First came Jay Gruden. Then came Ron Rivera.
The Panthers were the second team of the 2019 season to fire their head coach after dismissing Rivera in Charlotte. He leaves behind one NFC Championship and zero back-to-back winning campaigns in 8.75 seasons. Now Carolina will trudge to Week 17 without him while figuring out what comes next and whether Cam Newton will be a part of that future.
That gives the Panthers a head start on their fellow franchises that’ll spend January worrying about search committees instead of playoff games. Early 2020 will bear witness to a changing of the guard across NFL sidelines, and this year’s firings could claim some long-tenured coaches — including one who stuck around even longer than Rivera did.
So who screwed up their employment prospects the most last week? Let’s take a look, with one honorable mention. Matt Patricia, head coach of the 3-8-1 Lions, nearly overcame the Bears’ defense while starting an undrafted rookie third-string quarterback on Thanksgiving. He’s still on notice, but he escapes the top five after Week 13 ... for now.
5. Doug Pederson, Eagles
Losing to the Dolphins in 2019 is one thing. Trying to explain it away by suggesting they’re a “good team” is another.
Sunday’s loss to lowly Miami kept the Eagles from tying the Cowboys atop the NFC East with identical 6-6 records. Philadelphia held a 28-14 third-quarter lead and a 94.2 percent win probability, but somehow still managed to lose to the best trick play of 2019 and a ludicrous display of FitzMagic. That collapse may not have been possible without Pederson’s curious decision to abandon the run after taking a two-touchdown lead.
Under Doug Pederson, #Eagles now 9-12 when they throw for 275-plus yards. Still, 21-2 when they run for 120-plus. Today, they had 92 yards rushing, 4.8 per carry. Only ran 3 times after taking 28-14 lead.— Rob Maaddi (@RobMaaddi) December 1, 2019
Now his team is two games under .500, will have to win out just to match its 2018 final record, and has been somehow unable to catch a Dallas team intent on handing over the division title.
What’s holding the Eagles back? Carson Wentz’s sudden regression has certainly played a role. The newly extended quarterback is playing his worst football since 2016, when he was just a transitioning FCS passer working to adjust to NFL defenses. Despite drawing a mass of 2019 MVP bets this preseason, the Philadelphia passer has failed to crack the league’s top 20 QBs when it comes to:
- completion rate (62.4)
- yards per attempt (6.5)
- and passing yards per game (236.7)
He also ranks 18th among qualified starters in passer rating (90.0, down from 102.0 the past two seasons). Injuries across his cabal of receivers have hurt, but Wentz has generally been a significantly less efficient passer in 2019.
Will Pederson be fired two years after winning a Super Bowl and one season after a 1-1 postseason run? Almost certainly not! But this shocking inability to find any kind of consistency in 2019 will likely cost him several members of his current crop of assistants. Those moves will serve as the franchise’s official warning to its head coach. The only way he can avoid a handful of January firings among his staff is to find a way to chase down the continually stumbling Cowboys in the race for the NFC East title.
4. Adam Gase, Jets
Can one loss undo the goodwill generated by a three-game winning streak? It can if it comes against the 0-11 Bengals.
Gase’s Jets had improved to 4-7 and kept the slimmest of playoff hopes alive in the aftermath of team owner Christopher Johnson’s declaration the head coach would see a second year at the helm in 2020. New York scored exactly 34 points in each of the three games that followed, washing away the taste of a bad loss to a previously winless Dolphins team in Week 9 and raising the team’s ceiling for 2019 and beyond.
Then the Bengals came along and made sure New York’s budding hope just made for a longer drop into despair — becoming the second winless team to break a 7+ game losing streak against the Jets.
Gase’s offense went up against a defense that had given up nearly 29 points per game over the first 10 weeks of the season and walked away with only a pair of field goals. A Cincinnati pass rush that had averaged 1.5 sacks per game before Sunday got to Sam Darnold four times, hit him on five more dropbacks, and induced a safety by drawing a holding penalty in the end zone. No Jet aside from Robby Anderson gained more than 12 yards on a single play.
This is all very bad for a head coach hired because of his background as an offensive innovator, even if that planning failed to pan out the previous three years in Miami. Gase will get another year to see his rebuild through in northern New Jersey. The question he’ll have to answer over the final four weeks of the season is whether he deserves to.
3. Jason Garrett, Cowboys
Pederson’s inability to step up and beat openly tanking teams kept Dallas alone at the top of the division in a week when it was stomped out at home by the surging Bills. The Cowboys’ passing defense fell victim to the greatest passing game of Josh Allen’s career in a 26-15 Thanksgiving Day loss, dropping them to 6-6 overall and 3-6 over their last nine games.
No team in the league has gained more yards than Dallas. The defense ranks eighth in both points and yards allowed. Despite this, the Cowboys have yet to beat a team with a winning record in 2019. Of the five teams they’ve beaten, four — the Giants, Washington, Dolphins, and Lions — are slated for top-six picks in next year’s draft. Dallas has been the beneficiary of an extremely soft schedule and is still barely clinging to a non-losing record through 13 weeks.
That all comes down to coaching. It has not gone unnoticed. Owner Jerry Jones’ once-unwavering support for Garrett has devolved into some extremely non-specific hints about the 10th-year head coach’s future.
Jerry Jones on @1053thefan: “Nobody has the exclusive skills to get the job done so that collectively you can win a Super Bowl. But there are qualified people. Jason Garrett is one of them. In my opinion, Jason Garrett will be coaching in the NFL next year.”— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) December 3, 2019
The next three weeks, with games against the Bears, Eagles, and Rams, will decide the Cowboys’ postseason fate and Garrett’s future. If Dallas can get to at least nine wins, hold off Philadelphia for a divisional crown, and win at least one playoff game, then the coach is safe. Anything less could be the final straw for Jones, who has given Garrett a loaded roster and plenty of patience but doesn’t even have a trip to the NFC title game to show for it.
Ron Rivera, Panthers
Oh, right. Well then.
2. Doug Marrone, Jaguars
Another week, another Jaguars game that was over by halftime. Marrone’s team fell to 0-4 in games started by Nick Foles this fall, disintegrating into a fine mist against the Buccaneers in Week 13. Jacksonville fell into a 25-0 hole thanks, primarily, to three straight Foles turnovers that all led to Tampa Bay touchdowns.
After that, the Jags threw Gardner Minshew back into the lineup for the second half, where he was uninspiring (a 71.1 passer rating) but still better than Foles (41.7). Now the veteran head coach’s future is in the rookie quarterback’s hands. Marrone named Minshew his starter for Week 14’s game against the Chargers, hoping the man who sparked his own aviator-wearing, jean-shorted mania can provide the proof Jacksonville can still change for the better with its current makeup.
Minshew lit the league up in his first few weeks as an overperforming sixth-round pick, but has cooled off as opponents have had a chance to pore through his NFL game tape.
Gardner Minshew’s hot start vs. his last three appearances
|Gardner Minshew||Cmp%||Yds||Adj. yds/att||TD||Int||Rate||Sk||Fmb|
|Gardner Minshew||Cmp%||Yds||Adj. yds/att||TD||Int||Rate||Sk||Fmb|
|First 7 games||61.5||242.4||8||10||2||95.7||2.3||8|
|Last 3 games||60.9||245||6.3||4||3||81.4||2.3||4|
At 4-8, even a return to peak form would likely be unable to salvage the Jaguars’ season, which would be Marrone’s second consecutive losing year after guiding the club to the AFC title game in 2017. Given his offensive ineptitude and sudden defensive regression — Jacksonville’s gone from fourth in points allowed last season to 22nd this year — Marrone’s Jags appear to have hit their ceiling.
That should be enough to convince owner Shad Kahn to make a change in leadership this January. NFL Network Mike Garofalo says it’s “likely” that Marrone will be served his termination papers once the season ends.
1. Pat Shurmur, Giants
Rivera is gone. Shurmur could be next. Over the weekend, he watched the one asset who could save his job fall apart against a defense that used it as a rebound game.
Daniel Jones squared off with a Green Bay team that had either allowed 400+ yards or failed to generate a turnover in each of its last three games. On Sunday, it forced Jones into three awful interceptions and limited New York to only 335 total yards in a 31-13 win. The loss dropped the Giants to 2-10 and put them in strong contention for the No. 1 pick.
Through 11 games, Jones now has:
- 11 interceptions
- 15 fumbles
- 10 fumbles lost
That’s bad for Jones, but it’s worse for Shurmur. The veteran assistant and former Browns head coach rebuilt his reputation by coaxing career-best years from Sam Bradford and Case Keenum with the Vikings in 2016 and 2017. That wisdom was supposed to help New York transition into its post-Eli Manning phase. While Jones has shown flashes of brilliance (two different four-touchdown games as a rookie), he’s made far too many mistakes (dumb ones, too!) to look like a reliable foundational cornerstone.
Jones’ issues could be explained away as rookie gaffes behind one of the league’s worst offensive lines, but they could also be setting the bad habits in place that could permanently derail his growth. The Giants need someone who can nurture the former Duke star’s good traits while phasing out the poor ones — something of which Shurmur seems incapable.
That’s as much of an argument for the team making a change at the top of its leadership pyramid as its 2-10 record. Even if Jones straightens out for the final four weeks of the season, it may not be enough to salvage Shurmur’s job.