Thursday January 20th, 2005

• Hey, Tom Coughlin. I'm guessing you know this deep in your gut by now, but after Sunday's debacle at Baltimore, you absolutely, positively can't run Eli Manning out there next Saturday on national TV with Pittsburgh and Ben Roethlisberger on the opposite sideline. What little confidence Manning has left might completely evaporate if Roethlisberger outshines the Giants' more celebrated rookie quarterback in his own home stadium. The juxtaposition would be entirely too stark for anyone's comfort.

Yes, we know Roethlisberger has a far superior team around him, and that Manning isn't getting a lot of help from the stumbling Giants. But that's not the whole story at this point. Manning clearly looks lost and a little glassy eyed, and there comes a time when a head coach must consider a mercy benching. For Manning's sake, and for the good of the franchise's costly investment in his future. That's why if I'm Coughlin, I'm looking in Kurt Warner's direction this week and telling him to stay loose.

• What on earth were Mike Tice, Scott Linehan and the Minnesota Vikings thinking? With the game -- and quite possibly their season -- on the line at home against Seattle, the Vikings ran a reverse/option pass to receiver Randy Moss, who proceeded to get picked off by Seahawks super rookie Michael Boulware in the end zone. It was first-and-10 from the Seattle 20, with the Vikings trailing 27-23 and 2:09 remaining when Minnesota got at least too cute by half.

Let me get this straight: You have a Pro Bowl quarterback with 31 touchdown passes already to his credit in Daunte Culpepper, and you opt to let Moss -- wearing a glove, no less -- throw maybe the biggest pass of the season? I wouldn't want to have been in Vikings owner Red McCombs' box when Moss tried to make like Peyton Manning. McCombs has fired NBA coaches for less than that.

• That was quite the Todd Heap sighting at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium (five catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns). Welcome back to the fight to the Ravens' Pro Bowl tight end, who hadn't played since badly spraining his ankle at home against Pittsburgh in Week 2. With all the fireworks that tight ends have accounted for in the NFL this season, you just knew that the talented Heap would still be heard from at some point.

• Speaking of the Ravens, between Kyle Boller's four touchdown passes and Chester Taylor's 104-yard rushing day (Jamal Lewis had just 32 yards on eight carries), Baltimore is looking dangerously close to being both balanced and big league on offense these days. Now if only the Ravens could make the playoffs.

• That Peyton Manning, he really let us all down by not breaking Dan Marino's single-season record for touchdown passes when we were all ready for him to do it. But he's still pretty good. I mean, he had two touchdown passes at Houston on Sunday before little brother Eli even had a completion in Baltimore.

• It's official. Atlanta's Rod Coleman can do it all. The Falcons' defensive tackle not only collapses the middle on run defense and rushes the passer, but he can catch too. On Coleman's 39-yard interception return touchdown of a tipped Kerry Collins pass, the big man showed some surprising quicks, out-racing some Raiders to the end zone.

I keep going back and forth with my NFL Defensive Player of the Year vote, but I know this much: Coleman, Pittsburgh linebacker James Farrior and Baltimore ballhawking safety Ed Reed are my three finalists.

• I think it's going to be a very interesting final few weeks in St. Louis for Rams head coach Mike Martz, who's liable to say or do anything with his underachieving club's season swirling down the drain. Unpredictable even in the best of times, here's hoping Martz has his medication dosage calibrated just right between now and Jan. 2.

Oh, and put me down for the Rams not winning another game, to finish with a 6-10 flourish, losing six of their last seven after that big home win against Seattle in Week 10. I'm just saying.

• On the flip side, let's give it up for Mike Holmgren and those szchizophrenic Seahawks. They beat Minnesota six days after the meltdown at home against Dallas, a devastating loss that could have prompted Seattle to tank the rest of its season away. Down 10-0 early, the Seahawks fought back and then actually protected a fourth-quarter lead (imagine that).

It's not too early to say it: That's the win that's going to earn Seattle the NFC West title (which will be worth a one-and-out playoff run).

• Congrats to Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis on landing the coveted (or at least it used to be coveted) Notre Dame head coaching job. Question: Between now and the end of New England's season, do we forward all questions about the Irish's recruiting class to Bill Belichick?

• I'm gonna throw this one out there without checking: Ten bucks says Corey Dillon kept the ball after scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run against Cincinnati. By the way, maybe this is coincidence, and maybe it was Marvin Lewis's primary consideration Sunday in Foxboro, but Dillon finished with 88 yards rushing on 22 carries for New England, and Bengals running back Rudi Johnson -- Dillon's replacement in Cincinnati -- had 89 yards on 24 rushes.

• Even if they win out and finish 10-6, there may not be enough season left for the Buffalo Bills to make the playoffs. But it's getting more intriguing by the week in Orchard Park, isn't it? I guarantee you nobody wants to see Mike Mularkey's bunch pop up on their schedule about now.

• I give up trying to figure out the Cowboys. You can't post the kind of dramatic comeback victory at Seattle Monday night, then turn around and lay an egg at home against the playing-out-the-string Saints. And while we're on the topic of breakfast foods, I would fairly well guess that head coach Bill Parcells' bacon is frying tonight.

• You can't say Butch Davis didn't know what he was doing in pulling his own rip cord in Cleveland with four weeks left in the season. Anybody who gets out of watching the Browns these days can't be all that clueless.

• Dennis Erickson late Sunday petitioned the league to play Arizona every week. Erickson's 49ers are 2-0 against the Cardinals this season, and 0-11 against those other pesky 30 teams.

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