Did you blink?
Because the NFL season is now more than half over. Yeah, I know it went by fast. Don’t let your guard down now, or you’ll wake up in the playoffs.
I complain, but the lightning-fast pace of the NFL season is part of what makes it so great. The product is so concentrated that every game is momentous. There are no dog days of summer — as in baseball — or insignificant wintry night games in February, as in the NBA. That’s part of the reason for the existence of NFL Films, that great documentary engine of the NFL propaganda machine. Each game is worth remembering, no matter what the year, no matter what the teams. Besides, any excuse of using Harry Kalas’ voice on highlight films is a good one. But I digress.
In order to help us remember the season’s first half, I present to you the winners (and losers) at the 2003 NFL midway point.
First half MVP: Steve McNair.
How can the quarterback of the Tennessee Titans, the second-place team in the AFC South, be the MVP of the entire league? By passing for nearly 2,000 yards in eight games. By throwing 13 touchdowns and just three picks. By making the Titans’ offense one of the league’s most explosive, despite the fact that Eddie George is a 2.9 yards-per-carry shadow of his former self. By reclaiming his Air McNair passing persona after years of being cast as a “mobile quarterback.” At 6-2, the Titans look like they could be capable of a return to the AFC Championship game, and McNair is the primary reason why.
First Half Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick
Yeah, he should have gone with Vinatieri’s leg over Brady’s arm against the Redskins in week four. That was a bad decision. But that was five weeks ago, and Belichick hasn’t made a single bad decision since. In fact, the man I once considered more vanilla than vanilla made such a boldly chocolate move vs. the Broncos on Monday night, he earned my respect. By giving Denver the intentional safety instead of punting on fourth and 10 from the one-yard line with his team trailing by one late in the fourth quarter, Belichick gave up 34 seconds to gain 41 yards in field position. A dangerous gamble, but the right call. And it paid off, resulting in Tom Brady’s dramatic game-winning drive. It was the kind of drive that can change a season. In the Patriots case, it should steer them straight for the playoffs. Considering the fact that Belichick has had to mix something like 40 players into the starting lineup because of injuries, that arrival in the postseason would be quite an impressive accomplishment.
Biggest First Half Surprise: Dallas
When Bill Parcells arrived in Dallas everyone expected the Cowboys to improve. Just not this quickly. He’s eliminated mistakes, tightened the defense, and made former second-round draft pick Quincy Carter look more like a steal than a stretch. Nonetheless, the Cowboys did have a ridiculously easy early season schedule so don’t be surprised if they’re the team…
Most Likely to Collapse in the Second Half: Dallas
With games against New England, Carolina, Miami, Philadelphia, the New York Giants and New Orleans still to come, the Cowboys could be in for a tumble. And with the Eagles charging hard after a rough start, don’t be surprised to see the Cowboys clawing desperately for their playoff lives as the season comes to a close.
Biggest First Half Disappointment: Oakland
The Raiders’ starting quarterback for week 10? Rick Mirer. They’re 2-6, going on 5-11. Talk about a Super Bowl hangover.
Most Likely to Rise to Prominence in the Second Half: Green Bay
Brett Favre and Co. have had it rough in the first half, going 4-4. But after pulling out a victory in the dreaded Metrodome on Sunday night, despite the fact that Favre played with a broken thumb, the green and gold have that playoff look about them. And as the weather gets colder, the Pack will keep getting better. Provided that Ahman Green stays healthy and that Favre can continue to play through the pain, the Pack should fill one of the Wild Card spots if they cannot pass the Vikings in the NFC North.