NEW YORK -- Talking with commissioner Roger Goodell, while he was getting his makeup wiped off in our NBC Football Night in America studio Sunday night after his Eagles-Bears halftime appearance ...
"You know how great you have it in the NFL this year?'' I asked. "Your TV ratings are totally through the roof, and here we are today, worst game of the year, Cleveland-Detroit, and it might be the best game of the year.''
"Terrific game,'' he said. "Fantastic game. Matt [Stafford] is such a good kid, so good for that franchise. That kind of a game can be a game-changer -- not just today, but for the Lions' franchise.''
Last week it was a 35-34 game between the Colts and Patriots that captured America. Yesterday it might have been the bizarro-world 38-37 thing that played out in Ford Field. We'll start there, then meander through the play Kansas City coach Todd Haley drew up in the dirt (slight exaggeration) to beat the World Champions. Then it's onto a scene you purple lovers will love ... Aaron Rodgers' progression out of sackdom ... then Goodell will rail against the endless offseason programs ... you'll meet a more mature Vince Young ... I'll have a couple of last words on Patriots-Colts ... and ... and ... well, that'll be just about enough for the top.
Bobby Layne would be proud.
Those are the exact words I said to Stafford as Detroit medics finished putting a harness on his left shoulder and a sling on his arm in the postgame locker room. Layne's the blood-and-guts Lions quarterback who preceded Stafford by 50 years at Highland Park (Texas) High, and then by half a century as the Lions quarterback. Before Stafford and I started talking, I could hear the labored breathing and slight grunts -- I assume from Stafford -- as the harness went on his shoulder. X-rays were negative, but you could read his lips after he threw the winning touchdown and went to the sideline in intense pain. "It's out! It's out!'' he said, meaning his shoulder popped out of the socket.
Now I understand the wounded Lions fans. I hear from so many of you. The hopelessness, the anti-Matt Millenism, the surrender, the longing simply to be relevant again. And Goodell's right. This might have been something big right here. Not saying the Lions are on the road to contention. But they're mad as hell, and they're not going to take the losing anymore, and they know after Sunday they have the kind of braveheart quarterback a battling city like Detroit has been awaiting. And so that's why I choose this morning to write about the second win of the Detroit Lions at the top of the column, rather than the 10th victory for the Saints and the Colts. The moment was just so abnormal, so fascinating.
The game came down to two plays. You've seen them, I'm sure. With eight seconds left and Cleveland up 37-31 (thanks to Brady Quinn's four touchdown passes), Detroit had the ball at Cleveland 32. Second down. The smart play would have been a 15-yard out to get closer to the end zone, and then a final shot to try to win. Stafford took the snap and looked. Then got chased out of the pocket to his left.
"Throw the ball!'' screamed coach Jim Schwartz. Stafford was only a few strides away from him.
Nope. Stafford now ran back toward midfield, looking for a receiver.
"Throw the ball!'' screamed Schwartz again.
Stafford stopped. Two rushers got ready to cream him. Defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, all 305 pounds of him, was two feet away and closing fast when Stafford finally let the ball go toward the left corner of the end zone. Bang! Mosley drove Stafford as hard as a quarterback can be driven into the ground. The ball fluttered into the air, right into the arms of safety Brodney Pool.
"Game's over,'' Stafford said. "I was sure it was, even though I was on the ground and pretty much in a lot of pain. Then I heard there was a flag.''
Seems that Browns nickel back Hank Poteat tackled wideout Calvin Johnson in the end zone, thinking physical play was OK because Stafford had left the pocket. "No! No!'' one of the officials kept saying over and over to Poteat. "Pass interference!''
But because Stafford lay on the field and caused a stoppage in play, Detroit was charged with a timeout. It didn't have one, that was the Lions' fourth charged timeout of the half ... but because time had expired, the Lions would not be penalized five yards, not penalized by having time run off the clock. [Only on a fifth timeout of a half -- three timeouts followed by two due to injury -- does yardage actually get marked off.]
Meanwhile, Stafford was ushered to the Lions sideline, where four team medics began to examine him. In the game went backup Daunte Culpepper. Detroit would have one, last, untimed play at the one-yard-line because the game cannot end on a defensive penalty. Culpepper began to call signals.
Then Cleveland coach Eric Mangini called timeout, and proceeded to appeal to the officials about something. The non-runoff of time on the clock? The pass interference? I don't know. After the game, he said he took the timeout to see if he had the right personnel package on the field for the last play.
"I was flat on my back on the sidelines, and the doctors were trying to figure out what was wrong with my shoulder,'' said Stafford. "But I heard, 'Timeout Cleveland,' and then I knew I could come back in.''
An injured player who leaves the field has to sit for at least one play -- unless there is a charged timeout by either team. Stafford knew. And he immediately began trying to get up, but the doctors kept telling him, basically, to hold on, hoss -- he wasn't authorized to go back in. But Stafford got up and weaved his way onto the field, telling offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to call a pass play if he wanted, because he had one play left in him.
"Only one,'' Stafford said. "But I knew I had one. I had the adrenalin going.'' He jogged onto the field and Culpepper jogged back off.
Meanwhile, Schwartz hollered at his medical staff: "Is he good to go?'' And one of the doctors said no, and Schwartz asked what was wrong, and the doc said he didn't know because they hadn't had time to examine him yet.
"The kid put himself back in the game,'' Schwartz said.
Lord knows what the Browns thought the wounded Stafford would call, but tight end Brandon Pettigrew, a fellow first-round pick in 2009, ran a short square-in at the back of the end zone, and Stafford flicked it to him. Ballgame.
"His best play wasn't the last play, or the second-to-last,'' Schwartz told me. "His best play was eluding four of our medical guys to get back onto the field.''
"Ever been in a game like that?'' I asked Stafford.
"No,'' he said. "Has there been one like that?''
Not that I've seen.
Todd Haley pulls one out of left field.
The Chiefs install their red-zone pass plays on Thursday mornings. Usually they're pulled out of the phone-book-thick playbook, plays that were taught in minicamps, practiced in training camp and used, most likely, a few times previously during the season. But last Thursday, Haley walked into the offensive team meeting and told his team he had something new to use against the Steelers down near the goal line -- a shovel pass to running back Jamaal Charles while the rest of the team was in max-protect mode. He figured the Steelers D, close to its own goal line, would try to pressure K.C. quarterback Matt Cassel into a mistake. He figured right.
With five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh led 24-17, and the Chiefs had first-and-goal from the Steelers' two. When Haley called the play into Cassel's helmet, Cassel's first reaction was, "Touchdown.''
"They're tough on the goal line, obviously,'' said Cassel. "We thought the defensive line would come hard, and they did.'' Charles snuck out of the backfield, almost looking like he feigned a bad block, and he was alone, near the one, when Cassel found a gap between the center and guard in the midst of the chaos and shoveled it to Charles. Perfect call. Perfectly run. "Usually it doesn't happen that a play happens just like you practice it," Cassel said, "but this was exactly the same.''
The touchdown made it 24-all. Kansas City kayoed Ben Roethlisberger in overtime, then drove 76 yards to the winning field goal. As Keith Olbermann said Sunday night, "Ryan Succop for the win, and oh, don't you look nice tonight, Mrs. Cleaver.''
"Amazing feeling,'' said Cassel. "The Steelers are a team we strive to be like. We've got a long way to go to get there, but this is a pretty good reward.''
Football and war really do have something in common, other than the clichés.
Good story by Jay Glazer on FOX's pregame show about how independent neurologists will soon be employed at all NFL games, so that a team physician paid by a franchise won't have a conflict of interest about whether to allow an injured player back in the game. There's no exact timetable for when the neurologists have to be on the sidelines, but Goodell hopes it can be phased in as this season goes on.
Glazer also reported that the NFL has been in touch with the Department of Defense about sharing information related to head injuries and brain trauma for soldiers and football players. It stems from Goodell's trip to the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters in July 2008.
"That story's almost two years old,'' Goodell said when I asked him about it at NBC on Sunday. "When I went to Afghanistan, I went with Admiral Mullen [Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff]. We stopped in Ireland and got a beer in Shannon, and he said one of the issues they were having was MBTI, the Mild Brain Trauma Injury. When a soldier has a brain injury, when is it safe to put him back on the battlefield? I said, 'We have a lot of experience with this, admiral. We'd be happy to exchange information with you.'
"Our people went down and spent time at the Defense Department and exchanged information. And literally two weeks ago, I saw Gen. [David] Petraeus and the chief Army doctor, and they're going through a very similar issue -- return to the battlefield. That's something our medical personnel should keep sharing. It may not be a single answer. One soldier might be different from another. That's one of the reasons why we say these should be medical decisions. There's a lot of dialogue going back and forth.''
A couple of other notes from my talk with Goodell:
• He wants players to start wearing more and better equipment. Too many players, he said, wear helmets that are comfortable rather than the state-of-the-art helmets that absorb more shock.
• He said he thinks organized offseason conditioning has spiraled out of control. (And bully for him on this -- it's ridiculous how year-round a job playing and coaching has become.) "I'm a firm believer that players are overworked in the offseason,'' Goodell said. "They probably need to get away from the game a little bit more. And when they're away, they probably work harder.
"There needs to be limitations in the offseason with respect to the type of work, and how much work, is done. Teams will definitely have sufficient time to get their offense and defense in ... Should maybe rookies and first-year players have more time in training camp? That's something [San Diego coach] Norv Turner mentioned this week. It's something that needs a lot of dialogue, and that's one of the things the player forums will look into.''
• The first regional meeting of special adviser Tony Dungy's player-advisory group will be Dec. 8 at a site to be determined. Dungy will meet with selected players invited from teams in different regions of the country.
Three teams have a legit argument to be the best team in football (maybe a fourth, if you include the Patriots), but pick against the Vikings at your own risk.
That was a total dismantling of the Seahawks by Minnesota. Seattle's terrible. Ten first downs, four rushing yards, 18 minutes of possession. The Vikings' defense just smothered them. But what makes Minnesota dangerous is that Brett Favre's playing like he played in his three-year MVP run a decade and a half ago. In fact, my Twitter followers are appealing for me to have Favre pass Peyton Manning in my MVP Watch below, and if he keeps this up, I'm going to have a very tough decision at the end of the year.
Just look at the numbers. We might be seeing his most impressive season. Comparing the average of his three MVP years (1995 through 1997; he shared the '97 MVP with Barry Sanders) to this year:
Watching Favre through 10 weeks, I'm starting to think he's going to make it through 16 games, and more. His groin strain doesn't seem to be bothering him. If it is, coach Brad Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell are doing a good job choreographing safe plays for him. But the way Favre's jumping around after touchdowns, he looks pretty healthy. He's leaving nothing to chance. If this is his last go-round, he's going to be sure there's nothing he hasn't done to make sure he reaches as high as he can.
"Last night,'' Childress told me after the 35-9 win over the Seahawks, "when I got to the hotel, I looked in our film room. It was about 5:30. And there's Favre, sitting there by himself, watching video. He's amazing. He's a worker. He's the master of the piano, a great guy I can point to as an example for the rest of the team.''
Clearly, it's helped Favre to have the best offensive supporting cast he's ever had. The line keeps him clean, he has the best all-around back in football, Adrian Peterson, behind him, and he has three deep threats (Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice and Bernard Berrian), the kind of depth at receiver he didn't have with the Packers or Jets. "Maybe in the back of my mind, I know I don't have to do as much,'' he told reporters after the game.
The MVP race could be a doozy. In 1995, only four quarterbacks threw for 4,000 yards. This year, 10 could. Manning's on pace for a 5,074-yard season, though he'll probably fall far short of that. Once the Colts have their spot in the AFC playoffs clinched, look for Jim Caldwell to rest Manning and most of his starters as much as he can.
The MVP's not very high on Favre's agenda, I'm sure. What he's focused on is winning a second Super Bowl. It's why he came back. And it's looking like a pretty smart decision, by Favre and Childress, the one who went and got him.
Aaron Rodgers is cleaning up his act in the pocket.
First eight games: 37 sacks, five interceptions. Last two games: six sacks, no interceptions. There's no question Rodgers was simply holding onto the ball too long, and his leaky offensive line -- particularly at right tackle -- was getting him bowled over.
"We've been working on the three variables [for sacks],'' coach Mike McCarthy said after the Pack beat San Francisco 30-24. Protection, Rodgers' internal clock, and running enough quick-opening patterns that Rodgers always has an open one to choose from when the pressure comes. Against Dallas last week and the 49ers Sunday, he looked more comfortable and maybe a tick faster. "His time clock's been excellent,'' McCarthy said, "and he's responded really well to coaching, which he always has done.''
Rodgers has been a 70-percent passer over the past two weeks. His play in the last eight quarters is a good example of how during the season players can polish facets of their games that need to be fixed, or else the season's going up in smoke. The Steelers are seeing more and more pressure on Roethlisberger, and he's going to have to quicken his delivery in the pocket or he won't last 16 games. Rodgers did it just by knowing he had to make decisions faster, and that time savings might help save Green Bay's season.
Coincidence of the Week.
Sitting next to Tony Dungy on Sundays at NBC is an education. Here's something I wouldn't have realized: In two straight weeks for the Colts, the decisive defensive play was the same call -- just tweaked to have the two interior linebackers rush on one play and cover the next week.
Against New England on fourth-and-two, Gary Brackett and Clint Session rushed and hurried Tom Brady's throw to Kevin Faulk. Sunday in Baltimore, the Ravens had the same feeling as New England last week. Trailing 17-15 with 2:49 left, Baltimore had a third-and-seven at the Colt 14. They could play it safe and run the ball into the line and kick the go-ahead field goal. But that would give Manning the ball with two minutes left and a chance to drive down for the winning points. Sound familiar?
This time, Brackett and Session faked blitzing, then settled back into coverage. "We knew Ray Rice was the guy they liked to go to in the red zone,'' Brackett told me. "And so I had my eye on him as he released out of the backfield, but I didn't play tight with him. The quarterback lost me. I don't think he ever saw me. And when he threw, I just jumped in front of Ray.'' Interception. The Colts hung on, 17-15.
"The same play's been the difference-maker two weeks in a row now,'' said Brackett. "I've had a few big plays in my career, like the forced fumble on [Jerome] Bettis [in a 2005 AFC Divisional playoff game], but this one was definitely huge.''
The play kept the Colts' regular-season winning streak, now at 19, intact. But two weeks in a row, Indy's had a very close shave. It easily could have lost last week, when New England blew a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead. Instead, the last two Sundays have been very good for the Colts. Thanks to Cincinnati's loss in Oakland, the Colts' win in Baltimore gave them a three-game lead in the race for home-field in the AFC playoffs with six games to play.
Vince Young sounds new and improved.
A couple of times last year, when he was most frustrated, Vince Young would text Kobe Bryant, who had become something of a mentor. He'd write something like, "Man, I wanna play so bad. What do I do?'' The answer would always come back from Bryant with something like this: "Stay focused. Work on your craft.''
As Young told me last week: "That's what I needed -- someone I respected, like him or Brett Favre, to tell me everybody goes through tough times. Adversity comes, work hard, work on your game, and you'll come out of it OK.''
The Vince Young we'll see tonight at Houston is still only 26. But he's already had three careers. The moody savior, who played precociously but with pocket limitations. The lost cause, who seemed mentally overwhelmed by the demands of his job, and fame. And now the maturing, complete player. That's awfully premature, but in the span of three weeks since taking over for Kerry Collins, Young has been a different player. How different? Offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger sometimes has to push him to use his rare athletic gifts. "He tells me to run much more than I think of running,'' Young said. "He tells me 1-2-3, check your receivers, and if they're not open, go. Run. He's pushing me to run.''
The more surprising thing about Young through three starts this year is his accuracy -- 65.7 percent. "I'm patient now, and I've realized patience is the key to this offense,'' he said. "Check down, use my legs to get out of the pocket, extend plays, have another chance to complete a pass.''
In the past, Young has given lip service to saying it was for the best that coach Jeff Fisher gave Collins the starting job over him. But now it sounds like he knows he needed some time to adjust to the life as a millionaire, with the demands of family and friends weighing on him. Those demands came to a head early last season, when his worried mother reached out for help after seeing Young leave his house with a gun.
"That was blown out of proportion,'' said Young. "My mom never saw me with a pistol before, and when she did, she got nervous. I have a pistol for protection. I was never gonna harm myself, but she got nervous.''
He went on. "I never doubted myself, never doubted anything. I knew I was a great athlete. I just had to grow up, on and off the field. I knew I had the talent. There was so much going on, all the adversity, so much going on. I understand now ... Coach Fisher gave me some time to figure my life out.''
I asked if he regretted not being picked by the Texans three years ago. "No. But I do love going to Houston and playing,'' he said. All that's at stake tonight at Reliant Stadium is keeping alive Tennessee's needle-in-a-haystack playoff hopes at 3-6. These are the kinds of games Young was drafted to win, and it looks like he'll be around for a while to try to win them.
I lied. One really final note from 35-34, unless I find something else that deserves to be in here.
New Orleans coach Sean Payton was so impressed with Indianapolis' 35-34 win over New England a week ago that on Monday he dialed Peyton Manning's cell phone to congratulate him. What caused him to call was not the win. It was what Belichick did -- go for it on fourth-and-two with a six-point lead and two minutes left ... rather than punt the ball so Manning would have a chance to beat him.
The call rang into voice mail.
"Sean Payton here,'' Payton said into the phone. "Just wanted to tell you that last night was the greatest compliment I've ever seen a quarterback paid.''
1. New Orleans (10-0). Don't look now, but Drew Brees has a new weapon who's pretty good -- wideout Robert Meachem, who caught two touchdown passes in the 38-7 rout of the Bucs.
2. Indianapolis (10-0). Peyton Manning looked like his dog had just died during his postgame press conference, but that's because he seeks perfection, and the offensive performance was hardly perfect in the escapist 17-15 win over Baltimore. Interesting stat passed along by Scott Parsell of Indianapolis,: "In November, the Colts have outscored their opponents by just 10 points but are still 4-0."
3. Minnesota (9-1). As great as the offense was against Seattle, let's remember this one stat about the Viking defense: Minnesota allowed two first downs in the game's first 40 minutes.
4. New England (7-3). I flip-flopped the Vikes and Patriots this week, and really, New England easily could be tied for third. The Patriots let the Jets back into the game Sunday, but give some credit to Leigh Bodden, a scrap heap pickup after wearing out his welcome in noted powerhouses Cleveland and Detroit, for his three-interception day in Foxboro.
5. San Diego (7-3).LaDainian Tomlinson, welcome back to relevance.
6. Arizona (7-3). Talk about a role reversal: Cards are 5-0 on the road after their 21-13 win over the Rams at the Jones Dome ... and they ran for 183 yards, which is highly uncharacteristic.
7. Cincinnati (7-3). Disgraceful loss, but Bengals shouldn't have left it so much to chance at the end in Oakland.
8. Green Bay (6-4). Nice win, but two very big asterisks -- injuries to Aaron Kampman and Al Harris that look to be season-enders. "Doesn't look good,'' coach Mike McCarthy told me after the 30-24 victory over the Niners.
9. Pittsburgh (6-4).Rodney Harrison said it Sunday night: That line had better protect Ben Roethlisberger or else ... let me finish that -- or else Roethlisberger won't be around to play January football. He simply won't survive.
10. Dallas (7-3). Don't be alarmed. Really. But the Cowboys have scored on two of their last 23 possessions -- the garbage touchdown at Green Bay and the late game-winner over the Redskins Sunday. That's it. That's not doing a lot for your job security, Jason Garrett.
11. Philadelphia (6-4). Donovan McNabb did what good quarterbacks must do: drive his team 62 yards in the fourth quarter, down three points, in a game he called a must-win. Terrific drive.
12. Houston (5-4).Steve Slaton gets his running-back job back -- with one very important proviso: hold onto the ball, or you'll be standing next to Gary Kubiak for the rest of the year.
13. Miami (5-5). Valiant win by the Dolphins, playing without Wildcat triggerman Ronnie Brown. But the one stat that has to change for Miami to be a serious playoff contender in the last six weeks is this one: 24.4 points allowed per game. The Chad Henne-led offense is just not good enough to be scoring in the high 20s and 30s weekly.
14. Jacksonville (6-4). Maybe Maurice Jones-Drew (84 total yards, one TD) should apologize to his fantasy owners again this week.
15. Tennessee (3-6). Save your breath, Giants fans. Tennessee's playing better over the last month than the Giants are, and the way I consider this ranking is if the teams played today on a neutral field, who would win? If they lined up tomorrow in Morgantown (well, they'd both be a little tired, particularly Tennessee, which plays tonight), I'd pick the Titans to win.
"Gutsy game by the kid.''-- Text message from Detroit coach Jim Schwartz to me an hour after Matthew Stafford, being treated for a mangled left shoulder, broke away from team medics and made an unauthorized entry into the Lions-Browns game for the final play, completing the winning touchdown pass for a 38-37 win.
"The uncapped year is definitely going to happen. We're already running short on time. I could be wrong ... But I think at this point in the life of the NFL, the uncapped year is something the owners are willing to take a look at. If that ends up happening, it could really change the landscape of the NFL.''-- New York Giants center and player rep Shaun O'Hara, to me and Bob Papa on Sirius/XM NFL Radio Friday morning.
"There are New England football fans who'd support Belichick if he pledged to eradicate indoor plumbing.''-- Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, on the local loyalty Bill Belichick inspires.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. He's 10-0, and on Sunday he unveiled another receiver no one's ever heard of -- tight end Tom Santi -- and quarterbacked a 17-15 survival game in Baltimore.
2. Brett Favre, QB, Minnesota. We might be watching the most amazing year of his ridiculous career. At age 40, Favre's touchdown-to-interception ratio is 21-3, and his game Sunday (22 of 25, a career single-game-best 88 percent) was flawless. Does 22 of 25 sound familiar? It should. It's Phil Simms' Super Bowl-record for accuracy by a quarterback in one game.
3. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. It's a good sign for the development of the total team that Brees wasn't even the big star, yet the Saints still romped. Not sacked, not intercepted, three touchdowns. And his team's 10-0.
4. Tom Brady, QB, New England. I believe Brady will one day look back on the day Wes Welker was traded to New England for second- and seventh-round picks and say it was a watershed moment in his career. Brady has found him an average of 7.5 times a game in Welker's 40-game New England career.
5. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego. Edges Chris Johnson for the last spot by virtue of his 10-touchdown, three-pick performance in the Chargers' five-game winning streak that's put them atop the AFC West.
Offensive Player of the Week
Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit.
Stafford was 26 of 43 for 422 yards, with five touchdowns and two interceptions. He's the youngest player ever to have five touchdown passes in a game, and the first rookie to throw five in a game since 1937. Forget the stats. If you read about Stafford at the top of this column, you know why I consider his one of the heroic performances of this or any other year.
Defensive Player of the Week
Joey Porter, LB, Miami.
Two weeks after mouthing off and then not showing up against New England, and one week after being benched against Tampa Bay, Porter came up very big in the trend-setting first half Thursday night in Charlotte. I don't pretend to know what sets Porter afire, but he brought it big-time in this game.
On the first series against the Dolphins, Jake Delhomme went back to pass on third-and-goal from the seven. A Porter sack forced a Carolina field goal. In the second quarter, trying to drive to shave a 7-3 Miami lead, Delhomme was sacked by Porter on another third down. Two minutes later, Miami scored to make it 14-3 at the half. For the game, Porter had eight tackles, the two sacks and another quarterback pressure. Say what you want about him, but Porter seems to thrive on being in the eye of the storm.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Brandon Myers, TE, Oakland.
Myers, a third-string tight end playing kickoff coverage, won the game for Oakland. With the score tied at 17 and 33 seconds left and the Raiders kicking off, Myers stripped Bengal return man Andre Caldwell on the kickoff. Myers recovered his own forced fumble, leading to Sebastian Janikowski's winning field goal. How many times have the Raiders turned a losing game around in the last five minutes like that? Not many.
Jamaal Charles, RB/KR, Kansas City.
I don't care if this came against the embattled (and that's putting it mildly for a kick-coverage unit that's allowed four touchdown returns in 10 games) Pittsburgh special teams. The Chiefs, justifiably heavy underdogs to the defending NFL champs, got the opening kickoff. Charles, the quick second-year running back from Texas, caught the ball on the run going left, turned upfield, zigged and zagged and broke two tackles and scored. It was called a 97-yard, but I'd say he ran about 120. It's the kind of play that energizes a crowd and gets the Chiefs into it, and sure enough, Kansas City ended up giving the Steelers a game.
Coach of the Week
Brad Childress, head coach, Minnesota.
In the same week he became financially secure for the rest of his life after signing an extension through 2013 (it will pay him at least $4 million a year, which should buy a few cabins on a few Minnesota lakes), Childress saw the fruit of his preseason labor look great in the Vikings 35-9 rout of the Seahawks.
The man he coerced out of retirement,Favre, continued an MVP-caliber season at age 40, throwing for 213 yards and four touchdowns while completing 22 of 25 passes. And Percy Harvin, the youngster Childress scouted and put his stamp of approval on, scored his sixth touchdown of an Offensive Rookie of the Year season.
Remember Childress' trip down to Gainesville the week before the draft to personally investigate Harvin? Childress told me this summer he wanted Harvin to pick him up and drive him around. "I wanted to be in his car, and I wanted to smell the car,'' Childress said. He meant he wanted to see if he could sniff any marijuana after Harvin's adventurous college career. He also asked Harvin if he was aware that because of his marijuana experiences in college and for testing positive for pot at the Scouting Combine, he'd enter the NFL already in the NFL's substance-abuse program. "You'll be eligible to be tested up to 10 times a month,'' Childress warned. So far, so good ... and the Vikes are 9-1 thanks to Childress' decisions and the play of the two guys he worked hard to get.
Goat of the Week
Hank Poteat, CB, Cleveland.
On Football Night in America, Rodney Harrison said when Eric Mangini was an assistant coach in New England, he would practice the Hail Mary defense for 10 minutes every Friday in practice. Certainly he's doing the same thing in Cleveland. Amazingly, with Cleveland holding a 37-31 lead and no time left on the clock in the fourth quarter, Detroit quarterback Stafford let fly with a rainbow to the end zone and Poteat tackled Calvin Johnson with the ball in the air. If Poteat had jostled Johnson, there's little chance a flag would have been thrown. But a full-scale body slam to the ground ... That has to be called. Pass interference. With the extra play, Detroit threw a touchdown pass to win it. On the goat scale, Poteat's play ranks about as high as you can go.
In Brady Quinn's star-crossed career, he hadn't had many hours like the first hour of the Detroit game Sunday. In fact, he'd never experienced anything like the three-touchdown-pass first quarter and the 24-3 lead he built. How the first quarter Sunday compared to his first two-and-a-half years in the NFL:
Dallas Cowboys PR czar Rich Dalrymple reports exclusively to Monday Morning Quarterback this presidential oddity involving the Super Bowl Cowboys of the nineties: Barack Obama went to high school with Super Bowl left tackle Mark Tuinei at the Punahou School in Hawaii. Michelle Obama went to the same high school (Whitney Young in Chicago) as Super Bowl defensive tackle Russell Maryland, though not at the same time.
I Weep For Humanity Dept.: The NBC Football Night in America crew took in the Panthers-Rangers game Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. Entering the building, I saw eight 18ish Ranger-clad guys and gals posing for a photo, with what I assumed was a passerby who agreed to take their photo. All posed with middle fingers pointing at the camera.
What is this, the Bud Adamsing of America?
"Good morning to all, top of the morning on this awesome football Sunday ALI-HOLMES=OCHO CINCO-NNAMDI'' I damn sure ain't HOLMES either.''-- @OGOchoCinco, Cincinnati wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, on Sunday at 7:32 a.m. Eastern Time, which means he was up at 4:32 a.m. in California, awaiting his meeting with reigning all-pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha in the Black Hole Sunday. And judging by his tweet, he seems unaware that Holmes actually won that bout.
Ochocinco's line on Sunday: four catches, 67 yards, no touchdowns.
In honor of passing 200,000 followers on Twitter the other day (I sit at 216,442 as the day dawns), I decided to give one of the flock the chance to write a short piece of their choosing in the column this week. I took nominations, and of the 500-plus ideas that came in, I chose @tbaysi1, Tim Baysinger of Queens, N.Y., to write about a situation that appealed to me -- NFL fans choosing to sit home in their man caves rather than trekking out to games. It's one of the reasons Jerry Jones built such a grand palace in Texas. Jones fears football is becoming a studio sport. He wants to make sure when his team is 5-8 one December day, and it's sleeting in Dallas, that the fans will still want to come out to the stadium because of the great gameday experience. Here's Tim's take:
The roar of the crowd, the chance to see some of the greatest athletes in the world up close...no thanks, I'd rather stay home.
Don't get me wrong, seeing the game in person does have its perks. Seeing those athletes in person gives you a better appreciation for just how good these guys are, and being with more than 50,000 screaming fans is just downright fun. Can't say how many times I have been at a game where I've started conversations with people around me. After that however, I don't see any other positives.
For starters, going to the game makes something that should be three hours of your time into five or six. Getting up early to arrive at the stadium around noon -- earlier if you're tailgating -- only to sit in traffic and deal with the horrors of stadium parking. Sitting in uncomfortable seats, paying for overpriced food and beer, not to mention the price already paid for the tickets, and there goes your mortgage payment this month.
Football fans are some of the most passionate individuals you will ever meet, only surpassed by soccer fans. That passion only increases at the stadium, which can lead to them being unruly, or just downright nasty. It's not like baseball where you can take your kids; it's as if they need an age requirement at games. One of the more underrated gripes is definitely the bathroom situation; waiting in those lines, having to walk through the rows to get to the aisle, and having to get up for those people. I always feel bad for anyone sitting in the middle of the row, especially in a place like the Metrodome. Hope you can hold it, pal! As we all know, not every person at a game is for the home team. Nothing is worse than sitting next to a fan of the other team, especially if that person is not following proper away fan etiquette.
Watching the game at home is, plain and simple, more enjoyable. HDTV has changed the game. The clarity and the panoramic views clearly make it better than being there. Why am I going to suffer when instead I can be comfortable indoors with a few of my friends chatting about the game, following my fantasy team, eating food and knocking back a few, without spending the same amount I do on health insurance? When the game is over, instead of sitting through traffic I get to enjoy more football.
The biggest reason I always hear for being at the game is the chance to witness something special, to say to others, "I was there." Back in early 2003, I was watching with my dad our beloved 49ers play the Giants in the playoffs on TV. You all know the story: down 38-14 in the second half, only to come back and win 39-38 and complete the second-greatest comeback in playoff history. I'll never forget my usually reserved father screaming when the Niners pulled ahead and again when they eventually won, and then telling my mother all about it, something he also never does. Would it have been cool to be at that game? Of course, but my not being there didn't cheapen that moment, and it still stands as one the best days I can remember.
So maybe it's time to trade in those season tickets for a nice big flat screen and a comfy recliner.
Last chance to get your "Monday Morning Quarterback'' books autographed and personalized for the holidays. Send me the book by Saturday, and for the cost of a book and the shipping to New York (Barnes and Noble and Amazon have it on sale in the $17 range), you can get the thing sent back in time for the holidays, with anything -- within legal reason -- sent as an autographed greeting. Come on. You know you want it.
You can buy the book on Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com or at your local bookstore. I'll have it back to you by the middle of the month, plenty of time to spread that Peter King holiday cheer. Send two, or three! One fantasy league is getting a book for all 12 owners! That's what I call smart fantasy ownership! Send books to:
Chris MahrSports Illustrated1271 Ave. of the AmericasRoom 33-120BNew York, NY 10020
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Week 11:
a. I'm not sure what this means, other than I'd say it's very unlikely to happen: I had a dream Saturday night that I was a guest at Al Davis' house in northern California, there to advise him on what to do with the Raiders. The advice part of it wasn't in the dream, but I'm sure if it had been, it'd have been brilliant.
b. Little-known fact about Tom Santi, the Colts tight end who made two catches on the same drive at Baltimore: He had a staph infection last year before Manning did, and the Colts used his infection as a barometer for how to treat Manning.
c. The Patriots are 21-1 in games following a regular-season loss dating to 2003.
d. The Pats and Jets, in their 50th seasons, are 50-50-1 against each other.
e. Sounds to me like Ralph Wilson's a desperate man, and he'll do what he has to do to get one of the really big fish. Mike Shanahan, I hear, is tops on his list. I'd be surprised if Shanahan went to Buffalo before he knew what else was out there in the offseason.
f. I don't care what the Bears say. If they keep going down the drain and Jay Cutler's mentor is on the unemployment line, they have to look at Shanahan.
g. Mike Holmgren? I hear reliably he wants to be a GM/president type, not a coach.
2. I think if you want to be inspired, google Stefanie Spielman, the indomitable 42-year-old wife of Chris Spielman and mother of four who died of breast cancer last Thursday. And read. The story I most fondly remember from a 1998 profile of the Spielmans in Sports Illustrated is of her taking off a brown corduroy hat -- understand that she'd just met me -- at their kitchen table in Columbus. She was bald and pale. "Men go bald all the time,'' she said. "Why should I try to look like something I'm not? I'm sick.'' And for much of the next 11 years, she was ill too. Now Chris is left to be mom and dad to four children. He'll be great at it, but they'll have a hole they'll never fill. What an impressive woman she was.
3. I think Eagles defensive end Trent Cole is one of the 10 most underappreciated players in the NFL. That's what you call a guy who's had sacks in eight of Philly's 10 games, yet won't get a sniff for the Pro Bowl.
4. I think this is what I liked about Week 11:
a. Nice camera work, FOX, at Tampa Bay, showing professional-wrestler-lookalike Chris Hovan putting eye-black on his young son on the field before Bucs-Saints.
b. What a block by heretofore disappointing Washington wideout Devin Thomas on Dallas linebacker Bobby Carpenter on a punt return. Carpenter will feel that this morning, I can guarantee you that.
c. Who'd have ever thought Julian Edelman would be this kind of receiver? Looks like he's been catching passes for seven years, not seven months.
d. The Saints made up quite nicely for their injured cornerbacks -- Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer -- in Tampa Bay, holding Josh Freeman to 126 yards passing and picking him off three times.
e. The responsibility of Kurt Warner. At a time when the league is manic about head injuries, Warner took himself out of the game after taking a middling blow to the head and didn't return. "I just wanted to be smart,'' he said . "I didn't feel perfect, so I just wanted to be cautious with it. I didn't get knocked out or forget anything. I just wasn't perfect and I could tell that.'' The league should hold Warner as an example of when players should stay out of games. Look for him to play next week.
f. Great point by my buddy Don Bankson SI.com Sunday night: never have two teams tied for first place looked so different than the Chargers and Broncos Sunday.
g. James Laurinaitis: 16 solo tackles for the Rams. I like the young crop of linebackers in the league.
h. Rest up, JaMarcus Russell. Bruce Gradkowski's going to have the Raiders quarterback job -- deservedly so -- for a while.
5. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 11:
a. Dropped picks by London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh at Dallas. Either could have been a vital play in a close game for the Redskins.
b. Giants' first 10 rushes: 26 yards. Where is the old Brandon Jacobs?
c. Never, ever have I seen Ray Lewis get faked out on a normal-looking burst over the center as I did when he fanned on a Joseph Addai second-quarter touchdown run. As Dan Dierdorf said on CBS, he's got to be nursing a bum ankle. That was embarrassing if he's not hurt.
d. Chris Simms, in his snapshot start for Denver, looked like he hadn't played football in a long time.
e. The Broncos are cooked. Kaput. Never has a defense seemed like such a mirage as the D of the first six Denver games.
f. Michael Jenkins would have been the Goat of the Week were it not for Hank Poteat tackling Calvin Johnson in the end zone in Detroit. Jenkins dropped a perfect pass in the end zone from Matt Ryan that likely would have won the game for Atlanta at the Giants.
g. Does Seattle have anything to be optimistic about? I mean, other than the 2010 draft? Man, I never saw their horrendous season coming.
h. Tough luck, Perry Fewell. You deserved a better fate. Then again, so did Dick Jauron.
6. I think Terrell Owens has to be sitting there this morning, among the wreckage of the Buffalo season, thinking, "See how it would have all been different if they came to me more often?'' His nine-catch, 197-yard, histrionic-free performance featured a 98-yard catch-and-run TD from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Bills still lost, 18-15.
7. I think you have to sit Mark Sanchez, Rex Ryan. The game's overwhelming for him right now. His last pick Sunday in Foxboro was just plain stupid, if not panicky. Time for Kellen Clemens.
8. I think this is the most interesting thing, apropos of nothing, that I found out about football this week that I never knew before: In 1989, Tony Dungy was an unemployed coach, having left the Steelers coaching staff. He thought he was going to catch on with the Cincinnati Bengals, working under Sam Wyche as the defensive line coach, but GM Mike Brown was uncomfortable hiring a guy to coach the line who'd never done it before.
The Giants had an opening for a secondary coach. Bill Parcells was shuffling his coaching staff. Defensive backs coach Len Fontes resigned, creating an opening there. Dungy was asked to interview for the job. He walked into a room at Giants Stadium with the entire defensive staff, plus Parcells, there to interview him. Defensive coordinator Bill Belichick was in the room.
First question, from Parcells: "How do you guys play with such small, fast guys on defense [in Pittsburgh]?'' For six hours they grilled Dungy. They wanted him. He wanted them. But the fit for Dungy's family just wasn't right. He couldn't justify bringing his family to New Jersey, where, with an assistant's salary, he might have had to live 30 minutes or more from the stadium. He knew he'd have learned a lot from Parcells and Belichick. But he took a job in Kansas City instead, on Marty Schottenheimer's staff.
Dungy's not the kind of guy who lives with many regrets, but you get the feeling he regrets not taking the Giants' job, particularly after they won the Super Bowl in what would have been his second year in New York. By the way, turns out Belichick took on the secondary job, adding it to his coordinator duties, and the Giants never filled Fontes' job for those two seasons.
How interesting would it have been if Dungy coached with Parcells and Belichick? Would they have become smitten with his coaching ability? Would he have joined Belichick's staff in Cleveland, or gone on the long and winding trail through the '90s with Parcells, or stayed in New York and impressed George Young and Wellington Mara enough to succeed Ray Handley after that debacle? Instead, he ended up in staredowns with Belichick for seven years in the best rivalry in the league. I love these what-if games.
Last night, Dungy told me he thinks all the time about what would have happened if he had taken the Giants' job. "I'm sure I would have either ended up following Bill Parcells, or maybe I would have ended up on Bill Belichick's staff in Cleveland. Who knows?''
9. I think it's nice Bud Adams took out an ad in the Buffalo News (see right) wishing the Bills luck in the rest of their season. But wouldn't it have been smart for him to use the word "apology'' somewhere in there?
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Saw Pirate Radio, in part because I'll go see anything that stars or features Philip Seymour Hoffman. And the movie was good. B-minus good. The star of the show was the soundtrack. That's maybe the first time I've ever said that about a movie. From "Wouldn't It Be Nice'' (Beach Boys) to "Whiter Shade of Pale'' (Procol Harem) to "Sunny Afternoon'' (Kinks) to "Father and Son'' (Cat Stevens) ... terrific. That soundtrack was IPod-downloaded soon thereafter.
b. Thanks to all old and new friends for your support at the Montclair book-signing Saturday afternoon at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center at Montclair State. On a beautiful fall afternoon, I realized how much I miss the people and the place. Thanks for running it, Dave Kaplan. Your museum's going to be a great place after that facelift.
c. You call that a lot of Funkhauser? Come on, Larry David. When I say I want Funkhauser, I mean not just three or four lines.
d. Niggling criticism about a too-short season: I do not know what America is going to do without fresh episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
e. Michael Scott at the Dunder Mifflin shareholder's meeting was one of the great scenes in the history of The Office. Particularly his quasi-moonwalk on stage. Brilliant. Did you notice when Scott and Schrute and Company were driving away, the stock symbol of Dunder Mifflin on the Times Square stock-symbol ribbonboard came crashing through the floor? One of the great understated scenes I've seen on a TV show.
f. Until Saturday, I'd never heard of Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. But I have a feeling I'll be typing his name an awful lot in the coming year. What a football game that was in Tucson. Three touchdowns running by Masoli, three passing. What a cool cucumber.
g. Good for UConn.
h. Don't even compare the Yale coach's call -- running a fake punt while up 10-7, under three minutes to go against Harvard, fourth-and-22 at his own 25, best punter in the Ivy League back to punt, no timeouts left for Harvard, Yale defense having controlled the day, runner stopped short of the first down at the Yale 40 -- to Bill Belichick's. Not applicable. Belichick had a fourth-and-2 with Tom Brady on his side, not wanting to punt the ball so Manning could have two minutes to make him regret it. The call by Tom Williams made Belichick look like a Bill Walsh/Albert Einstein combo platter. I don't want to make this a scar-kids-for-life moment, because it shouldn't. But imagine those kids at Yale, walking off a football field for the last time in their lives, thinking, "This is my last memory in football? My coach going for it idiotically on fourth-and-22, causing us to lose to our arch-rivals?''
i. Are you kidding me, Les Miles?
j. Sunday night, 10:47, walking back from NBC to my midtown hotel. Phone rings. It's Brian Hyland, my former compadre on HBO's Inside the NFL. He's at the final Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concert of this tour (forever, perhaps?) in Buffalo, and he's now considerate enough to call me as "Tenth Avenue Freezeout'' begins, and he keeps the phone on for the first eight minutes of the song. Thanks, Brian. Not the best sound quality, but I'm a beggar, and I'm not choosy.
This is the most unscientific pick of the year. Pure gut feeling: Chris Johnson is on fire, Vince Young is gaining traction on a new career. The defense has learned to play without Albert Haynesworth. Tennessee 27, Houston 20 is not an anti-Texan pick, even though the Schaubmen are playing at home. It's a pro-Tennessee pick.
Football Insiders:Check out Stewart Mandel's College Football Overtime