The NFL is the best-run professional sports league on Earth. It is an organization comprised of 32 billion-dollar businesses, each of which pays the majority of its employees six- and seven-figure salaries. The on-field product is excellent, the TV broadcast quality is unmatched and it is mind-bogglingly profitable.
Partly as a result of all this, the gap between "good" and "bad" is razor-thin, and the margin of error thinner yet. Coaches and players have only a year or two to earn their worth before they're run out of town.
So how can anything in the NFL be terrible? I don't know, but every year "terrible" finds a way to happen.
The Absolute Worst Game: Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings
Determined to prove they can win a game in the first quarter, the Vikings hung a ridiculous 28 points on the Cardinals in the first 15 minutes. The following three quarters were the consensus second-, fifth- and ninth-most odious stanzas of professional football ever played.
Kevin Kolb, Richard Bartel and Donovan McNabb combined to go 33-of-69 for no touchdowns and three picks. That doesn't include both teams losing a fumble. Thanks entirely to Adrian Peterson, the Vikes finally managed to pull off the "put it in the cooler with 45 minutes left" strategy, but at the cost of the eyesight of everyone who watched.
The Absolute Worst Team: Indianapolis Colts
Curtis Painter had a legitimately good first half against the woeful Chiefs, but it only served to cast the Colts' wretched team performance in starker contrast. After building up a 24-7 lead, Indy looked certain to finally bag its first pelt of the season.
Then the Colts defense remembered it was the Colts defense. Matt Cassel shredded it for 257 yards and four touchdowns, while someone named Jackie Battle rolled over the defense 16 times for 6.3 yards per carry. The Colts receivers let Painter down in the second half, and they couldn't muster a single post-halftime point.
At the end of the day, the worst team in the NFL didn't get off the schneid.
The Absolute Worst Throw: Eli Manning, New York Giants
Big Blue hadn't had its best day. Embarrassingly, it was down by four in the fourth quarter to the lowly Seattle Seahawks. With just 12 ticks left on the clock, Eli Manning threw to Victor Cruz, who had been having a career day. Eli led him just a bit too far, and Cruz tipped the pass instead of hauling it in. The ball ended up in the hands of Brandon Browner, who had little but green turf and white stripes between him and the end zone.
Look, I get that it isn't Eli's fault, just like every other tipped interception isn't Eli's fault. But at some point, the blame for not delivering more catchable balls more accurately has to fall at Manning's feet. That pass was too hard and off-target; even if it "should have" bounced off the turf, it didn't.
The difference between his pass and a better pass was the difference between the Giants escaping with an ugly win and the Giants taking an inexcusable loss on a week when they could have picked up the NFC East banner and run with it.
The Absolute Worst Good Quarterback: Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
National reaction to the 49ers re-signing "Alex !#@$-ing Smith" was not kind. After all, he sucks, right? A No. 1 overall pick who compiled a 51:53 touchdown-to-interception ratio in six years as an eternal "project?"
Clearly, the man who could only beat out Shaun Hill by having the front office trade Hill wouldn't be anything but a seat warmer for head coach Jim Harbaugh's protégé, Andrew Luck.
Well, keep this under your hat, but so far Smith has completed 65 percent of his passes for 7.66 yards per attempt, seven touchdowns and just one interception.
Has he been able to lean on running backs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter to move the chains for him? Yes, heavily. Has he been helped by a nasty, ball-hawking defense that's kept him playing with a lead? Most definitely. But Alex Smith, whom most observers were ready to declare an irrevocably lost cause two months ago, is proving himself a good NFL quarterback.
The worst good quarterback, but still.
The Absolute Worst Hair: Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons
I'm not sure whether it's his pronounced widow's peak or whatever he uses to slick it down, but Mike Smith is just a suit and a bottle of Grecian Formula away from being the CEO of Oscorp. When he dons a headset, it looks like he's got three separate silver mohawks going on.
Maybe I'm biased; I have an uncle with the same follicle stylings. Whenever I see Mike Smith, I can't quit picturing him going hunting and selling used cars. It's too bad—Smith used to boast an incredibly righteous 'do.