Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: NFL's best on bench Sunday

The NFL this past weekend was like an episode of "Small Wonder," that 1980s sitcom about a little robot girl named Vicki who lived with a suburban family.

It was on TV. And people watched it. But in the end, most were left lamenting the same thing: Why did I waste my time?

So much for the idea that there are no meaningless games in the mighty NFL. The final Sunday of the regular season was littered with them. And I'm not even talking about matchups such as Chicago-Detroit or Tennessee-Seattle or San Francisco-St. Louis, where both teams knew they weren't going to the playoffs. Those playing-out-the-string events are going to happen in every sport.

Besides, at least those teams were trying to win. The rest of the league featured more folds than the World Series of Poker. Among them:

n Buffalo beat Indianapolis 30-7. This is the same Bills team that lost to Atlanta 31-3 last week. This is the same Indy team that started 14-0. But remove Peyton Manning and any Colts desire to prevail and, voila! You've got a blowout in upstate New York.

n Green Bay destroyed Arizona 33-7 in the desert. See, the Packers had this zany notion that since they were playing a game, well, maybe they should try to win it. That's the kind of outside-the-box thinking that's going to get coach Mike McCarthy fired. Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt? He figured he'd take the day off, along with most of the Cardinals starters.

n The Jets waltzed over Cincinnati 37-0 in the premier matchup of the day, "Sunday Night Football." The playoff-bound Bengals got blitzed because they let some guy named J.T. O'Sullivan play quarterback most of the game. And because the Jets needed to win to make the postseason, which made them an anomaly on this day.

You can hardly blame the Colts, Cardinals or Bengals. All will host their first playoff game. They earned the right to play the final regular-season contest how they wanted, and avoiding injury to key players obviously was paramount in their thoughts.

But you also can't blame fans -- particularly those who paid exorbitant ticket prices to go to these games -- for feeling ripped off.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says he wants the competition committee to look into this situation, but that's just lip service to the populace until this all blows over. There's not a whole lot the competition committee can do. A sport built on emotion can't manufacture desire.

You're going to hear a lot of people rip tonight's Orange Bowl between Georgia Tech and Iowa as being just another meaningless game in a messed-up system, but you know what? At least the Jackets and Hawkeyes will be trying.

The same can't be said for a lot of NFL teams this past weekend. And just like Vicki's family, who stuffed her in a closet and didn't tell the neighbors she was a robot, the league tries to pass this off as real. Nobody's buying it.

n n n

The exception to the we-didn't-care-so-we-got-blown-out rule was San Diego. The Chargers had zero to play for Sunday, and it showed. They put Billy Volek in at quarterback, after all, essentially getting on their hands and knees and BEGGING to be destroyed.

And they still won.

Because they were playing the Redskins.

I don't get to play the "I told you so" card often -- see this year's dreadful Bowl Guide picks for proof -- but I called this Jim Zorn firing before the season even started. If you read the August "Quick Thoughts" on page 2 of the paper, you saw that I predicted his axing when he backtracked on the more-than-appropriate "soft" comments about his players after a preseason loss.

Zorn seems like a good dude, but his feeble personality was never going to work in the NFL. He let Clinton Portis stomp all over him last year, and he couldn't stick to his criticism in the preseason even when it was valid.

The most valid criticism, though, has to go to owner Dan Snyder. The way he handled this Zorn situation was a joke. Even worse, he's about to usher in his seventh coach since 1999.

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