Tie Trivia as we wrap up another week in the playoff race to determine who'll square off in New Orleans:
• This is the 39th season with a form of regular-season overtime, and Sunday's 24-24 Rams-49ers tie was the first on the West Coast since the system was established in 1974.
• The last six overtime ties have been November games -- on Nov. 19, 16, 23, 10, 16 and 11.
• In the last tie -- Cincinnati 13, Philadelphia 13 four years ago -- Bengals quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (yes, that Ryan Fitzpatrick) drove the Bengals to a shot at the winning field goal with seven seconds left, but Shayne Graham shanked it right.
Sunday was a rollicking, fun day in the NFL, but before we get to the 11 non-ties, we have to spend a few paragraphs on the quirkiest game of the year.
A little before noon Pacific Time, as the San Francisco crowd began to settle in their seats, fans in the lower bowl at Candlestick Park were treated to an odd display. Two Rams starters in sweat clothes, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and wide receiver Chris Givens, both rookies, began sprinting up and down the stairs in one section of the stands, supervised by assistant strength coach Adam Bailey. How odd, the fans with trays of Gordon Biersch craft beers and garlic fries reporting for the game must have thought. What are these Rams doing running the stairs at this hour? Shouldn't they be stretching for the game, or doing something down on the field?
"It was two-fold,'' said Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who suspended Jenkins and Givens for an unspecified violation of team rules Saturday. "They weren't going to play, so they needed a workout. And I guess you can say it was part punitive. We still have to sort some things out about what happened, but hopefully this helps them get the message.''
"I didn't even know that happened,'' said St. Louis receiver Danny Amendola.
Early in the second quarter, with the Rams holding a 14-0 lead, Alex Smith had a 3rd-and-15 at his 38. He completed a pass to Michael Crabtree that got very close to the first down, and the officials called for a measurement, with 13:32 to go. Out came the sticks. On ticked the clock. The Niners were a few inches short of the first down. The ball was spotted at the Ram 48. Tick, tick, tick. Now the clock was down to about 12:10 when someone on the field finally noticed the clock never stopped.
Referee Clete Blakeman got on his mic and said: "We are checking the game clock for accuracy.'' OK, now he'd just have the clock reset to 12:32. Nope. He came back on the mike shortly thereafter and said: "The game clock is correct." Who'd he check with? The drunk tailgaters who never came into the game? And the band played on.
We'd have skewered the replacement officials for this; the NFL needs to come down hard on the stadium timekeeper and seven men who apparently never saw a minimum of 72 and maximum of 90 seconds tick off what should have been a stopped clock.
Then Smith left with a concussion. Then Rams punter Johnny Hekker completed a 1-yard pass on a fake punt, just before the half. Then the Niners went ahead 21-17 in the fourth quarter. Then the Rams, at their own 33 with 5:23 to play, had a 4th-and-8. Fisher called for the fake again. "I didn't think they could stop it,'' he said, and Hekker, sure enough, threw a perfect spiral to a wide-open Lance Kendricks. Gain of 19. First down.
Two fake punts, one from the Ram 10, one from the Rams 33. Now that's different. Who fakes a punt standing in his own end zone?
Here came the Rams, Sam Bradford evading the rush long enough to find Amendola -- playing his first game since severely fracturing his collarbone five weeks ago, the injury so grotesque and graphic that it made Rams COO Kevin Demoff faint when it was described to him -- for five yards and then 16 yards and then eight yards, down to the Niners' 2 with 73 seconds left. "It hurt sometimes,'' Amendola said from the locker room afterward. "But you just have to block that out." For 70 snaps Amendola blocked it out. For 11 catches he blocked it out.
Timeout, Rams. First-and-goal at the 2. Now, as Bradford dropped to pass, the Niners came with a middle blitz. And not just any middle blitzer -- Patrick Willis was steaming in through the "A" gap for the quarterback. But Steven Jackson, who was good all day in a 101-yard rushing effort against one of the league top three defenses, was magnificent here. He got his pads low and blasted into Willis, standing him up and knocking him out of the path of Bradford's pass. Which, stunningly, went to a wide-open Austin Pettis in the back of the end zone. Rams, 24-21.
But the timeout by the Rams gave the Niners 63 seconds to get into field-goal range to tie, which they did. And so it went to overtime.
On the first play, Amendola ran a double-move up the right side, got an edge on the coverage, and Bradford led him perfectly. Now it was a horse race, Amendola versus the hard-charging safety, Donte Whitner, and Whitner caught him. Gain of 80. Out at the Niners' 2.
A flag. Illegal formation ... on the other side of the play, having absolutely nothing to do with the play. Brandon Gibson, a fourth-year wide receiver, lined up two yards behind the line instead of on the line. "By rule,'' NBC officiating consultant Jim Daopoulos, a former NFL zebra, said, "you have to have seven on the line of scrimmage. You can only have four in the backfield. To be considered on the line, you have to be within one yard of the line. The wideout was clearly two yards off the line, which made him the fifth man in the backfield.''
"I didn't know what happened,'' said a downcast Amendola. "All I knew is there was a flag. I mean, it is what it is. What can you do?"
Uhhh, line up properly. That's what Brandon Gibson can do.
With 8:14 to go in overtime, David Akers missed a chippy field goal from 41 yards. Wide left. In fits and starts, the Rams got the ball down to the San Francisco 35 with 3:25 to play. Fourth down. Hekker was the holder, Greg Zuerlein the kicker. Both rookies.
"They're out of timeouts,'' Fisher told Zuerlein on the sidelines. "They can't ice you.''
Hekker did what he was supposed to do, perhaps a little nonchalantly, counting to be sure he had nine linemen, which he did. He got into position to hold, got a nod from Zuerlein that he was ready, gave the signal to the snapper ... tick, tick, tick ... and the snap was perfect, and Zuerlein, who has made field goals from 70 yards easily in practice, drilled the 53-yard winner straight and true.
A whistle. A yellow flag. Delay of game. Hekker didn't get the snap off in time. "I'm still kind of puzzled how that happened,'' Hekker told reporters afterward. "Greg said he gave me the hand sign with four seconds left, and we've never had a snap ... take more than four seconds."
The Rams moved back five yards. Zuerlein tried too hard on the 58-yard attempt, pushing it wide right.
Each team had another chance, but there was no more drama. When the clock got to :00, Amendola -- and he wasn't the only one -- didn't know the rule that the game was over. (Shades of Donovan McNabb, 2008, Cincinnati.) "I thought we were going to keep playing,'' he said.
And everyone in the game was left to feel ... odd.
At midfield, the coaches met and Fisher said to Jim Harbaugh: "Wow ... Good luck ... How's your quarterback feeling?"
"That's the weirdest feeling I've ever had at the end of a football game,'' Amendola said. "We're disappointed. We're bummed. We left a lot of plays out on the field. But I think as a team we grew today. Coach Fisher has done a good job getting us to play with the fire you need to play with to win in this league."
"In the long run,'' said Fisher, "this will be a good step for our team. But it hurts a little right now."
Youth and costly mistakes. That's the headline. But the upshot is this: The Rams are not pushovers anymore. Three NFC West games this year: St. Louis, 2-0-1. Rams 60, Foes 40.
Now onto the other news of the day:
The Texans prove something to America, and themselves. Bears weather. Driving rain, windy, slippery turf, chunks of grass and dirt flying all night. Houston 13, Chicago 6. "I've been doing this a long time,'' coach Gary Kubiak said afterward, "and I don't know if I've ever been more proud of a team. We just kept playing great defense and doing our job on special teams. Two great defenses were doing it out there, and ours was absolutely magnificent.'' Arian Foster was magnificent too, running for 102 yards on the worst track he's ever run on in his four NFL seasons, and making a circus catch on the goal line for the only touchdown of the night.
Most impressive: Houston never fumbled on a night made for fumbling. The Bears turned it over four times, Houston twice. The call has gone out to the rest of the league. Houston's not going to fold if they have a crummy field in Nashville Dec. 2 or Foxboro Dec. 10, or if they have to go on the road to a Baltimore or Foxboro or Pittsburgh in January. After Sunday night, with a one-game lead for AFC home-field advantage and a 7-0 AFC record, they're the favorites to be home as long as they last in January.
I hope you were careful not to put a stake in the Saints a month ago. They've got the 49ers, Falcons and Giants in a 15-day span starting in Week 12, but New Orleans is 4-5 with Oakland next Sunday, and the 31-27 win over Atlanta was no fluke. Drew Brees is hot, the defense is generous but not hopeless and New Orleans is dangerous. Can you imagine the story if they wiggle into the sixth seed and have a prayer to play in a home Super Bowl, after what this team has been through this year? I thought the hero of the day Sunday was cornerback Jabari Greer. He was as shaky as a corner can be, and felt he'd let his team down on two long Atlanta completions earlier in the game.
But with New Orleans hanging on to the 31-27 lead on 4th-and-2 at the Saints' 2, Matt Ryan sent his Mr. Reliable, Roddy White, on a simple in-cut from the right flank with Greer in pursuit. White had a step on Greer. But to the far right, Tony Gonzalez was wide open. Ryan didn't see him. He thought he could laser the ball into White, and tried to. "All I was thinking was, 'I gotta make that play,' " Greer said from New Orleans afterward. "I gave up two big balls, very big. And here it was, a chance to get something back.'' Ryan threw a line drive to White, and Greer leaped in from the right, with both hands, tipping it away -- barely. "A blessing,'' Greer said. "Just incredible, really. A quality win against a great opponent, a huge rivalry game, a game we had to have.'' Here come the Saints.
BURKE: FALCONS OFFENSE FAILS IN THE CLUTCH
What a day for the tight end. When I interviewed Tony Gonzalez for an SI feature three weeks ago, the former Cal forward was eloquent talking about how being a basketball player helps him in his position. "So many of the catches as a tight end you use the same skills as you would in basketball, boxing out,'' he said. "I play basketball in the offseason against some really good players, but guys who probably aren't going to play in the NBA. And when I see a guy I think has a tight end body, I say, 'You ever play football? You should try it. You'd be perfect for it.' ''
So it was no coincidence that in the Superdome on Sunday, when a former Super Bowl champ was battling a team hoping to be a Super Bowl champ, the two biggest receiving weapons were tight ends, Gonzalez and the Saints' Jimmy Graham. Both of whom, by the way, are veterans of NCAA Division I basketball. Graham played at the University of Miami before turning to football. And did you see what they did when they scored Sunday? They dunked the ball over the 10-foot-high crossbar. The combined receiving line for Gonzalez and Graham: 18 catches, 268 yards, four touchdowns. Kudos to Gonzalez, who became the sixth man (and first tight end) to catch 100 touchdown passes. He now has 101.
Uhhh, you mean Adrian Peterson might be getting better? And in the 11th week, he rested. Adrian Peterson, with a 123-yard lead over Marshawn Lynch in the rushing race, has his bye this week, and by all accounts, you'd think he needs it. He's playing after major knee surgery last winter, and he's playing better than any back in football. Last four weeks: 153, 123, 182 and, on Sunday, 171 yards rushing. A four-week total of 629 yards, with five touchdowns and a gaudy 7.7-yard average. The crazy thing is -- as he told me after the Vikings beat the Lions Sunday -- is he's still recovering from his surgery.
"Last week in Seattle, on one run, I felt scar tissue break up around my patella tendon on one of my cuts,'' he said from Minneapolis. "That's part of the recovery, that scar tissue breaking.'' That's why he thinks he'll continue to get better. I asked him about one particular run last week in Seattle when he got caught from behind on a 74-yard run. You recall it; he was down at the 1 and looked totally spent. "That was simply poor technique,'' he said. "I was running like Michael Johnson 'til I got to the 30, and I just wasn't running open enough.'' Whatever ... Peterson's on pace for the best year of his life, and some day, some orthopedist is going to write a paper on how his body got so good so fast after such a major surgery.
An X-factor in the Sean Payton decision
As of this morning, the New England Patriots and Chicago Bears have seven players scheduled to carry 2013 salary cap numbers of $3 million or higher. The New Orleans Saints have 15, including the gaudy $17.4 milion number quarterback Drew Brees will carry based on his new five-year deal signed in July.
Cap numbers, of course, can and will change. But as of today, the Saints are in major trouble if they're going to use any avenue except the fixed-cost NFL Draft to repair their defense in 2013. The 15 heaviest contracts the Saints have, as of this morning, take up 87 percent of their 2013 salary cap. The NFL is scheduled to have a cap number of about $121 million per team next year, though that varies from team to team depending on cap credits and money carried over from the previous season.
Think of that: The Saints have 28 percent of their 53-man roster taking up 87 percent of the cap room. And they'll be at least $25 million over the $121 million cap at the start of the free-agency period.
Of course, that will have to change. But even if the Saints can re-do huge pacts like Will Smith's, and even if they make a veteran such as Jonathan Vilma or David Hawthorne a cap casualty, the front office will still find it tough to keep this team intact for the long haul. (And cutting Vilma would still incur a $2.6 million cap charge for the 2013 portion of his pro-rated signing bonus.) How, for instance, will they be able to re-sign left tackle Jermon Bushrod, scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent?
As Mike Florio pointed out on NBC last night, the Saints now have a 13-week edge on the competition to get a valid contract done with Payton -- because Payton cannot be reinstated for at least 13 weeks, until the day after the Super Bowl, and thus can't speak to any other team about a job until then. New Orleans is the lead dog in the pursuit of Payton, and Dallas is a clear No. 2, though there's no guarantee the Cowboys' job will open up yet. For the record, some of the onerous cap numbers in 2013 that will weigh on Payton's decision are on the right.
Five Questions with Andrea Kremer
Kremer, the veteran TV reporter, has signed on with NFL Network for a newly created post of chief correspondent, health and safety. She's not leaving her gig at HBO's highly respected Real Sports show, just supplementing it with this new job.
Her first major contribution comes this week, when NFL Network opens health-and-safety coverage with an over-arching four-part series on, well, health and safety. Timely, especially considering the spate of concussions suffered Sunday; three starting quarterbacks left games with concussions (Michael Vick, Alex Smith, Jay Cutler). The series begins Tuesday night on NFL Network's Total Access, with the remaining three segments on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
I have known the dogged Kremer for a long time, and I spoke with her Saturday, mostly about her plans for doing a job that could put the league in the difficult position of exposing the underbelly of the sport it has long kept in the dark. Concussions, sordid lives after football, and the like.
MMQB: What exactly do you aim to do in this job?
Kremer: "The goal is to deal with these issues that, for whatever reason, you fill in the blank, the NFL Network has overlooked in the past. I will use the word [NFL Network vice president of programming] Mark Quenzel used when we first spoke about the job -- substantive. He said: 'We want more substantive stories on health and safety.' It's the biggest issue not just in football, but in all of sports. People are talking about how 'bigger, stronger, faster' will lead to more health problems. There are so many stories. So many. Where do you begin?''
MMQB: You've always been known as a pretty tough reporter. The NFL's now going to be signing your paychecks. Concerned you'll be able to report everything you want?
Kremer: "I have no indication whatever that we will be censored in any way. The mandate we have been given is: Just be fair. Be balanced. We're going to get calls from the league office. Just let us know what you're doing. But that doesn't bother me.
"Look, I had a built-in skepticism from day one. What I told them was, I didn't spend 30 years building my reputation, my brand, so to speak, to start doing propaganda. I don't plan to do that now. They know what they're getting from me. And we've built a good unit. Our lead producer, Arash Ghadishah, is from ABC News. He was the ABC News White House producer, a hard-news guy. Trust me: I have not drunk the Kool-Aid. I consider this a very interesting professional opportunity.''
MMQB: And so far?
Kremer: "The phrase I've used so far is I'm cautiously optimistic.''
MMQB: You think you'll be able to do all the stories you want, including some that will make the league uncomfortable?
Kremer: "Like Mark Quenzel said, 'I'll be honest with you: I don't know if our audience wants this. But we want it.' In our unit, we've nicknamed ourselves the vegetables. You have to have us on the plate, but you don't really want to eat us."
MMQB: What's your series going to include this week?
Kremer: "It's four segments, giving you a taste of what we want to do. The first part will be an overview of the health and safety series, including reporting on the [concussion and head-trauma] lawsuits, explaining what it's about from both sides. Then, Wednesday, a story at Virginia Tech, where the football team is using sensors in the helmet to determine the frequency and the severity of the hits to players' heads, to measure exactly what happens to the head when it takes a blow. My former colleague at ESPN, Steve Cyphers, is the reporter on that one.
"On Thursday, the story is following a rehabbing player after a major injury. We have been with Darrelle Revis since his [ACL] injury, and we were at the hospital with him for his surgery. We have a great scene where the surgeon [Giants orthopedist Russell Warren] walks out of the OR and briefs the family on how the surgery went. This is going to be sort of a preview for a three-part series on his rehab, that will air later in the fall.
"Then, on Friday, it's a story on youth concussions, the story we were working on when it sort of exploded nationally, about the Massachusetts youth team that had five different kids between 10 and 12 suffer concussions in one game. I talked to the kids. They were scared. The kids had no filters. The story also concerns what's at risk long-term for the sport -- maybe the kids don't want to play in the future, parents don't want them to play. What's interesting about the whole subject is what you learn about the sociology of the game.''
It'll be fascinating to see what happens when the rubber meets the road here -- when Kremer, for instance, has one of the 3,000-plus plaintiffs in the concussion case on camera obliterating the NFL. It'll happen. That'll be the big test to see if the Goodell Network is fair and balanced, and all-inclusive.
Good book coming out this week
New York Daily News NFL writer Gary Myers has some good insight and more than a few compelling stories in his book, Coaching Confidential: Inside the Fraternity of NFL Coaches, (Crown Archetype, New York) out on Tuesday. It's about the complicated lives of head coaches and everything they have to handle. There's lots of football, and some vengeance even.
Patriots owner Robert Kraft told Myers after the Spygate discipline came down on the club in 2007, he asked Bill Belichick: "How much did this help us on a scale of 1 to 100?'' Belichick answered: "One."
"Then you're a real schmuck,'' Kraft said.
And this from the feud between the late Al Davis -- who fired Mike Shanahan as coach of the Raiders after only 20 games, and balked at paying him the $250,000 remaining on his contract:
Prior to a Raiders-Niners game in 1994, when Shanahan was San Francisco's offensive coordinator, Shanahan admitted directing Steve Young to throw a football at Davis on the field during pregame warmups. Davis had wandered to the 49ers side of the field during warmups to check the team out. Players were complaining to Shanahan about it. Myers got Shanahan, now the Washington coach, to tell him the story inside his Redskins office recently.
"Guys, we'll win the game, don't worry about it. Don't let him bother you," Shanahan said.
The end of the 49ers' pregame drill took them back to their own 5-yard line. Davis was standing 35 yards away. "Hey, get him out of there," the players said to Shanahan. Shanahan was pissed at Davis for disrupting his pregame routine. And surely he was still pissed at him for not paying him the $250,000. "Now I started thinking. Okay, so we got one more play left," Shanahan said.
Shanahan is telling this story seated behind his desk at Redskins Park. It's a quiet spring day, but suddenly he's animated. On the sideline, Shanahan's face gets red, and it looks like the veins are about to pop out of his neck when he gets mad. Off the field, you rarely see his emotional side. But he had no use for Davis. Davis had embarrassed him by firing him almost without giving him a chance, and during that pregame Shanahan wanted to put a scare into his nemesis. Shanahan came up with the idea of how to send Davis back to his side of the field and needed one of his quarterbacks to be his accomplice. Young said he was more than happy to oblige.
"Throw a go route," Shanahan told Young. "If you happen to hit that guy in the white outfit with the ball, you won't make me mad." The receiver was Jerry Rice. He ran the go route. Shanahan didn't really want to drill Davis. But if it happened, maybe he would never stand on the 49ers' side of the field again. Of course, if he hit Davis, Shanahan would never get his $250,000. Young dropped back to pass. He threw the ball in Davis' direction. Rice, whom Shanahan did not bring into the loop on this little bit of mischief, was running downfield, looking up for the ball. He was not looking at Davis. He didn't see Davis. Shanahan saw the ball. He saw the receiver. He saw Davis. All three were about to occupy the same spot. Shanahan thought Davis saw the ball coming. He did not.
"Oh, my God," Shanahan said. "I wanted to scare him. I didn't want to kill him." The ball and the receiver were closing in on Davis. "Al realizes that the ball and everybody is coming at him about five yards before there is going to be contact," Shanahan said. "I think he's going to be run over. And he dives; he actually dives out of the way. Well, half of our players see what happens, and they are all laughing." Young drilled Davis in the leg.
It was not surprising that he found his target. Young completed 64.3 percent of his passes in his career. "Ten years after this happened, I was walking out of a stadium on a Monday night, and Al came up to me," Young said. "He told me that he knew it was me." Young told Davis that he was ashamed of himself, more so than with anything else he had ever done. He then sent him a letter of apology.
Shanahan is so fired up that he gets out of his seat to finish the story. He loves this story. It was revenge. He explains in great detail Davis diving on the grass at Candlestick Park, getting to his feet, his hair falling down in front of his face. Davis stared him down from 35 yards away and gave him the middle finger.
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.
In his four years as starting quarterback for the Jets -- including this star-crossed one -- Mark Sanchez has ranked 28th, 27th, 23rd, and, this year, 30th, in passer rating. The slide well below mediocrity continued Sunday in Seattle, when Sanchez's 9-of-22 day helped the Jets fall, 28-7. He had only twodrives of more than 35 yards, and one ended in an interception.
Enter Tim Tebow. The Jets have so far used him on 10 percent of all offensive plays, just under half of those as a runner. They've also let him pass on just four occasions. And of those 55 plays, he's never been allowed on the field for three consecutive offensive plays. In this game he was brought in for 18 percent of the 55 offensive plays (including penalties). What he did in itself wasn't bad. On his eight non-penalty-erased plays, Tebow picked up three first downs and made no major errors.
The real problem was what, apparently, it did to Sanchez. The two biggest errors Sanchez made came on the next throw attempted after Tebow had come in and then departed. On the first: After driving to the Seahawks' 1-yard line, Tebow was brought in. Tight end Dustin Keller false-started and Sanchez came back in. On a no-pressure pass, Sanchez threw an awful interception at the goal line. Later, Tebow returned and the Jets picked up a first down on a penalty, and Sanchez re-entered. On the third play, Sanchez dropped back to pass, was confronted with a front-side blitz, and fumbled taking the sack.
Obviously, the Jets' coaching staff clearly thinks the way forward is not with Tebow, except as an inconsistent novelty item. But from watching the games, you see Sanchez and Tebow are not close, and Sanchez's performance to date could be a result of two things: his battered and sub-par supporting cast, and the fact he's uneasy (if not unnerved) with Tebow's presence and insertion into games as the quarterback.
The Jets either need to stick with Sanchez and keep Tebow off the field entirely as a quarterback, or they need to give Tebow an extended trial. If that doesn't work, third-stringer Greg McElroy, likely the most accurate of the three of them, should get a shot. The current scenario isn't working. At all.
1. Houston (8-1). "We do not like the taste in our mouths from the Sunday night game against Green Bay,'' left tackle Duane Brown told me the other day, concerning the 42-24 loss to the Packers in the Sunday night game a month ago. The Texans spit out the taste thanks to their hard-earned victory at Soldier Field Sunday night.
2. Atlanta (8-1). The first 400-yard passing game of Matt Ryan's five-year NFL career kept Atlanta in the game Sunday at New Orleans and nearly beat the Saints. But when Roddy White turned the wrong way on the last drive of the game, all hope was lost. It had to happen sometime. This Falcons team just didn't have the feel of one to go through a season unbeaten.
3. Chicago (7-2). If Jay Cutler's MIA with his concussion recovery next Monday night at Candlestick, I don't like backup quarterback Jason Campbell to beat the Niners. At all.
4. San Francisco (6-2-1). I really didn't think the story Sunday was the failure of the 49ers, or them coming out flat. I thought the story was the Rams joining the ranks of the serious in the NFC West.
5. Pittsburgh (5-3). Prime-time menu for the Steelers at Heinz Field ... Tonight, ESPN, the JV game: Chiefs at Steelers. Next Sunday, NBC, the Varsity game: Ravens at Steelers.
6. Green Bay (6-3). 2012 stats: Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, 52 catches, six touchdowns. James Jones and Randall Cobb: 85 catches, 14 touchdowns.
7. Denver (6-3). The Broncos officially have a good enough defense to be competitive in January.
8. Baltimore (7-2). Good comeback game for Joe Flacco, and the Ravens needed it. Can't figure out, though, why the Ravens, with a 41-17 lead and 20 minutes left over a vanquished opponent, would use a fake field goal. Nothing to do with running up the score -- only with the thought that you don't want to show fake field goals and the like to future opponents when it's garbage time.
9. New England (6-3). Still a generous defense, but as long as the Patriots keep scoring in the 30s every week, the wins will keep coming. They'll get in trouble for it in January, though. Opposing passers have produced more touchdowns than Tom Brady, 19-18.
10. Seattle (6-4). Amazing: Russell Wilson's 5-0 at home, with 11 touchdowns, zero interceptions*. (You know, the Golden Tate/Green Bay asterisk.). The Seahawks' formidable defense wasn't scored on by the Jets offense.
11. New Orleans (4-5). Playing for .500 next week at Oakland. Anyone picking the Raiders? Bueller? Bueller?
12. Indianapolis (6-3). Raise your hand if, before the season, you thought the NFL would flex Indy-New England to the national time slot (4:25 p.m.) in Week 11 ... or if you thought Andrew Luck and Tom Brady would be tied in victories in the first 10 weeks of the season.
13. New York Giants (6-4). I have absolutely no idea who they are right now. Should the Jints be ninth? Nineteenth? You tell me.
14. Tampa Bay (5-4). The offense is out of control, obviously. But how about this for the opportunistic D: the secondary has returned three interceptions for touchdowns -- 78 yards by Ronde Barber, 60 by Eric Wright and 83 (on Sunday) by Leonard Johnson.
15. Minnesota (6-4). Vikes need the bye so they can get in the weight room and lift 10 hours a day for the next 13 days ... and be ready for four NFC North games in the last six weeks.
Offensive Players of the Week
Arian Foster, RB, Houston. He's had better games; he'll tell you that. But the touchdown he scored, on a diving try, parallel to the earth, with his arms fully extended and making the catch and securing it to his body as he thumped to the ground ... a thing of beauty. On the same drive, Foster went over Duane Brown at left tackle for six, then for 21. He rushed 29 times in the muck and mire and cold rain of Soldier Field for 102 yards.
Danny Amendola, WR, St. Louis. Coming back five weeks after breaking his collarbone, Amendola was a horse in one of the most physical games you'll see all season. If the Rams don't get a careless and insignificant-to-the-play illegal formation penalty on the first snap of overtime, Amendola would have been around 12 catches for 182 yards. As it was, the free-agent-to-be was impressive enough -- 11 catches for 102. He told me after the game he had to block out the pain in his collarbone, because it was there.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota. He could have won for his fourth quarter alone -- 11 rushes, 120 yards, one touchdown. The 171 yards altogether puts him on pace to rush for more yards than he ever has in his career. What an incredibly ridiculous story he's writing, 46 weeks removed from knee reconstruction.
Defensive Player of the Week
Von Miller, OLB, Denver. He continued his strong recent run with a sack and three other tackles for loss in the rout of Carolina. The more I see of Miller, the more I think he's the most dangerous linebacker in football. His crushing sack of Cam Newton had to have rattled the quarterback's teeth. On another rope-down of Newton, the QB made the foolish error of trying to complete a pass while falling, and the result was a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Tony Carter. Miller forced a fumble too, on a day with many strong defensive performances,
Special Teams Player of the Week
Dwayne Harris, PR/WR, Dallas. With the Cowboys' season on the line, Harris, a 2011 sixth-round receiver from East Carolina, fielded a punt at the Dallas 22 in a 17-17 game with 14 minutes left in the fourth quarter. He darted forward, then left, then sprinted up the left sideline for a 78-yard touchdown. Talk about a play to save a season.
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.
Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis. Sometimes the most important thing a back can do is enable the quarterback to have a chance to make a play. Pick up the blitz. Chip on the pass-rusher. And with 69 seconds left in a game the Rams trailed 21-17 at San Francisco, Jackson picked up all-world linebacker Patrick Willis and blew him up, giving Sam Bradford a chance to throw a two-yard touchdown pass to Austin Pettis. Best block of the day, and it came from a running back.
Coach of the Week
Joe Vitt, interim coach, New Orleans. In the span of seven days, with Vitt being the pregame fire-and-brimstone guy, the Saints have gone from 2-5 and on the edge of a cliff to 4-5 and 1.5 games out of the second wild-card spot in the NFC. Vitt and GM Mickey Loomis were reunited this week, with both off their league-imposed bounty suspensions, and they've brought stability the Saints have lacked. Defeating the unbeaten Falcons is a great accomplishment for any coach, but particularly for a coach and a staff in the odd position of changing head coaches on the fly twice in the first half of a season.
Goat of the Week
Bob Boylston, replay official, Carolina-Denver game. You know that rule enacted in 2011 that requires replay officials upstairs to confirm all scoring plays? Well, Boylston, a former umpire kicked upstairs about a decade ago, failed to diagnose Trindon Holliday tossing the ball away a yard shy of the goal line, and the ball bouncing into the end zone. Instead of a touchdown, the play should have been a touchback.
The officiating crew in San Francisco, led by referee Clete Blakeman. I don't care what excuse they come up with. I don't care how the league whitewashes it, if it even tries. Losing 72 seconds in the first half of a game is inexcusable, and that's what this careless crew did on Sunday.
Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego. In the midst of an excellent personal streak of football, Rivers had the Chargers on the go in the third quarter at Tampa. Down 24-21 and rolling out to make a play at the Tampa 30, Rivers, just before hitting the right sideline (which, in retrospect, he should have done, or at least thrown it into the first row of the bleachers), lasered a line drive up the sideline. Trouble is, Tampa cornerback Leonard Johnson seemed to be the only possible receiver in sight. He snared the pass and ran 83 yards for a touchdown. Terrible decision, well executed. Asked after the game for his reaction when he saw Rivers throw the ball right to him, Johnson said: "Shocked."
Pundit (Or Whatever You'd Call What He Does) of the Week
Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight Blog, New York Times. Derided by critics before the election for saying there was a 73 percent chance Barack Obama would be re-elected president, Silver ended up predicting that correctly, plus getting 50 of 50 states correct in his pre-election forecast, now that Florida has wound up in the Obama column. In addition, he called every senate race right, with the exception of one in North Dakota (those crafty North Dakotans). Silver's an economics grad from the University of Chicago, and there's a good chance he's the first one of those to ever grace MMQB's Awards Section.
"WE OWN THIS DIVISION! MAKE SURE THEY KNOW THAT TODAY!''
-- Drew Brees, in the Saints' pregame huddle, captured by FOX, before the game between the Saints and the team they trailed in the NFC South, the previously unbeaten Atlanta Falcons.
"They can kiss my a--.''
-- Antonio Cromartie, Jets cornerback, on the hue and cry from Jets fans who want to see Mark Sanchez benched.
"The No. 1 motivator is fear, you know, fear of maybe letting down your teammates, of being chastised or maybe losing your job. Where's the fear in Dallas? There's no fear in Dallas. It's a country club where everybody's buddies.''
-- Former Dallas coach and current FOX NFL analyst Jimmy Johnson, on The Dan Patrick Show on NBC Sports Network, talking about the problem of having the owner, Jerry Jones, acting as the general manager.
Fair criticism. But Johnson also called Jones' assertions that he acted as general manager during Johnson's reign as coach "a crock.'' I'm surprised (bordering on stunned) that Johnson, who was treated well financially (including a $2 million golden parachute from Jones when he quit) can't let this go. Jones was GM in title when Johnson was coach, even though Johnson was the spur for the vast majority of football personnel decisions at the time.
"You'll never see that again, trust me."
-- Michael Vick, after his brother Marcus tweeted during the Monday night Eagles debacle at New Orleans that the Eagles should trade Michael. The tweet: "Please trade my brother. We requesting out of Philly." That would work fine, of course, except that the tweet came six days after the NFL trade deadline ... and that the brother in question was furious at Marcus for doing this.
From the back page of this morning's Philadelphia Daily News, over a photo of Eagles coach Andy Reid leaving the field after the 38-23 loss to Dallas left Philly 3-6 and out of any realistic NFC playoff contention:
"I GOTTA DO (FIND) A BETTER JOB.''
Reid is fond of saying, after disappointing games, "I've got to do a better job."
The Pro Football Hall of Fame's 44 selectors just finished voting to winnow the list of 127 preliminary nominees for the Hall of Fame's Class of 2013 down to 25. On that list of 127 names was coach Bill Cowher, former coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I think it's a good time, in the middle of current Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's sixth season, to compare him to Cowher. Their careers are similar, with Tomlin having a slight edge.
I used the 60th victory of each man's regularseason career, which Tomlin achieved last week against the Giants, as the line of demarcation. How each man fared at the time of that 60th victory is in the table to the right.
Cowher won a Super Bowl in his 14th season and coached 15 years. The way Tomlin has begun his career, and with the Steelers such a consistent organization, there's no reason to think he won't follow in Cowher's career footsteps -- and perhaps even eclipse what his predecessor did.
Peyton Manning threw his 420th touchdown pass Sunday in Charlotte, tying Dan Marino on the all-time TD list.
Manning won his 147th game Sunday, tying Dan Marino on the all-time quarterbacks wins list.
I went out with my wife to the Rockaways, hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, on Election Day, to ferry some supplies a volunteer group said was needed. Since Joe Nocera of the New York Times went out three days later and wrote a lot more eloquently about it than I could, here's his column. Anyway, our loaded-up car had some shovels, wide push brooms, water, baby formula, warm clothes, flashlights and lots of batteries of all sizes.
When we got to the area, a peninsula of many streets with both beach and permanent homes, it was stunning to see the consistent sight in front of almost every house. It was as though the houses had all vomited all of their waterlogged possessions onto the front lawn and curb. House after house, street after street ... and the closer you got to the ocean side of the peninsula, the more sand you had to drive through. Once, driving slowly, I feared getting stuck because the sand was so deep on the street.
Originally, we were told to go to the large Catholic church in town, St Francis de Sales. But a military unit with a Humvee blocked that street and we were told to go to another church about 30 blocks away. Fruitless search. We couldn't find it. But we did stumble on big white tents on the east end of the peninsula. "VOTE AQUI'' signs were there, and "VOTE HERE'' signs, for the locals whose polling place was not usable.
I saw two white-coated men waiting to vote -- men taking a break from ripping apart home interiors to do their patriotic duty. So we went back to the neighborhood of the church, and, unable to get close to it, we found a woman and her husband, running a free general store on a busy corner. Amazing sight: Townspeople in work boots were rummaging through the hurriedly set-up tables of food, tools, water and clothes, with the woman and her husband the only ones riding herd over the free "store.'' We thought it was as good a place as any to unload our stuff, and so we did, and within three minutes the shovels were gone, and probably half the batteries, and two cases of the water. "Thank you so much!'' the woman running the general store said to us.
Though we did see several Red Cross trucks, and FEMA was in the neighborhood too, what impressed us the most was the horde of volunteers who just showed up to help. We saw some cars with Georgia plates parked in front of a home with people using crowbars and mallets to knock down sodden walls. I saw a woman with an "OCCUPY SANDY'' handwritten T-shirt, and we were told lots of the Occupy Wall Street crowd was here, and on Staten Island, to help.
That part was heartening. Disheartening was the massive job that will take months -- getting the power and heat back, fixing some lovely homes with winter coming. And though I appreciate the strength and we'll-be-fine can-do attitude of the mayor, Michael Bloomberg, I fear people will see attention to the area fade as news crews start covering other things, and I fear they'll say, "Well, everything's going well in New York and New Jersey and Long Island.'' Well? No. Surviving? Yes. But thousands on Long Island are still without power, and it'll be months before there's anything close to normal in the neighborhood we visited Tuesday. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie compared the area to Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama after Katrina, and I don't think he's far off.
"The amount of courage that people develop over social media has always been intriguing to me.''
-- @Niles_Paul84, the Washington tight end.
You're not the only one intrigued by that.
"Hey Peyton do us a favor bro. Don't ever,ever,ever,ever,ever,ever,ever try 2 slide like that again. OK :)''
-- @BrianDawkins, the former Denver safety, after an awkward slide by Peyton Manning in Charlotte.
"Lavonte David and Daryl Washington are great examples of where the LB position is headed in the NFL... Speed over size''
-- @MoveTheSticks, NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah, speaking of the fast and productive Tampa Bay and Arizona linebackers.
"Unofficially we have counted 12 concussions thus far this week. Will know more definite numbers on Thursday''
-- @concussionblog, an educational Twitter account for concussion research and reporting, at 11:50 p.m. Sunday.
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 10:
a. The Patriots, setting aside one seat permanently on Sunday, Veterans Day, in Gillette Stadium, as a memorial to military service members. "We are all Patriots,'' read a plaque on the end-zone seat. "God bless you. God bless America." Great gesture.
b. Danario Alexander, signed just three weeks ago by Chargers GM A.J. Smith, with a terrific catch-and-run 80-yard touchdown.
c. C.J. Spiller. Never thought he was special before this season, but I do now. He has to be among the league leaders in making defenders miss.
d. Joe Flacco, three touchdowns and 341 passing yards.
e. Paul Kruger, who was in the Oakland backfield quite a bit Sunday, with two sacks and a pick of Carson Palmer.
f. Way to stand up for yourself, Ryan Fitzpatrick, calling Brandon Spikes of the Patriots "sort of a punk,'' and matching Tom Brady aerially.
g. Chris Johnson doing something the Dolphins don't let happen: rushing for 100 (actually 126 yards) against Miami.
h. Tennessee left tackle Michael Roos, with a virtual shutout of one of the best pass-rushing ends in the league, Cameron Wake, in the Titans' rout of the Dolphins.
i. Chris Long and Michael Brockers, for a strong pass rush late in the Rams' tie with San Francisco.
j. How do you not love the way Brandon Marshall's playing?
k. Brandon Carr, for his heads-up pick and touchdown run to clinch the Cowboys' win in Philly.
l. Marshawn Lynch, 27 carries for 124 yards. And we hardly noticed. We take his greatness for granted too much.
m. Ugly-looking throw, Golden Tate. But it sure got the job done. And for that southpaw TD throw, you've now got a perfect passer rating --158.3.
2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 10:
a. Ten penalties for 115 yards, and the very un-Mularkey-like tantrum from coach Mike Mularkey, in the Jags' 27-10 loss to Indianapolis.
b. You've got to be quicker around the edge protecting Eli Manning, David Diehl.
c. Corey Webster, for getting beat by A.J. Green on Cincinnati's first series of the day, then looking behind him for help, finding none, then slowing up and eventually giving up on the play. Would Webster have caught Green? Probably not. But seeing no help behind him -- even if a mistaken assignment by a safety -- is no excuse for giving up on a play.
d. Not that this was a big factor in losing by 35, but Taiwan Jones, two carries for six yards? Come on, Raiders. Free Taiwan Jones.
e. Speaking of the meaninglessness of big passing numbers, Carson Palmer has thrown for 782 yards in the past two weeks ... and the Raiders have lost to Tampa Bay and Baltimore by a combined 45 points.
f. Eli Manning in his last three games: 55 percent passing, zero touchdowns, four interceptions.
g. Me, for thinking the Dolphins were contenders.
h. If you want to keep that job, Ryan Tannehill, three-pick days when you're getting steamrolled won't help.
i. Rex Ryan standing by Mark Sanchez. Not smart, plus it's boring.
j. Not a smart challenge, at all, by New Orleans, wasting a timeout when Falcons wideout Harry Douglas was clearly down with less than three minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Not smart because the Saints had to know they'd likely need that timeout inside the two-minute warning. Joe Vitt got some very bad advice on that call.
k. Terrible goal-line effort by Michael Turner. I'd much rather see Jacquizz Rodgers try to slither through gaps in a wall than see Turner pound fruitlessly into it.
l. Hard to blame Jason Campbell for everything in the shoddy second half of play by the Bears, especially when he hasn't practiced much, if at all, with the first unit this season. But to rely on him to do anything but mop up ... dangerous.
3. I think Pittsburgh receiver Emmanuel Sanders deserved his $15,000 fine for faking an injury and thus allowing the Steelers a clock-stoppage in Week 7 against Cincinnati. That's as clear a phony injury as I've ever seen in football. It was a professional wrestling flopperoo.
I also think, however, Sanders should get the $15,000 rebated to him by the coach or player who told him to go down. Sanders is in the third year of his rookie contract, making $540,000 this year. That comes out to $31,765 per week. So following orders to fall down was a pretty big tariff for Sanders.
4. I think Chris Ivory's a better back than Mark Ingram. That just goes to show you what a quirky thing running back prospecting is. The Saints got Ivory as an undrafted free agent out of Division II Tiffin (Ohio) College. The Saints traded a 2012 first-round pick to draft Ingram late in the first round in 2011.
5. I think Bud Adams could pass for Tony Robbins.
6. I think when Carolina owner Jerry Richardson issues a statement saying he is devoted to the Carolinas without saying he categorically wouldn't move to Los Angeles, you know it's a leverage play to get public money to rehab his stadium. Responding to Adam Schefter's report that L.A. leaders have been sniffing around the Panthers to make a move west, Richardson said: "It has always been my desire that the Carolinas would be the home of our Panthers. Nothing has changed. As someone who was born in North Carolina and lived much of my life in South Carolina, I hope that there would be no doubts about my personal devotion to the Carolinas." See? Nothing in there even approximating: "I will not move this team."
7. I think I have absolutely no problem with a player missing a football game for the birth of his child. Good for you, Charles Tillman. (Even though he said Thursday he would play Sunday, then attend the birth of his child on Monday.)
8. I think I loved those TV shots of Julio Jones arguing with Falcons trainers to go back into Saints-Falcons game after injuring his ankle. He did go back in -- and caught a bomb.
9. I think of all the thoughtless, careless plays I saw Sunday -- and Eli Manning's desperation tipped interception in the third quarter at Cincinnati is in the ballpark here, as is Philip Rivers' brainlock interception brought back for a score in Tampa -- Cam Newton's interception thrown into blanket coverage while falling, returned for a touchdown by the Broncos' Tony Carter, takes the cake. Looked like a desperate rookie in a fourth preseason game, sending up a prayer to try to make the team. Those are the types of throws that must make Panthers coaches tear their hair out.
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. RIP, Darrell Royal, a heck of a good football coach and very fun to listen to. My favorite Royal quote: "Trends are bunk. Only angry people win football games."
b. How great is it that Texas, on its first play from scrimmage Saturday, lined up in Royal's beloved wishbone?
c. Wow: Someone is making "Chuck on three. One-two-three CHUCK!!!" T-shirts. That's great.
d. I learned a lot from NBC's Chuck Todd watching election stuff last week, including the future of how the American population shift may change presidential voting patterns in what have been consistent Republican strongholds. "In 2016,'' Todd said, "you're going to see Georgia, you're going to see Texas and you're going to see Arizona possibly in play because that's where the Hispanic population has been booming." In 2008, he said, 71 percent of the voters in Florida were white; in 2012, it was 66 percent.
e. What's disheartening about the political process in America is that, after an election, there's far too few voices who mean it when they say, "Let's compromise and do what's best for America,'' and far too many who say, "OK, what do we have to do to win in 2016?''
f. Congrats on earning your second term in Congress, Jon Runyan.
g. Amazing that the best left tackle-pass rusher matchup for years in the NFL was Jon Runyan versus Michael Strahan, and now one is making laws in the halls of Congress and the other is the next Regis Philbin. And the couple of times I've caught Strahan, I think: This guy was made to do this.
h. Maybe this basketball-on-aircraft-carriers-on-the-East-Coast-at-night idea isn't such a hot one.
i. Thank you, Chuck Klosterman, the New York Times' ethicist, for weighing in on Lance Armstrong Sunday thusly: "All we can do is work with the accepted reality: Armstrong helped the lives of many cancer victims by being the most talented cheater within a sport where cheating is rampant. Now, does that positive conclusion 'offset' the unethical exploits that allowed it to occur? I would say it does not. And I say this because they are too interdependent to isolate and judge. There is no right or wrong way to feel about Armstrong, but however you feel should be based on the totality of his career. Everything has to matter.'' An excellent take.
j. How on God's green earth was ESPN so wrong on the Bernie Fine story?
k. Sprint, do not run, to see Argo. How many movies, when you know the basic outcome before you walk in the theater, cause you to sit on the edge of your seat and want to pace nervously mid-plot? This one did. Ben Affleck, superb. John Goodman, wonderful. A fantastic history lesson for us all.
l. Dan Patrick on the omnipresence of John Goodman: "He's in every movie there is. He's the white Samuel L. Jackson."
m. Coffeenerdness: Illy espresso shots are more consistent than Starbucks. Study that, Seattle.
n. Beernerdness: A minor Allagash White quibble, seeing that it's hard for me to denigrate the beer I love: If you say stores in Manhattan sell your beer in bottles, they should really sell them. Maybe it's just too good to keep on the shelves, I don't know. But it's not where it's supposed to be, which causes me great heartache.
They wrote an insightful story in the New York Times for political junkies (and political doofuses like me) on how the presidential election turned. I never considered the first debate to be the thing that changed the election, but it sounds like it did, for both sides.
Now for the game: Pittsburgh 33, Kansas City 10. Maybe the Chiefs rise up, tired of being laughingstocks. Maybe Matt Cassel says, "My last prime time game as a Chief, and if I'm going to get any team out there interested in me for 2013, I'd better look better than Kyle Boller.'' Maybe Justin Houston and Tamba Hali box Ben Roethlisberger's ears a few times and get him off his game.
Maybe, but I doubt it.
Feel like taking a night off from the NFL? There's always that Family Feud marathon on the Game Show Network tonight.
A Rams-Niners tie.Thought it would be boring. Not!Line up right, Gibson.