Shutdown Corner NFL Power Rankings: Dallas Cowboys, please rise

Let’s be serious for a moment here. And I have to kick the really over-the-top crazy Dallas Cowboys fans out of the room now so we can have a real conversation.

OK, good. Now … what in the heck is going on in Dallas?

Look, you didn’t see this coming, I didn’t see this coming, nobody did. But now there’s no getting around it: The Dallas Cowboys look good. They look great. Had Tony Romo not made some big Week 1 mistakes against the 49ers, they might be 4-0 with some quality wins. I just don’t know how we got here.

The Cowboys didn’t add much in the offseason, and the defense lost Jason Hatcher, DeMarcus Ware and Sean Lee. Romo was coming off back surgery. They’ve been the epitome of mediocre for years. All of a sudden, they’re good. Logically, it makes little sense.

Sunday night’s dominant win over the Saints was their statement that they’re for real. Now, “for real” comes and goes in the NFL in 2014 as quickly as Jon Gruden compliments a mundane play on “Monday Night Football.” Teams look great one week and incompetent seven days later. Nothing is permanent. But right now, the Cowboys deserve a huge bump up the rankings. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli would be my coach of the year vote at this point. He has been that good. The Cowboys’ offense have reinvented itself by building around DeMarco Murray and a great run-blocking offensive line. They deserve all the credit you can give them.

I guess that’s the beauty of the NFL. Things that are completely unforeseen can actually happen. We’re seeing it in Dallas.

Here are the post-Week 4 power rankings:

32. Oakland Raiders (0-4, LW: 31)
Head coach Dennis Allen got fired, and general manager Reggie McKenzie can’t be far behind. Remember, they have the oldest roster in the NFL. Bad, bad, bad.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4, LW: 30)
No one player is going to totally turn this team around, not even a huge upgrade at quarterback. They’re just not good at all. But they’re also very young and you’d assume they’ll improve as this season goes on.

30. Washington Redskins (1-3, LW: 28)
Or maybe I was right to be skeptical of Kirk Cousins.

29. Tennessee Titans (1-3, LW: 23)
How in the world did they look so good at Kansas City in Week 1? That’s the weirdest result of the NFL season so far, right?

(AP)28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3, LW: 32)
Please tell me Lovie Smith is just trolling everyone by saying he doesn’t know if Mike Glennon will continue at quarterback. That has got to be a joke. Please say it’s a joke.

27. St. Louis Rams (1-2, LW: 27)
Listen to this upcoming stretch: at Philadelphia, vs. San Francisco, vs. Seattle, at Kansas City, at San Francisco, at Arizona, vs. Denver, at San Diego. Oh, boy.

26. New York Jets (1-3, LW: 19)
Remember folks: The Michael Vick you’d be getting bears no resemblance to the Michael Vick you fondly remember. That Vick hasn’t been around for a while.

25. Cleveland Browns (1-2, LW: 24)
A game at Tennessee this week is a must win if we’re to take them seriously.

24. Buffalo Bills (2-2, LW: 18)
I don’t agree with benching EJ Manuel. If it’s close (and while Manuel hasn’t been good, we all know Kyle Orton won’t be good either), then you go with the young guy and hope he improves. There’s no upside with Orton, now or later.

23. New York Giants (2-2, LW: 29)
I guess they’re good again? I don’t know, but something has dramatically changed in the last two weeks.

22. Minnesota Vikings (2-2, LW: 26)
Imagine how good they’ll be when they remember it’s legal to call plays specifically to get Cordarrelle Patterson the ball.

21. Houston Texans (3-1, LW: 22)
J.J. Watt is your NFL MVP at the quarter pole. He’ll never win because there’s a rule the MVP has to be a quarterback or running back, but he’s the best player in the game right now.

20. Atlanta Falcons (2-2, LW: 15)
Not sure how a team can play that well at home and that poorly on the road.

19. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2, LW: 17)
There’s no more up-and-down team in the NFL this season. That probably doesn’t reflect well on Mike Tomlin.

18. Miami Dolphins (2-2, LW: 21)
It’ll be interesting to see if Ryan Tannehill and Joe Philbin can co-exist going forward. Not sure how Tannehill can trust him again.

17. New Orleans Saints (1-3, LW: 9)
If the Saints were 1-3 because the defense regressed significantly, it wouldn’t surprise me. It does surprise me that the offense has looked pretty average.

16. Carolina Panthers (2-2, LW: 8)
No healthy running backs, a bad offensive line and a beat up Cam Newton is not a good formula for them moving the ball.

(AP)15. New England Patriots (2-2, LW: 4)
I hate to overreact to small sample sizes, but you can’t help but wonder if the loss at Kansas City was the sign that the Patriots dynasty is over. It was that bad. Tom Brady just looks like a different player than we’re used to seeing. I just didn’t believe it could be happening that fast.

14. Kansas City Chiefs (2-2, LW: 25)
Totally dominant on Monday night. Again, what the heck happened in that Week 1 loss to Tennessee?

13. San Francisco 49ers (2-2, LW: 14)
They needed that win badly, but they still didn’t look very good. They still look uncharacteristically sloppy.

12. Chicago Bears (2-2, LW: 13)
Players don’t change after eight seasons. There was no reason to believe Jay Cutler’s ninth season would be any different, other than he’s collecting a bigger paycheck.

11. Baltimore Ravens (3-1, LW: 16)
Steve Smith, wow. Carolina did have good reason to think he didn’t have this in him anymore. But Smith’s resurgence sure makes the Panthers look stupid.

10. Dallas Cowboys (3-1, LW: 20)
On second thought, never mind about Marinelli for coach of the year. With the job he’s doing, let’s do Marinelli for President.

9. Detroit Lions (3-1, LW: 12)
Sunday’s win showed they might be handling success a little better. Maybe they’ve finally matured.

(Getty Images)8. Green Bay Packers (2-2, LW: 10)
Still skeptical about the defense, but if Aaron Rodgers plays like he does on Sunday the Packers can beat anyone. That was one impressive performance at Chicago.

7. Indianapolis Colts (2-2, LW: 7)
Reggie Wayne went for seven catches, 119 yards and a touchdown last week. Can’t say I was sure he was going to rebound like this after ACL surgery.

6. San Diego Chargers (3-1, LW: 11)
I’m giving them a decent bump because I’m correcting a mistake. They should have been higher earlier. This is a really good team with a really good coach.

5. Philadelphia Eagles (3-1, LW: 5)
It’s tough to function as usual when the offensive line is missing as many good players as they are.

4. Arizona Cardinals (3-0, LW: 6)
Will be interesting if Todd Bowles’ super-aggressive defensive approach works against blitzmaster Peyton Manning.

3. Cincinnati Bengals (3-0, LW: 3)
Cincinnati at New England in Week 5 is quite an interesting game for both teams.

2. Denver Broncos (2-1, LW: 2)
At some point Demaryius Thomas will break out of this slump. They’re doing fine despite it.

1. Seattle Seahawks (2-1, LW: 1)
Not sure I like Kirk Cousins’ chances next week against this defense coming off a bye.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Erik Spoelstra almost passed up his first job with the Miami Heat for a Grateful Dead show

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra responds to a question during a news conference at NBA basketball media day, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)Most introductions to Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra note his impressive rise up the ranks of the organization. He took a job as a video coordinator in 2005 after spending some time in Germany, became assistant coach a few years later, and was promoted to the head coaching job after the 2007-08 season when Pat Riley retired from the sidelines. He worked his way up, proved himself at every level, and did enough to earn two championships as a head coach and one as an assistant.

According to Spoelstra, though, he almost turned down his interview for his first job with the franchise. And he would have passed up that opportunity of a lifetime for a Grateful Dead show. From a new profile by Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated (via PBT):

Beneath Spoelstra’s bold speeches is a fear of failure that was not always easy to conquer and channel. He accepted the job as head coach at Sherwood (Ore.) High but backed out a week later so he could return to Germany. He only applied for the Heat’s video coordinator position in 1995 as part of a bet with his German teammates. When a club official called with a date for an interview, Spoelstra was inclined to pass because he had tickets to a Grateful Dead concert. Even after landing the gig, he was ready to turn it down until his sister called and asked if he’d lost his mind.

It’s possible that this story is a little overblown, because it’s somewhat common for people (particularly the anxious-minded) to hesitate momentarily when considering a great offer simply because they already have competing plans. I’ve certainly so before coming to my senses and realizing that it was impossible to turn down. Sometimes it takes a second to figure it out.

On the other hand, if you mentioned this story to serious Deadheads then they would probably think Spoelstra made a terrible mistake. If we assume that the Portland native was set to go one of the two shows in the city on May 28 and 29, 1995, then he would have been present at one of the band’s final performances before the death of icon Jerry Garcia on August 9. We also don’t know if they did particularly good renditions of “Jack Straw,” “Dire Wolf,” and various jams from either date. Can you really put a price on such memories, however hazy? Even if the alternative was setting on a course towards millions of dollars and international fame?

Then again, Spo probably wasn’t that big a fan. If he had been, he would’ve had plans for the entire West Coast leg of the tour, not just one show.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

49ers need a more efficient, less erratic Colin Kaepernick to meet their goals

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — One of the two touchdown passes Colin Kaepernick threw Sunday afternoon surely had some fans cringing as it left his fingertips. 

As Kaepernick rolled left to escape pressure early in the San Francisco 49ers’ 26-21 victory over the previously unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles, he spotted Frank Gore leaking out of the backfield on the other sideline with no defender in sight. Off balance and planting on one foot, Kaepernick uncorked a fluttering cross-field pass that violated every rule about quarterbacks throwing across their body and yet somehow made it to Gore for a 55-yard touchdown.

“That was just Kaep being Kaep,” Gore said later. “He threw a great ball.” (USA TODAY Sports)

“Kaep being Kaep” indeed sometimes results in spectacular plays for San Francisco, but too often it leads to head-scratching mistakes. Sunday’s game was a perfect example of that dichotomy as Kaepernick contributed to both San Francisco’s 11-point second-quarter deficit and the badly needed second-half rally that prevented the 49ers from falling into a disastrous 1-3 hole.

Bad Kaep stared down Brandon Lloyd on a second-quarter slant pattern and never saw safety Malcolm Jenkins come off his receiver and step in front of the route, resulting in a 53-yard interception return for a touchdown. He also overthrew a wide-open Anquan Boldin on a third-down out pattern on the next drive, resulting in a punt that Darren Sproles took back for a score.

Good Kaep threw for 218 yards and turned two scramble plays into remarkable touchdown passes, the first being the cross-field pass to Gore and the second a third-quarter strike to a tip-toeing Stevie Johnson in the front left corner of the end zone. The pass to Johnson trimmed San Francisco’s deficit to 21-20 and came one play after Kaepernick led Michael Crabtree too far on a wide-open slant pattern that almost certainly would have resulted in a touchdown.

Kaepernick also drew an exasperated look from coach Jim Harbaugh early in the fourth quarter when he called timeout after the 49ers failed to draw Philadelphia offsides on fourth-and-2. Harbaugh had intended to save the valuable timeout and have Kaepernick let the clock expire so punter Andy Lee would have more room to pin Philadelphia deep in its own territory.

“Sloppy coaching on my part,” Harbaugh said later, unconvincingly trying to blame the mistake on himself. Kaepernick neither took responsibility for the mental miscue nor heaped blame on his coaches, saying only, “If we try and draw them off and we don’t get it, then we call timeout.”

Were it not for the erratic performance from Kaepernick and the two special teams touchdowns scored by the Eagles, the 49ers surely wouldn’t have endured such a stressful fourth quarter. San Francisco’s defense didn’t let Chip Kelly’s prolific offense cross midfield until its second-to-last drive of the game, yet the 49ers still needed a goal-line stand in the final two minutes to preserve a five-point win.

“I’m not going to lie, it felt like we should be up by 21, but I looked up and we were only up by five,” running back Carlos Hyde said. “We need to cut back on our mistakes and when we get into the red zone, we need to score touchdowns.”

Frank Gore churned 124 yards against the Eagles. (USA TODAY Sports) Unlike previous seasons when the 49ers could count on winning with a dominant defense and a reliable ground attack, that can’t always be the formula this season. Thirty-one-year-old Frank Gore was already moving gingerly in the locker room Sunday after a 24-carry day on Sunday. And the absence of pass-rush specialist Aldon Smith and all-pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman makes San Francisco a bit more vulnerable on defense than year’s past.

The 49ers are breaking in three new starters in their secondary and they couldn’t get to the quarterback often enough in losses to Arizona and Chicago to make up for frequent breakdowns. Sunday’s emergence of rookie linebacker Aaron Lynch as a nickel rusher will certainly help, but it’s unrealistic to expect San Francisco’s defense to consistently play at its previous level until Smith and Bowman return.

Those factors explain why Kaepernick’s development is crucial for San Francisco this season. The 49ers can’t dethrone the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West if Kaepernick keeps throwing interceptions on a one-per-game pace. There will be nights when San Francisco will need its quarterback to be both explosive and efficient to beat the best teams on its schedule.

Kaepernick was asked after Sunday’s game how he balances the creativity that makes him a threat on every play with the need to avoid catastrophic mistakes. He harkened back to the touchdown pass to Gore, explaining that his instinct when he was flushed from the pocket was “to make things happen.”

That sums up the 49ers’ dilemma with “Kaep being Kaep.” No matter the circumstance, he’s going to try to make things happen – for better and for worse.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

Juan Uribe manages Dodgers for a day

Juan Uribe put on a pair of aviator sunglasses in order to look more like a boss than he already does. He also changed jerseys — going from Don Mattingly’s No. 8 to Tommy Lasorda’s No. 2 — to complete his look as skipper for a day. He even made real pitching changes.

It might have seemed like a farce, but the Los Angeles Dodgers were being earnest (if not serious) by putting Uribe in charge and having Cy Young contender Clayton Kershaw act as pitching coach. It all worked out, too, as the Dodgers beat the Colorado Rockies 10-5 at Dodger Stadium on Sunday in the regular-season finale. The Dodgers start the playoffs Friday. The Rockies finished a mostly forgettable season 66-96.

The record book (probably) will list Mattingly as the manager for Game 162, but if he was, he was in the wings pulling the strings.

(Getty)

 

“Easy game today,” said Uribe, who got a cooler full of a blue sports drink tossed on him by Matt Kemp before a postgame rally on the field.

”He did great. We won, right?” Mattingly said of Uribe. ”He had them playing hard and got them to do what he wanted.”

Lasorda took the mic during the rally and showed he could still muster some bombast after turning 87 earlier in the week.

”I think we’re going to get to the Fall Classic,” he told the crowd. ”Then the big Dodger in the sky can take me away.”

Well that got morbid in a hurry. Jeez, Tommy.

What about Kershaw as coach? In addition to taking the place of coach Rick Honeycutt, Kershaw threw a simulated game in order to be sharp for his start in Game 1 of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night. Kershaw’s more important task might have distracted him from coaching, Zack Greinke said.

(AP)

 

“He was kind of half doing his job,” Greinke said of Kershaw, while giving props to third baseman Juan Uribe, who served as manager. ”Juan was more intense doing his job.”

Greinke allowed a run and four hits over five innings in his tune-up for a likely start in Game 2. 

The Rockies came away with a consolation prize: An NL batting title for Justin Morneau, who hit .319. Other than that, manager Walt Weiss said he was “ready for a break.”

The Rockies might do well to remember this day, actually, as a motivational ploy in spring training. Although the Dodgers didn’t mean any disrespect by using players to run their team (kind of) for a game, Weiss easily could transform the experience into a chip the team could put on its shoulder. And frankly, shouldn’t the Rockies be embarrassed a little the Dodgers beat them easily in a game they didn’t need to win with Juan Uribe managing them?

More MLB coverage at Yahoo Sports: 

 

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David Brown is an editor for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rdbrown@yahoo-inc.com and follow him on Twitter!

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[VIDEO] Tim Kennedy confronts Yoel Romero backstage at UFC 178

Tim Kennedy had good reason to be upset heading into the third round of his featured middleweight fight Saturday night at UFC 178 in Las Vegas against Yoel Romero. After all, he had been pushed around for nearly two rounds before landing monstrous punches to the head of his opponent Yoel Romero at the end of the second period that appeared to have the Cuban out on his feet before the horn sounded and saved him.

Then, once the rest period between the second and third round had ended and referee John McCarthy instructed both fighters to get off their stools and resume fighting, Romero did not rise and was tended to by his corner for a bit longer. Kennedy immediately protested the default extra rest and recovery time the hurt Romero was given but McCarthy allowed the fight to continue and without penalty to Romero.

Then, the former Olympic silver medalist managed to pounce on Kennedy and knock him out early in the third round. Needless to say, Kennedy was furious at the turn of events, and he wasted little time seeking out Romero and telling him as much backstage, afterwards (video above).

“If you can’t get off the stool, that’s the end of the fight,” a frustrated Kennedy told Romero. 

Check out the Vine clip above for yourself and see the brief moment captured on tape. Then, let us know what you think of the controversy in the comments section.

Follow Elias on Twitter @EliasCepeda & @YahooCagewriter