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Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Columnist
Tuesday, December 18, 2007; 11:00 AM

The Post's Mark Maske was online Tuesday, Dec. 18 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the death of Sean Taylor and the latest news from around the NFL.

A transcript follows.

Mark writes the NFL Insider blog, and is the author of the new book War Without Death: A Year of Extreme Competition in Pro Football's NFC East.

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Mark Maske: Hello, everyone. Let's get right to it.

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Baltimore: Now that we have just two weeks left in the season, who do you think are the top three head coaches most likely to get fired? Please, please, please include Billick!

Thanks.

Mark Maske: Yeah, I probably would have to put Billick on that list at this point, along with John Fox in Carolina and Mike Nolan in San Francisco. Losing to the Dolphins was the biggest embarrassment of all for the Ravens in a season full of embarrassments. But I don't think there's anyone out there who's a lock to be fired, including Billick. And there probably will be one or two coaches fired that we didn't expect. I mean, who expected Bobby Petrino to leave the Falcons like that?

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Clipped Wings: Can the Seahawks right what is wrong?

I never saw a 13-10 loss to Carolina coming.

Mark Maske: I didn't see that one coming either. I thought they'd gotten things straightened out and were beginning to play like the team that I'd expected them to be all season. They're just maddeningly inconsistent. They're certainly talented enough to beat the Cowboys or Packers, even on the road, in the playoffs. But they're also capable of losing their first-round game. So I guess the answer to your question is, I have no idea if they can fix it.

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Charles Town, W.V.: That blunder made by Gibbs on those two consecutive timeouts, does that apply only to field goal attempts or is this an unsportsmanlike penalty anytime during the game for this same two timeouts. Thanks for your answer.

Mark Maske: It applies to kicking situations only, as I understand it.

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Ann Arbor, MI: Isn't William Clay Ford, Jr., owner of the Detroit Lions, looking pretty smart right about now? He had the foresight to lock up Matt Millen with a 5-year contract extension a couple of seasons ago. There were probably a dozen teams that would love to have a GM like Millen. He's managed accumulate a .272 winning percentage in almost seven seasons. Since his draft strategy of going after wide receivers with the first-round pick has been so successful the past three years, do you think he'll use all of his picks this year on wide receivers?

Mark Maske: I see the good feelings about the Lions when they were 6-2 have pretty much dissipated at this point.

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Houston: Two years ago, I was upset by all of the loudmouths on ESPN, etc who ridiculed the Texans for drafting Mario Williams over Reggie Bush. Mind you, even if Bush was all that, the Texans were still a few years away from contending for a wild card spot. And, the Texans were very weak in the trenches, having been humiliated the years before by both KC and Seattle in terms of stopping the run. The Texans did the right thing with foresight. This isn't an "I told you so" as much as it is a request of people who like to run their mouths on TV to think about what they are saying. Not only did the derision hurt the fans, it hurt Mario Williams, who by all accounts is a fine young man as well as football player. Thanks for the soapbox, Mark.

Mark Maske: You can include me in your tirade. I thought at the time it was the wrong pick. At this point, you'd have to say it was a good pick. Maybe in the long run, it will turn out that taking Vince Young would have been the better move. But Mario Williams has become one of the best pass rushers in the league already, so you certainly can't call it a bad choice.

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Boston: Walpole, Mass., native Todd Collins, didn't do his boyhood Patriots team any favors with the Redskins win over the Giants last week. Will the Patriots go undefeated in the regular season if they have to play a Giants team fighting for its playoff life in the last game of the year? I have seen Brady throw effectively in cold, rain and snow (hello Oakland) but is 20-30 MPH swirling wind his kryptonite (and that of every NFL quarterback)?

Mark Maske: That is a game the Patriots certainly can lose if the weather conditions affect their passing game. The Patriots obviously struggled with the Jets in wet, windy, slushy conditions Sunday, and the Giants are a far more dangerous team than the Jets are.

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Arlington, Va.: The Steelers need to win out over the Rams and Ravens to secure the division. Can they do it?

Mark Maske: You would think those are two teams they should beat. But they aren't playing their best football right now, and they have played down to the level of bad opponents at times this season. Still, I would say they go 2-0 in those games if I had to guess.

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Arlington, Va.: Re: Bryant Westbrook taking a knee. I'm old enough to remember when the Redskins missed the playoffs due to the point-differential tiebreaker, so his taking a knee freaks me out a bit. Obviously, that's not an issue for the Eagles, but wasn't Westbrook essentially saying that he didn't trust the Eagles' defense to hold an eleven-point lead with less than two minutes left?

Mark Maske: I had the very same thought when I saw it. You would have a very, very hard time losing that game with a 17-6 lead at that point. The chances of the Eagles fumbling the snap on a kneel-down and losing that way were probably about the same.

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Mt. Vernon, Va.: Would any team other than the Detroit Lions tolerate a 6-2 team collapsing to 6-8, without any significant injuries? What are the chances of Mr. Teflon, Matt Millen, finally paying a price for the inept management of this team?

Mark Maske: Even when they were 6-2, I looked at their second-half schedule and thought to myself they have a chance to finish 1-7. If they go 7-9, obviously it would be a major letdown because of the way they started but you have to take a step back, look at the bigger picture and say there was some progress made.

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Billick not a Lock?: What would he need to do to be a lock to be fired?

He came to Baltimore as an offensive genius yet he still hasn't developed a starting quarterback.

The defensive players are on the verge of a revolt.

The Ravens lost to the Pats in part because of his horrible decisions.

How do I get this job security?

Mark Maske: The Ravens were one of the best teams in the league last season. I know that feels like a long time ago now and so, so many things have fallen apart this season, but I don't think firing him is automatic. Possible, but not automatic.

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Avon Park, Fla.: What NFL coaches are in the most trouble of losing their jobs at year's end?

Mark Maske: As I said before, I think you'd have to top the list with Billick, Nolan and Fox. One win might have been enough to save Cam Cameron's job in Miami. If the Giants fall apart, you add Tom Coughlin to the list. It's looking like Scott Linehan in St. Louis and Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati will stay. We'll see if any more coaches leave on their own, and I'm sure there will be a surprise or two. There usually is.

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Westbrook's Knee: I think that the reason why people are lauding Westbrook is that winning by 1 is just as much a win as winning by 20. Part of the reason to take is knee is not just to protect the lead, but not to show up your opponents with an unnecessary score. He did what he needed to do to win and nothing more. That, to me, is what sportsmanship is and seems to be lost from the conversation anymore.

Mark Maske: I don't think that was the case here. It's not like the Eagles were already 40 points ahead. That wasn't going to be rubbing it in. And if they were 40 points ahead, wouldn't it be rubbing it in more to fall down at the 1-yard line?

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Downtown: Mark,

It seems this year that we are hearing a constant refrain from the talking heads (with all due respect) that the NFC is "terrible." Are things really that bad in the NFC compared to previous seasons? Granted, we have seen a lot of sloppy football recently (last night's game was awful) but could it just be that our expectations have risen due to sensational teams? Or that the margin for error is so small in today's game that mistakes are amplified?

Mark Maske: The gap has certainly been narrowed this season. Clearly the Patriots are the best team in the league. I still think the Colts, when healthy, are the second-best team in the league. But there's no telling if they'll get back to that level even during the playoffs. You'd have to say that, right now, the Cowboys and Packers are the equal of the Colts, and from there down the level of play in the two conferences is comparable.

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One win might have been enough to save Cam Cameron's job: He may also be saved by the fact that the Dolphins have had extremely bad luck with the injury situation. And most of their games have been close.

Mark Maske: Even with all of that, I think 0-16 could have meant one-and-done for him. Now that he's won a game, I think he stays.

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That is a game the Patriots certainly can lose if the weather conditions affect their passing game.: Well, the weather conditions will also affect the Giants passing game. And we saw in the Redskins game that the Giants and wind do not equal a good team.

Mark Maske: True, but it just serves to level the playing field a bit. In good weather conditions, the Patriots would be clearly superior to the Giants.

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San Diego: The odds of the Redskins getting lucky and winning a wild card berth seem extremely unlikely to me, much as a miracle finish would thrill me.

But looking down the road to next year--does Jason Campbell develop as hoped? Do they fill the huge hole left by the death of a Sean Taylor? Does a fragile Clinton Portis become the runner everyone hoped he would be?

Rhetorical questions, but it's hard to get one's hopes up.

Somehow the Redskins don't seem to have that magic touch (like the Chargers here locally do--lttle Darren Sproles running for over 100 yards along with LT? The trade for Chambers, etc.). Ex-Redskins coach Norv Turner could still screw things up here, but we'll see.

I know anything can happen, but from a distance here, the Redskins remind me of (gasp) the Orioles--only mediocrity on the horizon.

Mark Maske: I don't know that I agree. Any time you have a promising young quarterback who seems to be developing as Campbell is, you have some very good possibilities in your future.

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Washington, D.C.: Vikings looked beatable last night, except for the horrid Bears offense couldn't produce any points. No Rocky, ST...Skins chances?

Mark Maske: I think the Redskins have a very good chance. It all comes down to slowing down the Vikings' running game a little bit and forcing them to throw the ball to beat you. I do think Collins will play far better than he did in Giants Stadium and the Redskins should be able to do some things on offense.

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Frederick, Md.: Would you like to rephrase your answer about the Giants being more "dangerous." I think Eli is dangerous to his own team, not to mention Jacobs for about 6 drops.

Mark Maske: No, I won't rephrase. That's still a nine-win team. There are plenty of other teams that would like to have nine wins right now.

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RE: Mario Williams: I expressed my feelings on this in your NFL Insider blog on this topic, but I stand by my criticism of how Casserly handled the Mario Williams pick.

I don't criticize the fact that he took him, but he easily could have traded down just a few spots, acquired more draft picks, and STILL taken M. Williams after Bush and Young were off the board.

I think that was where the error was, not in the selection itself, but in the missed opportunity to have their cake and eat it too which is a rareity in the parity driven NFL.

Mark Maske: It's a somewhat valid point, but it is difficult to trade down like that early in the draft. The teams below you aren't eager to trade up because the contract of the player they take is determined by his draft slot. So the Texans might have wanted to do that but couldn't.

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New York: What do you think of the homer nonsense emanating out of Dallas today re: Roy Williams' suspension? The Cowboys, and the local paper, suggest Williams could not simply wrap up McNabb's legs instead of reaching up and "horse-collar"-ing him.

Mark Maske: I don't buy that, no. That type of tackle was banned. Roy Williams was fined for it twice earlier this season and warned by the league that another violation could bring a more severe penalty. Most of the other defensive players in the league seem to find other ways to tackle people.

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NYC: First of all, props to you for your early season prediction the surprising Lions would falter and miss the playoffs. Well done. Second, Roy Williams and the horse-collar -- it's a very scary thing to watch on TV. Is it as bad on the legs and knees as it looks?

Mark Maske: Yes, it clearly is. There is a long list of injuries that he has caused tackling people that way, including the one that kept Terrell Owens out of the NFC playoffs when he was with the Eagles. Donovan McNabb is very fortunate that he didn't get hurt on that play Sunday.

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Jags Elite Status: Did the Jags victory in Pittsburgh make them the number one threat to New England?

When you out-Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, I have to feel New England noticed.

Mark Maske: I still consider the Colts the number one threat. They're the one team that I feel like has any chance to go into New England and win a game that's not a fluke or a pure weather-dictated game. I think the Jaguars would need a big assist from the weather conditions to have a chance to go to Foxborough and win a playoff game.

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Boston: In regards to Roy Williams he also got away with a horse collar tackle earlier in the season against the Patriots that resulted in Sammy Morris being out for the season. He got away with it that time. It's good to see that the league is really taking him to task about his repeatedly doing this.

Mark Maske: He hasn't gotten away with too many of them lately. He was fined twice earlier this season, and now he's been suspended.

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RE: "You'd have to say that, right now...: the Cowboys and Packers are the equal of the Colts, and from there down the level of play in the two conferences is comparable."

And the Jaguars?

Mark Maske: I would say the Jaguars and Chargers are slightly better than the next-best NFC teams, the Seahawks and Buccaneers, but not so much better that you'd say the AFC remains as dominant as it's been in recent years.

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New York, N.Y.: I read this morning where Gibbs left open the possibility of a contract extension. My how things change in just a few weeks. Is there any validity to this? Has Synder made any statements?

Mark Maske: I have always thought, and continue to think, that Joe Gibbs can stay and coach the Redskins as long as he wishes. Dan Snyder will not fire him or push him out the door in any way. It is, to me, purely a decision by Gibbs about how much longer he wants to coach. If this season ends with the Redskins playing relatively good football, I would think Gibbs would have a tough time walking away, both from a football standpoint and an emotional standpoint after what he and his players have been through this season.

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Anonymous: What do you think is more likely to happen:

the Giants losing out or the Saints losing one game?

Mark Maske: The Giants play in Buffalo this weekend and then close at home against the Patriots. Certainly, you'd have to say 0-2 is possible, but I'm guessing they find a way to win one. The Saints have the Eagles at home and the Bears on the road. That looks like 2-0 to me, but it's certainly not a lock 2-0.

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NYC: The Jets have a very nice secondary, really -- it's the strength of their team. I'm not surprised the Pats didn't blow them out.

Mark Maske: The conditions simply didn't allow for a run-up-the-score kind of game. I'm still thinking the Patriots would have won by a very significant margin in better weather.

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Mark Maske: I'm going to run, folks. Thanks for the questions and see you back here soon. Happy holidays to all.

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