Tennessee's thrilling last-second touchdown trumped all in Week 12
NEW YORK -- There's much to dissect this morning. Concussions, Canton,
And the Miraculous Bra, of course. (Won't the Victoria's Secret people be excited to make the second graph of Monday Morning Quarterback!)
My starting point is the parking lot outside LP Field in Nashville. That's where
"I've got the ball in my hands,'' said Britt, speaking of the ball he caught to beat Arizona Sunday at the final gun in Nashville, speaking from the parking lot outside the stadium. "I don't want to let it go.''
Oddest thing about the catch you've all seen 10 times by now: "I never knew I got hit for a half-hour or so after it happened,'' Britt told me. Britt caught the ball near the back of the end zone, then got crushed by nickel safety
"In a situation like that, everything's a blur," Britt said. "I found out [I'd been hit] when I took off my shoulder pads and got in the shower. I've got this big bruise on my left shoulder, and I'm like, 'How'd that get there?' '' Then he reconstructed the play, and people told him he got waylaid in the end zone, and Britt had no idea. Interesting.
There's something about the Titans that speaks to exactly why the NFL is so popular. There's always time for a miracle. When this month dawned, Tennessee was basically playing out the string. At 0-6 when they took the field Nov. 1 against Jacksonville, the Titans were coming off a 59-0 embarrassment in New England. I stated the obvious on one of the Notre Dame halftime shows on NBC -- that coach
Young had engineered four straight wins since taking over for
Last play of the game. Maybe the last meaningful play of Tennessee's season.
"We haven't run that play since I've been back,'' said Heimerdinger, who begin his second stint with Tennessee last season. "Haven't practiced it either. Sometimes that happens -- you see something you think can work against a defense, and you hope your guys can all run it. On that play, Kenny's just playing football.''
Britt's a Jersey kid, raised in Bayonne and polished at Rutgers. He remembered lessons from both places in the last six seconds of this game -- the kind of memories that will have his mentors bursting with pride.
Britt, at 6-3 and 218 pounds, always had the size to be a good prospect at receiver. But he was known at Rutgers as a guy with iffy hands. "Every day, my coach,
"I saw Vince scramble. Sometimes in practice he throws it sidearm, so you know you have to be ready for anything. I'm running across the back of the end zone hoping he sees me, and he lets it go for me. First I thought there'd be a clear path for the ball, but then it looked like there was traffic. I've always been taught to catch with your eyes and catch with your hands. Concentrate. Focus. And I had to go up for it. My high school coach,
He got it. And he might never let it go, from the sounds of how happy he was in the parking lot.
Seems like we're making head-trauma news almost by the week now. A top league source insisted to me Sunday that the
Maybe so, but I can't believe that a couple of late-week headaches by Roethlisberger would have sent him to the bench for a vital Ravens-Steelers game a couple of years ago. And I can't believe Warner would have sat had he woken up with a sore neck in 2006 or 2007 ... maybe even 2008.
But I do think what's happening in the league is a good thing. Earlier this month came the news that each venue would have independent neurologists on the sidelines, to take the decisions away from the team docs about whether a player is "with it'' enough to get back in the game. Now,
I can confirm Glazer's report -- in the next week or so, the league will have a policy in place that if a player has any symptoms of memory loss or amnesia, or any foggy incident that shows a player clearly has lost his bearings for even a few moments, he won't be able to return to the game that day. Currently, a player has to sit if he loses consciousness for any length of time. This threshold will be much easier to reach.
The league hopes this sends a message to all levels of football that head-trauma has to be dealt with seriously now. It should. Now the big question is whether players will self-report and be honest about headaches and things that may be signs of brain trauma -- and whether it'll affect their standing in the locker room. You know the ethos of the locker room: suck it up, spit on it, tape it up and get back out there. You can't tape up a brain. You can be gutsy and play with a dislocated shoulder, as
"It's a man's game,'' Rex Ryan said Sunday. "But we all have to take this issue seriously. The last thing I want to do is put a player at risk. I'm going to be a coach who errs on the side of caution.'' It's against the instinct of coaches and players both to do that, but it has to become the way the league does business. It's time.
The rookie Colts coach is 11-0, and he had the same reaction about his wonderful start as his predecessor would have had. "I understand the gravity of it, because so many great men have coached in this league,'' Caldwell said after becoming the first NFL coach to win the first 11 games of his pro career. "I am humbled. I am honored. I am fortunate to be in this position. I'm a traditionalist. I admired
So far, the new Caldwell is much like the old
It always helps to have
That's one reason owner Jim Irsay signed Bill Polian's son Chris to be the long-term general manager the other day while Bill was still in place as franchise architect. Irsay didn't want the younger Polian to leave the Colts without a logical successor when Bill Polian steps away from the team in two or three or four years. "We'll continue to build the team with the same kind of philosophy and core values,'' Chris Polian told me. "With fast players who play 60 minutes and who play smart. At the same time, we'll look for new ideas to make sure we don't get stale. We have a great situation here. We've always talked about the Rooneys and the Maras as the role models for how an organizations should be built.''
I asked Caldwell if the Colts would handle the last two or three games of the year differently than they did under Dungy. You're familiar with the national debate about going for the undefeated season. The Patriots went for it in 2007 and got to 16-0, only to lose in the Super Bowl. The Colts have thumbed their noses at it, preferring to be in the best possible physical condition entering the playoffs. That's how Dungy and Bill Polian believed the season should be -- once you've earned home-field advantage, rest your players and be in good position for the second season. Caldwell sounded no different Sunday afternoon when we spoke.
"It'll be somewhat similar to what we've done,'' he said. "Going undefeated was always a secondary goal. I don't think we'll put too much emphasis on that.''
The Colts won't be known as the team of the decade because of their middling playoff success. Eight times since 2000 they've made the playoffs; five times they've lost their first game. Probably the biggest criticism of Dungy as a coach was his practice of resting players for the playoffs each year once there was nothing to play for but the final record. Get ready for more of the same debate this year. Knowing Caldwell, he'll be like Dungy was. It won't faze him.
Twenty-five men got their hopes up Saturday, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its semifinalists for induction in 2010. The 44 selectors (me included) will vote by mail ballot for the final 15, who will be announced Jan. 7. Those 15 men, plus two Senior candidates (
The points that strike me 10 weeks before we meet to select the new class:
• A maximum of seven can earn entry into the Hall -- five from the 15 standard candidates, and two from the Seniors. Of the 15 modern-era guys, two are locks -- Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice. That leaves three spots for the other 23 semifinalists, and that means a lot of impassioned speeches will fall short this Hall season.
The Seniors men have a much easier road to election, particularly this year. The 44 voters hear their cases, then vote yea or nay separately on both; an 80 percent yea vote would put Little and/or LeBeau in. The 15 modern-era candidates get funneled in a voting process down to five, then each is voted on individually and must get the same 80-percent to make it.
• The next most logical modern-era candidate? I'd make an educated guess of Richard Dent and/or Haley. The selectors have been mindful the last couple of years about the relative paucity of defensive players in the Hall. Because 64 percent of the modern-era enshrinees (those who played in 1960 or after) are offensive players, the board's been looking to fix the inequity; seven of the last 11 players to get in played defense. Of the offensive players next up, I'd say Russ Grimm has the best shot, in part because the celebrated Washington offensive line doesn't have a player in.
• Shannon Sharpe might have a better chance than Cris Carter, Andre Reed or Tim Brown. There's only one deserving tight end. There are three logical candidates at receiver, and Carter and Reed could take votes from each other. I sense Carter's slightly ahead of Reed, but that could change at this meeting.
• Don't forget Rickey Jackson. I back Jackson, plus he's the sleeper candidate of respected voter
It's believed Jackson also had more forced fumbles than Taylor, but those statistics are in some dispute. And though passes-broken-up isn't an official statistic, it's thought that Jackson led all linebackers in his Saints tenure with 118. I'm not saying Jackson was Taylor. I do think he was an impact player who's fallen through the cracks of the Hall process.
• I'm frustrated that
Wolf traded for an overweight party boy,
Last week, NFL Films had what
• It's basically a wasted vote to pick Paul Tagliabue on the final 15 ballot. If Tagliabue didn't get in the Hall in the last three years, when he had his qualifications shot down every year in part because voters wanted to wait to see how the current wrangling over a new collective bargaining agreement played out, why would he get in when the league and union are knee-deep in CBA talks?
Spin the spinner: Where will Weis land once he's fired by Notre Dame? Well, eliminate Cleveland in the increasingly unlikely event that
1. New England, obviously.
2. Carolina. Weis and
3. Kansas City. The Chiefs don't have a coordinator in the wake of the midseason departure of
4. Indianapolis. Surprised? I don't see it happening, but it's intriguing.
5. Chicago. If
The weird first year (a trial run, really) of the four-team United Football League ended Friday with
The UFL is looking to add two teams and to play a 10-week schedule next year. Look for the NFL -- which has signed four UFL alums to active rosters or practice squads -- to work out a few players, beginning this week. Florida quarterback
"I'd say somebody's on our shoulder.''
"Not even close.''
"The Miraculous Bra just came out.''
That's perhaps the worst promotion on any NFL pregame show of all time. CBS is doing a fashion show this week and put this babe on TV as a billboard for it, and while Swanepoel was on TV, she got in a pop for a new piece of underwear.
Second thought: It is the worst promotion on any NFL pregame show of all time.
"I've spoken to no teams and don't intend to do so while there is a current head coach.''
That's interesting -- the first real indication of any kind since retiring that Cowher would return to coaching.
In the devastating loss to the Colts -- and this was the kind of loss that can cost coaches their jobs -- Schaub built a 20-7 lead, scoring on the Texans' first four possessions, then let the win crash and burn horribly as the Colts outscored Houston 28-0 over a 28-minute span. His five possessions in that span: interception, three-and-out (punt), fourth-and-out (punt), interception returned for a touchdown, and strip-sack/lost fumble. At times this year, Schaub has looked like a big-time player. He took about 20 steps back Sunday.
It wasn't so much making the winning catch at the gun ... but hanging onto it was just as big a feat. For the game, Britt caught seven balls for 128 yards and the one winning touchdown. And I love the fact that Britt could have been the goat of the game after fumbling at the end of a 51-yard reception from Young on the previous drive in the fourth quarter. With 4:55 left in the game, he lost the ball, and it appeared the Titans had lost the game. But here came Young on a 99-yard drive, and here came Britt with the biggest catch of his life.
Give Young credit for keeping his cool as the clock wound down to :00 as he held the ball in his hands, knowing he either had to make a pass to win it and keep the Titans in the playoff race or throw an incompletion and know the Titans would be playing for 2010.
Woodson continued an All-Pro year with one of the best games of his life at Detroit on Thanksgiving. "I don't know who's playing better in the league right now,'' coach
Prater went four-for-four in field goals attempts against the Giants Thursday night (from 26, 32, 47 and 24 yards), and should have; those are the kicks pros should make. But his kickoffs landed him in this space -- seven of them, all of which went to the goal line or into the end zone. Prater had five touchbacks, and the two kicks that were returned both went for 20 yards, one from the goal line to the Giants' 20, and one from four yards deep returned to the Giants' 16.
Denver got lucky when Detroit, Cleveland, Miami and Atlanta let Prater go in a two-year span; the Broncos signed him last season to replace
Give the man his due -- he's choreographed smart game plans for Young five weeks in a row and gotten Young to re-dedicate himself to football full-time for the first time in his NFL career. Heimerdinger and Young have been the perfect match that
Back in the spring, Belichick called
You want to know why the Saints love Brees so much?
The clue is in the commercial that aired at halftime of the Sunday night Ravens-Steelers game on NBC -- the one with Brees throwing a pass to President
On Nov. 2, the Saints played a Monday-night game at home, beating Atlanta. After the game, Brees went home; he fell asleep well past midnight. At 7 a.m., he was on a commercial flight to Washington. He spent almost five hours at the White House taping the ad with Obama,
And you wonder why
Quite a nice midseason refresher trip to Seattle for Thanksgiving. It's hard to imagine a prettier American city -- when it's not raining, of course. But a Friday noonish walk around Green Lake, just north of the city, was a 3.2-mile slice of heaven, with about a dozen different pines and other trees with late-turning leaves ringing a pristine lake. There's something very different about cities like Seattle, Portland, Spokane and Salt Lake City, from my experience in the last 10 or 15 years. They're less electronic. People read. People walk. People talk. People are outside a lot more, doing things that require less human-tethering to the almighty Blackberry.
"So will you call Harbaugh's 4th and 5 play boneheaded or will you be consistent and blast him for going for it instead of punting?''
Pretty different circumstances compared to the Patriots' decision. New England went for it on fourth-and-two from its own 28 with a six-point lead and 2:08 to play. Baltimore went for it on fourth-and-five from its 46, trailing 17-14 with 3:31 to play. Baltimore had one timeout left.
A risky move by the Ravens, for sure. But look at it this way: If they punt, the Steelers likely need one first down to run out the clock. And if they go for it and fail, with a neophyte quarterback on the other side of the field, it's no lock the Steelers are going to score any insurance points there.
I think it's eminently debatable, but to me, Harbaugh's decision is more logical than Belichick's.
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Week 12:
a. Best AFL throwbacks: 1. San Diego; 2. Buffalo; 3. Denver.
b. Favre's on pace for a 35-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
c. Dixon 73 more professional at-bats in the Braves organization than NFL starts.
e. I'm told
g. Every time I see
h. Nice week for Houston. Embarrassed at home on Monday by local hero Vince Young. Humiliated at home on Sunday by the Colts. At some point, Houston has to win a big game.
2. I think I have no idea how Lovie Smith and his coaching staff can't be in trouble.
3. I think the demotion of
4. I think we started to see the real
5. I think I very nearly gave Offensive Player of the Week to
6. I think this is what I liked about Week 12:
a. The NFL Films wiring of Matthew Stafford. In a word: wow. The best thing was the moaning and -- I think -- the unedited pain when he got his shoulder busted.
d. Dennis Dixon. More good than bad in his first NFL start. Throws a good-looking ball, if not very accurate.
g. Play five more games like yesterday's,
h. Say this for
i. I had no idea
j. More dominance from
7. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 12:
a. The awful pass-interference call that gave the Colts life --and a 43-yard gain -- on the first drive of the third quarter.
b. Why no safety over the top to help
d. We've written off the Jags a few times this year, but I believe we can write them off for good now.
f. Uh, Baltimore ... you're supposed to have containment people on the outside when a runner like Dixon leaves the pocket.
g. Ball security, Chiefs. I guarantee you Todd Haley will have a few periods in practice this week to harangue his team about that.
h. Nineteen minutes of possession time for the Bears. Awful.
i. Twenty interceptions for
8. I think I'm doing the same thing if I'm Mike Shanahan: waiting for the end of the year and surveying the field. Because I want to see what the Bears do. I want to see what a lot of teams do -- Dallas, Washington, Carolina. Why jump at the first team with an opening? How much would Shanahan kick himself if he commits to the Bills and then in a month his old friend
9. I think it's getting to be the time of year when we 44 voters on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee get bombarded with the pleadings of fans and teams about their candidates for the Hall. This is how silly it gets: I answered a Tweet Friday from a follower who asked why Floyd Little isn't in the Hall of Fame. I replied: "1 1,000-yard season, career 3.9 yards per carry, 54-yard average rush yds per game.'' I didn't say I didn't support him, or he wouldn't he get in this year as one of two Seniors Committee nominees. I was asked a question about why he wasn't in and answered why, in my opinion, he has never been voted into the Hall.
I'm going to guess that the next three or four hours brought 50 responses, most of them outraged that I would dare to question Little's qualifications, many of them offering reasons why he should certainly be in the Hall. Thanks for your input, folks. I have a Floyd Little file at home. Most of those reasons are it. Haranguing doesn't help. Calling me names doesn't help. Reasoned arguments are good; I'll take those. I'm not saying some people don't respond positively to being called a know-nothing dillweed. I'm not going to shout back at you, but rest assured your point doesn't get better the louder and angrier you get. Thank you.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Rest in peace,
b. Sometimes the media does the darndest things. On Wednesday, anchor
c. You have until Saturday to get the cheapest, most valuable holiday gift of the season --
e. I don't know when I've been more embarrassed for two adults than in reading that story.
f. Can you please speak,
g. Coffeenerdness: Well, at least the Egg Nog latte is skim this year. At least that's what one of the midtown Manhattan baristas told me this year. As in past years, it tastes different depending on where you buy it, because there's no universal flavor for egg nog. But the couple I've had in the past week are lighter than I recall last year. I always add three or four shakes of nutmeg, which helps. It's not good enough to replace hazelnut in my life, but it's a good diversion.
h. How great would a Boise-TCU national championship game be?
i. Never thought I'd say this: I do believe
j. I guess Mount Union really misses
Though I've written about it a few times, and others have done so before and after that, you're making a big mistake if you view the 10-0 Saints as a team that has to throw for 350 yards to win. New Orleans ran on 38 percent of its offensive snaps last year. This year, it's 49 percent rushing.
That's no surprise to the Patriots. When I spoke with safety
"The thing I've noticed about Brees,'' said Meriweather, "is he can change his mechanics in a split-second. You've got no room for mistakes. He thrives on your mistakes. The best way is to try to confuse him with different looks.''
After watching a lot of the Saints, Meriweather had especially high praise for
I expect New England might play this game the way it played the first Super Bowl this decade against St. Louis. That day, Belichick put the word out to hit
But I also think some pretty good defenses have had well-oiled plans for this offense this year. Philadelphia, the Giants and Miami entered their games with New Orleans confident that if they pressured Brees and put a stopper in the run game, they'd have a chance to force him into mistakes. The Saints put up 48 on Philly, 48 on the G-men, 46 on Miami. In other words, it sounds logical -- the same way so many teams thought they had the 2007 Patriots figured out.