UNSUPPORTED BROWSER
More Sports

Very little feels normal as an action-packed Week 5 nears an end

NEW YORK -- The voice from across the country late Sunday night said what we all feel, if I'm not mistaken, about the 2010 NFL season.

"What is normal in this league right now?'' Larry Fitzgerald, fan of the game, said from Arizona. "Such a strange year.''

It's Oct. 11, the Monday morning of Week 5, and the league is fresh out of unbeatens. (Last year, after five weeks, five perfect teams remained.) The Colts go 55 minutes without a touchdown, at home, against Kansas City. Half the free world picked the Cowboys to play the first home Super Bowl ever; instead, they're the worst team in the NFC East and have rendered Jerry Jones speechless.

The Packers were supposed to waltz into the playoffs with an Indy-like offense, and we look up this morning to find they've been outscored by Shaun Hill's Lions. Atlanta coach Mike Smith admitted to me the other day the Falcons could be anywhere from 1-3 to 4-0, but after a gritty slugfest next to Lake Erie against the Browns, there's a good chance they're the best team in the NFC at 4-1.

Carolina, San Diego, San Francisco and Cincinnati ... 4-16.

Jacksonville 107 points scored, New Orleans 99.

Max Hall 1, Drew Brees 0.

Kansas City and Tampa Bay, three wins each. San Diego and Dallas, three losses.

Randy Moss, a Viking. Brett Favre, accused. The circus is in town tonight.

Vince Lombardi, on Broadway. (I saw it with my own eyes Friday. He'd laugh if he were around. It's right next door to Wicked.)

An odd year, with an ugly twist to start Week 5.

**********

Say it ain't so, Brett.

That's what the league has to be praying. Deadspin.com last week published embarrassing voice mails and inappropriate photos (that might be the understatement of the year) that it alleges were sent from Favre to an attractive former Jets sideline host, Jenn Sterger, in 2008. Maybe I'm a jaded 53-year-old who's seen a little infidelity in this business over the years, but the voice mails don't bother me much in terms of NFL discipline; what a married man does in his off time is not something I care to police, and I don't believe the NFL should care about it either, unless there is some implied coercion involved, which does not seem to be the case here. Clumsy, yes. Coercion, no.

But in the wake of the league saying it viewed sexual harassment as a serious concern in last month's case of the TV Azteca reporter feeling uncomfortable with the attention paid her at the Jets' complex, it has no choice but to see if Favre has any culpability in this matter. In other words, was he responsible for sending the lewd photos to Sterger? If so, the league will have to hand down some discipline on Favre.

I said this last night on NBC: There shouldn't be a rush to judgment in this case; Favre has never been found guilty of any matter in the league's Personal Conduct Policy in his 19 years in the NFL and should be afforded the presumption of innocence here. You shouldn't assume that Favre, if found culpable in the matter, will be suspended, because commissioner Roger Goodell most often does not go the suspension route on a first offense in the conduct policy. Now, he could find this offense particularly troubling and call for a suspension, certainly. But I don't think it's automatic.

Favre told ESPN last night at the production meeting for the network's Vikings-Jets Monday Night Football game that he looks forward to speaking with Goodell about the issue. Re Sterger, now a co-host of a sports show on Versus: She has no interest in pursuing any sort of sexual harassment claim against Favre or the Jets, I am told. As it relates to her cooperation in this, I was told on Saturday that she would go along with the NFL investigation and be interviewed.

On Sunday, she was in seclusion, and now she may be rethinking how to deal with NFL investigators talking to her. But if she no-comments the NFL, and if the investigation cannot continue because she won't cooperate (which I'm not sure is a logical conclusion to draw), she risks being seen as an enabler. Sterger probably wishes she had deleted the voice mails, other electronic communication and photos. I don't believe she had anything to do with Deadspin.com's acquisition of the photos and voice mails, by the way.

As for Favre, if he's disciplined by the league, he'll have 10 days to decide whether to appeal the commissioner's decision. During those 10 days, he'd be able to continue playing.

Not exactly the kind of headline you thought you'd see in the middle of the NFL season, involving the former SI "Sportsman of the Year.'' But it's out there now, and Goodell and the league have to deal with it. Goodell's going to have a tough call if he finds Favre at fault, but his recent history shows (Ben Roethlisberger in particular) he won't shirk that tough call. I expect a resolution by the end of the month.

**********

One real-football-world Favre note, perhaps inappropriate given the circumstances.

When the game in New Jersey is kicked off tonight, America will wonder how Favre will cope with the maelstrom around him, and the potential circus atmosphere of the evening. Jet fans haven't forgotten Favre raising Super Bowl hopes with the Jets' 8-3 start in his lone New York season, 2008, only to see him lose four of the last five as the Jets fell out of the playoff race.

But if you're looking for a harbinger of his mindset -- I was told by a prominent Vikings official last night that you wouldn't even know there was a controversy with how business-as-usual Favre's been -- two games from his past might approximate the stress he could feel tonight. I don't include normal football stress, like a player would feel in a playoff game. I'm talking personal stress, from things other than football. And I'm thinking of the game he played in Oakland 24 hours after his father's death, and the emotion-sapping game he played in Green Bay, returning to Lambeau Field last year as the enemy after being the hero for 17 years. The numbers tell an interesting story.

Not bad. Then again, he wasn't facing a Rex Ryan defense in either of those games.

**********

And now for the rest of Sunday's stories -- the football stories.

What did I tell you about Max Hall? I know. It's silly to say Hall outdueled Drew Brees and the Super Bowl champion Saints when the touchdowns in Arizona's 30-20 upset were scored by a tackle, a safety and a cornerback. But you've got to hand it to Hall, who I wrote about Friday in this space. Think of the pressure he faced: undrafted free-agent, fourth on the depth chart at quarterback two months ago, trying to succeed legendary Kurt Warner, who was upstairs in the Fox broadcast booth doing the game. In his first NFL start, Hall was playing in his hometown after he couldn't get on the field at Arizona State and had to transfer to BYU to play ...

"Yeah,'' he said late last night. "A lot of reasons to feel pressure, and I definitely felt it. But you've got to just play to have any chance of doing well. That's what I tried to do. It wasn't perfect, but it was a start, and I know I can play better.''

A pedestrian 17-of-27 for 168 yards with no touchdowns and an interception, Hall made his bones in this game late in the first half, scrambling for the end zone and diving through three Saints defenders (or trying to dive) in an attempt to score. The ball popped out and he lay on the field, semi-conscious, while tackle Levi Brown took the favorable bounce and gamboled into the end zone. Touchdown. The crowd went nuts.

"I got dinged a little bit,'' Hall said. "I was hurting pretty good. My head was spinning a little. I got the wind knocked out of me. That's not a smart play by me. I can't be taking on big linebackers and trying to dive through them. I've got to be smarter.''

True, but his teammates loved him for it. "After he got lit up on that play,'' guard Alan Faneca told me, "when he laid it on the line for us -- I mean, we were behind him before that anyway, but when he did that, we were going to lay it on the line for him the exact same way.''

Derek Anderson finished the half, but Hall came back to start the third quarter. "For me to not finish that game, I've got to be dead, or something like that,'' Hall said. Sounds like the Valley of the Sun might have a new hero, and some hope in the horrible NFC West.

**********

Carson Palmer's in trouble -- and the Michael Spurlock was Sunday's beneficiary.

Palmer's season is now officially a three-alarm fire. The Bengals overcame an awful telegraphed interception he threw -- returned by rookie Cody Grimm for a first-half touchdown -- to lead 21-14 in a game they had to win (home against Tampa) if they hoped to muscle into the AFC playoff race. Then Palmer threw two more interceptions in the final 2:30 to blow the game.

The first led to a Josh Freeman-to-Mike Williams 20-yard touchdown pass. The second, with 25 seconds left in the game, led to Connor Barth's winning field goal. A stunner. "We didn't win, and it's my fault,'' Palmer said.

He'll get no arguments from Cincinnati fans, who got their hearts broken by that pathetic display in the afternoon, and then, a few hundred yards away in the evening, by the Reds getting swept out of their first playoff series in 15 years. Blame Palmer, but also factor in young Spurlock, the third-year pro from Ole Miss who made the heartbreak possible.

Starting from the Cincinnati 34 with 14 seconds left after Palmer's third pick of the day, the Bucs had a four-receiver set in the game. "It was an 'all-go,' '' Spurlock told me last night. The receivers would fly downfield, then read the coverage and either keep going into the end zone or cut off their routes, depending on how the defensive backs were playing them.

"They were playing a strict Cover 2,'' Spurlock said. And so he knew he would be very unlikely to catch anything behind corner JohnathanJoseph. He cut his route to the sideline, and Freeman thought he had just enough space to get him the ball. "As a receiver, you just want to catch the ball and let your body go limp," Spurlock said. "Getting your feet in becomes second nature. I knew they were in.'' But did he hang onto the ball? It looked like the ball moved in his hands as he fell earthward, and the Bengals called time to allow for the virtual certainty of a booth review. After reviewing the play, though, the officials let the call stand. And Barth's field goal won it.

Tampa being 3-1 is even more surprising than Kansas City being 3-1. The Bucs went young everywhere on the roster, and the quick development at quarterback, receiver, the defensive line and secondary is -- in a word -- stunning.

"Maybe it's surprising to everyone else,'' said Spurlock, "but not to us. We think we should be 4-0.''

New Orleans visits the Pirate Ship on Sunday. All of a sudden, the Saints have a dangerous game to try to right their own ship.

**********

Move over, Troy Polamalu.

It's good to be able to watch all the games in the NBC viewing room on Sundays, because it allows me to keep an eye on players around the league. And in the first five weeks of the season, no single defensive player in the league has jumped from relative anonymity to stardom like strong safety LaRon Landry of the Redskins. He leads the NFL in tackles (52) through five weeks, and Sunday, he was the most important Redskin defender in a 16-13 defeat of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

Talk about starting and finishing the job: In the first minute of the game, on the first Green Bay series of the day, he creamed tight end Donald Lee and forced a fumble that the Redskins recovered. In the 63rd minute, in overtime, Landry picked off a Rodgers pass intended for the forgotten Greg Jennings; five minutes later, a Graham Gano field goal won the game.

"He's fast, he's a hitter and loves to play,'' coach Mike Shanahan said after the game. "He's that way every snap -- obviously a great football player.''

Landry was a first-round pick by the Redskins in 2007, and the coach then, Joe Gibbs, wanted to pair him with Sean Taylor long-term to give Washington the most feared set of safeties in the league. But Taylor died that November, and when Gibbs retired after the season, the new regime moved Landry from strong safety to free.

"My rookie year, I felt I was in the right position to take advantage of how aggressive I like to play,'' Landry told me last night. "But when the staff changed, coach [Greg] Blache moved me, and nothing against him, I didn't feel it took advantage of what I did best. As a free safety, I'm kind of the savior back there, sitting back. That's not how I play best.''

But new coordinator Jim Haslett moved him to strong again, and Landry is comfortable in run-support and the occasional blitz. Against Green Bay, he led a disguised Washington scheme that seemed to frustrate Rodgers all afternoon.

"I think the best is yet to come for me,'' he said. And maybe for the Redskins too. They've beaten Philadelphia and Dallas already, and they're tied for first in the NFC East. Landry's nearly as big a reason for that as Donovan McNabb.

**********

Moss, unwanted.

Spare me, please, all the wonderful words about what a great locker-room presence, unselfish warrior and all-around statesman Randy Moss was in New England. The way the Patriots were talking about him last week, I kept thinking he was a Mother Teresa-JFK combo platter.

Bill Belichick would have you believe there was no good reason to deal Moss other than for the best interests of the team. No good reason, of course, other than the wideout spouting off selfishly in a 17-minute screed after a big opening-day win, and a reported halftime dispute with offensive playcaller Bill O'Brien Monday night in Miami, and whatever other disruptive thing that might have been kept in-house.

Two reasons for all the niceness: Why fire up Moss for his return trip to Foxboro on Oct. 31 with the Vikings? And why alienate those in the locker room who loved Moss?

Here's what I find interesting: Think of all the teams with employees who have close ties to the Patriots and need at receiver. None of them wanted Moss.

Kansas City (GM Scott Pioli, Belichick's right hand-man for a decade, and Charlie Weis, former Belichick offensive coordinator) has a tight end as its leading receiver and could use a deep threat to supplement Dwayne Bowe, Chris Chambers and multipurpose threat Dexter McCluster. No interest.

Carolina (offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson, former Belichick line coach) has the injured Steve Smith, who may be in decline, and three rookies. No interest.

Cleveland (coach Eric Mangini, former Belichick defensive coordinator) has young receivers, none of whom has been a difference-maker, except for the versatile Josh Cribbs. No interest.

No interest from former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in Denver, though that's understandable. The Broncos are set at receiver. No interest from respected adversary Shanahan in Washington.

At the end of the day, Belichick, feeling he had to get rid of Moss, was lucky the Vikings were so desperate. If Minnesota hadn't been so needy, the Patriots would have been faced with this question: Is Moss such a distraction that we should cut him and pay the rest of his prorated $6.4 million 2010 salary?

Postscript: CBS insider Charley Casserly reported Sunday that Moss and Tom Brady had to be separated in recent days from going "toe-to-toe,'' as Casserly put it. But I reported on NBC's Football Night in America show Sunday night that two high-ranking Patriots sources told me the story isn't true. One of them said, "Someone lied to CBS.''

So while I think there was enough mayhem surrounding Moss to prompt a trade, I don't think he went at it with Brady.

**********

At some point, this draft bounty is going to pay off.

In 2009, the Patriots had more draft picks in the top 100 than any other team in the league (6). Same thing in 2010 -- five picks in the top 100 led all of football. Now, looking forward to 2011, New England's extra picks in the first, second and third rounds will give it the most prime picks again.

Let's see how that compares to their archrival, the Jets, with the round and overall choice before each draftee.

A couple of notes. The 2011 projections are based on where the teams are in the standings and where they may end up -- and the likely false supposition that neither team will make any trades before the April draft. And the Mark Sanchez pick could end up being worth a lot more that a single pick. So when I say the Patriots could outnumber the Jets over a three-year period in top 100 picks, 17-6, and when I say this could have a major impact on each team in the next five or six years, it's true. But it's also just part of the picture.

The chart doesn't account for the players mined after the top 100 -- like the Pats using the 113rd overall pick this year on Aaron Hernandez, who, early on, looks like a great addition to the passing game. I wouldn't be surprised to see him take up a good bit of the slack for the departed Moss. He's become a downfield threat early.

**********

A preview of tomorrow's column

I'll cover the Monday-nighter, in brief, as well as look into why three NFC powerhouses -- Dallas, Green Bay and the defending Super Bowl champion Saints -- are struggling. Also, I'll have a few thoughts on the Titans, one of the league's most interesting teams in 2010.

1. Baltimore (4-1).Ray Rice lives. And I continue to regret calling the secondary so awful before the season. Wait until that group gets Ed Reed back, likely in a couple of weeks.

2. New York Jets (3-1). Who'd have thought the mouthy Jets would be way down the headline scale on a Monday night at home, with a Super Bowl MVP winner, SantonioHolmes, playing his first game for the home team. Wild and wacky stuff.

3. Pittsburgh (3-1).Ben Roethlisberger's interview with Merril Hoge was good. The Steelers hope his return to their starting lineup is just as good.

4. Atlanta (4-1). I really like what I see out of that opportunistic defense, particularly in defensive end Kroy Biermann, who rumbled and stumbled for the insurance touchdown on an interception at Cleveland.

5. Indianapolis (3-2). I keep figuring we'll all wake up one of these days and see the Colts of old. Problem is, Indy has so many injuries forcing new guys into the lineup that I keep seeing a lot of shaky Colts of new.

6. Green Bay (3-2). The Packers lost a crushing one in Washington, and though it wasn't because of their running game, you got the feeling during the week that the players were turning a questioning eye toward GM Ted Thompson for not making a deal to augment the backfield when Marshawn Lynch was shipped to Seattle for a fourth-round pick.

"The politically correct answer is that we want to go and fight with the team we have,'' cornerback Charles Woodson told Jim Rome, via sportsradiointerviews.com. "But whenever you look on the TV and you see breaking news and it's somebody making a deal like that, a part of you wants to do something to rival the attention that another team is getting from making a big trade. We would definitely welcome that ... For us, as players, there's nothing you can do.''

Again, the Packers didn't lose to the Redskins because of the run (17 rushes, 157 yards). It's the passing game that needs the most help right now.

7. New England (3-1). If you've got a fantasy football team, you want to trade for Aaron Hernandez. Now. Just watch him be more of a downfield threat than you could ever have imagined for a fourth-round rookie.

8. Tennessee (3-2). When Vince Young is moving the offense, this is a team capable of winning anywhere. We saw another example of that in Dallas Sunday.

9. Washington (3-2). Won back-to-back big games against good teams, narrowly, in the last eight days.

10. New York Giants (3-2). Won back-to-back big games against good teams, in routs, in the last eight days.

11. Chicago (4-1). The Bears won with a quarterback, Todd Collins, completing six passes and throwing four interceptions Sunday ... and they won by 17! Such is life when you play the Carolina Panthers and have a runner like Matt Forte (22 carries, 166 yards) pushing the defense around.

12. Kansas City (3-1).Tamba Hali's become a very good edge rusher, and the Chiefs are one of the best defenses in the league no one knows about. They're allowing 14.3 points a game.

13. New Orleans (3-2). One of Sean Payton's mentors, Bill Parcells, has a saying: "You never pick up this year where you left off last year in football. Every year's its own new thing.'' Payton knows. Oh, he knows.

14. Tampa Bay (3-1). Never thought Saints-Bucs in Week 6 would be as close as it is to a pick-'em affair. Crazy league.

15. Philadelphia (3-2).Kevin Kolb needed to throw a knockout punch in the quarterback boxing match Sunday night, and what he did was win a TKO with his very nice 22-of-32 night in the 27-24 win at San Francisco. Maybe he'll get one more start before Mike Vick returns, or maybe Vick pushes hard to be ready next week against Atlanta in a game he really wants to play.

1. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. Look at the team he's playing with. It's semi-decimated. Colts are 3-2, and he's completing 68 percent with 11 touchdowns and two intereceptions.

2. Donovan McNabb, QB, Washington. The last time Washington saw a quarterback with McNabb's moxie and guts, Billy Kilmer was playing.

3. Tom Brady, QB, New England. Pats are averaging 33 points a game (obviously, with help from special-teams after last Monday's win), but Brady's importance will only rise now that Moss is gone.

4. Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh. Long uphill climb for Roethlisberger to catch the big-haired one as the Steelers' most valuable.

5. Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay. Forget the stats. Watch the Bucs. They're a gallant team, and Freeman makes more mistakes than he should. But he's the on-field keystone to an intriguing team that's not going away.

Offensive Player of the Week

Shaun Hill, QB, Detroit.

The Lions had been 2-35 in their previous 37 games. I mean, how many times have you seen Detroit in the victory formation on offense, which is how they ended this game? Hill was the biggest reason. He was 21-of-32 for 227 yards, with three touchdowns and no picks. I love this about his game: He played no favorites. He completed four passes apiece to five receivers, and his three touchdown passes went to three receivers. Hill was 20 of 30 to Nate Burleson, Calvin Johnson, Tony Scheffler, Brandon Pettigrew and Jahvid Best. That's spreading it around.

Defensive Player of the Week

Antoine Bethea, S, Indianapolis.

Though the Colts were leading 6-0 with a minute left in the first half, Kansas City was playing this game just the way coach Todd Haley wanted -- playing keepaway from Manning with some long drives that limited his touches. The Chiefs started the year 3-0 in no small part because they hadn't lost a fumble. But with Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles near the end of an eight-yard gain at the Colts 33 with a minute left in the first half, Bethea exploded into him and the ball popped out. End of drive. Instead of the Chiefs having a chance to go up 7-6, Indy stunted the drive, and the Chiefs, as it turned out, never got the lead in a 19-9 Indianapolis win. For the day, Bethea, the survivor in a season filled with injuries, had seven tackles and the forced fumble.

Special Teams Players of the Week

Rock Cartwright, RB, and Brandon Myers, TE, Oakland.

A brilliant bit of special-teams play by the Raiders in the first five minutes against San Diego in Oakland. A minute into the game, after a failed first drive by the Chargers, Cartwright steamed through the A gap and blocked Mike Scifres' punt out of the end zone for a safety. The Raiders took the ensuing free kick and drove to a 50-yard Sebastian Janikowski field goal. Oakland held again, and forced another Scifres punt, and this time Myers came through the middle of the line again and laid on the punt for the second block in five minutes. This time, safety Hiram Eugene picked it up and scored a short touchdown. Oakland 12, San Diego 0 -- and all because of special teams. The architect of the great special-teams performance is a name familiar to many of you. John Fassel. Son of Jim.

Coach of the Week

Jim Haslett, defensive coordinator, Washington.

Over a 44-minute span Sunday against the once-mighty Packers, Haslett's aggressive defense held Green Bay to three points. Ten drives, three points. Forty-four plays, no touchdowns. Haslett had to go to the United Football League last year to be a head coach, and I'm not saying teams will be beating his door down next winter to be a head man in the NFL again. But he's having a terrific year putting good players in position to be great -- like strong safety LaRon Landry, who forced a fumble and had an interception Sunday.

Goat of the Week

Dwayne Bowe, WR, Kansas City.

Indy 9, Chiefs 6, 18 minutes left, KC ball at the Colts' 30. Matt Cassel throws deep down the left side for Bowe in the end zone, and ... drop. Next play: Cassel to Bowe, to the left, a little makeup throw, and Bowe drops it, again. Chiefs settle for a field goal. Not good enough. They should have had the lead on the first play of the drive. Instead, they never led, and the Colts won by 10, and the Chiefs had no one to blame more than Bowe for their unbeaten season going up in smoke.

"It's terrible. It's 0-5. The laughing stock of the National Football League. I think we are losing fans by the minute.''-- Safety Donte Whitner after his Bills, the laughingstock of the AFC at least, were routed by the Jaguars at home.

"Take away the Patriots from Bill Belichick and what is he? A gym teacher with better jewelry, no disrespect to gym teachers intended.''-- Ron Borges, columnist for the Boston Herald, in a scathing column critical of Belichick for trading Randy Moss.

"I can't wait to taste his power.''-- Jets linebacker Bart Scott, who has never faced Adrian Peterson before, on the prospect of facing the Minnesota running back tonight at the New Meadowlands Stadium.

"I just saw something I thought I'd never see after Week 5 of a 17 week season ... graphic on NFL Network: if the postseason started today!?!?!'' -- giantspathanlon, Giants PR man Pat Hanlon, at 1:16 Monday morning.

Don't blame Larry Fitzgerald if he's feeling a little ... um, stressed, these days. Or maybe like Gumby, stretching for balls he used to catch in stride. Clearly, no one on the Cardinals misses Kurt Warner more. Since entering the league in 2004, Fitzgerald has never had as much difficulty pulling in passes as he's had this year. That led, in part, to the Cards making a switch at quarterback, going from the inaccurate Derek Anderson to the unproven (but Ken Whisenhunt guesses, more accurate) Max Hall. Charting the percentage of balls thrown to Fitzgerald with Warner on the roster to this year's early numbers, and this year's figures include a 7-of-9 showing Sunday in the win over the Saints:

With Warner: 62.0 percent. Without Warner: 48.1 percent. ... though things seem to be looking up with Hall.

Oct. 17, next Sunday, is a very interesting date in the family history of Clay Matthews, and in Midwestern football.

On Oct. 17, 1954, in Wrigley Field in Chicago, defensive end William Clay Matthews of the 49ers had a key block on the interception return that helped San Francisco beat the Bears 31-24.

On Oct. 17, 1993, at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, linebacker William Clay Matthews Jr. had two sacks in the Browns' 28-17 victory over the Bengals.

On Oct. 17, 2010, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, linebacker William Clay Matthews III hopes to take the field against Miami (he's battling a sore hamstring).

According to T.J. Troup, author of This Day in Football: A Day-by-Day Record of the Events that Shaped the Game, it would be the first time in NFL history that a father, son and grandson played on the same calendar date. As for the fancy name, just call them "Clay.''

Well, I'm sitting here early this morning writing with a walking boot on my right foot, because of my stupidity. I have a stress reaction to my right fibula, which is to say it hurts a little bit to walk, and it's a nuisance, and I'm not really injured but the thing won't go away unless I have this boot on for a couple of weeks. I felt some discomfort there, above my right ankle, before the half-marathon in New Hampshire last weekend, and then the pounding I put on it by sprinting the last 200 or 250 yards exacerbated it. Turns out you're not supposed to do that, which was news to me. So I'll cool my heels, and heal.

In the meantime, here's the tally of your contributions as of Friday:

Charity Donation total: Wounded Warrior Project $14,335.27. Feed the Children $10,334.00. Total $24,669.27

I know that will rise. A Twitter friend said he was donating $331 Saturday night, to make it an even $25,000. Good people out there.

Feed the Children has informed me they'll take the proceeds and load up two semitrailers and take food and household supplies to two needy American cities. They asked if I wanted to choose them, and I asked which cities statistically were the neediest. Buffalo and Cleveland, I was told. And so sometime in the next few weeks, semis will enter the inner cities in Buffalo and Cleveland with food and supplies to serve 400 families -- each family will receive a 25-pound box of nonperishable food, and a 10-pound box of personal-care items, and a box of Avon products.

I'm going to try to get a player from the Browns or Bills involved at each distribution site, and if I do, I'll include their efforts in a future column.

As for the Wounded Warriors, they have myriad ways to use your generosity -- from rehab for amputees or wheelchair-bound veterans, to job training and other ways they acclimate veterans back into society.

So thanks for all your support. Whenever I ask for your help, you do far more than I have a right to expect.

1. I think this is what I liked about Week 5:

a. Jason Whitlock's column on foxsports.com about the Favre story, placing the responsibility of getting to the bottom of it at the doorstop of Roger Goodell, which is where it belongs. Whatever Goodell finds, he finds.

b. I don't care if it didn't work. I liked the Chiefs' onside-kick on the first play of the game at Indy. You won't beat the Colts without taking some chances.

c. The Ravens, winning in many ways. If they can run the way they ran Sunday, they're going to be a tough out in January.

d. Matt Forte. With 18- and 68-yard touchdown runs in the first half of the first quarter, he did what the Bear running game hadn't been able to do in the first four games: dominate behind a shaky line.

e. Cody Grimm. Victimized in his first NFL starts against the Steelers in Week 3, he suckered Carson Palmer into an interception at the Bengal 11, stepping in front of Terrell Owens and waltzing in for the touchdown.

f. Jeff Fisher, who was right. Chris Johnson will be just fine, as a 19-for-131 day showed.

g. The combination of Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, who followed a six-sack game against Chicago with three, combined, in Houston.

h. Atlanta's run defense, and the stout Jonathan Babineaux, in particular, for holding the Browns to 48 yards on the ground -- in Cleveland.

i. Philip Rivers. Not his fault his special teams put the Chargers in a 12-zip hole.

j. Malcom Floyd (eight catches, 213 yards). Yes, the Vincent Jackson holdout should have been solved two months ago. No, it's not hurting the team very much.

k. Aaron Kampman, reborn in Jacksonville, with 1.5 sacks at Buffalo. How many teams are saying this morning, "Why didn't we go after Kampman harder when he left Green Bay?''

l. Ndamukong Suh. The leader in the clubhouse for Defensive Rookie of the Year. I know T.J. Ward's been very good, but Suh's been dominant. On his rolling-ball-of-butcher-knives 20-yard interception return, you could sense no one wanted to get in his way.

m. David Garrard, for his nice comeback over the last two weeks. Completed 80 percent yesterday in Buffalo.

n. The city of Detroit. It's not easy losing 35 of 37 and not winning by a rout for five years. Happy for you.

o. The delicious prospect of two Atlanta-Philadelphia games across the street from each other next Sunday in Philly: the Eagles and Falcons at 1 at the Linc, the Phils and Braves (if the Braves can go on a two-game winning streak) at 8 in the baseball park.

p. The Raiders, for breaking the 13-game schneid against San Diego, and Tyvon Branch, for having the football sense to not just dive on a fourth-quarter loose ball but to run it back 68 yards for the insurance touchdown.

2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 5:

a. Carson Palmer looks like a shot-putter, not a quarterback.

b. The utter hopelessness of the Bills and Panthers.

c. I agree with Tony Dungy. If Carolina and Buffalo were to meet, justice would be a scoreless tie.

d. My preseason prediction of the Panthers as a wild card team. I believe I have my bachelor's in football prognostication from Idiotic A&M.

e. Dallas, the worst team in the NFC East.

f. Houston. Like Cincinnati, the Texans cannot stand prosperity. I don't care if the Giants' defense is the '76 Steel Curtain. Eleven first downs, at home, with that offense ... unacceptable on so many levels.

g. Norv Turner, Steve Crosby. Bad special-teams play is the fault, ultimately, of Crosby. An underachieving team lays at the feet of Turner.

h. Wade Phillips, whose Cowboys made Jerry Jones speechless at home. Jones is never speechless, and the fact that he didn't do a postgame meeting with the media ... well, that doesn't bode well for ol' Wade.

i. I don't care if you scored, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The right play with the lead and 16 seconds left after intercepting the ball is not to weave through opponents who could strip you. The right play is to secure the ball and get on the ground, so as to not risk any chance of a turnover.

j. John Carney. You can't miss 29-yard chippies in this league.

3. I think it bears repeating that I liked a lot of what I saw out of the Raiders Sunday. Last year, I remember Shane Lechler telling me he was adamant that the team shouldn't change coaches, because the players really responded to Tom Cable. You can tell they play hard for him, and beating the nemesis Chargers -- and coming from behind to do so -- speaks volumes.

4. I think there isn't a position in football where the gap between the best and second-best player is as big as it is at tight end. Antonio Gates is 1. You could argue that two might this season be Vernon Davis, Dallas Clark, DustinKeller or Tony Gonzalez if you want to give credit to the classic old guy who still plays very well. But you can't make a good argument for one of them being number 1.

5. I think no matter how stridently you beg, Card fans, you're not getting Warner out of retirement. "No, no, no,'' he told me Thursday night. "I'm done. I'm fully content. No one knows how much the last couple of years took out of me, and I'm so thankful my identity isn't totally caught up in football. I knew when to get out.''

6. I think the thing I really respect about Warner is his unvarnished honesty. If you ask him a question and he can answer it, you'll get the truth. The other night, I asked him how he was enjoying doing the Dancing With the Stars show. Warner is a devout Christian. He has to dance very closely with his very attractive partner, Anna Trebunskaya, and he had to do it recently on TV -- on the 13th anniversary of his wedding anniversary to wife Brenda.

"It's been fun,'' Warner said, "but it's been challenging too, and more of a commitment than I ever thought it would be. I'm busier than I was as a football player.'' And Brenda's reaction? "She has her moments,'' Warner said. "I totally understand. It's tough on us. When I was dancing 'the dance of love' with my partner, it was our anniversary, and Brenda said, 'Do you find it ironic that you're dancing the dance of love on our 13th anniversary?' ''

I mean, how many people would level with a reporter like that? I find it refreshing and very, very human.

7. I think if you're a football fan, the 95-minute "Lombardi'' play opening on Broadway Oct. 21 will be worth your while. I saw the adaptation of the great When Pride Still Mattered book by David Maraniss on Friday night at Circle in the Square Theater in midtown Manhattan and was impressed with a few things.

Dan Lauria (the dad from The Wonder Years) looks about as much like Lombardi as anyone could. Marie, his wife (played by Judith Light) portrayed the angst and wide range of emotions a coach's wife must feel daily. Now, in a play about Lombardi, I wondered if I would feel the semi-rage his players must have felt, and the attempts at intimidation they must have felt; and I wondered if the occasional pushbacks from players like Jim Ringo, Jerry Kramer and Jim Taylor would surface. So the scene I loved best had all of that in it. It was a crackler between Taylor (a husky Californian new to Broadway named Chris Sullivan) and Lombardi over Taylor's contract and how Lombardi was treating the rookies better financially than the vets.

Here's how I judge a legitimate scene -- did it seem real, and not staged? And this scene was so intense that spit flew from the mouths of both men as they lit into each other. Our party met the actors afterward, and I asked Sullivan about it. Two interesting things. He said he wanted the scene to feel a little bit dangerous, which it did. And he said he'd gotten advice that a scene like that needed to be done like it was the first time he was doing it, so it would feel legitimate and emotional. Which it did. My Broadway experience is quite limited, but I know what I like, and I liked this show.

8. I think the Montclair Rumor of the Week, heard by a good friend of mine back in my old Jersey town, is a very good cross-sporting one. Too bad it's not true: The story goes that Derek Jeter and his soon-to-be bride, Minka Kelly, were to buy the old Michael Strahan palace in Montclair. Great view of Manhattan. Close to Jeter's family in West Orange. But I reached deep into my Montclair sources and found out that no, Jeter's not buying in the 'Clair. At least not now.

9. I think I'm not sure how many men of God have cocked and loaded guns in the glove box, Glen Coffee.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. Amazed the Twins just don't show up against the Yankees, year after year.

b. If Billy Wagner didn't get hurt, it'd be the Braves up in the NLDS over the Giants, 2-1, not the other way around.

c. Have a good time at Rays-Rangers Tuesday, Tony Dungy. The visiting team is 4-0 in that series, by the way.

d. Mostly uninformed NHL prediction of the week: I'm picking Sharks-Caps for the Stanley Cup finals, in the battle of disappointing playoff teams. The winner: San Jose.

e. Media Quote of the Week: Maureen Dowd of the New York Times visited a motivational seminar at the Verizon Center in Washington recently and reached this conclusion on one of the panel's speakers, Terry Bradshaw: "He seemed more like a man who could use some advice rather than one paid for giving it."

Funny thing is, I bet he'd agree.

f. Coffeenerdness: Rough weekend at the Starbucks on 56th and 6th Sunday night, just before 11. All the milk in the place was wiped out except for skim. Can't have a skim latte. Just won't do. So I had to do one of the doubleshot things in the can. Those actually are pretty good.

g. What a beautiful weekend in New York. Totally understand why so many people want to live here.

h. Remember Buddy Biancalana? He's the little shortstop who helped the Royals beat the Cardinals 25 years ago in the World Series, and he's co-authored a book, The 7 Secrets of World Class Athletes, that has a few lessons for us all. It's about how players can use a mental edge to get maximum performance, and he recently got Ricky Watters on a golf course to test it out. Watters had been a middling, frustrated golfer, but he used the mental and physical edge he learned from Biancalana and co-author Steve Yellin to improve dramatically. (They haven't seen my golf swing yet if they think can get bad golfers to play well.) There are some interesting concepts in the book, and it's an easy read.

Jets 23, Vikings 16. "How often is it,'' Larry Fitzgerald mused the other day, "that Adrian Peterson's the third story in a game?'' One, Favre trying to play a football game in the midst of a tabloid circus. Two, Moss a Viking again. Three, Peterson re-establishing himself as the best all-around back in the game.

If Brad Childress calls this game right, even with Moss back, it'll be a good combination of Peterson putting the Vikings in favorable down-and-distance situations so the rush doesn't beat down Favre. But I won't be surprised to see Favre force it to Moss one too many times, and with Darrelle Revis likely returning from a Moss-induced hamstring injury, look for the Jets to be turnover-hungry. By the way, I say Favre's going to get ripped up one side and down the other by the crowd in New Jersey tonight.

Close

To continue enjoying content from the most trusted name is sports, please be sure to update your current bookmark.

Our updated web address is http://www.si.com.

To continue enjoying content from the most trusted name is sports, please be sure to update your current bookmark.

Just follow these 4 easy steps:

  1. Click the Chrome menu on the browser toolbar.
  2. Select Bookmarks.
  3. Select Bookmark manager.
  4. Locate your current Sports Illustrated bookmark, click the Organize menu, then select Edit. You can now easily update the web address of your Sports Illustrated bookmark.

    Our updated web address is http://www.si.com.

To continue enjoying content from the most trusted name is sports, please be sure to update your current bookmark.

Just follow these 2 easy steps:

  1. Click the Safari bookmark manager on the browser toolbar.
  2. This will open the Bookmarks Bar. In the Bookmarks Bar, select your Sports Illustrated bookmark and manually edit the Address field.

    Our updated web address is http://www.si.com.

To continue enjoying content from the most trusted name is sports, please be sure to update your current bookmark.

Just follow these 3 easy steps:

  1. Click the Firefox bookmark manager on the browser toolbar.
  2. Select Show All Bookmarks.
  3. This will open the library window. In the Library window, select your Sports Illustrated bookmark and manually edit the Location field.

    Our updated web address is http://www.si.com.
Don't Show This Again