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Colts' Ballard, Bears' Jennings prove major playmakers in Week 8

"Just landed. Thank you God''

-- Tweet from New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck at 1:13 a.m. today, six minutes after the team charter from Texas just beat Hurricane Sandy up the East Coast.

***

The flight, Tuck texted a couple minutes later, was "not really that bad. Just glad to be home."

He should be. The weather establishment has been scaring the tar out of the 100 million or so whose lives will be rattled by this event (justifiably, apparently). As I was writing last night, I came across this from veteran meteorologist Stu Ostro of the Weather Channel, with the capital letters in the second paragraph his:

"History is being written as an extreme weather event continues to unfold, one which will occupy a place in the annals of weather history as one of the most extraordinary to have affected the United States.

"REGARDLESS OF WHAT THE OFFICIAL DESIGNATION IS NOW OR AT/AFTER LANDFALL -- HURRICANE (INCLUDING IF "ONLY" A CATEGORY ONE), TROPICAL STORM, POST-TROPICAL, EXTRATROPICAL, WHATEVER -- OR WHAT TYPE OF WARNINGS ARE ISSUED BY THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE AND NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER, PEOPLE IN THE PATH OF THIS STORM NEED TO HEED THE THREAT IT POSES WITH UTMOST URGENCY.

"A meteorologically mind-boggling combination of ingredients is coming together: one of the largest expanses of tropical storm force winds on record with a tropical or subtropical cyclone in the Atlantic or for that matter anywhere else in the world; a track of the center making a sharp left turn in direction of movement toward New Jersey in a way that is unprecedented in the historical database, as it gets blocked from moving out to sea by a pattern that includes an exceptionally strong ridge of high pressure aloft near Greenland; a 'warm-core' tropical cyclone embedded within a larger, nor'easter-like circulation; and eventually tropical moisture and arctic air combining to produce heavy snow in interior high elevations. This is an extraordinary situation, and I am not prone to hyperbole.''

Wow. Time to cower in the corner (and I don't mean Bill). Two sets of scribes began to fight Sandy Sunday night. After covering the Giants-Cowboys game in Arlington, Texas, Mike Vaccaro and Steve Serby (New York Post) and Ralph Vacchiano (New York Daily News) took off for the 1,556-mile rental-car drive home. "I wasn't on a flight [home] until late Wednesday, and who knows if that one will go?'' Vacchiano said from the car as it approached Texarkana about 2 a.m. If all goes well, they'll arrive home sometime around the start of the Monday night game -- though I don't believe they'll be in a mood to watch it, even if their homes have power.

And headed south from the Meadowlands after the Dolphins' win over the Jets was Team Sun-Sentinel: Omar Kelly, Dave Hyde and Mike Berardino of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, along with Palm Beach Post columnist Greg Stoda. They had a nice, easy 1,271-mile drive ahead of them.

Now I'll get to football, but respect the weather. It's going to be a rough three days on the East Coast, or more.

***

1. Denver's got a defense. In the last six quarters (Denver 69, Foes 14), the Broncos look like a match for any team in football. Peyton Manning has been ascending as his surgically repaired neck improves daily, weekly, monthly; Sunday night's 34-14 rout of the Saints was another Manning-frozen-in-time game (73 percent passing, 309 yards, three touchdowns, no picks), and as he told me last week: "The whole goal was try to get better every week, even if only a little bit better every week. And I knew all along the nerve would take a long time, and you couldn't rush it. It'll be a tad better in two weeks, then a tad better two weeks after that. On game day, I get a little juice and feel pretty good.''

But what really will help Manning the rest of the way is the knowledge he doesn't have to do everything himself. Denver held New Orleans to 252 yards Sunday night, and in the Saints' 39 games since opening day 2010, that's the Saints' lowest yardage total. Thomas Morestead punted eight times last night, his high over that same period. "We knew we had to take away Drew's ability to throw it deep,'' said Wesley Woodyard, the special-teamer-turned-playmaking-linebacker, from Denver after the game. That starts with being solid in our run defense, so we know what they're going to do. Then we had great coverage over the top, not letting their receivers get open over the top. They're a great offense. They can score on anybody. This was a big night for us.''

2. Reid's got to give Vick one more week. Listening to Vick after another ridiculously lifeless game for the Philadelphia offense, he sounded resigned. Resigned to the likelihood that he'll be moving on from Philadelphia at the end of the season, and that he'll be yanked from his starting job soon -- if not this week, then in the next couple. But I look at a couple of things with the Eagles' offense right now. One: Vick's been pretty accurate over the past month: four straight games of 60 percent completions or better. Two: LeSean McCoy has had three straight poor games -- 53, 22 and 45 rushing yards -- with 15.3 carries a game. He's just got to get the ball more.

And I look at the fact that the Eagles, 3-4, can still save their season, and they go to the team playing the worst defense in NFL history next Monday. The Saints have allowed more yards over the first seven games of an NFL than any team ever has. This is the kind of game made to give a struggling team confidence. And Reid has invested so much time and effort in Vick -- who didn't turn it over once Sunday in the loss to Atlanta -- that to yank him now Reid would have to have an inordinate amount of trust in rookie Nick Foles to win big. I think there are too many signs that Vick and McCoy could bust out in New Orleans for Reid to yank Vick now.

3. A big day for a small corner. Of all the defenses in football, none plays offense like Chicago's. The Bears scored their sixth defensive touchdown of the season Sunday. The Bears' savvy 5-foot-8 corner, Tim Jennings, picked off Cam Newton twice in a 23-22 win, returning one for a touchdown that doomed Carolina. "This is what I always thought Tim would be,'' Tony Dungy said Sunday night at the NBC studios. "He's matured a lot, and he fits perfectly in that defense.''

The Colts drafted Jennings in the second round the year they won the Super Bowl, and he never had the confidence in the NFL that he showed at Georgia. He needed experience, and a mentoring corner like Charles Tillman has helped. He caught a lucky break when Steve Smith fell midway through the fourth quarter and he was able to dart into the open space, pick off Newton and run for a touchdown. Earlier, he had a perfectly timed diving interception on an attempted throwaway by Newton, a poor decision by the quarterback. "I've been able to grow up here, and learn front some great players -- Charles Tillman, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs,'' Jennings said. "There's no reason why you can't get better if you have great players to follow.'' The Bears are going to be a dangerous team, but only if they can protect Jay Cutler, who was sacked six more times by Carolina Sunday.

4. Jason Garrett deserves some of the blame for the Dallas defeat. Second-and-one, Dallas ball at the New York 19, 1:27 left in the game, Giants up 29-24. Short pass by Tony Romo to the right to Jason Witten, incomplete. Long pass into the end zone (why?) to Kevin Ogletree, incomplete. Romo flushed, throws on the run way behind the line, intercepted. Now, here's my problem: Dallas went to Witten 22 times on the day, so everyone knows he's going to be targeted; that's where the first pass goes. And instead of spreading the field and jamming in a quick curl or comeback, or rolling out and letting Romo try to gain a yard himself (the Dallas run game stunk Sunday), Romo throws it out of Ogletree's reach near the goal line. The fourth down's a disaster, Romo was chased to Plano before throwing the pick. Make the first down first. Plus, Dallas had all three timeouts left. Why not a play-action fake and a rollout run or curl? The Cowboys were crippled by a bad running game Sunday, but that series should have been called better.

5. The play of the day ... maybe the year. Vick Ballard was a lightly regarded mid- to-late-round prospect from Mississippi State, a 219-pound bruiser thought to be a better runner between the tackles than outside of them. The Colts tabbed him 170th overall and put him in the rotation in the backfield, and now it appears he and Donald Brown are going to share the job. But Ballard got outside on a swing pass from Andrew Luck in a 13-13 game on the first drive of overtime. (First drive, meaning the game can end on a touchdown but not a field goal.) As he turned upfield and sprinted along the left sideline toward the goal line, Ballard saw traffic coming. Three Titans -- corner Ryan Mouton, about to dive at his legs; middle linebacker Colin McCarthy, also getting set to submarine him; and hammerhead safety Michael Griffin, near the goal line.

"I knew I was going to dive for the pylon,'' Ballard said as the Colts waited to take off from Nashville for Indianapolis after the game. "I did it twice in college and didn't make it. Once, I fumbled through the end zone. The other time, I got stopped at the inch-yard line.'' Huh? The inch-yard line? "Yeah, just an inch or two away. This time, I know I couldn't run to the end zone. I was going to have to dive. When I jumped, somebody hit my legs, and I rolled over in air.'' Mouton clipped his leg, McCarthy got him by the shoe, and he turned over, like he was taking a nap on his back in air. As he fell, he leaned for the pylon. His helmeted head hit the pylon, and then Griffin fell on top of him in a full, legal mugging.

"I know the rule,'' he said. "you hit the pylon without going out of bounds, it's a touchdown.'' Very big day for the kid. His dad came to the game. It was his first touchdown. It won the game -- in overtime. It got the Colts over .500. "It's a special feeling,'' Ballard said. "I'm looking forward to watching it. I have a feeling I'll be able to find it on the internet."

***

In Memory of Marty

Not saying a man whose team was 9-29 in the last 2.5 years doesn't deserve to have his job jeopardized, even though the timing for firing GM Marty Hurney in Carolina was ridiculous. What good does it do to fire a GM in the middle of a season?

Don't tell me, though, that Hurney left the cupboard bare. His sixth-round pick in 2010, defensive end Greg Hardy, had three sacks of Jay Cutler Sunday. His big 2011 free-agent keeper, Charles Johnson, Hurney's third-rounder in 2007, had two sacks of Cutler with two forced fumbles. His first-round pick this year, linebacker Luke Kuechly, had another big game Sunday, with 10 tackles.

I know the way the business works, and I know Hurney deserves to be under the gun, and I know Cam Newton now is not a sure long-term thing in Carolina, and Hurney wanted Newton as his franchise quarterback. I'm just saying nothing is ever totally black and white in this game, and Hurney's record should include it all: the questionable free agent spending, the unlikely Super Bowl run in 2003, the three playoff berths in 10 seasons, the inability to get Carolina out of a losing funk over the past four seasons.

1. Houston (6-1). J.J. Watt had neither a sack nor a deflected pass over the weekend. Of course, the Texans didn't have a game.

2. Atlanta (7-0). Any doubt Matt Ryan's the leader in the clubhouse for the 2012 NFL MVP disappeared in the first half at Philadelphia. Ryan went 17 of 20 for 197 yards with three touchdowns and no picks in said first half, and it was 24-7 entering the break.

3. New York Giants (6-2). This is the fourth year of Jerryworld, the Stadium With No Corporate Name In Arlington, vs. the Fourth Quarter Surgeon, Eli Manning. The scores of the four Giants-Cowboys game: New York, 33-31; New York, 41-35; New York, 37-34 and yesterday, New York 29-24. Average points per Eli start at the new place: 35.0.

4. Chicago (6-1). Bears 23, Panthers 22 at Soldier Field Sunday. Another margin of one here: Bears six interceptions returned for touchdowns this year, Cam Newton five touchdown passes this year.

5. San Francisco (5-2). In the last four weeks, the Niners have allowed 8.8 points a game. In the last three weeks, the Cards have averaged 11 points a game on offense. I sense a trend continuing tonight in Glendale.

6. Green Bay (5-3). Donald Driver, 37 years and 9 months old, the oldest receiver in the game, scored his 61st receiving touchdown Sunday in a totally unimpressive show by the Packers. "It's good to be on this side of an ugly win,'' he said.

7. New England (5-3). After the best end-zone celebration of the season (by far), the one with Rob Gronkowski looking very much like a Buckingham Palace guard, Gronk was asked what his touchdown celebration was, exactly. He said: "That little nutcracker dude who's guarding the house."

8. Baltimore (5-2). So the Ravens were able to take a collective breath Sunday as Hurricane Sandy roared into the area. Entering the second half of the season, they have to get better play from Joe Flacco or January's going to be ugly, whether the Ravens make it that far or not. He has to be better than a quarterback with an 84 rating, better than a 59.5-percent passer.

9. Miami (4-3). Most surprising team in the league right now. Tell me: At the end of September, when the Dolphins were 1-3, with losses to the Texans, Jets and Cards, did you think there was any chance they'd be above .500 at any time before 2014? I didn't. But you're always in the game when you can play defense, and the Dolphins can play defense.

10. Pittsburgh (4-3). Well, I was wrong. I thought the Steelers' season was in the dumper. Wins over two decent teams have the men of steel back in it.

11. Denver (4-3). Impressive win over the Saints and suddenly the schedule turns friendly: at Cincinnati, at Carolina, San Diego, at Kansas City, Tampa Bay, at Oakland. Combined record: 14-22.

12. Minnesota (5-3). Vikes at Seattle Sunday. They'll have to prove that nightmare the other night was an aberration.

13. Seattle (4-4). If I were Seattle GM John Schneider, I'd call Chiefs GM Scott Pioli, and ask if there's any way he'd dump Dwayne Bowe for a fourth-round pick. And if he would, which I doubt, I'd be a buyer. You might say that Bowe could be a free agent after the season, and why would the Seahawks spend a fourth- on a guy they could lose after the season? Simple. They'd franchise him if they couldn't reach a long-term deal, and that would give Seattle one season of a quality receiver (plus one-half of a shaky season this year, depending how quickly he could pick up at least some of the Seahawks offense) for, say, the 115th player in the draft. I'd do it.

14. Dallas (3-4). Yeah, they turn it over too much. Way too much. Something about the Cowboys, though, makes me think they're not done. I think they'll give the Falcons a good game this week.

15. Indianapolis (4-3). Played four games in October with the specter of Chuck Pagano's leukemia hanging over them. Went 3-1. The Dolphins and Colts meet in Week 9, with both teams over .500. Yeah, we all saw that coming.

Offensive Players of the Week

Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay. Greg Schiano had workhorse Ray Rice at Rutgers. That's who Martin is turning into at Tampa. In the rout of the Vikings Thursday night, Martin touched the ball 32 times rushing and receiving, for 214 yards and two touchdowns. He has the deceptive speed to get outside and outrun outside linebackers, and enough power to push the pile on 3rd-and-short.

Jason Witten, TE, Dallas. Witten looked crushed after the Giants' 29-24 win over Dallas Sunday, even though he set the franchise record for receptions in a game -- 18, amazingly, including 13 in the second half -- for a total of 167 yards. Everyone in the park knew where Tony Romo was going with the ball, but the Giants had trouble stopping it.

Defensive Players of the Week

Stevie Brown, DB, New York Giants. He accounted for three of the Giants' six takeaways in Dallas, picking off Tony Romo twice and recovering one fumble. He and linebacker Keith Rivers tied for the team lead with six tackles. The Giants just keep finding these guys.

Jimmy Wilson, CB, Miami. The seventh-round pick from Montana in 2011 had one of the best all-around days any player had Sunday, recording a sack of Mark Sanchez, two tackles, a pass deflection and a blocked punt when he and a fellow punt rusher ran a twist on the Jets' line, fooled long-snapper Tanner Purdue and rushed in and smothered the punt, which Olivier Vernon recovered in the end zone to give the Dolphins a 10-0 lead they'd never relinquish.

Special Teams Player of the Week

Justin Medlock, K, Carolina. On a typical late October day in Chicago -- chilly, winds gusting up to 25 mph -- first-year kicker Medlock, from UCLA, kicked four field goals in the first three quarters to give Carolina a 19-7 lead. When Cam Newton gave the lead back, Medlock stepped up and nailed a 45-yarder through the wind with 2:27 to play. Carolina, 22-20. Not his fault the Panthers blew the lead and lost it on a Robbie Gould field goal. Medlock spent last year with Hamilton of the CFL, making 49 of 55 field goals. That's what got the NFL's attention.

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.

Ryan Clady, T, Denver. It's tough to keep a clean sheet against a good defensive end like Will Smith of the Saints, but Clady allowed no sacks or quarterback hits by Smith in the 34-14 win over New Orleans Sunday night. He also steamrolled a couple of Saints to help Willis McGahee rush for 122 yards. A very good night for one of the league's most reliable left tackles.

Coach of the Week

Dirk Koetter, offensive coordinator, Atlanta. In 2011, Matt Ryan threw 20 screen passes all season, and the Falcons were intensely interested in seeing him throw more, especially to quick running back Jacquizz Rodgers. So Koetter, who replaced the departed Mike Mularkey as offensive coordinator, brought in some ideas to get more deep balls and more screens into the offense. On Sunday, in Philadelphia, Koetter called 10 screens. He got Rodgers the ball 13 times on rushes or receptions, for 80 yards. Atlanta built a 24-7 halftime lead and coasted, 30-17.

Goats of the Week

The Washington receivers. Nine drops. Nine! A disgraceful performance in Pittsburgh.

Bradley Fletcher, CB, St. Louis. As if Tom Brady needs help, Fletcher got whistled three times for pass interference in a 45-7 loss to the Patriots -- and every one was on third down, meaning that three times he gave the Patriots new life.

Robert Meachem, WR, San Diego. With the Chargers sleepwalking their way through a dismal performance at Cleveland, Meacham broke into the clear and turned for a Philip Rivers pass, thrown perfectly over Cleveland coverage. Meacham dropped it. He blew a clear touchdown. Cleveland beat the Chargers 7-6.

"I didn't lose my composure. I just called him a punk, and that's exactly what he is."

-- Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for jawing with and head-butting Reggie Bush on the fifth play of the Jets-Dolphins game. There is bad blood between the Jets and Bush, because of a burgeoning feud between Bush and injured Jets corner Darrelle Revis.

"I just think he gives us the best chance to win. That's my opinion, and it's the only one that matters."

-- Jets coach Rex Ryan, announcing after the dispiriting 30-9 home loss to Miami that he was sticking with Mark Sanchez as his starting quarterback.

"Now it's time to go back and concentrate on my own broken life and try to repair that. I've done a lot of things I need to address ... We're not in the '80s. We're not in the '90s anymore. You have to govern yourself accordingly."

-- A chastened Lawrence Taylor, on Friday, to Associated Press reporter Larry Neumeister, after a New York jury acquitted him of charges that he sexually assaulted a woman in a 2010 incident at a hotel in Montebello, N.Y. Taylor admitted paying $300 to have sex with a woman he was told was a prostitute, who turned out to be a 16-year-old girl. She claimed he forced himself on her. The jury believed Taylor's story.

"Baseball's been the most consistent thing in my life, outside of baseball."

-- San Francisco Giants closer Sergio Romo, during an in-game interview with the FOX baseball guys, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, during Game 2 of the World Series. Romo closed out the sweep of the Tigers Sunday night.

"We've got to play tomorrow like there's no tomorrow."

-- San Francisco outfielder Hunter Pence, to ESPN Radio, after the Giants took a 3-0 lead in the Series Saturday night.

You will excuse Rams coach Jeff Fisher if he needs a couple of stiff drinks on the flight from Heathrow Airport outside of London back home to St. Louis today. If he never sees the New England Patriots again, that'll be just fine with him. The last time he faced New England as coach of Tennessee, the Pats beat the Titans 59-0. On Sunday, the first time he faced New England as coach of the Rams, the Pats beat the Rams 45-7. Numbers you might like -- but Fisher won't -- from those eight quarters of football:

Yards allowed: 1,092.Margin of defeat: 97 points.Touchdowns passes allowed: 10.Interceptions: 0

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, I wanted to take a look at the first half of Houston defensive end J.J. Watt's season. He's been the best defensive player in the league so far, and so I had ProFootballFocus.com analyze where the 23-year-old versatile run-stuffer and pass-defender has lined up, and what alignments his plays have been made from.

Watt has played 377 snaps, including all penalties. The breakdown of those:

Left end on either a three- or two-man line: 128Left tackle on a four-man line: 110Right end on either a three- or two-man line: 70Left end on a four-man line: 41Right tackle on a four-man line: 13Right end on a four-man line: 13Standing up: 2

In run defense, he has played 127 snaps. As a pass rusher, he has played 243 snaps. And he has dropped into coverage seven times.

Run defense: Watt has been quite brilliant. The best measure of this is the number of defensive stops he makes purely in run defense as a percentage of his plays against the run. A "stop" is a tackle that constitutes a loss for the offense. His 22 stops on 115 run defense snaps (not including penalties) equates to 19.1 percent of his run snaps resulting in stops, and leads all interior defensive linemen. Justin Smith, last year's top defensive lineman in football, has a 12.7 percent "stop'' rate.

Pass defense: As a rusher he has been equally dominant. So far this year on 234 pass rush attempts he has amassed 10 batted passes, 11 sacks (PFF counts half-sacks as full sacks; the NFL credits Watt with 9.5 sacks), seven hits, 14 hurries and four penalties caused. His 28 QB Disruptions (sacks, hits and hurries) on 234 attempts are second only among interior defensive players in terms of productivity to Cincinnati's Geno Atkins, who has 27 quarterback disruptions in 210 snaps.

In many cases, the hype doesn't match the productivity. But Watt deserves every headline he's getting, from his performance in the first half of the season.

"We've traveled before,'' Bill Belichick, he of the electric quote, said upon arriving in London Friday, playing down the long flight from New England to London.

The Patriots played at Seattle in Week 6. Flight time from Boston to Seattle: 6 hours, 3 minutes.

The Patriots played in London in Week 8. Flight time from Boston to London Heathrow: 6 hours, 25 minutes.

The Patriots (6,500) and Rams (7,670) logged more air miles in Week 8 than the Packers will fly all season (5,774).

So my brother Ken retired from his job in England in September, and we decided to give him a fun, frequent-flier-aided retirement gift: a trip to see a World Series game. So he came over and, as it turned out, the only game that would work for me was Game 1 in San Francisco, which we didn't know would be in San Francisco until last Monday night. Thanks to my friend Corey Bowdre with the Red Sox, we were able to buy seats at face value and we set off for California. I spent much of last Tuesday in Atlanta with Tony Gonzalez for some SI reporting, then flew to San Francisco Tuesday evening.

I was deep in coach, in a middle seat. (The only way to fly! A middle seat for five hours and 15 minutes!) The 50ish woman seated to my left got increasingly frustrated with her iPad, sighing heavily, until finally she said, "Damn daughter!" and took the iPad and hit herself on the scalp with it. I clanked over, wondering if I was to feel the wrath of the iPad-abuser next, and she said, "My daughter must have erased this app I need! I can't figure the damn thing out!'' I told her I was sorry, and asked her what she did for a living.

"I'm in sales,'' she said. "On the way to San Francisco for a sales conference."

"Oh,'' I said. "What do you sell?''

"Well, various things,'' she said.

Well, all right then. We flew the rest of the way in crammed, painful quietude.

I got to visit my daughter while in San Francisco. She works at Twitter, and one of the highlights of the trip (other than the fun of seeing her) was touring the office and getting to eat lunch in the cafeteria. Great benefit of working there: breakfast, lunch and dinner are free, and stupendous. (I had the grass-fed beef chili Americano, with heritage beans, and the tomato salad). Beer on tap there. No dessert. Hmmm. I saw no one with a beer at lunch, but I did see lots of different cold teas and flavored waters.

The layout of the office is conducive to exchanging ideas, with big tables and employees sitting at their desktops, and a ping pong table in a lounge nearby, with coffee and energy bars and ... well, let's just say it's not the kind of office I've ever worked in before. The thought process at Twitter seems smart: Make it a good place to work, a comfortable place where you enjoy spending hours a day, and you're probably going to be a productive employee.

Heck of a good time at the game Wednesday. The day was perfect, sunny and cool, and the crowd giddy from batting practice on. That's a beautiful stadium, in a great place, with excellent sightlines. Not the easiest thing to do, squeezing in a quick jaunt out west to see the Series in a busy week, and catching a redeye home to get normal work done, but I'm incredibly lucky to be able to do so, and to be able to be with my brother doing it.

"Now that the Series is over, can the Panda play guard for the Eagles?''

-- @LesBowen, who covers the Eagles for the Philadelphia Daily News, early this morning, while the Giants and World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval were dousing themselves with champagne in a sullen Motor City.

"Based on what I'm watching right now, Mississippi State would get killed by an NFL team, because they're getting killed by an NFL team.''

-- @fbgchase, FootballPerspective.com owner Chase Stuart, watching Alabama rout Mississippi State Saturday night.

"We are warriors on the field, but are human as well. I pray everyone sends prayers forth for Marcus Lattimore & others that are injured''

-- @RGIII, quarterback Robert Griffin III on Saturday, after top NFL prospect Marcus Lattimore, a running back, suffered a severe knee injury in South Carolina's game.

"Ras-IR"

-- @GlobeChadFinn, Chad Finn of the Boston Globe, after the Patriots put cornerback Ras-I Dowling on injured-reserve for the second time in his two-year NFL career.

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

a. Did you see Steve Smith catch a ball late in the first half at Chicago, get blasted, get right up and line up for the next play?

b. Brandon Marshall is playing this season as if he has a new life and wants to make sure he doesn't blow it. That, essentially, is the case. A gamer.

c. Marshawn Lynch. Mayock's right -- the most underrated tailback in football.

d. Good to see Titus Young becoming a playmaker in Detroit. Someone has to pick up the slack from the disappearing Calvin Johnson.

e. Jonathan Dwyer, the third-year back from Georgia Tech, hurts people when he runs. Even when the Steelers get their backfield totally healthy, Mike Tomlin has to find carries for this guy.

f. Stevan Ridley, 15 for 127, his third game over 125 yards this year.

g. Chandler Jones is one impressive rookie rusher. He had a 17-yard sack of Sam Bradford.

h. Always impressed with how Ben Roethlisberger moves in the pocket to avoid traffic. How can a man that big be that quick?

i. What a move by Carolina fullback Mike Tolbert, faking Brian Urlacher off his feet in the second half at Soldier Field.

j. Ronnie Hillman, just 21, is the speed complement Willis McGahee has needed in Denver.

k. Richie Incognito, the mauling Miami guard, graded out like a road-grader against the Jets.

2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 8:

a. One word for those Steeler uniforms: vomitous.

b. Seriously, NFL: We know why you do these throwback uniforms. (Throwup, in this case.) You want fans to go buy another type of Steelers jersey for the holidays. That's what this about. And I defy you to find one self-respecting Steeler fan who would be caught dead in those mustard-and-mud striped jobs with the stupid numbers. And the socks. I think Margaret Hamilton wore those in The Wizard of Oz as the Wicked Witch of the West.

c. If I called those jerseys ugly, it'd be a compliment compared to what they really are.

d. Dying to find out how you got James Harrison to put that garish garbage on.

e. Awful decision by Cam Newton late in the first half, tossing the ball away while being sacked -- and resulting in a diving pick by Tim Jennings.

f. You have to make that catch, Calvin Johnson, down the stretch, in the corner of the end zone.

g. Philip Rivers isn't getting much help, obviously, but a few of his throws in Cleveland were way too far off target for a man with his resume.

h. Washington kicker Kai Forbath, for booting an extra point try right into the line. Blocked? No. Horribly mis-hit, yes.

i. Interceptions No. 7, 8, 9 and 10 for Tony Romo at Dallas Cowboys Stadium this season.

j. The Chiefs. A two-month nightmare continued Sunday, when they spent their seventh straight game without a lead in regulation. I mean, how is it possible to NEVER lead a game? It's the first time such a thing has happened in the NFL for such a long span since 1940.

k. And Romeo Crennel, if you don't know why Jamaal Charles only carried it five times in the game, you'd better find out.

l. Rex Ryan's confidence. Gone. Vanquished. Sanchized.

m. Dallas' home-field disadvantage. The Cowboys are 14-13 in the house that Jerry built. Not dissimilar from their 99-100 regular season record this century.

n. Mark Sanchez. Rex, it's time.

3. I think, not to depress you any more than you already must be this morning, Saints Nation, but in the 6.5-year Drew Brees Era, the worst defensive game New Orleans has played was last night's -- if you count yards allowed. The Saints surrendered 530 yards to Denver, and they'd never allowed more since Brees walked on campus in 2006. The second-worst game? Last week, when they allowed 513 at Tampa Bay.

4. I think Cam Newton did something at the end of the first half in Chicago that really bugged me. From the Chicago 33, the Panthers called a Hail Mary with three seconds left. Newton threw it way over the end line. Either he wanted someone in the stands to have a souvenir, or he didn't want to risk another interception on his stat sheet. I'm guessing the latter, and I don't like it.

5. I think if a certain cadre of NFL owners -- not a large one -- had their way, there'd be two teams in the Los Angeles market in the next 10 years. And there'd be two teams in Europe in the next 15. But I'm very skeptical the Europe thing will work, as are natives of England who know far, far more about this than I do.

6. I think it's literally impossible for a defensive back -- like Chicago safety Chris Conte in the third quarter against Carolina -- to avoid the kind of personal foul call he got for his hit on a defenseless receiver, Brandon LaFell. If LaFell is diving head-first for the ball and a defender is coming from opposite him to break it up, how possibly is he going to do it without hitting him somewhere around the head or neck? Should the defender simply lay back and wait for the receiver to catch the ball, then try to hit him? As dangerous as that play is, the league is more than tying the defender's hands behind his back by making it virtually impossible for the defense to play defense on the play.

7. I think I have one question about the Detroit Lions: Who has kidnapped Calvin Johnson, and what have you done with him?

8. I think we're about to see the national game with the worst ratings of the year: Kansas City at San Diego, Thursday night.

9. I think Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Starhit a home run with his piece this week about how Chuck Pagano might be away from the team while undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia, but he's making his presence emotionally felt every day. Such as the day third-string quarterback Chandler Harnish was cut -- and the one who delivered the news, by phone, was the ailing head coach, from his bed. Pagano's one heck of a man.

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

a. Congratulations, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, for your appointment as the first female president of the Baseball Writers of America.

b. San Francisco: best walking city in America.

c. Really happy for Marco Scutaro, who should not have been cast out by Boston at the end of last season, for winning the World Series. And to all the Giants. That was a great team win. Can you imagine the Giants next year if they could convince Tim Lincecum to pitch the eighth inning, and they had Lincecum in the eighth and Sergio Romo in the ninth? They'd be tough to beat.

d. So the Giants beat the Tigers four straight by a total of 10 runs, and the Tigers beat the Yankees four straight by a total of 13 runs. Does that mean the Giants would beat the Yankees four straight by a total of 865 runs?

e. Couldn't last forever, Ohio Bobcats. Good luck the rest of the way. And congrats, Miami, for bursting our bubble.

f. When I look at Donald Fehr, I think: They're not playing hockey until Groundhog Day.

g. I need to see Argo.

h. Coffeenerdness: My football-season equilibrium was put to the test with Starbucks closing all shops in New York at 4 p.m. Sunday with the subways and trains scheduled to be shut down three hours later.

i. Beernerdness: If you have one baseball wish left (for those of you who like the game), I'd suggest this: Wish for a bleacher seat at AT&T Park in San Francisco, go to the park in time for batting practice, visit the Anchor Brewing stand behind the bleachers in center field, get an Anchor Liberty Ale, and just watch BP, preferably in the sun. That was the scene last Wednesday for me and my brother, and the beer, and scenery, were perfect.

Layden, my SI pal, has written a gem on the 63-yard field goal in the current issue of the magazine -- the NBA preview issue. The story will be online soon, but here's a cool piece on the making of it. Please find your copy of the mag and read this story. What I love about it is Layden visited with all four of the men who share the record -- Tom Dempsey, 1970 (still in New Orleans); Jason Elam, 1998 (living in remote Alaska now); Sebastian Janikowski, 2011 (in Oakland); David Akers, 2012 (in San Francisco) -- and they all seem to marvel at the fact that no one has gone beyond Dempsey's 63-yarder 42 years ago.

Think of it: Just two weeks ago, St. Louis rookie Greg Zuerlein booted a 66-yarder eight feet to the left of the left upright -- but it hit the net behind the end zone and would have been good from 72, easy, if it were just on target.

The most poignant stuff Layden got was from Dempsey, who was born with only half a right foot and a miniature right arm with no fingers, and the Saints. Detroit led the awful Saints 17-16, with two seconds left. The ball was on the New Orleans' 37-yard line; in those days, the goal post was on the goal line, not 10 feet back, and so the kick Dempsey was to try would be from his own 37, a 63-yarder. "On the sideline, Dempsey heard the voice of special teams coach Don Heinrich. Tell Stumpy to get ready to kick a long one,'' wrote Layden. And the kick ... The description by Layden, one of the best writers I've had the privilege to work with over the years, is sublime: "Dempsey's kick died in the air just inches past the crossbar and fell to earth like a buckshot mallard dropping into a flat-water pond.'' Beautiful. You'll enjoy the story.

Now for San Francisco 19, Arizona 13: Bet you didn't know, or forgot, that John Skelton threw three touchdown passes against the Niners in a 21-19 Arizona upset in Glendale last December. Three's how many TD throws Matthew Stafford, Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco had against the Niners last year -- combined. So I don't put it past Skelton (6-0 as a starter at home) to give San Francisco a tough game. The one thing that scares me for Arizona: In San Francisco's last three games against marginal starters -- Mark Sanchez, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Russell Wilson -- the Niners have allowed nine points. Breakdown of the 31 Jets, Bills and Seahawks offensive possessions:

Touchdowns: 0. Field goals: 3. Missed field goals: 1. Punts: 18. Fumbles: 4. Interceptions: 3. Lost on downs or end of half: 2.

In other words, Skelton has his work cut out for him, as they say.

Hey, Jim Cantore!Tell 'em from D.C. to Maine:Respect Sandy's wrath.

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