So what do you want? The good news or the bad news?
I'm a glass-half-full guy, so here goes: The NFL's Terrible Trio, the despondent Rust Belt franchises in Buffalo, Detroit and Cleveland, are 8-1. Over the last 10 years, since 2001, these three teams have combined for three winning seasons. "Our fans have been starving for this,'' said Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita after the Browns beat Miami 17-16. If Cleveland's been starving, what about Detroit and Buffalo giddily celebrating 3-0 starts?
The bad news: The Vikings have been ahead by 10, 17 and 20 at halftime in their three games -- and lost every one. Imagine outscoring teams 54-7 in the first half and being outscored 67-6 in the second half. Six points in six quarters ... all that's going to do is increase the cries for Christian Ponder to replace Donovan McNabb. Too early now, but coach Leslie Frazier will have to do something if the Vikings keep wasting credible defensive efforts like they've had so far. Great line by columnist Jim Souhan in the Minneapolis Star Tribune this morning: "It's time for the Vikings to start thinking of "Ponder'' as a noun, not a verb.''
Much more where that came from on a weekend where we learned a lot about the NFL, and it only served to make blurrier the picture of who's good and who's not. Before we get to the sad story of Orlando Brown, and why passing is up, and why the problem of passing eternal judgment on receivers is only going to get tougher (thank you, Wes Welker), and why you need to get to know Henry Melton, and why we should all feel punched in the gut this morning by the Steve Gleason story, play along with me for the Seven Things I Learned in Week 3:
Revelation of the day, Buffalo division. I can remember only two Buffalo crowds as giddy and loud as Sunday's -- though I'm sure I'm missing some. The 2007 Monday night crazyfest with Dallas, won 25-24 by the Cowboys, is one, and the comeback from a 32-point deficit in the 1993 playoff game against Houston the other. "Great game, great fun, great team we beat, great crowd," Fred Jackson said from Buffalo afterward. "It felt like we had the entire city behind us in the stadium today." Fred Jackson can really play. He had 17 touches for 161 yards and a touchdown against a team that knew he was coming. Now, he joins Ryan Fitzpatrick as a player the Bills have to sign -- Fitzpatrick's deal is up after this season, Jackson's under contract through 2012 -- to ensure the offense stays explosive. "I want something done, because I'd love to stay here,'' said Jackson. Good players like to stay with winners, and now the Bills are a game ahead of the Jets and Patriots in the AFC East.
Revelation of the day, Detroit division. You know the difference in these Lions? They got behind by 20 on the road by halftime, and they didn't think the game was over. This is a team that's been through 0-16. The Lions are going to fret over behind three scores down with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson getting the ball six times in the second half? No. By the way, two quarterbacks in Lions history have twice rallied the team from 20 points down or more to win; Stafford and Bobby Layne -- the last quarterback to lead the Lions to a championship. In the shameless plug of the week, it looks like I'll have plenty to talk about with Detroit coach Jim Schwartz this week on the "NFL Podcast with Peter King.''
Revelation of the day, Cleveland division. There was something I liked about the Browns post-game Sunday, after escaping with a 17-16 win over the Dolphins. With the players screaming for a "Victory Monday,'' a day off that normally follows a win, which then is followed by the normal day off on Tuesday, coach Pat Shurmur told the players he'd get them in and out as quick as he could on Monday, but it wasn't going to be a full day off because next week is the bye, and a game with Tennessee awaited this week, and he wanted to do everything he could to make sure they prepared fully for this game against a non-division foe. And not a peep was heard from the players. "Multiple reasons why that's an important game,'' said receiver Muhammad Massaquoi. "You don't want to go into a bye with a loss, and you want to be sure you keep a good thing going. We still have work to do here.'' Of the three Rust Belters not accustomed to feeling so good on a Sunday, Shurmur's idea was not only the right one, but one his players embraced. And that's the kind of team that can grow into something.
Revelation of the day, good: Darren McFadden. The Oakland running back had the best day a back's had against a Rex Ryan-head-coached defense -- 19 carries, 171 yards -- in the Raider win over New York, and he proved he belongs in the discussion as the best back in football. He's averaging 131 yards per game, with the kind of speed and power very few backs have. Adrian Peterson is probably more sudden, with a better quick-twitch change of direction, but for power and speed, McFadden is at least Peterson's equal.
Revelation of the day, bad: Starting to wonder if Chad Ochocinco has Steve Sax or Chuck Knoblauch disease. When I saw the Patriots in practice this summer -- one practice -- Ochocinco dropped three easy catches. He had a bad one in the opener at Miami. And Sunday, in Buffalo, Tom Brady laid a touchdown right in his hands late in the game. Couldn't have thrown a more perfect ball. Doink. Another drop. What is it with this guy? Stage too big for him after playing a career in nowhereland?
Revelation of the day, mysterious. I don't know what a catch is anymore. I've watched and listened to the NFL explain how three things have to happen for a catch to be valid. One: Firm grip and control of the ball must be established; and if the receiver goes to the ground, he must maintain control. Two: The receiver must have two feet down, or one foot and another body part like an elbow or shoulder. Three: The receiver must make a football move, or turn upfield with the ball. That changes around the goal line, however, which is where the problem came into play Sunday. Wide receiver Victor Cruz of the Giants leaped for a ball with two Eagle defenders near him. Cruz caught it in the heavy traffic and reached for the end zone, and either as he pierced the goal line or just after that, the ball came loose and it fell to the ground in the end zone. The play was ruled a touchdown on the field and upheld by referee Jeff Triplette. I'm told Triplette made the right call according to the rules, which say a catch at the goal line need only pierce the goal line; if, after that, the ball is dropped or the act not completed ion some other way, it doesn't matter.
Compare this to the Calvin Johnson catch in the end zone last season, where he basically danced a minuet before steadying himself on the ground with the ball and it spun away, and the pass was ruled incomplete. The difference: The Johnson catch needed to be completed because it didn't happen at the goal line, while the Cruz catch doesn't need to be completed because all a receiver has to do at the goal line is get the ball over the line while possessing it. I understand the difference. And it is absurd. What sport makes a different rule for a ball that's caught at the one-yard line and a ball that's caught six yards deep in the end zone? Even the catcher in this case, Cruz, told me after the game: "Yeah, I still get confused by that rule.''
By the way, rule or no rule, this was a superb day for Cruz, a kid raised seven miles from the Meadowlands in Paterson, N.J., who took advantage of his chance because of injuries to have the game of his life: 74- and 28-yard touchdown catches to help beat the arch-rival Eagles. "Not in a million years did I think this would ever happen,'' he said on the team bus back to north Jersey. "To do it against these guys was special.'' And to score both while either breaking a Nnamdi Asomugha tackle or beating him in coverage has to be more special.
Revelation of the day, Vick category. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick suffered a broken right hand on a second-half hit in the pocket, and he may not be able to play Sunday against the Niners. "I felt I got hit late. No flag.'' Vick said, repeating his refrain of last December, when he was sure he wasn't getting the same calls as Tom Brady and Drew Brees. "At some point something catastrophic is gonna happen. Not to blame the refs, but more precautions should be taken. I'm on the ground all the time in the pocket. I don't know why I don't get the 15-yard flag like everybody else does. I'm not trying to blame the refs. I just want them to take notice."
I thought there was one call Vick should have gotten -- a high hit from Chris Canty that may have caused his broken hand. By the letter of the rule, he was hit high, after the release. But the problem with Vick is that often he's hit as a runner, not as a passer, and the rules are different. A quarterback in the pocket is treated altogether differently than a runner who's left the pocket. And many of the hits Vick takes come after he takes off running.
Why the passing frenzy? Look to the colleges.
On Saturday, two top-10 college teams, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, met in College Station. The quarterbacks in the game combined for 112 pass plays (107 attempts plus five sacks), and two first-round NFL prospects -- Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon and A&M's Jeff Fuller -- had 17 catches and three touchdowns between them.
On Sunday, two prolific former college passers, Cam Newton of Carolina and Andy Dalton of the Bengals, started their third pro games. Newton won, Dalton lost. What's interesting with the two kids is this: Whereas lots of young quarterbacks over the years have been handed jobs and their coaches didn't really know how long they'd play before they'd have to be pulled because of poor play or information overload, the Panthers and Bengals honestly believe Newton and Dalton are in for the long haul. The very long haul.
Part of the reason is that many college teams today are playing what pro teams play -- a form of the spread offense -- and so when young players move up, it's not like moving from the wishbone to the classic pro style offense. Dalton threw more than 1,300 passes in four years at TCU, in a short- and medium-throw, quick-decision offense in which Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden found similarities to the pro game he'd be teaching Dalton.
"I don't really know what offense is anymore,'' Gruden said with a chuckle the other day. "I saw tape of Andy going 22 of 27 against Baylor, throwing the ball on time, with good balance, to receivers who never seemed to have to strain to catch the ball. How do you not like that?''
Dalton, he said, showed the poise of a veteran from early in training camp. "The good thing about him is I know he won't panic,'' Gruden said. "In our second preseason game, at the Meadowlands against the Jets, it was raining, and he throws a pass that bounced off A.J. Green and was picked off. You'd think a young guy would be affected by that, but he was calm on the sidelines. Just got ready for his next series. And he faced an all-out blitz from Rex Ryan. He saw it at the line of scrimmage, audibled to a better play, and completed the pass. On the road, against the things the Jets do. Ice water in his veins.''
Dalton is so advanced in offensive football that teaching him a new system, with some new terminology, was easy. "At the beginning of camp,'' Gruden said, "we had a team starting from ground zero, and they've really taken to it well. Right now, Andy's the least of my concerns. I can throw anything at him and he gets it. I could have him run the no-huddle with everything we use, and he'd be able to run it, no problem. That's pretty good for a rookie in his first month or so playing at this level.''
The young quarterbacks aren't being babied; the Panthers are calling passes on 62 percent of their snaps so far, Cincinnati on 59 percent. The last game of September will be played tonight in Dallas, and it's possible that when the weather turns bad, the game plans will turn conservative. But the young guys are leading the way in making the league much more pass-happy so far.
Check out the percentage of pass plays in the NFL from 2000 through Sunday's 15 games. By pass plays, I mean pass attempts plus sacks.
To get the percentage, I've divided pass attempts plus sacks by the number of total plays each season.
While we're on the subject of passing numbers ...
I've been trying to quantify what these passing and receiving numbers will mean in history. The Pro Football Hall of Fame already has a tough time electing receivers -- three wideouts who played in the last 35 years have been selected in the last eight classes -- with Cris Carter (1,101 catches), Tim Brown (1,094) and Andre Reed (951) having been eligible for a combined 13 years and not elected.
Marvin Harrison (1,102) will be eligible in three years. On Sunday, Reggie Wayne passed the 800-catch mark. Could, and should, both Colt receivers go in the Hall someday? Wes Welker, 29, in his fifth year in New England, caught 16 balls from Brady Sunday in Buffalo and has 559 lifetime receptions -- more, now, than longtime Patriots Stanley Morgan and Troy Brown, each of whom retired with 557. I find that amazing. But that's the game today. Welker, who became Tom Brady's favorite receiver almost upon his arrival in New England in 2007, has averaged two catches a game more with the Patriots (7.3 per game) than the prolific Carter did with Minnesota (5.3). More yards too.
You can number yourself to death at the receiver position. That's why I favor the Hall of Fame voters -- of which I am one -- judging receivers as much by what they saw in the players as the numbers players accumulated. Carter's the best boundary receiver I've seen, a flawless catcher on the sidelines and endline, which I think should count for something. A lot, actually. That's a measure of how a receiver played the game, not just the raw numbers he accumulated.
Welker's the best slot receiver of the day, and a versatile player when times call for him to do other things. Hines Ward, for instance, is one of the best blocking receivers I've ever seen -- and now he's only 34 catches from 1,000; what happens to him when he's eligible?
A lot of worthy players. A big logjam in the coming years.
The death of Orlando Brown reverberates.
When last I saw Orlando Brown, he was bragging about his son, sophomore offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., of DeMatha Catholic High in Hyattsville, Md. "He's going to be a player, a really good player,'' Brown said at Ravens' training camp this summer. Like father, like son.
Brown, who was found dead of undisclosed causes Friday in Baltimore at 40, is one of the most interesting, and misunderstood, men I've come across in my time in the NFL. To think of him only as the man who, in a rage, shoved down referee Jeff Triplette on Dec. 19, 1999, after Triplette inadvertently hit him in the right eyeball with a weighted penalty flag would be a mistake. It's a part of the picture, but not all of it.
Before the 1993 draft, then-Browns scout Scott Pioli went to work out a player at South Carolina State. Brown was a 380-pound defensive tackle at the school and wanted a tryout too. According to Ravens long-time PR man Kevin Byrne, Pioli said no; Brown wasn't on the scouting list for the Browns. Brown was insistent.
"Lots of times,'' said another scout on the Browns staff then, Phil Savage, "you'll show up at a small school and 15 guys will come out of the woodwork, wanting a tryout. Scott must have seen something in him.''
Pioli went back to campus to work out Brown, told coach Bill Belichick and personnel man Mike Lombardi he'd be worth a free agent look if he got his weight down, and so the Browns signed him. He was so needy in all areas that the Browns instructed him how to open savings and checking accounts; he'd simply cash his check and carry all of his money around with him.
On the field, assistant offensive line coach Pat Hill spent individual time with him daily to teach him how to be a tackle. Every morning at 6, Hill would set up folding chairs on the practice field to simulate players, and he'd teach Brown the basics of offensive line play for 45 minutes. Line coach Kirk Ferentz also did some tutoring of Brown. By late 1994, Brown, a dominating straight ahead blocker with decent feet, was starting at right tackle for the Browns. He had a hair-trigger temper, which his head coaches -- first Bill Belichick and later Chris Palmer with the Browns, tried hard to control.
Interesting career. He went from Cleveland to Baltimore when the Browns moved there, then back to the Browns at the rebirth of the franchise, then back to Baltimore in 2003 after recovering from his eye injury. That happened when Triplette, early in a game against the Jaguars, called a false start on Cleveland and threw a BB-weighted yellow penalty flag that struck Brown in the right eyeball. We later learned that Brown's father had lost his eyesight in one eye because of glaucoma, and it's something he feared happening to him someday.
I was at the game that day, and watched incredulously as Brown grabbed his facemask after being struck, and then watched Triplette hustle over to Brown to apologize. Brown left the field, and within seconds stalked back onto the field gesturing at Triplette -- then shoved him to the ground, Triplette landing, shocked, on his backside. To this day, that's the strangest act I've ever seen on a football field.
I remember walking into Palmer's office after the game and seeing him utterly depressed. He said, "That's not him. That's not him.'' At the time, I took that to be a defense of a player on his team who'd done an indefensible thing, a coach just trying to stick up for a player in trouble. He also said: "I have tried to work with the player and his emotions during the course of the year, and obviously I failed in this situation.''
Palmer, now the Titans' offensive coordinator, told me Saturday, "It really wasn't him. I loved Zeus. He was really the gentle giant. He was good to all kids, and my kids loved him. When he passed, my son and my daughter both called and were very sad. Just tells you a little bit about how he affected people, and what a loving, caring person he was.''
Brown never forgot the incident, obviously. We even discussed it this summer, though I don't recall exactly what he said. But when he came back to the Ravens in 2003 to resume his career (with a shield over his facemask, and goggles to protect the eye), he was not a bitter man. Every Friday, he'd give free tickets to home games to the people working in food service at the Ravens' facility. He bought equipment for his high school team in an impoverished section of Washington, D.C. Phone calls came into the Ravens about Brown pulling up in his car to a football practice somewhere in the Baltimore area -- multiple times this happened -- and stopping to offer help to the coaches if they wanted his advice. He began tutoring the young tackles who might one day take his spot. This summer, he was in camp working one-on-one with rookie Jah Reid and second-year tackle Ramon Harewood, from Morehouse (Ga.) College.
Harewood, on injured-reserve with an ankle injury, said Friday: "We had similar backgrounds, with me only playing football for four years and him having to work his way into the NFL the hard way. He helped me grow as a player. He was always upbeat, always encouraging, and would never let me get down on myself.''
On Sunday in St. Louis, Ravens coach John Harbaugh told his team before the game: "Let's salute Zeus. Let's play the way he'd play -- let's play relentless.''
No team got off to a 21-0 start in the first quarter Sunday, except Baltimore. I'm not saying it's because of the pregame speech. I'm just saying it happened, and maybe it's a coincidence. But the Ravens sure came out strong against the Rams.
The Orlando Brown story says something about a lot of things. Without Brown's persistence, maybe he never gets an NFL tryout. Without Pioli, Belichick and Lombardi seeing something in him, maybe he never gets a roster spot. Without Hill's tutelage, maybe he never becomes a starter. Without the Triplette accident, maybe we never focus on how a life in turmoil became a life with a lot of giving in it.
Rod Marinelli might have Warren Sapp Jr. on his hands.
One of the most interesting stories of the first three weeks of the season is Chicago defensive tackle Henry Melton, and not just because of his explosive Week 1 performance (two sacks of Matt Ryan, one forced fumble and seven quarterback hits -- yes, seven) against Atlanta, or his sack and two additional tackles for loss against the Packers Sunday. Melton, five years ago, was a running back at Texas. A 270-pound running back, who arrived in the same recruiting class as Jamaal Charles.
"Everybody thinks I was a fullback at Texas,'' Melton said the other day. "I actually had a fullback blocking for me -- Ahmard Hall.''
Check out how much of a factor the 6-3, 270-pound megaback Melton was, before switching to the defensive line after two seasons in Austin. In 2005 and 2006 combined, here were the leading rushers, ranked by rushing touchdowns, at Texas:
"I got a lot of the short-yardage carries,'' said Melton. "But I was not just a goal-line back. Look at the stats. My teammates now, they didn't think I ran the ball like a real running back, but I did.''
He moved to the defensive line because he, and the coaches, thought he could be more of a factor there and play more. And you've got to give Chicago GM Jerry Angelo credit for taking a shot on Melton in the fourth round of the 2009 draft after a mostly unimpressive period on the line for the Longhorns. Credit Lovie Smith, too, for trusting Melton with the starting under-tackle job this year, and Rod Marinelli for teaching him enough to be successful -- in brief -- at the job. He basically made Tommie Harris cuttable in the offseason.
Melton said Marinelli puts him in position to succeed by running a lot of run and pass stunts, trying to take advantage of his quickness at 295 pounds (now) to cut through gaps in the offensive line. "My footwork has helped me,'' Melton said. "I had some quickness when I ran the ball. But I didn't think I'd even be close to this kind of player in the NFL. I'm in the right place for what I do -- in this defense, the [three-technique tackle] is made to be disruptive.''
If the hot start continues, Melton's going to be pretty happy Mack Brown took the ball out of his hands four years ago.
1. Green Bay (3-0). Jermichael Finley told everyone he was ready to take his place among the Gonzalez/Witten/Gates elite of NFL tight ends. Guess we should have listened.
2. Baltimore (2-1). Just when it seemed like the Ravens might have enough offense without him, Torrey Smith appears. Explosively.
3. New England (2-1). At some point, the Patriots are going to put some draft emphasis on finding a pass-rush. In the last four seasons, in average passing yards per game, New England allowed 190.1, 201.4, 209.7 and 258.5. Who would have thought the Pats would be allowing 377 passing yards per week, through three weeks?
4. New Orleans (2-1). How fun is it to watch Drew Brees take a team on his back and win a game it has little business winning?
5. Detroit (3-0). Schwartz for Mayor! Do you have any doubt he could win?
6. Houston (2-1). Hard to say you're making progress when you surrender 40 points and 370 passing yards, but if you watched the game, you know there was a lot of good about Houston's defensive effort. And James Casey too. The local kid -- Casey went to Rice -- looks like a long-term keeper, an offensive tight end with good athleticism.
7. Buffalo (3-0). On the last two Sundays, you can't tell me there hasn't been a spike in visits to western New York cardiac units.
8. Pittsburgh (2-1). Mike Wallace is building quite a nice fan club around the country. Easy to do when you've had three straight 100-yard receiving games.
9. Tampa Bay (2-1). The Falcons had won five straight over Tampa (by 3, 3, 10, 6, and 4 points), so it was no surprise that Raheem Morris' first victory over Atlanta came down to the end.
10. Oakland (2-1). Darren McFadden is a legitimate star, something the Patriots will discover when they visit the Black Hole this weekend. If not for that three-point loss to Buffalo, the Raiders would be 3-0.
11. New York Jets (2-1). I'm mystified about what to do with the Jets. Time will tell.
12. New York Giants (2-1). Eli Manning: four touchdown passes, no interceptions. Shades of the '07 playoffs.
13. San Diego (2-1). Still don't trust my AFC preseason pick, but Ryan Mathews earned 98 rushing yards, many of them tough, which was one encouraging sign in a far too close win over the Chiefs.
14. Atlanta (1-2). Haven't given up on the Falcons yet, but mark my words: Matt Ryan will not make it to November if he keeps getting hit that much.
15. Washington (2-0). Why not Philly here? Thought long and hard about it. I just don't know who the Eagles are right now, especially if Mike Vick has to miss a week or two.
Offensive Players of the Week
Baltimore WR Torrey Smith. I wonder how it feels to play the best quarter of your professional life in the first quarter as a starter of your professional life. Smith did that Sunday at St. Louis. Seriously: Is it possible for a wide receiver to debut any better than catching three balls for 133 yards and three touchdowns in the first 14 minutes of his NFL career? Touchdown catches of 74, 41 and 18 yards showcased Smith's speed, the big reason the Ravens picked the Maryland kid in the second round of last April's draft.
Green Bay TE Jermichael Finley. He's not Torrey Smith, but Finley's an OK player. Finley missed the NFC Championship Game with a knee injury last season, and Sunday he showed the Soldier Field crowd what it missed in January. He caught all three of Rodgers' touchdown throws, and had seven catches in all. As the world is seeing, Finley is one heck of a matchup problem. He has the size of a Randy Moss and runs almost like him.
Defensive Players of the Week
Cleveland DT Ahtyba Rubin. Taken out of Iowa State in the sixth round of the 2008 draft, in what would be one of Phil Savage's last acts as Cleveland GM, Rubin is turning into one of the best defensive tackles in the league. He was one of the keys to a resilient if ugly 17-16 win over Miami Sunday. He had 1.5 sacks, nine tackles and another tackle for loss as the Browns stifled much of what Miami tried to do on offense.
Indianapolis DE Dwight Freeney. There's a good chance Cris Collinsworth broke the world record for "Dwight Freeney, Most Times Mentioned in a Network Telecast'' Sunday night as the Colts narrowly lost to Pittsburgh. Freeney had four tackles, two sacks, three more quarterback hits and a forced fumble, and it seemed he was in Ben Roethlisberger's kitchen for three hours. Seems like Freeney's not getting older -- he's getting better.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Bills kicker Rian Lindell. Tom Brady has had six four-interception games in his career, and Lindell has had the unique advantage of being on the opposite sideline for two of them. In the 2003 season opener, he nailed a 44-yard field goal and made four conversion kicks as the Bills beat a mistake-prone Brady and Co. 31-0. And on Sunday, after enduring 15 consecutive losses to New England as a Bill, the 34-year-old Lindell hit the 28-yard game-winning field goal as time expired to make Brady pay again for another four-interception outing.
Coach of the Week
Tennessee offensive coordinator Chris Palmer. The Titans aren't supposed to be 2-1, and Matt Hasselbeck isn't supposed to be among the league's most accurate passers (69.6 percent) through three weeks, especially because he had to learn a totally new offense in less than two months. But the teaching by Palmer -- his system isn't so much a progression system with receivers all over the secondary, but rather a system where the quarterback usually knows which half of the field he's throwing to after the snap of the ball -- has gotten Hasselbeck in gear quickly. And he's helped Hasselbeck with his emphasis on colored targets in practice, making him hit exact spots in drills. It's been a great match so far.
Goats of the Week
Philadelphia LB Casey Matthews and FS Kurt Coleman. Bad enough that Brandon Jacobs ran past a slow Matthews on the Giants' first score of the day, a wheel-route touchdown toss from Eli Manning that gave the Giants a 7-0 lead. But with the Giants stuck at their 26 late in the quarter on third-and-two, Manning threw a short pass to the left flat to Victor Cruz. Coleman came up to him at the Giants' 35, had a clear shot at a tackle, but went high at him -- around the chest -- and Cruz burst through him, shucking him off and going for a 74-yard touchdown. There were other Philadelphia defensive deficiencies later -- one at the goal line by Nnamdi Asomugha -- but Matthews and Coleman led the way in digging a huge hole for the Eagles.
Kansas City QB Matt Cassel. The Chiefs, stunningly, had a shot to win at San Diego late, trailing 20-17 with a minute to play. And Cassel, who'd played his best game since last December up to that point, threw a short pass right into the gut of San Diego safety Eric Weddle. Incredible mistake. Cassel grabbed his head as though he couldn't believe what he'd just done. Neither could every TV-watcher in great Kansas City.
"I feel sick right now."
-- Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, after the Vikings blew their third straight double-digit halftime lead and lost to the Lions in overtime.
I have a feeling he wasn't alone in the Minnesota locker room.
"He didn't come here to retire quietly. He came here to win.''
--Tennessee coach Mike Munchak, on quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who is 2-1 with his new team and his new offense.
"My goodness, I'm so darned proud of you. I'm so proud of you. It wasn't pretty. But we're building something here ... Let's not make it so close next time.''
-- Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur, in his postgame speech to his team following a 17-16 comeback win over the Dolphins Sunday.
"My first image of the NFL was when I first saw Zeus. I thought, 'They're sure a lot bigger here.' He had that dark visor on his helmet, wearing those throwback jerseys under his pads. He was most intimidating and dared you to back down from him. If you did, you were done. He embodied what the NFL -- what the Ravens are all about. His willingness to battle along with you, the way he stood up for his teammates, was special.
"This sounds corny, but he was literally the first on the field and the last off. He'd be out there before practice with his helmet on, working on something to make himself better. He'd find teammates to stay with him after practice to work on his pass blocking. He challenged me every day and made me a better player. I'll always be thankful for that."
-- Baltimore outside linebacker Jarrett Johnson, on the passing of Orlando "Zeus'' Brown.
The Titans will exit September with zero kickoff returns and 11 touchbacks.
My alma mater, Ohio University, has a quarterback (Tyler Tettleton) who is the son of longtime major-league catcher Mickey Tettleton (and who threw for 339 at Rutgers Saturday), and also suits up two sons of Bengals from the same '80s secondary: running back David Fulcher (son of safety David Fulcher) and wideout Bakari Bussey (son of safety Barney Bussey).
So on Thursday, I paid off a debt from a charity auction last spring: I went to Curt Schilling's 38 Studios in downtown Providence. (An autism-spectrum charity in Boston, YouthCare, had me auction myself off for an appearance, and Schilling chose a lunch with some in his video game company.)
Schilling's company occupies a six-floor building a short walk from the center of downtown, and I was amazed at the beehive of activity by scores of employees who don't seem to hang around the water cooler much. They were having too much fun at their jobs. Game designers, artists, writers, marketers, all in a relaxed environment living by Schilling's three work rules: Be on time, work your rear end off and don't dress worse than the boss. Which, on this day, was not a difficult rule to follow. Schilling wore a Super Bowl-logo sweatshirt, shorts and flip-flops.
And Schilling has a pet ferret in his office.
"Making same drive out of downtown Philly that I did when I was diagnosed. This time it's to go play the #eagles. Feel very Blessed''
-- @MarkHerzlich, the Giants' rookie linebacker, who has returned from fighting a cancerous tumor in his leg to the roster of an NFL team, on the team bus from downtown Philadelphia to Lincoln Financial Field, at 9:28 a.m. Sunday.
"Sad to see all these folks in Chicago missing every finger except the middle. I think they're trying to wave to us.''
-- @TCrabtree83, Packer tight end Tom Crabtree, tweeting from the Green Bay team bus after the Pack went to Chicago and whipped the Bears Sunday.
1. I think Steve Smith is pretty happy he didn't shoot his way out of Carolina now.
2. I think it is wrong to coach players to fake injuries. I also think teams do it (I have long suspected New Orleans defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove took a dive in the Colts-Saints Super Bowl when Peyton Manning had Indianapolis rolling in the no-huddle in the second half), and teams coach it. There's little doubt of that. And I think the NFL needs to make sure officials on the field have the power to enforce a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when they have strong suspicions that it has happened.
It's ridiculous to bring up the specter of teams losing a draft choice if they're found guilty of having players take injury dives; a year after the threat to suspend players for egregious helmet-to-helmet and other dangerous hits, no one has been suspended. A lost draft pick is a pie-in-the-sky, never-will-happen, empty threat. Make the threat real, like a 15-yard penalty plus the player getting sent off for the rest of the series, or that series plus another one.
3. I think it's good to be reminded that this is the 10-year anniversary weekend for the Drew Bledsoe hit by Mo Lewis that led to the ascension of Tom Brady -- thanks, Adam Schefter -- but we all should remember one thing that, for some reason, seems to have been washed away by time. Brady's time was coming whether Bledsoe got hurt or not.
The Patriot staff, Bill Belichick and Charlie Weis most notably, were tiring of studying tape and installing a game plan during the week, then having Bledsoe change an inordinate number of plays and make decisions outside of the progressions Weis wanted in the passing game. Unless Bledsoe led the Patriots to the same Super Bowl victory Brady did in 2001, I believe the Patriots would likely have made the quarterback change before the 2002 season.
Bledsoe was a very good player for the Patriots, to be sure. But even in Buffalo, the staff tired of him taking such strong control of the offense -- and other things. The Bills let Bledsoe walk after some big losses in his third year with the team, 2004. None bigger than the last one, a loss to Pittsburgh on a windy day in Buffalo.
Winds were whipping up pretty strong that day, and before he walked out to midfield for the flip, Bledsoe was advised by coaches to choose to defend the east goal if Pittsburgh won the toss and elected to receive. (Though the official play-by-play listed the wind as coming from the south that day, Buffalo coaches felt it was an easterly wind.) That way, the Steelers wouldn't be wind-aided when they took the ball. Pittsburgh won the toss. Pittsburgh elected to receive. Bledsoe said Buffalo would defend the west goal. West?
Bledsoe explained that when he got to midfield, it seemed to him the wind was whipping around differently than the way the coaches thought, and so he picked the opposite goal to defend. Bledsoe had a seesaw 16-of-30 day and Pittsburgh won 29-24. Bledsoe never played again for Buffalo.
Bledsoe is very smart, but on a few occasions, thinking differently than his coaches hurt his employment career. And it affected the balance of power for years in the AFC East.
4. I think if you read nothing else this morning, read this sad/inspiring/sad piece by Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Times Picayune. It's about the man who made the most famous block in Saints history five years ago Sunday in the team's first game back at the Superdome post-Katrina, safety Steve Gleason.
5. I think I don't recall offensive-line play being this sieve-like in the last few years -- particularly with Atlanta, Chicago and Pittsburgh. The injury-riddled Steelers line nearly got Ben Roethlisberger kayoed from the Sunday night game. I'll be curious to see if pressures and hits on passers rise to higher levels -- which, mathematically, they should. Bad news for quarterbacks.
6. I think this is what I liked about Week 3:
a. That's why they paid you the big bucks to come from Cincinnati, Johnathan Joseph, to pick off Drew Brees in a prove-it game for your Texans D. Even if, in the end, the Texans didn't prove it.
b. Even after he's being appreciated more, Trent Cole's underappreciated.
c. "Sounds like they're broadcasting from the shower,'' Dan Patrick said while we listened to the audio during the incredible first-half downpour in Charlotte for Jacksonville-Carolina, while Spero Dedes and Steve Beuerlein did a good job trying to see what was going on. For 15 minutes or so, it looked like the Fog Bowl in Chicago years ago.
d. We say this all the time, but this is zero percent exaggeration: Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 54-yard field goal at the end of the first half against the Jets that landed -- on a line drive -- two-thirds of the way up the net behind the goal post. That kick would have been good from 70. I'm sure of it. What a weapon Janikowski is.
e. Excellent job by FOX, and host Curt Menefee, to apologize for the network's bungled Chicago Bear reporting on a phony, negative Jay Cutler headline.
f. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who used to watch Tom Brady in his dorm room at Harvard, outdueled him. What a story.
g. Tom Coughlin. He can coach.
h. Fred Jackson. He can run. Stat of the day: Jackson leads all NFL backs with a 6.45 yard-per-carry average. McFadden's at 6.44.
i. Glad to see Jason Hanson kick the game-winner for Detroit. After all the years he played for awful teams, he should have one good year, at least.
j. Joe Flacco had the best throwing day of his career Sunday in St. Louis, 389 yards passing.
k. Big win for Seattle. Didn't know the Seahawks had it in 'em.
7. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 3:
a. Still waiting for Shonn Greene to take the Jets rushing job by the throat and run with it. Look at the comparison of backs Sunday in Oakland. It told the tale, basically. Green, 15 carries for 59 yards. McFadden, 19 carries for 171.
b. I'll tell you what's making Rex Ryan sick this morning: gaining 439 yards on offense, and losing by 10.
c. The phrase "indisputable evidence.'' Study it, referees.
d. Guess I don't blame the fans in Cincinnati, but a couple of wide shots of the game with San Francisco showed a lot of empty seats. When you don't sell out the home opener (the announced crowd was 43,363), and when you lose to the Niners, you could have some ugly home dates.
e. The options for Philadelphia at quarterback. If Mike Kafka or Vince Young has to start for the Eagles against San Francisco Sunday, Andy Reid will not sleep easy Saturday night. Kafka threw two interceptions in a cup of coffee relieving Vick, and Young has been nursing a hamstring injury and appears just about ready to play. But how much of the Eagle offense he knows is another matter.
f. It'll be a long time before Matt Cassel forgets the throw to Eric Weddle.
g. That wasn't a step back for the Rams, it was a football field back.
h. Billy Devaney needs to get more speed in the secondary, but I'm sure the St. Louis GM knows that.
i. Not to pick on Steeler left tackle Jonathan Scott, because Dwight Freeney has abused many an NFL tackle. But the Steelers need help on the line -- or they need to keep a tight end in consistently to help.
8. I think, speaking of another awful year in the NFC West, if 7-9 won it last year, 6-10 might this year.
9. I think Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum told a great story the other day about how Larry David called him out of the blue before the 2006 draft and told him he had to take Reggie Bush with the Jets' first draft pick. David's a big Jets fan. And he was in mourning when the Saints took Bush before the Jets were even on the clock. He shouldn't be now that D'Brickashaw Ferguson has solidified the New York left tackle job and Bush is struggling with his second team.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. It's the end of R.E.M as we know it, and I feel fine. Not really. But we did get some great music out of R.E.M. Thank you, Mike.
b. I'm thinking of using Pandora as my music source. Thoughts?
c. Not sure which is my favorite Red Sox collapse stat. Maybe this one: They've started the last 12 games in the hole, by the following scores: 2-0, 4-0, 2-0, 3-0, 3-0, 2-0, 3-0, 4-1, 1-0, 9-0, 4-0 and 3-0. That, folks, is how you blow a nine-game Wild Card lead in three weeks and stand one game up on Tampa Bay entering the final three games of the season.
d. Or this one: They're 2-18 this month when they don't score 12 runs or more.
e. Or how about this: In the first two weeks of the season and the last three, they've won 22 percent of their games (8-28); in the months between, they won 66 percent (81-42).
f. Or how about how game one Sunday in New York started, with Tim Wakefield on the mound and the Yankees clearly taking advantage of his age and his unpredictable pitch: bunt single, steal, bunt single, passed ball (for one run), passed ball, wild pitch (for a second run).
g. It was, however, nice to see Paul Simon at Yankee Stadium Saturday. And the Yankees did a terrific job honoring the memory of Roger Maris on the 50-year anniversary of his 61-homer season
h. It's nice to be able to overmanage when your bullpen is pitching well, but Joe Girardi was out of control Saturday, painfully and unnecessarily making three mid-inning pitching changes to match lefty for lefty, righty for righty, with a 9-1 lead.
i. Nice week for the Phillies. Lost doubleheaders to the Nats and Mets. Went 0-8 between Sunday (eight days ago) and Saturday.
j. To the many who have asked (honest: many have), yes, Leon has passed Marty Funkhauser on the Curb Your Enthusiasm male co-star power ratings based on the performance of the last two seasons. But if the writers would write Funkhauser into the series a little, maybe that would be a different story. Can't hit home runs if the manager doesn't send you up to the plate.
k. I think the whole college conference realignment thing is out of my league. I haven't followed it much, but this passage from Pete Thamel's Thursday column in the New York Times snapped me to attention, about the team in my native state, the UConn Huskies.
"UConn, which has no athletic director and a new president, may have nowhere to go. Because most realignment decisions are driven by football, joining Massachusetts in the Mid-American Conference could be UConn's best available option at this point.'' Eight observations:
• I bet Paul Pasqualoni has a stronger word than that.
• If I were UConn, I'd rather play as an independent.
• In 2010, the UConn season began in front of 113,909 people in Ann Arbor (University of Michigan) and finished on New Year's Day in the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma. In the MAC, the UConn season could begin in Ypsilanti, Mich. (Eastern Michigan) and finish in Mobile, Ala., at the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
• I just can't imagine the UConn press corps going to Athens, DeKalb, Mount Pleasant and Muncie. And Kent.
• Now I know why former coach Randy Edsall left for what appeared at the time to be a parallel job, at Maryland.
• I love the MAC. I went to Ohio U. I covered the MAC track championships in Ypsilanti once. But to think of UConn playing in it ... well, that's about the biggest headline of any of these conference changes to me.
• Oh -- I wonder what Gary Patterson and the brain trust at TCU are thinking of their decision to join the Big East now. Suddenly, those trips to Fort Collins and Laramie don't seem so stupid.
l. Coffeenerdness: I did have a Yankee Stadium latte Saturday afternoon. Surprisingly competent. Not good, but passable, with good foam. It's the first baseball latte I've ever had that wasn't made in Seattle.
m. Beernerdness: Not sure who among the fine brewers up at Saranac, in Utica. N.Y., put out the Saranac Pomegranate Wheat Beer, but it's not good. Not at all. Had two sips of it Saturday night and it tasted something like a cross between cough medicine and spoiled Boone's Farm, with some tarnished fruit aftertaste. I did, however, love the label -- a bear in sunglasses, juggling pomegranates.
n. Congrats on the baby, Gregg Rosenthal. Gregg and wife Emeka had a girl, Ella, named after Ellis Burks, who was Gregg's favorite baseball player growing up rooting for the Red Sox. Yes, I did question the Rosenthals for not naming her Carleen, or Teddette, or something based on one of the great Sox players ever. But I will say this: Burks did have more career homers than Boog Powell, Ron Santo and Bobby Bonds. So you have my blessing, Rosenthals.
Dallas 23, Washington 20. Is Tony Romo incredibly brave, playing with a cracked rib and a punctured lung? Are Dallas doctors, as former quarterback and CBS analyst Boomer Esiason suggests, negligent for allowing him to play after the injury last week, and again tonight? Good debate.
Romo will be equipped with the kind of Kevlar vest that our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan wear. As he told us on the Versus Friday night NFL preview show: "It's a pretty neat product. Thinner than you think. These things take bullets. They put people in 'em that take a lot more risk than I do.''
Well, the Redskins will be blitzing early and often, and Romo's favorite wideout, Miles Austin (hamstring), will be missing tonight. Be very happy if you have Jason Witten as your fantasy tight end.