1. Raheem Morris, Buccaneers coach. He has become a weekly contestant in the “Falling’’ category of Stock Watch. That’s only because his stock has continued to fall every week for about the past month. How much lower can it go? Well, think about this: The Bucs play Jacksonville on Sunday. You put together back-to-back losses to the Panthers and Jaguars and that’s as bad as it gets. The defense, which Morris coordinates, is a mess. Weird things keep happening around One Buccaneer Place (see Morris, cursing and ripping on defensive tackle Brian Price in the latest episode). This is really starting to look like the final bizarre days of Sam Wyche all over again. I’m just hoping Morris doesn’t do what Wyche did and go on a 45-minute diatribe/meltdown on Christmas Eve.
2. Julio Jones, Falcons receiver. When he has been healthy, the rookie receiver has had a pretty good season. But Jones played like a rookie Sunday. He dropped two passes and was called for a couple of costly penalties.
3. Mike Mularkey, Falcons offensive coordinator. Atlanta came out very aggressively, throwing a couple of quick deep passes against Houston. That didn’t work. Didn’t the Falcons learn anything early in the year when they were trying to force things downfield? Their offensive line isn’t really good enough to block for the deep ball, unless Michael Turner and the running game have softened up a defense first. If the Falcons somehow don’t make the playoffs or have an early exit, there’s probably going to be a scapegoat because expectations were so high at the start of the season. Mularkey’s looking like the leader in the scapegoat clubhouse.
1. Ron Rivera, Panthers coach. Carolina has won two in a row, which is more significant than it sounds. In my newspaper days, I covered two dramatic turnarounds. I saw Tony Dungy take over a bad Tampa Bay team in 1996 and put it in the playoffs the next season. I saw John Fox take over a terrible Carolina team in 2002 and put it in the Super Bowl the next season. Each of those teams showed some progress and built momentum at the end of the first season that clearly was a stepping-stone to success the next year. What Rivera is doing looks an awful lot like what Dungy and Fox did at the end of their first seasons.
2. Robert Meachem, Saints receiver. About as quietly as you can put up 119 receiving yards and one touchdown, Meachem did that in Sunday night’s victory against Detroit. It’s easy to get lost in a receiving corps that also includes Lance Moore, Marques Colston and Devery Henderson, and don’t forget tight end Jimmy Graham and the running back trio of Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram. People always say Drew Brees makes everyone around him look better, and that’s got a lot of truth to it. But Brees also benefits from working with an amazing collection of talent -- and Meachem is part of that collection.
3. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons tight end. On a day when not much went right for the Falcons, Gonzalez put up 100 yards on seven catches. This guy is amazing. There were times last season when I thought Gonzalez was near the end of the road. If you threw him a 7-yard pass, he’d give you 7 yards. This season, Gonzalez looks faster and is making some things happen after the catch.