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Crennel, Quinn open up on Chiefs' inspired win through heavy hearts

On Sunday morning, I was talking to Joe Linta, the agent for the late Jovan Belcher, about the state of mind that might have made the Chiefs linebacker shoot his live-in girlfriend nine times with his own mother in the house and then, less than an hour later at the Chiefs' training facility, put the same gun to his head and pull the trigger.

"In this crazy state of mind he must have been in,'' Linta said, "I truly believe he didn't go to the facility to make a spectacle of himself, or to do anything like Columbine. If you knew the kid, you knew how grateful he was for what he'd been given, with the chance to play in the NFL. I believe he went there for one reason -- to thank them. To thank Scott Pioli and Romeo Crennel for helping make his dream of being an NFL player come true.''

Could it be true? Could Jovan Belcher, the undrafted kid from Maine signed by Pioli in his rookie season as general manager in 2009, really have had the presence of mind to go to the Arrowhead complex with one overriding intention? To thank the man who signed him and the men who coached him up, head coach Romeo Crennel and defensive coordinator Gary Gibbs? To thank them as the last act of an underdog life gone terribly bad?

Linta didn't know how right he was.

***

In the fall of 2008, Joe Linta, who fancied himself a scout as much as an agent, watched some tape of an all-conference defensive end from Maine who'd come highly recommended by the coaching staff. Linta has some big clients -- Joe Flacco for one -- but he reps the lesser guys, low-round picks and college free agents. And he thought this ball of energy, Jovan Belcher, would work out well for teams and either be a late-round pick or find his way into someone's camp as a low-bonus free agent.

"In the undrafted free agent business,'' Linta said, "you've got to act quickly. The biggest word in that business is 'next.' If you wait even a few minutes, the team you think is the best fit is just going to move on to the next kid. It's like the commodities trading pit. I had a long relationship with Scott [Pioli] going back to his days with the Patriots, signing free agents there, and there was a trust built up. I didn't have many teams interested, but I knew Scott was interested. Jovan had the traits Scott wanted to build his team with: tough, smart, played hard, kept his mouth shut, exuded 'team.' Scott told me, 'Joe, I like this kid. I think he has a chance.' I wasn't getting much action on him the night the draft ended, and Scott was interested, so he signed with the Chiefs. In a way, because of my relationship with Scott, Jovan almost went in there as a teacher's pet.''

Belcher made the team as a special-teamer and backup inside linebacker. The next year, when Crennel arrived as defensive coordinator, Belcher became a two-down inside linebacker, starting and coming off the field on passing downs. He started 41 of 43 games under Crennel's tutelage, and he played well enough last season to merit a substantial raise: He signed a one-year deal for $1.927 million this offseason.

I have only one recollection of Belcher before Saturday. On a visit to Chiefs camp in 2010, I was going over the roster with Pioli, and he mentioned how Belcher was exactly the kind of player he wanted to build his team around -- a person of character who played hard and who could be trusted off the field. That's the only image I have of Belcher. On Sunday, Crennel told me: "I loved having him around because he sat in the first row in meetings and always paid attention. He was first in line in the drills, a very strong-willed individual. Football was very important to him. He was driven to succeed.''

A hard-trying everyman. Every roster has 20 of them: low-round picks or free agents, fighting to stay in the league, fighting for the big contract, hoping to make enough money to do what Belcher did -- buy a Bentley, lease a home in a prosperous neighborhood, invite his girlfriend to live with him, and welcome their child into the world, which Belcher, 25, and Kasandra Perkins, 22, did this year.

And that, until Saturday morning, is all we knew of Jovan Belcher.

Crennel spoke to me Sunday after the Chiefs game, but he said he didn't want to discuss specifics of what he saw and experienced outside the building. Pioli would not speak either -- to anything. Both men had been debriefed by the police for a lengthy police report, but have not spoken publicly about what happened.

But as I reported on NBC Sunday night, a source close to law enforcement on the scene Saturday told me the story had some differences from the one widely reported over the weekend. When Pioli arrived at the Chiefs' complex around 8 a.m., Belcher had just arrived and was out of his car. Pioli got out of his car and noticed that Belcher was in an agitated state, according to my source. As they spoke, Pioli saw Belcher had a gun. Though Belcher was clearly unstable, the source said Pioli didn't feel threatened because Belcher never pointed the gun at him. Belcher and Pioli were alone in the parking lot, a few yards apart, for several minutes.

(The source did not tell me if Pioli knew exactly what Belcher had done before he arrived, but he said clearly Belcher had shot someone and spoke of the police coming for him soon.)

At one point while the two men were alone in the parking lot, the source said, Belcher said to Pioli: "I came here to tell you thank you. Thank you for my chance. I love you, bro.''

The source said Pioli tried to calm Belcher, but had little success. At one point, Belcher asked Pioli, "Can I talk to Romeo and Gary?'' Crennel and Gibbs, he meant.

Pioli took out his cell phone and called Crennel, asking him to get Gibbs and come outside. (Imagine what Pioli had to be thinking here: I'm calling two of my closest coaching friends to come out into an open parking lot with an unstable man with a gun, who apparently has shot someone, and is impervious to any attempt to calm him down. How dangerous is that?)

Within minutes Gibbs and Crennel appeared. They, too, tried to calm Belcher, to no avail. Belcher thanked them for his NFL opportunity, and he began to walk away from them.

"I wasn't able to reach the young man,'' Crennel said softly over the phone from Kansas City Sunday.

Belcher walked a few steps away, put the gun to his head, and pulled the trigger.

There will be counselors, for players who felt they didn't do enough to recognize Belcher's desperation, and for the three men who witnessed a man killing himself with a gunshot to the head. The counselors, according to one grief counselor I spoke with Sunday, will probably say something like this: Jovan made a decision by himself, having nothing to do with any of you. To Jovan, personal business had to be taken care of, and there was nothing that you could have done, so you can't punish yourself.

***

Now, for better or for worse, the Chiefs made the decision to play Sunday's game against Carolina. I asked Crennel what he said to his team Saturday night.

"Words,'' he said, "there are not many you can say. I just told them, 'What has been done cannot be undone, and we have to live with it. The way to get through it is to lean on each other, lean on your family, lean on your faith.' It's what we do -- we play football, we coach football. And for a couple of hours, we could brush the misery aside and do something we love to do, and maybe that would help us and help the community.''

The fans at the game, Brady Quinn told me, "were amazing. We haven't given them much to cheer this year, but they came out and encouraged us from the minute we came out of the locker room. It was emotional. You just can't thank them enough for making the day OK.''

Then some things started happening that hadn't happened to the Chiefs in this miserable, fire-everyone year. The Chiefs had turned it over a league-high 32 times in their 1-10 start, and here they were, efficient. Touchdown, field goal, touchdown by halftime, and they led the Panthers 17-14 at the break. At one point, Quinn, a career 53 percent passer, completed 14 passes in a row -- the longest consecutive-completion streak of his NFL career. "I don't know what happened,'' said Quinn, a very religious man. "I'd like to think maybe I had some help, somewhere, from No. 59 [Belcher]. But no, I can't explain it.''

Dormant players, disappointing players, woke up. Jonathan Baldwin caught his first touchdown pass of the year. Peyton Hillis ran for his first touchdown of the year. Tony Moeaki caught his first touchdown pass of the year.

A rookie left tackle, Donald Stephenson, in his second start subbing for the injured Branden Albert, held the Panthers' $12-million-a-year defensive end, Charles Johnson, without a sack -- and to just one tackle. A undrafted free agent (like Belcher) free safety, Tysyn Hartman, led the team in tackles with six. Another undrafted free agent (like Belcher) cornerback, Neiko Thorpe, stopped Pro Bowl Carolina receiver Steve Smith twice on the Panthers' desperation last drive.

Watching the game in New York, I noticed safety Eric Berry leave the game in the second quarter, and he was gone until late in the third quarter. When he returned, he had a giant wrap on his hand, like the hand had been casted, and he played the last 20 minutes of the game favoring the hand. I didn't hear a report about it, but with regular secondary players Brandon Flowers and Abram Elam out, the Chiefs couldn't afford to lose Berry -- and they didn't.

On Saturday night, Crennel had told the players to simply focus on the task at hand. Play football for three hours. Concentrate on your job as well as you can.

With five minutes left in the game, the butterfingered, careless Chiefs had zero turnovers and zero penalties. This is the 50th season of the franchise. The Chiefs had never played a game without a turnover and without a penalty. Everything can't be a movie. With 3:36 left, Quinn was called for delay of game. That was it ... 56 minutes without a penalty, and a grand total of one on the day, for five yards.

When it was over -- Kansas City 27, Carolina 21 -- Quinn buried his head on Crennel's shoulder, and they embraced for five or 10 seconds. "I was fighting tears,'' said Quinn. "I just said to Romeo, 'I am so proud of you.' He is a leader of men. To witness something like that, and to get us ready to play a football game, that is what a leader of men does.''

In the locker room, weary Chiefs players didn't know what emotion to have. Crennel told them to be sure to remember the family of Kasandra Perkins. And he told them there would be a long road of healing ahead.

"It's not over yet,'' Crennel said. "For some of us, it will be with us for the rest of our lives."

And now for the rest of the story.

The show went on around the league in Week 13, with a cloud over it. And this is what happened in a league that promises less December drama than usual:

We know 33 percent of the playoff teams. Three division titles were decided on Sunday -- Atlanta winning the NFC South, New England the AFC East (for the ninth time in 10 years) and Denver the AFC West. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning clinched division titles on Dec. 2. Seems like old times. Houston clinched a playoff berth, but not the AFC South title because those pesky Colts lingered within three games of the 11-1 Texans.

The Eagles fired defensive line coach Jim Washburn this morning, and officially lead the league in mayhem. Andy Reid hired journeyman defensive line coach Tommy Brasher, and I wonder what he said to ol' Tommy. Maybe, "Tommy, you've got four weeks, and your players have their bags packed for the offseason already. Good luck." Washburn didn't like the firing of Jason Babin last week and said so internally. But this doesn't matter much. The whole staff will be gone unless owner Jeffrey Lurie has a stunning change of heart -- which the Eagles' fans will not let him have -- after the season, a season with a losing streak that reached eight last night in Dallas.

Tom Brady made history. (I have a feeling I'll be writing that sentence a few more times in my career, and his.) No quarterback until Sunday had ever won 10 division titles in a career. And Brady threw a touchdown pass in his 44th straight game, putting him 10 games from surpassing Drew Brees for a record that's probably treated with more reverence than it deserves, considering how the air is so filled with footballs these days. Stats or no stats, Brady's in the pantheon with the all-time greats, up with his boyhood hero, Joe Montana. How high he goes depends how healthy he stays, because he's said to me and many others he wants to play until he's 40, at least, which means five more seasons. At least. That should be enough time to catch Montana in Super Bowls. The score today: Joe 4, Tom 3.

BANKS: PLAYOFF RACES GETTING REAL IN NFC

Paul Tagliabue moves close to a decision on the Saints' bounty case. Jason La Canfora reported Sunday on CBS that Brad Childress will take a holiday from Browns coaching duties today to testify about what he knew of the bounty case when he coached the Vikings in the January 2010 NFC Championship Game. I get the feeling Tagliabue is rushing to justice (and I'm not implying anything careless about the proceedings, simply that he wants to get the case adjudicated soon) so if Jonathan Vilma has to serve a suspension, it gets served at least in part this season. No one knows which way, if any, Tagliabue is leaning, which is the only proper way for someone attempting to be an impartial arbiter to solve this knotty problem.

Charlie Batch gets the biggest win of his NFL life. And he's going to be sore when he wakes up this morning. "I'll let you know what hurts [Monday],'' Batch, the soon-to-be-38-year-old Pittsburgh passer, said from the team plane last night before Pittsburgh left Baltimore. "I'm kind of aching a little bit right now, in fact.'' Batch twice got creamed late in the fourth quarter as he drove the Steelers to two fourth-quarter scores and a 23-20 stunner of a win. The hit by 345-pound tackle Haloti Ngata seemed the worst, and Batch confirmed it. "I released the ball,'' said Batch, "and it was like a bulldozer hit me. Wow. That hurt. But I didn't hear the crowd, so I figured Mike [Wallace] caught the ball. It was worth it." The win, Batch said, was particularly emotional because, as he said, "I played bad last week, and I just figured Ben would probably come back this week, and maybe that's the last game I ever start in the NFL. To have one more chance, and to have it be a win over Baltimore, in Baltimore, it can't be much better.''

Art Modell gains in the preliminary Hall of Fame voting. Last year, when the list of 25 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's class of 2012 was announced, Modell's name wasn't on it. This year it is, along with another another contributor rebound candidate, former GM George Young. This year's list has 27 names on it because of a tie for 25th, and it just makes it tougher for any candidate to be elected. The 44 Hall selectors now vote for their final 15 names, and those 15 will be discussed, along with the two senior nominees, in New Orleans the day before the Super Bowl. A maximum of five modern-era candidates can be elected, which means Modell, who died in September, has to make the cut to 15, then has to survive hours of debate in the meeting to make the final five. On the bright side for Modell is the fact that there may be no lock candidates this year, and he'd be helped by a muddied pool.

Finally, this piece of wisdom from one of Sunday's heroes. Brady Quinn, drafted by the Browns in 2007, hasn't had a lot of great moments in the NFL. In fact, he hasn't had a lot of good ones. But yesterday was a great day for Quinn, and for his Chiefs. He was the most mature adult in the room -- the room being the entire NFL -- in Week 13 when he eloquently used his post-game platform to address the larger society and how it may have failed Jovan Belcher. "When you ask someone how they are doing, do you really mean it? When you answer someone back how you are doing, are you really telling the truth? We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and that's fine, but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have right in front of us. Hopefully, people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis."

That, folks, is the best message I can leave you with today.

***

The Adderall Effect

To understand the addictive effects of some performance-enhancing drugs, and the fact that the NFL is about to set a record for PED suspensions this season, here's how the NFL's program for banned substances works.

The NFL tests separately for performance-enhancing drugs, including steroids, and for other banned substances, like recreational drugs. The threshold for punishment is far different too.

PEDs, including steroids: Every player is tested some time during training camp or preseason game weeks. Then 10 players per team, per week are tested randomly as long as a team's season lasts. The first positive test for a player results in a four-game suspension and loss of salary for those four weeks. A second positive test means a year ban with no pay.

Other recreational drugs: Every player is tested annually between April and August. If a player tests negative, that's his only test of the year. If he tests positive, he enters the substance-abuse program and can be tested up to 10 times a month, randomly, for the next two years. A second positive test results in no suspension but a fine equaling four game checks. A third positive test results in a four-game suspension without pay. A fourth positive test means a year ban without pay -- and the player must apply to be reinstated to the league.

NFL statistics show a remarkable rise in suspensions for PEDs: 21 in 2012, and that number doesn't include the two pending cases of Seattle cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, reportedly for positive Adderall tests. That would bring the number to 23. (I doubt they will win their appeals, because of the rigorous process for erasing positive tests, which is nearly double the 12 PED suspensions in 2011.) "We have probably seen an increase in the improper use of Adderall,'' said the NFL's senior vice president of labor policy and player development, Adolpho Birch. "It is probably more of a societal problem now.''

"Probably'' is an understatement. "Adderall has become a problem in the high schools,'' said Dr. Leah Lagos, a sports psychologist who has consulted for several NFL teams, worked at seven NFL Scouting Combines and worked at Rutgers with athletes. "The kids are taking it to sharpen their focus and for recall on the SATs and big tests. And parents don't understand this is a highly addictive drug that changes the chemistry of the brain. It's not an Advil."

A friend at NBC, a young producer, told me his four freshman-year college roommates all took Adderall before tests and to focus while studying, even though none had prescriptions to do so.

Adderall has been prescribed for about the last 10 years to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD, or ADD), because it calms a hyperactive person and allows the person to better focus on the task at hand. Used by people without ADHD, it acts as a stimulant or amphetamine that can make a player feel, as one told me last week, "super-caffeinated and incredibly focused'' during games, practices or workouts. "It's the type of drug,'' Birch said, "that from a performance-enhancing standpoint, if Player A is using it, it will compel Player B to use it because of the advantage it is.''

"I feel very strongly it should be on the banned list,'' said Lagos, "and not only because of the competitive advantages it can have, but because of the addictive problems that come with it. The overuse of it can lead to terrible problems. It can mimic the effects of schizophrenia in some cases, with the psychoses that come with it -- like feeling ants crawling under your skin.''

Final point: The NFL allows for players to take prescriptions drugs like Adderall, but only after completing an arduous application process called the Therapeutic Use Exemption. "It's an understatement to say it's rigorous,'' said Birch. "Adderall is being over-prescribed in society. If a player comes to us with a prescription for Adderall, we would look at the medical history of the player, how he was diagnosed, whether there is a management plan associated with its use. Just because the player has a prescription doesn't mean it's going to get you over the hump with us."

***

I'll be at FedEx Field tonight for the Giants-Washington game. I've got a good Sunday conversation with Russell Wilson in my notebook, and I plan to write about the rookie quarterback class for my mailbag Tuesday ... that is, unless something else in the league intercedes.

Each week, thanks to play-by-play game dissection by ProFootballFocus.com, I'll look at one important matchup or individual performance metric.

This week is a little different. I noticed that Jovan Belcher played only three defensive snaps in Week 12 against Denver in his first non-starting game of the season; he'd averaged 34 snaps a game on defense prior to last Sunday. So after the murder-suicide that took the lives of Belcher and his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins, I asked PFF.com czar Neil Hornsby to analyze just what kind of player Belcher, an undrafted free agent from the University of Maine in 2009, was.

Hornsby's report:

"Perhaps the first thing to explain is why Belcher only got three snaps last week when he'd averaged playing 56 percent of the defensive downs prior to the game against Denver. That number fell off a cliff against Peyton Manning's Broncos. But the three snaps on defense with Belcher were based on the scheme the Chiefs chose to employ to combat Manning -- a dime (six defensive backs) defense on all but those three plays, meaning Belcher wouldn't be in the game on those plays.

"In Kansas City's base 3-4 defense, Belcher was the inside linebacker playing alongside Derrick Johnson, and in that package he was one of only two players (the other being Eric Berry) to be in on every one of the 318 plays it was employed. However, he was also the first one off the field when the Chiefs went to their sub-packages. They rarely use nickel (only five times all year), so for passing downs their package of choice is 2-3-6 with Belcher being the odd man out among the linebackers.

"While he lacked the ability to be an effective coverage guy, Belcher, in his two-down role, looked to have settled nicely into his job and was playing the best football of his career. His Week 4 performance against the Chargers was probably his finest game, as he led the team with nine solo tackles, six of which were "stops" (a tackle considered a loss for the offense) and rightly took his place in our "PFF Team of the Week."

"He was at his best coming forward, a run-stuffing defender with the ability to take on and beat guards. Perhaps the best examples of his skill set from this year came in Week 5 against the Ravens, with 12:19 remaining in the first quarter, getting inside top guard Marshal Yanda to make the tackle on Ray Rice for no gain; and in Week 8, at home to the Raiders, getting outside veteran guard Cooper Carlisle to take down Darren McFadden for a loss.

"When I told my wife, who works as a grief counselor, she became visibly emotional at the incomprehensible nature of it all. Needless to say, the thoughts and best wishes of myself and everyone at PFF goes out to the Belcher and Perkins families, and to the Chiefs."

1. New England (9-3). What a schedule over the next two months, of games scheduled and not (yet) scheduled. Tick ... tick ... tick.

2. Houston (11-1). Just seven days until Texans-Pats, Monday-nighter, Foxboro.

3. San Francisco (8-3-1). Just 13 days until Niners-Pats, Sunday-nighter, Foxboro.

4. Denver (9-3). Just 48 days until Broncos-Pats, AFC Championship Game, Foxboro.

5. Atlanta (11-1). Just 62 days until Falcons-Pats, Super Bowl XLVII, New Orleans.

(OK! I hear you! Time to stop the stupid Patriots schtick!)

6. New York Giants (7-4). If you're a Giants' fan, and you see "Jason Pierre-Paul, DNP (back),'' meaning Pierre-Paul didn't practice Saturday because his back flared up prior to a game against Robert Griffin III, all of a sudden you take back the house money you wagered on your G-Men and you think: Maybe I should watch the game tonight for entertainment reasons only.

7. Pittsburgh (7-5). In the immortal words of the most famous sportscaster in the history of Mason, Ohio, "You cannot stop Charlie Batch. You can only hope to contain him."

8. Green Bay (8-4). Randall Cobb and James Jones: 108 catches, 16 touchdowns. Did you honestly think Aaron Rodgers' fourth and fifth options in his passing game this season would be that good?

9. Baltimore (9-3). Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron wouldn't like to meet the Twitter followers of mine who are Ravens fans. Let's just say they were a tad upset that Cameron called 37 pass plays and 12 Ray Rice rushes in Sunday's loss to the Steelers.

10. Seattle (7-5). Seattle will win the sixth playoff seed in the NFC, and maybe the fifth, by winning three of four down the stretch against a schedule that has 3-1 possibilities: Arizona, at Buffalo, San Francisco, St. Louis. Three of the last four in the din of CenturyLink Field. I like the Seahawks' chances.

11. Chicago (8-4). Tied with Pack atop the NFC North, but Green Bay has an edge because of a head-to-head victory in Week 2, and because the Bears have three of the last four on the road.

12. Cincinnati (7-5). Just saying you don't want to be playing the Bengals right now. Three straight wins by an average of 21 entering the game at San Diego Sunday, then a 16-play, 99-yard drive to open that game, taking half of the first quarter. They can play defense, and they have a variety of ways to score.

13. Tampa Bay (6-6). Bucs will need a lot of help to make the playoffs because of Seattle's win at Soldier Field Sunday.

14. Indianapolis (8-4). Andrew Luck threw a 42-yard touchdown strike while being tackled from behind in Detroit -- 42 yards from where he threw the ball to where LaVon Brazil caught it in the end zone. Luck makes some bad throws sometimes, but he's resilient and cold-blooded.

15. Washington (5-6). I repeat my stat from Friday's column: Robert Griffin III has converted four of 44 3rd-and-8 or longer opportunities this season. Wonder why the Giants have stressed frustrating Griffin on first and second downs leading up to tonight's game?

Offensive Players of the Week

I'm sorry. Really. I don't mean to waffle, but there were five performances so tremendous on offense that I have to acknowledge all of them.

Charlie Batch, QB, Pittsburgh. Batch, who turns 38 Wednesday, got the biggest win of his NFL career in perhaps the last start of his NFL career, beating the Ravens in Baltimore behind a patchwork offensive line and breaking the Ravens' 15-game home winning streak. "Nobody outside our locker room thought we had a prayer of doing this,'' Batch told me from Baltimore afterward. No kidding. You lost to Cleveland last week. This week, Batch was a cool 25 of 36 for 276 chain-moving yards and led the Steelers to 10 points in the last nine minutes to win.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota. I know the Vikes lost, but this was one of the top five performances of one of the great careers of this era. Peterson ran 21 times for 210 yards at Lambeau Field, including a sprinting-then-grueling 82-yard touchdown run around and through the Green Bay defense.

Brady Quinn, QB, Kansas City. Nice guys finish first. At least on a day they should have. Quinn at one point was 14 of 16 on his way to a 19-of-23 day with two touchdowns and no picks in Kansas City's heavy-hearted 27-21 win over the Panthers.

Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle. Drove his team 94 yards in nine plays for a second-quarter touchdown. Drove his team 97 yards in 12 plays for the go-ahead touchdown near the end of regulation. Drove his team 80 yards in 12 plays for the winning touchdown in overtime. On the road, at Soldier Field, against the Bears. When's the last time an Urlacher team allowed drives as long as 94, 97 and 80 yards for touchdowns in a game? To a rookie quarterback?

Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis. I watched a lot of Indy 35, Detroit 33, and I feel like Jack Buck on Kirk Gibson's hamstrung World Series home run. I don't believe ... what I just saw! Down 33-21 with four minutes to play (thanks in part to two awful interceptions thrown by Luck), Luck led touchdown drives of 85 and 75 yards, scoring the winning touchdown on a frenetic, 14-yard TD pass to Donnie Avery as the clock ran out against the strangest defensive alignment in NFL history. But I digress. Luck was as clutch as his predecessor with the game on the line in a game with major playoff implications.

Defensive Player of the Week

William Moore, SS, Atlanta. With a game-high 11 tackles (two behind the line of scrimmage) and a game-high two interceptions of Drew Brees, Moore and his mates proved they can play while understaffed in the secondary (without ace cornerback Brent Grimes, and with Asante Samuel playing one-armed and sparingly). The play of the defensive backfield has been a bright spot in Atlanta's 11-1 season.

Special Teams Player of the Week

Greg Zuerlein, K, St. Louis. So Zuerlein missed a 58-yard field goal attempt early and the Legend of The Leg was getting tarnished. But he booted a 53-yarder as time expired in the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime, then nailed a 54-yarder straight down Broadway with 26 seconds left in overtime to beat the mighty Niners 16-13. "I was just trying to make that kick and not think about anything,'' said Zuerlein of his game-winner. He did a good job.

Jason Hanson, K, Detroit. The oldest player in the league (42 years, 5 months) was brilliant Sunday in a losing effort, being perfect from 48, 33, 52 and 31 yards; the 52-yarder would have been good from 60. Hanson's amazing. He's 25 of 28. He's played for eight Detroit coaches (remember the Gary Moeller Era?), and entered the league after Barry Sanders' third season. If you're this good, why quit?

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.

Donald Stephenson, LT, Kansas City. With regular left tackle Brandon Albert missing his second straight game with back issues, Stephenson played his second straight solid game. He kept the Chief backfield clean, holding right end Charles Johnson of the Panthers to one tackle and one quarterback pressure. Stephenson, a third-round pick from Oklahoma, gives the Chiefs the kind of swing tackle (for now) that all lines need, and his play the last two weeks gives the Chiefs reason to hope he'll be a good prospect to replace Albert should he leave in free agency after the season.

Coaches of the Week

Romeo Crennel, head coach, Kansas City. Anyone who can witness one of his favorite players shooting himself in the head from a few yards away, then prepare his team to play a football game, and then coach that game 28 hours after the suicide -- he doesn't deserve Coach of the Week, he deserves to go give advice to Army Rangers about the focus it takes to excel.

Mike Nolan, defensive coordinator, Atlanta. Nolan deserves credit not just for this week's stifling game plan in the Falcons' win over New Orleans, but also for how he's transformed his defense into one befitting the strong contender the team has become.

Atlanta wasn't sad to see Brian Van Gorder take a job with Auburn after the team was 12th in defense in the NFL, but 20th against the pass in 2011. The Falcons have improved from 18th in points allowed last year to fourth with four games to go, and much of it has been accomplished without ace corner Brent Grimes and now with cover man Asante Samuel hurting with a chronic shoulder issue. Nolan can walk into the defensive team meeting room and tell his team with pride today that they just forced the first five-interception game of Drew Brees' career -- and stopped at 54 his consecutive-games-with-a-TD-pass streak. Great hire by head coach Mike Smith.

Goat of the Week

Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. The Falcons forced him into no touchdowns and five interceptions, some uncharacteristically poor decisions and a stupid mishandling of the clock at the end of the first half near the goal line that cost the Saints a chip-shot field goal. "Honestly, I thought we had more time than we did ... That's my mistake. It can't happen," he said. Amazing, too, that the statistic in the chart to the right was true concerning Brees, Blaine Gabbert and Mark Sanchez entering Sunday's games.

Prognosticator of the Week

Michael David Smith, managing editor, Pro Football Talk. In Week 11, Smith, who picks games for PFT each week, predicted the Raiders to lose to New Orleans 38-17. The Raiders lost to New Orleans 38-17.

In Week 12, Smith picked the Raiders to lose to Cincinnati 34-10. The Raiders lost to Cincinnati 34-10.

In Week 13, Smith picked the Raiders to lose to Cleveland 21-17. The Raiders lost to Cleveland 20-17.

I have just hired Smith to pick my California Lottery numbers this week, but under one condition: We have to buy them in Oakland.

"Heyheyhey!''

-- Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, reaching to shake hands with Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin after the Steelers' upset of the Ravens Sunday, and trying to get Tomlin's attention as he quickly moved away. Tomlin, as you can see in the video above, looked like he wanted to be anywhere but shaking Harbaugh's hand. We'll find out why the Steelers coach was so put off by Harbaugh and/or the Ravens in the next day or two.

" 'The fog of war' is a kind term for what he's seeing right now.''

-- FOX analyst Brian Billick, on the incomprehensibly bad performance of Arizona quarterback Ryan Lindley midway through the third quarter (6 of 22, 48 yards, no touchdowns, one interception) in the Jets-Cards game.

"I would dare you to find someone that does."

-- Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, on WXYT Radio in Detroit, asked about wearing a cup to prevent the kind of kick to the groin that Ndamukong Suh inflicted on Matt Schaub.

Cups are passé in football after the high school level.

When former quarterback Sage Rosenfels texted the other day, "When was the last time a guy got injured and it cost him real time by getting hit in the nuts?" I answered: "I do not recall a single one.''

Do you?

"The person yelling at you probably was picked last in dodgeball all through high school. So do you care about the opinion of them? No."

-- Jets linebacker Bart Scott, to Gary Myers of the New York Daily News, commenting on the fans who vociferously booed the Jets in the Thanksgiving night debacle of a loss to New England.

In the wake of the Cardinals' eighth straight loss, 7-6 to the Jets in New Jersey on Sunday, the professional frustration of Larry Fitzgerald has to be growing. And Ken Whisenhunt had to wonder on the flight home last night: "Do we have a quarterback on our roster who can complete a pass?"

Would we agree that Fitzgerald, outside, and Wes Welker, inside, are two of the best handful of receivers at their positions in the league? I think so. Let's examine how Fitzgerald has performed in the last three weeks, which have mostly featured struggling rookie Ryan Lindley at quarterback, versus Welker, with a slightly better quarterback, Tom Brady.

Welker caught 66.7 percent of the balls thrown his way in the last three weeks. Fitzgerald caught 19.2 percent of the balls thrown in his area code in the last three weeks.

Our new college football maven at I, Pete Thamel, told me a great little fact I didn't know for the "Sports Illustrated NFL Podcast with Peter King" this week that I wanted to pass along.

Russell Wilson transferred from North Carolina State to Wisconsin to play his last season in 2011 because he had a baseball career option and wouldn't commit to playing spring football for the Wolfpack. And coach Tom O'Brien wanted his quarterback to play spring football, which backup Mike Glennon would do. Add to that the fact that Glennon might have transferred with two seasons of eligibility left if Wilson had been the starting quarterback for his final year in 2011.

There was a method to O'Brien's madness: Wilson, as good as he'd been, had a year left to play. Glennon had two. O'Brien, without a top quarterback behind Glennon, knew he'd be in good shape at the position for two years if Glennon stayed.

When Wilson transferred, he didn't have to sit out a year because he'd already completed his undergrad degree work. So he had the great year at Wisconsin and got drafted 75th overall by the Seahawks. He's started all 12 Seattle games this season, and was the league's highest-rated quarterback in November.

Glennon, a 6-foot-6 prospect who should be picked in the top 50 of next April's draft, threw for 6,702 yards in two years, with 61 touchdowns and 26 interceptions.

Everything worked out great for all involved. Except, I guess, for O'Brien, who was fired last week. The 15-10 record in Glennon's two seasons wasn't good enough.

One of the best young wide receivers in football, Cecil Shorts III of the Jaguars, has to be the only starting player in football who has more than $50,000 in student loans to pay off.

"When I tell guys about my student loans,'' Shorts said Friday, "they go, 'Dang! You didn't get a full ride?' They're shocked.''

Shorts went to Mount Union (Ohio) College, an NCAA Division III school, which like its counterparts, doesn't give athletic scholarships. In Shorts' four years, tuition and fees added up to about $125,000 -- and he had to borrow more than half of that to make ends meet. He also had work-study jobs in the university's weight room, refereeing intramural basketball and mowing lawns on campus.

So now Shorts, though he's earning $493,000 in this, his second season in the league, will space out his payoff of the loan and begin to put away money for the rest of his life.

"It was good for me because I've had to work for everything I've ever gotten,'' Shorts said. "When I didn't get a Division I offer, I thought I let my family down. But it just motivated me to work harder than everyone else to get farther.'' And in the misery of a lost Jacksonville season, Shorts, his student loans and how he's become a deep threat helps form the kind of story this moribund franchise can be thankful for.

This is a San Antonio Spurs travel note, and a rebuke of the ridiculous $250,000 fine NBA commissioner David Stern gave. Before I get to that, notable $250,000 fines and above in the NFL this century:

• To Ray Lewis in 2001, for his obstruction-of-justice conviction in connection with a double-homicide in Atlanta.

• To the New England Patriots in 2007, for Spygate. (The team was docked a first-round pick, and Bill Belichick $500,000 for the scheme as well.)

• To Tennessee owner Bud Adams in 2009, for flipping both middle fingers at some taunting fans during a Titans game.

The Spurs and coach Gregg Popovich got a $250,000 fine for resting four stalwart players on the fourth road game in five nights. I believe David Stern has a trophy waiting on his desk this morning, with the inscription: "Overreaction of the Year Award."

To give you some idea of the schedule of an NBA team and why Popovich would do this, look at their schedule in the last week:

Sunday: Day game at Toronto. Fly to Washington after the game. Arrive at hotel Sunday night.

Monday: Night game at Washington. Fly to Orlando after the game. Arrive at hotel after midnight.

Tuesday: Practice in Orlando.

Wednesday: Night game at Orlando. Travel to Miami after the game. Arrive at the hotel after midnight.

Thursday: Night game in Miami. Fly to San Antonio after the game. Arrive home after midnight.

Then, Saturday, the Spurs had to play the team with the best record in the league entering December, Memphis, at home.

Five games in five cities in seven days. Taking it back further, seven games in seven cities in 11 days. Popovich has a veteran team. Translation: old. And his responsibility is to his team, and not to TNT or the NBA. He should respect the league and the network televising the games, which he did by his team playing the a great game against the Heat and actually leading with a minute to go before losing.

I understand Stern trying to protect the best interests of the NBA. But in baseball, older star players get days off often, at least a couple a month. In football, many teams with nothing to play for in Week 16 or 17 (or both) take the week off. I'm sure the same thing happens in hockey. A coach should do what's best for his team, and if some fans are ticked off about it, I've got a suggestion for Stern: Don't ask teams to play a grueling sport four times in four cities in five nights.

"There are a lot of things in life that I'm proud of: West Point, serving my country, etc. But today, I'm proud that I was a KC Chief.''

-- @caleb_campbell, the West Point grad and 2011 member of the Chiefs' practice squad, tweeting Sunday night after Kansas City's emotional victory.

"After McElroy touchdown pass, Sanchez jots onto clipboard: 'Throw ... ball ... to ... players ... in ... green ... jerseys.' ''

-- @ProFootballTalk, PFT czar Mike Florio, after CBS cameras caught Mark Sanchez writing on a clipboard after Greg McElroy's touchdown pass on his first series as an NFL quarterback.

"here's a recap of yesterday's hearing 'blah blah blah blah bounty bulls**t still dragging on blah blah blah witchhunt blah blah blah blah' ''

-- @JonVilma51, the New Orleans linebacker playing while appealing his one-year suspension for involvement in the Saints' alleged bounty program, tweeting Saturday morning after witnessing Friday's bounty appeals in Washington under the direction of former commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Reading between the blah-blah-blahs, sounds like there was some testimony Vilma thought was bulls**t.

"Please, somebody take the Big East behind the barn and put it out of its misery.''

-- StevePoliti, columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger, and coverer of said Big East, after the conference lost yet another member, Louisville, to the ACC on Wednesday.

As one press-box wag (me) wondered, what's next for forlorn, forgotten, unwanted UConn? The Atlantic Sun?

1. I think this is what I liked about Week 13:

a. The Atlanta secondary, rising up to play great against Drew Brees.

b. John Abraham, the Atlanta defensive end, perennially underappreciated.

c. Kroy Biermann, the other Atlanta defensive end, getting better and playing the role Ray Edwards was supposed to be playing.

d. Greg McElroy being active, I think for the first time since Tuscaloosa.

e. Great stat by the Bears' PR staff: Lovie Smith's Bears had the 300th takeaway of his coaching tenure Sunday.

f. Said it before this year and I'll say it again: Green Bay wide receiver James Jones is as underrated as any other receiver in the league. Look at the highlight of the first touchdown of the Green Bay-Minnesota game, how Jones picked the touchdown pass off the head of the Vikings DB in the end zone. What hands.

g. Amazing, isn't it, how quickly Randall Cobb has become the go-to guy for Aaron Rodgers?

h. Catch of the Day, and this was an easy choice: The one-handed, reaching-behind-his-back job by Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph. Only one word for that one: Wow.

i. Runner-up Catches of the Day: the one-handed pick of Tom Brady by Miami safety Reshad Jones, the Patrick Peterson interception of Mark Sanchez ... and the one-hander on the right sideline by Calvin Johnson.

j. I didn't like the story, but it's a heck of a story, Jay Glazer's report that a Browns groundskeeper hanged himself at the Browns' practice facility Saturday.

k. Congrats on your first NFL touchdown reception, MMQB guest columnist/Colts tight end Coby Fleener.

l. Good camera work, FOX, catching Adrian Peterson looking up at the scoreboard for intelligence on the defenders chasing him on an 82-yard touchdown run.

m. Good hustle, Jaime Maggio. (For those who don't have nine monitors to keep up with on Sunday, Maggio ran off the field at halftime with Pete Carroll, moving at the pace of a 9-minute mile and interviewing all the while.)

n. Colin Kaepernick, saving the day (and his job?) with the longest run by a quarterback in San Francisco history, 50 yards, to set up a fourth-quarter field goal at St. Louis. And the Rams answering with a field goal of their own to force overtime, and another one in the extra period to claim the win.

o. The Rams' pluck against the best team in their division. Ten quarters this year against the NFC West leaders: Rams 40, Niners 37

p. Brandon Weeden, 364 passing yards, and he's got a great rookie weapon to grow with in Cleveland, Josh Gordon.

q. What a tremendous catch and dive at the pylon by Heath Miller to help the Steelers stun Baltimore.

r. Speaking of clutch Steelers, how about the forced fumble by James Harrison? You just don't count the Steelers out.

2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 13:

a. David Whitley of AOL FanHouse, for writing this about Colin Kaepernick and his tattooed arms: "NFL quarterback is the ultimate position of influence and responsibility. He is the CEO of a high-profile organization, and you don't want your CEO to look like he just got paroled." Does that news organization have editors who care about their writers writing something really dumb? Because criticizing players for having tattoos is something that might have been written in 1978, not today. And even then it wouldn't have been right.

b. I don't like the Chiefs-Panthers proceeding as normal, but I can't get too exercised about it, for a few reasons. First: The NFL's not going to cancel the game, so the game has to be played by the end of the regular season, Dec. 30. So if you postpone the game, when will you play it? Anything beyond Monday night and it makes players play on a short week, jammed in between games each team has every Sunday in December.

Second: Does it really matter if the game is pushed to Monday? Is that time enough to mourn and heal and get over the incomprehensible? Is playing 31 hours later much of a difference? Third: A source with knowledge of the decision to play Sunday told me: "There's no right answer, but the team felt it was better to be doing something they love to do Sunday rather than sitting around thinking about it.'' Four: As Jay Glazer reported Sunday, the team captains were unanimous in their desire to play the game.

c. Don't like Oakland owner Mark Davis wanting to see more passion out of coach Dennis Allen. You can't force a coach to be someone he isn't, and it's a mistake trying to do so. Think the Steelers wanted Chuck Noll to be more passionate in his 1-13 rookie year, 1969? Or Eddie DeBartolo, when Bill Walsh was in the middle of his 2-14 first season, did the fiery owner want Walsh to be similarly raging? A coach has to be who he is. It doesn't work if he fakes it.

d. I wanted to watch the Hoge-Suh interview, ESPN, because I heard how good it was. But I have a personal rule: After the 64th tease, I turn off the TV. The end of the planet isn't worth as many teases as you gave Hoge-Suh, ESPN.

e. Andrew Luck makes too many careless downfield throws. Terrible late-first-half pick in Detroit.

f. The Patriots are good enough on offense, Brandon Fields. They won't need you to give them a short-field, seven-point gift with a dropped punt snap deep in your territory.

g. Didn't see enough evidence to overturn that Braylon Edwards touchdown catch from Russell Wilson in Chicago. But it was overturned by Mike Carey.

h. Christian Ponder. Too shaky for this far into his second starting season.

i. Brian Robison lost contain on Aaron Rodgers way too often at Lambeau, allowing the Pack QB to get out of the pocket and have a clear lane to throw on the right side of the formation.

j. Delanie Walker, with a drop of what would have been the winning touchdown catch and a holding call on successive plays inside the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter of a tie game at St. Louis.

k. Questionable clock management and playcalling by Jim Harbaugh late. That's being nice.

l. There were quite a few bad throws by quarterbacks Sunday, about half by Ryan Lindley. But I'll put the wafting, foolish duck of an interception thrown by Joe Flacco into the hands of a lucky Ryan Clark very high on the list. It's almost like Flacco had a hot potato and said to Clark, "Here! You take it!''

m. Philip Rivers with another red zone interception at a crucial moment of the game. It's becoming a fatal flaw.

n. Doug Free. The Cowboys made a bad signing there, and it was on display early Sunday night as he got turnstiled by Brandon Graham for a big early sack by the Eagles.

3. I think some good reporting came across the internet this morning, the story by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada documenting 28 more cases of chronic brain damage in dead former football players. Fifteen played in the NFL, including Ollie Matson and John Mackey, who were Hall of Fame players. Boston University researchers continue to pave the way in this important subject.

4. I think the Raiders did the New York Giants a huge favor in 2010. Al Davis chose Alabama middle linebacker Rolando McClain eighth overall, and he was a player the Giants, drafting 15th, were very interested in as the middle anchor for their defense. With McClain gone, the Giants settled for inexperienced South Florida pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul. What a stroke of good fortune for the Giants and GM Jerry Reese.

McClain has given the Raiders some good football on the field, but he's been a source of immaturity and divisiveness as well. He was convicted of firing a gun near a man's head while in Alabama for a funeral last year -- he appealed and the charge was dismissed when the alleged victim opted not to cooperate in the case. Last Wednesday, McClain was kicked out of a practice and posted on his Facebook wall, "Looking forward to playing for an actual 'team.' ''

Said GM Reggie McKenzie, who has to figure out the McClain mess: "From a leadership standpoint, you cannot do what he did and call yourself a leader. Period. Now, what to do with him afterwards, you're talking about post-suspension, we'll let that play out. I don't want to make a decision or announcement at this time. But, you know, it's not good to act and do what he did ... So far, he is not apologetic.''

Don't hold your breath.

5. I think the other big reason McClain's behavior is so costly is this: If the Raiders keep him next year (highly unlikely), his cap number would be $6.675 million. If they cut him, the dead money assigned to the Raider cap would be $7.26 million. Such is the painful life of Reggie McKenzie, and I totally empathize: A guy you counted on to be a cornerstone long-term, if fired as he should be, will rip 6 percent of your salary cap space in 2013 away from you.

6. I think that, lost in a week as tumultuous as the one that just ended, players and fans of all sports should not forgot the immense contributions to baseball and all sports of the late Marvin Miller, who died Tuesday at 95. The baseball union's freedom fighter forced baseball to establish a real system of free agency, and brethren in all sports should be grateful.

NFL Players Association executive director De Smith is. "He was a mentor to me, and we spoke often and at length,'' Smith said. "His most powerful message was that players would remain unified during labor strife if they remembered the sacrifices made by previous generations to make the game better. His passion for the players never faltered, and men and women across all sports are in a better place thanks to his tireless work."

7. I think the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger did the right thing -- and there was really no decision, if you calculate health in the equation -- in ruling him out Sunday versus Baltimore, just 20 days after his shoulder injury and dislocated first rib. This is not a 20-day rehab. In fact, as I said on NBC over the week, I don't expect him to play Sunday when San Diego comes to Pittsburgh. He should aim for the last three weeks of the season, when he will be 34 days removed from the injury, so perhaps the Week 15 game at Dallas.

8. I think Drew Brees just played the worst game in his seven-year Saints career. In fact, I'm sure of it.

9. I think I strongly, strongly recommend the Earl Campbell documentary (Still Standing: The Earl Campbell Story'), produced by Ross Greenburg Productions and NFL Films, airing Tuesday night on the NBC Sports Network at 11 Eastern Time. (Truth in advocacy: NBC employs me, and I used to work for HBO Sports.)

I've seen the show, and a couple of things about it. One: Everything Greenburg touched as the former HBO Sports czar was quality storytelling, and it goes without saying that NFL Films is superb at stories too. This is on the level of that great storytelling, particularly about Campbell having risky spinal surgery and his sons, Tyler and Christian, stridently urging him to go to rehab to beat his addictions.

Two: If you're 35 or younger, you didn't see Earl Campbell play, at least in his prime. And you missed one of the greatest big backs in NFL history. What made Campbell special, and what this documentary shows, is the combination of power and speed that only Jim Brown can match in NFL history. (Sacrilege here, but Jerome Bettis is very close, and give credit to Bettis, because he was 20 pounds heavier than Brown and Campbell and could still run past some safeties.)

I'll never forget sitting in Athens, Ohio, in my senior year in college, watching the Houston-Miami Monday-nighter in Campbell's rookie year, 1978, and seeing him run over and around the Dolphins for four touchdowns, including the winner, an 81-yarder, late in the fourth quarter. You need to experience Campbell's greatness, if you haven't already, and this show's a good introduction to the great career, and the great post-career pain, of Campbell.

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

a. Rick Majerus won't go down as the greatest basketball coach ever, and many will remember his girth as much as his victories. But the man had 517 college coaching wins. Imagine averaging 21 wins a season. That's what Majerus did. Not many men in the college game can say that. It took Majerus 538 games to reach 400 wins. It took John Calipari 537. When Majerus died of heart failure in Los Angeles Saturday, college basketball lost an excellent coach.

b. Regarding the Old Navy ad with Chevy Chase reprising National Lampoon Christmas Vacation: Chevy Chase has had an inglorious last 15 years.

c. Rewatched The Descendants the other night. Just as good the second time around. The two girls in that movie have stunningly good dialogue, so real in kid rebellion.

d. "DEREK EATER,'' screamed the back page of the New York Post the other day, showing the Yankee shortstop with his foot in a boot and a few extra pounds around the middle.

e. Be Glad You Don't Drive And Live in New York Dept.: Live in Jersey and go into the city through the Lincoln or Holland Tunnel, and your toll rose from $8 to $12 in September 2011. This weekend it went up to $13. Just another reason for the rest of the country to shake its head at New York City.

f. Bowl fever, baby. The Military Bowl, in Washington. Bowling Green versus San Jose State. The weirdest matchup, in a place a combined 3,700 miles from the two campuses.

g. Jon Heyman says the Red Sox might be interested in Josh Hamilton. Didn't they just shed a bunch of Josh Hamilton contracts?

h. Coffeenerdness: I have not a nerdy thing to say about coffee this morning. Other than that I need it mainlined right now, and fast, to finish this column.

i. Beernerdness: In Boston the other day, I realized how much I miss Harpoon, particularly the Harpoon UFO White. They've got to get that stuff on tap in New York.

j. Had a swell time at the Boston Ad Club's Sports+Entertainment Summit Thursday. Thanks for the invitation and the chance to talk to some good people.

k. I don't know how it happened. I don't know why it happened. But the tape loop at the Starbucks near Rockefeller Center Sunday morning had the Carpenters' "Top of the World" playing, and I couldn't get it out my head watching football all day, or on the train to Washington in the wee hours of the morning, or polishing off the column in a D.C. hotel this morning. There are a lot of songs I wouldn't mind being stuck in my head for a day or two, but that is not one of them.

The ace Boston Globe columnist wrote a wonderful column about the death of senator-elect Elizabeth Warren's golden retriever Otis five days before the November election. Writes McGrory: "It's the misery of ever loving a dog." Those of us who have been through it know exactly what Warren's going through now, and exactly what McGrory means.

Washington 30, New York Giants 27: Robert Griffin III is getting the attention he richly deserves, but he's also getting terrific help from a group of young receivers (except for Santana Moss, 33). Pierre Garcon, 26, made a ridiculous catch-and-run for a touchdown last week in Dallas, and two wideouts picked in the 2011 draft, Leonard Hankerson from Miami (23) and Aldrick Robinson from SMU (24) are emerging as long-term solutions in the Washington passing game. Josh Morgan, 27, is another puzzle piece. Washington will have holes to fill, particularly on the offensive line and defensive backfield next offseason, but it looks like Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan have the right mix to help Griffin at receiver.

Kasandra Perkins.Romeo remembered her.We all should. Often.

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