NEW ORLEANS -- Into the gym bag at the foot of his locker in the emptied-out Superdome as Saturday turned into Sunday, Romo stuffed his possessions for the trip home after the biggest win of his young NFL career. Dallas 24, previously unbeaten New Orleans 17. If you saw it, you know it wasn't an upset. On this night the Cowboys were better than the best.
In the middle of the gym bag, a slightly scuffed NFL football peeked out.
"Game ball?'' I asked.
"Yup,'' he said, and smiled. "I'll be keeping that one for a while.''
Like, forever. We have a tendency in micro-examining this game to make judgments too fast on players at difficult positions to judge -- such as quarterback. A month ago, after two playoff games and 50 starts, Romo, a free-agent from Eastern Illinois in the eye of the constant America's Team storm, either couldn't rise to the occasion when times were big, couldn't win in December, couldn't win in January, was a bad leader because he took occasional quiet trips to Las Vegas, or ... well, does that about sum up the shortcomings of Tony Romo?
I'm going to take you to the moment when, in my opinion, we all just might draw the line of demarcation on Romo's career when we look back in 10 years. I think it came Saturday night in a place so raucous that even the nuns were standing and screaming. Yes, nuns attend the Saints' games -- eight of them. They're friends of owner
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Saints, trying to win 'em all for the first time in team history, trailed 24-3. Now it was 24-17. Cowboys running back
Timeout, Dallas. So much at stake for both sides.
(Forty minutes later, as I walked off the field after the game alongside Romo, the first thing he said, "Loudest game I've ever been in, anywhere, anytime. Incredible.'')
So loud that Romo knew he wouldn't be heard by any of his teammates for the rest of the game, except in very close contact in the huddle. So loud that to save time in the huddle, he gave the snap count with hand gestures rather than yelling it two or three times. As he came to the line, with two wide receivers to the right, he liked the matchup he saw on the outside:
With the crowd at full throat, Romo bobbed his right leg and started the silent snap count. All that was at stake here was everything, but all Romo could think about was what offensive coordinator
Romo got the snap, looked over the coverage, saw Austin get inside McKenzie on a quick slant toward the post, and zzzzzip, he threw the ball to Austin in full stride eight yards past the line of scrimmage, just enough for the first down ... and more. Austin ran for 24 more yards.
"In that situation,'' Austin said later, "I can hear myself think, but that's all I can hear. You've just got to trust the route you run and the throw. Tony put the ball right where it needed to be.''
On the next play, Romo wheeled out of pressure, pirouetting to his left, rolled out and hit third-string tight end
My point about the three plays that silenced a city: Romo did what very good players have to do when the times are most important: He played naturally, like it was an August practice.
"Maturity,'' said Garrett. "It's so important for a quarterback. His approach is outstanding. He loves being in these situations. I'm a firm believer that you don't rise to the occasion. You just play like you always play. Why does
One other interesting thing about Romo Saturday night: He said he does a lot of Sudoku. I told him he ought to try crosswords, but that would necessitate him listening to NPR on the way to work or watching the news semi-regularly. But that wouldn't fit his lifestyle, because he finds the best thing for him is to pretty much shut out the outside world.
"It's just best for me to put what everyone says and writes about us to the side,'' he said. "Like, I have no idea what you've written about me or said about me on TV. Have you been critical? I don't know. I don't care. It's all good. You've got a job to do, and sometimes that's going to entail being critical about us. But I just find it's best for me if I don't know any of it.''
Maturity, Garrett said. At 29, Romo has it, and the Cowboys ought to be the better for it over the next month -- and the next six or eight years.
OK, start the e-mails coming now. Texts, Tweets, e-mails, whatever. But here's how I saw last night's Viking debacle: Not Brett Favre's fault.
Peppers' dominance got
But in the middle of the Minnesota ineffectiveness, the NBC cameras caught a semi-heated exchange between Favre and coach Childress. Evidently, it was Childress suggesting that maybe it was time for a relief pitcher. Maybe. (Two weeks ago, I was told Childress had suggested this once before this season, and Favre went batcrap then.)
Last night, there was no change. But Favre seemed peeved about it after the game.
"Yeah,'' Favre said, "we were up 7-6 at the time. No secret, I was getting hit a little bit. I felt the pressure on a lot of plays. We had seven points. So I think everyone in the building was like, 'They're not moving the ball. They're not getting points.' Brad wanted to go in a different direction and I wanted to stay in the game. We were up 7-6. Yeah, it's not 70-6, but we're up 7-6.
"So I said, 'I'm staying in the game, I'm playing.' I don't know if [Childress' effort] was exactly to protect me, or we had seven points, I'm not sure. That's his call. But we talked it out. We didn't have time, I didn't have time to sit there and say why or what. My response was, we've got to win this ballgame and I want to stay in and do whatever I can.''
You recall last year when Favre had the Jets 8-3 after 11 games, then fell apart in December. Could it happen again? Sure it could. But last year happened because of an injury. Favre's sore this season but not hurt, by all accounts. I'm sure there's plenty of blame to go around, and I'm not saying a quarterback should be so sacred that he should never get yanked from a game. But should a quarterback get yanked if he's got pressure in his face on play after play? Only to protect him from injury?
If that's what Childress was doing, I might understand it -- but I emphasize "might.'' A night earlier, the Saints had shown serious vulnerability, and now, with the gap between the two teams for NFC homefield edge only one game if the Vikings won here, this was no time to yank Favre. This was the time to battle through a bad game, survive, and try to fix what ails the team schematically this week.
This will be to Week 16 what Randy Moss-is-dogging-it was to Week 15. Get ready for all Favre, all the time.
Maybe he just had a lover's blind spot. We don't know. I'm always skeptical of the stories about a troubled person that, in death, show him to be either a wonderful guy or a guy who was turning his life around. But Chris Henry, who died bizarrely last Thursday after being thrown from the bed of a pickup truck during an argument with his fianc� (the driver), had taken steps in that direction.
Henry and his former Bengal teammate
"The way he acted in recent months, I knew he was going to make it,'' Houshmandzadeh said the other night from Seattle. "In the past, he never cared what you'd say. He never cared about next week, or even the next day. But this year, he'd call and ask for advice. Like, 'Hey T, I want to be a family man like you.' And, 'T, what do you think I should do about my [football] future?' I told him, Cincinnati's the place for you. Mr. Brown [
We haven't talked much about Henry (who was on IR with a broken arm suffered in November) as a football player, but the one thing I'll always think is that he could have been
But the way the Bengals receivers stacked up, there wasn't a deep threat of the future on the Cincinnati roster. If a physically and mentally rehabbed Henry came into camp at 27 next year, without many scars on him, he'd have been no worse than the third wideout on the team. He'd have had 25 snaps a game in 2010.
"The one thing about Chris that was unique is he could maintain top speed for longer than most receivers could,'' Houshmandzadeh said. "
The only lesson here, I think, is that some players, particularly those with troubled pasts or those who didn't have great mentoring growing up, need the structure and discipline that well-run pro organizations can provide. Not saying it's an elixir for everything, but it's a shame that Henry was away from his team on injured-reserve and didn't have the peers and tough-love coaches like
Lewis handled his team well in the past few days. He told them in his pregame message in San Diego that Henry was a playmaker, and the best way to honor his memory would be for every player on the field to be a playmaker against San Diego. Ochocinco started in the first half by snaring a perfectly thrown 49-yard touchdown pass from Palmer, then falling to a knee in the end zone and sending a prayer to Henry. Palmer had his first 300-yard passing game in 24 months. (Now there's a stunning sentence.) The defense made a few stops. And the Chargers, the hottest team in the league west of Indianapolis, had to rally with a 52-yard field goal in the last seconds to win. If ever a team won by losing, it was Cincinnati on Sunday.
Time will tell. But talking to those who know him, they're shocked the fiery Redskins owner whacked close friend
I talked to Snyder on Friday and asked if this was finally going to be the time the Redskins were like most teams -- with the owner sitting above the fray as a checks-and-balances guy, entrusting most of the football decisions to a coach or GM or both. When Snyder introduced Allen last week, not much was said about who has authority over the big football decisions.
"Who's going to have final say on the coach -- you or Bruce?'' I asked.
"He is,'' said Snyder. "He's going to do it. I think he knows what fits here, and I trust him to make the right decision. We're not hiring anyone Bruce doesn't want.''
Allen is very careful with his words. When I relayed this and asked him the same question I asked Snyder. Allen said: "That's a fair assessment.''
So we'll see, as I said. As for now, I expect the Redskins to hire
I continue to think the only other place that makes any sense for Shanahan is Chicago. It was interesting to see GM
We're watching a return man very nearly the equal of the best return man of our time,
Because everything in Cleveland is so politically charged right now -- with two friends of
With that as a backdrop, I asked Cribbs Sunday after the game: If you polled all the players on the team, what would be the vote on whether to keep or get rid of Mangini?
"I think it'd be unanimous,'' Cribbs said. "I think the guys would definitely want to keep him. You can't judge coach Mangini on one year. The camaraderie in the locker room is great. You hear things in the media about coach Mangini being too tough on us. But I think we're building something here, and I think the players are behind him.''
Cribbs is a smart kid. I'm not saying a calculating kid, but he does know what makes a team go. He must have talked for five minutes Sunday about his kickoff-unit protectors,
Cribbs said he hasn't made his contract a big deal this year -- he's making $620,000, 30th-highest on the team -- because of something club legend and adviser
Interesting story Cribbs told me about halftime in Kansas City. Mangini told the team, "Josh Cribbs cannot keep bailing out this team by himself. He needs some help.'' And Harrison, a total roster afterthought, told Cribbs he was going to do something about it.
Harrison, a fourth-year back from Washington State, rushed for 60 yards in 2006, 142 in 2007, 246 in 2008 and, in the first 13 games this year, 301 yards. Cleveland trailed 24-20 at the half, and in the second half, Harrison rushed 22 times for 208 yards, with touchdown of 71, eight and 28 yards. I guess Harrison was right -- he did do something about it.
Credit the Colts' excellent scouting process -- led by director of player personnel
"Pretty fun. I'll bet you all counted us out too.''
"These shoulders that I have on my body, you can put the earth on it. Just to let you know: I bounce back.''
"Tony said we had no chance. No chance? None? He was a coach. He should know you always have a chance.''
Based on opening-day salaries of every roster, there are approximately 1,018 players who make more in base salary than
Sermonize if you wish about the intelligence of Ware playing six nights after being removed from the field on a body board, fully immobilized. But Ware was a force all night. At the end of the first half, he stopped a Saints' drive with a strip-sack of
Now we've seen it all from this guy: two 100-yard touchdown returns in one half of football. In fact, they came 17 minutes apart at Arrowhead Stadium against the Chiefs and gave him eight for his career, an NFL record for kick returns for touchdown. Late in the first quarter, he took a
I've said this about Josh Cribbs a few times this season. He's 26, he's the 30th-highest-paid player on the Browns (2009 salary: $620,000), and he's the best special-teams player and returner in football. Pretty valuable asset for the Browns heading into another offseason of rebuilding.
I thought he had a brilliant gameplan, well-executed by Tony Romo and well-designed by himself. The Cowboys put up 439 yards and went 8-of-15 in third-down conversions in the deafening maw of the Superdome, where offensive players had trouble hearing adjustments by Romo at the line of scrimmage.
On the vital fourth-quarter drive that ate the clock and should have resulted in a game-ensuring gimme field goal (that was missed) by headcase Nick Folk, Garrett had no problem with having Miles Austin, John Phillips and Sam Hurd be Romo's targets on consecutive plays with the season on the line. That's trusting your roster.
There haven't been many games played by left tackles in 2009 worse than the one Bushrod threw out on the floor of the Superdome. After being abused several times during the night by DeMarcus Ware, Bushrod got turnstiled on the last two offensive snaps of the game for the Saints, leading to a pressure and an incompletion, then to a strip sack by Ware to end New Orleans' last-gasp chance in a 24-17 loss. Bushrod's going to need help against the kind of speed-rushers he's sure to see in the playoffs.
T-shirts are being sold in New Orleans with the religious fish symbol on the front, with the word Breesus in italics beneath.
I love the legroom on JetBlue. I love the satellite TV on JetBlue. I've come to the conclusion that the only reason I don't fly JetBlue and AirTran (with the WiFi) more often is the airline points. That's going to be my New Year's Resolution: Be more comfortable when I fly, not just points-minded. Well, one of my New Year's Resolutions.
"McKinnie attending the Flozell Adams school of pass pro?''
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Week 15:
a. Hmmmm. Let's see. Saturday night TV (if you've got NFL Network). Saints-Cowboys. Central Florida-Rutgers. That's a tough call ... if you're
b. TiVo Alert: The NFL Network is showing "The Catch'' game at 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve. It's the 1981 NFC Championship Game, Dallas-San Francisco at Candlestick (frozen in time in the very good retrospective this fall by
c. America, you're lucky the Rams ditched those uniforms of a decade ago -- the Greatest Show on Turf unis. Hideous. Memo to Rams: Please eliminate them from all future Throwback games, or call them Throwup Games if you use them again. They should all be incinerated.
d. "If I was a fan,''
e. Tom Cable says he'll start
f. I know this about the Bills: If there's not a new quarterback under center in 2010, the locals are going to tear the stadium down.
2. I think, apropos of nothing football, I just thought of something at 4:38 a.m. while listening to "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For,'' on ITunes, and thought you might find it interesting. When I went to see U2 in Dallas in October,
3. I think
4. I think one of the 7-7 teams in the AFC, and there are 20 or 25 of them, is going to make the playoffs. I think Denver falls at Philly on Sunday, falling to 8-7, and the Broncos' 6-5 conference record will lump them into a mosh pit of teams. The playoffs are there for Baltimore to take, if the Ravens can win at Pittsburgh.
5. I think
"I'll be very bluntly honest with you, based on the way the game was going in the second half, first of all I thought with the element of surprise we had a chance to get it, but if we didn't get it and they were to score, then we would have necessary time on the clock to score or match their score. Plan A didn't work, we got the ball but we were illegal, that was the correct call, but it kind of unfolded the way you envisioned it.
"We had 30 minutes of evidence that we could drive the ball on them, we also conversely had 30 minutes of evidence to show they could also drive the ball on us. That's why we took the risk when we did. We were just trying to win the football game. There was time left in that game that had we kicked that ball away and the half had gone the way that it'd gone, they were converting third downs. They would have moved the ball down the field on us, we wouldn't have had necessary time to respond. I'm just being honest, but it starts with feeling pretty good about the element of surprise and having a good chance to get that ball, but that part of it didn't work out.''
How the mighty defense has fallen. Wow. Mike Tomlin throwing his D to the wolves.
6. I think -- no, I believe I know --how the Colts are going to play the final two games of the year. It's smart to look at the history and the present when trying to figure out how the Colts will play the Jets at home Sunday and vs. Buffalo on the road a week from Sunday.
In 2005, when the Colts were in a similar situation as today, Peyton Manning and the first-unit offense played three series in Game 15 and one series in Game 16. That's the history side of it. Now let's look at the present. The Colts will not play Manning very much more than a series in either of the next two games if they feel they want to rest key players on offense that could affect Manning's health for the playoffs. (That also goes for the defense to some degree. Defensive ends
There is one other element of the decision that president Bill Polian and coach
7. I think this is what I liked about Week 15:
a. Beautiful catch and toe-tapping shy of the end line,
b. The more I see of
c. I love how hard the Rams are playing. Sign of respect for
e. The 1,000 temp workers in Philadelphia and the 1,500 in Baltimore who got stadiums ready after the east coast blizzard. In Philly, the temps showed up Saturday afternoon, before the snow ended, and were put in luxury boxes until shoveling commenced at about 10 p.m. For 17 hours, in shifts, they shoveled. When they were off, they were fed and watched movies and tv upstairs. Removing 22 inches of snow in a place that big so that it looked like it never snowed ... amazing.
f. Matt Ryan finishing off an 11-play, 73-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown strike to
8. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 15:
a. The tackling of
d. Bad, bad decision by
e.Four interceptions by
f. It shouldn't be that hard for the Cardinals to win in Detroit. Arizona's defense is too inconsistent; you just can't give the Lions 161 rushing yards.
9. I think
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. I've got to see
b. Getting audited by the state of New York. Bummer.
c. You go,
d. One of the great mornings of the season: Saturday, just after dawn, at Fair Grounds Race Course in an old New Orleans neighborhood. Oldest track in the country. Sat in the office of trainer
e. Coffeenerdness: Cafe au lait (and a pair of warm beignets) for breakfast at Fair Grounds. When the coffee is hot, and you can taste the pungent chicory in it, that's every bit as a good as the best Italian Roast you can find anywhere.
f. Many, many queries about
Here's the note from Linda: "Things have been moving right along. Paul is stronger every day and just as determined to improve. He has started 'restraint therapy' ... using his weaker hand/arm and NOT using his stronger hand/arm. Five hours a day five days a week ... but Paul is really working on it seven days a week ... kind of spreading the hours out! This is in addition to his 3 days a week at Kessler. We hope that everyone is having a wonderful Holiday Season ... and wishing all of you a HEALTHY 2010!''
You can find more Zim coverage and a cool photo of him on
g. I know it's late, very late, for book recommendations for the holidays, but I have two. And it's not too late to get these books in hand by Thursday. (Last Wednesday night, I placed an order with Amazon, got two-day shipping, and the order was in my condo building in Boston the next day by 2 p.m.) So act now, and these can be yours this week ... I think.
h. Book one:
I'll give you an example of the knowledge McGinn conveys, using the Giants-Patriots game two years ago as an example, talking about what McGinn correctly saw as the factor in the game that most influenced the outcome: defensive pressure by the Giants' four-man front. "Our guys were possessed, no question,'' then-Giants defensive coordinator
That's the kind of terrific insight you'll get from this book.
i. Book two:
The authors asked me my favorite, and I said
j. Go, you mighty Devils. Amazing, amazing franchise. They lose stars every single year (except