September 22, 2013

Too many drops lead to receivers being tossed aside

All around the NFL, quarterbacks are finding their targets aren't always the good-hands people.

By BARRY WILNER / The Associated Press

Oops.

Dez Bryant
click image to enlarge

The Associated Press Dallas receiver Dez Bryant caught nine passes last week, but a couple drops, including this one with Sean Smith defending, might have cost the Cowboys the game.

The Associated Press

For all the prolific passing stats just two weeks into the season, something else about the aerial game leaps out. All those drops.

Amid the 400-yard passing performances, outrageous receiving totals and end zones filled with TD catches, there have been 118 dropped passes, according to STATS LLC.

Since it's not an official statistic, the NFL doesn't track drops but coaches sure do. That means Bill Belichick and Jim Schwartz must be livid over the bobbles. New England and Detroit each have eight, with Patriots rookie Aaron Dobson tied for the league lead with four. Surprisingly, the usually reliable Eric Decker of Denver also has four.

Tom Brady was particularly demonstrative in the Patriots' 13-10 win in the rain last week against the Jets. New York played some solid defense, but among Brady's receivers only Julian Edelman had sticky fingers. The others acted as if they were allergic to the ball.

"Well, it goes both ways," Brady said. "It's them trusting me that I'm going to put the ball in position for them to catch it and not get hit, so that they can do things full speed and not worry about if I'm throwing them into something. It's just a lot of work. It's just a lot of repetition. It's a lot of communication."

But even if all that works, they still have to catch the ball.

They're not doing it often enough for the Giants or Broncos -- they have seven drops apiece. St. Louis, Cleveland, Baltimore and the Jets have six each.

Of course, not all drops are damaging. Some can even be advantageous, as demonstrated by Buffalo's Fred Jackson in the Bills' comeback over Carolina.

With a first down at the Carolina 46 with 47 seconds remaining, Jackson intentionally dropped EJ Manuel's short pass with linebacker Thomas Davis almost on top of him.

"It was one of those things where I caught it and I turned around, and he was right there. I had to get rid of it," Jackson said. "It was just one of those things I thought at the time, 'If I get tackled, the clock's going to keep running and it's going to eat up some valuable time for us.' "

The heads-up play saved enough time that the Bills were able to work the ball downfield and score on a touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson with 2 seconds remaining. A reversal of fortune for Johnson whose drop the previous week was critical in a loss to New England.

Plenty of star receivers have gotten a case of the dropsies in just two weeks of play: Dez Bryant, Wes Welker, A.J. Green, Antonio Gates and Dallas Clark each have a pair.

Bryant had a huge one despite his big numbers in a 17-16 loss against the Chiefs: nine catches for 141 yards and a touchdown.

A struggling Tony Romo made one of his few good throws in the second half. Bryant was behind the defense for what would have been about a 30-yard gain. But he forgot about the ball.

Dallas ended up punting from deep in its end, and field position was a problem the rest of the game.

"Beat the guy and then beat us with the football. That's what I did," Bryant said.

The Rams had, by an unofficial count, six in their 31-24 loss at Atlanta, enough to make the difference. One of them, by running back Daryl Richardson, was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Osi Umenyiora to put the Falcons up 21-0 in the first half.

On Robert Griffin III's only interception in a loss at Green Bay, the ball went through Joshua Morgan's hands.

Early in their 33-30 loss to San Diego, the Eagles' tight end James Casey trapped a 2-yard pass that would have been a touchdown. They settled for a field goal.

Just as bad: DeSean Jackson's only drop this season was on a deep ball from Michael Vick that would have gone for TD.

Considering how demonstrative receivers tend to be when they score, maybe they should do penance for bobbling. Maybe Belichick and Schwartz will force them to tote a football everywhere they go as a reminder that drops can quickly lead to unemployment.

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