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November 16, 2012
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NFL Week 11: It's a Mess

Scott Taylor
Senior Writer, Fantrax

TAMPA 

It’s a mess out there. With Quarterbacks Michael Vick, Alex Smith and Jay Cutler on the shelf with concussions and with Ben Roethlisberger nursing a shoulder injury and what we’re told is a serious rib injury that could puncture his aorta (Wow!), this week’s National Football League games are going to be seriously affected.

This is what we could watch this Sunday: Jason Campbell vs. Colin Kaepernick; Byron Leftwich against the Baltimore Ravens defense; and Nick Foles against Robert Griffin III.

Of course, we also get the New York Jets imploding over Mark Sanchez vs. the mythical Tim Tebow; the 8-1 Houston Texans at home against the 1-8 Jacksonville Jaguars; and the Arizona Cardinals in Atlanta with two backup quarterbacks and five straight losses in their pocket. 

Let’s start with Roethlisberger. He has no idea when he’ll return to football because of the seriousness of his rib injury. We watched him injure his shoulder, but most people had no idea he had a rib fracture that could puncture his heart if it gets jostled around.

“From what (the doctor) said he's trying to talk to experts because there is no case study over the exact same thing," Roethlisberger told reporters in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. "We're just trying to talk to people . . . because we don't know.”

Without Big Ben, the 6-3 Steelers will turn to veteran backup Byron Leftwich against the 7-2 Ravens on Sunday night, a guy who couldn’t cut it in Jacksonville and hasn’t won a game as a starter since 2006. Good luck with that.

Meanwhile, the 7-2 Chicago Bears will play the 6-2-1 San Francisco 49ers in a huge game between two terrific teams on Monday night. It looks like Alex Smith, who suffered a concussion in last week’s 24-24 tie with St. Louis, could be ready to play, but Chicago’s Jay Cutler is unlikely, and that means the Monday Nighter, which looked like a great football game a week ago, could be the Backup Bowl.

“[Cutler] is getting better,” Bears coach Lovie Smith told reporters in Chicago on Wednesday. “We’re still evaluating him. He’s meeting with people — medical staff, our trainers and all of that — but he’s getting better. We do have a little bit more time this week, and that’s always good.”

It could be good for the NFL, too. And the NFL could use some help right now. There are plenty of empty seats in Buffalo, Jacksonville, Phoenix, San Diego, Nashville, St. Louis and San Diego and with Rex Ryan’s mess in New York – a mess that might not get cleaned up until ol’ Rex is sacked – the national media just can’t avoid the whole Tim Tebow vs. Mark Sanchez controversy.

The Jets have a big problem (I know, no kidding, Sherlock). The Jets are 3-6 and have scored a measly 175 points -- only 1-8 Jacksonville, 1-8 Kansas City, 2-7  Cleveland, 3-6 Philadelphia, 2-7 Carolina, 4-5 Arizona and 3-5-1 St. Louis have scored fewer. Of course, not one of those teams came into 2012 with as much fanfare as the Jets. This was supposed to be a decent team, second best in the AFC East and perhaps even a Wild Card team. However, injuries, the presence of Tebow and the problems that have beset No. 1 QB Sanchez have created a mess on the field and an even bigger kerfuffle in the locker room.

And it’s the one in the locker room that has to scare Coach Ryan and Jets fans.

This past week, an unnamed “defensive star” with the Jets was contacted by a New York newspaper and allegedly called Tebow “terrible.” I always worry about “unnamed defensive stars.” They are often “made-up defensive stars,” but in this case, it’s a statement that was probably uttered by somebody in that dysfunctional Jets locker room. Even though Sanchez has a league-low completion mark of 52 per cent and a league-high four interceptions in the Red Zone, he has a lot of supporters.

Former Packers star and now NFL Network analyst is not one of them:

“I’m disappointed in the Jets and I’m speaking as a fan and an analyst,” Sharpe told the New York Daily News. “I don’t see growth from that team. Right now, I don’t see growth in Mark Sanchez. I don’t see a running game that’s better. I don’t know what they’re good at. I think they’re a team that’s searching for an identity.”

Could that identity be Tebow? Would it be a good idea to start the most unconventional quarterback in the NFL?

According to most of the people in the Jets organization, Tebow is a specialty player pure and simple. He’s “the Wildcat guy,” a decent athlete who should play special teams, a bit of receiver and take six or seven snaps a game, tops.

While there are people around the league who believe that starting Tebow this week against St. Louis might give the Jets a spark. Those people are not inside the Jets organization.

It appears Rex Ryan will fall on his sword and continue to start Mark Sanchez. Can you say 3-7?

Scott is an author, broadcaster and journalist who travels extensively for fantrax

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