NEW YORK -- Fourteen things you need to know on the heels of Week 14:
I'm not saying if I had a few injured guys or 34-year-old vets with bum knees I wouldn't rest them as much as I could. But I also think this: The Colts clinched homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with their 28-16 win over the Broncos Sunday, and they'll almost certainly begin the process of resting their veterans Thursday night at Jacksonville. So for some of them --
Now, former Colts coach Tony Dungy has told me it's good to practice first units versus first unit, which never happens at this point of the season normally. That's not the same to me, though, as when the real pass-rush is coming and real corners are covering. There will be plenty of time to debate (ad nauseum, I'm sure) that stuff. For now, let's examine the path that each undefeated team has to perfection (And congratulations to the Colts for two terrific achievements: setting the NFL mark for consecutive regular-season wins at 22, and for most wins in a decade at 114.):
Manning will play at least a series in all three games, to keep his starting streak alive; he's started every game of his professional career since being drafted in 1998.
Let's say the Colts play the starters one quarter Thursday. I say their streak ends then. If not then, either of the next two games could easily be losses. Nothing against Purdue rookie
"As a player,'' Indy tight end
Get the books and video out, Dallas .
In New Orleans,
I think the Saints will win them all. They'll play their starters most, if not all, of the remaining games. They'll have two real tests -- against a Dallas team playing for its playoff life Saturday night in the Superdome, and at Carolina on Jan. 3. Never mind that
You have only one receiver,
New England could lose at Buffalo, particularly if the Bills -- if
New England's 8-5, a game ahead of the Jets and Dolphins, with the Bills, Jags and Texans on the schedule to finish up. Not too hard, not too easy for the old Patriots, but for these Patriots, where everything comes hard? "We're 7-0 at home,'' Brady said. "We just put up 470 yards of offense against a good defense in Miami. We got the best coach in history. Shoot, once the playoffs start, if we're fortunate enough to make them, anything can happen. We were 18-0 and didn't win the Super Bowl. You never know. Don't lose faith in us.'' When I got off the phone with him, I thought: That's what he's going to say to his team this week.
• The 12-play drive had six runs, six passes.
• Donovan McNabb was six-for-six on the drive.
• There were eight conventional huddles, four change-of-pace no-huddles.
• Including the two-point-conversion pass, McNabb completed passes to six receivers in this one drive.
No T.O. No Westbrook. It's so new. It's almost like Reid got his contract extension and lost all his cares in the world and said, "We're going for it.''
Who are these guys? The Harlem Globetrotters? All I know is I like it, and it's working. They're hot, and they should win the NFC East.
The 6-4 Marshall liked his matchup against the rookie Indy cornerbacks, he liked the spotlight of playing an unbeaten team, he liked the Denver game plan that had
Marshall had several little incuts and seam routes designed to simply move the chains. It's a ball-control record, really, not an explosive-play record.
"When you're trying to establish yourself as one of the great players, you know when you play the great teams, you've got to play great,'' he told me after the game, "and that's the feeling I had coming to the stadium today. These are the games that can put you into the elite class.''
It's been an interesting turnaround for Marshall, who petulantly tried to talk and act his way off the team in training camp when he felt he got misled about being traded. He wanted out. Coach
Denver has the inside track to the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs, which could make for a fascinating wild card match for Marshall against the green Patriot corners if the Patriots continue to stumble to the AFC East title.
"I could feel it happening,'' Rodgers said over the phone from Chicago after the 21-14 Green Bay win. "I was able to spin out of it at the last second. But that might have been bad.''
Rodgers didn't have one of his best days -- 16 of 24, 180 yards, no touchdowns or picks -- but he had the kind of day
The Packers won with the kind of game they'll need to win with if they play a cold-weather road playoff game (at Philly, perhaps) in January -- with a good game from
"He's got to be at the top, or very near the top, of every team's draft board,'' Dominik said of Suh, the Nebraska defensive tackle who finished fourth in the Heisman race (Lord knows why). One GM of a losing team who has scouted Suh told me he has "
Said Dominik: "The only thing that worries me is living up to the hype. If he gets six sacks as a rookie playing defensive tackle, someone's going to call him a bust because of the high expectations. How's he going to handle that?'' Logical question ... but every top pick who ever gets picked has to deal with the weight of expectations. The book on Suh is he's a mature kid. He's just going to have to take it.
Jones told me and anyone who'd listen at the time, basically, to just give the board a chance, and judge it after a season, and then we'd see if the board needed to be lifted higher. Well,
Mind-boggling but true: NFL punters have missed the video board 86 times in 86 punts. "That's a shock,'' Trapasso said Sunday night. "I thought maybe guys wouldn't hit it square, but I'm stunned it hasn't even been grazed.''
One theory: Because most teams directional-kick now and only rarely boot it high and straight into the air, punters can avoid the board by kicking to a spot. Whatever the reason, my preseason alarm bells , with one home game at the new palace to be played, were out of line.
For the first time in more than 20 years in Minnesota, the governor, lieutenant governor, 134 state representatives and 67 state senators will all be up for election in the same year, 2010, without a presidential or U.S. Senate election next November. That means the focus of the entire state will be on the state, not divided between Washington and Minnesota. Those 203 politicians are in no mood to foot much of the bill for a new sporting venue.
The state has just overseen the opening this fall of the new 50,000-seat stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and the Twins' new Target Field will open downtown next April. Combined total of those two projects: $578 million. The state is projecting a $1.2-billion budget deficit next year. Add all those factors together, and you understand how tough it's going to be for the Vikings to get a new stadium anytime soon.
I don't think it'll be in 2010, which will raise the threat level of a franchise shift to Los Angele to orange. When, or if, they do build, I can tell you that people on the football side -- players, coaches -- aren't crazy about an open-air stadium. A retractable roof would add about $200 million to the cost; a fixed roof would add about $125,000. It'll be a homefield edge at this time of year, but that doesn't mean the locals used to playing inside and sitting inside for the past 28 football seasons want to go back to playing in the elements.
I was at the Vikings facility Thursday, and it was minus-1 with a wind-chill of minus-12 at 11 in the morning. As one player told me, "A whole generation of fans grew up without ever sitting outside to watch the Vikings. What's it been, 30 years? How are you going to get all those people used to being warm for a game to sit outside when it's below zero?'' Good question. But the Vikings would be happy to get any new stadium, inside or outside.
"I would turn in all three Super Bowl rings and my Hall of Fame bust for one undefeated season.''
My one question for you, Mike: Have you lost your mind?
"I'm not worried. His useless banter really doesn't amount to much at all.''
"I don't see the big deal about it. The president cheated on his wife. We're all human. Human beings are the only ones that have just one partner. You watch National Geographic and the lions, they have like five or six partners. The human race is the only being that is monogamous with partners.''
"I'd throw it to Nicks again. He's due.''
Two minutes after this post, Manning threw deep again to Nicks, and he caught it, and sprinted in for a touchdown, leading to this post by Politi at 9:18: "Just to be clear, I cannot use my power for personal gain.''
He's 95 percent as electric as
Who'd have thought Orakpo would have rushed the pass more productively in the first 13 games of his rookie year than
Moorman punted four times for a 53-yard average -- with not a single return yard -- at Kansas City, with these exact results: a 46-yard punt to the Kansas City 10, a 52-yard punt to the Kansas City 9, a 73-yard punt to the Kansas City 7, and a 41-yard punt to the Kansas City 27 (the slacker!). The Bills-Chiefs game was totally invisible to the masses Sunday (rightfully so), and I don't want to let a superior performance get lost because of the meaninglessness of the game.
The Arctic weather (minus-5 wind chill) helped in a 13-6 beatdown of the Steelers, certainly, because the Steeler receivers were neutralized by the deep freeze and the slippery field. But give lots of credit to Mangini, who has steadfastly maintained he is building a program, cleaning up the salary cap and adding draft choices for future Browns teams he plans to build in his image. (Whether he gets to do that, time will tell, but this game did help his Cleveland longevity.)
The Cleveland team Mangini put on the field Thursday was a battling, hustling, never-say-die group that wanted to win about five times more than did the defending Super Bowl champs. Ryan choreographed an aggressive and schematically imaginative game plan that had corners, tackles and linebackers rushing from all over the map, like one of those classic Ravens' jail-break defenses his brother Rex made famous. Rob Ryan showed he knew the way to get to a plodding quarterback was to send rushers from different slots on almost every passing down, and it resulted in an eight-sack game ... and holding the Steelers to a measly 3.5 yards per play, Pittsburgh's lowest in the last 25 games.
A dog performance by one of my all-decade wide receivers, I'm ashamed to report. In fact, I'm very close to wishing I gave that spot to
In the third series of a scoreless game, right in front of the New England bench, Moss stopped short on a sideline pattern, and instead of at least breaking it up, he allowed Carolina cornerback
Moss looks totally disinterested. He's a captain. Despite Moss' tardiness Wednesday,
Ndamukong Suh, at 6-foot-4 and 302 pounds, is an amazing specimen, a player with the quickness to interior-rush and the strength to play the nose. His ability to make disruptive plays is precedent-setting. I call "disruptive plays'' the combination of sacks, other tackles for loss, quarterback hits, forced fumbles, interceptions, passes broken up and blocked kicks. In the last two years, covering 26 games, he's had an extraordinary 114 of these disruptive plays. Breaking them down:
The Chargers' director of player personnel in 1998 was
Devaney is now the general manager of the Rams. Last spring he drafted quarterback
Null's position coach at West Texas A&M:
Last spring, Devaney, who will be forever linked with Leaf, left the disastrously failed quarterback a voice message saying, "You did a great job with Keith Null.''
Null probably wishes he could void his first NFL start. Five interceptions, lots of 10-inch-gain dump-offs.
Aaaah, Manhattan at the holidays. Though crowded, it is beautiful here. And fragrant. On Sunday morning, as I puttered away at this column and made and received a few Ndamukong Suh-related phone calls at a midtown Starbucks, a disheveled man with some OCD tendencies (continually straightening his straggly hair, checking his watch every half-minute) sat down next to me. He took off his parka, then a lighter coat underneath it, and then pulled a deodorant stick from the pocket of the parka, uncapped it, and put it underneath his shirt, applying it to first his left underarm and then his right.
Well, hello neighbor.
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Week 14:
a. Vikings Quiz: What's the name of the twin brother of Minnesota rookie MLB
b. Now that the games mean nothing, here come the Texans. Again.
c. Worst records in football since the start of the 2007 season: Rams 6-39, Lions 9-36, Chiefs 9-36. Six wins for the Rams! Three wins in 2007, two in '08, one this year. Yikes.
d. Best records in football since the start of 2007: Colts 38-7, Patriots 35-10.
e. Interesting tidbit from respected
f. Also would not be surprised to see the Rams make a very quiet inquiry about
h. My Sirius partner,
i. No cornerback tandem is playing better right now than Cincinnati's
j. No receiving corps is playing better than New Orleans,' but San Diego's is very close.
k. Seahawks. Frauds.
l. Vikings Quiz answer:
2. I think you can call Chad Ochocinco many things, but a coward is not one of them.
3. I think this is what doomed the Steelers this year: a poor offensive line (aided by some poor pocket decisions by Ben Roethlisberger), the inability to ever establish the run the way classic Steeler teams of this era did, and lousy defensive depth.
I tweeted the other night that when the epitaph on this Steelers season is written, it will say the offensive line failed Roethlisberger. Now, Roethlisberger needs to go to the Peyton Manning school of avoiding sacks (Manning could teach a class in it and become a rich man), because the other night instead of throwing the ball away, Roethlisberger got into the fetal position far too often and just took the sack. But what amazed me is how ill-prepared Pittsburgh's offense line was against the kind of zone-blitzes they must see every day in practice. Disgraceful.
4. I think the Heisman Trust, or the Downtown Athletic Club, or whoever is in charge of awarding the Heisman Trophy every year, ought to rename it the Heisman Offensive Player Trophy.
5. I think, not to be a wiseguy, you can't be serious about the voting this year. In a year when there's no clear-cut dominant offensive player, and the voting is fragmented among several skill-position guys, Nebraska defensive tackle Suh finishes his college career as probably the best defensive player of this decade in college football. He gets 19 percent of the first-place votes and finishes a distant fourth.
The Heisman has been awarded 75 times, all to players who touched the ball, with one asterisk.
6. I think this is what I liked about Week 14:
b. Peyton Manning in the red zone, career, thanks to CBS (great graphic): 225 touchdowns, 23 interceptions.
d. A 65 percent passing day by
e. The kind of balance that will make
f. Packers linebacker
g. Speaking of first-round rookies, there's a heck of a race for defensive rookie of the year. Buffalo safety
7. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 14:
a. Two punches,
b. Way to show up ready to play, Seahawks. First five plays at Houston: a 33-yard Texans kick return, a 64-yard touchdown pass from
c. You're in the pennant race, Jags. Anyone out there buying a ticket to avoid one of the big prime-time embarrassments in a long time Thursday when the Colts come to town?
d. Collinsworth said it. I'd like to echo it. What's wrong with
e. I can't get over Randy Moss. If you didn't see the game, find someone who TiVOed it. Disgraceful.
f. Asked about his confidence in the pass defense after the Eagles hung 45 on the Giants,
g. The second pick in the draft, Rams tackle
8. I think this is what's crazy about football: The Redskins were in the biggest freefall of any team in the league around midseason, with an offense that didn't score more than 17 points in any of the first eight games. Now they've lost their best two running backs for the year, have a retiree calling plays, and they've scored 88 points in the last three weeks. And
9. I think you didn't know (I sure didn't) that
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I signed about 700 Monday Morning Quarterback books this weekend, bringing the total to somewhere around 1,500, which was a shock to me. Three notes: Thanks for reading and sending the books, and thanks for the gratitude ... I had to shorten lots of the personalizations, or I'd never have gotten through it. So if you get it back and hoped for a 150-word paragraph and got a short sentence, sorry. I'd still be signing if I wrote everything I was asked to write ...
Finally, seven of you didn't send your return address, so we actually have no idea where to send the books. If you think you might be one of those, send along your information with some clues about what you asked me to say and who to say it to ... Books will be mailed by Wednesday or Thursday of this week. Thanks for being involved in a project I never envisioned would be quite like this. And thanks to the Fantasy League from Tustin, Calif., that got nine books signed.
b. One other book note: Interesting postscript to the biggest play in recent Eagles history from buddies
c. Trying to figure out what movie to see this week. There's about 10 my wife and I want to see. Ideas?
d. Coffeenerdness: Looking forward to trying Sledgehammer Blend, which smells like a sledgehammer meeting very dark coffee beans. Thanks to reader
Good time was had by all, and thanks so much to Davio's-Foxboro GM
e. Had a good conversation with Mike McGuire on Saturday. We've got an interesting project planned for after the holidays and benefiting Mike's men that I hope thousands of readers can get involved in. Mike's company will be deploying to Afghanistan (his third tour to either Iraq or Afghanistan) sometime in the fall, it appears.
f. The episode of "The Office'' with the Dundee Awards is the best episode of that show. Ever, I believe.
g. Jason Bay's defense gets worse by the day. I don't get it. Watched the guy for a year and a half ad he seemed pretty average. Now he's being talked about in butcher fashion. I never saw that Jason Bay.
h. Peter Gammons, for all of us who have been tremendously influenced by your career and your passion, thank you, thank you and thank you again. It'll be good to see you on NESN and MLB Network this season, but I take it your friends around the country won't see as much of you. Their loss. Your baseball notes column from the Globe days was often imitated, never duplicated.
Let's face it: Even with a win tonight, it's going to be very difficult for the 49ers to win the West. Arizona (8-5) and the Niners (5-7) each have Detroit and St. Louis left to play; the other game for each team is Arizona hosting Green Bay and San Francisco traveling to Philadelphia. So you never know ... but we really do know in this case. Arizona's won seven of nine, and it would have been eight of nine, mostly likely, if