I love Thanksgiving. Always have. It's the food mostly, and seeing family I haven't seen in a while. Football's always been a part of it, but never the central part. This year might be different. This week, I'm going to politely have to say, "Uh, I need to watch 10 hours of football on Thanksgiving.''
It's not going to work, but a fellow can try. The TV's going off at some point, and it'll be off for a couple of hours at least, as it should be. But the one thing that's happened in the last month is that every game Thursday is now incredibly relevant. This is likely the best combo platter of football games the league's ever had on Thanksgiving, and certainly the best tripleheader since the league added the night game in 2006.
12:30 p.m. ET: Green Bay (10-0) at Detroit (7-3). The Detroit game has always been the wasteland game. Eat early folks! Lions are down 30 in the third quarter! Not now. I can't imagine the combined record of the two teams in the early game being 17-3. By my imprecise calculations, the last time the Lions played a game with a better combined record on Thanksgiving was 1962, when the 10-0 Packers came to Tiger Stadium on a windy and chilly day to play the 8-2 Lions.
Detroit corners Dick LeBeau (yes, that Dick LeBeau) and Night Train Lane picked off Bart Starr on that Thanksgiving Day 49 years ago, and Detroit handed Green Bay its only loss of a 13-1 championship season.
Back to the future: Detroit scored 49 and won for the second time in six weeks Sunday, and with the Bears on their heels, the Lions will be playing this one like a playoff game. If the season ended today, Detroit's the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs and Chicago the sixth. A fourth loss puts the Lions into Falcons/Giants/Cowboys tiebreaker land.
4:15 p.m.: Miami (3-7) at Dallas (6-4). Dolphins and Cowboys are 6-0, combined, over the last three weeks. Much to my surprise (and your disgust, as I'm sure I'll find out), the Dolphins enter the Fine Fifteen this week because they are just mashing teams this month. Dallas, tied with the Giants atop the NFC East, now has a clear edge in the division race because of the schedule. The Cowboys have Miami and offensively challenged Arizona in the next two weeks; the Giants have the Saints and Packers. But Miami looked a lot more beatable a couple of weeks ago. For those with a love of football history, it might be nice to see snow Thursday in Dallas -- and Leon Lett.
8:20 p.m.: San Francisco (9-1) at Baltimore (7-3). "Forget the brother thing -- this is going to be a really good game,'' said Ravens coach John Harbaugh after Baltimore survived the Bengals Sunday. "I don't think I'm going to think about that while we're out there. They're such a good team. I love their team. I love their [defensive] front. They'll be really tough to prepare for.''
San Francisco could be playing to tie Green Bay for the league's best record by nightfall. I haven't been much into the Harbaugh Bowl thing, but it's going to be fun. Saw a snippet of the NFL Network's feature on the Harbaugh family that will run on the network's pregame coverage Thursday, and it's interesting how much of their football-coaching Dad the two boys have taken with them to the NFL.
Jack Harbaugh, schooled under Bo Schembechler, used to say to the boys that the three most important things in football coaching are the team, the team and the team. And so Jim Harbaugh put that on the wall of the team meeting room at the 49ers. And John Harbaugh, when introduced as head coach of the Ravens, repeated his dad's mantra. This will be, by the way, the first time in the 92-year history of the NFL that two brothers head-coach against each other.
The NFL never thought last spring when making this schedule that the league would be leaving only the leftovers for the 12 Sunday games. That's what's happened. Only one of next Sunday's games (Chicago at Oakland) pairs two teams with winning records. And the three Thursday games have six teams with a combined 42-18 record. The Harbaugh Bowl looked nice as a family story, but not as a football game, not with the Niners being the latter-day Niners. We saw the Lions coming. But the Pack, flawless?
I was surprised Sunday to hear Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy talk about how much he liked playing the Thanksgiving game. "We're pretty experienced at it -- this will be our third time in six years,'' he told me. Third time in five, actually. Green Bay played at Detroit on Thanksgiving in 2007 and 2009.
"I love playing on Thanksgiving,'' McCarthy said. "I think the players really like it too. Our battle cry here has been, 'Three games in 11 days.' It's an honor to play on the holiday. And it gives the players something to look forward to -- a break in the season. It's human nature to look for the light at the end of the tunnel, and once we play this game, our guys can get a couple extra days to rest. I think they like the quick turnaround anyway.''
After we spoke, McCarthy was headed up to his office to finish game-planning for Detroit. "We get their game [on digital video] in at 9 o'clock tonight,'' he said. Today and tomorrow, and early Wednesday, the coaches will install the game plan. "It's just a one-hour flight,'' said McCarthy, "so we'll leave a little later than usual Wednesday and be ready to go.''
The six teams will have mini-bye-weeks after the games. If you can survive the quick turnaround, playing on Thanksgiving is a big edge for your last five weeks of the season.
Eleven stories for Week 11
1. Jay Cutler. Now this is weird. Really weird. Early in the fourth quarter of Chicago's 31-20 win over the Chargers, Cutler threw an interception to Antoine Cason. Trying to tackle Cason near the sideline, Cutler flailed at him while being blocked, and his right hand slammed on the ground. When Cutler got up, he looked at his hand and flexed it a couple of times. But he stayed in the game and finished, throwing two more passes. After the Bears' fifth straight win (and third straight game scoring in the thirties -- the first time the Bears have done that since 2005), Cutler greeted some Chargers on the field as he normally does with foes after game. Nothing said about a sore thumb. A Bears' PR man escorted Cutler to talk with NBC Sports' Alex Flanagan. Nothing said about a sore thumb. Cutler showered and did his local press conference. Nothing said about a sore thumb. Coach Lovie Smith did his press conference. Nothing said about a sore thumb for Cutler. Cutler is the NFL's Howard Hughes, thrilled if you know absolutely nothing about him. But this was ridiculous.
I asked two reporters who saw Cutler after the game, and neither said he was flexing or holding his hand in any way that would make you think he was hurt. About an hour after the game, word leaked through FOX's Jay Glazer that Cutler had a broken thumb, and soon after that, the story spread like wildfire through the Chicago press, with reports that Cutler would miss six to eight weeks. This morning, on WBBM radio in Chicago, coach Lovie Smith admitted Cutler had a fracture of his right thumb, and he was injured chasing down Cason.
The sad part of this is how the Bears, with Mike Martz and Cutler figuring how to move him in and out of the pocket to avoid the pressure that had been plaguing him in his Chicago career, finally got the offense going well. In Chicago's record 5-0 run, Cutler's been the franchise quarterback Chicago traded for in 2009. He'd been sacked only five times while putting up 32 points a game. Into the lineup steps Caleb Hanie, who has never started an NFL game. If he's Curtis Painter, the Bears are in big trouble. If he's better, Chicago could hold onto the sixth and final NFC playoff spot and be a factor when -- if -- Cutler returns in January.
2. The Bear schedule. Now this is weird. Really weird. Sunday's game was the beginning of four straight against the AFC West, and five straight against western teams. After dispatching San Diego, here are Chicago's next four games: at Oakland, Kansas City, at Denver, Seattle. If it makes a Bear fan feel any better this morning, at least they can't have much scouting intelligence on Hanie, from Colorado State.
3. Matt Moore. The Dolphins, left for dead at 0-7, are now way out of the Andrew Luck Derby. In fact, they're playing like they don't need a quarterback at all. Matt Moore has been terrific in averaging 29 points per game in Miami's three-game winning streak. Check out how, in the last three games, he's nestled between the two best quarterbacks in football:
Luckily for the Dolphins, there's going to be a very deep pool of quarterbacks in the April draft. If Saturday night showed us anything -- with USC's Matt Barkley shredding Oregon in Eugene, and Robert Griffin III and Landry Jones playing lights out on downfield throws in Baylor's win over Oklahoma, it's that quarterback life doesn't begin and end with Luck in college football this year. What Moore has done well, after his 2010 debacle in Carolina, is keep the chains moving and make sure the Miami defense doesn't have to win every game.
4. Tyler Palko. "Anyone who has ever accomplished anything great has had to overcome some obstacles,'' Palko, the Kansas City quarterback, said the other day on the verge of his first start in the NFL. How about his first two starts, if all goes well tonight in Foxboro: at Bill Belichick's team in game one on "Monday Night Football'' on ESPN, home against the Pittsburgh on "Football Night in America'' on NBC the following Sunday. Quite a ride for Palko.
He was the Pitt quarterback who won the starting job in 2004, forcing Joe Flacco to transfer to Delaware. The rest is, sort of, history. Palko faded under Dave Wannstedt at Pitt and went undrafted. Flacco ascended at Delaware and was a first-round pick of the Ravens in 2008. My favorite year on the Palko resume: 2009. Cut by the Cardinals in training camp, he went to camp in the United Football League with Denny Green's California Redwoods. But he lost the job to Shane Boyd, and Mike McMahon (the clean-shaven former Lion) and someone named Liam O'Hagan also played quarterback for the 'Woods in 2009. But not Palko. "The way I was raised,'' said Palko, "you're not too good to be brought down to earth or to be fired. I don't really look at it as a low point in my career.''
He's a braver man than I, not being able to earn one of three quarterback jobs with a United Football League team. Then it was up to Montreal, to the Canadian Football League Alouettes practice squad. Though he was eventually activated, he never threw a pass for the Alouettes either. When the Steelers had two quarterback injuries late in the season, Palko signed as a backup there. In the span of three months, he was in camp with four teams -- Cardinals, Redwoods, Alouettes, Steelers -- in three leagues ... and never threw a pass. Now, because Matt Cassel is hurt and rookie Ricky Stanzi isn't ready, Palko starts against the Patriots on national TV. Nobody, except Palko, is expecting much. But it's a heck of a story.
5. Roger Goodell. I've got the commissioner on my podcast this week, and I'm going to take three of your questions in with me to the interview Tuesday morning. So get them to me, preferably via Twitter, @SI_PeterKing by tonight. The podcast will be up by late Tuesday. Start a great Thanksgiving tradition with the family: Huddle around the fire Wednesday night and listen to the "NFL Podcast with Peter King.'' What fun!
6. Tim Tebow. This email came to me Saturday night around 10, from a 20-year-old university student named Adam Bond, who covers the Colchester United soccer team, a team two levels below the Manchester Uniteds of the country. Bond wrote:
I love my job and I love the game I wrote about. But I've been a massive NFL fan ever since I once stumbled upon the game flicking through TV channels in the middle of the night nearly 10 years ago. So anyway, today Colchester have a big game against MK Dons, a team quite high in the league. I'm outside the stadium talking to fans to get some quotes when from behind me I hear someone say, "I don't care if his team is winning, he just can't play quarterback." This obviously takes me by surprise, and I listen in on the conversation. The other guy says, "Look, there are only so many Mannings and Bradys and Rodgers in the world, so if you can win with him then why does it matter if he can't throw a perfect spiral every time?" The conversation goes back and forth for a while, and they discuss the cultural aura around Tim Tebow before I turn around and talk to them. Both guys are English, in their late thirties, neither have ever been to America and both discovered the game in the past few years thanks to the NFL coming to Wembley Stadium in London for a game once a year. Both read stuff online, listen to podcasts and watch the few games televised each week in the UK religiously, much like myself.
Whilst the game is growing in the UK, it's still odd to hear a conversation about the sport, particularly at a football game. I love the fact that more and more people are discovering American football. Still, it's astonishing that you can't go anywhere without hearing about Tebowmania -- even thousands of miles away from where the game was played.
7. Ray Lewis. Lewis missed his first game in 47 months Sunday with a toe injury that threatens to keep him out of the lineup Thursday night too. As I said on NBC last night, John Harbaugh told me there's "a realistic chance,'' though probably not a 50-50 shot, that Lewis will play Thursday against the Niners. He said there's no chance the bum toe will keep Lewis out for the year. The Ravens need to start finding a long-term replacement for Lewis, who is 36, but they'd rather not do it down the stretch of a season that could hold Super Bowl promise.
8. The muddled AFC. Take out 0-10 Indy, and the other 15 AFC teams are all between 3-7 and 7-3. The nose-diving Jets are a game out of the Wild Card at 5-5. Ditto for the Bills, with one win in the last 42 days. Same for the Titans and Broncos. Don't laugh: Miami's three games out of playoff contention and would have to leapfrog half the western world to get in, but no team in the conference has been as good in the last three weeks. It's a strange year, which leads me to ...
9. The toll of the lockout. As one club executive said to me this week: "The lockout has certainly had an impact on this season, but no one can describe what it is. It's just added more confusion than ever. Why is San Francisco good, with a new coaching staff? Why is Cincinnati good, with a new offense and a rookie quarterback playing? Why is there no consistency? The lockout's just made the league more confusing than ever.''
10. I hate the inconsistency of touchdowns called in the end zone. Just hate it. Go back and watch the Jermaine Gresham catch ruled not a touchdown for the Bengals late in the loss at Baltimore. Gresham gets control of the ball as he takes two steps and passes the goal line. When he falls to the ground, the ball is dislodged. But he has already pierced the goal line. The touchdown should have counted. It was ruled that Gresham didn't complete the act of catching the ball. But he did complete the act of piercing the goal line with the ball in control. Watch the play. Tell me what you think. Tell me I'm nuts -- please. I cannot fathom the play not being a touchdown. Gresham got control, took steps, went through the plane of the goal line, then lost it on the ground. No touchdown. Crazy.
11. The Bengals are not dead. Andy Dalton threw three interceptions and took a bad intentional grounding penalty in his first game ever at the Crabcake. But he also put up 24 points (should have been 28 but for the aforementioned touchdown-turned-field goal) and accounted for 405 yards of total offense and threw two long completions, one for a touchdown, to put a major scare into the Ravens. The more I watch Dalton and the Bengals (and Cam Newton and the Panthers, for that matter), the more I'm convinced the moving parts are in place for Cincinnati to contend, and not just this year. "The AFC North is unbelievable,'' John Harbaugh said afterward. "Look at Cincinnati -- and they've got those high draft picks coming in the next couple years.'' If the playoffs started today, Pittsburgh would be the fifth seed and Cincinnati six.
Can Manning and Luck live happily ever after, together?
The cogent points you need to know about Peyton Manning's contract, and how it impacts the 2012 draft plans of the Indianapolis Colts:
1. Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, together, would count $21.2 million against the 2012 salary cap, which is not prohibitive. The 2012 cap number for each team will be approximately $121 million.
You can substitute any player for Luck if you choose, because since the new CBA came out, the first-round picks are paid sanely. Manning's number will be $17 million if the Colts exercise his contract option after the season. The first pick in the draft will have a cap number of about $4.2 million (Cam Newton's in 2011 was $4 million) in a total deal of four years and about $23 million.
This means the Colts, who have to make hard decisions on veteran producers who will be unrestricted free agents next March -- like Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis and Jeff Saturday (combined 2011 cap number: $17.94 million) -- will certainly be able to clear the money to keep Manning and draft his heir. In case you doubt the Colts' willingness to clear the decks, keep this in mind: In 2006, then-GM Bill Polian ignored the fan howlings and let Edgerrin James walk in free agency; he drafted Joseph Addai in the first round the next year, and the Colts won their only Super Bowl of the Manning Era that season.
Maybe the Colts try to get Saturday back for a year to smooth the transition, but they won't blink about losing very good veterans, such as the 33-year-old Wayne, if history is a judge.
2. The Colts can't trade Manning before his huge $28 million option bonus is due. The bonus is payable several days before the start of the 2012 league year, traditionally around March 1. Trades can't be made until the league year begins. So if Manning and his agent, Tom Condon, don't agree to extend the deadline for payment of the option, the Colts will have to let him go for nothing or exercise the option and pay him huge money ... and perhaps not know for sure if he's going to be whole with his neck injury for 2012.
3. There is some logical financial pressure on the Colts to make the Manning decision before the option is due. In terms of cash paid to Manning in 2012, if the Colts hold onto him for the 2012 season, the number is $35.4 million (the $28 million bonus and $7.4 million salary). For a franchise like Indianapolis, which is not among the leaders in revenue production, a $35.4 million cash outlay for a guy who may not last a full season is a pretty big risk.
4. It's complicated, and I won't bore you, but the Colts would save $6.6 million on the cap next year by jettisoning Manning before the option bonus is due. Cap number in 2012 if they keep Manning is $17 million. Cap number if they sever ties before the league year begins: $10.4 million.
5. Luck's a ridiculous bargain, whoever gets him. Just think: Manning will make $28 million in late February if the Colts exercise his option, with no guarantee that he'll play one play for them. Luck will make $23 million for the next four years, max. And Manning, if kept and active in 2012, will make $12 million more in 2012 than Luck makes in four years.
6. If the Colts draft Luck and cut Manning, it would be cheaper on the cap than if they keep Manning. Combined cap hit for cutting Manning and first-year cap number for Luck: $14.6 million, some $2.4 million less than keeping Manning and trading the first overall pick. Of course, that depends how far down in the draft Indianapolis goes -- and what the cap hits are of the picks they get if they make a deal.
Bottom line: The cap hit for keeping Manning and drafting Luck would be quite tolerable, but there's significant motivation for the Colts to have hard proof that Manning can play by February. It's almost inconceivable to think if he were still struggling physically come early February that the Colts would shell out $35 million to keep a 36-year-old player whose health they aren't sure about.
1. Green Bay (10-0). Biggest roadblocks to perfection: Thursday at Detroit on a short week, 11 days later at the Giants and their ability to pressure Aaron Rodgers by rushing four men ... and Christmas night (RIGHT HERE ON NBC!!!) against the Bears (and some quarterback) at home.
2. San Francisco (9-1). Last 49er eight-game winning streak: 14 years ago, when the Niners quarterbacks were Steve Young and Jim Druckenmiller. They actually lost their opener, then won 11 in a row in 1997.
3. New Orleans (7-3). Very nice bye for the Saints, who had the entire bye week off. Long week for them, before playing the Giants a week from tonight at home.
4. Baltimore (7-3). Interesting: Jack Harbaugh, father of Raven coach John and Niner coach Jim, said he and his wife won't be in the stadium Thanksgiving night.
5. Pittsburgh (7-3). One more week for Ben Roethlisberger's thumb bone to fuse.
6. New England (6-3). Had a good conversation with Andre Carter the other day, in the wake of his 4.5-sack game against the Jets. If he's not careful, he's going to make me look stupid for bashing Bill Belichick for not drafting pass-rush help last April. Look out tonight, Tyler Palko.
7. Houston (7-3). On his bye Sunday, for the sake of every Texan fan weary of losing, Matt Leinart had better have had his playbook wide open.
8. Chicago (7-3). Five in a row, and all we can think about is how crippling the injury to Jay Cutler might be.
9. Detroit (7-3). Now we'll see if Ford Field, which was the ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th man in the Oct. 10 Monday night win over the Bears, can do the same Thursday afternoon against Aaron Rodgers. By the way, I thought the Lions were rusher-less. Nice to see Kevin Smith, long forgotten but saved from the NFL street two weeks ago, get 20 touches for 201 yards in the win over Carolina -- with three touchdowns.
10. Atlanta (6-4). Nice job running all that no-huddle, Mike Mularkey. Seemed to keep the Titans off-balance for three quarters.
11. Dallas (6-4). Tony Romo and the Cowboys have won three in a row and they have the schedule edge over the Giants.
12. New York Giants (6-4). Tom Coughlin seemed apoplectic a half-hour after the 17-10 loss to Philadelphia. He said the running game was pathetic, the blocking embarrassing ... and I think he complained about the Meadowlands coffee while he was it.
13. Oakland (6-4). Superb interception of a 98-mph Christian Ponder fastball by cornerback Stanford Routt in the fourth quarter, helping clinch the win at Minnesota.
14. Cincinnati (6-4). Andy Dalton made a couple of really stupid throws, and had one awful intentional grounding penalty. Otherwise, the way he brought the Bengals back from a 31-14 deficit to have three shots at the end zone in the final minute tells me Cincinnati has its long-term quarterback and could still be heard from, despite losing to the Steelers and Ravens back to back.
15. Miami (3-7). Last five games: lost to 5-5 Denver by three, lost to the 6-4 Giants by three, won three games by a total of 66 points. Wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see it for myself. The Dolphins have won their last three by 28, 11 and 27.
Offensive Players of the Week
Philadelphia QB Vince Young. First start since a year ago today, and didn't you miss that little Flipper-style delivery? He didn't win this august award because of his numbers for 60 minutes -- 23 of 36, 258 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions, a 69.0 passer rating -- but rather for his numbers on one drive in the fourth quarter. Young, with the game tied at 10, took the ball at his 20 and kept it for 18 plays and 80 yards, finishing it with an eight-yard touchdown pass to an all-alone Riley Cooper. This was a game of ups and downs, starting with an interception on the fifth pass of the game. Young hung in and won.
Green Bay WR Jordy Nelson. With six catches for 123 yards and two Lambeau Leaps, Nelson was Aaron Rodgers' best friend on a day when the quarterback was very good and not transcendent. "Jordy's a heck of a player,'' said coach Mike McCarthy. "A perfectionist.'' On this day, his hands bailed out the Pack on two throws, including a great sideline catch, and it was his 40-yard catch from Rodgers that finished the scoring in a 35-26 win over Tampa Bay. That touchdown came on a deep nine route, a go, and it's Jordan's strength as a complete receiver that showed up there and throughout the game Sunday. He can run routes and get deep with equal skill and production.
Defensive Players of the Week
Oakland DT Tommy Kelly. One of the late Al Davis' free agent bonus babies had two sacks, two deflected passes, a quarterback knockdown and three tackles in the Raiders' 27-21 win at Minnesota. Kelly's impact helped the Raiders keep their one-game lead in the AFC West.
Denver LB Von Miller. The brute-force sack of Mark Sanchez -- steamrollering right tackle Wayne Hunter in the process -- was one of the most impressive defensive plays of the football weekend. Miller also had a half-sack (giving the rookie from Texas A&M 9.5 on the season), 10 tackles and a key tipped pass that prevented a New York touchdown in the second quarter.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Seattle P Jon Ryan. Punters can't play much better than Ryan did Sunday in St. Louis. Nine punts, a 49.7-yard gross average, with a net average of 44.9 yards. After six of his nine punts, the Rams started from their 20 or worse. The Rams didn't have a drive longer than 42 yards on 15 possessions, and being consistently backed up by Ryan and the Seattle punt team was one very good reason.
Carolina KR/WR Keoloha Pilares, for the accomplishment of a 101-yard kickoff return for touchdown in the second quarter at Detroit ... and also for the timing of it. Detroit had cut a 10-0 Carolina lead to 10-7, and the crowd was back into the game. Pilares took the ensuing kickoff a yard deep on the right side of the end zone, and the kid from Hawaii wove to the left of the field and ran it all the way back for the score.
Denver P Britton Colquitt. Masterful against the Jets Thursday night -- and have you noticed when Colquitt punts inside the 10, he has the more-than-occasional knack of making the ball land sideways so that it rolls parallel to the goal line, allowing his cover men to get on the punt before it hits the end zone? Colquitt's punts Thursday night made the Jets start at their 9, 20, 20, 1, 21, 19, 31 and Denver 47. In a field-position game, which the Denver-New York game was, the starting point for the Jet drives was huge, and Colquitt saw to it the Jets almost always had a long field to travel.
Coach of the Week
Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey. I always thought his first name was "Embattled.'' I like a offensive coach who doesn't love where his offense is and looks to to shake things up. On Sunday, in a 23-17 win over Tennessee, Mularkey had Matt Ryan operate from the no-huddle for the first three quarters. Atlanta built a 23-3 lead and hung on, and Ryan operated smoothly and in-control playing the hurry-up.
Goat of the Week
Tennessee RB Chris Johnson. The scene: 5-4 Titans at 5-4 Falcons. Playoff fate on the line. Titans fight through the second half to get to within six, 23-17. This is what Tennessee's jillion-dollar back, Johnson, contributed in the second half while the Titans played for their playoff lives: three carries, one yard ... one reception, five yards.
1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay. Best quarterback in the league. Undefeated team. This one's not hard, folks.
2. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. And on the 11th week, he took a bye ... and stayed on course to break Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a season.
3. Tom Brady, QB, New England. Not much of a run game. No deep threat in the pass game. But a win tonight and the Patriots will be tied for best record in the AFC.
4. Justin Smith, DL, San Francisco. Part of the defense that stretched its franchise record to 11 straight games without allowing a rushing touchdown.
5. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh. Steelers, 7-3 with him, would be 3-7 without him.
"Good luck the rest of the way. Stay healthy.''
-- Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler to San Diego's Philip Rivers on the field after the Bears whipped the Chargers 31-20.
A bit ironic.
"I don't even know what football is right now. I don't know what hitting is, I don't know what tackling is, and I've been in this league a long time. I can't tell what's a personal foul or what's anything anymore.''
-- Oakland coach Hue Jackson, after the Raiders hung on to beat the Vikings, despite getting 12 more penalties called on them.
"I don't like it because it's college football. This is the NFL. Those teams don't win."
-- Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to the Fort Worth Star Telegram, on the option offense played by the Denver Broncos in recent weeks with Tim Tebow at quarterback.
Using that option offense, the Broncos are 4-1.
Composite score in Miami's three-game winning streak: Dolphins 86, Foes 20.
Possessions by foes in the three-game winning streak: 35.
Touchdowns by foes in the three-game winning streak: zero.
For all of you (and me, too) starting to get interested in the Packer run at perfection, keep in mind that they have a game with Chicago remaining -- on Christmas night at Lambeau Field.
Margin of victory in the last six Bear-Packer meetings: 3, 6, 7, 3, 7, 10.
Green Bay's 4-2 in those six games, but in the immortal words of Laura King: I'm just SAYING.
One of those Packer seven-point wins came late last season, when Chicago had absolutely nothing to play for, and powerful Green Bay had one drive of more than 35 yards in 13 possessions. Pack won 10-3.
Green Bay and Chicago played 12 quarters last season, including the NFC title game at Soldier Field. Discounting defensive scores, the composite score: Packers 41, Bears 37.
The Cutler injury obviously will play a role in the December matchup, but I will be surprised if the Bears go quietly into the night when they play Green Bay.
New York: the town where D-list celebrities feel so special.
In the short time I've lived in Manhattan now, I have gotten the following salutations on the busy streets or in buildings:
"Peter King!'' (A few times.)
"Hey! The ESPN guy!''
"You're that football guy! What's your name?''
"Peter! Giants going to the Super Bowl?'' (No, I answered. "You're kidding!'' the guy said.)
"Peter! Love your column!''
And my personal favorite: "Chris! ... Chris! ... HEY CHRIS!'' So I turn and say, "Hi. It's Peter.'' And he said, "You look so familiar -- just like a guy I went to college with!''
"DeSean Jackson: "People don't understand the light I bring and shine on my teammates." Whatever that means ...''
-- @MikeGarafolo, the Newark Star Ledger Giants beat man, after Sunday night's 17-10 Eagle win, which included the weird taunting penalty that Jackson got on the Giants sideline.
"You got to be kidding me!!! I am going to puke!!!''
-- @TonyBoselli, the former USC tackle, watching the Trojans go in for the insurance touchdown at Oregon Saturday night -- and fumbling near the Duck goal line. Luckily for Boselli's sanity, the Ducks missed a 37-yard field goal attempt at the gun, and USC had the biggest win of the Lane Kiffin era.
-- @ArianFoster, running back of the Houston Texans, asked by a Tweeter last week what he studied in college at Tennessee, because he sounded intelligent.
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 11:
a. Now this is good reporting: Mike Klis of the Denver Post, midway through Oklahoma-Baylor Saturday night, had Broncos president John Elway and GM Brian Xanders in the house scouting. Interesting that both teams have first-round-caliber passers, Landry Jones and Robert Griffin III.
b. Eric Mangini's really good on TV. Smart. He distills complicated football concepts down to understandable terms. Jet fans would be surprised to hear this, but I find him likable on ESPN.
c. Welcome to the 2011 season, Taylor Mays. The hit of the day by Mays on the Ravens' return man, Tom Zbikowski, set a tone for the Bengals that normally might be set by the absent Ray Lewis of Baltimore.
d. Miami tight end Anthony Fasano, who makes a play every week.
e. B.J. Raji. The Fridge, 26 years later.
f. Jordy Nelson gets better every time I watch him.
g. Christian Ponder, turning what should have been a sack into a 28-yard drive-saving scramble.
h. Guess who's got the AFC's best road record. It'll surprise you. Oakland (4-1). Raiders hung on at Minnesota.
i. Second-best? Surprise you even more. Cincinnati (4-2).
j. Michael Bush, 60 carries for 266 yards the last two games. How many backs in this day and age get 30 carries two weeks in a row?
2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 11:
a. I'm a fan of Jon Gruden's analysis most of the time, but he loses me when he says that Greg Jennings "is the most feared deep-ball receiver in the NFL.'' Most complete receiver, he's in the argument. Most feared going deep? Stop.
b. Ninety-five yards. Season on the line. That'll be on the Jets' 2011 epitaph unless they do an about-face.
c. Andy Dalton, you forgot A.J. Green wasn't playing yesterday. You sent Andre Caldwell, four inches shorter and not nearly the athlete Green is, into the end zone and threw up a jump ball -- in a serious misjudgment -- and Ed Reed picked it off. Dalton's been a smart, precocious quarterback this year, but that was a dumb, dumb decision.
d. Buyer's remorse. Ryan Fitzpatrick.
e. Fitzpatrick's 1-3 since signing his $59 million deal. Passer rating the last three weeks: 51.9, 46.6, 45.8.
f. Giants 29 rushing yards. Really? That's how you come out and play your rivals?
g. No moral victories, Tampa.
h. Bad loss for Steve Spagnuolo. Very bad.
i. Eight games for Sam Bradford. Five touchdown passes.
j. Chargers: 4-1 pre-bye, 0-5 post-bye.
k. Explain to me, Dashon Goldson, the logic of punching another man with a football helmet on his head. How exactly does that exact some sort of revenge on him?
l. NFL Network's GameDay Final, with 17 people talking at once.
m. Your five minutes are up, John Skelton.
3. I think I'd disagree with you who ripped the Jets for sending eight rushers in a heavy blitz on the 20-yard touchdown run by Tim Tebow that won the game the other night. It wasn't a dumb call.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine wasn't going to let Tebow find a seam in the front four or five and dive for the first down. Pettine knew Tebow would probably run out of an empty, or near-empty backfield. That was a run blitz and it should have worked ... except for how safety Eric Smith played it.
Watch Smith on the replay. His job, as the wide rusher, was to contain Tebow and force him to run inside on a third-and-four play; presumably, the inside traffic of eight rushers against six blockers would catch Tebow. But Smith wedged himself too far inside toward the left tackle, enabling Tebow to get outside the containment process and run for the touchdown. All play calls stink when they don't work. But I blame Smith far more than Pettine on this one.
4. I think, by the way, Antonio Cromartie's refusal to shed his block at the goal line and attempt to stop Tebow was shameful. I don't care what position you play, or how much a runner outweighs you. With the game on the line -- and maybe the season -- Cromartie's refusal to take on Tebow says everything you need to know about him as a player. Which isn't much. And overall, I didn't love the Jets defenders' effort once Tebow broke outside. Take a minute to watch the replay. You'll see.
5. I think now I know why so many coaches are so angry over the miking of a center or guard to get more of an on-field feel to the games we watch. On the decisive Denver drive in the fourth quarter Thursday night, Tebow threw a quick nine-yard out pattern to Demaryius Thomas on the left sideline, giving the Broncos second-and-one at the Denver 37. If you've got NFL Game Rewind (which is an invaluable tool, by the way, to see games and plays you miss, on your laptop, and better than hoping you can scare plays up on YouTube), turn the volume up and listen closely over the announcers and the crowd noise.
You can hear Tebow, barely, saying, "Same play. Same play on one.'' At least that's what it sounds like. And Tebow goes to the line in the same shotgun formation, takes the snap, and throws way short on exactly the same route to Thomas on the left sideline.
I was stunned. I mean, what's to stop coaches upstairs from plugging into the game telecasts, straining to listen to the play call in the huddle, and then relaying information down to the sidelines? If a quarterback, 12 to 15 seconds before he snaps the ball, says, "Same play'' in the huddle, isn't that information a defense could use, assuming the info could be transmitted to at least someone on that defense before the snap of the ball?
6. I think Devin Hester might be a Hall of Famer someday. If he continues on this path for seven to nine years, he deserves the strongest of consideration. But Hester's certainly not one right now -- not after 5.5 great years of returning punts and kicks.
7. I think I wouldn't be surprised if Bengals-Steelers beats out Lions-Saints for the Sunday night game when the flex schedule is announced for Dec. 4. In other schedule notes, how do you like the two Monday-nighters to kick off December? Dec. 5: San Diego-Jacksonville. Dec. 12: St. Louis-Seattle. Yikes. And the last game of the year, New Year's night? Could be the NFC East title game if the Giants and Cowboys hold up their ends and enter the last weekend 9-6.
8. I think I can't fathom how the Chargers don't change the coach or GM if they continue to fade into oblivion. I know Norv Turner is signed through 2013 and A.J. Smith through 2014, but how does Dean Spanos make no changes on a team with such great expectations? The Chargers are 13-13 since opening day 2010. Sometimes, with the weight of expectations, it feels more like 3-23.
9. I think Matt Leinart's not going to blow a two-game lead with six to play for Houston, not with Tennessee playing blah football and the Texans running it so well.
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. Just read that Robert Wagner is not a suspect in the drowning death of Natalie Wood a generation ago. After the events of last week, in which the boat captain the night she died directly blames Wagner, my question is: Why on earth wouldn't Wagner be a suspect, and if he isn't, why is the investigation being reopened?
b. Happy 40th, Michael Strahan. Heck of a gap-toothed cake they gave you on FOX Sunday.
c. Toledo's averaging 54.5 points per game in its last four. The football team, I'm talking about.
d. Thanks for all of your well-wishes about our 12-year-old Golden retriever, Bailey. She went in to have a large tumor removed from her liver Friday, and she's home now, resting and sleeping and snoring. Quite an adventure, getting her to take those pain pills. But I've passed along your mountain of Twitter niceties to her, and they are truly appreciated.
e. Boston Globe maestro Dan Shaughnessy correctly critiqued the feeble postseason of the Red Sox and their idiotic handling of letting the under-contract Theo Epstein walk before figuring fair compensation for a two-time World Series-winning GM in his prime: "Let's start our weekly update with the state of non-compensation for Theo. What a joke this has become. Theo is ensconced in his office at Wrigley Field, laughing at the dopes in Boston who let him out of his contract before insisting on payback. And now there's nothing the Sox can do except wait for Uncle Bud to force the Cubs to send Boston some Single A outfielder who'll be waiting tables in a year or two.''
Shaughnessy's right. The Sox should have insisted on Matt Garza or forced Epstein to sit for the season.
f. Coffeenerdness I: I'm sure this will stun and disappoint all you coffee nerds, but I've outgrown the egg nog latte. I must have. Had one Saturday, my first and probably only one of the season, and couldn't finish it. Just too sweet.
g. Coffeenerdness II: Something I never heard at a Starbucks before Thursday: "I'll have a grande milk please."
h. Beernerdness: Yes, we've moved from Boston. But no, we didn't leave Harpoon behind. Very pleased to get reacquainted with the Harpoon Winter Warmer over the weekend. I'd forgotten how great is it. Cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon -- it's an experience, almost something you'd want to drink warm like hot cider. Then I noticed in the weekend Wall Street Journal that Winter Warmer is one of five beers they recommend for Thanksgiving revelry. I second and third that.
New England 31, Kansas City 10. "It's all a blur,'' said Andre Carter, the Patriots' defensive end, about his 4.5-sack night against the Jets last week. I asked Carter if this was his best game as a pro. "By far,'' he said. "The most sacks I ever had in a game, college or pro, was two and a half. People normally don't do that in a football game.'' Instead of drafting a young pass-rush prospect last spring, Bill Belichick decided to go with veterans. When Belichick was able to hit the market in July, he found Carter, 32, who bombed out of his last stop in Washington because he didn't fit in the 'Skins 3-4 scheme. "I got the feeling when I talked with coach Belichick, they were going to play a lot of 4-3, and I was happy for the opportunity to come.''
Watch Carter for a few snaps, and it's clear he still has the burst that made him a mainstay on the Niner line before moving to Washington in free agency -- and the strength, at 6-4 and 255, to overpower D'Brickashaw Ferguson a couple of times in the game last week. It'll be interesting to see if he can keep it up tonight against a tackle who has had his struggles this year, Branden Albert. Albert has been called for seven penalties and allowed four sacks this season. One other thing about Carter: he said he counts himself as one of the lucky veterans to have found a job after the lockout. "There's a lot of guys who just never got a chance,'' said Carter. "That's pretty tough. Like Julian Peterson. He could still help somebody. But he didn't get signed. Lots of people forget about those guys.''