It’s too late now to do anything about a season gone wrong. Dreams are dead. Hopes haven squashed. And in some places the spark of life has been extinguished. The stretch run of the NFL season isn’t for pretenders. The playoff race isn’t for teams and people whose bubbles have already burst.
And there many burst bubbles littering the NFL landscape with three weeks left in the 2011 season. So many teams and people had what must have seemed like realistic expectations, only to see them go painfully unfulfilled.
Who are the biggest busts of the 2011 season? The list is long, but here is a look at the Top 10:
The Dream Team
Make that the nightmare. The Philadelphia Eagles were the stars of the offseason, signing every free agent they could get their hands on and adding them to a team that won the NFC East last year. But the self-proclaimed “Dream Team” (And boy, should they thank backup QB Vince Young for calling them that) were exposed early as having no chemistry, a surprisingly porous secondary, and a turnover-prone offense. When Michael Vick started getting hurt they had no chance, and as a result there is speculation that Andy Reid may soon have no job.
The Patriot Projects - Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco
Sometimes smart coaches are too smart for their own good. That’s what happened when Bill Belichick thought he could squeeze water out of the rocks that are Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco. The Haynesworth project was such a failure that he was released in early November. Ochocinco is still taking up space on the roster, but has just 13 catches for 228 yards and looks very, very done.
Browns RB Peyton Hillis
The Madden Cover boy has just 346 yards on 101 carries, which is enough to dry up all the grassroots support he had in the voting for that honor. He’s battled injuries all year. He missed a game with strep throat, but then – in the midst of a contract squabble – his agent said he told him to sit out. He ticked off his Cleveland teammates along the way, too.
Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross
It was bad enough that he embarrassed Tony Sparano by flirting with Jim Harbaugh during the offseason, then keeping Sparano when he lost Harbaugh to the 49ers. Then he kept Sparano twisting for weeks, even though everyone knew he was going to get fired. But the worst thing that happen is that his team blew an 0-7 start which had them in position to make a run at the No. 1 pick in the draft, where they could’ve found their first franchise quarterback since Dan Marino (Stanford QB Andrew Luck). They’ve gone 4-2 since and now they’ve got no chance.
Former Chiefs coach Todd Haley
The Kansas City Chiefs were the defending champions of the AFC West and felt ready to repeat, but an NFL source who saw them in training camp said back then “They don’t look ready.” That seems right. They lost their first two games, to Buffalo and Detroit, by a combined score of 89-10. They actually rallied from an 0-3 start to get to 4-3, but after they became the first victim of winless Miami it was all downhill from there. The Chiefs began embarrassing themselves again, the injuries hit, Haley got fired, and now it’s like the 2010 season never happened.
Former NFL QB Donovan McNabb
His career had sputtered last year in Washington, but some thought he might be revived by a move to Minnesota. It was clear in Week 1 that wouldn’t be the case. He completed 7 of 15 passes for just 39 yards and wasn’t much better in his other five starts. The Vikings went 1-6, he lost his job to a rookie, then he was released and it’s likely his career is over.
Chargers QB Philip Rivers
“What’s wrong with Rivers?” was one of the most asked questions around the NFL early in the season. His numbers are still good – he’ll top 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns – but they aren’t as gaudy as some of his contemporaries. Plus, his interception total has skyrocketed to 17 (so far) and the Chargers, in the wide-open AFC West, are a disappointing 6-7.
Rams QB Sam Bradford
He was so good as a rookie that everyone thought he’d be one of the next stars of the NFL, but he’s fallen flat on his face in his sophomore season. Injuries certainly haven’t helped, but neither has his performance. In 10 starts he’s got just 2,164 yards and a measly six touchdown passes. And under his guidance, a Rams team that was in the playoff race until the final seconds last year, is 2-11 and they may end up firing their coach.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
They were 10-6 last year and a hard-luck team that just missed the playoffs, but they clearly were on the rise. And no one would’ve argued after they beat the Saints in Week 6 to move to 4-2. Now they’re 4-9 – seven straight losses -- and the last loss was a blowout at the hands of the 4-9 Jacksonville Jaguars in which the Bucs turned the ball over seven times.
Former Giants RB Tiki Barber
It was always improbable – if not completely unbelievable – that a 36-year-old running back would make a comeback in the NFL five years after he retired. But he sure got a lot of publicity out of the attempt, with his camp even leaking the names of a few teams that were “interested.” None were, though. He never got a sniff of interest, he remains unsigned, he will likely re-retire, and his already tarnished reputation – especially in the eyes of bitter Giants fans – took another unfortunate hit.
By RALPH VACCHIANO