Let the Patriots-Colts hype begin; five best storylines at midseason
NEW YORK -- Much of the past week I've spent researching and writing a
I officially declare Patriots-Colts Hype Week kicked off.
More than all other games, New England-Indy is the game TV loves. This will be the seventh straight year the Colts and Patriots have faced off, and each has been a Super Bowl contender every time they've met. Since the start of the 2003 season, the Colts and Patriots sit atop the NFL with identical 83-21 regular-season records. In the six previous seasons, they've made the playoffs a total of 11 times, and the only time one didn't is last year, when the Patriots lost
The Peyton vs. Tom angle is always good, and that'll be played up all week. Both survived 2008 knee injuries and are playing superbly again. But in preparing the Manning story, I got this from
"Peyton Manning and
It's an interesting comparison. Belichick grew up idolizing the football team -- particularly
"I can never repay him for what he taught me about football,'' Hobbs said of Belichick.
"I'm getting a football education from Peyton,'' Collie said of Manning.
Both will be in full CIA mode for this one. Belichick always is. Manning's usually a great storyteller, but he zipped it pretty tight last week, amiably declining my request for a one-on-one. We spent five minutes after his weekly media scrum at his locker Wednesday, and these were the only things I learned: He wears a Timex digital watch with a Gatorade logo that's set 11 minutes ahead of real time; and he has a ridiculously vivid memory of everything he's ever done in this game. He remembers the formation, the cornerback and the play from Ismail's first touchdown in the 2002 season-opener. He's like one of those golfers who can recite hole-by-hole club selection and shot distance in his sleep.
I actually didn't mind Manning not talking. He's so good and vivid and descriptive that you can become entranced by his words and stories. In this story, I could tell what I wanted to tell about his adjustment to life without so many familiar pieces from the angles and stories of others both in his life and formerly in it.
In the editing process, one of the stories was lost. I wanted to share it with you. It has to do with Manning's refusal to be second at anything. Or at least his distaste for second place. Here goes:
I go on to write about how no route is ever set in stone with the Colts, and why it's so hard to play receiver there. I think I've gotten beneath the surface of the closed city of Manning a bit, but I'll let you be the judge of that. Hope you like the story a tenth as much as you like Colts-Pats on Sunday.
The Colts are good. Cleveland stinks. Oakland's lost. So what else is new? A lot, actually. Big stories of the NFL's first half:
Which leads us to ...
On Saturday at NBC, I reported Cleveland owner
I believe Lerner still has faith in Mangini, but that the faith has been shaken by the work environment in the building that would cause two of the people Mangini trusts most in the world, O'Brien and Kokinis, to be vanquished by midseason of their first year together in Cleveland. I think nothing would make Lerner happier than to hire Holmgren, hand him a five-year GM contract, and finally believe he's put the right man in place to steer the team out of its Washington Nationals-type funk.
There's no question a new boss is needed. For too long, this team has made knee-jerk financial decision that will haunt Lerner's bottom line for year. He's on the hook to
Lerner wants the new man on board very soon so he could make an educated recommendation about Mangini's fate soon after the season. One of the reasons there's a little pressure on the Mangini decision is that the team will likely be in the market for a quarterback in the April draft. It'd be silly to have Mangini make the pick, unless Lerner was certain Mangini was his man to lead the team into the future.
And if Mangini goes, that would bring to at least $35-million the amount of money Lerner would be paying people to not work for the Browns. This team needs a life-preserver in the worst way.
I think the smartest thing the Cowboys did in the offseason was jettison
About an hour after Dallas' first significant road win since one at Lambeau Field 14 months ago, Romo said over the cell phone, "Shock you a little bit?''
Yes, a little. Holding an explosive Philly team to 16 points is a surprise. Winning at the Linc 10 or so months after losing there by 38 is a surprise. And playing clutch football on both sides of the ball in the fourth quarter of a big game is a surprise.
A few minutes after
Austin sprinted, slowed and before he could sprint again, Brown jumped the route and Romo threw a soft spiral over him right into the hands of Austin.
"It's weird,'' Austin said. "I lost it in the lights for a minute, but when it came down, I saw it and caught it. I felt someone behind me but I thought I could score.'' He did.
I asked Austin, after all of his recent success, if he was getting a little testy out there, not catching a ball in the first 50 minutes of a big game. And what he said is why the Cowboys like the kid so much.
"Well, there's times when I think I'm open, and I wish I'd get the ball,'' he said. "But I'm not Tony. And I have no idea what he's going through back there. Usually he's got some 300-pound guy back there chasing him, trying to rip his head off. So no, I don't get too upset by that. Right now, we've got a good thing going. Guys are making plays when they're called.''
Someone send that quote to Owens.
"Each guy doesn't have to do anything but his best,'' Romo said. "That'll be good enough for us to make the plays we need.''
There's a lot of football to play, and it's too early to say anything about Dallas except that it's in first place, alone, in the NFC East, and nobody but
I wrote a few weeks ago that the UFA class of 2010 would be horrible, because it wouldn't include unsigned fourth- and fifth-year vets if the league and union don't have a new CBA done by March. But because of the rise of players like
"Josh is well ahead of where I thought he'd be. He will decide what we become as a team. He is our future.''
"I think a darkhorse is Buffalo. They talked originally. There was some communication there. I think that could be a good spot.''
"I felt for me it was either the Chargers or the Steelers. That's just the way I felt. If it didn't work out with San Diego and I ended up with Pittsburgh, I think Ben [Roethlisberger] may have ended up in New York had Eli been in San Diego. So when the Giants took me, I was told by my agent that something was probably up, and I had already kind of figured it. But at the same time, he said if this doesn't shake down, the Giants seem to be OK if they end up having to keep you. So anyway, it was a crazy 30 minutes. And I also knew right away that something was up. Usually the 4th pick of the draft -- you talk to somebody on the team that takes you. I still haven't spoken to one soul from the Giants.''
Pedestrian stats (24 of 36, 209 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions), but it all came down to the final 2:05 for Rivers. Quarterbacks are judged on what they do in the clutch, and Rivers is in this space because he came through in said clutch time at Giants Stadium. New York leading 20-14, Charger ball at their 20, 2:05 to play. He moved the Chargers downfield steadily, never getting to third down, until the ball lay at the Giants' 18 with 29 seconds left. "That's where you need to have poise,''
Freeney's never been better. Dating to Week 17 last year, he's had sacks in nine consecutive regular-season games. On the first Houston offensive snap Sunday, he roared around left tackle
Great to see Smith, waylaid on the cheap shot by Carolina's
No one had much faith in
Harris is a pal from our trip to Afghanistan a year and a half ago, but there's no excuse for the stunt he pulled 64 seconds into the Cards-Bears game. Angry at a perceived cheap shot by the Cards, Harris reared back and slugged Arizona guard
I don't like removing
Arizona, the most explosive team in the 2008 playoffs, has two gains of more than 27 yards in 2009.
Very Bad News for Giants Fans Dept.: No teams has ever lost four games in a row in the regular season and gone on to win the Super Bowl.
First, a quote.
"I kind of laugh when I hear the video board isn't going to be a big factor. It's going to get peppered all season.''
The Cowboys have played five games since -- one in the preseason and four in the regular season. Total punts in the five games: 48. Punts that have peppered the videoboard: zero.
You can now say you told us so,
Boarding a flight from Denver to Phoenix last Tuesday, I was in the aisle walking toward the back of the plane. The aisle was full. The plane was going to be full, and it was probably half-boarded.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are ready for immediate departure,'' the flight attendant said, with a bit of urgency. This was a 6 a.m. flight, and now it was about 5:40. "Please take your seats as soon as possible so we can depart.''
About three minutes late, I got to my seat, was putting away my carryon, and the aisle was still full, with a line of maybe 30 people still making if to their seats.
"Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats so we can be ready for an on-time departure,'' she said, more urgently now.
How should we get there, ma'am? By levitating?
It wasn't even 5:45 now. We weren't leaving the gate, minimum, for 15 minutes. And this women was talking like there was a fire onboard and we had to scram or we'd all be cooked. And it wasn't even 6 in the morning, no less. Now that's a good time in the friendly skies right there.
New England left tackle
What we're going to do is have lunch at Davio's in Foxboro, just outside Gillette Stadium, on Friday, Dec. 11. We're going to open it to the first 10 people willing to donate $1,000 to the Light Foundation. If you're interested, contact Light's representative, Margrette Mondillo, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll hang out that Friday for a couple of hours. Light will tell you every one of the deep, dark Patriot secrets. I won't tell you much, but I'll be there for comic relief.
A reminder (have I reminded you enough how to buy
You can buy the book on
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Week 9:
a. MLB Network/NBC stat maven
b. I haven't met
d. It's not going to make made headlines, but I thought there was some sort of poetic justice that the winning point in the Chargers' 21-20 win was scored by a third-round throw-in to the Philip Rivers-Eli Manning trade. Kicker
e. Lucky Vikings. They had the best bye a team could have. I'm sure they thought they'd be two games up on Green Bay and Chicago when they returned to work today. But they're three up, thanks to horrible Sundays by Chicago and Green Bay.
f. I never thought
g. I don't have a good feeling about
h. I told you to take more chances downfield,
2. I think
3. I think at this rate, Peyton Manning's arm will fall off by New Year's Day.
4. I think Philip Rivers was as impressive as any player in the league Sunday, just by the way he competed. "As cool as a cucumber,'' tackle
5. I think
6. I think this is what I liked about Week 9:
b. Speaking of hands, what a pick by linebacker
c. Still want to fire
e. Arizona's dangerous.
f. He won't get much credit for it because of the final score, but
g. The Falcons will be a tough out in January. And yes, they'll be playing football in January.
7. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 9:
a. In a big game like 5-3 Houston at 7-0 Indy, 5-3 Houston isn't going to have much of a chance to be 6-3 Houston if it can't figure out how to stop fumbling. Come on. Now
c. Someone has kidnapped
d. Looks like the Baltimore defensive revival lasted exactly four quarters.
e. The 49ers are better that 3-5. Miami's better than 3-5. But you get what you deserve. Both have to get better quarterback play to have a chance.
f. Oh, I didn't like Eric Mangini moving on from George Kokinis so quickly, at least publicly. That whole thing is ridiculous. You bring a guy in to be the GM and then, somehow, he gets thrown overboard after nine months? It's not right. I wonder how the Ravens feel, having given up a trusted scout to have full authority in Cleveland, and he's gone halfway through the year.
8. I think the Cincinnati corners,
9. I think the league won't do anything about
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. On Saturday, I shared a dressing room with
c. Coffeenerdness: Three triple lattes Sunday. Sooner or later, the lack of sleep is going to catch up with me.
d. Listen to
e. My heart goes out to the victims of the Fort Hood and Orlando shootings and their loved ones. Senseless, senseless incidents. I will not go quietly into the night on this one. America needs to do something about idiots with handguns. How many more Fort Hoods and Orlandos do there have to be before our political leaders have the guts to severely restrict access to murderous weapons?
"Not much I can do about it, and I'm pretty used to it by now,'' said Ward. "But it does piss me off. If I was a dirty player, would my coach [Mike Tomlin] tell me, 'Don't change a thing you do?' ''
Ward thinks it's his reputation now, and not current information, that keeps him winning titles like this. Whatever, I find it interesting that Ward has been penalized once this year in seven games for unnecessary roughness and hasn't been fined yet. Not that he hasn't had his share of edgy hits, of course, including the clobbering of Bengals linebacker
It'll be interesting to watch Ward go up against
"Big game for us,'' Ward said. "As good as the AFC is this year, we'll probably have to win 11 or 12 to get in the playoffs ... they've got a great secondary. Dawkins is playing like the Dawkins of old.
He's right there, but I worry about