The new year will begin without clear-cut Super Bowl XLIV favorite
NEW YORK -- Five things I want to hit right at the top:
1. Best team in football? We don't have one right now.
2. I don't like what Indy did Sunday, but we knew it was coming. Why all the outrage?
5. Bengals-Jets was the only real choice for the final Sunday night game of the year.
There's more to this last MMQB column of 2009 (including The Odyssey of Referee
The problem: Every good team is flawed. New England can't rush the passer. You can score on Philadelphia. Dallas, other than on plays to
Maybe an Arizona will pop up this year, a surprise team that rides the wave. This year, that team might be Green Bay or Arizona ... or maybe even the Jets because of a run game that always seems to find 175 yards of production somewhere. But the fact is, there's no lock in either conference. That means the next month will be fun and maddening.
San Diego might be a killer because
Since then, San Diego's won at Denver, at the Giants, at Dallas, and by 25 against a Tennessee team that had won seven of eight, playing on a short week. Turner's done this while juggling offensive gameplans with a running game averaging a paltry 3.3 yards a pop, and subbing most of the season for a center,
I spoke to Turner Sunday -- he had given his team and staff the day off, the benefit of the Christmas night game robbing them of their holiday -- and he said the difference in the season came when his team didn't allow the 2-3 start to snowball. "Sometimes, I think if a good team loses a few, like Tennessee this year, it's important to not overthink what's going on,'' he said. "We played one bad game, against Pittsburgh. Against Baltimore, we lost but threw for 430. Against Denver, we had 280 yards at the half. We were going to be fine, and the players just had to believe that. When we lost to Denver to go to 2-3, I told the team, 'It's not physical, it's mental.' We're a good team.''
Three other interesting nuggets from Turner. He said tight end
San Diego could have a bear of a run to the Super Bowl -- New England at home in the divisional game, then at Indianapolis. The Chargers, though, have beaten both. They're 3-3 against New England over the past seven years, and 4-1 against Indy in their past five meetings, including two straight playoff wins. Both would be great games.
"Toughest wide receiver in football,'' Harrison said of Smith.
Toughest player, I'd say.
The play came two minutes into the second half, from the Giants' 21-yard line.
"When I came out of my break to catch the ball,'' Smith told me from the Panthers' locker room, "I knew I didn't have long to go up and make the catch before I was going to get hit. I felt him [Johnson] coming. But that happens all the time. You catch the ball, you take the hit, you hang on. And so the ball came and I caught it, and he slammed into me. I felt it [break] right away. The bones were moving, shifting in there.''
"How'd you hold onto the ball?'' I asked.
"There was no chance I'd drop it,'' he said. "I'd die before I'd drop that ball. Then I fell into the end zone, and when I got up, I knew it was broken.''
He went to lift the left arm to help him cradle the ball, but the left arm wasn't working; he couldn't use it for support. So he went to the sidelines -- without grimacing -- and said to the trainer who came to meet him, "It's broken, man.''
"I didn't want anybody to touch it,'' he said.
He said he recalled in college colliding with BYU linebacker
"He gave me his best shot,'' Smith said, "and I must be a pretty good player. Because I broke my arm and still scored the touchdown.''
When Smith was getting the arm X-rayed, the doctor told him he'd have to have it set in surgery this morning. Smith wanted the doctor to cast it so he could play Sunday in the season finale against New Orleans -- a game that means nothing because Carolina's been eliminated from the playoffs. GM
"You in pain right now?'' I asked.
"Sort of,'' he said. "It's more of a minor nuisance.''
Football players are different than the rest of us.
I get it. And I agree. I think, especially because Peyton Manning takes so few big hits (in 12 seasons, he's never missed a start), it's not ultra-dangerous to leave him in the game, even if the untrustworthy
I understand the Colts' philosophy about not wanting to get key guys hurt. But whether players voice their feelings or not, guys like Manning and
• Saints safety
• Packers cornerback
• Denver outside linebacker
• Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, with six interceptions, a touchdown, and a league-high 31 passes defensed.
It's hard to quantify defensive stats, but I like the way
In average yards allowed to top receivers, the Jets lead the league by a wide margin at 30.5 yards per game -- and that's almost always been Revis' man. Washington (43.6), San Diego (44.5), Philadelphia (45.5) and Green Bay (48.5) follow. In average yards-after-the-catch, the Jets are first, at 2.6 yards, followed by Indy (2.9), Philadelphia (3.1), Denver (3.1) and Cincinnati (3.2). Woodson is second in cornerback run tackles with 35, while Revis is eighth with 20.
It'll probably be a close vote, but I'm leaning toward Revis. He's been matched against
Lots of people have asked why the Dallas-Philadelphia game, for the championship of the NFC East, wasn't flexed. A couple of reasons. All things being equal, the league would have preferred an AFC game to be flexed. By the end of the current contract in 2013, the league has to have flexed an equal number of FOX (NFC) and CBS (AFC) games to the Sunday night NFL package on NBC. As of today, the league has shifted four more NFC games than AFC games. So this lowers the margin to three. Another factor is that, by virtue of the Giants losing to Carolina and Dallas beating Washington, Dallas and Philadelphia were already playoff-bound. Now it's just a question of which seed each will be.
One more interesting note from the league's scheduling czar,
"I don't know how that ever got started,'' Katz said, "but it's not true. None of the networks get a choice. They all lobby, of course, but it's a league decision.''
"The perfect season was never an issue with us. We've said it time and time again. It's somebody else's issue, not ours.''
"I disagree with their whole scheme ... They don't let me rush. They're all against me, or whatever.''
"I think he knows that he should.''
"How would we look at a team that threw away a game to get a higher draft pick? How is that dif than the Colts game today?''
Good question, Angel. Very good question
This could easily have gone to
A few days before Sunday's game in Atlanta, Schobel told reporters in Buffalo he was considering retirement. "I don't think I'm as athletic as I once was,'' the 32-year-old defensive end said. "If I'm not as good as I once was, I'm not going to be around.'' He might want to hold off on buying the Winnebago. Schobel had three sacks of Atlanta quarterback
Not only did Smith, the former Mizzou Tiger quarterback, give the Jets their first lead over the previously 14-0 Colts with a 106-yard kickoff return for touchdown, but also the special-teams ace had three tackles in the Jets' 29-15 win. Smith caught the
The 77-yard punt return for touchdown by
He had one of the worst quarters a tackle could have, and it could go a long way toward knocking the Ravens out of the playoffs. Early in the fourth quarter of a 20-20 game in Pittsburgh, the Ravens' right tackle -- playing because left tackle
I'll tell you a sign that a team loves a player:
Check out the top five on the NFL's all-time touchdown list, and see the one category in NFL history -- touchdowns per season -- in which LT is lapping the field:
You'd have to go back to
Tomlinson has a slight edge over Brown in touchdowns per game in a career: 1.09 per game for Tomlinson, 1.07 for Brown.
As you know, I'm loathe to put players into Canton before they finish playing. I love the five-year waiting period because it allows the emotion to settle and the numbers and impact of a player to sink in, with the chance to calmly compare one star to another. But one day around 2017, Tomlinson has a heck of a chance to be joining his boyhood idol,
Great point from
This is not my travel note. It is veteran NFL referee Bill Leavy's. It happened two weekends ago, when snow blanketed the East Coast and travel was predictably difficult.
Normally, an NFL official flies to the game site to arrive Saturday afternoon for meetings, video study and a meal. Leavy, a retired cop and firefighter, lives in San Jose and had the Ravens-Bears game on Dec. 20. On Friday, he got an alert from the league office that advised him to fly Friday because of the bad weather approaching. So he booked a redeye with another official on his crew from the same area, back judge
"Everything was fine until we started our descent for Washington,'' Leavy said. "We were second in line to land when the pilot pulled up and got on the speaker and said, 'They've just closed the airport in Washington. They're going to divert us to Raleigh.' So that's where we went.''
It was snowing lightly in Raleigh. Leavy looked for trains and buses to the Washington-Baltimore area. He could find nothing. So he and Ferguson rented an SUV and set off on the five-hour drive, 300 miles, to the hotel a few miles south of the site of Sunday's game. It was 1:30 in the afternoon. With any luck, they'd be at the hotel by 6 or 6:30. So they got on the road and the snow picked up. By the time they were around Richmond, traffic was crawling and the snow was heavy. Officiating czar
Then, about 40 miles south of Washington, in a heavy storm, traffic on all three lanes stopped dead. For 30 minutes. An hour. Two hours. Nothing moved.
"I know everyone'll think we're suckups now,'' Leavy told me, "but we were just sitting there, tired of listening to hours of country music and Christmas music, and I got out our training tapes and our weekly replay tapes, and we just sat there, in the middle the highway, doing our homework, basically.''
"Is it possible,'' Leavy asked Ferguson, "that we'll still be sitting here tomorrow in the middle of this highway -- and the Ravens and Bears will play the game without us? I might miss my first NFL game.''
Four hours. Finally, about 2 a.m., more than four hours after they'd stopped dead in the road, the traffic started moving. At 4 a.m., they got to the Marriott, checked in, and slept. Leavy got seven hours. He felt great. They worked an uneventful game, got a nice phone call thanking them for their efforts from
"It sort of felt like 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles,' '' Leavy said.
So you wanted the glamorous life of an NFL official, did you?
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Week 16:
b. What a weird Week 17. Bengals-Jets, Philly-Dallas, Cards-Pack could all play back-to-back weeks, depending how the Wild Card matchups fall.
c. I don't see how
d. Yes, I did report last night about the exceedingly gray pall over the labor negotiations between players and owners. I hear progress is virtually nil and the players are pessimistic that a new deal will get done in time for them to play the 2011 season. It was clear listening to
e. San Diego catches a major health break, getting the bye in the first round of the playoffs, as well as a couple of extra days to rest over the weekend.
f. America gave up on the Patriots too soon.
g. I wouldn't want to play the Packers right now.
h. Unless he flops against the Ravens,
2. I think the NFL is going to have to ask questions to the Competition Committee, and soon, about whether it's smart to ask fans to pay real money if teams are going to treat late-season games like exhibition games.
3. I think I'd present this scenario to you, regarding the proposed 18-game schedule: Suppose the Colts started the season 14-0, and with four games to play, the closest AFC team to them in the standings were New England at 10-4, and Indy had already beaten New England. So the Colts have homefield through the AFC playoff clinched. And say Weeks 17 and 18 are home games. Now you have four games that mean nothing to a team; this year there were three. More games on the schedule could well mean more going-through the motions to make sure guys don't get hurt.
4. think it's a very long shot, but it'd be fun to see the Texans in the postseason, just to see what damage
5. I think as much as I've had my differences with the man (and that might be my Euphemism of the Year),
6. I think this is what I liked about Week 16:
a. Loved the effort of
c. Good hands,
d. Four straight 1,000-yard seasons for
e. When the Houston trainer was giving Gary Kubiak an injury rundown at halftime of the Texans' game at Miami, he mentioned rookie linebacker
g. Matt Moore is 5-2 as a starting quarterback. Looks smart, decisive. I'd be shocked if he didn't compete for the starting job in Carolina next year, assuming whoever coaches the team doesn't import a big-time quarterback.
i. The Bucs having a never-say-die attitude in New Orleans and becoming the first team in league history with 12 losses to defeat a team with 13 wins. The missed field goal at the end of regulation helped, but they still had to seal the deal with the game-winning drive in overtime. Admirable effort.
7. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 16:
a. I hope that interception to
b. Laurence Maroney fumbled at the goal line for the third time this year. No worries, Laurence. It's only seven points in a game with playoff implications.
c. Are you kidding me,
e. The Washington offense. "It was a disaster, yes,''
f. Pro Bowl rosters will be announced Tuesday night. If I'm lucky, I'll be out at "Up in the Air.''
g. Seattle has to think about its quarterback of the future. Matt Hasselbeck looks lost.
8. I think that stinker the Giants threw up in the last Giant game at Giants Stadium (and I do mean "threw up'') should make everyone in that organization think hard about whether the talent and coach inside the place is overrated. I was certain the Giants had the deepest 53-man roster at the start of the season, but GM
9. I think
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Rest in peace,
b. Don't know Connie Hines? I'll give you a clue: She starred in the greatest sitcom in American television history. (Answer later in this item.)
c. The family got frozen out of "Sherlock Holmes'' on Christmas afternoon, so we settled for "The Hangover,'' on DVD. Laughed as hard this time as when I saw it on the big screen.
d. I watch far too many reruns of "The Office,'' mindlessly. I can't help myself. I'm gaining a much better appreciation for the greatness of Kevin's acting.
e. Coffeenerdness: I believe I set an espresso record over the weekend. Three days, six drinks, 18 shots. That's got to change. Soon.
f. I'd just like to know, as a frequent flier, how a guy passes through security twice with explosives sewn into his underwear. Don't we have animals to sniff bomb-laden underwear? Can we figure out a better system to uncover hidden bombs?
g. "So this means his retirement was an Urban legend?''
h. I don't understand the Meyer story. What changed overnight? I admired him very much for stepping away, but not so much for coming back. There has to be a part of this that will allow Meyer to leave for good if he continues to experience the same health problems during the season.
i. So a few of you haven't received your books that I signed and we mailed out. If you're one of the folks whose book never came back, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll look into it and get back to you within a week.
j. I will be getting Kindle-conversant this week. Looking forward to it.
k. Connie Hines played Carol Post, the terminally unaware wife of Wilbur Post, who talked to Mr. Ed the horse in "Mr. Ed.'' She was the perfect southern California wife, pert and pretty and polite. But how are you married to a man who talks to a horse without knowing your husband has a close and conversational relationship with a large white horse who once tried out for the Dodgers and took sliding lessons from
Is Chicago really a great job in the unlikely event