On Doug Baldwin's perfect pass to Russell Wilson, Tom Brady's first time playing the team he grew up idolizing, and Adam Gase's five straight wins in Miami
The Award Section
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Doug Baldwin, wide receiver/quarterback, Seattle. Key rule point here: A quarterback under center is not an eligible receiver; a quarterback in the shotgun is eligible. So when Baldwin came from the left flank around the backside of Wilson on Sunday against Philadelphia, Wilson was able to leak out for a pass … and he did, and he wasn’t covered at first, and he was open long enough for Baldwin to loft a perfect 15-yard touchdown pass to Wilson at the left pylon. Oh, and Baldwin added four catches for 104 yards. Seattle 26, Philadelphia 15. Month after month, game after game, Baldwin doesn’t get the A.J. Green/Antonio Brown/Jordy Nelson hype, but Seattle is 7-2-1, and only Russell Wilson is more important to that offense.
Tom Brady, quarterback, New England. Playing for the first time on the West Coast against the team he grew up idolizing—he once told me he’d hustle home after school on autumn Thursdays to see if Sports Illustrated had any Niners stories that week—the 39-year-old Brady looked like the 25-year-old Brady. Twice he made impossible recoveries out of trouble in the backfield to throw touchdown passes, and he finished 24 of 40 for 280 yards, four TDs, no picks and a 114.6 rating. (Lousy rating for him this year, his second-worst in six games.) For the year, he’s a 70 percent passer with 16 touchdowns and one interception. Ridiculous.
Jameis Winston, quarterback, Tampa Bay. The Chiefs were 4-0 at home entering Sunday, but there was no question who the better team, and the better quarterback, was at Arrowhead. Winston (24 of 39, 331 yards, one touchdown, no picks, 97.3 rating) made some huge throws in a 19-17 win, including a third-and-three dart to Mike Evans with 2:11 left, enabling Tampa Bay to virtually run out the clock in a very quiet stadium that normally is never that quiet. The top of the 2015 draft (1: Winston, 2: Marcus Mariota) is looking pretty great. To date in 2016: 43 touchdowns, 18 picks.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Luke Kuechly, middle linebacker, Carolina. If not for a needless block in the back from a rookie cornerback, Kuechly would have had an 88-yard touchdown return of a blocked field goal to add to his NFL Week 11-high 14 tackles in Carolina’s season-saving 23-20 win over New Orleans. Of course his game ended with Kuechly on the ground, weeping, after being concussed—his second apparent serious concussion in the last two seasons. One can only hope he’s fine—whether he plays the rest of the season or not—because he’s such an instinctive, natural talent.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Cordarrelle Patterson, kick-returner/wide receiver, Minnesota. I do not believe as a rule it’s smart to take kicks out of the end zone in this new world of getting the ball at the 25-yard line on touchbacks. But I do not coach Patterson. Good thing. He took the opening kick of the second half four yards deep in his end zone, made two speed-cuts, faked two Cardinals out of their shoes and scored. The 104-yard return catapulted the Vikings to a win they had to have.
Jeff Locke, punter, Minnesota. Standing at his goal line with 2:33 left, Locke had a big job to do. The Vikes led 30-24, and they needed a big kick to pin the Cardinals, who had only one timeout left. A big punt they got. Locke massacred the ball; the 72-yard kick landed at the Cards’ 13-yard line, and the Minnesota defense did the rest, and the Vikings finished the day where they started—tied for the NFC North lead with Detroit at 6-4. For the day, Locke punted four times for a 56.3-yard average.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Adam Gase, head coach, Miami. In the last month, more than once Gase has preached to his team, “Ignore success.” And certainly that’s not the reason why the Dolphins have won five straight, nor the reason why Ryan Tannehill looks like the long-term keeper in south Florida, nor the reason why Miami’s come back twice on the West Coast to win two games that looked lost. Gase has handled this team superbly through a 6-4 start.
GOAT OF THE WEEK
Sen’Derrick Marks, defensive tackle, Jacksonville. With 2:34 left, down by four, and Detroit with a fourth-and-two at the Jaguars 46, the Lions lined up as though to run a play. No one in the place thought they’d run it, though; this was obviously a try-to-draw-them-offside deal by Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford … and it worked. Marks leaped offside. Instead of the Lions taking a delay and then punting to try to give Jacksonville a long field to work with, Marks’ offside gave Detroit a first down. And Jacksonville didn’t get the ball back until there were only 22 seconds left. Ballgame. Incredibly bad play by a smart veteran.
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Right Combination of the Week
Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen and Brian Robison, defensive linemen, Minnesota. The Vikings needed a monster game from the defense to stop a four-game losing streak, with Arizona’s capable offense coming to Minneapolis. How’s this for a monster game from these three mainstays of the defensive front: three sacks, 12 quarterback hits and a total beatdown of Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer. In fact, Palmer faced significant pressure or was hit on more dropbacks than when he was clean Sunday, and that was a huge factor in the Vikings’ 30-24 victory. The right combination up front—a combo of youth (Hunter) and veteran wiles (Griffen and Robison)—won’t have much time to rest on laurels: The 6-4 Vikings play at the 6-4 Lions at 12:30 p.m. ET Thursday for the NFC North lead.
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Stat of the Week
The key number for Drew Brees is 107.
Drew Brees, the Saints’ 37-year-old quarterback, sometime gets 107 needles stuck in him, all over his body, preparing to play a football game. When I met with him last Tuesday at 5:45 a.m. to drive to work for an NBC video story, he told me a couple of things I never knew.
There is a recovery tool practiced by some premier athletes—in football and other sports—called Dry Needling. Last week, on Monday at the Saints’ training facility, one day after Brees played Denver and three days before he played Carolina, the Saints’ trainer put these 107 hypodermic needles in specific trigger areas where Brees felt either pain or discomfort, or in places Brees was trying to do maintenance work to stave off future trouble spots. Sounds pretty painful, getting stuck with 107 needles. “Sometimes,” Brees said as we drove into work that morning, his words captured by NBC audio. “Some you don't [feel], some you do if it hits a tight spot. It'll shoot this kind of … we'll call them zingers … It'll shoot this like … hitting a nerve or something just shoots down your arm or your back or your leg or something like that, but it means that it's working. But I’ll do it neck, shoulders, high back, mid back, low back, glutes, IT bands, hips, sometimes hamstrings, groin, calves, foot. It’s great.”
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Factoids That May Interest Only Me
The Texans and Raiders play in Mexico City tonight. Each team has played nine games so far.
Houston has not scored 28 points in any of its nine games this year.
Oakland has scored 28 points or more in seven of its nine games this year.
The first penalty of 2016 called on Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly, a very ticky-tack holding call Thursday night against New Orleans, came midway through the 40th quarter of his season.
This composite 2016 score just in:
Michigan/Michigan State/Ohio State/Penn State 224, Rutgers 0.