1. They win 12-14 games every year.
2. Thereby winning their AFC East division every year
3. Thereby earning the top playoff spot and the bi-week that comes with it.
4. Allowing themselves to rest up and recuperate from injuries, while other teams must play on and beat themselves up, before facing New England at home, where the visiting team usually loses.
5. The All Mighty New England Patriots often make it to the conference championship game.
6. They often win the conference championship game.
7. They often go to the Super Bowl.
8. They often win the Lombardi trophy: 4 out of 6 times.
All of this is made possible by consistent regular season excellence. No matter what happens, the New England Patriots never fall off a cliff. Whether they win the Super Bowl or not. Whether they win the conference championship or not. Whether they even win their first playoff game or not.
They come right back and win their 12-14 games and take it from there. You cannot say this about a lot of other teams, perhaps most NFL teams.
The Baltimore Ravens fell off a cliff after winning the Super Bowl in 2012. The 49ers fell off a cliff after almost winning it. I predict the Broncos will fall off a cliff having just won it.
And I think its a good bet that the Carolina Panthers fall off a cliff, after playing in the big game and losing it. And that's despite the 15-1 record, division title, and NFC title. A major reason for this is the way that Cam Newton, the purported leader of the team, has been sulking and pouting and avoiding reporters' questions, after losing the Super Bowl to the Denver Broncos.
When I say "fall off a cliff," I am saying this: A team makes an improbable journey to the Super Bowl and wins a glorious victory. Starting the very next season---for whatever reason(s)---their production tanks and they don't come anywhere near the Super Bowl, or even the playoffs for several years.
For example, after the last Super Bowl championship in the 1990s, I understand that there has been exactly one playoff victory in nearly twenty years, for the Dallas Cowboys.
After their 2012 victory, does it look like the Baltimore Ravens are winning a Super Bowl again, anytime soon? How about making it to the conference championship game? How about going deep into the playoffs? How about making the playoffs?
How long is the "rebuilding" of the San Francisco 49ers going to take? Or how about the New York Giants? They won their last Super Bowl in 2011. Have they been anywhere near to playing in another one since then?
Again, the story with The All Mighty New England Patriots is that they never fall off a cliff, no matter what does or does not happen, and no matter who they lose in terms of on-the-field personnel. As long as number 18 is under center, everything is okay; and I believe there was a year Brady was injured and the team still went 11-5.
My point is this: The numbers say that Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton are building this kind of regular season foundation. The fluke of fate of not winning a playoff game yet aside, nothing is broken with the Cincinnati Bengals head coach or quarterback. If management were to get rid of Marvin Lewis, they would run the risk of bringing upon the franchise the same kind of suffering that has visited the Chicago Bears upon the release of Lovie Smith as head coach.
Thank you for reading.