• Tough loss for the Steelers in the late game, but let's spin that into some good news. First, Pittsburgh's remaining schedule is relatively soft -- Oakland and Cleveland are up next, plus another game against Baltimore.
Second, I thought Dennis Dixon played remarkably well given the circumstances. He brings something new to the table with his legs. Sure, he made some rough throws, but everybody does. When you look at the tape, I think you'll find this kid played a solid game punctuated by one throw he wishes he had back. Chalk that up as a learning experience.
That the Steelers found a backup quarterback they can develop shouldn't be overlooked, and it should be a credit to the management that took a chance on a player who was considered damaged goods a year ago. I don't want to say Ben Roethlisberger is injury-prone, but he certainly takes his licks. If this team is going to stay relevant for the next decade, it's important to have a proven commodity like Dixon on the bench.
The bad news: Perhaps there's some internal conflict in Pittsburgh. Hines Ward said a few things before the game, in an interview with NBC, that should grab our attention. He didn't seem sure how he felt about Roethlisberger sitting out this week with some post-concussion headaches. He suggested that perhaps Big Ben ought to have toughed it out, and he said that he'd played in games himself that he shouldn't have, following concussions. Ward even admitted to lying to team doctors about his condition.
There's been a lot of talk lately about how to address concussions, and it sounds like the NFL might start employing independent assessors to determine whether a player should go, and I'm all for it. Ward pretty much made that point clear. He's the type of player we need to look out for.
Simply put, the decision to put a guy back into a game following a concussion is one that has to be taken away from the players. A player will always, always opt to play. Hines is the perfect example. He'd rather play than sit, and I understand that from my experience. I've said before that I've played through games where I've probably had a concussion. I admit that. Back then, I didn't think about 20 years down the line. No player does. But one game does not equate to a lifetime after football. So we have to insert some voice of reason. You can't realistically expect that to come from a coach or anyone involved with a team.
Here's the other part of this equation we're kind of forgetting: If the NFL is going to be on the hook for players' long-term health, for their lives after football; if the NFL is to be held responsible for things like dementia that may tie back to football; if the NFL is supposed to provide a pension for players, especially those who've taken serious physical beatings, then it has to be allowed some say in these things. And this is a great place to start. People want to see the NFL take better care of its players for life. They don't want to see players treated like commodities. And this would be a step in that direction. To take this initiative sends a strong message that the league cares about players.
• Baltimore-Pittsburgh may have been Game of the Week, but Vince Young provided the Play of the Week with his game-winning 10-yard touchdown on the final play against Arizona. This guy is simply a different quarterback than he was before he lost his job last year. The time he has spent on the bench has given him a better perspective on the position. His concentration seemed a lot better, and he seemed to ditch that carefree, reckless attitude he has had in the past. He understands the role better and I believe it took his being removed from that spot -- sitting back and observing -- to come to this point.
Now he becomes the poster boy for the notion that, "Yes, it's OK to bench a quarterback. It's OK to let a guy learn on the sideline. You don't have to let a young guy take his licks." Taking a young quarterback off the field makes him change his work ethic, because once you're out of the starting lineup, your work ethic is really the only thing a coach can measure. I honestly believe, for example, that the same thing might work well for JaMarcus Russell in Oakland. For JaMarcus' sake, I hope Tom Cable -- or whoever the coach is -- can have some discipline and make Russell sit for a while. I think he could come out of his recent benching as a much better player and person.
• What an afternoon by Brett Favre, whipping the Bears by 26. The way he's playing right now, at 40, reminds me of a Nike football event that he and I participated in about 10 years ago. That afternoon it was Brett, BobbyEngram, John Randle and myself. The Nike staff separated the NFL guys onto two teams with a bunch of Pop Warner-age kids; maybe 10 or 11 years old. That game got towards the end and it was pretty close, and I remember Brett changing gears. It was late and he wanted to win, so he started zipping these balls around, knocking little kids on their butts with his arm strength. He was putting some heat on those balls.
I sat back and thought, "Wow, the intensity." And I see the same thing now: This guy wants to win so bad. He hasn't lost that hunger. He's winging the ball around, running into throws to get his body into it. You would think that this is the period in his career where he might not entirely care on every single play, but it's just the opposite. On almost every single play today I'm reminded of that need to win that I saw a decade ago.
• If there's anyone in the NFC that can stop New Orleans from the Super Bowl it's Favre's Vikings, but not just because of the wily old vet. As we saw Sunday with four sacks of Jay Cutler, that defense can rush the passer with four linemen, and that's the type of team it will take to beat the Saints or, in the Super Bowl, the Colts. I liken those two teams to each other, Indy and New Orleans. If you try to blitz 'em, you're dead. Minnesota's front can get pressure without help, and that, I think, is the only way to upset one of the two so-far-undefeated teams.
• And I'll tack this on: My former coach Bill Cowher said this week that he hasn't spoken to anyone about a coaching job yet. Do I believe that? Not necessarily. But I do believe the guy when he says he won't do anything until after the season, so be patient. I think this is Bill's year back, and I think there will be plenty of attractive jobs. But I think we need to hold tight, because nothing's happening anytime soon.