Every Monday, SI.com's Ross Tucker will hand out letter grades to deserving NFL parties...
Julius Peppers, Carolina Panthers defensive end. Every week it seems a different stud defensive lineman takes a turn putting a team on his back and carrying it to victory. Two weeks ago it was Browns beast Shaun Rogers against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Last week it was the Jets' equally rotund DT Kris Jenkins pulverizing the Bills outmatched offensive line. This week's star of the show was the slender Peppers, who used his cat-like quickness to outclass the Oakland Raiders.
Peppers' numbers were fantastic to be sure, as he finished with seven tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles. But it was the way in which he accomplished it that had to be particularly demoralizing to the Raiders. The Panthers lined him up all over the field and he took turns beating virtually everyone charged with blocking him.
If he wasn't beating right guard Cooper Carlisle for a sack, he was bull-rushing right tackle Cornell Green for yet another pressure. When he wasn't beating left tackle Kwame Harris with an inside move for a tackle for a loss, he was overpowering tight end Zach Miller for a knockdown of Raiders quarterback Andrew Walter. Peppers also tipped a pass that he almost intercepted and he sniffed out a screen, effectively covering a running back out of the backfield. Peppers was so omnipresent that I think he scanned tickets before the game and sold hot dogs during halftime.
Special credit goes to defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac for putting together a package that allowed Peppers to line up at various spots. Since the Raiders had no clue where he'd be, they couldn't constantly double team him. Peppers' performance was just the latest example of him bouncing back after a disappointing 2007 campaign. The Panthers struggled to get by the Raiders due to quarterback Jake Delhomme's woeful performance. Lucky for them, Peppers decided to be the MVP of Week 10 in the NFL.
Kerry Collins, Tennessee Titans quarterback. Just when we had the Titans pegged as primarily a run-only team, they find another way to win. Collins, 35, had his best day as a Titan, proving he can still win a game with his arm. Equally as impressive is that he did so in less than ideal weather conditions, which bodes extremely well for the playoff games the Titans will play in Nashville if they hold on to homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
Much like Peppers, the numbers only tell part of the story for Collins. He finished 30 of 41 for 289 yards and two touchdowns, but he did so with the Titans' previously dominant run game virtually nonexistent. LenDale White and Chris Johnson combined for 22 yards on 24 carries. That forced Collins to take to the air as he effectively sprayed the ball around to a bunch of guys who aren't exactly household names. Brandon Jones and Justin Gage are proving to be competent receivers if they have somebody who can deliver accurately and on time. Tight end Bo Scaife causes matchup problems every week and is one of Collins' favorite targets.
Although it was only one win, the confidence and belief that Collins continues to instill in his teammates will pay huge dividends when it matters the most. The other guys in the huddle know they have a veteran quarterback who is accountable for his actions and who can make the big plays in the tough games. That goes a long way for the linemen charged with protecting him.
Detroit Lions. This D- is for whoever made the decision to start Daunte Culpepper after just six days on the job. I have suited up and been ready to play after being with an organization for only four days, but that was along the offensive line and was out of absolute necessity, not choice. The Lions had other options available and still decided to play Culpepper with basically one hand tied behind his back, and it led to a 38-14 loss to what had been a reeling Jaguars team.
No matter what the reasoning may have been for putting Culpepper behind center, it can only be seen as a brutal indictment of Matt Millen's drafting of Drew Stanton. I mean, the guy was drafted with a second-round pick last year to be the quarterback of the future and someday take the reins from Jon Kitna, yet the Lions brass would rather go with a guy signed fresh off the street? On Monday? I highly doubt it was a coaching decision, given how badly it makes the staff look. Offensive coordinator Jim Colleto's recent comments about not wanting to put Stanton in the game so that he doesn't "embarrass himself," however, makes you wonder.
Rookies Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco can lead their teams to 6-3 records as rookies but Stanton, after a season and a half of practicing and learning, isn't ready to start a game? Stanton must be one of the worst practice players ever for them to take Culpepper right from the airport to the starting lineup in the hotel shuttle bus. The funny part is, Stanton actually played OK after getting shell-shocked into a couple of sacks on his first possession.
The Lions should have started Stanton and taken a look at him for the next three weeks while getting Culpepper comfortable and ready to play.
St. Louis Rams. The shine has officially worn off Jim Haslett; the honeymoon is over in St. Louis. The Rams put forth a pathetic effort and trailed 40-0 at halftime. Five turnovers. The defense gave up over 200 yards of rushing and didn't get close to sacking Brett Favre.
I asked Rams linebacker Chris Draft on Sirius NFL Radio the day before the game if he felt like the Rams were playing for Haslett's job. He he said "everyone is playing for their jobs" because everyone is being evaluated given the impending change.
Considering Sunday's performance, it didn't exactly look as if most of the Rams were hungry to keep their jobs.