The longer you follow pro football, the more you realize why the game's so much fun and so maddening. I mean, we're six weeks into the season and who really knows anything?
Sunday was just another brick in the wall.
Russell Wilson 24, Tom Brady 23.
Reeling Green Bay 42, Almighty Houston 24. At Houston.
Former Niners owner Eddie DeBartolo to Sam Farmer of the L.A. Times, on the 49ers, after their 79-3 dismantling of the Jets and Bills in Weeks 4 and 5: "They're better than anybody they're going to play ... I don't see a weakness."
Sunday at Candlestick: New York Giants 26, San Francisco 3.
Buffalo gives up 97 points in two weeks and, in crisis, travels to the 4-1 Cards. In overtime: Buffalo 19, Arizona 16.
The Jets, finishing a three-game homestand against the NFL's wunderkind rookie quarterback. New York 35, Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis 9, this after the Jets had lost the first two games of the homestand by a combined 57-17.
The AFC East: New York 3-3, New England 3-3, Buffalo 3-3, Miami 3-3.
"The league's really wacky this year,'' Bills safety Jairus Byrd said from Arizona Sunday evening. "Anything can happen. Just look at us."
Look at anybody.
We have to stop calling rookies rookies
STATS Inc. came up with this great number last week: Through the first five weeks of the season, not only were the Miami Dolphins leading all NFL teams in use of the no-huddle, running it on 58.9 percent of the snaps, but also they were more productive in the no-huddle, averaging nearly a yard more per play when they didn't huddle than when they did ... with a rookie quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, running the controls.
Tannehill, according to STATS Inc., ran 26 snaps of no-huddle in his first NFL game and never slowed down. In the stunning upset of the Packers in Week 5, Andrew Luck ran 13 snaps of no-huddle -- something his coach, Bruce Arians, said Peyton Manning never did until his third or fourth year in the league. College teams are running three- and four-receiver sets so regularly, and high-school quarterbacks enter college football so much more ready to play because of summer seven-on-seven passing leagues. Young quarterbacks walk onto NFL teams so much more confident and ready than their current veteran NFL peers were.
Rookie quarterbacks were 4-1 Sunday, first-pick Luck the only loser, and Cleveland's Brandon Weeden getting his first pro victory. What should amaze us all is the quick maturation of them all. Robert Griffin III runs the Redskins like it's Baylor. Tannehill picked up where he left off at Texas A&M. And Russell Wilson -- more about him later -- has overcome the height and rookie thing to beat Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton and Tom Brady in the first six weeks of his pro career.
"In college football,'' Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur told me Sunday evening, "Geno Smith throws eight touchdowns in a game, and he might drop back and see every receiver open. Here, you might drop back and everyone's covered. So the young quarterback has to learn to take what's there.''
The last time rookie quarterbacks went 1-2 in a draft, before this year, was 1998, with Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf. The landscape's changed dramatically in 14 years, obviously, in how quickly rookies can be ready to play. Check out the first six weeks of the rookie starters in 1998 versus 2012:
So you say: Well, 13-16's not a great record. But these quarterbacks landed on teams that went a combined 24-56 last year. Wilson, Griffin and Tannehill have already exceeded or matched Manning's three rookie-season wins with the Colts.
Sometimes we're in the middle of history and don't realize what we're seeing. But there's a new era of quarterback play, and it's trending much younger and happening before our eyes today.
Now for the news of a fun weekend.
The maturation of Russell Wilson. After his sixth NFL game Sunday, a 24-23 win over the Patriots at home, Wilson told Tom Brady on the field, "I have so much respect for you as a player and a person. It's great to play against you." He walked through the Seattle locker room, shaking hands with every player. He stopped to share a few moments with owner Paul Allen. In his post-game press conference, during which he deflected any praise about himself toward the team, he finished the way he finishes interviews broadcast live to Seattle fans: "Go Hawks!''
Good teammate. Good politician. Good guy. And a very quick study as a quarterback.
Last week, at Carolina, the coaches wanted him to play better on third downs; Wilson completed nine of 10 passes on third down in beating the Panthers. This week, coaches harped on two things: better production in the red zone, and, when scrambling, throwing the ball downfield if he had someone open, rather than running or taking the surer checkdown. Seattle scored on two of three trips into the red zone Sunday. And he threw 24- and 50-yard completions to Doug Baldwin on the run, flowing right.
Thirteen points down to Brady, in a heavy Seattle mist with nine minutes to go, Wilson led an 83-yard drive ending in his red-zone touchdown pass to Braylon Edwards. He got the ball back at his 43 with two minutes and change left. On the fourth play of the drive, from the Patriots' 46, Wilson started with play-action and rolled right. He said he wasn't sure Sidney Rice would be his target, and how could he know he'd be victimizing two New England rookies? But then he saw something: Rice getting an edge on a double-move on Tavon Wilson, feigning toward the corner then darting to the post.
"I had a feeling he'd open up,'' Wilson told me. "You never really wait until a guy is open. You have to anticipate. And I delivered the ball to a spot where I thought only Sidney would be able to catch it.''
Throwing from his own 46, Wilson released a high-arcing perfect spiral. Downfield, safety Nate Ebner, another New England rookie, sprinted over to help the Patriots' Wilson, who was two steps behind Rice. The ball landed 57 yards from the spot Wilson threw it, three yards deep in the end zone -- and right into Rice's hands. Perfect throw.
When Seattle GM John Schneider picked Wilson 75th overall, he was privately chided by his peers for picking Wilson too high. He's too small (5-foot-11), football people said; he won't be able to take the punishment of the pro game, and his arm's just okay. It's only six games, of course, and anything can happen, and he's had a couple of games of shaky decision-making. But that throw to Rice, 57 yards in the air and exactly on target, with a game against the three-time Super Bowl champions on the line, shows why Schneider made a great draft pick.
I asked Wilson if he was stunned to have beaten Tom Brady and the Patriots, with the Belichick-designed defense.
"No,'' he said. "Not at all. This is what I've been waiting for my whole life. God's given me a blessing and an opportunity. I've always looked up to Tom, even though he's 6-4, 6-5 and a different kind of player. He's so smart, got so much competitive fire and tenacity. He didn't get drafted high, and he had to work for everything he ever got. I really identify with him. I try to prepare the same way I know he prepares.''
There are good stories, and there's Russell Wilson beating the Patriots to send the loudest crowd in the NFL into bedlam.
The Giants, starting with their quarterback, are one smart team.
Last week, Eli Manning's backup for three years at Ole Miss, Seth Smith, had a game-tying double in game four of the American League Division Series for Oakland against Detroit. "You call me a quarterback, and you should use that word loosely,'' Smith said Saturday. "I was never a threat to win the job from Eli. I was never close to playing. He was in another league.'' Smith, it seemed, had much in common with Manning, though -- the ability to treat a ninth-inning playoff at-bat with 50,000 screaming fans watching the same as a March at-bat in Arizona. "You have to be able to forget about the pitcher, the pitch, the situation, the crowd, everything -- except concentrating on seeing the ball and doing what you've done all your life. That's what the good ones do, anyway. I really do enjoy watching Eli late in big games, in games like the Super Bowl, because that's obviously what he does --block out everything and just play.''
"What I say,'' Manning said after the 26-3 win in San Francisco, "and it sounds bad, but you've got to understand what I mean, is you've got to care enough not to care. You do your best and live with the results."
This was a hornet's nest game for the Giants. Some Niners talked in the offseason and during the week before the game about being the superior team in the NFL title game last year, which the Giants won thanks to two muffed punts by San Francisco's Kyle Williams. Clearly, the 49ers felt they were the better team. And with a fortified offense in the offseason and all 11 starters returning on defense, who could blame the Niners for feeling like they were the better team? Then Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride late in the week, while praising San Francisco defensive star Justin Smith, said he "gets away with murder'' with excessive holds that aren't called, prompting San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh to fire back Friday. So the Niners were the hot team coming in, and the angry team, and the motivated team.
The Giants were the smart team. Tom Coughlin is fond of saying, "We'll never not be able to run the ball,'' and Gilbride had that in mind when designing the gameplan. In the first half, Manning would move it with quick passes and just enough running to keep the Niners off-balance up front. Once they got the lead -- if they got the lead -- Manning would lean on Ahmad Bradshaw, suddenly the NFL's hottest back. And that's exactly how it worked.
Giants' first-half offensive production: 176 yards passing, 23 yards rushing.
Giants' second-half offensive production: 17 yards passing, 126 yards rushing.
"The offensive line did a great job in establishing the line of scrimmage,'' Manning said. "I didn't want a game where we threw it 64 times again. [Manning had 64 pass drops in the NFC title game last year, taking six sacks and seven additional knockdowns.] That's not the way you want to play this team. You can't live in the shotgun against them. You mix up some quick [passes] with the runs, and that gives you a chance.''
Manning knew that by running, the 49ers could move one of their two safeties down toward the line, giving him the chance to throw against quarters coverage -- four defenders across the back, with chances for his wideouts to be singled-- instead of two-deep coverage, with two safeties over the top, meaning his receivers would always have a second man over the top of them.
What was a huge help, obviously, was the revival of a slumping pass rush. The Giants sacked the quarterback six times and forced Alex Smith into some bad throws downfield, including three interceptions. He's been a smart quarterback all year, but it's hard to be smart and productive with Jason Pierre-Paul breathing down your neck. It helped, too, that the Giants read what the 49ers were saying. And even if it wasn't more than the garden-variety pre-game quotings, Coughlin could use it to his advantage. "We read them talking about how they should have won the game last year,'' said Manning, "and that got us fired up.''
Well, San Francisco should have won the game last year. But you know what they say about shouldas and wouldas. The Giants have the Super Bowl trophy at the Meadowlands, and now they have the satisfaction of knowing they were the better team, and not by a little bit, when they met for the rematch.
My Ten Dot-Dot-Dot Items of the Week.
I'm told the Ravens fear the worst, a torn triceps for Ray Lewis and torn ACL for Lardarius Webb, when they read the results of their MRIs today. But I do think defensive tackle Haloti Ngata plays Sunday at Houston. How'd you like to be going to Houston, who are coming off that loss to Green Bay, down three or four key defensive guys? At least Terrell Suggs could return to practice Wednesday ... Really like Pat Shurmur's approach with his young players in Cleveland: "You've got to coach a young team differently. You've got to go through the process, go through everything, thoroughly. Everything is hard. You have to encourage and inspire them, and then, behind the scenes, you have to coach them hard. It's a different mindset than with a veteran group. Prior to winning this game against Cincinnati, we've been better; we've been scoring a touchdown more per week than we did a year ago. But you can't stand up on Mondays and keep telling people we're better -- you've got to start winning games.'' ... Buffalo safety Jairus Byrd had interceptions of both Arizona quarterbacks, including his pick of John Skelton that set up the game-winning field goal, and credited Chan Gailey and defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt for not panicking in the week leading up to the game. "We got buried two straight weeks in the second half,'' Byrd told me. "But look at our first halfs. Not bad. We knew we could play like that for a full game.'' ... Mario Williams lives: 65 snaps, two sacks, one quarterback knockdown. Granted, it was against the worst set of tackles in the NFL, but production is production ...
Detroit coach Jim Schwartz was as ebullient as I've ever seen him after the Lions' comeback win in Philly, but an hour later, he was clinical discussing the meaning of getting to 2-3 and staying in the NFC North race. "We're fine,'' he said. "We're fine. I don't look at this as a defining moment. Last year, the Giants lost four in a row and five of six and they went on to win the Super Bowl. The year before, Green Bay lost three out of four -- twice. We lost three out of four. So what? You fight, you improve, you play. We're fine.'' I checked his math, by the way. Schwartz is right about both the '10 Packers and '11 Giants ... Great fake punt calls by Mike Westhoff/Rex Ryan with the Jets and Darren Rizzi/Joe Philbin with the Dolphins ... In Atlanta, the Falcons enter the bye 6-0, and Mike Smith wants his players to scram. "Usually on a victory Monday,'' Smith told me, "we'll have 70, 80 percent of the players come in anyway to watch film on their own, which is great,'' he said. "But I want them to unplug totally for a few days. Get away.'' Smith on being 6-0: "I'm really not surprised, but I know we all feel we haven't played our best football." The Raiders could easily have beaten Atlanta in the Georgia Dome Sunday ... Adam Teicher of the Kansas City Star countered the report out Sunday that Scott Pioli has been in discussions with the team on a two-year contract extension. As I said on NBC Sunday night, I can confirm the debunking -- I'm told Pioli and Chiefs owner Clark Hunt haven't been talking contract ... Green Bay wideout James Jones is the most underrated receiver in football. What hands ... Guess who's first in the NFL in completion percentage (70.2), second in average yards per pass attempt (8.34) and third in passer rating (100.5)? Robert Griffin III.
If Alex Karras had been born half a century later, he'd have been a star on Warren Sapp's level -- even brighter.
Think of the things Karras, who died last week at 77, did as a football player and entertainer:
1. He was All-Pro four times, and a member of the All-Decade team of the '60s as a Detroit defensive tackle. Green Bay guard Jerry Kramer said Karras and Merlin Olsen were the two best tackles he ever had to block. During the week of one Lions-Packers game, Kramer wrote in his best-selling book Instant Replay: "I think about him morning, noon and night -- even when I'm watching TV."
2. He was so angry at Lions quarterback Milt Plum for throwing a game-turning interception that allowed the Packers to come back to beat the Lions in 1962 that, in the locker room, he took his helmet off and flung it at Plum's head, missing him by inches. And admitted doing it.
3. He was suspended for the 1963 season for gambling on football games, and was eternally bitter at commissioner Pete Rozelle for what he thought was overreacting to a penny-ante hobby. But when his first son was born, Karras sidled up to Detroit News beat man Jerry Green, according to Greene, and said, laughing, "Know what we named him? Alvin.'' That was Rozelle's first name.
4. He got into the wrestling ring with probably the most noted professional wrestler of his day, Dick The Bruiser, while suspended. And he actually fought Dick The Bruiser in a Detroit bar -- no joke -- a couple of days before the match.
5. He once overpowered Kramer, the author of the book about life inside the Packers dynasty, and slammed into Bart Starr, and on the way back to the Lions huddle said to Kramer: "Put that in your f-----g book."
6. He was the third man in the booth for Monday Night Football for three seasons after retiring, occasionally singing off-key and coming up with some of the best lines in MNF history ... such as saying the frighteningly bald Raider Otis Sistrunk hailed from "the University of Mars."
7. He was an accomplished actor. One of the three or four funniest movies for men of a certain age (like me) was Mel Brooks' 1974 hit Blazing Saddles. In the movie, Karras played a slow-witted outlaw named Mongo, who punched out a horse and delivered the most famous line in the movie: "Mongo only pawn ... [pause for comedic effect] in game of life."
8. He played a closeted gay man, Squash Bernstein, in Victor Victoria, a 1982 musical comedy. He played himself in the movie adaptation of George Plimpton's Paper Lion. He played the lead role, a dad, in the 1980s sitcom Webster.
9. He joined the scores of lawsuits against the NFL for not doing enough to raise awareness for head trauma late in life, his final years ruined by dementia.
10. He has a heck of a case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, all Hollywood and broadcasting stuff aside, and I hope the Hall of Fame selection committee has a chance to consider him as a seniors candidate during one of the upcoming election meetings.
1. Atlanta (6-0). With the win over the Raiders, Mike Smith tied Dan Reeves atop the Falcons' all-time regular season coaching victories list, with 49. Not to rain on the parade, but this is the Falcons' 47th season. You're telling me they've never had a man win 50 regular season games? I guess that's what having 16 coaches -- only four interim ones, meaning the average tenure is slightly less than four years on the Atlanta sidelines -- does to the all-time win total.
2. New York Giants (4-2). Most impressive win by any team this season, the 26-3 rout of the Niners that no one -- not even Abby Manning -- saw coming in its decisiveness. (Well, I'm sure Ms. Eli thought her husband would pull out a win, but a rout?)
3. Houston (5-1). The Texans catch a major break next week. They play host to the Ravens, who could be without four of their five best defenders.
4. Chicago (4-1). After two straight weeks of scoring defensive touchdowns, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman were held scoreless Sunday. That could be because the Bears had a bye in advance of a Week 7 Monday nighter against Detroit.
5. Baltimore (5-1). John Harbaugh is now 31-5 at home. The Ravens are on a 14-game winning streak at The Big Crabcake. But it's not at home where Baltimore's about to be tested. Next six weeks: at Houston, bye, at Cleveland, vs. Oakland, at Pittsburgh, at San Diego. Yikes.
6. San Francisco (4-2). I guarantee you Jim Harbaugh hasn't slept yet, and is in his office as you read this, saying to the Bill Walsh photo on his laptop, "Coach, don't ask me. I have no idea what just happened.
7. Green Bay (3-3). Just when you thought the Packers were free-falling like some Felix Baumgartner, they lay the wood to Houston and fly home to Green Bay to consider a relative pillow of a schedule coming up: at St. Louis, vs. Jacksonville, vs.Arizona and atDetroit in the next four weeks.
There is a line of demarcation here. A big one, I think.
8. Seattle (4-2). Amazing thing is, I was convinced the Seahawks had to beat the tar out of Tom Brady to win this game, and Brady, with 59 pass drops, was sacked only once and hit while throwing five times. Not a lot, getting hit once every 12 attempts. But this game was won with big plays from Russell Wilson when the Seahawks had to have them.
9. New England (3-3). Ran 85 plays with the quick-strike offense, and rolled up enough yards to win, 475 of them. But Wilson made more big plays down the stretch than the quarterback he grew up loving, Tom Brady.
10. San Diego (3-2). If Philip Rivers continues on this path every week -- 250 passing yards, one interception, which is his average through the first five games -- and if their top two backs (Ryan Mathews, Jackie Battle) continue on a 4.9-yard-per-carry clip, San Diego will win the division. Period.
11. Washington (3-3). Thirteen carries, 138 yards. Robert Griffin III is one incredibly versatile football player.
12. Minnesota (4-2). Look on the bright side, Viking fans: Percy Harvin's on pace for a 131-catch, 1,440-yard season. That was a land mine game Sunday in Washington. Worst thing about the loss for Minnesota is it left the Vikes just one game up on Green Bay.
13. Miami (3-3). Just think: The Dolphins have lost two games by a field goal. Joe Philbin and Jeff Ireland: Perfect together. Wasn't that a slogan for somebody, somewhere, sometime?
14. Denver (2-3). Showing too much faith in these Broncos, I know. But a good portion of the reason is I don't love anyone else.
15. Philadelphia (3-3). The story about Michael Vick carrying the ball around the Eagles' practice facility all week, reminding himself to not drop it so much, didn't work so well in the loss to Detroit. He fumbled for the 30th time in his last 30 games, and threw two more picks. That's 13 turnovers in six games. It has to stop or an 8-8 season will follow.
Offensive Players of the Week
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay. Greatest way to handle everyone asking, What's wrong with the Packers? Go on the road, play a 5-0 team off to the best start in its history, throw for six touchdowns, and look as good on national TV as in any game of the 2011 runaway MVP season. Rodgers (24 of 37, 338 yards, career-high six TDs, no interceptions) made a mockery of the passer rating system in the NFL. His was 133.8. The highest you can have is 158.3. How, pray tell, was Rodgers' rating 24.5 points lower than the maximum? The man can't play any better.
Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle. Imagine what must be going through this kid's mind, after out-dueling Rodgers and Brady in the first six weeks of his NFL career. "It's the team, not me,'' he said from the Seattle locker room after the 24-23 win over the Patriots. Modesty will get you everywhere. Wilson led Seattle, down 23-10 early in the fourth quarter, to two touchdowns in the last eight minutes, both throws leading his receivers perfectly. Talk about your basic huge surprise. Wilson's one of the biggest stunners of the 2012 season.
Defensive Player of the Week
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants. I could give this to Antrel Rolle, with his two interceptions, but I thought the defensive front paved the way for everything -- the six sacks, the three interceptions, and holding the vastly improved 49ers offense to zero touchdowns. Pierre-Paul had two sacks for 20 yards, another knockdown of Alex Smith and a pass deflection, and the Giants suffocated Smith and the Niners' running game.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Jacoby Jones, KR/WR, Baltimore. His 108-yard kick return for touchdown (duh!) in the third quarter not only broke open a close game with the Cowboys but also tied the NFL record for longest kick return in history. Jones, who came over from Houston, has been a better addition than many with the Ravens thought he'd be, giving the receiving corps a deep threat to loosen up coverage and, obviously, giving Baltimore the breakaway return man every team needs.
Shaun Draughn, RB, Kansas City. He couldn't do much about the Bucs' rout of the Chiefs, but his block of a Michael Koenen punt in Tampa was a textbook example of how to break through questionable blocking at the point of attack and cover up the punt without giving the punter a chance to recover.
Dr. Z Unsung Man in the Trenches of the Week
The award for the offensive lineman who was the biggest factor for his team in the weekend's games, named for my friend Paul Zimmerman, the longtime SI football writer struggling in New Jersey to recover from three strokes in November 2008. Zim, a former collegiate offensive lineman himself, loved watching offensive line play.
The New York Giants offensive line (Will Beatty, Kevin Boothe, David Baas, Chris Snee, Sean Locklear). For keeping Eli Manning clean. No, clean's too mild a word. How about "pristine?" Last year in the NFC title game, Manning was sacked six times and hit another seven times while throwing. On Sunday, in the 26-3 dismantling of the Niners, Manning wasn't sacked, and got knocked down only once. A perfect day for a quarterback and his pocket protectors.
Coaches of the Week
Chan Gailey, head coach, Buffalo. After the Bills had 97 points scored on them the last two weeks, Gailey appealed to the players' dignity, telling them something that a predecessor, Marv Levy, told the old Bills when they trailed 28-3 at halftime of that Wild Card game against Houston two decades ago. "Whatever the result in the second half, you guys are going to have to live with your effort forever,'' Levy told them. And Gailey did basically the same thing to his players here, and they responded. "Coach Gailey handled this week great,'' said safety Jairus Byrd after the game. "He just told us, 'You've got to get your respect back.' '' They did, in overtime at previously 4-1 Arizona.
Pat Shurmur, head coach, Cleveland. He's been unfailingly optimistic around his team, which, after losing 11 in a row, had to be hard. "It wasn't really,'' he said over the phone afterward. "They're so young. You have to teach them everything, and they've been great in taking the lessons. I think it's going to pay off long-term.'' His patience with Brandon Weeden and receivers who drop the ball too much is notable, and it paid off in a 34-24 win over Cincinnati, Cleveland's first victory of the season.
Goat of the Week
Jason Garrett, coach, Dallas. With 22 seconds left and the clock running, and Dallas trying to get one more play off before attempting the game-winning field goal attempt at Baltimore, the Cowboys dawdled and looked disorganized getting up to the line of scrimmage at the Baltimore 33, down 31-29. "Tony was going to get them the ball as quick as he could, knowing he had a timeout in his hip pocket ... It just took too long for everyone to get unpiled,'' Garrett said afterward. But I don't think that was it.
I believe Dallas didn't have a solid plan at the end of the previous play, and certainly should have. The 11 offensive players should have known with certainty they had to get up lightning-fast, run hard to the line of scrimmage, and then be ready to run one more play to get in better position for the field goal attempt. If they'd snapped the ball with 11, 12 or 13 seconds left, they'd have been able to run a play, call the timeout and attempt a possibly shorter field goal. As it was, Dan Bailey missed a 51-yard field goal attempt, and the Ravens had the assisted victory.
"We're built for a heavyweight fight. I don't think they're built for a heavyweight fight.''
-- Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, on the Patriots, after Seattle's 24-23 victory over the Patriots, to Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times.
"I had an itch, and I had to scratch it.''
-- Baltimore receiver/returner Jacoby Jones, on why, eight yards deep, he chose to take a Dallas kickoff out of the end zone. Good decision. Jones sprinted 108 yards for a touchdown.
"Nothing's easy, is it? But I know in my mind this is the first of many. I can't wait for the next one.''
-- Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur, to his team in the locker room after the Browns' first win of the season.
"The commissioner says he is disappointed in me. The truth is, I'm disappointed in him. His positions on player health and safety since a 2009 congressional hearing on concussions have been inconsistent at best. He failed to acknowledge a link between concussions and post-career brain disease, pushed for an 18-game regular season, committed to a full season of Thursday night games, has continually challenged players' rights to file worker's compensation claims for on-the-job injuries, and he employed incompetent replacement officials for the start of the 2012 season. His actions or lack thereof, are by the league's own definition, 'conduct detrimental.' My track record on the issue of player health and safety speaks for itself. And clearly, as I just listed, the commissioner's does too."
-- Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita, in a statement after commissioner Roger Goodell reduced his suspension relating to the Saints' bounty scandal from three games to one game last week.
That is what you call a zinger. There's one thing about Goodell's edict from last week that I thought was way off the mark -- his contention that Fujita, as a team leader of the New Orleans defense, could have stopped the bounty program in its tracks. Goodell wrote that Fujita "ignored such a program and permitted it to continue."
It's not Fujita's job to stand up and tell Gregg Williams to cease and desist whatever it was he was doing. If the league had no direct evidence that Fujita contributed to the injurious bounty program, I believe he should have been fined for contributing to the pay-for-performance pool but not suspended.
"Do not carry me."
-- Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, three minutes after breaking his left ankle early Sunday morning in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, to manager Joe Girardi, who was preparing with trainer Steve Donahue to remove Jeter from the field. Jeter put his left arm over Girardi's left shoulder and his right arm over Donahue's, and he left the field putting no weight on his left foot.
What a player. What a competitor.
The Pittsburgh-Tennessee game Thursday night was tied at 23 with 39 seconds left, and the ball at midfield. Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck stepped to the line. Third-and-5. If Hasselbeck converted, the Titans would try to get in position for a Rob Bironas field goal attempt to win the game. If he couldn't convert, the Titans would punt and pray for overtime.
On the left of the formation, tight end Jared Cook lined up next to the tackle, with Steelers linebacker James Harrison across from him, four or five yards behind the line. At the snap, Cook ran out a few steps, got inside Harrison, cut right and got a step on Harrison. Two steps. Hasselbeck threw to Cook, who was three steps ahead of the aging Harrison and turned the corner. Now, the Titans ran this play aiming to get six or eight yards and a first down. They got 25 yards. Moments later, Bironas kicked a winning 40-yarder as time expired.
Pittsburgh is 2-3. The Steelers have now lost road games to Oakland and Tennessee. In those two games, the final five possessions by Oakland were all scoring drives, and the final two possessions by the Titans were scoring drives. That's not a playoff team's resume -- with roadies at Cincinnati, the Giants, Baltimore and Dallas remaining.
That brings us to the age of the Pittsburgh defense. Even with the influx of a couple of young guys, cornerback Keenan Lewis and defensive end Ziggy Hood, the defense still has seven starters over 30, including safety Ryan Clark, who celebrated his 33rd birthday Friday.
Detailing (above, right) the starting Steeler D, keeping in mind Jason Worilds subbed in Thursday for the injured LaMarr Woodley and Will Allen for the injured Troy Polamalu.
When James Harrison returned to the Pittsburgh lineup eight days ago against Philadelphia, he and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau made it clear he'd have to pace himself his first couple of games back. Harrison said he'd have to come off the field in the Eagles game so he'd be fresh late in the game.
So in his first two games back after August left knee surgery, in the span of five days -- Philly, then the Thursday-nighter at Tennessee -- here's how Harrison fit into the defense.
Maybe there's a reason the 34-year-old linebacker lost the race with the 25-year-old tight end (see Stat of the Week I) on the decisive play of the loss at Tennessee.
Each week, thanks to play-by-play game dissection by ProFootballFocus.com, I'll look at one important matchup or individual performance metric from one of the Sunday games.
This week, Ray Lewis' performance against Dallas is examined, and the sad part is -- as news that Lewis may have ruptured the triceps muscle in his right arm came in after the game -- that this may be the last game of Lewis' storied career. May is the operative word because he hasn't announced his intentions, and until the results of the MRI are known, Lewis' future is uncertain.
Lewis played 75 snaps (44 runs, 31 passes) against Dallas, missing the last two minutes of the game with the arm injury.
Passing Game (1 tackle, 1 assist): Of the 12 blitzes the Ravens ran while he was in, he rushed Tony Romo on six of them. He didn't really get close to the passer at all and looked a little slow at times. On one play he clearly tipped Romo off about the blitz by coming early; Romo audibled out of the play and the Cowboys picked up 19 yards on an in-route to Miles Austin.
Of the 25 plays he was in coverage he was targeted only once, for a four-yard gain on a first down throw. Lewis did make an assist late in the fourth quarter, which helped stop Jason Witten short of a first down.
Running Game (7 tackles, 5 assists): The first two quarters were bad for Lewis, who was pushed around on occasion. All three interior linemen pushed him to the ground at different stages. In the second half he made one good tackle, stopping the back dead for a one-yard gain (although he was unblocked). His five second-half tackles still were for an average gain of five yards; almost all came unblocked.
In summary, this was far from a vintage display and the tackle numbers shouldn't fool you. They are more indicative of just how frequently the Cowboys ran the ball between the tackles, and it's instructive that most came after a substantial gain was already made. Lewis won't put this game on his list of favorites, not after the Cowboys ran for the most yards the Ravens have given up on the ground since moving to Baltimore in 1996. It's obvious the weight he has shed to prepare for the season has affected his ability to be a more forceful presence against the run.
Why does the NFL kick extra points anymore?
Through the Sunday night game, the 90th game of the season, kickers had made 429 of 430 extra points this year.
Since the opening days of 2010, including playoffs, kickers have made 2,976 extra points out of 2,996 attempted -- 99.3 percent -- in 624 games. Twenty misses in 624 games. That means an extra point has been missed, on average, once every 31-and-a-quarter games. What exactly is the purpose of making fans, TV viewers and bored special teams go through the motions of 45 seconds spotting, lining up and booting a 19-yard kick through the uprights? It's anachronistic. It's a waste of time for everyone.
Some coaches, most recently Bill Belichick in 2011, have railed against the meaninglessness of the extra point. I think it's time for the Competition Committee to discuss during committee meetings next spring a good alternative. Either move the line of scrimmage for the extra point back to the 25-yard line, or force teams to go for two after a touchdown, or force teams to dropkick the extra point, the way the Patriots did with Doug Flutie in the last game of the 2005 season. But it's time to do something.
The cat of Cincinnati Reds pitcher Mat Latos is named Cat Latos, according to Deadspin, via the Twitter account of Dallas Latos, the co-owner of Cat Latos and wife of Mat Latos.
A great question in Chuck Klosterman's "The Ethicist'' column in Sunday's New York Times Sunday Magazine, and if you travel, the question's for you. The question, from a reader identified as "S.B.'' from New York:
"My boyfriend often travels for business. I always ask him to bring back the shampoo and conditioner from the hotel room, and if he is staying multiple nights, to put the shampoo in his suitcase so that the maid will replace it and he can bring home an additional bottle. He says this is stealing. I say the shampoo is included in the price of the room, and the room is not discounted the second night, so therefore the second bottle of shampoo is included the second night. Incidentally, I haven't purchased shampoo or conditioner in over four years, a point of pride for me. Your thoughts?"
The way I see it, there are three possible answers here -- and I'd love to hear your thoughts on which one you think is just.
a. You're entitled to take as much shampoo and conditioner and soap as the housekeeper puts in your room for the length of your stay.
b. You're entitled to one bottle of shampoo and conditioner and one bar of soap per stay.
c. You should never take any toiletries from a hotel room.
Here's a paraphrase of the kernel of Klosterman's reasoning: The items put in your hotel room are meant to be used in your hotel room and not stashed in your travel bag, unused.
I'd probably choose "b."
You know what I do with these little bottles? Nothing -- unless I find one that has a screw-on top and is easily able to be filled with the shampoo I use. Then, a couple times a year, I empty one of them per trip, clean it out, then put it in my bag, take it home, and fill it with my shampoo to take on a future trip. I do this so I don't have to take a large bottle of shampoo, which would necessitate checking a bag, which I am loathe to do. The small shampoo bottles mean I can walk on with my bag.
Your thoughts? Email me using the link at the top of the column, or send me a tweet.
"A man just jumped from outer space and landed safely back on our planet. ... And now back to our coverage of Tim Tebow.''
-- @RVacchianoNYDN, Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, after Felix Baumgartner jumped from 24 miles above earth and landed safely Sunday, and while Tebow was in the midst of throwing a 23-yard fake punt-pass to a benchwarming linebacker.
"The stands are angry tonight, my friends. Like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.''
-- @TylerKepner, the fine baseball writer for the New York Times, with the best "Seinfeld'' reference of the baseball postseason -- by far -- after Detroit's Doug Fister struck out three Yankees with two in scoring position in the bottom of the sixth Saturday night, and the fans responded in kind.
"Raul Ibanez is the St Louis Cardinals funneled into one man.''
-- @BMcCarthy32, Oakland pitcher Brandon McCarthy, after Ibanez's two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth Saturday night tied Game 1 of the American League Championship Series -- three nights after his two miracle homers beat the Orioles.
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 6:
a. Matt Hasselbeck, with one more comeback in a game he had no business winning.
b. Separated at birth: Macaulay Culkin, Henry Hasselbeck.
c. (Not Just Saying This) Separated at birth: Paul Ryan, Andrew Siciliano of the NFL Sunday Ticket Red Zone.
d. Andrea Kremer, NFL Network's new health and safety reporter, with a gem of a story on Darrius Heyward-Bey returning from a serious concussion.
e. Good to see referee Bill Vinovich back working (Detroit-Philadelphia) his first game since 2006 after heart trouble. According to NBC's officiating consultant, Jim Daopoulos, Vinovich will serve as a sub for different refs each week. At Philadelphia Sunday, he subbed for Scott Green.
f. No interceptions by the Raiders through five games. Three interceptions by the Raiders in the first half at Atlanta.
g. Love Ray Rice's attacking running style.
h. Victor Butler's deflection of a Joe Flacco pass.
i. The longest run by a quarterback in the NFL since 1996, the 76-yarder by Robert Griffin III. Deion Sanders in his prime wasn't catching this man.
j. Prince Amukamara, who finally looks like he belongs, playing corner with confidence for the Giants.
k. The crowd in Seattle. Those fans are so loud you almost have to turn the TV down.
l. Shonn Greene (32 carries for 161 yards), playing for the first time all year like a franchise back, punishing Colts as he ran.
m. Legatron. It's a matter of time before St. Louis' Greg Zuerlein breaks the record for the longest field goal (63 yards) in NFL history. He missed a 66-yarder wide left at Miami that had plenty of leg. Of course, he missed 52- and 37-yarders too, and making any of the three would have forced overtime in a three-point loss.
n. Ronde Barber, he of the 78-yard interception return for touchdown, still making winning plays at 37.
o. Ahmad Bradshaw, who is more of a workhorse than I expected.
p. Washington's injured defense, which managed its fourth defensive touchdown of the year (Madieu Williams' 24-yard interception return) and has scored more points off turnovers through six weeks than it did all of last season.
2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 6:
a. Bad decision by Josh Freeman, throwing right to Justin Houston with the Bucs headed for a score in the first quarter.
b. Two bad decisions by Matt Ryan, uncharacteristic.
c. You're kidding, Muhammad Wilkerson. What a dumb play, taking two steps after an Andrew Luck-released pass and forearm-shivering him in the back.
d. Ray Lewis continues to have trouble getting off blocks. He whiffed on Felix Jones' first-half touchdown run against the Cowboys.
e. Hold off on the Cantonization of Andrew Luck, after his overthrow of an easy touchdown to Coby Fleener at the Meadowlands.
f. Gotta make that catch for the two-point conversion, Dez Bryant.
g. Hey, Papa John's: The season is six weeks old. The commercial about what you're doing to kick off the season is similarly six weeks too old. Fix it, please.
h. Jim Harbaugh's challenge of a first-half play in which his runner's knee was down long before the ball came out but he challenged anyway. Waste of a challenge.
i. The Chiefs. That's a team that couldn't do anything right in Tampa. The definition of not doing anything right: getting outgained by the Bucs by 203 yards. Other than Justin Houston and Derrick Johnson making impact plays and the line keeping Brady Quinn clean, I saw nothing to like in this game for the Chiefs.
j. The urgency of the Dallas offense in the final minute at Baltimore. Not sure who should take the biggest hit for not getting off one more play before the 51-yard field goal try, but shouldn't Tony Romo be yelling, "On the line! On the line!'' Something, anything. I gave Jason Garrett my goat of the week for Dallas not having urgency at the end, but there's lots of blame to go around.
3. I think I am sick of those in and out of the football business telling me Ben Roethlisberger gets no respect. Stop. Just stop. Just because someone doesn't think Roethlisberger is as good as Tom Brady or Eli Manning or Aaron Rodgers doesn't mean that person doesn't respect him. We're in the golden age of quarterbacks -- the best time for quarterbacks, with the deepest roster of very good ones, in the history of the league -- and I consider Roethlisberger highly respected in the hierarchy. If it's bashing a guy to consider him the third- or fifth- or seventh-best at a time of such greatness ... I mean, Lord help us.
4. Jimmy Haslam's purchase of the Browns will be approved Tuesday in Chicago. Then Haslam will get on with the business of deciding who will run his franchise in 2013 and beyond. I hope he looks long and hard at Pat Shurmur, who I think is a good man and coach. Not saying Haslam should keep him -- just saying he should think very seriously about it, because Shurmur's the kind of smart young coach, like Gary Kubiak was in Houston's rocky times, who is growing into a tough job.
5. I think if I were Roger Goodell, I would do exactly what the four suspended Saints want him to do: recuse himself and allow either of his discipline czars, Ted Cottrell or Art Shell, or both, to comb through the facts of the Saints' bounty and determine if Goodell has made the right call.
I understand why Goodell might be hesitant to do so -- because he doesn't have to, by CBA rules -- but what harm is there in allowing a new set of eyes to see what he's seen in such endless, numbing detail for this entire calendar year? I still believe the suspended players will feel wronged if Goodell does recuse himself and the players are found culpable. But at least it will be new people looking at the evidence.
6. I think the week should not pass without a mention of the Tuesday retirement of Kevin Faulk, the Patriots' all-time all-purpose yardage leader. More importantly, he and Troy Brown and Mike Vrabel were the poster children for what Bill Belichick established in New England, beginning in 2000 -- the kind of selfless team guys who didn't whine about their roles but rather were molded in the way a smart coaching staff thought best to build a contender. It worked.
Faulk's not going down as an all-time great, but owner Bob Kraft got it right the other day when he said: "Kevin Faulk helped define the way an entire generation of Patriots fans have come to view and appreciate our brand of football.'' Big stars aren't the only players whose careers should be celebrated in retirement. Players like Faulk should be too.
7. I think you can chase your tail with a lot of these borderline hits that get defensive players flagged and fined, particularly for hits on the quarterback. But I have to comment on the hit on Andrew Luck that got Green Bay linebacker Nick Perry a 15-yard penalty and a $15,000 fine. Perry got the penalty and fine because he hit Luck with his helmet first on his body, and a defender can't contact a quarterback with the helmet first.
A terrible rule in the first place, because a tackler keeping his head up and hitting a ballcarrier below the shoulders is the textbook way to tackle; for a defender to have to consciously keep his head to the side of a quarterback's torso is unreasonable.
The NFL told Perry he led with the crown of his helmet, but I've watched this play over and over, and he didn't lead with the crown of the helmet -- he had his head straight-up, his facemask contacting Luck first. There are dangerous plays in football, and the league is smart to be vigilant about getting rid of them. This, however, should not be considered a dangerous play, but rather one with the defender tackling the quarterback the way he should.
8. I think Aqib Talib's four-game suspension for Adderall use, which removes him from a potentially season-defining game next Sunday against Drew Brees in Tampa, not only robs the Bucs of their best cover corner (by far), but also gives every corner-hungry team in free agency one more reason to not sign a perpetually troubled player next March when he hits the open market.
9. I think I like Mike Vick owning a dog. As he said, he needs to break the cycle of animal abuse in his family. How will you do that for the next generations without showing them dogs can be beloved pets and not killer competitors?
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. I'm having a hard time understanding why the people I see running through Manhattan with LIVESTRONG gear still wear the stuff, in the wake of what we heard last week from members of Lance Armstrong's bicycle racing team that he was doping while competing for years in the Tour de France. "To be on Lance Armstrong's team, doping was a necessity,'' one teammate, Ty Hamilton, told ESPN Radio. How much more evidence do you have to see and hear to be convinced Armstrong wasn't clean when he won all those races?
b. South Carolina unveiled the worst football uniforms in the history of football uniforms Saturday.
c. There can't be more valiant losers in sports, not just baseball, than the A's and O's.
d. It is impossible, and that is not even remotely hyperbole, to experience more bad karma than Alex Rodriguez has in his first seven postseason games this year.
e. I really feel for Derek Jeter, the best baseball player whose full career I've had the pleasure to see.
f. Two most heartbreaking ends to baseball games I have ever seen: Game 6, 1986 World Series, in New York, ball through Bill Buckner's legs, Mets beat Boston ... Game 5, 2012 National League Division Series, Cards get three two-out, two-strike runs in first playoff series in Washington in 70 years, St. Louis beats the Nationals.
g. Davey Johnson managed the winner in the first, the loser in the second, 26 Octobers apart. (Thanks for that note, Brian Hyland.)
h. The Nationals might want to sign that Phil Coke guy. His first 13 pitches in the American League Championship Series were strikes. A foreign concept to the Nats hurlers.
i. Willie "Mayes," TBS? Sheesh. Are your producers and graphics people all 16?
j. I didn't think it was possible for a baseball player to be bigger than me once Mickey Lolich and Wilbur Wood retired. But C.C. Sabathia and Prince Fielder are in the ballpark.
k. Cornell wide receiver Luke (son of Steve) Tasker's stat line from Cornell's 41-38 win over Monmouth Saturday: 11 receptions, 280 yards, one touchdown.
l. Congrats, Ohio U, for cracking the AP Top 25 this week. It's not every year that you start a season 7-0 and get ranked. In fact, it's not any season since 1968.
m. Good job, Lars Anderson, for your profile in this week's Sports Illustrated on the Bobcats. My little Bobcats, the Boise of the Midwest? Wow. I'm going to have to digest that.
n. Coffeenerdness: Had a chance to speak to old friend Ted Shaker's class at NYU the other night, and it gave me a chance to not only chat up some serious students about the future of the NFL, but also a shot to try a good latte and great atmosphere of Think Coffee in the neighborhood. That's some serious espresso.
o. Beernerdness: Had Bronx Pale Ale the other night, and even though it was at a great restaurant, Birreria at Eataly in Manhattan, I had low expectations. "Bronx Pale Ale'' doesn't exactly make one thirst in anticipation. But this was as good a pale ale as I've had in memory. It's a darker one, with a bitterness I like in pale ales but not overpowering. Delicious.
p. I can't keep up with all these A Football Life shows, NFL Films.
q. Sad over the death of Beano Cook at 81. He was one of the great football minds of our time, and certainly one of the great characters. Before becoming the czar of all things college football for ESPN, he was a publicist for CBS Sports. And in the early '80s, when I covered boxing (among other things) for the Cincinnati Enquirer, Beano was a regular in town because of the great junior welterweight, Aaron Pryor, and because CBS in those days showed lots of weekend afternoon fights.
I used to meet Beano during the week to go over CBS' plans for bouts, and to arrange to talk to their commentators for stories before the fights. Once, I visited him in the Clarion Hotel downtown. I knocked on his door. He greeted me in a white T-shirt and boxers, with the bed unmade, shades drawn, and a couple of days of room service food scattered on various surfaces. I was 25 at the time and thinking: So this is the world of big-time publicity men. But he got the job done, delivering everyone I needed, always. And the one thing I remember about Beano -- both then and in future years, when we'd see each other or talk over the phone -- is how much he knew about every sport.
r. RIP Arlen Specter. Good public servant.
The Boston Globe's NFL and Patriots beat man came up with a gem in deciphering why the Patriots can go so fast on offense. It's the one-word play call. Excellent stuff from a rising star in the business, Bedard.
I've got Denver 33, San Diego 27 tonight at Qualcomm, in one of those last-team-with-the-ball-wins games. If it's that kind of game, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker simply have to be more reliable. I make this pick knowing they've been one-quarter liability, three-quarters good. Thomas and Decker have combined for 11 drops (Thomas six, Decker five) through five games; no starting receiving duo in the league had more entering Week 6. There will be a point in this game, late, where it'll be 3rd-and-7, Denver ball, crowd screaming, and Manning's going to take a shotgun snap, and he can't afford to be wondering, If I throw this high and outside, where only Thomas can catch it, is the guy going to catch it?
Hey Aaron Rodgers!Loved what you told Tafoya."Shhhhhhh.'' Critics silenced.