Second guesses: Bryant saga exposes rules flaw 2008-09-29

The most sensitive and emotional story of the weekend occurred in Tampa Bay where veteran kicker Matt Bryant, who once hit a 62-yard field goal, had to calm his nerves simply to make a 24-yard field goal, a kick that proved to be the game-winning points over visiting Green Bay.

I kept screaming at my TV screen for Bucs coach Jon Gruden to call something different, to go for a touchdown. But, no, Gruden believed in Bryant; he had Brian Griese playing for a field goal. I thought it was too much to ask of a father who had just buried his baby son on Saturday. But Bryant came through for his team and for himself and his family.

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There may not be a more selfless player in the NFL. Matt and his wife, Michelle, have been regulars on the charity circuit in Tampa; there is nothing they won't do to help those in need. Bryant has been recognized by the league for his charity work. Yes, he may be a kicker, but he's a player the league should be proud of and want to support in his time of need.

On our Fox NFL Sunday set, I got into a discussion with some of our talent about why couldn't the league have given the Bucs a roster exemption in this particular situation. I mean, if Bryant didn't want to play a game and wanted to be with his family, why did the Bucs have to cut a player to sign a one-game replacement at kicker? Those are the NFL rules, and Bucs GM Bruce Allen said he didn't petition the league for a reprieve. But these are silly rules. Would you go to work when there was a death in your family? No! Your employer wouldn't expect you to show, and the NFL shouldn't expect its players to show, either. Yes, there may be some competitive advantage in all this, but the league should trust its players and its teams. What's wrong with that? The league gives roster exemptions to teams that have veterans holding out through training camp, a frivolous act when compared to a player's personal tragedy.

The league will say that money is involved in such a one-game exemption, but isn't that always the case in the NFL? The league should be above that and allow a player to mourn without penalizing his team. A week ago, Eagles center Jamaal Jackson buried his older brother. The timing was all right for Jackson to return and play last Sunday, but what if he wanted to skip a game to remain with his family? The Eagles should have been allowed to sign an extra offensive lineman to take his place without any penalty. It's the right thing.

Kiffin a dilemma for Davis

The Raiders appeared to have San Diego on the ropes, but the Chargers forced the issue in the second half as LaDainian Tomlinson looked like a runner not hampered by a painful big toe. But Oakland's story is all about Lane Kiffin, and what does owner Al Davis do with him?

The word is that Davis doesn't want to pay Kiffin and wants him to quit. Well, Kiffin has already earned more than $1.3 million of his $2 million 2008 salary. Unlike players, coaches are paid throughout the year. Davis isn't saving a ton of money by canning Kiffin now.

Of course, there is the $2 million that Kiffin is owed in 2009. Yes, Davis can still fire Kiffin and not pay him, but if he does that, it will make it pretty impossible for the Raiders to sign a quality coach for the future. Granted, many top coaches may not want to work in Oakland. But someone will. There are only 32 of these jobs in America. Egos get the best of every assistant coach. However, even a dumb assistant coach is going to want some legal protection against Davis firing him without cause while declining to fulfill the financial terms of the contract. After what has gone on with Kiffin, only a fool wouldn't want some legal protection when signing with the Raiders.

This is going to be a headache for Davis in the future, especially with what has happened with Art Shell, a Raiders' Hall of Famer, and personnel executive Michael Lombardi. It will become increasingly difficult for Davis to hire competent coaches and employees.

Why didn't Cowboys run?

The Cowboys were exposed on Sunday by the upstart Redskins. First, nobody really thought Jim Zorn could coach — or coach this well. Second, the Cowboys abandoned their running game. They ran the ball only 11 times. It's the fewest rushing attempts by the Cowboys in 289 games, dating back to 1990.

This output came one week after the Cowboys ripped the Packers in Lambeau Field for 217 rushing yards. I mean, what gives? What was Wade Phillips thinking? Some of you might say I should be criticizing offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, but the bottom line is that Phillips is the head coach.

Third, what every football fan could see is that Washington was able to play a single-free defense — one free safety deep and man-to-man coverage on every receiver — and it worked. Every Tony Romo pass attempt was contested by the Redskins; most of the receivers were covered and there was no place to go with the football. Washington's defensive strategy worked to perfection, while on offense, Jason Campbell and Co. played error-free football and worked the clock.

Only one runner gained 100 yards on the Cowboys last season and Clinton Portis became the first back this season to do it, too. Dallas was exposed a little bit. Washington, minus Jason Taylor, hung with the Romo passing game and the Dallas D couldn't contain Portis or stop Campbell. Remember, the Redskins lost a touchdown because of center Casey Rabach's two penalties on one drive. This score could have been a lot worse.

Hochuli back on hot seat

The fans in Carolina thought referee Ed Hochuli messed up again in the first quarter of the Panthers' home game against the Falcons. Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers tackled Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan high, causing him to misfire, and the pass was intercepted by Richard Marshall and returned for a Carolina touchdown.

But Hochuli ruled roughing the passer on Peppers and the touchdown was called back. Well, it sure looked like the wrong call. Peppers appeared to drive his shoulder into Ryan; it definitely wasn't a helmet-to-helmet hit, like the launch job by Jets safety Eric Smith into Arizona receiver Anquan Boldin. Smith left his feet and launched into Boldin, and that's why that play was so ugly to everyone watching. When Peppers hit Ryan, it looked legit. I mean, ask Tom Brady. Peppers went high, not at Ryan's knees. It looked clean. Quarterbacks definitely need to be protected, but I saw more callous hits on quarterbacks on Sunday that never attracted a flag. There has to be some uniform code on these calls or a referee's interpretation of what is legal or illegal.

Favre doesn't look henpecked

Finally, we don't know what to make of Brett Favre. All we keep hearing from the Packers is that he's still playing because Deanna, his wife, is making him do it. All we keep hearing from them is that his heart isn't into football, and that his wife and agent, Bus Cook, made him return to football. The Packers keep saying that he didn't really want to play, that he really didn't want to be a Packer this season.

Well, it may have looked that way last Monday night, but how does anyone explain Favre throwing a career-high six touchdowns against the Arizona Cardinals? I mean, if his wife wasn't forcing him to play and his heart was really in the right place, how many touchdowns would he have thrown for? The Packers keep saying Favre was ambivalent about playing this season, but their version of Favre doesn't compute with his production thus far. Granted, the Jets are not that great and they probably aren't going to the Super Bowl, but the bottom line is that Favre can still throw the football and produce on game days.

Hopefully, Lavaraneus Coles, who was so unhappy to see friend Chad Pennington discarded for Favre, has made peace with the former Packer. Coles caught three of Favre's six touchdown passes on Sunday. Finally, Favre's replacement, Aaron Rodgers, may have a bum throwing shoulder after four NFL starts. Favre, I believe, was playing in his 257th career regular-season start on Sunday. We won't count Favre's playoff games because Rodgers hasn't played in one yet. It's only fair.

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: September 29, 2008