Matthew Stafford's gutsy comeback in Detroit was one for the ages
NEW YORK -- Talking with commissioner
"You know how great you have it in the NFL this year?'' I asked. "Your TV ratings are totally through the roof, and here we are today, worst game of the year, Cleveland-Detroit, and it might be the best game of the year.''
"Terrific game,'' he said. "Fantastic game.
Last week it was a 35-34 game between the Colts and Patriots that captured America. Yesterday it might have been the bizarro-world 38-37 thing that played out in Ford Field. We'll start there, then meander through the play Kansas City coach
Those are the exact words I said to Stafford as Detroit medics finished putting a harness on his left shoulder and a sling on his arm in the postgame locker room. Layne's the blood-and-guts Lions quarterback who preceded Stafford by 50 years at Highland Park (Texas) High, and then by half a century as the Lions quarterback. Before Stafford and I started talking, I could hear the labored breathing and slight grunts -- I assume from Stafford -- as the harness went on his shoulder. X-rays were negative, but you could read his lips after he threw the winning touchdown and went to the sideline in intense pain. "It's out! It's out!'' he said, meaning his shoulder popped out of the socket.
Now I understand the wounded Lions fans. I hear from so many of you. The hopelessness, the anti-
The game came down to two plays. You've seen them, I'm sure. With eight seconds left and Cleveland up 37-31 (thanks to
"Throw the ball!'' screamed coach
Nope. Stafford now ran back toward midfield, looking for a receiver.
"Throw the ball!'' screamed Schwartz again.
Stafford stopped. Two rushers got ready to cream him. Defensive tackle
"Game's over,'' Stafford said. "I was sure it was, even though I was on the ground and pretty much in a lot of pain. Then I heard there was a flag.''
Seems that Browns nickel back
But because Stafford lay on the field and caused a stoppage in play, Detroit was charged with a timeout. It didn't have one, that was the Lions' fourth charged timeout of the half ... but because time had expired, the Lions would not be penalized five yards, not penalized by having time run off the clock. [Only on a fifth timeout of a half -- three timeouts followed by two due to injury -- does yardage actually get marked off.]
Meanwhile, Stafford was ushered to the Lions sideline, where four team medics began to examine him. In the game went backup
Then Cleveland coach
"I was flat on my back on the sidelines, and the doctors were trying to figure out what was wrong with my shoulder,'' said Stafford. "But I heard, 'Timeout Cleveland,' and then I knew I could come back in.''
An injured player who leaves the field has to sit for at least one play -- unless there is a charged timeout by either team. Stafford knew. And he immediately began trying to get up, but the doctors kept telling him, basically, to hold on, hoss -- he wasn't authorized to go back in. But Stafford got up and weaved his way onto the field, telling offensive coordinator
"Only one,'' Stafford said. "But I knew I had one. I had the adrenalin going.'' He jogged onto the field and Culpepper jogged back off.
Meanwhile, Schwartz hollered at his medical staff: "Is he good to go?'' And one of the doctors said no, and Schwartz asked what was wrong, and the doc said he didn't know because they hadn't had time to examine him yet.
"The kid put himself back in the game,'' Schwartz said.
Lord knows what the Browns thought the wounded Stafford would call, but tight end
"His best play wasn't the last play, or the second-to-last,'' Schwartz told me. "His best play was eluding four of our medical guys to get back onto the field.''
"Ever been in a game like that?'' I asked Stafford.
"No,'' he said. "Has there been one like that?''
Not that I've seen.
The Chiefs install their red-zone pass plays on Thursday mornings. Usually they're pulled out of the phone-book-thick playbook, plays that were taught in minicamps, practiced in training camp and used, most likely, a few times previously during the season. But last Thursday, Haley walked into the offensive team meeting and told his team he had something new to use against the Steelers down near the goal line -- a shovel pass to running back
With five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh led 24-17, and the Chiefs had first-and-goal from the Steelers' two. When Haley called the play into Cassel's helmet, Cassel's first reaction was, "Touchdown.''
"They're tough on the goal line, obviously,'' said Cassel. "We thought the defensive line would come hard, and they did.'' Charles snuck out of the backfield, almost looking like he feigned a bad block, and he was alone, near the one, when Cassel found a gap between the center and guard in the midst of the chaos and shoveled it to Charles. Perfect call. Perfectly run. "Usually it doesn't happen that a play happens just like you practice it," Cassel said, "but this was exactly the same.''
The touchdown made it 24-all. Kansas City kayoed
"Amazing feeling,'' said Cassel. "The Steelers are a team we strive to be like. We've got a long way to go to get there, but this is a pretty good reward.''
Good story by
Glazer also reported that the NFL has been in touch with the Department of Defense about sharing information related to head injuries and brain trauma for soldiers and football players. It stems from Goodell's trip to the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters in July 2008.
"That story's almost two years old,'' Goodell said when I asked him about it at NBC on Sunday. "When I went to Afghanistan, I went with Admiral Mullen [
"Our people went down and spent time at the Defense Department and exchanged information. And literally two weeks ago, I saw Gen. [
A couple of other notes from my talk with Goodell:
• He wants players to start wearing more and better equipment. Too many players, he said, wear helmets that are comfortable rather than the state-of-the-art helmets that absorb more shock.
• He said he thinks organized offseason conditioning has spiraled out of control. (And bully for him on this -- it's ridiculous how year-round a job playing and coaching has become.) "I'm a firm believer that players are overworked in the offseason,'' Goodell said. "They probably need to get away from the game a little bit more. And when they're away, they probably work harder.
"There needs to be limitations in the offseason with respect to the type of work, and how much work, is done. Teams will definitely have sufficient time to get their offense and defense in ... Should maybe rookies and first-year players have more time in training camp? That's something [San Diego coach]
• The first regional meeting of special adviser Tony Dungy's player-advisory group will be Dec. 8 at a site to be determined. Dungy will meet with selected players invited from teams in different regions of the country.
That was a total dismantling of the Seahawks by Minnesota. Seattle's terrible. Ten first downs, four rushing yards, 18 minutes of possession. The Vikings' defense just smothered them. But what makes Minnesota dangerous is that
Just look at the numbers. We might be seeing his most impressive season. Comparing the average of his three MVP years (1995 through 1997; he shared the '97 MVP with
Watching Favre through 10 weeks, I'm starting to think he's going to make it through 16 games, and more. His groin strain doesn't seem to be bothering him. If it is, coach
"Last night,'' Childress told me after the 35-9 win over the Seahawks, "when I got to the hotel, I looked in our film room. It was about 5:30. And there's Favre, sitting there by himself, watching video. He's amazing. He's a worker. He's the master of the piano, a great guy I can point to as an example for the rest of the team.''
Clearly, it's helped Favre to have the best offensive supporting cast he's ever had. The line keeps him clean, he has the best all-around back in football,
The MVP race could be a doozy. In 1995, only four quarterbacks threw for 4,000 yards. This year, 10 could. Manning's on pace for a 5,074-yard season, though he'll probably fall far short of that. Once the Colts have their spot in the AFC playoffs clinched, look for
The MVP's not very high on Favre's agenda, I'm sure. What he's focused on is winning a second Super Bowl. It's why he came back. And it's looking like a pretty smart decision, by Favre and Childress, the one who went and got him.
First eight games: 37 sacks, five interceptions. Last two games: six sacks, no interceptions. There's no question Rodgers was simply holding onto the ball too long, and his leaky offensive line -- particularly at right tackle -- was getting him bowled over.
"We've been working on the three variables [for sacks],'' coach
Rodgers has been a 70-percent passer over the past two weeks. His play in the last eight quarters is a good example of how during the season players can polish facets of their games that need to be fixed, or else the season's going up in smoke. The Steelers are seeing more and more pressure on Roethlisberger, and he's going to have to quicken his delivery in the pocket or he won't last 16 games. Rodgers did it just by knowing he had to make decisions faster, and that time savings might help save Green Bay's season.
Sitting next to
Against New England on fourth-and-two,
This time, Brackett and Session faked blitzing, then settled back into coverage. "We knew
"The same play's been the difference-maker two weeks in a row now,'' said Brackett. "I've had a few big plays in my career, like the forced fumble on [
The play kept the Colts' regular-season winning streak, now at 19, intact. But two weeks in a row, Indy's had a very close shave. It easily could have lost last week, when New England blew a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead. Instead, the last two Sundays have been very good for the Colts. Thanks to Cincinnati's loss in Oakland, the Colts' win in Baltimore gave them a three-game lead in the race for home-field in the AFC playoffs with six games to play.
A couple of times last year, when he was most frustrated, Vince Young would text
As Young told me last week: "That's what I needed -- someone I respected, like him or Brett Favre, to tell me everybody goes through tough times. Adversity comes, work hard, work on your game, and you'll come out of it OK.''
The Vince Young we'll see tonight at Houston is still only 26. But he's already had three careers. The moody savior, who played precociously but with pocket limitations. The lost cause, who seemed mentally overwhelmed by the demands of his job, and fame. And now the maturing, complete player. That's awfully premature, but in the span of three weeks since taking over for
The more surprising thing about Young through three starts this year is his accuracy -- 65.7 percent. "I'm patient now, and I've realized patience is the key to this offense,'' he said. "Check down, use my legs to get out of the pocket, extend plays, have another chance to complete a pass.''
In the past, Young has given lip service to saying it was for the best that coach
"That was blown out of proportion,'' said Young. "My mom never saw me with a pistol before, and when she did, she got nervous. I have a pistol for protection. I was never gonna harm myself, but she got nervous.''
He went on. "I never doubted myself, never doubted anything. I knew I was a great athlete. I just had to grow up, on and off the field. I knew I had the talent. There was so much going on, all the adversity, so much going on. I understand now ... Coach Fisher gave me some time to figure my life out.''
I asked if he regretted not being picked by the Texans three years ago. "No. But I do love going to Houston and playing,'' he said. All that's at stake tonight at Reliant Stadium is keeping alive Tennessee's needle-in-a-haystack playoff hopes at 3-6. These are the kinds of games Young was drafted to win, and it looks like he'll be around for a while to try to win them.
New Orleans coach
The call rang into voice mail.
"Sean Payton here,'' Payton said into the phone. "Just wanted to tell you that last night was the greatest compliment I've ever seen a quarterback paid.''
"Gutsy game by the kid.''
"The uncapped year is definitely going to happen. We're already running short on time. I could be wrong ... But I think at this point in the life of the NFL, the uncapped year is something the owners are willing to take a look at. If that ends up happening, it could really change the landscape of the NFL.''
"There are New England football fans who'd support Belichick if he pledged to eradicate indoor plumbing.''
Stafford was 26 of 43 for 422 yards, with five touchdowns and two interceptions. He's the youngest player ever to have five touchdown passes in a game, and the first rookie to throw five in a game since 1937. Forget the stats. If you read about Stafford at the top of this column, you know why I consider his one of the heroic performances of this or any other year.
Two weeks after mouthing off and then not showing up against New England, and one week after being benched against Tampa Bay, Porter came up very big in the trend-setting first half Thursday night in Charlotte. I don't pretend to know what sets Porter afire, but he brought it big-time in this game.
On the first series against the Dolphins,
Myers, a third-string tight end playing kickoff coverage, won the game for Oakland. With the score tied at 17 and 33 seconds left and the Raiders kicking off, Myers stripped Bengal return man
I don't care if this came against the embattled (and that's putting it mildly for a kick-coverage unit that's allowed four touchdown returns in 10 games) Pittsburgh special teams. The Chiefs, justifiably heavy underdogs to the defending NFL champs, got the opening kickoff. Charles, the quick second-year running back from Texas, caught the ball on the run going left, turned upfield, zigged and zagged and broke two tackles and scored. It was called a 97-yard, but I'd say he ran about 120. It's the kind of play that energizes a crowd and gets the Chiefs into it, and sure enough, Kansas City ended up giving the Steelers a game.
In the same week he became financially secure for the rest of his life after signing an extension through 2013 (it will pay him at least $4 million a year, which should buy a few cabins on a few Minnesota lakes), Childress saw the fruit of his preseason labor look great in the Vikings 35-9 rout of the Seahawks.
The man he coerced out of retirement,
Remember Childress' trip down to Gainesville the week before the draft to personally investigate Harvin? Childress told me this summer he wanted Harvin to pick him up and drive him around. "I wanted to be in his car, and I wanted to smell the car,'' Childress said. He meant he wanted to see if he could sniff any marijuana after Harvin's adventurous college career. He also asked Harvin if he was aware that because of his marijuana experiences in college and for testing positive for pot at the Scouting Combine, he'd enter the NFL already in the NFL's substance-abuse program. "You'll be eligible to be tested up to 10 times a month,'' Childress warned. So far, so good ... and the Vikes are 9-1 thanks to Childress' decisions and the play of the two guys he worked hard to get.
In Brady Quinn's star-crossed career, he hadn't had many hours like the first hour of the Detroit game Sunday. In fact, he'd never experienced anything like the three-touchdown-pass first quarter and the 24-3 lead he built. How the first quarter Sunday compared to his first two-and-a-half years in the NFL:
Dallas Cowboys PR czar
I Weep For Humanity Dept.: The NBC
What is this, the
"Good morning to all, top of the morning on this awesome football Sunday ALI-HOLMES=OCHO CINCO-NNAMDI'' I damn sure ain't HOLMES either.''
Ochocinco's line on Sunday: four catches, 67 yards, no touchdowns.
In honor of passing 200,000 followers on Twitter the other day (I sit at 216,442 as the day dawns), I decided to give one of the flock the chance to write a short piece of their choosing in the column this week. I took nominations, and of the 500-plus ideas that came in, I chose @tbaysi1,
Last chance to get your "Monday Morning Quarterback'' books autographed and personalized for the holidays. Send me the book by Saturday, and for the cost of a book and the shipping to New York (Barnes and Noble and Amazon have it on sale in the $17 range), you can get the thing sent back in time for the holidays, with anything -- within legal reason -- sent as an autographed greeting. Come on. You know you want it.
You can buy the book on
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Week 11:
a. I'm not sure what this means, other than I'd say it's very unlikely to happen: I had a dream Saturday night that I was a guest at
b. Little-known fact about
c. The Patriots are 21-1 in games following a regular-season loss dating to 2003.
d. The Pats and Jets, in their 50th seasons, are 50-50-1 against each other.
e. Sounds to me like
f. I don't care what the Bears say. If they keep going down the drain and
2. I think if you want to be inspired, google
3. I think Eagles defensive end
4. I think this is what I liked about Week 11:
a. Nice camera work, FOX, at Tampa Bay, showing professional-wrestler-lookalike
b. What a block by heretofore disappointing Washington wideout
c. Who'd have ever thought
d. The Saints made up quite nicely for their injured cornerbacks --
e. The responsibility of
f. Great point by my buddy
h. Rest up,
5. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 11:
a. Dropped picks by
b. Giants' first 10 rushes: 26 yards. Where is the old
c. Never, ever have I seen
e. The Broncos are cooked. Kaput. Never has a defense seemed like such a mirage as the D of the first six Denver games.
g. Does Seattle have anything to be optimistic about? I mean, other than the 2010 draft? Man, I never saw their horrendous season coming.
h. Tough luck,
6. I think
7. I think you have to sit
8. I think this is the most interesting thing, apropos of nothing, that I found out about football this week that I never knew before: In 1989, Tony Dungy was an unemployed coach, having left the Steelers coaching staff. He thought he was going to catch on with the Cincinnati Bengals, working under
The Giants had an opening for a secondary coach.
First question, from Parcells: "How do you guys play with such small, fast guys on defense [in Pittsburgh]?'' For six hours they grilled Dungy. They wanted him. He wanted them. But the fit for Dungy's family just wasn't right. He couldn't justify bringing his family to New Jersey, where, with an assistant's salary, he might have had to live 30 minutes or more from the stadium. He knew he'd have learned a lot from Parcells and Belichick. But he took a job in Kansas City instead, on
Dungy's not the kind of guy who lives with many regrets, but you get the feeling he regrets not taking the Giants' job, particularly after they won the Super Bowl in what would have been his second year in New York. By the way, turns out Belichick took on the secondary job, adding it to his coordinator duties, and the Giants never filled Fontes' job for those two seasons.
How interesting would it have been if Dungy coached with Parcells and Belichick? Would they have become smitten with his coaching ability? Would he have joined Belichick's staff in Cleveland, or gone on the long and winding trail through the '90s with Parcells, or stayed in New York and impressed
Last night, Dungy told me he thinks all the time about what would have happened if he had taken the Giants' job.
9. I think it's nice
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
b. Thanks to all old and new friends for your support at the Montclair book-signing Saturday afternoon at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center at Montclair State. On a beautiful fall afternoon, I realized how much I miss the people and the place. Thanks for running it,
c. You call that a lot of Funkhauser? Come on,
d. Niggling criticism about a too-short season: I do not know what America is going to do without fresh episodes of
f. Until Saturday, I'd never heard of Oregon quarterback
g. Good for UConn.
h. Don't even compare the Yale coach's call -- running a fake punt while up 10-7, under three minutes to go against Harvard, fourth-and-22 at his own 25, best punter in the Ivy League back to punt, no timeouts left for Harvard, Yale defense having controlled the day, runner stopped short of the first down at the Yale 40 -- to Bill Belichick's. Not applicable. Belichick had a fourth-and-2 with Tom Brady on his side, not wanting to punt the ball so Manning could have two minutes to make him regret it. The call by
i. Are you kidding me,
j. Sunday night, 10:47, walking back from NBC to my midtown hotel. Phone rings. It's
This is the most unscientific pick of the year. Pure gut feeling: