Eleven main characters from an eventful Week 11 that had its share of drama.
1.Baltimore defensive keystone Terrell Suggs, who was supposed to be in his seventh month of rehab for an Achilles tear right now, prancing off Heinz Field, savoring a three-game winning streak against the team he loves to hate. "Weird night,'' he said from the bus leaving the place. "No 52 [Ray Lewis], no Lardarius Webb, no Ben [Roethlisberger], no Troy Polamalu, no Hines Ward. Times are changing. But winning's all that matters.''
2. The Gronk, New England tight end Ron Gronkowski, out for a month or so with a broken right forearm, suffered when the Patriots had a 34-point lead over the Colts late in the fourth quarter. There are some opinions on this. Before you freak too freakishly, Patsland, you'll have Aaron Hernandez and Visanthe Shiancoe this week to sub for Gronkle (the Gronk, Gronkle, Gronkie ... all nicknames NFLNet's Ian Rapoport is trying to trademark on Mr. Gronk). About 31 other teams in the league would kill for Hernandez.
3. Andrew Luck, Colts quarterback, who turned the ball over four times in a game he knew he couldn't afford to once.
4. Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson, 31, one of the great receivers of this era (132 games, 766 catches) tells me he thinks Sunday's game was his best.
5. Ben Roethlisberger and his dislocated first rib missed the 13-10 loss to Baltimore, and boy, was he missed. I'm not optimistic about him returning soon, and neither is a leading thoracic surgeon.
6. The sixth playoff seed in the NFC. Look at the combatants for it: Seattle, Tampa Bay and Minnesota, all 6-4, and a pair of 5-5s: New Orleans (the Saints may not lose again this season) and Dallas.
7. Andy Reid. Close to the end, barring a miracle stay by Jeffrey Lurie. Could Oregon coach Chip Kelly, his national title hopes dashed, be waiting in the wings? I believe he'll be a candidate to take the Eagles job after leaving the Bucs at the altar last year.
8. Norv Turner. We know the odds of San Diego making the playoffs after losing five of six. Not good. Turner and GM A.J. Smith likely had to make the postseason to stay. I'll be interested to see if club chairman and president Dean Spanos chases Reid, a southern California guy.
9. The strange case of Matt Ryan and the Falcons. A win's a win, I guess. But I watched much of the 23-19 game. Atlanta survived five interceptions by Ryan and won because the Cardinals have the worst quarterback situation known to man. (Cue the Larry Fitzgerald weeping sound effect.)
10. Robert Griffin III just had a game for the ages. Anyone notice?
11. Matt Schaub did too. He threw for 527 yards as the 9-1 Texans survived the 1-9 Jags. This is one strange league.
BANKS: WEEK 11 SNAP JUDGMENTS
The stories of the week:
1. There is no best team in the NFL. I say it's New England, but let's be honest: If the Patriots played Houston or Baltimore or Denver tomorrow, how confident would you be? And the AFC is supposed to be the weak conference this year -- remember that. The NFL has America right where he league wants it: with the clicker in hand, or calling a cable provider asking to buy the Red Zone Channel for the last six weeks of the season.
2. Of New England, Gronk and the Belichick substitution rules. Gronkowski suffered his broken forearm Sunday in the 59-24 win over the Colts -- and the internet was abuzz Sunday night with news that the injury apparently occurred on the 59th point of the game, the extra point after the final garbage touchdown of the game. Why keep a valuable player in the game at that stage, some asked; others wondered why the increasingly valuable Gronkowski should be risking injury on any special teams unit.
The words "Belichick'' and "karma'' kept coming back from the ether, and I cannot argue. I've always thought the capriciousness of Belichick's early- and mid-fourth-quarter lineups in Patriot routs were his only weak points as a coach. It's bizarre to me that with a 28-point lead and 7:37 left in the fourth quarter Tom Brady was in the game -- and throwing twice -- to stretch the lead to 35. With a 31-point lead midway through the fourth quarter against the Rams in Week 8, backup Ryan Mallett entered the game. Good for him, and good for the Patriots long-term, to get the raw backup some playing time. So you'd think, then, that I'd view Gronkowski's injury in that same critical light. I don't.
Coaches have 45 active players each game. They don't have a "second team'' of the point-after-try unit. The PAT is one of the most risk-free plays in football. Rodney Harrison, the former Patriots safety now in the NBC studio with me on Sunday nights, didn't get taken off the kickoff team in routs. And Tony Dungy, who coached the Colts and Bucs, told me: "Jeff Saturday was my right guard on the PAT team, and I'd never think of taking him off. All my years in football, I never heard anyone, never heard Chuck Noll saying, 'Well, we better get Jack Ham off the PAT team.' It's not something I'd question."
Whatever, the Patriots lose Gronkowski for an important stretch (at Jets, at Dolphins, Houston, San Francisco), and from the looks of it, even if they do appear to be the best team in football right now, it's going to be tough to move past Baltimore and Houston and get a first-round playoff bye in the AFC.
3. Heal, Ben, heal. I'm told Ben Roethlisberger still has pain with many simple movements, seven days after he suffered shoulder and first rib injuries in the Monday-nighter against Kansas City, and anyone forecasting a week for him to return is guessing. Roethlisberger has no sense when he'll be able to return. But according to Dr. Clark Fuller, the director of Thoracic Surgery at St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., Roethlisberger has to be careful about returning too soon because of damage it can do to nerves in the right shoulder and arm, major blood vessels in the area, and, as Roethlisberger admitted last week, the aorta around the heart.
"This is not about being a tough guy,'' said Fuller, who has neither examined Roethlisberger nor seen his X-rays or scans. So he made it clear he was speaking generally about the dislocation of the first rib, which is connected to the breast bone on one side and the spine on the other. A throwing motion, he said, would not allow the rib to heal, and he would not recommend it any time soon. "Playing football with a dislocated first rib would put you at severe risk. There are many things to be concerned about, including destroying the nerves in the arm.''
Fuller said he thought Roethlisberger would miss a minimum of four weeks. "I do remember their coach, Mike Tomlin, not allowing that safety [Ryan Clark] to play in altitude in Denver because of his sickle-cell disease,'' Fuller said. "That is a good sign, to me. I believe he won't risk the health of Roethlisberger."
Meanwhile, back at Heinz Field ... Ravens 13, Steelers 10. They meet again in 13 days, and from what we saw of Byron Leftwich after the first drive of the game (he suffered a bruised rib at some point in the contest), Baltimore will be a confident group if Roethlisberger doesn't play. Pittsburgh's last 12 drives featured eight punts, a fumble, an interception and a field goal.
I kept watching Sunday night and thinking about what the game must have been like for Suggs, who tore his Achilles in April, was told it'd be nine to 12 months before he could put full pressure on the Achilles and sprint, only for Suggs to return after six. "Tonight,'' he said an hour after the game, "I was very emotional. I got to the stadium early and went out before the circus started. You know how these games are, and I just thought, 'Prayer really does work. I'm here. I'm playing.' Because when it first happened and I saw the doctor, he said nine months to a year, and the world just shook. I wasn't thinking about Ravens-Steelers, I was just thinking, 'How am I going to get back faster than that?' ''
It was a classic Steelers-Ravens game. Ray Rice, 20 carries, 40 yards. Just 511 total yards of offense in 126 plays ... everything a battle. Suggs got two pressures of Leftwich in his 70 plays -- he played all but two defensive snaps. I was surprised to hear what he said when I asked him what this win, even against a depleted Steelers team, said about the Ravens. "It doesn't say nothing,'' Suggs said. "They got what we want -- all the championships. Nothing means anything to us 'til we get those. We gotta catch 'em in the ring race, then we'll be able to talk."
4. Andre Johnson goes 14 for 273, and he was not playing Madden. An amazing Sunday in Houston. This is modern football at its Monopoly-money best: Justin Blackmon and Johnson became the first two receivers in a game ever to each go over 200 yards. They combined for 21 catches and 509 yards, for a 24.2-yard average reception. I'm incredulous just writing that sentence. Where will it all end?
"It's crazy,'' Johnson told me from the Texans' locker room. "I don't know what to say. I didn't know something like that would ever happen.'' Heck, it may never again. The story in Houston's 43-37 overtime win was the crazy overtime. Houston kicked a field goal. Jacksonville kicked a field goal. Schaub threw an interception. Jacksonville -- correctly, I thought -- went for it and failed on 4th-and-10 from the Houston 47? (Really, what do you have to lose when you're 1-9 and there's two and a half minutes left to play and you're tied against the top team in the conference? Go for the win.) On the second play after that, Schaub threw a wide receiver screen to Johnson on the right side of the formation, and Johnson ran 48 yards for the winning touchdown.
Johnson said he's fully healthy for one of the first times in recent years, and he's able to practice and go through the normal drill work he's had to miss because of two knee scopes and a bad hamstring injury over the past two seasons. "My stride is opening up,'' he said. "I feel like I have my legs back, my explosion. I can't tell you how many OTAs, how many training camp practices, how many regular practices I missed. I feel like I've been battling so many injuries the last two or three years.'' Schaub threw to Johnson 19 times Sunday, and look for numbers like that to be the rule, not the exception, down the stretch.
5. On concussions and the future of playing hurt. The co-chair of the NFL's head, neck and spine committee, Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, told me the problem with players being removed from games immediately after being concussed is that a concussion is often not immediately apparent. Alex Smith played most of a series after being concussed last week, as did Jay Cutler. "We've had 193 instances of the athletic trainers upstairs calling down to the sidelines this year to tell medical officials to check out a player,'' Ellenbogen said. "Regarding concussions, there is no perfect rule for diagnosing a concussion. Often times, because players on the field have so much adrenaline going, a concussion doesn't show up for some times.'' The key, he said, is not only diagnosticians looking for concussions, but self-reporting, and we know how difficult that is during the course of a game.
I asked Ellenbogen about what I find to be a smart proposal by the players association -- the adoption of a rule that would have an independent neurologist on the sidelines for all NFL games. He said he didn't like the idea, comparing it to showing up for surgery and having a surgeon you'd never met before do the operation. He said team physicians on the sidelines know the players and can best understand what is happening to them medically. Agreed, but there's also the chance that a team-employed physician is going to have the best interests of the team at heart over the player. Seems the argument over that slippery slope has been going on for years.
One other interesting note from Ellenbogen, the chairman of the department of neurological surgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He attended a FIFA-sponsored conference on head trauma three weeks ago in Zurich and came away with respect for rules. That's right: rules. "Rules count,'' he said. "When the NFL changed the spot where teams kick off from, injuries went down 40 percent in a year. In soccer, FIFA outlawed elbowing in head-balls, and concussion rates were reduced significantly. When people say all these rules are ruining the game, I say, 'No they're not. They're making the game safer.' " Ellenbogen said to me at one point he wasn't paid by the NFL. I asked him why he did the job. "Good question,'' he said. "My wife would really like to know that. Two reasons. One, if I took $100,000 to do the job, then I lose all my credibility; everything I say, you could say, 'Well, what do you expect? He works for the NFL.' Two, the trickle-down effect. If the NFL can work with the IOC and some of these international sports federations to institute rules and programs to make games safer, then we all win. I went to Roger Goodell and [legal counsel] Jeff Pash, and I asked for $75,000 to give to the Centers for Disease Control, to put a sort of concussion [recognition] course on the site for coaches and parents. They said sure. Now that's the CDC's most hit-upon site.''
6. This Josh Freeman's pretty good. The game Josh Freeman played in Carolina Sunday reminded me of a few Eli Manning games we've seen over the years. Stink it up for the first 50 minutes, dig a hole, then find a way to coolly get out of it. "We were way too sloppy for a long time,'' Freeman said from the team bus to the airport after the game. "I was way too sloppy.'' The Bucs made up 11 points -- a field goal, a touchdown, a two-point conversion pass-- in the last five minutes of regulation, then won it on a beautiful Freeman-to-Dallas Clark pass in overtime. The play of the day, though, was the 24-yard dart from Freeman to Vincent Jackson with 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter -- with 280-pound defensive end Greg Hardy steaming in on a stunt in Freeman's face, with two defenders buzzing around Jackson.
"You don't really have many options,'' said Freeman, considering the pass rush and the clock and the need for a touchdown and not a field goal and the physicality of Jackson to fight off defenders to make the catch if he needs to. "You just gotta go. It was remarkable.'' We forget Freeman is 24 years old. He's six months younger than Ryan Tannehill. He's with a new head coach, Greg Schiano; a new quarterback coach, Ron Turner; a new offensive coordinator, Mike Sullivan; with a new franchise receiver in Jackson, a new tight end in the rejuvenated Clark and a new franchise running back in Doug Martin. And here comes Freeman off a terrible 2011, playing the best football of his pro life. "What we've learned so far this year,'' said Freeman, "is all that matters is battling. Games are 60 minutes, longer sometimes, and we know we've got the players to make sure we can win in the end.''
The End of the 973-650-0966 Era
Well, I did the all-time stupid thing Saturday. Thought I was direct-messaging agent David Canter on Twitter Saturday, asked him to call me, and, much to my terror, found it went to all of my followers. I bet it was up for six seconds before I took it down, but that was long enough to enable quite a few loyal Peter Kingites (and gee, thanks, Deadspin) to post the number all over the place. The final results:
Phone calls received in the five hours between posting and canceling of the number: 373.
Text messages received in that time: 255.
Angriest text message, from the 773 (suburban Chicago) area code: "You ------- skunkheaded ------. Go ---- Favre. Have a nice day."
Love my fans!
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.
Since their 1-3 start, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have gone 5-1 and averaged 34 points a game in doing so. On the face of it Josh Freeman's 94.6 quarterback rating and 21-7 touchdown-to-interception differential seem to indicate a substantial reason for the turnabout, but that would be too simple; Freeman's season (and his performance here) has been far more enigmatic than that.
Going deep. Freeman is a very good deep passer who has been aided hugely in that regard by the offseason acquisition of Vincent Jackson. Before this game only Joe Flacco threw deep (more than 20 yards downfield) more frequently; 17.8 percent of passes for Flacco, 15.4 percent for Freeman. But it hasn't just been quantity. Freeman's 838 yards on deep passes leads the NFL, and he'd thrown four touchdowns without being picked off entering Sunday's game in Carolina. Through 10 weeks of the season, he'd been the best deep passer in the league.
The short game. He struggles on shorter throws. When he has to read linebackers in coverage and when the space is condensed, his passer rating drops from 125.6 on those deep throws to 86.2 on throws between zero and nine yards. Compare this with Peyton Manning, who rates 95.8 on deep throws but 115.9 on those same underneath passes.
Game on the line. Freeman continued with his problems in the short game in Charlotte (rating of 73.7, including a bad interception for a pick-6) but also initially couldn't find his targets when passing deep. Of his six passes over 20 yards, the first five were either incomplete or intercepted. However, as is often the case with Freeman, with the game on the line he then made the last one count, finding Vincent Jackson with a laser in the end zone for the score, which would eventually take the game into overtime. There he completed all three of his OT passes, including the game-winning touchdown to Dallas Clark.
Freeman deserves tremendous credit for elevating his game, with the arrival of trusted veterans like Clark and Jackson. The Buccaneers have already exceeded most expectations and can go even further this season ... but Freeman's play is not without flaws. If he is to take the next step as one of the game's best quarterbacks, he needs to clean up his short game and become more efficient between zero and nine yards.
1. New England (7-3). No Gronk for a while, but I'd be surprised if the Patriots don't score enough to beat the Jets Thanksgiving night. This is a ridiculously explosive team, with a defense that played better Sunday than it had in recent weeks. I had to think about the top of the rankings for some time Sunday night, and the fact that no one can stop the Patriots tipped the scales. In their last three games: nine takeaways, two defensive touchdowns (both Sunday), 47.0 points per game.
2. Houston (9-1). Now for the Three-Game Trip From Heck: at Detroit (Thanksgiving afternoon), at Tennessee (Titans 10-4 in last 14 against Texans), at New England. AFC home-field in the playoffs on the line.
3. San Francisco (6-2-1). The Niners will be hard-pressed to go 2-0 over the next seven days, with Chicago tonight and the Saints, on a short week, in New Orleans next Sunday.
4. Green Bay (7-3). Does anyone throw a prettier ball, dropped out of the sky into a postage-stamp hole, than Aaron Rodgers? He did it again on Sunday with the rainbow to Randall Cobb to send the Packers past the Lions.
5. Atlanta (9-1). Sorry, Falcons fans. Just seeing too much out of this team, especially on offense, that I don't like the last couple of weeks.
6. Denver (7-3). The Broncos have won five games in a row. Scored in the 30s five games in a row. Won the five games by an average of 13.6 a game.
7. Baltimore (8-2). Three wins in a row in the game's fiercest rivalry, by 28, 3 and 3 points. Loved the hitting and instincts I saw out of cornerback Corey Graham Sunday night in Pittsburgh.
8. Chicago (7-2). With Jay Cutler under center, they'd be in the 4-5 range of these rankings.
9. New Orleans (5-5). Since Oct. 1, 5-1, with the margin of the five wins at 11 points a game.
10. Pittsburgh (6-4). That was just plain weird, seeing strong-armed (or so we thought) Byron Leftwich wind up, throw bombs downfield, and have them flutter to earth three or five or eight yards short. The Steelers have to survive without Ben Roethlisberger for now, and there's only a one-game cushion over Cincinnati at the moment.
11. Tampa Bay (6-4). Haven't seen that much pure jubilation on a sideline in a long time than what the Bucs showed after winning in overtime at Carolina. Stat line that'll make football traditionalists happy: Doug Martin, 197 carries, 1,000 yards, 5.1 yards per rush, seven touchdowns.
12. Seattle (6-4). On his bye Sunday, Russell Wilson went to church and when he left, he told the minister, "Go Hawks!" He went grocery shopping and told his checkout gal, "Go Hawks!'' He went to ... You get the message. The guy ends most conversations -- with the media and with real people -- with "Go Hawks!''
13. Minnesota (6-4). Strap it on, Vikes. Next three foes are 21-7, and two are on the road.
14. New York Giants (6-4). NFC East gets tighter, and the Giants, on the bye Sunday, aren't playing well. They're a game up on 5-5 Dallas, two up on 4-6 Washington, and the Cowboys and 'Skins play Thanksgiving Day in Arlington. If Dallas wins, the Giants will be playing for the division lead next Sunday at home against Green Bay.
15. Indianapolis (6-4). Thought they were ready to play a shootout game against New England. I thought wrong.
BANKS: COLTS GET SCHOOLED IN FOXBORO, LEARN HARD LESSON
Offensive Players of the Week
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington. The best game of a precocious rookie season: 14 of 15, 200 yards passing, four touchdowns, no picks; 12 rushes, 84 yards, in the 31-6 rout of the Eagles. I talked to a long-time NFC East executive Sunday night, and he said: "I am not happy this guy's in our division for the next 15 years. In fact, I'm pissed." And this from Santana Moss, who made one of the touchdown catches, a spectacular one: "Robert's going to go out there and keep being special. He ignites our fire.''
Andre Johnson, wide receiver, Houston. With 14 catches, 273 yards and the game-winning touchdown, Johnson had the game of a lifetime. He told me it was the best game of his starry NFL career. The Texans escaped with an overtime win that never should have been this tough. Well, it wouldn't have been possible without the tough catches and the long runs of Johnson.
Defensive Players of the Week
John Abraham, DE, Atlanta. One of these days -- I have no idea when -- he'll start playing like his age, 34. He still sprints around end as though he's a decade younger. With the Falcons in a 13-3 hole in the second quarter Sunday, Abraham went careening around right end, caving in the tackle, and strip-sacked rookie QB Ryan Lindley just as he was about to throw.
Von Miller, OLB, Denver. He could win this every week. Another ridiculous game in the division-defining win over San Diego, with three sacks and two forced fumbles. With 24.5 sacks in his first 25 NFL games, he's approaching Lawrence Taylor/Derrick Thomas impact ... and he's only 23.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Julian Edelman, WR/PR, New England. Weaving and sprinting and feinting his way through the Colts' punt team, Edelman, with the Patriots trailing early in what appeared destined to be a shootout, took an Indy punt 68 yards for a second-quarter touchdown. Just because it didn't turn out to be a shootout doesn't negate the beauty of Edelman's return.
Leodis McKelvin, CB/PR, Buffalo. McKelvin's name gets lost in the great return men of this era. It shouldn't. Since entering the league four years ago, McKelvin has had touchdowns on a kickoff return (98 yards) and three punt returns (80, 88 and 79 yards), and that last one came the first time a Bills player touched the ball Thursday night. It was a put-it-in-overdrive, Wile E. Coyote breakneck sprint up the left sideline, through the Dolphins defense, and it was the Bills' lone touchdown of the night -- vital to a 19-14 Buffalo victory.
Janoris Jenkins, CB, St. Louis. For his sprinting-around-the-corner, full-extension, perfectly timed block of a Jets' chip-shot field goal attempt. As pretty a blocked field goal as you'll ever see.
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.
Sebastian Vollmer, tackle, New England. Having a great season protecting Tom Brady's front side, Vollmer allowed but one quarterback pressure in 35 Brady pass-drops, and he pushed the pile for a 4.6-yard rushing average in the run game. There's little question that Vollmer has turned into one of the most valuable Patriots. His ability to play against speed-rushers on the outside and power guys on the inside has made him one of the best right tackles in the game in only his fourth year as a pro.
Coach of the Week
Jerry Rosburg, special teams coordinator, Baltimore. A special teams coach has to invent a new core every year, and Rosburg showed his value again Sunday night in Pittsburgh. The punt return he coaches produced the only Ravens touchdown of the game -- a 63-year cannon-shot by the quick and fast Jacoby Jones -- and it's the third return touchdown by Jones of the season. Rosburg has also had to wean the Ravens from a veteran kicker to rookie (Billy Cundiff to Justin Tucker), while improving the overall play of the kicking game, which last year was a sore spot.
Goat of the Week
Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis. The mantra around the Colts all week, entering their game at explosive New England, was they couldn't turn it over. Give the Patriots any freebies, and the Colts had no shot. We can debate whether it really would have mattered in New England's 59-24 win, but let's be honest here: Luck handed it over four times, leading to 21 New England points. Let's say he converts two of those four into Indy touchdowns. Is it so far-fetched that the Colts would have been in the game late, say, behind 45-38 as the clock wound down? All we do know is that because the Patriots returned two of their three picks off Luck for scores and turned a fumble into a touchdown drive, this game was never much of a game from the middle of the third quarter on.
"At this point, talking about the playoffs seems inappropriate."
-- San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, after the Chargers fell three games behind Denver Sunday with their second loss of the season to the Broncos.
Even if the Chargers go 6-0 down the stretch, Denver would have to go 2-4 or worse for San Diego to win the division.
"In the locker room after the game, the way they were just dancing around and acting. The enthusiasm is so raw. It's just awesome. They are so passionate ... I just love the college game. I love the pageantry. I loved that both teams were in their home uniforms. I thought that was so awesome. I just got a kick out of watching their student body and our student body. I can't wait to hug my mom, shake my dad's hand and kiss my kids."
-- First-year UCLA coach Jim Mora, after his Bruins beat USC 38-28 in the battle for Los Angeles Saturday at the Rose Bowl. Last year, USC beat UCLA 50-0, paving the way for UCLA to make a coaching change and hire the fiery Mora, who felt he was unfairly and precipitously fired as an NFL head coach in Atlanta and Seattle.
"That's the old rule number one you never do. You're in your 15th year, and you kind of just say, 'Who gives a ----.''
-- Peyton Manning, miked by NFL Films for NFL Network's SoundFX show, running off the field after throwing a pass across his body, rolling right and throwing left, hitting Brandon Stokley for a touchdown against Carolina eight days ago.
Manning sounded like a coach often in the miking, gathering his offensive mates at one point and barking: "Let's address this now, so we don't do it at the end of the game and say, 'This is what went wrong.' We've made mental errors on every single play. I don't have to review 'em, right? There's not one thing they've done to stop us, right? Do our jobs better, and we'll execute. All right? Let's go. Hone in."
Shawne Merriman, who had his first sack of the season Thursday night for Buffalo, averaged 13.2 sacks per year in his first three NFL seasons. He's averaged 1.2 sacks per year in his last five seasons.
The quarterback coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Clyde Christensen, has tutored Peyton Manning and now Andrew Luck, but he has been around defensive greatness in his life too. For two years in college, when he was a backup quarterback at the University of North Carolina, he roomed with Lawrence Taylor in a Chapel Hill dorm.
Three of them:
• Nov. 14. Step on the Hertz bus at O'Hare. Andy Williams and a chorus are warbling. "Ding dong, ding dong ... It's the most wonderful time of the year ... '' Christmas carols eight days before Thanksgiving. Why, America? Why?
• Ten-letter billboard, huge, on I-65 south on the drive to Indianapolis, somewhere around Valparaiso: "HELL IS REAL." Yikes!
And this: There's a Starbucks in downtown Indy, on the circle surrounding the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, and I pulled up behind an Indianapolis police officer in front of it, put my flashers on, and ran in to get coffee. On my way out, five minutes later, the officer rolls down his window and says to me, "That your car?''
"Yes,'' I said.
"Need your driver's license,'' he said. "I can't believe you did that, right behind a cop. You parked in front of the hydrant.''
"My God, I never saw it,'' I said. "What an idiot I am."
He took my license, wrote out the ticket, handed it to me, and I said, "Sorry.'' I got in the car, and as I got set to leave, the officer got out of his car and gave me the stop sign, walking to the passenger window. I rolled it down.
"Give me that ticket,'' he said. "You were just in there for a couple minutes.''
"No, I did it,'' I said. "It's OK. My fault.''
And I started to realize: This man is about to rip up a ticket, for whatever reason, and I'm trying to argue him out of it?
Play idiot much?
Officer: "No, I'll take it. Just come back and see us. Say nice things about our city."
Me: "Hey, thanks a lot."
Say nice things about Indy, the greatest city on the face of the earth, kind sir? Sure thing!
"Rivers is to turnovers what an ATM is to cash ... just keeps giving it away."
-- @wingoz, ESPN anchor Trey Wingo, watching San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers give the Broncos opportunities in Denver.
"Good job today #NYJETS for beating up on Shotty n the #RAMS''
-- @santonio10, injured Jets wideout Santonio Holmes, who watched the Jets' road win against St. Louis and Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer (last year's Jets' OC) from home.
"Sanchez lookin good! Don't let me see 15 back on the field ..."
-- @RealJoeNamath, watching Jets-Rams after an ineffective running play by No. 15, Tim Tebow, in the first half.
"Anonymous Jets: Mother Teresa "terrible."
-- @NYPost_Serby, columnist Steve Serby, who's good for one of these per week. Or more.
"I'm sick about this crap. Philly is my home. I feel like I'm letting my family down"
-- @BrentCelek, the Eagles tight end, after Philadelphia's sixth straight loss, the first six-game losing streak of the Andy Reid Era.
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 11:
a. Kyle Williams and Jairus Byrd. Two Bills who never give up.
b. A.J. Green on end-zone fades. He can catch 'em one-handed, in a physical mismatch, whatever.
c. I was totally wrong about Nick Folk. I thought he should have been cut in camp, but he continues to kick well, as he did with a 51-yard field goal in the first quarter at St. Louis.
d. Phil Dawson -- with his fifth 50-yard-plus field goal of the season Sunday in Dallas -- now has a comfortable lead as the NFL's 2012 All-Pro kicker.
e. Justin Blackmon, with a preview of the future if Jacksonville ever gets a quarterback worthy of him, with a 63-yard catch.
f. Good pursuit of Tony Romo, Juqua Parker. Good-looking Cleveland D in The House That Jerry Built.
g. Arian Foster's in-traffic cuts. Things of beauty. How'd this man not get drafted?
h. Rip the Jets for some bad draft picks if you will, but Muhammad Wilkerson (first round, 2011) is not one of them. Second straight week with a big play in the opponents' backfield, this time a strip of Sam Bradford that helped turn the tide in the Jets' win.
i. Dezman Moses, with a great strip of a scrambling Matthew Stafford.
j. Running back on the all-underrated team from Sunday: LaRod Stephens-Howling.
k. When you beat Joe Thomas for a sack, that's one you put in your career time capsule, DeMarcus Ware.
l. A major-league goal-line stoning of Jags running back Jalen Parmele by Houston inside linebacker Bradie James.
m. Play of the Day: The catch by Santana Moss with two Eagles all over him, turned into a touchdown.
n. You're not going to defend a fake-punt play better than Tampa Bay special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky did at Carolina Sunday. The Bucs acted like it was their call, not the Panthers', and sniffed it out easily.
o. You go, Aqib Talib. Great pick. Instinctive 59-yard return for touchdown.
p. You too, Alfonzo Dennard. What a return off Andrew Luck.
q. Great free agent acquisition for San Diego, wideout Danario Alexander.
r. Just my imagination, or does Malcolm Jenkins make a huge defensive play in every New Orleans game -- as he did with an interception returned for TD in Oakland?
2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 11:
a. Announcers who say "Tanney-hill.'' There's no "y'' in the man's name. Short "e'' in Tannehill.
b. Jets defense on 4th-and-goal in the first quarter. Two receivers uncovered in the end zone? Who designed that brilliance?
c. Nick Foles. Lord, what a nightmare for the Eagles.
d. Ryan Lindley was worse. Significantly.
e. Come on, Eagles safeties. That's Aldrick Robinson we're talking about, scoring a touchdown, wide open, on you and your mates.
f. The Arizona tackles. They're going to get people fired on that team.
g. Are you kidding, Dez Bryant? Tiptoeing out of bounds a yard short of a first down with your team down 10-0?
h. Great FOX graphic 26 minutes into Cards-Falcons. "Passing yards: Atlanta 141, Arizona 1."
i. Armanti Edwards wide open on a corner route in the end zone for Carolina. Cam Newton throwing it three yards over his head. There aren't many times when a receiver's that open in the end zone, and when he is, a good quarterback has to hit him.
j. The ridiculous non-booth-review in Carolina just before the half, when Tampa receiver Mike Williams didn't complete the act of a catch, the ball was plucked out of the air by a Panthers defender, and no replay review was initiated from the booth. Williams didn't catch it, and it probably wasn't an interception, but that's a play that has to be reviewed. It certainly was not a catch by Williams, which was the ruling on the field.
k. Michael Turner, who looks like he's running with cement shoes.
l. Tough, tough luck for Brandon Meriweather, who appeared to rip up his knee, not touched, against Philadelphia.
m. Onside kicks aren't supposed to travel 22 yards, Dan Bailey.
n. Please explain that performance against Jacksonville, men of Bum Phillips.
o. Patriots fans booing Adam Vinatieri. You kidding me? Your team chose not to sign him when he got too expensive. He saved your bacon in gigantic playoff game after gigantic playoff game. Stop it. Just stop it.
p. Preview of what I won't like about Week 12? Panthers-Eagles. Monday night. Combined record: 5-15. Start your Jon Gruden coaching rumors early, folks.
3. I think I know what it feels like to be Emmett C. Burns now. He's the Maryland state legislator who criticized the Ravens' Brendon Ayanbadejo for his support of same-sex marriage. Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, justifiably in my opinion, all but firebombed Burns in his blog and in a piece for Deadspin.
The other day on Deadspin, Kluwe ripped the 44 voters for Pro Football Hall of Fame in the kind of piece I thought was reserved for mass murderers, all because we haven't elected Ray Guy to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The voters, Kluwe said, were "indolent cows'' guilty of "heartless effrontery,'' were "selfish, short-sighted, too g-------- lazy to learn the subtleties of kicking,'' "indolent, slothful, petulant, ignorant and flat-out stupid,'' "small-minded,'' "UNWILLING TO LEARN'' (all caps).
Added Kluwe: "This is a player who pinned opposing offenses back inside their 20-yard line instead of simply booting a touchback, winning the battle of field position before anyone realized there was even a fight." And he bleated to the selectors: "How dare you tell a man who devoted his life to perfecting his craft that he's not worthy of admission among the game's greatest?'' A few points from this one lazy cow:
• Re the gall we have for not enshrining a man "who devoted his life to perfecting his craft:" Nowhere in the bylaws of the Pro Football Hall of Fame does it ask selectors to make hard work and endless dedication the key elements for induction. If so, Lawrence Taylor wouldn't be in and Reggie Williams would. Taylor wasn't much for practice, but he showed up on Sunday and played great. Williams, the longtime Bengals linebacker, was one of the hardest workers in any walk of life I've ever seen. A nice player, but no one would mistake him for a Hall of Famer. Did Ray Guy work harder than Dave Jennings or Tom Blanchard or Reggie Roby? No clue. Nor does it matter.
• Re Guy pinning opponents back so consistently: In the 11 years Guy played that stats were kept on punts inside the 20-yard line, he had 210 such punts, an average of 19.1 per season. In two of those years, there were 14 games played, and in another year, because of a strike, there were nine games played. So it's not exactly apples to apples to compare his number to those recorded by today's punters -- and, certainly, there's more emphasis on dropping balls inside the 20 now. But last year, 13 punters had 25 or more punts land inside the 20; in 2010, 16 punters had at least 25 punts inside the 20. I'm not convinced 19 punts a year inside the 20 is special, in that day or this one.
• Kluwe points out that Guy never had a punt returned for a touchdown. That is a tremendous accomplishment. Give Guy credit.
• I'll remind you, Kluwe, of something you forgot to mention because it didn't fit your plotline: Gross punting average is not the only important stat for punters, to be sure. But it's how history judges punters, the same way batting average judges hitters. It may not be the best judge, but can you say it's meaningless? Ray Guy's career gross punting average is 42.4 yards, good for a 78th-place tie on the all-time list.
• I've always wondered why no one ever asks with the same intensity as is done for Guy, "Why isn't Jerrel Wilson in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?'' Maybe it's because he didn't hit the gondola in the Superdome with a punt once, as Guy did, according to legend. I don't know why else Wilson and Guy wouldn't be discussed with the same fervor. Wilson played 217 games, mostly for Kansas City. Guy played 207, all for Oakland. Wilson out-averaged Guy, 43.0 to 42.4. Each won three punting titles, Wilson with averages of 44.8, 44.8 and 45.5, Guy with averages of 42.2, 43.8 and 43.3. (Wilson also won two American Football League punting titles before Guy was a pro.)
• As for the future of punters in the Hall of Fame -- of course, there are none now -- I'm open to one or more being in. I think Shane Lechler's body of work will be worthy of discussion for Canton someday; no one who punted for at least a decade is closer than two-and-a-half yards to Lechler's 47.6-yard career average. I think, as far as kickers go, Adam Vinatieri has a very strong case because of his string of clutch playoff kicks over the past 11 years.
So don't think I won't vote for a punter or kicker (if I'm still on the committee). I believe in special teams' impact on the game; I have long supported Steve Tasker's case, because I believe he's the best special teams player in NFL history, and special teams is worthy of being represented in the Hall.
I'm all for a healthy debate on all subjects Hall of Fame, which you know if you read this column and follow me on Twitter. I like to consider all angles, and not just the incendiary ones. We're not out to get punters. We're out to be fair. Kluwe doesn't think we are, and if he can present further evidence to show me I'm wrong, I'll listen.
Finally, I'm disappointed in Kluwe. I like him. He's the kind of independent voice football, and all of sports, needs. His column in Deadspin is beyond mean-spirited things. It's the kind of thing you'd pen to read at the trial of the men who dismembered your mother with an ax.
I'm open to hear your thoughts on all of it. I'll print some of the best emails in my Tuesday column.
4. I think ref Bill Vinovich made a tremendous call in Atlanta. With Cards quarterback Ryan Lindley back to throw, Falcons defensive end John Abraham stripped Lindley of the ball with Lindley's arm extended back. Very, very close whether Lindley was in the act of throwing or simply had the ball up in the air, verging on throwing. The ball bounced away, and the Falcons picked it up and ran it back for a touchdown, and there was no whistle, and the touchdown was ruled. Reviewed by replay, the call stood. Perfect call by Vinovich, and good job by the crew in not blowing a whistle when everyone was standing around before it got picked up.
5. I think, speaking of officiating, I'd like to ask the NFL one thing: You mean Tony Corrente gets a $9,000 fine for accidentally cursing on an open mike, and replay officials Bob Boylston gets nothing for blowing a touchdown call in Carolina-Denver? Bad, bad precedent set there. If I were Tony Corrente, I'd be appealing that $9,000 fine. And I am fairly sure he'll get some, or all, of that fine back. Deservedly.
6. I think Cam Newton is playing nothing like an entertainer or an icon, though his defense didn't help him down the stretch in the loss to Tampa Bay, allowing four long drives in the last 25 minutes of the game.
7. I think Atlanta's Mike Smith is too good of a coach to have thrown a replay-challenge flag after a turnover ... and he's lucky it didn't cost him in a big way. In the third quarter of the Arizona-Atlanta game, Cardinals safety Greg Toler made an incredible save of a fumble going out of bounds, batting it back in the field of play so a teammate could recover the fumble. Smith thought Toler has stepped out of bounds. So he threw the challenge flag to appeal the call. But the NFL has instituted automatic reviews on all turnovers, with an odd rule attached: If a coach throws the challenge flag on a turnover before the review has begun, the coach gets a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty, and the replay-review is negated. If the officials on the field have already been buzzed, notifying them a review must take place on the field, there is a penalty but the review goes on. Because this review hadn't started, Smith got the 15-yard flag and had the review negated. Arizona couldn't take advantage of Atlanta's error, though, and the Falcons won the game. Still, it's a pretty easy call -- on a turnover or scoring play, keep the flag in your pocket.
8. I think I am so, so sick of the debate over elite quarterbacks. How meaningless is this stupid debate about who is elite and how many quarterbacks should be in the elite category? Every time I hear another question asked about elite quarterbacks I want to stick my finger down my throat.
9. I think, and I've got my NBC hat on here, you'll enjoy Cris Collinsworth's idea on the Thursday night Pats-Jets game on NBC. John Madden's going to introduce the game, focusing on his Thanksgiving tradition of football, family and food, and NBC, which has a Thursday night game for the next decade, will inaugurate the John Madden Thanksgiving Player of the Game. Collinsworth's idea, executed by game telecast director Drew Esocoff. I'm looking forward to seeing Madden's ode to turkey and football.
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. Congrats to Cornell wideout Luke Tasker, son of Steve, for a great senior year at Cornell: 75 catches, 1,207 yards, 16.1-yard average. Chip off the old special teamer.
b. Personal college football note of the week: Take a bow, Dick Ebersol. You're the one who always believed Notre Dame could get back to the top of college football.
c. No Matt Barkley Saturday ... I mean, how can Notre Dame not play Alabama for the national title in a month and a half?
d. Good luck editing the Washington Post to my old neighbor in Boston, Marty Baron. Very good newspaper man.
e. Great line: "I don't know who deserves more blame: Western Carolina for taking the money, or Alabama for scheduling Western Carolina." That's from NBC studio host Jimmy Roberts, showing highlights of the game between national power Alabama and one of the worst teams in the NCAA FCS, formerly NCAA I-AA, Western Carolina.
At the time the highlights were shown, Alabama had possessed the ball five times and had a 35-0 lead; the final score was 49-0. Roberts also had one of the best stats I heard all weekend: In its last 27 games, Western Carolina is 2-0 against 1,200-student Mars Hill (N.C.) and 0-25 against all other teams. Western Carolina got a check for $475,000 for playing the game Saturday.
f. Welcome to the world, Asa Cormier. You've got a good big sister and a couple of great parents. They'll never lead you astray.
g. Coffeenerdness: Woman in the Indianapolis Airport Friday, in front of me in line at the Starbucks in the rotunda/lobby before the security gates, was just finishing some kind of frappucino, a huge one, and got to the front of the line. "Grande pumpkin spice latte, with four extra shots.'' So ... you've finished a 16-ounce frap, loaded with caffeine, and now you're getting a pumpkin drink, which normally has two shots of espresso, and now you're getting six shots. Wow. I wonder if she's been to sleep since.
h. Beernerdness: Had the pleasure of the Strand Brewing Company's (Torrance, Cal.) 24th Street Pale Ale, a tan ale, filled with malt. Bitter, but a very easy drink. Liked it a lot.
i. All this talk about Twinkies makes me want one. Like, now.
j. Glad to see you're feeling better, Mike Ditka. Football's not the same without you.
Fatsis has written an enlightening piece for Slate on why young children shouldn't be allowed to play tackle football, and wherever you fall on this issue, it's well worth your time to read. Of all the great lessons football teaches, I have to say I agree with Fatsis: I think there are too many dangers in allowing young children whose brains are still in their formative stages to play tackle football. If I had a son, I would wait until he was 14 or 15 before allowing him to play tackle football.
Fatsis quotes NFL head-trauma adviser Dr. Robert Cantu as saying he's proposed to ban tackle football until kids are 14. Writes Fatsis: " 'Youngsters are not miniature adults,' Cantu said. For starters, he explained, their brains are not fully myelinated, meaning their nerve cells lack the complete coating that offers protection. That makes them more susceptible to concussions and means they recover more slowly from them than adults. Cantu said children have big heads relative to the rest of their bodies and weak necks, creating a 'bobblehead-doll effect' that elevates the risk of concussion. They typically play in the oldest equipment, with the least educated coaches, and with little or no available medical care.''
Football wouldn't likely die if kids didn't play until they were in high school, or if only flag football were allowed at an earlier age. Just a couple of weeks ago, I spoke with the man who might be the Offensive Rookie of the Year this season, Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin. He never played a football game 'til he got to high school. The point about the future of football that I think everyone should realize is this: All options are on the table.
Now, for San Francisco 17, Chicago 13 tonight at Candlestick. It's likely I would have picked the 49ers if Jay Cutler were healthy as a mule. But with an Alex Smith-Jason Campbell matchup, I'd be very surprised if Chicago could muster enough offense to win. Not because at his peak Campbell isn't a good enough player to win a shootout against Alex Smith; but because Campbell has practiced with the first unit of the Bears for exactly four full days of his life. It's hard to go up against a defense of San Francisco's pedigree and pressure if you've only been practicing with the guys you'll be playing with for a week.
So no more Twinkies.No! Oh the humanity!I'll miss Ding Dongs too.