THE GAMES — Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Less than a year after closing his rookie season by winning seven consecutive regular-season games and willing the Washington Redskins to the NFC East title, more than a few in the Beltway are calling for Robert Griffin III's head in the form of a benching.
Talk about a short-attention-span culture.
You would think the division crown, the rookie of the year honors and the fact that Griffin left FedEx Field on his shield after tearing his ACL and LCL against the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs would have bought him enough capital in D.C. to last through 2013.
For some, though, RG3's debt-ceiling ended up lasting only 10 games and last Sunday's ugly 24-16 loss in Philadelphia, one in which Griffin had four net passing yards in the opening half, only elevated the criticism engulfing the struggling second-year signal caller.
Some teammates and legendary former Redskins have even turned on the former Heisman Trophy winner, an almost laughable position when examined by those with no skin in this game.
And that's said by someone who fully understands just how poorly RG3 performed against the Eagles. A seat in the press box at Lincoln Financial Field revealed how laughable Griffin's downfield accuracy was, and it was quite evident the Baylor product still hasn't regained his pre-injury explosion as a player.
That said, to assume there would be no hiccups -- especially after the serious injury -- in Griffin's ascension to superstardom was always pie-in-the-sky thinking, and a 3-7 record while RG3 continues to work out any kinks may be painful but it's just part of the process, one guaranteed to move forward no matter the speed bumps along the way.
Remember the Redskins sent four significant draft picks over three years (the No. 6 overall pick in 2012, their second-round pick in 2012, and their first- round picks in 2013 and 2014) to St. Louis for the right to select Griffin at No. 2 overall in the 2012 draft.
So, do you really think benching him after 27 career NFL games is a tenable position worth arguing?
"There is going to be some growing pains," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said earlier this week when discussing Griffin. "It's not going to be automatic. We didn't expect it to be automatic."
Former four-time All-Pro cornerback Darrell Green expected it to be automatic, though, and was the first to take aim at Griffin on SHOWTIME's "Inside the NFL" before the debacle in Philadelphia, saying he wasn't sure he was seeing the leadership necessary from Griffin.
"I think that's the problem," the former Redskins star said. "I think it's super important to have leadership, and I don't think he really is the leader. I don't know if they have a leader."
After the setback, receiver Santana Moss seemed to agree with Green, taking issue with RG3's reluctance to take the blame for a woeful game-ending interception in the end zone.
"If we're going to win games, we need to win games with our guy (Griffin) saying, 'At the end of the day, I didn't make a play,' regardless of if it wasn't him," Moss told WJFK Radio. "As a leader, you understand that if you're involved in the situation, whether you're the receiver, the quarterback, the guys making the tackle, whoever -- regardless of the outcome, good or bad, you have to at some point, stand up and say me or I."
Stop the presses -- a 23-year-old doesn't have the cachet or maturity of Peyton Manning or Tom Brady just yet?
Again, part of the process. Leadership in any aspect of life isn't given to you by virtue of a title -- in this case quarterback -- it's something which must be earned and generally evolves with experience.
Decision making is also a legitimate concern with Griffin. He was able to convert a 3rd-and-25 on Washington's potential game-tying drive against the Eagles, along with two other third downs and had advanced the Redskins all the way to Philadelphia's 18-yard line. He still wasn't sharp, though, and when defensive end Fletcher Cox put on a strong rush as the seconds waned, instead of putting the football in his pocket for a potential fourth down or throwing it away, RG3 lofted an ill-conceived pass down the seam which Brandon Boykin easily corralled.
"Well you always have another choice," Shanahan said of the tainted toss. "Any time it ends in an interception, you always have another choice. It was 3rd- and-1, the quarterback's always trying to make a play at one of the hardest positions in sports to play. And there's going to be many decisions like that through the years and you grow with them. You'd always rather have it 4th- and-1 than an interception, we all know that, so you've got to be able to throw the ball away at the right time.
"But he's trying to make a play."
Former Washington quarterback and current Redskins Radio Network analyst Sonny Jurgensen was far more blunt in his assessment of Griffin. saying he should have been benched in favor of fellow second-year man Kirk Cousins on at least two different occasions during the broadcast.
"Why not play Cousins?" Jurgensen said during the third quarter, before clarifying: "It's not pulling the plug, it's getting a change. Make a change. Can it be any worse? You get four yards passing in a half? I would look at the other quarterback, see if he can make something happen. It's not the end of the world. They take out pitchers, don't they?"
They do but point me to one Andy Petitte-Mariano Rivera-like combination which has ever succeeded in the NFL. Relief pitchers aren't an option in this game and Jurgensen, who was both a starter and backup during his superlative 18- year career, knows that better than most.
For what it's worth Shanahan believes Griffin's lack of an offseason due to the ACL injury stunted his growth as a player.
"You need reps. You need repetition." the veteran mentor said. "I think the biggest growth from the first year to the second year is those 10 weeks of just going back and doing things that you haven't done before. That's what you miss besides training camp.
"So when you take the first nine, 10 weeks of the season and you take maybe the first three weeks before we start our first game, he's getting all those reps right now. The more reps he gets, the more comfortable he's going to be, especially in game-type situations."
And for Shanahan stunted doesn't mean stopped.
Griffin remains the franchise QB in D.C. and just like "the guy" in any other city, he deserves every opportunity to fight through any struggles.
"I think he feels very natural with the zone-read and some of the play-actions off of it," Shanahan stated. "Some of the drop back passing attack will take a little time. But he's so sharp at picking things up. He can make any throw. Not many people have that ability to do that. The great part about it is the sky's the limit for him in the future."
NFL POWER POLL
The Sports Network's updated NFL Power Poll, which ranks all 32 league teams, can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/2cjp9l8 WEEK 12
New Orleans (8-2) at Atlanta (2-8), Thursday, 8:25 p.m.
LINE: Saints by 8
THE SKINNY: What many figured would be the key game in the NFC South this season has morphed into a potential mismatch. The New Orleans Saints have found their way again with Sean Payton back on the sidelines after a one-year suspension, while the Atlanta Falcons, who finished 13-3 in 2012 and perhaps one play away from a Super Bowl berth, have endured a miserable season thanks in large part to injuries.
Payton has pushed all the right buttons after spending a year away from the game as punishment for the bounty scandal in New Orleans, most notably hiring defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who has turned around the historically awful group from the Saints' 7-9 2012 campaign.
The Falcons, meanwhile, may have hit a new low last Sunday in Tampa, getting trounced by the lowly Buccaneers, 41-28 for their fourth straight loss, the team's longest slide since a six-game hiccup in 2007 - the season before head coach Mike Smith arrived in Dixie.
PREDICTION: Saints 31, Falcons 18
NY Jets (5-5) at Baltimore (4-6), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Ravens by 4
THE SKINNY: History says it's the Jeckyll and Hyde Jets' turn to win this week. New York is the first team in NFL history to alternate wins and losses through 10 games and if the pattern holds up again this week that means a victory against the reigning Super Bowl champions, who are currently underwater and trying to stay in the AFC wild card hunt.
The Ravens lost to the Jets in the first ever meeting between the two clubs and haven't lost since, winning seven straight in the series. Baltimore has also won 17 of its past 20 in the Charm City.
PREDICTION: Ravens 21, Jets 17
Pittsburgh (4-6) at Cleveland (4-6), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Browns by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Steelers are 4-2 since starting the season 0-4 and another win in Cleveland would really put Pittsburgh in the conversation for the final playoff spot in the AFC. Pittsburgh has won 17 of its last 19 against the Browns and the club seems to be getting healthy at the right time.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said that defensive end Brett Keisel (foot), outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf) and guard Ramon Foster (ankle), who all missed the team's win last week against Detroit, "have a legitimate opportunity to play" in Cleveland.
The Browns have won three of their past four at home and have an opportunity to match their 2012 win total. Cleveland, however, is just 1-15 all-time when facing Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, the resigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Lions.
PREDICTION: Steelers 17, Browns 14
Tampa Bay (2-8) at Detroit (6-4), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Lions by 9
THE SKINNY: The Lions return to Ford Field coming off a disappointing 37-27 road loss at Pittsburgh, a city in which they haven't won since 1955. The Buccaneers, on the other hand, aim to win their third-straight game after starting the season 0-8.
Despite the loss Detroit QB Matthew Stafford threw for 362 yards and set the franchise record for most career passing yards (16,005) previously owned by Hall of Famer Bobby Layne (15,710).
For the Bucs rookie QB Mike Glennon is coming off a 20-for-23 performance with a career-high 137.5 passer rating, while running back Bobby Rainey, playing because Doug Martin and Mike James are both out with season-ending injuries, rushed for 163 yards with two TDs and added another score through the air.
PREDICTION: Lions 28, Buccaneers 20
Minnesota (2-8) at Green Bay (5-5), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Packers by 5
THE SKINNY: With Scott Tolzien expected to start again this week for Green Bay in place of the injured Aaron Rodgers, this will be the first time in over two decades that Minnesota sees the Green and Gold without either Brett Favre or Rodgers behind center.
The Vikings haven't been quite as consistent, starting 13 different signal callers over that same time frame and they could make 14 this time around if Leslie Frazier finally pulls the plug on Christian Ponder, who is coming off one of his worst performances yet in a loss at Seattle.
Although the Packers have lost two straight without Rodgers, the team should be fine this week against a Vikings defense that is among the worst in the league.
PREDICTION: Packers 31, Vikings 20
Jacksonville (1-9) at Houston (2-8), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Texans by 10
THE SKINNY: A dismal 2-8 Houston team hosts the even worse Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9) in the first of two meetings over an 11-day span between the clubs.
The Texans have won the last five matchups in the series and six of their last seven games against Jacksonville at Reliant Stadium but are currently in the midst of a franchise-worst eight-game skid. In his last game in South Texas Jags QB Chad Henne passed for 354 yards with four TDs and a 126.8 passer rating.
PREDICTION: Texans 17, Jaguars 14
San Diego (4-6) at Kansas City (9-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Chiefs by 5
THE SKINNY: AFC West rivals meet in Arrowhead as the Chiefs try to bounce back from their first defeat of the season, a 27-17, setback in Denver last week. Despite Kansas City's defense holding the Broncos offense to a season-low 27 points, the Chiefs were unable to overcome a 17-point deficit late in the game.
The Chargers, who suffered a significant blow to their playoff hopes in Miami last week, have lost three straight overall but have won 10 of their past 13 against the Chiefs. Kansas City is 5-0 at home this season, however, and with his next win Chiefs mentor Andy Reid will become just the 21st coach in NFL history with 150 wins (including postseason).
PREDICTION: Chiefs 27, Chargers 21
Carolina (7-3) at Miami (5-5), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Panthers by 4
THE SKINNY: The Panthers have won six in a row -- matching Seattle for the NFL's longest active winning streak -- and enter the week just one game behind New Orleans for the top spot in the NFC South.
Carolina "held" on to defeat New England 24-20 on Monday night behind Cam Newton's three touchdown passes and a questionable no-call on what looked like a Luke Kuechly pass interference penalty in the end zone of the game's final play.
"I'm excited for our players," said Panthers head coach Ron Rivera. "They won the kind of game that a lot of people don't think we can win. I think we proved a lot."
Whether it was helped or not one thing is certain, the Carolina defense is among the game's best and has allowed a league-low 135 points (13.5 per game). The Panthers also have the only defensive unit to rank in the top five in total defense (third), run defense (third) and pass defense (fifth).
Miami remains in the thick of the AFC playoff race at 5-5 despite the growing distraction of the Richie Ingognito-Jonathan Martin bullying scandal. Last week the Dolphins knocked off San Diego 20-16 behind quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who passed for 268 yards and threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Charles Clay which put Miami up for good.
"Someone's got to get that last wild card spot," says Dolphins tackle Tyson Clabo said. "Why not us?"
PREDICTION: Panthers 20, Dolphins 16
Chicago (6-4) at St. Louis (4-6), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Rams by 1
THE SKINNY: Backup Josh McCown will get the ball again for the Bears, who moved back into a tie for first place in the NFC North after a 23-20 overtime win over Baltimore which featured a substantial delay due to inclement weather.
"It's an awesome win," said Bears kicker Robbie Gould, who converted the game- winning 38-yard field goal in overtime. "To get to 6-4 and be at the top of our division is pretty big at this point. You spend the first couple months trying to get in the race and now you're trying to finish the race."
St. Louis is coming off its bye week and will be looking to build off Tavon Austin's coming out party in a 38-8 win at Indianapolis in Week 10. The dynamic rookie returned a punt 98 yards for a touchdown and had receiving touchdowns of 81 and 57 yards, becoming the first player in NFL history with a 95-plus yard punt-return touchdown and two 55-plus yard receiving touchdowns in a single game.
The game will also feature a pair of brothers on opposite sides of the ball as Bears rookie guard Kyle Long faces his big brother Chris, a Rams defensive end. Chris Long has 6 1/2 sacks this season and scored on a 45-yard fumble- return touchdown in Week 10. Both are also the sons of Pro Football Hall of Famer and current FOX television analyst Howie Long.
"It's a dream come true for me to be able to look across the line of scrimmage and think my older brother and I are two of the few people on this earth to play in the NFL," said Kyle Long. "We're privileged and blessed."
PREDICTION: Rams 24, Bears 17
Indianapolis (7-3) at Arizona (6-4), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
LINE: Cardinals by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: Last season, Bruce Arians guided the Colts to a playoff berth and was named the 2012 NFL Coach of the Year after taking over for the convalescing Chuck Pagano. This year Arians is with Arizona and trying to lead the 6-4 Cardinals to the postseason. Arians is doing a solid job so far, amassing the most wins by a head coach in his first 10 games with the Cards since Charley Winner in 1966.
When Arians faces off with his old club this Sunday he will become the first person to be named NFL Coach of the Year and then face that team the following season as the head coach of a different team.
Both the Cardinals and Colts are coming off significant wins in Week 11 and find themselves right in the mix for the playoffs. The Colts, who lead the AFC South, erased a 14-0 first-quarter deficit to defeat Tennessee 30-27.
"At the end of the day, winning is what matters," said Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck. "We were fortunate to be in this game to survive our mistakes and have a chance to win. We know that's got to be fixed."
The Cardinals have won three in a row, including last week's 27-14 win at Jacksonville. Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer passed for 419 yards in that one, including a 91-yard touchdown to wide receiver Michael Floyd.
PREDICTION: Cardinals 26, Colts 23
Tennessee (4-6) at Oakland (4-6), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Raiders by 1
THE SKINNY: Oakland rookie quarterback Matt McGloin will try to build on his historic NFL debut in a 28-23 win at Houston last week. The former walk-on at Penn State threw three touchdown passes and was not intercepted, becoming the first undrafted rookie quarterback to throw at least three touchdown passes without an interception in a single game in the common draft era (since 1967).
Tennessee, which is coming off a second-half implosion against Indianapolis which really hurt its postseason chances, will be aiming for a third straight win over the Raiders. Backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has played well in place of the injured Jake Locker, completing 44-of-61 passes for 486 yards with three TDs and a 111.4 passer rating in his past two games.
PREDICTION: Titans 21, Raiders 14
Dallas (5-5) at NY Giants (4-6), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Giants by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: The jumbled NFC East figures to gain some clarity after this one. Entering Week 12, the Philadelphia Eagles (6-5), Cowboys (5-5) and Giants (4-6) are separated by just one-and-a-half games for the top spot in the division.
Dallas, which is coming off a bye, already defeated New York 36-31 on Kickoff Weekend. In his past four starts against the Giants, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has 12 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 117.7 passer rating while his favorite target, tight end Jason Witten, has 26 catches (13 per game) for 237 yards (118.5 per game) and two touchdowns in the past two meetings between the two rivals.
After an 0-6 start, the Giants have won four in a row, though. Last week, New York defeated Green Bay 27-13 when wide receiver Rueben Randle had a touchdown catch -- his sixth in the past six games -- and defensive end Jason Pierre- Paul earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors after recording a 24-yard interception-return touchdown in the fourth quarter.
"We knew we were going to have a tough challenge getting back into the mix, but the only thing we could do is to start getting one win at a time," said Giants quarterback Eli Manning. "We've done that these last four weeks. Obviously we've still got some room to go. We've got four in a row and that's a good feeling. We're going to keep fighting, keep getting better and see if we can keep winning."
PREDICTION: Giants 34, Cowboys 30
Denver (9-1) at New England (7-3), Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
LINE: Broncos by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: For the 14th time in their storied careers, quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will face off against each other. Brady has generally had the edge, going 9-4 against Manning's Colts and now Broncos.
This contest will be the first in NFL history in which both quarterbacks are at least 90 games over .500 as starters. In their careers, Brady is plus-101 (143-42) and Manning is plus-92 (163-71).
The Broncos defeated Kansas City last week, handing the Chiefs their first loss of the season. With the win, Denver is now deadlocked with Kansas City for the best record in the AFC at 9-1. The Broncos lead the NFL with 398 points scored -- the third-most ever by a team through the first 10 games of a season -- and Manning has passed for a league-best 3,572 yards and 34 touchdowns.
New England leads the AFC East by two games despite a controversial 24-20 loss at Carolina on Monday night. The Patriots are a perfect 5-0 at home, however.
PREDICTION: Broncos 35, Patriots 28
San Francisco (6-4) at Washington (3-7), Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
LINE: 49ers by 5
THE SKINNY: A couple of young, struggling signal callers will meet inside the Beltway when the embattled Robert Griffin III and the Redskins host San Francisco and Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers will be trying to get Kaepernick, who has passed for a total of 218 yards over his past two contests -- losses to NFC South heavyweights Carolina and New Orleans -- moving in the right direction again.
Griffin's numbers aren't nearly as bad as Kaepernick's but he's facing criticism from all directions as the architect of Washington's dismal 3-7 start.
PREDICTION: 49ers 27, Redskins 21