NEW YORK -- Funny how quickly things change in the NFL. On Saturday afternoon, I thought this would be a big week for coaching news and Brett Favre will-he-or-won't-he, and maybe the Favre/Sterger story. On Sunday afternoon, it was all weather and dome collapse, all the time. By this morning, I'm marveling over Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson. Those are two guys I'd pay to see.
My 10 nuggets, some big and some small, for Week 14:
Vick and Jackson, combined, are the greatest show on turf right now, the reformed (by all indications) quarterback and the receiver who's running hard for the playoffs and for a new contract. They showed it last night in Dallas. With the game tied at 20 and the Eagles pinned at their nine-yard line, Vick threw a simple out pattern to Jackson near the left sideline, and he turned upfield, and ... well, I'll let him take it from there, sounding tired as the Eagles buses motored toward the team plane after midnight in Dallas:
"I was maybe 60 percent by that time in the game,'' Jackson said. "I hurt my ankle in the third quarter. Actually my foot. I didn't feel great. They asked me on the sideline, 'You want to go in and get it X-rayed?' I said, 'Nah. I can't leave my teammates out here like that.' And the ball came to me. Michael threw me a perfect pass, and I just tried to run away from people. It's instinct.''
Usually, Jackson would have left everyone in the dust. But Orlando Scandrick was on the verge of catching him around the Dallas 30, and, sensing him, Jackson turned on one last jet. It's all he had, and he finished the 91-yard touchdown going away. That gave the Eagles a 27-20 lead, which was soon 30-20, and they hung on for a 30-27 win.
What a performance by Jackson. He caught four balls for 210 yards, a 52.5-yard average per catch. For the year, he's blowing away the competition in the NFL with a 23.1-yard average per catch. Not that Jackson was a dud with Donovan McNabb -- he certainly was a major impact player last year -- but with Vick being a dual threat and the defense having to respect his ability to break the pocket, that's more potential open space for Jackson and Jeremy Maclin to make hay.
This is a topic for another day, but it's incumbent on the Eagles to do two things -- keep Vick from getting hit too much (I still am concerned about that; he takes too many shots, and not just the borderline ones that tick off Vick and Andy Reid) and sign him to a contract that will keep him an Eagle for his prime. Vick's too good, and his relationship with these two special receivers is too valuable for Philly to let dissolve.
"It's 7,'' Jackson said, speaking of Vick's number. "Working with Michael has been an incredibly experience. I love it. I look up to him like he's my big brother. We've gotten our reads down, and we're comfortable together.''
Jackson said he'd be fine for the Eagles' NFC East showdown Sunday against the Giants in what could be a division championship game. Which leads me to ...
Best slate of big playoff-factor gems for early games this season: Eagles-Giants, Chiefs-Rams, Saints-Ravens (not for the timid), Jags-Colts (the AFC South Championship Game, most likely), 1 p.m. ET.
Moment-of-truth CBS doubleheader late game: Jets-Steelers, 4:15 p.m.
Night game vital to Cheesehead Nation: Packers-Patriots, 8:20 p.m.
Brett Favre told Ed Werder his consecutive-game streak would have ended if the game against the Giants were yesterday; that's how much his sprained shoulder joint hurt. Could 31 hours make a difference? I talked to Vikings coach Leslie Frazier just before the team left for Detroit late Sunday afternoon, and he called Favre "questionable'' -- the NFL's 50-50 version of injury-reporting. Frazier said he'd talk to Favre at breakfast today at their Detroit hotel and see whether Favre thought he might be able to get enough movement in the shoulder to play tonight at Ford Field. So the story America hates lives for another day.
In the past week, the Patriots have beaten two of the best teams in the league by a combined 81-10. As it was in 2007, when New England was laying waste to the league while going 16-0 in the regular season, there's a gap between New England and the rest of the league that, in today's football, is rare. I thought the beatdown of the Bears at Soldier Field Sunday was significant because, as Brian Urlacher said, "They came in here, our field, our weather, and pounded us.''
Three years ago, when the Patriots exterminated the rest of the league, they did so under the shadow of Spygate, when they were sanctioned by commissioner Roger Goodell after the first game of the season for secretly videotaping teams' defensive signals to try to gain an advantage. I figure now is a good time to look back at history and judge just how much an advantage the Patriots got from Spygate, because now we have the perspective given us by recent history.
Since the commissioner whacked the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick in September 2007 for the longterm practice of taping the opposition's sidelines, New England has played almost half the number of games (64) as it played coached by Belichick before the sanctions came down (126). So the sample size is good to determine what sort of edge Belichick and his team got from knowing what the opposing signals might have meant. And the answer I found is: not much, apparently.
Before I go on, understand I'm not attempting to minimize what the Patriots did wrong. Roger Goodell was right to take away a first-round pick and whack the Pats $750,000 for the misdeed.
But check out the pre- and post-Spygate numbers, including playoff games, for the Patriots under Belichick, and you'll see why the video practices seem so wasteful:
Pretty interesting. New England's gone from winning two-thirds of its games with the benefit of taping illegally, to winning three-quarters of its games and scoring six points more per game without taping -- and with so many new pieces on offense.
I was reminded of this last Monday, when the Patriots were mercilessly pounding the Jets 45-3, and just thought how interesting it is that the Patriots are the highest-scoring team in football -- by a whopping 41 points -- in a year in which they've totally changed their offensive philosophy to more of a tight-end-centric one with two rookie tight ends as the keystones. (Just when teams start focusing defensively on the tight ends, the Patriots unleash the wideouts. In Chicago yesterday, Deion Branch and Wes Welker combined for 16 catches and 266 yards.) It all just proves to me that Belichick used to be and still is the smartest guy in the room ... and how unimportant to everything on the field the videotaping seems to have been.
That would be a league record. Drew Bledsoe (1994, New England) holds it now, with 691. The most Manning's thrown in a year is 591, and he could pass that in the first half Sunday; at 569, he's only 22 shy of that. Not exactly the kind of record Manning prefers to have, but until the Colts run better and he gets on the same page with the receivers, he'll be a threat to break it.
In the strict sense of "value,'' it's arguable. In the eight games before Week 14, Cassel had thrown 19 touchdowns and one interception. He sat Sunday after having his appendix removed Wednesday, and the Chiefs were absolutely dreadful, losing to San Diego 31-0 and generating 69 yards of offense. Nineteen net passing yards by Brodie Croyle and Tyler Palko. The Chiefs did not have a 30-yard drive.
Kansas City had a two-game division lead two days ago. Now, the Chargers host San Francisco Thursday night, and if San Diego wins, the Chiefs will be playing to keep sole possession of first place in the AFC West next Sunday at St. Louis. Without Cassel, they're probably sunk. One team medic told me the other day that he'd sit an appendicitis victim for two weeks. We'll see how Cassel heals this week.
The Vikings play tonight. The league is focused on an owners meeting Wednesday in Dallas. So you won't hear anything concluding the NFL's investigation in the Favre sexting case for at least a few days now. I haven't changed my opinion about the ultimate outcome: It is unlikely he will be suspended, and it's certainly possible he will not be sanctioned at all for his alleged interaction with Jenn Sterger, the former Jets' sideline host.
Anatomy of a story lots of big men will tell their kids about some day:
The Giants flew from Newark headed to Minneapolis early Saturday afternoon, trying to beat the coming snowstorm, and when they were about a half-hour out, one of the flight attendants said they'd be one of the last planes in before the airport closed. Ooops. Ten minutes later, they veered south, out of the storm's immediate path, and landed 471 miles away, in Kansas City. They sat on the plane. They waited. They disembarked to a secure gate area, waiting for word on where they'd go next. They played cards, Family Feud and Scrabble on their iPads. They watched the Chiefs, just two gates away, get loaded up for their charter to San Diego. Sunny San Diego. Warm San Diego. The Chiefs left. The Giants stayed, eventually learned they weren't going anywhere that night, and bunked in at the Kansas City Airport Marriott.
Conference calls. Itineraries torn up. "We had five different itineraries, I think, over the weekend,'' Tom Coughlin told me. Meetings at the hotel. Plans to fly out in the morning. Hand-wringing. Coughlin, I'm told, wasn't that upset by it. "Why get upset?' he said. "You have to realize these things are out of your hands.''
"A lot of times,'' left tackle David Diehl said, "he'll say to us, 'Midstream adjust, midstream adjust,' when you've got to change what you're doing because something comes up or something changes. So we're like, 'Hey coach, midstream adjust! Midstream adjust!' I actually think it was good for us. Usually, when you leave for a road game, guys go off on their own and do whatever. Here, we were all together. Bonding time. I didn't hear guys being mad about it.''
Some, in fact, looked forward to the crazy-quilt aspect of it. "Some of the guys were looking at it like it was really old-school, and they loved it,'' said play-by-play voice Bob Papa, who was on the plane. "Osi Umenyiora, Keith Bulluck and a few other guys thought it was going to be cool to fly to the game Sunday morning and just play.''
Then, Saturday night, the game got postponed to Monday. Then, Sunday morning, the Metrodome roof collapsed. Then the Giants waited, and then they were told to go to Detroit, where the game would be played tonight at Ford Field. But they'd better hurry. A bad snowstorm was battering Detroit.
In their hotel last night, they watched football and had their normal night-before-the-game meetings. For the second time. They were excited about NOT playing in Minnesota, where the crowd noise is a big edge for the Vikings. "For us to hear Eli's cadence will definitely be a big factor,'' said Coughlin. This morning, coaches were spending four hours getting started on the Eagles' game plan, because they weren't going to be in East Rutherford all day today, which was the original schedule.
"At the end of the day,'' Diehl said, "I think we're going to be happy to just be playing football.''
Tonight, 7:20 p.m. central time, before a strange crowd of people watching the New York Giants play for the NFC East lead. Free of charge. Rooting for ... who knows? The first person in line for the free tickets to tonight's game got there at 2 a.m. today. Should be an interesting night, whatever happens. It's on Fox in New York, Albany, Minneapolis and Mankato, Minn., and on DirecTV Sunday Ticket if you have it. Play ball. Finally.
The Jets were angling for home-field through the AFC playoffs a week ago this morning. Ever since then, a lot of offensive careers, including quite possibly that of coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, have been badly tarnished. New York has scored three field goals in the past two games, their strong running game is a faded memory, and Mark Sanchez looks like he needs a long vacation. When linebacker Bart Scott was leaving work Sunday after the 10-6 loss to Miami, he was asked by
At Pittsburgh on Sunday. At Chicago the following Sunday.
Uh-oh. The Jets are 9-4, but if the Ravens win at Houston tonight, New York would slip to the sixth playoff spot in the AFC with three games to play. And losses the next two weeks (they'll be underdogs in both) would probably make the final game of the season, home with Buffalo, a must-win for the Jets to make the playoffs. Lots of ifs there, but the point is this: They've gone from the number one seed to an endangered playoff species in eight days.
Suddenly, the Jets seem like that team full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
With a bully, and I don't mean Rex Ryan. Their head strength and conditioning coach, Sal Alosi, tripped Miami special-teamer Nolan Carroll
The Jaguars have a one-game lead on Indianapolis with three to play, including the potential AFC South championship game next Sunday in Indiana. Their general manager, Gene Smith, has done a masterful job of retooling the roster since taking the job 23 months ago. In fact, all 15 of his draft picks are still with the organization -- either active, on the practice squad or on injured-reserve. Six of them started Sunday against Oakland, and five others played.
Smith's an interesting story. When he got hired as the Jags' GM, he said he thought of professional team-building in a similar way to college team-building, and thought back to his days as recruiting coordinator at small-college Edinboro (Pa.) two decades earlier. "We didn't necessarily go the junior-college route,'' Smith said. "We went with high school players, and I saw over the course of time players who were in the program four and five years develop this sense of ownership, 'This is our team.'
"I saw on our best teams great peer leadership because they felt that when things were going wrong that they were going to correct them. The guys that were in the program for three, four, five years, they were stepping forward and saying, 'No, this is how you do it. This is our way.' I think when you have players in the building that play well, do right off the field, if you have an opportunity to reward your own ... I think it sends the right message."
The starters are led by four meat-and-potatoes linemen: defensive tackles Tyson Alualu (round one, 2010) and Terrance Knighton (round three, 2009), and offensive tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, the first two pick of the 2009 draft for the Jags. A strong cover corner, Derek Cox, came in the third round last year. A seventh-rounder last year, running back Rashad Jennings, burned the Raiders for 109 rushing yards in Jacksonville's 38-31 win; he's become a good complement for Maurice Jones-Drew. Fourth-rounder Mike Thomas from last year is a speed threat at wide receiver -- and gave Jacksonville the gift win over Houston last month by being in the right place at the right time with the Hail Mary catch from David Garrard. And so on.
Smith got famous -- or infamous -- last April for picking Alualu 10th overall when most teams had him rated between 30 and 50. I remember talking to him and getting the sense that he truly didn't care what the public or media or his scouting peers thought. Either he was whistling past the graveyard and being a macho guy about it, or he was sticking to his principles of drafting good players with good character who could turn an inconsistent team into a solid, consistent playoff contender.
Knighton, a nose type with rush ability that a pure space-eater doesn't have, and Alualu are already one of the three or four best defensive-tackle combinations in football, and neither has turned 25. Smith had the courage to take the slings and arrows and make sure he got Alualu without getting cute by trying to pick him lower, and the kid is panning out. What I appreciate about Smith is he's not one of those scouts who asks others what they think, then forms his opinion. He decides what he thinks -- not recklessly, but with a strong base of fact behind it.
Executive-of-the-Year is turning into a good horse race now between Kansas City's Scott Pioli and Smith, with Atlanta's Thomas Dimitroff, Giants GM Jerry Reese, Mike Tannenbaum of the Jets (though some of his pickups are fading in New York's recent downturn) and Billy Devaney of the Rams contenders too. All have good cases, and it's a very subjective award. Whether Smith wins or not, I like the young talent base he's built -- a lot.
"The signs this morning should scream 'danger.' ''
There have been some historically bad signings in the 17-year history of free agency, but I challenge you to think of a guy who's been more of a waste of good money than Haynesworth.
"I thought about it and I was like, 'Nah, it's not the kid's fault.' ''
"Disconcerting signals. Indianapolis number 99 trying to draw a false start by calling the count. That 15-yard penalty has been accepted on the ensuing kickoff.''
Why is that here? The words "disconcerting signals.'' Have you ever heard a ref say that
"If we have to pay eight coaches, too bad for us.''
The most amazing streak of Brady's career (last eight games: 19 touchdowns, zero interceptions) continued on a nightmarish day at Soldier Field: 27 of 40, .675, 369 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions. Imagine completing 68 percent of your throws with winds gusting up to 30 mph, on a day fit for filming Ice Station Zebra, not playing an NFL game.
In a game everyone expected to be owned by Maurice Jones-Drew, McFadden was The Man, even in defeat. He touched the ball 19 times, rushed and received for 209 yards and scored touchdowns of 51, 36 and 67 yards. And he had nothing to do with the 38-31 loss.
Catapulted himself back into the MVP race -- at least into the periphery of it -- with a brilliant 45-yard interception return for touchdown to awaken a comatose Steelers team Sunday at Heinz Field. The Bengals led 7-0 with five minutes until halftime, and Carson Palmer threw a tailor-made interception for Polamalu. This is where it got interesting. From the Bengal 45, Polamalu weaved toward the goal line, got around the 5, and dove, stretching the ball straight out and breaking the plane before falling out of bounds. Polamalu stole another pass from the badly fading Carson Palmer to seal it later.
In a classic field-position game (well, thanks to how bad Mark Sanchez was, and to a horrendous end-zone drop by Santonio Holmes), Fields had the kind of game punters dream of. Ten punts, 56.4-yard average. His punts: 53, 61, 38, 62, 49, 62, 69, 56, 56 and 58 yards. I wonder if there's ever been a game in NFL history with seven punts of 56 yards or more. A virtuoso performance by a punter even ardent football fans have never heard of.
Most people (including me) think Singletary's coaching out the string with the 49ers. But he's still coaching to win every game he can, and making decisions for the short term, because this team, incredibly, still has a chance to win the worst division in recent NFL history. He switched quarterbacks from Troy to Alex Smith (even though he'd grown fed up with Alex Smith by midseason), and Alex came through with the best game a quarterback has played for the Niners this year. And San Francisco routed the Seahawks 40-21.
Talk about a choke job. Granted, there was a steady rain falling in suburban Washington. But in the final seconds, with the Redskins down 17-16 and trying to force overtime with a simple extra point, Smith reached for a perfectly good snap, and it whipped directly through his fingers. Ballgame. Tampa Bay won 17-16. On a wacky day at FedEx, the Redskins saved the weirdest thing for last.
Nolan Carroll of the Dolphins was running just out of bounds, chasing a punt at the Meadowlands, when Alosi, standing there in a green windbreaker, deftly tripped Carroll by sticking out his left knee. A classic cheap shot, totally uncalled for. The league's going to have to sanction Alosi for that, despite his postgame apology. "My conduct was inexcusable and unsportsmanlike,'' he said in a statement Sunday night. That won't be enough, Sal.
Brian Westbrook seemed an irreplaceable piece of the Philadelphia Eagles success in his Philly prime. In the five years from 2004 to '08, he became the cornerstone of the Eagles' offense. That's what LeSean McCoy is trying to be now, and he has become remarkably similar to Westbrook in many ways. He runs to holes, is an excellent receiver, and a willing blocker in blitz pickup.
Comparing the average season of Westbrook in his prime to the 2010 season of McCoy, which still has three games to run:
McCoy, then, is on pace to be better in 2010 than the man thought to be the perfect Andy Reid back was. Barring injury, McCoy will finish with better numbers and averages than Westbrook experienced.
One of my best friends in the business, longtime Lions beat guy Mike O'Hara, sent me a great note last night regarding Brett Favre's consecutive-game streak perhaps ending tonight in Detroit. Lou Gehrig's streak of 2,130 consecutive games played ended in the same city 71 years ago. "He left old Briggs Stadium, had a cup of coffee at a diner, and walked to the team hotel,'' O'Hara messaged.
I looked it up, and O'Hara was spot on. Gehrig's streak ended on May 3, 1939, when a weakened Iron Horse bowed out of the lineup for the first time in 14 years. Incredibly, the man he replaced 14 years earlier, Wally Pipp, was in the small crowd of 11,000 that day at Briggs Stadium, looking on as Gehrig brought the lineup card to home plate. Gehrig then sat in the dugout for the rest of the game. Gehrig would never play another game. Six weeks later, he was diagnosed with ALS, the disease that now bears his name.
If Favre doesn't play tonight, his streak of 297 straight starts (321 including postseason games) will end at Ford Field, 1.3 miles from where Gehrig sat in the dugout at Briggs (later Tiger) Stadium.
One of the strangest men I've seen sat across the aisle from me on the Boston-to-New York train Saturday. The guy, about 30, took out his Blackberry power cord when we got on, plugged the phone in, had nothing else out on his little table, and when to work texting and looking at email (I suppose) and Tweets or whatever. He did not get up to use the rest room. He did not get up to get anything to eat, not to ask for anything. He sat for 3 hours and 47 minutes. When the announcement came on that we were pulling into Manhattan, he unplugged the phone, put the power cord back in his bag, and, walking off the train, kept his eyes glued to the device.
Blackberry rehab, dude.
"Does anyone know where I can buy some Patience at?'
a. Chan Gailey's quote to me about Ivy quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick: "His demeanor in meetings and practice is Harvard. His play on Sunday is Ohio State.''
b. Tremendous video, and sound, from FOX, of
c. Heck of a bang-bang hit on Mike Wallace, breaking up a perfectly thrown Ben Roethlisberger pass, by Cincinnati cornerback Leon Hall.
d. Santana Moss, who runs like a jackrabbit.
e. ESPN (and I have no idea if the WWL did this voluntarily or under some duress), for allowing its Monday night Ravens-Texans audience to be creamed tonight. Not only does Giants-Vikings severely dilute the New York market because FOX will air the Giants game, but also the game's going to be on DirecTV Sunday Ticket, meaning anyone with that service will have a choice of games tonight -- as will tons of sports bars.
f. ESPN's Greg Garber for a superb feature story on the announcer-less game 30 years ago. What, you didn't know NBC once did a game without announcers? I loved Garber's touch of doing the story announcer-less -- that is, he didn't speak in the piece. His subjects did, but no narration from Garber. Good idea. Very good execution. And very interesting to see Bryant Gumbel as a latter-day Mod-Squadder in the piece.
g. HBO, for the Vince Lombardi documentary. I have to say I'm only halfway through it, but the depth and intelligence of it so far are stunning. I love seeing his kids talk about what it was really like to be Lombardis, particularly when his daughter tells the story of not being able to find Green Bay on a map before their moves, and dad telling her when he's done there, everyone will know where Green Bay is. Sounds too corny to be true, but it's fact.
h. John Abraham. His two sacks Sunday give him 11 for the year.
i. Cameron Wake. His two sacks Sunday came in the clutch, late, and were important in the Dolphins' 10-6 win. He may be a dark horse for it, but he's forcing himself into the Defensive Player of the Year voting.
j. Jay Feely, the Arizona kicker and mad Tweeter, for his monster game against Denver. In a 35-minute span, Feely kicked five field goals, including a 55-yarder, and ran for a five-yard touchdown. Cool for a kicker.
k. The Patriots, for their fifth straight turnover-free game.
l. Leon Washington, for his seventh career kickoff return for touchdown.
a. Scary head-hitting-the-turf concussion suffered by Aaron Rodgers.
b. Amazing I: Detroit and Green Bay, combined, converted zero of 13 third-down attempts in the first half in Detroit.
c. Amazing II: Net passing yards for Detroit through 41 minutes versus Green Bay: zero.
d. Donovan McNabb. If the Buc defenders could catch, the Redskins would likely have gotten routed Sunday, and he could be on the first Acela out of Washington this morning. Exaggerating there a bit, but McNabb was mostly dreadful against the Bucs. They just couldn't catch what he was handing them.
e. The rib injury to Devin McCourty. New England's defensive rookie of the year candidate didn't play after suffering it midway through the second quarter.
f. The dislocated elbow, which we all saw graphically on TV last night, suffered by Eagles linebacker Stewart Bradley. Very bad news, and not just for a guy who can't seem to stay on the field. Bradley's loss is big, because he's a good player ... and he's the brain center of defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's scheme.
g. Sixty-seven yards and five first downs from the Chiefs. The first-place Chiefs, I should add.
h. The Jets' offense. A disgrace. No offensive touchdowns for nine quarters now. In the span of one week, the New York playoff path has gotten impossible. To reach the Super Bowl -- even if the Jets make the playoffs -- they'd now almost certainly have to win three road games. This team winning at Jacksonville, Pittsburgh and New England? I don't think so.
i. Chad Henne's day: 55 passing yards. He's regressing. Rapidly.
j. I think last week was the low point to be a Redskins fan. Now? After seeing the McNabb/Gano show again? Not so sure.
k. Matt Flynn's decision-making could use some work.
l. Drew Stanton's, moreso.
a. RIP, Elizabeth Edwards, noble and smart and betrayed.
b. Fun night Saturday out in New Jersey at the home of Sam Flood and wife Jane (Sam's our
c. I miss New Jersey a lot. You know you miss the Jerz when you get a little emotional driving past the Garden State Plaza. Sniff sniff. That's my mall!
d. I see Taylor Swift turns 21 today. I bet she won't remember me leaving my size-14 hoofprint on her red dress at
e. Sorry I missed you in Boston the other night, Joan Rivers. Had to catch up on some sleep. And the $195 price on StubHub was a tad of a deterrent as well.
f. Albert Breer of NFL Network tweeted yesterday about the noted Chicago meteorologist Amy Freeze (yes, her real name). I bet he didn't know Amy was a cheerleader at BYU and married the Brigham Young mascot, Cosmo the Cougar. What a Cougar.
g. No, I didn't just make that up.
h. Coffeenerdness: Just to be fair, I did try the Amtrak coffee once more the other day. I was desperate for coffee. Nope. Still weak as a kitten.
i. Beernerdness: What do you think? I'm on the verge of making this a semi-regular category. Give me your input.
The Ravens had an extra day and a half to recover from the Pittsburgh heartbreak of a week ago, and that's a good thing. Expect a big night from Anquan Boldin, going up against a terminally weak secondary with not much pressure expected on Joe Flacco.
It'll be eerie inside Ford Field tonight, and I expect you'll have more fans for the Giants than for the division-rival Vikes. Giants players have been in airplanes and hotels all weekend, and who knows how all that will factor into what happens tonight. But I say Eli Manning takes advantage of his rehabbed receiving weapons and makes more plays than whoever quarterbacks the Vikings.