Four weeks into 2009 season, some NFL truths beginning to emerge
NEW YORK -- So we're a quarter of the way through the season, except for those four luckless teams that had the dumb Week 4 byes. Here are your 2009 NFL verities:
Reese, the Giants' GM, made two good decisions in the offseason. He fortified the defensive line beyond what seemed to be smart, going seven strong players deep. "So early in camp, when we lost [defensive tackle]
But that's the thing -- in the NFL, you never have a full complement of players. Or very rarely. That's why Reese built, in my opinion, the best 53-man roster in the league, and
On offense, Reese eschewed dealing for a veteran receiver like
At the time, he really wanted to hire
"So I had a couple of beers in me,'' Payton told me over the weekend, "and I start thinking, 'I make enough money. We really need this guy. I'm going to offer some of my own money to try to make this happen.' So the next day, I walk into [general manager]
One other thing: Payton knew it was important to Williams that he work with his son,
So what have the Saints got for their money? Last year, New Orleans was 26th in the league in scoring defense. This year, it's seventh.
Whether Denver's a championship team or not -- and allowing an insane 6.5 points per game through four weeks suggests they'll battle San Diego for the AFC West title -- there's one thing you have to love about the Broncos: They've got a Patriot way (what a coincidence!) of tuning out the outside crappola and focusing on the only thing that matters -- the next play. They tuned out the
Now let's do a mini-analysis of the biggest decision of the off-season, Denver dealing Cutler for two first-rounders and
On offense, the kneejerk reaction is to change quarterbacks (
One of the keys to Minnesota-Green Bay, obviously, is the Vikings sticking to the type of football they've played in their 3-0 start. Minnesota's on a 54-46 run-pass ratio, and why not? The Vikings are averaging 4.8 yards per rush, and
I asked veteran Packers outside 'backer
"You also see the difference
That's the big thing Green Bay's nascent 3-4 defense will have to deal with. Who's going to hit the home run on a given play? You can't take away the Favre drama tonight in Minneapolis, but the football's going to be really exciting.
My first reaction: Wow. My second reaction: How true could that have been, with Tillman having a year remaining on his three-year commitment to the Army?
"There's real validity to it,'' said his former coach with the Cardinals,
Apparently there was. Since Tillman's death by friendly fire in Afghanistan on April 21, 2004, the story has been that he was destined to do other things after his military commitment. Tillman was sort of a Renaissance man, and friends say he wanted to do many things with his life other than play football.
You'll recall Tillman, an Arizona Cardinals safety, spurned a $3.6 million NFL offer to enlist in the Army in May 2002. He went to Ranger School, then was deployed to Iraq in March 2003. Soon after returning to Fort Lewis in Washington from that deployment, Tillman visited his old coach, McGinnis, on Dec. 20, 2003, in the Arizona team hotel the night before the Cards played Seattle. And he spoke to Seattle GM
Ferguson, now a scout with the Colts, told me, "Pat actually called me. He was just back from his first deployment, and he definitely wanted to play football. I told him, 'Pat, you know you'll always have a job with me, wherever I am.''
Tillman thought about it. He'd have had to seek a release from the Army one year before his scheduled date in May 2005. But he called Bauer four days later, said he decided not to seek an early out, even though he'd become disillusioned with the country's intent in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Instead, he asked Bauer when he'd be needed for NFL free agency in 2005. Bauer told him early in 2005, soon after the Super Bowl. That was fine with Tillman.
"Pat said, 'I'll just serve out this next tour in Afghanistan, come back, get [assigned to a base] back here, where I'll be able to get a cake job, and work out and train so I'll be in the right shape when free agency comes around,' '' Bauer recalled Tillman telling him.
"That was the last conversation we ever had," Bauer said.
Ferguson said he thought Tillman could have had a
"At the very least,'' said McGinnis, "I think he'd have come back and been the best special teams player in football, and the best leader. I remember when he came to our team meal before we played Seattle that weekend [in 2003], he just walked into the room and there was silence. The room was stunned. Everyone on that team respected him so much -- and you'd have seen that respect if he went and played again.
"When I asked [Pat] what he planned to do? -- in what turned out to be our last conversation -- he said to me, 'Mac, when I get out, I'm still gonna be young enough to come back and play. I'm playing.' ''
In the last conversation Tillman had with Bauer, he told his agent, "You won't believe the letter I got from
"In the letter,'' Bauer told me, "Belichick said, 'If you ever need a job when you get out of the Army, give me a call.' ''
So what would have happened if Tillman hadn't been killed? He'd have been 28 at the time of his scheduled discharge. McGinnis was fired by the Cardinals after the 2003 season, and Ferguson canned after the 2004 season in Seattle. Imagine Tillman being on the free-agent market in 2005. St. Louis pushed hard for him in 2002, before he enlisted, and likely would have been involved.
I don't know what team would have signed him. But the Patriots, even with
"What's it gonna be next week? Two-hand touch?''
"That's like changing the inflight snack on the Hindenburg. It won't help.''
"Being at a loss for words is a good way to put it.''
"That's a nice tie you're wearing tonight on NBC. Can we fire
Forty percent of the Green Bay active roster has never met
Add eight practice-squadders and two of three injured-reserve players who weren't on the team in Favre's last season there, and Favre would have a pretty strange time if he walked in to the Green Bay locker room at these days. He wouldn't know 31 of the 64 players in there.
There's a reason the Broncos have put up with so much guff regarding Marshall, and that reason was abundantly clear with 1:46 left in a tense 10-10 tie with Dallas at Invesco.
We've been screaming about what a bad job the Pittsburgh running game -- and in particular the Steelers offensive line -- had been doing through the first three weeks; Pittsburgh was 27th in the league in rushing entering Sunday night's game. But Hartwig and Kemoeatu led the best rushing game of the season (in memory, actually) that allowed first-time starter
Four games, a league-high five interceptions. This former college teammate of
With five tackle, an interception returned for a 23-yard touchdown and 2.5 sacks, Willis continued to force himself into the class of the very best linebackers playing today. In the decisive win over the Rams, Willis again looked like a young
Money players like Bailey do what he did in the final 30 seconds of the aforementioned tight game with Dallas. On third-and-goal from the Denver 2,
My guess is the average Special Teams Player of the Week doesn't have the body dimensions of this very large and wide man. But you win this prestigious award when you block two kicks, including what would have been the winning extra point. Instead, Cincinnati was forced into overtime. Rogers doesn't look much of a leaper at 345 pounds, but he has 14 blocked kicks in his career, most among active players.
Don't trade Jay Cutler, McDaniels was told. Kyle Orton can't play, McDaniels was told. You'll never win in Denver with a popgun offense, McDaniels was told. Brandon Marshall's too much of a distraction and you should dump him, McDaniels was told. Here's what no one told McDaniels: You'll be 4-0 after the first month of the season.
Good for Clayton. He came up big after the game, taking complete blame for the six-point loss to the Patriots.
For 24 years, I lived in New Jersey, until moving to Boston last winter. I've found myself getting melancholy for the Garden State. Friday and Saturday illustrate why. Spent Friday at Jets camp, 30 minutes west of the Meadowlands in Florham Park, with lunch in tony Madison with
Drove into the city Friday night around 10, passed Giants Stadium and realized how old I am; what was I doing driving past a
A perfect weekend to get a much-needed Jersey fix.
Drew Brees an icon on the level of
Gregg Williams the next
The San Antonio Saints.
It's interesting how one draft choice you didn't make can affect so many lives and two franchises. Think back to the 2001 draft. Gregg Williams, the coach of the Bills, was teaming for his first draft as a head coach with GM
The Bills determined they would use their first-round pick to get
"I almost pulled a hamstring in the draft room, jumping up and down because I was so mad,'' said Williams.
Think about how this might have changed the current landscape of pro football. A year later, Buffalo wouldn't have been in the market when New England went to deal
The biggest mystery is what would have happened to the Saints without Brees. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit, the Saints became orphans of the storm, and they finished the season with a 3-13 record. The next spring, desperate to upgrade their quarterback situation over
The Saints became an American feel-good story. With a refurbished Superdome and Brees' leadership, the team won the NFC South and advanced to the conference title game. And with Brees playing so well over his first three years and keeping the Saints competitive and compelling, the team got a new stadium lease through 2025 out of the state of Louisiana. What if Brees hadn't come? Would the state have acted so aggressively to keep the team if it was floundering at 3-13 every year? My guess is, without massive public and legislative support, the team may have become the San Antonio Saints, because that's where owner
Just what you've been waiting for (and an inexpensive Halloween gift for that special someone):
When I did this list in the spring, I didn't have
So if you want to bash me for that one, I deserve it.
You can find the book
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Week 4:
a. Why, FOX, why? Why show the top 10 plays of Brett Favre's career? How many celebrations of his career have you done, and how many more will you do? What possible relevance do the top 10 plays of his career have this weekend?
b. Ron Winter's officiating crew had the worst day a crew has had all season in New England. From a ticky-tack roughing-the-passer call to two ridiculous unnecessary first-down measurements, to what seemed like a 10-minute delay for crew discussion and replay review in the fourth quarter. All of it made a long game agonizing.
c. Get ready for another week of the-officials-are-calling-too-many-marginal-calls stories. We're going to hear lots of grumbling from Ravens fans, and some in the media, who feel like Baltimore got jobbed Sunday. I know the guys in the NBC studio sure feel the Ravens got jobbed.
d. There's no quit in those
e. I'm also serious when I say: You can't stop Elvis Dumervil; you can only hope to contain him.
g. I could have sworn I could read
h. Wow. Did you see that handshake between
i. I really like Steelers returner
2. I think, at some point,
3. I think it's great the NFL devoted so much time and energy and pinkness to breast-cancer awareness Sunday. Now I'd like to know when the league is going to have the following two gamedays:
a. Concussion Awareness Day. Kudos to the
b. Indigent Retired Players Day.
Smarter minds than mine can figure out how to draw attention to these issues, but I do know this: A much-needed bridge between players and owners would be built if the owners spent the kind of lockstep verve on these issues some weekend as the league, the players and its network partners did in unison on breast cancer awareness Sunday.
4. I think we could argue about a lot of NFL-related things right now, but there is one fact that is indisputable: Peyton Manning is the best player in football, and right now, it's not close for second place.
5. I think New England could have the quirkiest schedule a team has ever faced. It opened the season against the 0-0 Bills, the 1-0 Jets, the 2-0 Falcons, the 3-0 Ravens and now gets the 4-0 Broncos ... and then against what could be the 0-5 Titans (if they lose to Indy this week) and the 0-6 Bucs (if they lose to Philly and the Panthers).
6. I think NBC's
Well, no one thought he was joking. I told Harrison that when the NBC PR staff, which puts out quotes from our Sunday night show each week, e-mailed his comments, obviously whoever read those comments was going to think he was ripping Brady for being a wuss. "I was joking!!!'' he said. OK. Consider your point made to thousands.
7. I think
8. I think this is what I liked about Week 4:
b. Denver punter
d. Best news of the day for Miami:
e. Jacksonville's D is starting to play like
f. San Francisco's 3-0 in the NFC West. No division game now till week 13, and the remaining Arizona game at home. It's beginning to look a lot like the Niners are going to make the playoffs.
g. I hold my breath when
h. Carson Palmer, who had to convince
i. Peyton Manning is 33. He has 342 touchdown passes, third-most of all-time. He is 127 behind Brett Favre. Let's say Favre puts up 18 more and Manning finishes the year 125 behind Favre. Manning's going to obliterate the record. I'll be surprised if he doesn't get to 500 while still playing effectively, consistently.
9. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 4:
a. Buffalo's run D, which has allowed 472 yards in the last two games. Stunning.
b. Even by
c. 100-yard rushing games by a Raider: zero ... 100-yard receiving games by a Raiders: zero. The Raiders don't have a 70-yard rushing game by a back.
e. A 28-point loss at Miami, sad to say, could well have sealed
f. Three picks for
h. The Rams were down 35-0 with 14 minutes left. Sad. No question they'll have to be in the
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Glad to see you light the lamp in your first game with Les Canadiens,
b. I'm not opposed to fighting in the NHL, except when it's clearly premeditated. How can
c. There's nothing like a sudden-death game in a pennant race.
d. Now you have to wonder how much it'll hurt Detroit, if they beat Minnesota on Tuesday, not pitching
e. In my limited (very) time covering baseball in four spring trainings recently, I got to know Toronto GM
f. I'm also told there's not a more honorable man and good baseball guy than
g. My baseball awards:
h. Playoff crystal-balling: New York over Detroit/Minnesota in four, Boston over the Angels in five, St. Louis over the Dodgers in four, Philadelphia over Colorado in three.
i. Coffeenerdness: Tried Via, the new Starbucks instant coffee. The mere thought of instant coffee is not pleasant to me, though I've liked the Green Mountain Keurig cups, particularly the excellent dark roasts. We use Italian Roast intermittently in our home Krups machine, and we love the bite.
Three times in the past week I had the Via Italian Roast. Three times I was pleased. I take my coffee with a little half-and-half, and I honestly tasted no difference between the Italian Roast we brew and the Italian Roast I had in this little Via packet. Even bought a dozen of them to use at home. I think Starbucks got this one right.
That's how I see this one tonight. The Vikings break out strong, riding the wave of emotion from the crowd, and Green Bay battles back. Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers trade lightning bolts -- I think they'll both be up around 300 passing yards -- and somehow, some way, the best player in the stadium, Adrian Peterson, will hang around to win it for the Vikings at the end. If I'm wrong, and the game's 41-0 one way or the other, it's still going to be compelling theater. But I don't see a blowout. I see three hours of tension.