By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

The Broncos fired Josh McDaniels on Monday night, an act that was more than likely a fait accompli, but came about four weeks earlier than was widely expected. Everyone involved was very nice and civilized in the aftermath but Denver owner Pat Bowlen has to be kicking himself, not just because he now will have to pay three coaches next year (McDaniels, Mike Shanahan, who was fired after the 2008 season with multiple years still left on his contract and whomever is hired as the next full-time coach), but because he probably gave McDaniels the keys to the car a little too soon.

The McDaniels Era In Denver Is Mercifully Over

When McDaniels was hired to replace Shanahan, it was shocking, both because Shanahan was still seemingly living a teflon life off of the two Super Bowls John Elway won him 10 years earlier and also because McDaniels was just 32 when Bowlen gave him the job. McDaniels was coming off three massively successful years as the Pats offensive coordinator, one of which was the record breaking 2007 season and another that saw him develop Matt Cassel from an unknown, seventh-round backup into a legitimate, front line, NFL starting QB. In the beginning, it looked like a masterstroke, as the Broncos won McDaniels first six games as a head coach, including a major upset of the Pats. But then, the wheels fell off the wagon.

Denver would go on to lose 17 of its next 22 games. The defense completely fell apart as McDaniels tried to shoehorn a bunch of guys who either were senior citizens or weren’t necessarily the best fit, into a Pats-style, 3-4 alignment. He mostly botched all of the personnel responsibility he received with the job, the most egregious error being trading Peyton Hillis to Cleveland for third-stringer/bust Brady Quinn. Stories emerged regarding his poor treatment of staff and employees working under him. And of course, the Broncos videographer, a close friend of McDaniels, was caught filming a 49ers practice prior to their meeting with the Broncos in London a few weeks ago.

If the Broncos had been able to win here and there throughout all of this, McDaniels may have survived. But outside of a blowout over the Chiefs in Week 10, they lost seven of eight and sit buried in last place of the AFC West at 3-9. In the end, the most logical analysis of the firing is that McDaniels simply wasn’t ready for all of what he was given. He’s universally respected as an excellent offensive coach and from what’s been written in the aftermath of his undoing is that somewhere down the line, when he matures and figures some stuff out, he’ll be a very good head coach if someone else gives him a chance. He just needs a little more seasoning. Maybe he’ll come back to Foxboro and get it here.

This Week’s Five Best Teams

1. New England: I hope anyone who may have considered leveling an accusation of homer-ism when I had the Pats in this spot on this list previously was watching on Monday night. And I wonder what ESPN’s always hilarious Tom Jackson (who, for a refresher, said the Pats, “hate their coach,” the day after they cut Lawyer Milloy in 2003, and praised BrettFavre for, “having the courage to throw an interception,” after he selfishly torpedoed the Vikings in last year’s NFC Championship game) thought of that game. In the pregame, he said, “I know the Patriots have the better quarterback and the better coach, But I’m taking the better team and that’s the Jets.” Sound logic there, TJ.

2. Atlanta: The Falcons did it, winning a big game against a good team (and a division rival fighting for playoff position at that) with a 28-24 comeback win in Tampa. Matt Ryan did his usual fourth quarter comeback thing but it was more the special teams (an electrifying, 102-yard kick return for a TD by Eric Weems right after the Bucs had taken a 24-14 lead) and defense (corner Brett Grimes made one of the prettiest INTs you’ll see all year to stop the Bucs from making a late comeback of their own). With two of their remaining four games against Carolina, if the Falcons can somehow get by the Saints in New Orleans next weekend, they have to be the favorites out of the NFC.

3. Pittsburgh: Huge, come-from-behind win in the fourth quarter for the Steelers, who got the snot beat out of them by Baltimore but managed to hold up long enough to win 13-10 late on an amazing TD pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Isaac Redman. Of course, it wouldn’t be another week in Steelers Country without yet another bitchfest from the bitchier by the week James Harrison, who complained that a couple of Ravens linemen were trying to injure him with some extracurricular activity after the whistle a couple times. Hey James, you ever watched yourself or your defensive teammates on film? You have? Good, now shut up.

4. New Orleans: The Saints escaped Cincinnati with a 34-30 win mostly due to the fact that they were playing the Bengals, who may just be the dumbest team ever assembled. It was a classic case of playing down to your competition on the road against a lousy team with nothing to lose. They better get serious now though, with the Rams and Falcons on the docket this week and next.

5. Green Bay: Good bounce back from their near-miss in Atlanta by the Packers, who overwhelmed the 49ers after a slow start and won easily, 34-16. The spectacular Aaron Rodgers was huge for Green Bay again, with another 300-yard, three TD game. But the play of the day and maybe the year was Donald Driver’s 61-yard TD catch and run on which he seemed to escape, break away from or dodge every single 49er defender. Can’t wait to see these guys in Foxboro next Sunday night – that should be a great, great game.

This Week’s Five Worst Teams

1. Carolina: When he was asked about the level of effort put forth by his players in the second half of last week’s loss to Seattle, in which they turned a 14-3 lead become a 31-14 defeat, Panthers coach John Fox said, “I don’t think our team’s results have been related to effort at all.” Translation: these guys I’ve been saddled with just suck.

2. Arizona: The Cardinals revolving door at QB continues with someone named John Skelton expected to be thrown to the wolves, er.. I mean, start this week against Denver (ouch, what a shitty game that’s going to be, eh?). Last week, the humorless Derek Anderson put up another gem to the tune of 7-of-20 for 93 yards and a pick. And somewhere in suburban Houston, Matt Leinart sits, practices with the third-stringers, works cheerleaders, cashes his paychecks and probably laughs hysterically.

3. Cincinnati: When was the last time you saw the “line up, call signals and try to draw the defense offsides,” trick actually work? If you said last week, when it naturally happened to the Bengals, and led to New Orleans scoring the game-winning TD on the very next play, you’re the big winner in the casino tonight. I didn’t think it was possible for the Bengals to embarrass themselves any further than it already has this season… until they did.

4. Buffalo The Bills were finally blown out, 38-14, last week after a string of oh-so-close calls. The fact that it was at the hands of the Vikings without BrettFavre had to have been particularly galling to coach Chan Gailey and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. If they’d only not knocked him out with a shoulder injury (which he says he’s not sure he’ll be able to play with this week – SURPRISE!!!), he probably would have handed them their third win of the year.

5. (tie) Denver/Detroit: Poor McDaniels. The week his pathetic defense actually plays well, his QB, Kyle Orton, reverts back to his Chicago days with a pitiful, 9-of-28, 117 yard, 0 TD performance in a 10-6 loss. As for Detroit, they were competitive against a good team again, taking the Bears into the fourth quarter with a league before folding after a controversial, unnecessary roughness call. If the Lions are ever to be good, they need to show better resolve when bad things like that happen. After that play and several times on Thanksgiving against the Pats when things looked bleak, they completely went in the tank.

What’s Trendy

– Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars: The human bowling ball rolled for a career-high 186 yards in a big, 17-6 win over Tennessee. Overall, the Jags pounded out 258 yards on the ground on a team record 53 attempts. That’s commitment to the running game.

– The Raiders Running Game: Speaking of which, in their surprising beatdown of the Chargers, the Raiders outrushed San Diego 251-21. The Chargers didn’t make a single first down on the ground while the Raiders, still somehow alive in the playoff hunt, got 97 and 95 yards and a TD each from Darren McFadden and Michael Bush, respectively.

– Sidney Rice, Vikings: Finally healthy after missing Minnesota’s first nine games, last year’s best receiver Rice caught five balls for 105 yards and two TDs in the Vikes’ big win over the Bills. Not only were both TD grabs of the jaw-dropping, holy shit variety, Rice made them despite three other Vikings receivers, including Percy Harvin, being inactive.

What’s Not

– The Ravens Offense: They were playing the Steelers, but the Ravens looked particularly inept on Sunday night, surprising considering all the stars/big names (Derrick Mason, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Anquan Boldin, Ray Rice, Todd Heap, Joe Flacco, etc.) they have on offense. They managed just 266 total yards, prompting Mason to say afterward, “We’re not a good offense at times. For whatever reason, I don’t know. I’m not pointing fingers at anybody because I’m part of the equation but we’re just not good at times and it showed up today.” Yikes.

– Chad Henne, Dolphins: Miami’s starting QB, who has been shooting himself and his team in the foot on and off all year, did it again on Sunday in a tough loss to Cleveland. He completed just 16-of-32 passes for 174 yards and three picks, the last of which came at his own 25 and cost the Dolphins the game and any possible chance they may have had to make the playoffs. Miami is now 1-5 at home, which is one of the more bizarre stats of the season.

– The Redskins:
A team that is seemingly only ever in the news for the wrong reasons, Washington finally, mercifully banished the awful Albert Haynesworth this week, suspending him for the rest of the season for conduct detrimental to the team. Apparently, Albert routinely refused to do what the coaches told him both in practices and games and Redskins grand poobah Mike Shanahan finally had enough of having a pissing contest with him so he just sent Haynesworth home. I hate to agree with the fraudulent Shanahan on anything but he was right with this one (one could argue that he should have done what he did sooner but given the massive financial investment owner Daniel Snyder made in Haynesworth, it’s understandable that Shanahan tried to get something, anything out of him). If the Redskins are ever going to be relevant again, they need to shed the image Snyder has cultivated of them as a living, breathing fantasy team. Haynesworth is/was the poster boy of that image which makes getting rid of him and his lazy, sorry act a very smart move.

And finally…

Since it’s yet to get old, and probably never will, here’s some more fun facts from the Pats 45-3 destruction of the Jets on Monday night.

  • The Pats win marked the ninth straight season they haven’t been swept by a division opponent. The last time one of their division rivals beat them twice in a year? 2000, Bill Belichick’s first season in Foxboro, the year before the first Super Bowl win, when they fell to both the Jets and Dolphins twice en route to a 5-11 mark, their last losing season.
  • Brady won his second consecutive AFC Offensive Player of the Week award for his 21-of-29, 326 yard, four TD performance. In his last four games, his passer rating is a lofty 138.6. In his last six games, he has 16 TD passes and zero picks. He has now thrown 228 straight passes without an INT and has 27 TD passes against four picks all year, and again, one of those was on a Hail Mary.
  • Randy Moss not only had no catches against the Colts last night, he wasn’t even thrown to. Danny Woodhead, aka Rudy 2, caught all four passes thrown his way on Monday night, for 104 yards. He now has 28 catches for 334 yards this season, or 10 more catches and 98 more yards than Moss since the trade to the Vikings after Week 4.
  • The Law Firm of BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for his 10th and 11th TDs of the season on Monday night. The most rushing TDs in a season by any Pat since Corey Dillon’s 13 in 2006? Laurence Maroney’s nine last year. Not too shabby, Benny.
  • Deion Branch scored his fourth TD on Monday since returning from Seattle in time for Week 6. In his last 18 games as a Seahawk, he had three.
  • With his seven receptions against the Jets, Wes Welker now has 72 on the year, a 96 catch pace. Not quite the 123 he accumulated in 14 games last season or even the 111 or 112 he racked up the two years prior to that. But for a guy who’s spent pretty much all season playing on a not-yet-fully-healed, surgically repaired knee, it’s pretty good.
  • The win was Belichick’s 122nd in the regular season as Pats head coach and gave him his ninth double-digit win season in Foxborough. When you get done with your next snack, Rex, why don’t you eat that?