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Cutler's Mile High reunion brings intense energy to unnatural rivalry

We'll get to everything in the league pre-8 p.m. Sunday in a minute. And there's a lot to get to. But first, there's the exhibition game that was no exhibition game. I wasn't in Denver, but I watched Bears-Broncos on TV. Or should I say, I felt it. I don't remember a preseason game that felt as much like a regular-season game in the 25 years I've been covering the sport. The hitting, the noise, the stakes, the vibrating NBC cameras. At one point Al Michaels had to shout to be heard above the din; when Josh McDaniels was being interviewed by Andrea Kremer before the game, he had to lean to her face, and she was practically shouting.

This wasn't August football against an NFC team with no rivalry history. This was a December game with the playoffs on the line. Against an archrival.

Turns out I wasn't alone in feeling that way.

"It was very, very, very, very much like a regular-season game,'' said Josh McDaniels, an hour after it ended.

"It was not like any other preseason game I've ever been involved in,'' said Chicago offensive coordinator Ron Turner from the scrum of the Bears' locker room afterward. "Not even close.''

It was a tale of two teams. Chicago, the team on the rise with the petulant franchise quarterback, Jay Cutler, who forced a trade from the Broncos. Denver, the team on the stumble that let the franchise quarterback go and dealt for Chicago's retread Kyle Orton. Chicago rising. Denver on the ropes.

On the ropes is too nice. Everything the Broncos have touched in the last five months has turned to crap. Even in the lead-up to this most interesting of practice games there was another slap in McDaniels' face: Star wide receiver Brandon Marshall had to be suspended for two weeks for insubordination, and there's no telling if this 6-year-old football player will show up more mature when the suspension ends.

As if the 27-17 home loss didn't hurt enough, Denver is faced with another bit of wonderful news: Orton suffered what appeared to be a wound to the index finger on his right (throwing) hand. That's only the most important finger to throw the football. The wound would have to heal, and the finger would have to be flexible enough to throw a football 13 days from now, in the season opener at Cincinnati. If Orton's finger can't heal in time, then backup Chris Simms would get the nod ... assuming Simms' high-ankle sprain is healed in time, and there's no telling if it will be.

Uh-oh. Now there's something new for the Broncos: Storm clouds, the kind that roll in over the Rockies many afternoons and drench the plains. I found the vanquished more interesting. From his car early this morning, McDaniels sounded a little edgy. Almost angry, but not quite. Defiant might be a better way to put it. I can see what Pat Bowlen saw in him, and still sees in him. Bowlen shows no signs of wavering on McDaniels, no matter how many things keep going maddeningly wrong, and I think the owner would have loved to have heard his coach as the nightmare of the loss sank in.

"Kyle was fine tonight,'' said McDaniels. "What was he, 12 of 16, something like that? [Exactly.] He's not our issue, and I don't believe he's going to be. He's a good player who knows what to do. He's accurate, he knows the offense, he's well-respected by the guys in the locker room. But it's hard to get into a rhythm when you have 10 penalties, six holding calls and put yourself in bad situations over and over again and it always seems like it's first-and-20.''

I mentioned to him that Cris Collinsworth made a good point on the telecast, saying he felt sorry for Orton, because Orton had nothing to do with this Cutler/Denver/McDaniels war and yet would probably be identified with it for the rest of his career.

"Well, I can tell you that certainly I don't feel sorry for Kyle Orton,'' said McDaniels, his voice rising an octave or two. "Kyle Orton is one tough son of a bitch. Kyle Orton doesn't feel sorry for himself, and no one feels sorry for him in our locker room. What he has here, both with the coaching staff and in the locker room, is a tremendous amount of respect.''

As for his own mental state after the public and private battering he's taken, the 33-year-old McDaniels sounded passionate. "I have never felt sorry, not once, for anything going on here. And certain not for myself,'' he said. "I love this game. I love this city. I love the passion of the fans. It was fantastic in that stadium tonight. And I'm blessed to have a chance to coach these players, in this city. I'm thrilled about the locker room we have and the kind of players we have. We're all in. I mean that. I was in the locker room tonight after the game, and I looked around, and I saw it. We're all in. We've got a veteran locker room with strong-minded people who care about winning and not all the BS.''

They're going to need that strength. How about this eight-game stretch, starting in Week 4: Dallas, New England, at San Diego, at Baltimore, Pittsburgh, at Washington, at San Diego, Giants (on a three-day week).

Now for the victors.

"You have to be pretty happy with what you saw from your offense, and what you saw from Cutler, tonight,'' I said to Ron Turner.

"Sure am,'' he said.

A couple of minutes before I talked to Turner from the Chicago locker room, he had gone over to Cutler (15 of 21, 144 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, one 98-yard touchdown drive that sucked all the air out of the stadium) and told him this, in paraphrase: What I learned from you tonight is you're not going to force the ball when we've got a good play called downfield but it's not open and you've got to take the checkdown. You could have been tempted to say, 'I gotta take more, I gotta take a shot downfield,' but you weren't. and if you didn't do it tonight with all the emotion in this stadium, then you're never gonna do it.

"It's funny,'' said Turner. "But this was actually a great thing for our team tonight. It was so unlike any preseason-game atmosphere. You can't manufacture the noise, the pressure, all the attention on a young quarterback trying to get to know his team. It's a great learning experience to be backed up all night and then have to take the ball 98 yards in that environment. You learn something about him, he learns about his teammates. So we couldn't have asked for a better situation than tonight, because this will help us get ready for the real adversity we'll face in big games this year. In our first preseason game, at Buffalo, we went three-and-out our first times with the ball, and I think everyone started pressing. Not tonight.''

The one thing about the Bears that's going to be tough on passing downs is the checkdowns to Matt Forte. If he gets in space, even a little bit of it, Cutler will find him when he can't throw it intermediate or deep. In this offense, especially if Cutler stays disciplined and takes what the defense gives him, Forte might catch 90 balls. He'll be Roger Craig.

In one night, Chicago learned everything it needed to know about Cutler. He withstood the storm, which good quarterbacks have to do. In brutal environments like that one, good quarterbacks just have to hold the fort and make sure they're not down 14-zip by the time the crowd is back to normal decibel level. Cutler had a couple of shaky series early, survived the gnat-like presence of Elvis Dumervil, and lived to fight more battles in the second quarter. By the time the half was over, he'd engineered a 17-3 lead.

Ask Chicago GM Jerry Angelo this morning, and he'll tell you that two first-rounders, a third- and Orton was pretty cheap for the guy he saw Sunday night.

The news of the last few days, and the coming ones:

Tedy Bruschi retires. Does anybody realize Bruschi has been around through the regimes of Bill Parcells (1996), Pete Carroll (1997-99) and Bill Belichick (2000-present)? Amazing that a battering-ram inside 'backer always battling the too-small prejudice could last that long with so many different coaches.

Bruschi made as many plays as any other defensive player in New England's three Super Bowl seasons, and it was clear he couldn't make them anymore. He told former teammate Rodney Harrison recently he was having trouble with his legs, and if he lost the ability to make plays sideline-to-sideline and in coverage, he had no chance to beat out the bevy of young linebackers Belichick had brought in over the past three or four years.

GALLERY: BIGGEST RETIREMENTS OF 2009

But what Bruschi did off the field was just as important. Just as Tom Brady was on offense, Bruschi was the defensive guy who never hesitated to get in mates' grills and tell them they had to play better, or stop screwing around off the field. His consistency, his devotion to the offseason program, even after winning multiple titles, and his comeback from the stroke were things that can't be measured in regular football terms like tackles and wins. "He reminds me of Junior Seau, from all the things he did off the field,'' Harrison said this morning. "Didn't matter how much he had accomplished, he was always trying to get better.''

That's a good legacy.

The NFL drops the ball on the Dallas video board. "Ludicrous,'' one NFL special-teams coach told me over the weekend. "What happened to the best interests of the game?''

They succumbed to beautiful sight lines at the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

The league ruled Friday that despite a punt hitting the video board 90 feet above the field in a preseason game 10 days ago, it would not authorize the board to be raised 15 or 20 feet higher to make sure it is not struck again during a game. Instead, if the board is struck again, the play will be re-played and time put back on the clock.

Mark my words: There will be a big play in a game this year affected by one of these do-overs, maybe when the Raiders or Chargers (with booming punters Mike Scifres or Shane Lechler) come to town.

"You can bet if there's a competitive advantage to be gained by hitting the board, coaches will tell their punters to try to hit the board,'' the special-teams coach said, requesting anonymity. "I can see a couple of major problems. One is if you're near midfield and ask your punter to punt one high so your coverage team can run under it. How's he going to punt one high when he knows he's got a good chance to hit the scoreboard? The second thing is, I've got cornerbacks who will play in our regular defense who might be gunners this year [pursuit men double-teamed on the outside of the formation]. How can I ask them to run down the field two or three times in a row if a punt hits the screen, then stay out to play defense? It's unfair competitively.''

I still haven't heard an intelligent reason why this ruling was made, other than the fact that this is Jerry Jones' dream stadium, and why should there have to be changes made just because one punt hit the video board? It's wrong to think it's going to be one and done. In today's game, every NFL punter can boot a ball 90 feet into the air. So it's simply delaying the inevitable to NOT raise the board to 105 feet, or some such number. They'll be sorry.

Brandon Marshall has no friends right now. There is a wide world of opinion out there, and it's hard to find one person (I haven't) who thinks Brandon Marshall, the gifted wideout for the Broncos, is doing the right thing by trying to force a trade from Denver by acting like a jerk. Columnists are ripping him, and ever his peers and former players are taking him on. "I would tell Brandon Marshall what I would tell my children: 'Grow up.' '' Cris Collinsworth said on NBC Sunday night. "The NFL can live without you, believe me.''

It's beyond me why Marshall, on the heels of yet another run-in with an oil-and-water lover back home in Georgia, thinks he'll get his way -- a trade plus a new contract -- by trying to baby his way out of town. The Broncos have been loath to consider trading him because they don't want to continue the squeaky-wheel-gets-a-trade precedent they began with Jay Cutler. I think they'd listen now, but it's dumb to think they'd get any kind of offer that would make them listen -- like a high second-round draft choice, because of the money Marshall would want in a new contract. Who's going to pay Marshall a dime if they're not sure he won't blow up again?

Tom Brady seems to be OK ... better than Matt Cassel. All the vibes from the Patriots locker room seem positive about Brady's shoulder, rammed into the ground Friday night on a legal hit by Albert Haynesworth of the Redskins, and he has 17 days from the time of the hit until the Pats' first regular-season game, against the Bills. The news, though, is sealed with a Belichickian seal.

Then there's this from Chad Ochocinco of Eyewitness News (he is a wide receiver for the Bengals in his other life). Ocho says he spoke with Brady late Friday night, after the game, and Brady told him he'd be fine. "He's cool, he good, he's a warrior, and he'll be fine,'' OchoCinco said Sunday night. "Of course!''

Cassel, meanwhile, told a friend he'd suffered a grade-two sprain of the medial collateral ligament Saturday night against Seattle. It's a two-week injury, so it's unknown if he'll face the Ravens at Baltimore in the season opener. Then again, it's probably best if he doesn't face the Ravens. Give that one to Brodie Croyle or Tyler Thigpen, then have Cassel ready to beat the Raiders in a winnable game in Week 2.

The Packers and Saints should save some of that dominance for the real games. The Saints' first unit went 225 yards in three drives for three touchdowns at Oakland. Total man-against-boys game in the unseasonable searing heat. Drew Brees might not have broken Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage record last year, but I wouldn't breathe very easy if I were Dano this morning. Brees is ridiculously unflappable and in total command of that offense, and he's going to have the kind of year fantasy owners drool over.

Regarding the Packers, their first unit has had 12 possessions this summer and hasn't punted. Sixty-six points in 12 possessions ... just sick. And the starting defense has forced six turnovers in 12 opposing possessions.

"Three games, no punts, 31 points in this game,'' said Aaron Rodgers, who's looking more like Brett Favre than Favre. "The line was great [Friday against Arizona]. I barely got touched. It was just pitch and catch out there.''

What makes Mike McCarthy happy is that a year after L'Affair Favre, Rodgers seems to have the team in his hands. "It's clearly Aaron's team,'' McCarthy said Sunday.

The NFL loses a very big fan. When the Patriots released Ben Coates a decade ago, New England Bob Kraft got a letter from the senior senator of Massachusetts -- and a former tight end at Harvard. "I'm available,'' Ted Kennedy wrote. "Anything I can do to serve the team.''

That's something he did often, write letters. Kraft got quite a few over the years, and Belichick got several too. Kraft, for a time, was close to the inner circle of the Kennedy political machine. In the late '60s, he and Tommy O'Neill (Tip's son) ran Kennedy's 1970 Senatorial campaign in Eastern Massachusetts. "We went door to door and organized precincts,'' Kraft said. "I was in my twenties. We were young, and we were scared after the assassinations [of John and Robert Kennedy], and we really wanted to see Teddy do well.''

Kraft played tennis with Kennedy at the family compound in Hyannisport and learned about his competitive side; Kennedy would put Kraft on the sunny side of the court and say, "Let's change sides every three games, not two.'' As years went on and Kraft bought the Patriots, Kennedy stayed an ardent fan. "He was the third or fourth phone call after we won those Super Bowls. First the president, then [close friend] Elton John, then Teddy.''

I asked Kraft what he wanted people to know about Kennedy. "His service to the community, his looking out for the little guy,'' Kraft said. "His family was a family of privilege, but they always used their power to help the people who needed the help the most. People used to say to him, 'You never worked a day in your life.' But I know he did. He really, really worked hard, and for the right reasons.''

*******

Five topics each with coaches I've not seen this summer ...

On the hamstring injury of Anquan Boldin: "When we came down from the elevation of Flagstaff after training camp ended, we told the players to hydrate, hydrate. And I'm not sure they all hydrated as much as they needed to. I mean, the temperature difference is huge. They say it's a dry heat down here [in Tempe], but that's a bunch of crap. It's hot. It was 110 degrees here when we practiced here the other day. So his hamstring caught a little bit. He should be fine for the opener.''

On the state of Boldin's head, and whether he'll be a Cardinal after the trading deadline: "You worry a little bit about his state of mind, quite frankly. But it's likely he's on our team for the year. I still think we're a much better team with Anquan on it.''

On the progress of his defense, rated 19th in the NFL last year: "I thought we were coming along great 'til the Packers went up and down the field on us [Friday] night. But you always run that risk when you don't gameplan and the other team does. We've got a few things we've got to get fixed this week, that's for sure.''

On whether his team is better than the one that lost the Super Bowl in the final minute: "We have to be. It's not a question of whether we can win; we know we can, but now we know what we have to do, and how we have to prepare to win. My message to the team before camp was, 'Don't think you can show up and win games.' We're a 9-7 football team that some people said was the worst team to ever make the playoffs. That's 9-7 -- one win better than mediocre. We won our division last year, but then we went in the tank. We're not a team that handles success very well. So we know we can't just show up.''

On the player on his team who America doesn't know now but will soon: "LaRod Stephens-Howling [5-7, 180-pound running back from Pitt, the seventh-round rookie]. He's like Darren Sproles. Wait 'til you see him.''

On his determination to get backup quarterback Chad Henne more playing time: "Chad's had 500 scrimmage reps, reps in team periods. He's played the most of all the quarterbacks [in training camp this summer]. I like the way he's coming. He's well ahead of where he was last year. What I have to do is a better job of finding ways to get him in games this year, even when Chad [Pennington] is healthy.''

On why athletic quarterback Pat White, the second-round pick, hasn't played the Wildcat in the preseason or in training camp: "He's busy trying to learn the offense. He's in the deep end of the pool right now -- the protections, the coverages, the routes. He's starting to get it, but I want him to learn the quarterback position before we get him involved in the Wildcat stuff.

"One of the biggest mistakes I could make right now is have him get all involved with this Wildcat stuff. If we were to get an injury at the quarterback position, then he's got to be the No. 2, and I'm a lot more concerned that he'll be ready to play quarterback than whether he can do that other stuff. And Ronnie Brown's still good at all that. Pat's not ahead of Ronnie.''

On the surprise of training camp, fourth-round receiver Brian Hartline: "I think I have a lot of jobs for him -- inside receiver, outside receiver, gunner on the punt team, punt-returner, punt rush, lead on kick-return [protection]. He's not afraid to get his hands dirty. It'd be nice if one of these receivers breaks from the pack and wins a job.''

On Jason Taylor: "Every day Jason finds something new to work on on the practice field. He is a tremendous pro. A football junkie. And he's playing very well. He's hit the quarterback five times in 50 plays so far. He's in tremendous shape -- stronger than he's ever been.''

On whether Taylor is earning a starting outside linebacker job: "Yes.''

"There's no 'Jay' in team.''-- Sign at Invesco Field Sunday night, prior to Jay Cutler's return for a preseason game between Chicago and Denver.

"I don't know that they'd be completing this many passes against air in practice. This is an embarrassment for the Raider defense.''-- Tom Flores, the former Raiders coach now doing color for Oakland preseason telecasts, on the Saints' passing game shredding the porous Raiders defense at the end of the New Orleans' third scoring drive in a 45-7 beatdown of the Raiders.

"I talked to Bill Belichick. He said whatever is the best decision for you. It's not like it's going to hurt you to go back. The same teams that want you now are going to want you later. He was talking both sides of the fence with me. Just from knowing him, he was able to talk to me like a friend, and because he's so close with coach [Urban] Meyer.''-- Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, asked who he turned to for advice when he was making his decision whether to come back for his senior year at Florida, to Pete Thamel of the New York Times.

Regular Season Team of the Decade Dept: New England and Indianapolis are in a fight to the finish for the crown of the best regular-season team of the first decade of the century. From 2000 through 2008, here are the teams with the top winning percentages:

1. New England 102-42 .7032. Indianapolis 101-43 .7013. Pittsburgh 94-49-1 .6564. Philadelphia 92-51-1 .6425. Denver 85-59 .590

Two notes: The Colts play host to Jacksonville to open the season Sept. 13, and if they win, they'd be tied for the decade lead in wins for at least 30 hours; New England doesn't play until the next night ... Green Bay (84-60), Tennessee (83-61) and Baltimore (83-61) are knocking on the door of this top-five list.

We take for granted that the 1983 first round was the best round of quarterback-drafting in NFL history. But when you draft a quarterback in the first round, you do it with the hope the passer you pick will lead your team to the promised land. Don Bankswrote a great piece Friday that I strongly recommend. His point, and the point of this chart: The 2004 first-round quarterbacks have been far more championship-successful the Class of '83 -- and the four quarterbacks from that 2004 draft are still in their 20s, polishing their games. The '83 first round versus '04 in total years played by first-round quarterbacks and Super Bowls won:

.

Roy Williams, the Dallas wide receiver, wears No. 11 for two reasons:

1. He thinks it makes him look slim.2. It's an easy number to write when giving an autograph.

You Know You Live In Boston Sign of the Times Dept: Across from each other in Terminal A at Logan International Airport are a Dunkin Donuts and a Starbucks. Last Monday at 5:55 a.m., 17 people were in line at Dunkin Donuts and two at Starbucks.

"Just got a call back from Tom Brady, says he's fine and there's nothing to worry about ... I'm the insider now.''--@OGOchoCinco, Chad Ochocinco of the Bengals, just after midnight Friday.

***

"Attention: 1st rd. Pick Andre Smith has signed, the new source = Ocho Cinco, not ESPN, thank you, stay tuned for more info.''--@OGOchoCinco, again, late Saturday night.

Alabama tackle Andre Smith signed in time to be on the practice field for the Bengals Sunday afternoon.

"I talk to everybody -- EV-REEEE-BODY -- in the league,'' Ocho told me Sunday night. "You have to understand -- I know people on every team in this league, and I talk to all of them. This is not hard for me. It's just something I do naturally.''

Ocho is aiming to set some Tweet record. He's averaging 63 Tweets a day since becoming a Twitterer on May 15. I asked him if he thought he was, well, you know, over-Tweeting, and taking too much time away from the job that pays him a lot of money. "Really, if you think about it, it keeps me out of trouble,'' Ocho said. "In this job, we have a lot of time on our hands, and after I study and do my film work, I'm Tweeting. The time when trouble might be happening with other guys, I'm Tweeting.''

But there's another motivation. He gets out his message -- as ill-versed as it sometimes is -- the way he wants the message gotten out, and, as of Sunday, 137,679 people were following him. Listening, presumably. It's not necessarily an apples-to-apples comparison, but as of June, the circulation of the Cincinnati Enquirer was 188,956. He's being heard the way he wants to be heard, and by a huge segment of Bengaldom.

1. I think these are my thoughts on Week 3 of the preseason:

a. Washington just sighed. Jason Campbell looked competent and confident against the Patriots.

b. Pittsburgh just sighed more deeply. Not only did Ben Roethlisberger play effectively in the 17-0 win over Buffalo, but also he moved in and out of the pocket apparently pain-free. Good news for a guy who worried he might have seriously hurt his foot two weeks earlier.

c. If I know Detroit coach Jim Schwartz, I'd bet he'll flip a coin at quarterback because he's confident in both Daunte Culpepper and Matthew Stafford. He wanted Stafford to win the competition this summer, but it's been a downright draw.

d. No Reggie Bush. No Pierre Thomas. New Orleans rushers at Oakland: 46 carries, 232 yards.

e. ESPN must be really excited about that San Diego-Oakland season opener two weeks from tonight. All I can say is [Mike]Greenberg and Co. better get their second-half filler material stocked up before kickoff.

f. Joe Flacco's not going to have any sophomore slump, with or without a new receiver. I talked to John Harbaugh the other night and didn't get the impression the cavalry was coming in the form of Brandon Marshall or any other receiver. And certainly not Marvin Harrison, at least not until his pricetag goes way down. If the Ravens can't trust Harrison to stay healthy for 16 weeks, they're not going to commit $3 million, or whatever his number would be.

g. I don't have a Defensive Player of the Week category in the preseason, but if I did, James Farrior would be it this week: one forced fumble, one interception returned for a touchdown, one sack. Steelers 17, Bills 0.

h. Can't imagine what Turk Schonert is thinking today. The Buffalo offensive coordinator watched Trent Edwards, Marshawn Lynch and Dominic Rhodes combine for 52 yards in seven drives. I mean, even without T.O., that's grim.

i. Just from the highlights, Brady Quinn looked less frenetic than he did a year ago against Tennessee on Saturday. My money's on Quinn over Derek Anderson to start opening day.

j. Rashied Davis, the Chicago wideout, can be a gunner for my team any day.

k. Eddie Royal's a really good player. With Brandon Marshall acting like a petulant child, I could see Royal catching 110 balls in the Denver offense.

l. Patrick Chung is a punt-returning nightmare, and I don't mean that in a good way. The Patriots need to use anybody but their second-round rookie safety back there.

m. Fred Taylor looks better than Laurence Maroney does. He certainly is surer-handed.

2. I think, if I had to guess, that Kevin O'Connell will be claimed by the Broncos. Stunning news Sunday that the Patriots cut their third-round pick of a year ago, the man I assumed would be the backup to Tom Brady. It's surprising that New England gives up on the 94th pick in the draft after just 16 months. Three quick thoughts:

a. Maybe if Josh McDaniels were still in the building, he'd have championed the cause for keeping O'Connell.

b. Scott Pioli, now the Chiefs' GM, was never afraid of going at it with Belichick if he thought the coach was making a mistake. Now there's no one in the building in Foxboro with the same juice as Pioli, so when Belichick is of the mind to cut O'Connell and no one's there asking him if he's nuts, he's more inclined to do it.

c. Maybe O'Connell just can't do it. And if that's the case, Belichick is doing the smart thing to cut the cord now and go with either Andrew Walter or someone the team will pick up or deal for in the next couple of weeks.

3. I think I haven't seen a preseason game with the energy of Chicago-Denver since ... well, maybe ever.

4. I think Donovan McNabb can't have it both ways. He can't advocate for Michael Vick to be signed, as he did, and then complain about the offense being out of rhythm, in part because of the insertion of Vick with the regular offense. McNabb had five drives with the regular offense after Vick left the game for good against Jacksonville Thursday night. Vick has to find a role in the preseason -- the Eagles didn't want to put him out there with the scrubs in the fourth quarter -- and he has but two games to do so; McNabb certainly has enough time to figure out the roles and chemistry with his young offensive players. I understand McNabb needs to feel comfortable with his guys and wants to feel right with his normal personnel groups, but Andy Reid has to shake his head about McNabb sometimes.

5. I think, speaking of the Eagles, the defense is becoming a concern. If I were coordinator Sean McDermott, I'd be a little more than concerned. Where's the pressure? Where's the red-zone defense? Can Joe Mays be an adequate replacement for Stewart Bradley (it looks like no right now)?

Philadelphia's first-team defense has been on the field for 16 drives and given up 48 points. Seeing that the average game is about 12 series per team, the Eagles' starters, in essence, have given up the game-equivalent of 36 points. And seeing that the final preseason game is fairly meaningless as far as first-teamers playing, Philadelphia will enter the season not knowing how the defense is going to play.

6. I think the most significant single play of the weekend could well have been the right-in-his-hands drop by Colts wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez late in the first half at Detroit. The Colts are trying to give Gonzalez one of two jobs -- Marvin Harrison's right wide-receiver spot, or the slot receiver job. But Peyton Manning and offensive coordinator Tom Moore are waiting for Gonzalez to raise his game and grab one of the jobs. After the Gonzalez drop, Manning threw six more passes, none to Gonzalez, and Dallas Clark was back in the slot, his comfort zone with Manning.

Manning's going to throw to players he trusts, and with Gonzalez dropping a ball like that one -- and not making enough plays otherwise in the preseason -- he could well make Manning lean on Clark and rookie Austin Collie more inside, and Pierre Garcon outside. That really solves all your fantasy problems with the Colts, doesn't it?

7. I think it's been a long time since I watched a preseason game as one-sided as the Saints-Raiders. These Raiders are god-awful. You know what I think? I think Sean Payton, who likes Al Davis and Tom Cable a lot, felt sorry for them Saturday afternoon. Drew Brees was supposed to play into the third quarter at Oakland, but he got yanked 16 minutes into the game. The three drives he played: 10 plays, 80 yards, touchdown; eight plays, 67 yards, touchdown; 11 plays, 78 yards, touchdown. And when Brees left, backup Mark Brunell put up 17 more points, and it was 38-0 by the end of the third quarter. "That was embarrassing,'' said Cable.

Watching JaMarcus Russell, I think the thing that worries me is his lack of pocket awareness. In the first quarter, he held onto the ball far too long and got strip-sacked and lost the ball. He has to have the proverbial alarm clock in his head and know when to get rid of the ball.

8. I think the two candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2010, as selected by the Seniors Committee in Canton last week, will be interesting cases on election day next February. A thumbnail on both:

a. Former Lions cornerback Dick LeBeau, by the bylaws of the Hall, can be considered as a former Lions cornerback only because he is still an active NFL coach. A player or coach must be retired for five years before being considered for the Hall, but if a player retires and becomes a coach -- as in the case of LeBeau -- he can be considered as a player only.

As a player, LeBeau was a three-time Pro Bowler in 13 seasons with the Lions. He started 171 straight games at corner, a record that still stands 37 years after he set it, and his 62 career interceptions are seventh on the NFL's all-time list.

It's going to be an interesting vote. Remember when John Madden got in three years ago? He was first eligible in 1984, and his resume (10 coaching seasons only, but very good ones, and one Super Bowl title) hadn't changed since his retirement after the 1978 season. What did change, however, is that he became the best football colorman of all time, and his video game got millions of kids into the game when otherwise they might have skipped over football and gone to Grand Theft Auto or some other thing.

Although the 44 voters weren't supposed to consider anything other than Madden's coaching career, I'm sure the "lifetime achievement award'' aspect came into play when he got voted in. Same thing with LeBeau. He'll purportedly be considered only for his playing career, but how can his invention of the Zone Blitz in 1984 and the three number one defenses in Pittsburgh over the past five years and two Super Bowl titles be ignored?

b. Denver running back Floyd Little, on the surface, falls short. He had but one 1,000-yard rushing season, ran for just 43 touchdowns, averaged 3.9 yards-per-carry in his career and rushed for 54.0 yards per game. But he had the misfortune of playing for a team that had a winning record only twice in his career. He won the rushing title in 1972 and had more rushing yards (5,185) than any other back in football from 1968 to '73. He played behind Steve Tensi, Marlin Briscoe, Steve Ramsey and Charlie Johnson.

We talk in the Hall of Fame selection room every year about not discriminating against guys on historically bad teams, which this Denver team was. I guess when I think of jobbed guys on historically bad teams, I think of Tommy Nobis, Claude Humphrey and Cortez Kennedy. I'll need to be convinced a little more on Little.

9. I think Ron Jaworski, advancing tonight's Minnesota-Houston game on ESPN, came away very impressed from watching Brett Favre throw the ball over the weekend.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. Lou Holtz, on Sirius NFL Radio the other day with Bob Papa and I, said he thought Florida and Notre Dame had the best shot of meeting for the national championship in college football. Now, Holtz is a heck of a guy, but I almost barfed when I heard that. His theory: Notre Dame has a cake schedule, and even if the Irish aren't the second-best team in the country (clearly the case), they still could finish 12-0 and earn the right to play for the title.

My point: Hasn't Notre Dame gone 10-15 over the last two years? And isn't USC still on the schedule? The team that outscored Notre Dame 76-3 over the last two years? I don't care if Southern Cal graduated every player on its first, second and third teams. To think Notre Dame is going to beat USC is a pipe dream. And to think Notre Dame is going 12-0 ... well, it's just not going to happen.

b. Saw Julie & Julia (and am not afraid to admit it). Cute movie. Would anyone argue that Meryl Streep's not the best actress on the planet? All the different roles she's mastered, the disparate roles, and never, ever does she look anything but absolutely natural in them. Who'd have thought she'd play Julia Child better than Julia Child played herself?

c. Saw Billy Wagner's first American League appearance after 15 years in the National League on Sunday at Fenway. Not bad: strikeout, double, strikeout, strikeout. When you get a guy who throws 95 with five weeks left in the season, and he doesn't have to close, it's a pretty big bonus for your team.

d. I hate that Tampa Bay traded Scott Kazmir to the Angels. It's bad for baseball. The Rays were one of the feel-good stories of any baseball season last year, and to think they're going to start to get ripped apart because of finances -- in the middle of a pennant race -- is a crime.

e. Coffeenerdness: I continue to be amazed at the lack of attention paid to coffee at hotels and restaurants. Do the people who run these hotels -- these Marriotts, these Days Inns, these Comfort Inns -- even taste the coffee they put out? This is not snobbery, but reality: Most of American coffee is swill.

f. That Herman Edwards Coors commercial was funny the first 11 times. Pretty sad it's already played out, and this is only the preseason.

g. The last few days were pretty emotional around our new home in Boston, with the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy. I stood in the North End with hundreds of locals watching the motorcade go by, and a crying Caroline waving to the crowds. Touching, touching stuff. I just moved here, and I was captivated by it. And if you missed the story that his son, Ted Jr., told at the funeral Saturday, you've got to hear it. It's a fitting way to end the column.

Said Ted Jr.: "When I was 12 years old I was diagnosed with bone cancer and a few months after I lost my leg, there was a heavy snowfall over my childhood home outside of Washington, D.C. My father went to the garage to get the old Flexible Flyer and asked me if I wanted to go sledding down the steep driveway. I was trying to get used to my new artificial leg and the hill was covered with ice and snow and it wasn't easy for me to walk ... As I struggled to walk, I slipped and I fell on the ice and I started to cry and I said, 'I can't do this.' I said, 'I'll never be able to climb that hill.' And he lifted me in his strong, gentle arms and said something I'll never forget. He said, 'I know you'll do it. There is nothing you can't do. We're going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day.'

"Sure enough, he held me around my waist and we slowly made it to the top, and, you know, at age 12, losing a leg pretty much seems like the end of the world, but as I climbed onto his back and we flew down the hill that day I knew he was right. I knew I was going to be OK. You see, my father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable.''

Now that you've got your pro football fix, click here to satisfy your college craving with Stewart Mandel's Overtime column.

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