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Week 7 storylines include Favre-Childress feud, Pittsburgh fumble

We interrupt an awful lot happening here in Week 7, including the Ben Roethlisberger fumble and give back, to bring you the Stat of the Year, on the heels of Drew Brees and Brett Favre throwing seven interceptions between them to lead their teams to losses Sunday. The World Series hasn't even started yet, and they've already thrown more interceptions, combined, than they did all last year. Their combined numbers:

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The Saints and Brees getting shocked by Cleveland at home was already a headline grabber, then the Vikings lost at Green Bay 28-24 (not a shock) and coach Brad Childress openly questioned Favre's decision-making after he threw a silly interception returned for a touchdown by Green Bay linebacker Desmond Bishop. Today will be filled with Favre-versus- Childress prattle, after the head coach questioned his quarterback ("You can't throw it to them,'' Childress said, adding: "You can't give seven points going the other way, not in a game like this''), with the quarterback adding: "I'd agree with that too -- after the fact.'' Zing!

Now, the question today will be whether this is going to turn into an all-out war between Childress and Favre. Maybe, but I doubt it. Each guy is too smart for that. Childress was emotional last night, thinking the refs cost him a touchdown (on the reversed Visanthe Shiancoe touchdown catch) and thinking Favre continues to play like his own man in an offense that cries out for following the script.

My biggest question this week is whether Favre's health will end up being a bigger issue than his decision-making. He looked 61, not 41, at the end of that game last night.

The day started with more reporting about the Favre/Jenn Sterger story and ended with Favre limping like Walter Brennan up the tunnel after a 28-24 Green Bay win over the Vikings, and no doubt questioning why he let those three Vikings buddies convince him to leave the family farm in southern Mississippi two months ago. For this? For 2-4? For an embarrassing game on the Lambeau sod in what is quite likely his last trip there? Read all about it by my buddy Don Banks, who was in the house Sunday night in Green Bay. Meanwhile, here's more news of the day.

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The Dolphins aren't pleased. Nor should they be.

Three points about the caterwauling surrounding the Dolphins' 23-22 loss to Pittsburgh:

1. When you start your first two drives of the day at the 22- and 13-yard lines, and you're playing a team with an explosive passing game and a defense that's not going to give you much, and you don't turn those golden chances into touchdowns, you're in trouble. Which Miami was, as it turned out.

2. It's hard to make sense of the replay call by referee Gene Steratore, but as weird a call as it was, I think he made the right decision near the end of the game. When Ben Roethlisberger lunged for a touchdown at the one and fumbled at the goal line, the officials at first ruled that Roethlisberger had crossed the plane of the goal line and scored. Once a touchdown was ruled, they're not going to police the fumble recovery; no need to, because the touchdown supercedes it.

Then, once a replay review was announced, negating the touchdown, unless the crew had seen a clear fumble recovery in the end zone, Steratore was not going to reverse it. And the video of the fumble recovery was not clear. It appeared the Dolphins got it, but the replay was inconclusive. Absent video evidence that the Dolphins had the ball, Steratore ruled the ball came loose from Roethlisberger, but absent evidence that the ball changed hands, gave possession back to Pittsburgh. Looked fishy, to be sure, but what other call could you make?

3. The biggest news to come out of this game? Pittsburgh losing defensive end Aaron Smith to a probable torn left triceps -- and probably losing him for the year. Last year, the double-loss of Smith and Troy Polamalu doomed the Pittsburgh season. This year, Smith and Polamalu were back, playing their usual impactful way, and the Steelers shot off to a 5-1 start, surrendering only 13.7 points per game. They've got to hope backup Nick Eason and young phenom Ziggy Hood can fill the void better than the last couple of times Smith went missing, in 2007 (getting shredded by Jacksonville in the playoffs at home) and last year (losing five in a row down the stretch).

Coincidence or reality? We'll see.

The NFL was thrilled with the outcome of Sunday's 13 games, in the wake of the tougher guidelines set down by Roger Goodell and his discipline lieutenant, Ray Anderson, during the week. There were no helmet-to-helmet hits of note Sunday, and zero calls for hits on defenseless receivers. The only call I saw that the league might look at was a late spear on a downed ballcarrier in Seattle by Arizona defensive tackle Darnell Dockett. Other than that, it was one of the cleanest weeks I've seen in the league in a long time.

"I've seen a change in behavior in one week,'' NFL vice president of officiating Carl Johnson told me during my NBC prep work last night.

"Knock on wood,'' said Anderson, taking the train home to New York from the Buffalo-Baltimore game, "we had a very good day, from what I've heard from our control center.''

The best thing I saw was players aiming lower but not at the knees -- New England safety Brandon Meriweather going for the midsection rather than a head in San Diego on a first-quarter tackle, Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner doing the same against Philadelphia receiver Chad Hall, Titans safety Michael Griffin pulling up instead of blasting Eagles tight end Brent Celek, and Buffalo safety Donte' Whitner hitting the torso instead of shoulder or higher in Baltimore. And James Harrison pulling up instead of going for the big hit against Miami running back Ronnie Brown as he fell to the turf early in the fourth quarter at Miami.

Harrison, of course, took the day off last Wednesday, courtesy of coach Mike Tomlin, to clear his head after being fined $75,000 for a hit to the head of Cleveland receiver Mohamed Massaquoi. So that Harrison eased up on Brown was news. Last week, he likely would have blasted him. "I could have stuck my face in there,'' Harrison told me before the Steelers' left south Florida, "but it would have been helmet-to-helmet. So yes, on that play, I was a little more cautious.''

But ...

"I'm not changing,'' Harrison said. "I'm going to play the way I've played this game since I was 10-years-old. Whatever happens, happens. I sat there and thought about the way I play, and I can't readjust. There's still nothing I'd do differently on that [Massaquoi] hit. When I was on my way to hit him, he lowered his head. I can do a lot of things out there, but I'm not Superman. Once he lowered his head, I was going to hit him higher, even though I didn't want to.''

We'll see if players make this a one-week good story or if it becomes rote.

"Coincidence,'' said DeAngelo Hall of the Redskins, when I asked him if he thought the quiet day was sign of a change or just happenstance. "Last week's not going to happen very often. It was kind of a freaky Friday kind of Sunday. I don't see a lot of players changing their games.''

I'm not sure about that. I saw enough evidence Sunday that told me the players heard what 280 Park Avenue was preaching

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Well, Sammy Baugh did it once.

In 1943, the year Washington's Baugh had the greatest season an NFL player ever had, he led the league in passing, punting and, as a deft safety, in interceptions. Baugh had 11 that year. And he was the first NFL player to pick off four passes in one game. DeAngelo Hall, 67 years later, did it again for the Redskins.

"I still don't believe it," he said an hour after the game in Chicago, where Washington won one of the ugliest games in recent memory 17-14.

Hall ran into the right offense for him Sunday. Mike Martz likes to throw the ball downfield and Jay Cutler likes to take chances. That gave Hall plenty of opportunities and he took advantage on four of them, one he took to the house, a 92-yard return that turned out to be the winning score for Washington.

"I've never had a day like this on any level," Hall said. "Jay has a lot of confidence in his arm and I thought we had a great defensive plan. We put a lot of pressure on him. Albert Haynesworth played lights out. I knew he came to play today. There's no telling how good we'll be if he plays like that every week."

Hall has the right attitude about the Redskins and their chances in the NFC. Has one conference ever looked this weak? Go ahead. Pick the best team in the NFC. There might be six or seven AFC teams who'd be favored against any team in the NFC on a neutral field right now.

"Why not us?" Hall said. "The NFC is wide open, obviously. We only got blown out once [vs. St. Louis] and I think we are going to be able to play the type of football, especially on defense, where we are going to be in all the games to the end."

If Donovan McNabb can pick up his game and Washington's receivers can stop dropping it so much, the Redskins might have as good a shot as anybody.

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Nice guy of the week

We all saw the frightening pictures of the sidelines in the New Orleans-Cleveland game when chain-gang member Al Nastasi was bowled over by the Saints punt-team gunner Courtney Roby. Nastasi was taken to a hospital, had some bleeding in his brain, but was alert and talking to doctors Sunday night.

He had a visitor from the Saints a few hours after the game: Roby, who came in to apologize for the vicious but entirely incidental contact on the sidelines.

1. Pittsburgh (5-1). Trick or Treat. Steelers at the angry and embarrassed Saints on Sunday night. It's going to be tough for the Steelers to stay on top in the last 10 weeks without football's most underrated player, defensive end Aaron Smith, lost with a torn triceps muscle. That one hurts. A lot. Just ask Dick LeBeau.

2. New York Jets (5-1). The Jets come back from the bye to face Green Bay at home, then Detroit and Cleveland on the road.

3. New England (5-1). You see the drive Tom Brady directed at the start of the third quarter in San Diego? Masterful. A 17-play, 75-yard drive, taking 8:35 off the clock, with six first downs, finishing with a one-yard touchdown run by the law firm -- BenJarvus Green-Ellis.

4. Tennessee (5-2). "We're a force right now,'' cornerback Alterraun Verner said Sunday, and no one who's been steamrollered by the Titans in the past 15 days -- Dallas, Jacksonville, Philadelphia -- is arguing.

5. Baltimore (5-2). Head coach John Harbaugh is right. He found some fault with just about everything the Ravens did Sunday against outmanned Buffalo. But in January, when the Ravens host a playoff game, all anyone will remember from the ugly Week 7 conquest of Buffalo (and I use the word "conquest" very loosely) is the W.

6. Indianapolis (4-2). Good thing the Colts had the bye this week. Peyton Manning went to Lourdes, from what I hear, and brought back some holy water for his battered receivers.

7. Atlanta (5-2). There's no really good team in the NFC. I'm not sure which one is the best. If the game's in Atlanta, probably these Birds -- because they've lost only three games in the Georgia Dome since the start of the 2008 season -- and only once with Matt Ryan as the starter.

8. Miami (3-3). I explained the weird, killer fumble call higher in the column, but I don't expect you to agree with me that it was the right call. So I'll move on. Weirdness of the Week Dept.: Dolphs 3-0 on the road, 0-3 at home. I've got Miami this high because it has beaten Minnesota and Green Bay on the road and came within a controversial call Sunday of beating the best team in football.

9. New York Giants (4-2).Hakeem Nicks (hamstring) questionable for tonight. The Giants are going to have to score some points to stay with Dallas. Heal, Hakeem, heal.

10. Kansas City (4-2). All of a sudden, Matt Cassel's gone from liability to lowering the boom. In the past two weeks, he's led Kansas City to 73 points, is a 70-percent passer, and has thrown five touchdown and no interceptions.

11. Washington (4-3). The Redskins play defense well enough to be the best team in the NFC. Sometimes.

12. Philadelphia (4-3). The Eagles play offense well enough to be the best team in the NFC. Sometimes.

13. Green Bay (4-3). Talk about a momentous win, beating Favre, at Lambeau, with the old man dragging the Vikings downfield toward a possible winning touchdown in the final seconds. Almost made me forget how someone has kidnapped the chemistry between Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings. Come on. Bring it back.

14. Houston (4-2). A week from tonight we'll see if the Texans have it in them to sweep the Colts.

15. Minnesota (2-4). I know. How can a 2-4 team be here over the Saints, Bucs or Seahawks? I give you the power of the column. Pick one. I'm not right. You're not right.

"We're a team of coulda-woulda-shoulda, a team of almosts right now.''-- Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen on the 2-4 Vikings after their 28-24 loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field Sunday night.

"It's definitely embarrassing to be 2-4. Or whatever we are.''-- Terrell Owens of the, indeed, 2-4 Bengals after their 39-32 loss to the Falcons in Atlanta.

"What offense?''-- New England quarterback Tom Brady, asked about his team's performance in the first half, after the Patriots mustered 38 net yards in the first two quarters of a 23-20 win over the Chargers in San Diego.

"Let's face it: It's inevitable that someone's going to get hurt really bad out there. When? I don't know. But it's going to happen.''-- Dallas linebacker Keith Brooking, to me, about the near futility of the league's efforts to police the helmet-to-helmet and other violent hits.

"I think the skirts need to be taken off in the NFL offices.''-- NFL Players Association president Kevin Mawae, angry that the league is fining players for what he considers legal hits, to ESPN Radio in Los Angeles, via sportsradiointerviews.com.

That's an amazingly incendiary quote from a man who will sit in the negotiating sessions with the owners in the coming months.

"I feel fine ... I've had way worse. I've lost a day before."-- Washington tight end Chris Cooley, on the feeling he experienced after suffering a concussion last week against Indianapolis, to 106.7 The Fan in Washington, via sportsradiointerviews.com.

Offensive Players of the Week

Roddy White, WR, Atlanta.

In the NBC viewing room, you can tell when something big's about to happen -- when you hear Gus Johnson yell, "OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!'' like he did early in the second quarter on a 43-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to White. By halftime, White was six for 157 yards ... and he added more in the second half, including another touchdown, and finished with 11 catches for 201 yards, with two scores. This came in a game in which the Cincinnati defense was ready to shove it down White's throats. Before the game, he'd said of the Cincy defenders: "I don't even know these guys' names. But, hey, I'm going to go after them and we're going to have a successful Sunday.'' Maybe White ought to go all Ocho on the D every week.

Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee.

Britt had to sit (hey, that rhymes!) for the first quarter of Tennessee's showdown with NFC contender Philadelphia, but he played three mighty quarters. With seven catches for 225 yards and three touchdowns -- the greatest receiving day a Philadelphia Eagle team has ever allowed -- Britt, from the Eagles' backyard at Rutgers in New Jersey, overwhelmed the Philadelphia secondary in the Titans' come-from-behind win.

Defensive Players of the Week

DeAngelo Hall, CB, Washington.

Hall became the 20th player to have four interceptions in a game. In fact, check out the relative stat lines of Hall versus Cutler's usual favorite intended receivers:

David Bowens, LB, Cleveland.

The career journeyman, in the span of 29 minutes, picked off Brees twice and returned both to the house. I can guarantee you that no stranger sentence will ever be written about the career of a backup front-seven player. Drew Brees gave Bowens two pick-sixes, from 30 and 64 yards. Beyond amazing.

Special Teams Player of the Week

Reggie Hodges, P, Cleveland.

Hard for a punter to have a better day. His 68-yard run with a fake punt was 50 yards longer than any other Cleveland offensive play of the day. He dropped two of his four punts inside the 20 and had a longer net average, 42.3-yards, than gross (42.0). He held for kicks.

Coach of the Week

Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator, Oakland.

Credit Jackson for taking a team with two injured quarterbacks and crafting a rushing attack the likes of which this franchise has rarely seen to beat the hated Broncos in Denver. In a 59-14 rout, Jackson kept calling the runs because they kept working, and it allowed Oakland to possess the ball for nearly 39 minutes. Keyed by Darren McFadden's 165-yard day, the Raiders ran it 52 times for 328 yards. I see more of that coming. There's a bold prediction.

Coaching Decision of the Week

Cleveland defensive coordinator Rob Ryan turning Scott Fujita loose in his old town.

Midway through the first quarter, Ryan called for Fujita, lined up at the right outside linebacker, to take on the tight end or back on a blitz call. Fujita, with an emotional homecoming game at the Superdome, blew through Dave Thomas and sacked old friend Brees for a 10-yard loss, helping set the table for a stunning victory by Cleveland. Ryan knew Fujita, one of the Super Bowl heroes in New Orleans last year, would be inspired to play a great game, so he sent him early and was rewarded.

Goat of the Week

Lovie Smith, coach, Chicago

On the play after failing to get an Earl Bennett catch and run down at the one-yard-line reversed (Smith challenged, claiming it was a touchdown), Smith didn't challenge what appeared almost certainly was a quarterback sneak for a touchdown. It was one of those plays where the quarterback -- Cutler -- jumped and extended the ball over the plane of the goal line before being pushed back by Albert Haynesworth; then the ball was knocked loose by London Fletcher and recovered by Washington. If Smith challenged the call, that's seven points (in a game that ended 17-13) he could have gained if correct; instead the Bears got nothing. Figures that Smith is one-for-five on challenges this year. This was a badly blown non-challenge.

1. Tom Brady, QB, New England. He has the Patriots humming along at 5-1, averaging 29.5 points per game with an offensive cast that seems to change in prominence every week.

2. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. We'll see if he's a magician with Jacob Tamme trying to fill Dallas Clark's shoes.

3. Roddy White, WR, Atlanta. Nine more catches (54) and 38 more receiving yards (747) than any other receiver in football.

4. Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore. Funny putting him here after such a sieve game by the Ravens D. But he's been the best all-around defender in football through seven weeks.

5. LaRon Landry, SS, Washington. Redskins are winning with D, and he's their best man.

You talk about your indictments of an offense, but it can't all be on the offensive line in Chicago. Midway through the third quarter of another pitiful offensive display, this time against the Washington Redskins, the Bears reached 21 straight third-down plays without converting. That's seven consecutive quarters of offensive incompetence.

In the past 365 days, the Titans are 13-4 and the Broncos 4-13. A year ago today, Denver was 6-0 and Tennessee 0-6. You see which way each is heading. (Even weirder, the now-sinking Broncos beat the now-rising Titans 26-20 in Week 4 of 2010.)

Sunday was the 10-year anniversary of the death of Steve Schoenfeld. He died Oct. 24, 2000, killed by a hit-and-run driver while crossing a street in Tempe, Ariz., shortly after he saw Helen Thomas give a speech at Arizona State. I didn't want to let the moment pass without remembering a colleague missed by so many in my business -- a dogged, tireless person and former president of the Pro Football Writers of America.

He'd have been 55 on Sunday, covering the Cardinals and Seahawks in Seattle, and telling us something in his story we didn't know.

Another fun ride on the Acela on Saturday morning from Boston to New York. Actually, it was all good, a quiet ride through fall-foliageville, until a young couple got on the train in Stamford. In the next 50 minutes (I counted) she had four glasses of Cabernet, he had three scotch-and-waters.

As we approached New York, her glass empty (I mean, how can you drink maybe 16 ounces of wine at 10 in the morning in less than an hour -- what a feat!), the 25-ish gal looked over at a ball field as we rolled through New York. A football team in green jerseys was practicing.

"IS THAT THE JETS?'' she shouted, drawing the attention of everyone in the car. "OHMYGAWD IS THAT THE JETS? JETS PRACTICE? THAT IS MY FAVORITE TEAM! I LOVE ME SOME JETS!!!! IF THAT'S THE JETS I LOVE THEM!''

I know you're asleep now, Miss. But those weren't the Jets. The Astoria Jets, maybe. But not your Jets.

"Coaches, players, & management not in favor of new emphasis. What's the impetus? I believe NFL lawyers are fearful of class action lawsuit.''--@jayfeely, Arizona kicker Jay Feely, on the league's motivation for the renewed emphasis on player safety.

He's not alone.

1. I think this is what I liked about Week 7:

a. Davone Bess. As is the case with so many undersized receivers, 31 other teams have to be kicking themselves for passing on him in the draft two years ago.

b. The Raiders scored the most points in their 50-year history. Putting up 59 on the suddenly woeful Broncos, 38 in the first quarter and a half, should be enough ammo for Tom Cable to convince his players that, at 3-4, they are still in contention.

c. Andy Reid, for sticking with Michael Vick. It's the most logical step because Kevin Kolb didn't do enough to outplay him over the past two weeks.

d. Ryan Fitzpatrick. He's the second-highest rated quarterback in the NFL. That is not a misprint. He put up 374 yards in Baltimore yesterday.

e. MichaelTurner, whom we take for granted. He ran for 121 yards and caught two balls for 23 more in the win over Cincinnati. Invaluable player.

f. I could have sworn Thomas Jones was done last year when the Jets elevated Shonn Greene over him in the playoffs. Not so fast. He's the co-No.-1 back with the Chiefs and he solidified that Sunday with 125 yards against Jacksonville.

g. The effort by Carolina. To put up 379 yards on any team, even San Francisco, is a great day for the quarterback-challenged Panthers.

h. Mike Williams. The Seattle Mike Williams, with 11 more catches Sunday against Arizona. What a great signing by Pete Carroll.

i. Scott Fujita, in his return home. The Cleveland linebacker had the aforementioned sack of Brees, intercepted Brees also, and had a tackle for loss as the Browns embarrassed the Saints.

j. Kudos to Jeff Lurie for screening The Tillman Story in his meeting room/auditorium at the Eagles' facility Friday. That's not a good day to show movies, because players get out of work early on Fridays. I hope he finds another time to show the movie, when players can see it. They need to.

k. Ben Roethlisberger's artful 53-yard touchdown bomb to Mike Wallace. What was so beautiful is that Roethlisberger planted to pass at his own 39, under pressure, and as he threw a high-arching rainbow to Wallace, he got leveled. Downfield, Wallace caught it at the Miami four and scored. The ball traveled 57 yards in the air and couldn't have been thrown any better.

l. I like the Steelers winning on the road without LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) and after losing Aaron Smith in the third quarter.

2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 7:

a. Everything about Denver. How would you know where to start?

b. The Cincinnati defense. I figured the Bengals couldn't repeat last year's playoff performance, but this is ridiculous. Another generous day in Atlanta -- 452 yards, 39 points -- left the Bengals 2-4 and out of any realistic playoff contention.

c. The Jags. In six days, they've gone from a 3-2 contender to a 3-4 joke. No team has allowed more than Jacksonville's 209 points.

d. Very strange case of Drew Brees. Sean Payton has to figure out what's different about the most accurate QB of our day. They have to figure it out now.

e. If you want us to take you seriously, St. Louis, don't squander a 17-3 lead against the offensively incomplete Bucs.

f. Brett Favre and his bad ankle. Suddenly, 2009 seems 10 years ago.

g. Chicago's playoff hopes. Hard to see them competing to be .500, never mind vying with Green Bay for the division title.

3. I think the biggest loss of the weekend actually came Friday, when the Indianapolis Colts put Dallas Clark on injured reserve with a wrist injury from a hit he took eight nights ago in Washington. The most versatile NFL tight end in the receiving game is lost for the year, and Peyton Manning will now have to try to do with Jacob Tamme (career catches: six) what he's done with Austin Collie and so many other receivers over the last few years -- put him on the fast track to competence, because the Colts have no other choice.

"For us,'' Manning said, "Dallas pass-protects like a right tackle, and he's also a threat to go down the middle of the field. You've seen Dallas in the backfield for us or lining up at wide receiver. You have to find the guy who can do that, where if [a defender] slips just a little bit, if he bites on a fake just a little bit, it's not just going to cost them a 10-yard completion, it might cost an 80-yard touchdown."

4. I think if you have a minute and can help the injured Rutgers player, Eric LeGrand, who suffered a spinal-cord injury nine days ago in a game against Army, please check out the "Eric LeGrand Believe Fund,'' established the other day by the university.

5. I think Brad Childress will be donating to the league's charitable causes, and soon. "Worst officiated game I've seen,'' he said after Sunday night's 28-24 loss to Green Bay.

6. I think, after talking to the attorney of Jenn Sterger on Sunday, I'd be a little worried about liability in the case of Favre-Sterger if I were the New York Jets. Attorney Joseph Conway and Sterger's manager, Phil Reese, told me that they have retained "a team of former FBI agents" to determine how Favre obtained Sterger's telephone number in 2008 (Jay Glazer reported Sunday on Fox that Favre admitted to the NFL last week that he made phone calls to Sterger, but he did not admit sending her the graphic images via cell phone that have been portrayed as Favre's on Deadspin.com.)

Sterger has been adamant that she did not give Favre her phone number. Conway and Reese told me Sunday that they have identified a "person of interest" whom they believe was the conduit who got the phone number to Favre. That person, I am told, may have worked for the Jets in 2008. This is all speculation on my part -- what part of this story isn't speculation? -- but if Sterger wants a career in the media, it would be difficult for her to have a credible one if she is paid off by Favre for her silence. (I should make it clear that Conway told me there have been no settlement discussions with the Favre side.)

But if a good attorney could make a case that a Jets employee gave Favre the number, maybe the Jets would be liable for damages based on behavior of that employee, giving out personal phone numbers without someone's knowledge. It will be interesting to watch in the coming days.

7. I think if yesterday proved nothing else, it proved the players can be physical and intimidating without hitting other players in the head with their own heads.

8. I think there are two clarifications I'd like to make regarding my lengthy Deion Branch note last week, the one in which I talked about how sad it was how Branch didn't stay in New England and missed four and a half prime seasons with Tom Brady.

One: Players are naturally going to be concerned about making as much money in as short a period a time as possible because NFL contracts are largely not guaranteed. When Branch signed a six-year, $39 million deal with Seattle after being traded from New England in 2006, he didn't necessarily expect to play out the full six years. So even though it appears as though he will play the full six years of this contract (2011 is the last year of the deal), Branch couldn't have known that at as he was mulling New England's offer in 2006.

The Patriots' offer over the first three years of the contract would have paid Branch $16 million; over four years, $20 million. The deal he signed with Seattle would net him $23.6 million over three years, and $27.6 million over four. With the injury factor being so big for a smallish wide receiver like Branch, a difference of $7.6 million over four years is major. Thus, even though Branch was pained to leave Brady, the money seemed worth it at the time.

Two: In terms of pure guaranteed money, the Patriots offered $11 million. The deal with Seattle guaranteed $13 million. That was also a factor. Now, there's a good chance I would have wanted to make the best deal I could to stay with the Patriots just because I would want to play my whole career with a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback. But I'm not Branch.

9. I think I just heard a big "uh-oh'' from 280 Park Avenue, and it had nothing to do with players getting clocked in the head. The New York Times didn't like Lombardi, the play about Vince Lombardi that opened on Broadway Thursday night, and that is not good for ticket sales to non-football fans and those who do not live in Wisconsin.

Here's the start of Charles Isherwood's tepid -- at best -- review. "Granted, the man has a lot to do. Like instilling professionalism, heart and fierce dedication in a frozen winter field full of young men. Like transforming a losing football team into a winning one in the span of a single season. And then leading that team to a series of history-making championships, including the first two Super Bowl titles. But is it too much to ask of Vince Lombardi that he take charge of his own play?''

I get it -- not enough Lombardi (Dan Lauria, the dad in the The Wonder Years.) I agree, sort of; I would have liked to have seen more of Lombardi telling the story and less of Marie Lombardi (Judith Light) telling it, but it's still a good play for any of the hordes of you who love football and have a great regard for what Lombardi brought to Green Bay and the game. The best scene, I thought, was the Jim Taylor character going toe-to-toe with Lombardi about getting a new contract. Terrific, angry, confrontational, spittle-spewing.

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

a. Had the good fortune Wednesday to attend a screening of the new documentary Inside Job, a damning indictment of pretty much everything about our financial system and why it collapsed a couple of years ago. The executive producers: Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and his wife, Christine Weiss Lurie.

The documentary, which is narrated by Matt Damon, gives a terrific analysis of what happened, with zingers thrown at some of the giants in American finance. I think we can figure out the base reason: unfettered greed by some of the most important people in America. Lurie spoke before the film and told the crowd, "You're going to need a drink afterwards.'' I think we all needed four.

b. That was not a happy crowd filing out of Citizens Bank Park on Saturday night. I was among the masses. Stunning but right, I guess, to hear the Phillies fans boo the celebrating Giants on the field.

c. Philadelphians aren't very happy with Ryan Howard right now. Not sure I'd be surfacing to kiss many babies in the city if I were him.

d. Thought Bruce Bochy did a terrific managing job Saturday night. He got it. He managed in the moment. He saw his starter, Jonathan Sanchez, unravel with the cacophonous and derisive "SAN-chez, SAN-chez'' echoing through the park, and took him out after he hit Chase Utley in the third inning of a 2-2 game. That game wouldn't have been 2-2 for long; 6-2's more like it if Bochy had been patient with his starter.

Then, in the eighth, I loved him bringing in Tim Lincecum -- even though Lincecum is obviously not a reliever and you'd like to have him ready to pitch significant innings Sunday if needed in Game 7. Bochy saw he had six outs to get, and he tried to get them any way he could; I don't care that Lincecum retired one batter, then gave up two singles, forcing Bochy to go with Brian Wilson for a five-out save.

e. I really like National League baseball. I like the strategy of the game more than what one gets from the AL.

f. I like Joe Girardi and think he's a good manager. But I was stunned to see his use of the bullpen Friday night. There was C.C. Sabathia and the rest of the starting staff in the bullpen in Game 6 of the ALCS at Texas. Phil Hughes on the mound, shaky. Fifth inning. So many guys in the bullpen there are hardly enough seats for them all. And who gets up to warm ... David Robertson, he of the 3.82 regular-season ERA and 1.50 WHIP. In three ALCS outings, he'd been rapped for six hits and five earned runs. Hughes gives up a two-run double to Vlad the Impaler. Texas, 3-1. Every batter now is the most important batter of the season to face. Out walks Girardi. Pitching change. Sabathia, Burnett, Kerry Wood? Nope. Robertson. Homer to Nelson Cruz. Double to Ian Kinsler. Joe, in the immortal words of Christopher Russo, "That's a bad job right there.''

g. You don't think the Texas fans and two-thirds of New England didn't get a little more pleasure out of the end of Game 6 when A-Rod struck out looking to end the series?

h. If you're Brian Cashman, don't you have to wonder, after the Yanks hit .201 and had a 6.58 ERA in this series, whether you have to do more than just sign Cliff Lee?

i. I love Texas making the World Series. I love the Giants making it. I love new franchises like the Rangers making it to the big dance, ratings be damned. I'll be watching, Nolan Ryan.

j. New York Post front page Saturday: "$210M Bust! Yanks for nothing.''

k. Coffeenerdness: Why do restaurants assume you want skim milk for the coffee? Nothing against skim (it's nice for cereal), but you might as well drink the coffee black if you take it with skim.

l. I don't watch much college football, but that Cam Newton is one scintillating player.

Dallas 33, New York Giants 24. Part of this is the theory that the desperate team usually wins when the matchup is close. But part, too, is the fact that the Cowboys, at some point, are going to play a very good game befitting their status. For all the things they're doing wrong that add up to 1-4 -- the penalties, the discipline, the seven Tony Romo interceptions, the intense focus on the failings of the head coach (I wasn't aware that Wade Phillips is to blame for cancer not being cured yet) -- they're still a team, arguably, that's the most talented in the division. I just always figure at some point that talent wins out, and I think that starts tonight.

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