But above all, three quarterbacks. One redeeming himself. One taking his game to the next level. One just starting on his journey to be good with the surprise team of 2010.
Michael Vick, Matt Schaub, Josh Freeman.
Vick played the kind of game Sunday at Detroit he's been waiting to play for years. He was a polished quarterback who ran when forced -- when it was natural -- and threw from around the pocket the vast majority of his 41 pass-drops. He completed 62 percent (21 of 34). Played mistake-free; no turnovers. Just watching on TV, I saw a quarterback who scanned his options before taking off if nothing was there, the imprint of coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg showing.
Is Vick different? Is he going to be someone's long-term option a year from now? Watching him over the last six quarters, I think he has a real chance now.
"I'm 10 times better than I was four years ago,'' Vick told me from the Eagles' locker room in Detroit after the 35-32 win in his first start since 2006, the year before the dogfighting saga hit the public eye. "I've learned so much about the position, about being a complete quarterback, from Andy and Marty. How to stay active back there, how to make good decisions, or they'll be down my throat. I like that. It's something I need.''
The most interesting thing I heard out of Vick was patience. He's 30 now, yet he knows he'll likely have to wait one more year before he has a team of his own. Vick said the Eagles aren't his team; they're Kevin Kolb's team, even though Vick has the hot hand now and Kolb was so shaky before he got concussed in Week 1. If Kolb's healthy, he's the starter, Reid confirmed again Sunday.
"I know Kevin can do it,'' Vick said. "I saw him do it all summer. For me, I've had a taste of it now, and now, finally, I know it's going to be there for me. If I have to wait another year, I can. I can be patient.''
In a sign of their regard for Vick, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, who each caught a touchdown pass from Vick, handed him the ball on the sidelines, wanting him to have it, because they know how much the balls mean to him. I know many of you don't want to see Vick succeed because of his past crimes. Understood. But he's a compelling story right now, and he might be turning into the player the Falcons thought they drafted nine years ago.
"Excuse me if I fall asleep,'' Schaub said from Washington, a half-hour after the unlikeliest win in Texans history, 30-27 over the Redskins, in overtime. "I'm pretty tired.''
And sore, too. That's allowed. In the first two games of the season, Houston's won games it would have lost in the past. Last week, the Texans allowed the Colts to creep back from a 13-0 deficit, but rammed the ball down their throats in the second half, starting with an eight-minute drive to begin the third quarter; Texans 34, Colts 24.
In Washington on Sunday, Houston trailed 27-10 with 18 minutes to play, but tied it on a play Schaub never saw concluded, and then rallied in overtime, even after LaRon Landry had hit Schaub with a rib-rattler he'll certainly be feeling all week. I kidded Schaub in training camp that out of 100 real football fans, only five -- maybe -- could answer the question, "Which quarterback led the NFL in passing yards last year?'' It was Schaub, but who remembers a jillion yards by a quarterback whose team went 1-5 in the division and didn't make the playoffs?
The game in Washington was the kind that really good quarterbacks survive and win. That's what Schaub is right now, and I didn't have to see him throw for 497 yards (38 of 52, with three touchdowns and one pick) to know. I did take the time to watch the play he made with 2:10 left in the fourth quarter, Houston down 27-20. Fourth-and-10. That was the game right here. Make a play or go home 1-1. Schaub took the shotgun snap and moved right to escape some pressure, then moved right some more.
"I felt their guy coming inside on me,'' Schaub said, "so I moved away from the pressure. I saw Andre [Johnson] way down the field on the left and I just put it up to him. Then I took the hit, and I never saw what happened. I don't know how he caught the ball.''
"You haven't seen a replay?'' I said.
"No,'' he said. "Guess I'll see it tomorrow when we look at the film.''
Johnson leapt high above safety Reed Doughty three yards deep in the end zone and power-grabbed the ball. Great play by Johnson. Great throw by Schaub, knowing he was about to get leveled. And the best numbers of Schaub's life -- high school, college or pro.
"What I care about,'' he said, "is we showed resolve as a team, on the road, in a tough environment, against a really good defense. It was a great win for us.''
A win I don't think they'd have earned in the past. They're growing up, these Texans.
It's supposed to be time for growing pains in Tampa, with a 34-year-old coach, Raheem Morris, and a 22-year-old quarterback throwing to 22-, 23- and 24-year-old wideouts, with a brand new front seven, the guts of which is 25 or younger. The first two Sundays of The Rebuilding Era in Bucs history haven't been artistic successes, but they've been happy -- 17-14 over Cleveland last week, 20-7 Sunday over the Panthers in Charlotte.
Freeman, the 22-year-old kid from Kansas State, has taken tutelage from offensive coordinator Greg Olson and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt and become a confident player who makes smart decisions. Against Carolina, on third-and-17 in the middle of the second quarter, he threw a ball down the right side to a spot that only Kellen Winslow would be able to make a play, and he did, for a 40-yard gain. On the next play, one of the stories of the season, fourth-round rookie Mike Williams, made a catch-and-run touchdown, for what turned out to be the winning score.
"It's a great offense for me,'' Freeman said from Charlotte. "Coach Olson's done a great job with me doing things he know I can succeed at.''
You're not going to rip up the Tampa defense, not with the strong midsection led by two 23-year-old tackles (Kyle Moore, Roy Miller) and a 21-year-old backup (Brian Price) and 22-year-old two-way end (top pick Gerald McCoy). DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart ran for 97 yards on the day, but it took them 25 carries to get there. The defense bludgeoned Matt Moore to the bench. Tampa's going to be a very interesting team to watch -- certainly better than the build-for-2011 year I thought this was going to be.
"If I had to say one thing that's been important here, it's the culture,'' Freeman said. "Everyone's working for the best interest of the team, and we're following Raheem. There's a lot of trust for him in this locker room.'' Whatever works -- and it's working well. Now we'll find out exactly how well. Sandwiched by a bye, the next three games at Pittsburgh at home, Cincinnati on the road, and the Saints at home. The rubber's about to meet the road.
Steelers winning with defense
I think a lot of us thought that if the Steelers were 2-2 when Ben Roethlisberger returned from his suspension, they'd be in great shape. Well, we might have to upgrade that a bit. And we might have to say that if a defense plays as well as Pittsburgh's is right now, the Steelers might be able to win with a ghost of Cliff Stoudt playing quarterback. The Steelers held Chris Johnson to 34 yards on 16 carries Sunday in Nashville and flustered Vince Young so badly that Jeff Fisher had to yank him for his own good. The 19-11 win by the Steelers was closer than it should have been, but the kind of brutal beatdown that the old Steel Curtain would have been proud of. "These guys put together a fantastic effort and it's rare that I've been this proud of this team," coach Mike Tomlin said from the team bus on the way to the airport from the game. "Games like this are what make the NFL great. There's a lot of reasons why maybe we may not be able to play our best team. But we come out and we give an effort like this. Absolutely tremendous."
It was funny to hear Tomlin talk about his quarterback situation. Dennis Dixon strained a knee Sunday, and once-forgotten Charlie Batch had to finish up. He said the team will re-sign Byron Leftwich today and add him to the mix at quarterback. And then next Sunday in Tampa, one of them will start. Tomlin's not sure which one. "We've got a quarterback health situation. We don't know how serious Dennis' injury is; we'll know more [today]. As I sit here right now, yes, anyone of them could start Sunday. I have no idea," said Tomlin, who laughed at how preposterous his quarterback situation is. But all he knows is that his team is 2-0 and surviving.
Another team winning with defense: Miami
Fourth-quarter, 2:21 to play, fourth-and-one, Miami one-yard line, Dolphins 14, Minnesota 10. On the previous five plays of this drive, Adrian Peterson got the ball every time, so why should this time be any different. He slammed up between the guard-tackle hole. Karlos Dansby met him first and wrapped him up at about the one and then cornerback Vontae Davis, who plays bigger than he is, reinforced the collision and Peterson went down two-feet shy of the end zone. "That's what you train in the offseason for," Davis said afterward. "For collisions like that. You know it's coming. And you know the game is on the line. A message from a play like that is, 'You need to take us seriously.' '' Message delivered.
On the horns of a (Viking) dilemma
Minnesota is all screwed up. A year ago, Viking Nation was pirouetting with joy after Brett Favre threw the miracle pass to Greg Lewis to stun the 49ers. Today, the Vikes are 0-2, and Favre threw more interceptions in the first 54 minutes of his first home game Sunday (three) than he threw at home last year in eight games (two).
The popular theory is that he misses Sidney Rice, which is smart because he and Rice made beautiful music together last year, and because he hasn't bonded with Bernard Berrian the way he did with Rice. Two of his interceptions Sunday were intended for Berrian, which could bode ill for the offense until Rice returns. No one's sure when that will be after Rice's August hip surgery, but it's likely to be in November.
Meanwhile, there's a drumbeat building to trade for and sign holdout Chargers wideout Vincent Jackson, as if that will solve what ails Minnesota. Jackson is under suspension by the league for violating the personal conduct policy for a second alcohol-related driving violation; he also was placed on the roster-exempt list by the Chargers. Last week, the league and the players union agreed he could return after missing four games, as long as the Chargers trade him by Wednesday.
Though I love Jackson, one of my two All-Pro receivers in 2009, I see three problems with the Vikings trading for and signing him:
1. He wouldn't be eligible to play until mid-October, when the Vikings are slated to play Dallas. The Vikings are in crisis mode now, and they want Jackson. But if the Vikings have to play two more games without him, how smart would it be to deal for him now? By the time he gets in the lineup, Rice might be two or three weeks away from returning.
2. It's not very smart to deal a high draft choice (likely a second-round pick, or a second-plus something) to acquire a guy who is one misdeed away from a possible year's suspension.
3. The Vikings have put off negotiations with prominent players in the last year of their contracts -- linebackers Chad Greenway and Ben Leber, Rice and defensive end Ray Edwards -- and said they were finished doing new contracts. Then owner Zygi Wilf found $3 million to sweeten the pot for Favre to return for one more year. Now, if the Vikes deal for Jackson, that's another slap in the face to four guys who were major factors in the Vikings reaching the NFC Championship Game last year.
4. Even if the Vikings deal for Jackson and play it safe, signing him to, say, a one-year, $7 million contract instead of a long-term one, in essence they'd be trading a high draft pick for a guy who'd be a 12-week rental, then watching Jackson hit the free-agent market next offseason. Not smart.
I understand the desperation. But for the Vikings, it's clear Jackson's not the answer.
A non-scandalous scandal.
Last week, it was reported in Boston with some outrage that the car Tom Brady wrecked a couple of weeks ago, a $97,000 Audi, was owned by a charity he has worked for, Best Buddies, and given to him as a perk for the work he's done for the charity. The outrage stems from the fact that Brady, who just signed a $72 million contract extension, shouldn't be taking a $97,000 car from any charity, obviously.
But sources close to the story tell me it's not true. These sources say Brady was signed to represent Audi in corporate promotional work three years ago, independent of Brady's long involvement with Best Buddies, a charity that pairs mentally challenged people with mentors and friends in mainstream society. Part of his Audi deal was having Brady make four appearances a year for the car company. As part of his compensation, Audi gave Brady an expensive car to use each year. Best Buddies later partnered with Audi, and as part of that agreement, Audi told Brady he could do two of his four annual Audi appearances with the charity, on behalf of the car manufacturer.
Whether the appearances were done at Best Buddies events or other events not aligned with the charity, Brady was still going to get the car. Brady, the sources said, has never been paid money by Best Buddies, and the car involved in the crash was owned by Audi, not Best Buddies.
I'm all for good watchdog work against those who would use their celebrity to take advantage of the little guy. That's not what this story is about. The Brady/Audi story is a business deal between a famous athlete and a big company that has nothing to do with a charity Brady has worked with since 2002 -- and I'm told he's financially supported as well.
One good byproduct of this story? Two longtime Patriots fans have stepped up to donate $1,000 per Brady touchdown in 2010 to his favorite charity. Brady chose Best Buddies, and the fans, Brian and Armanda Hanson, are trying to get corporations or private citizens who believe in Brady to match what they're doing by visiting bestbuddies.org.
Where, exactly, is this landslide for the 18-game season?
I asked on Twitter: Which would you prefer for the future in the NFL -- a 16-game season with four preseason games or an 18-game season with two preseason games. I got 593 responses, and the results surprised me.
• A 16-game schedule: 386 votes (65.1 percent).
• An 18-game schedule: 207 votes (34.9 percent).
Now, maybe some people are telling me what I want to hear, because I'm very much against expanding the regular season; it's already hard enough to get players through 16 games. I think the league's asking for trouble, big-time, if it goes to an 18-game schedule, which it will try to do in this next CBA with the players. The players are aware of the league's intentions and are not impressed.
"The 18-game schedule and player safety,'' Jets linebacker Bart Scott told me. "That's what I call an oxymoron. All we say as players is: Don't insult our intelligence and say it's about making the game better. You know the 18-game schedule is about the money, not about the game.''
A sampling of what my Twitter followers said:
@sportsindenver (Tim Larison, Denver): "From a 42-year NFL season ticket holder. Don't want to see the season pushed deeper into winter.''
@SSI311 (Robert Scott): "they can't stay healthy for 16 let alone 18! Somebody please use some common sense!''
@slbguru (Josh Lewis): "4 gm preseasons is a joke/thievery by owners. Yes, more injuries, but there will be expanded rosters as concession to union.''
@ericrmusic (Eric Roberts, Dallas): "Are the 'fans' Goodell hears from 'everywhere he goes' about having an expanded season [actually] the owners?''
Interesting idea from former NFL executive and San Diego Chargers president Jim Steeg. He proposes a 17-game season, with the 17th on each schedule at a neutral site to re-energize fans after a possible work stoppage, and to engage markets hungry for the game, foreign and American. "It could also serve to help teams develop their regions even more with cities like Portland, Columbus, Raleigh,'' Steeg said. "No team would have to give up a home game for international games. This might be the chance to ensure that the NFL is the nation's number one sport across the country, and not just in the 31 markets it now dominates.''
The schedule will continue to be a hot-button issue through negotiations next year.
I'd love to focus on a few of the other games -- especially the meaning of Jets 28, Patriots 14 and the significance of the game for Mark Sanchez -- but I'll save that for tomorrow.
1. New Orleans (1-0). It's been 11 days since the Saints played. Doubt that will mean much tonight at San Francisco, but it'll be a talking point if the offense looks stale again.
2. Pittsburgh (2-0). Amazing how much Troy Polamalu means to this team. His value approximates Ben Roethlisberger's.
3. Green Bay (2-0).Jermichael Finley (four catches, 103 yards) continues to emerge as one of the game's best tight ends.
4. Houston (2-0). I'm so impressed with so many Texans, including the play-making Kevin Walter (11 catches, 144 yards), who gave the Redskins fits. "I love watching him make plays,'' Schaub said. "He's always where he's supposed to be.''
5. Indianapolis (1-1). Wow. The Colts can run it.
6. Miami (2-0).Karlos Dansby earned his free-agent contract on one play Sunday in Minnesota, when he stoned Adrian Peterson on fourth-and-goal, two feet shy of the goal line.
7. Chicago (2-0). Pretty hard to believe Jay Cutler is standing, never mind playing well behind that line. But he is, and he is. That was a mature quarterback who didn't blow his stack when he was getting the tar knocked out of him in the first half at Dallas.
8. Atlanta (1-1). The Falcons will be the beneficiary of the NFL schedule this week when they play at New Orleans on Sunday. While the Atlanta coaches have a normal game plan Monday and Tuesday this week, New Orleans plays in San Francisco tonight, and the Saints will get back to Louisiana around 4 a.m. Tuesday. That'll be the Saints' players "day off, while bleary-eyed coaches will cram in the game plan that day. Atlanta will be fresh Wednesday, when the practice week begins, while the Saints will have every right to be tired.
9. Baltimore (1-1). There's a four-pack of teams here, from 9 to 12. Ravens, Jets, Pats and Bengals. You could put them in any order, practically, because the Pats own a big win over the Bengals, the Bengals own a narrow win over the Ravens, the Jets own a big win over the Pats ... ahhh, I give up. It's only Week 2. Let's not overreact.
10. New York Jets (1-1). Good for Mark Sanchez, who threw three touchdown passes in the best individual performance of his young career. With the weight of the city on his shoulders, he outdueled Brady and showed the Jets' quarterback situation is in better hands than many of us thought.
11. New England (1-1). "It's going to be a long week,'' said Brady. Sure will be. Foxboro won't be a fun place to work this week.
12. Cincinnati (1-1). The Bengals have beaten the Ravens at Baltimore's own defensive game three times in a row, by 17-14, 17-7 and 15-10.
13. Kansas City (2-0). The Chiefs, 30th in team defense last year, have allowed 28 points in eight quarters -- and scored one defensive touchdown, on Brandon Flowers' interception return for a touchdown. That's progress.
14. San Diego (1-1). Tight end's a rich position right now. No tight end is scarier and harder to stop than Antonio Gates, who has started the year hot, with three touchdowns.
15. Tampa Bay (2-0). Of all the surprises in the NFL after two weeks, nothing is weirder to me than the Bucs being 2-0. Boy, was I wrong about them.
"We just sucked.''-- New England quarterback Tom Brady, after the Patriots' 28-14 loss to the Jets.
"Tell Peter King we already got our two wins.''-- Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber, in the victorious Buccaneers locker room at Carolina Sunday, after the Bucs beat the Panthers 20-7. Tampa Bay is 2-0. I picked the Bucs to be 2-14 in the SI NFL Preview Issue.
"We will not try to stop Drew Brees. We will stop Drew Brees. Next question.''-- San Francisco coach Mike Singletary, in a feisty interview with Dennis O'Donnell of KPIX-TV in San Francisco that, within two days of airing, was removed from the station's Web site.
Too late, KPIX. And the context won't matter. That little ditty, I'm certain, was a part of Sean Payton's chat at the Saints' hotel in the Bay Area last night as they got jacked up for tonight's game.
"Pain.''-- Washington left tackle Trent Williams, asked what he felt when he injured his left knee and a toe in the fourth quarter of the 30-27 overtime loss to Houston. This loss was devastating in and of itself, but it'll be much worse if Williams is lost for a few weeks.
Offensive Player of the Week
Matt Schaub, QB, Houston. For a while, late last year and early this year, Arian Foster was the chic gotta-stop-this-guy-to-beat-Houston pick. Then Schaub went to work Sunday in Washington.
He and Andre Johnson (with an assist to Kevin Walter) combined to play great in rebounding from a 27-10 deficit with 19 minutes left. Schaub completed 38 of 52 throws for 497 yards, with three touchdowns and an interception. He threw for 332 yards in the second half. The tying touchdown he never saw. He was getting lit up while his 34-yard pass was headed to a leaping Johnson in the end zone.
Defensive Players of the Week
Clay Matthews III, LB, Green Bay. A second consecutive three-sack game stamps Matthews as the premier defensive player in the league over the first two weeks. Not only that, but Matthews had two additional quarterback hits and another tackle for loss in the Pack's 34-7 rout of the Bills at Lambeau Field.
Cameron Wake, LB; Koa Misi, LB; Vontae Davis, CB, Miami. A great defensive day in Minneapolis for the Dolphins was led by a trio of impact players. Wake had 1.5 sacks and forced an end zone fumble by Favre that resulted in a strip-sack that Misi (two quarterback hits, two tackles) recovered in the end zone for what turned out to be the game-winning score. Davis had an acrobatic interception and backed up Dansby on a goal-line stoning that was the biggest defensive play in the game.
Lawrence Timmons, LB, Pittsburgh. Linebacker U. is producing another one. On a day when James Harrison had 11 tackles, two forced fumbles and two sacks, Timmons chipped in with 15 tackles and a forced fumble of his own. Every time I looked up, there was Timmons hanging around Chris Johnson and Vince Young. Johnson runs against everyone, and he was held to 34 yards by the Timmons-led defensive front. Amazing that the Steelers can win a game by eight points when they total 127 total yards, but the defensive depth is a huge reason.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Antonio Brown, KR/WR, Pittsburgh. On the first snap of his NFL career (the sixth-rounder from Central Michigan was inactive last week), Brown took a handoff on a reverse on the opening kickoff at Tennessee and sprinted 89 yards up the right sideline for a touchdown. Pittsburgh had won just one game in Tennessee since Houston relocated to the state (out of eight games), so Brown's return was a tremendous boost for a team needing one.
Coach of the Week
Raheem Morris, head coach, Tampa Bay. "We're buying in,'' Josh Freeman said after the game. "We all feel good about the direction we're heading in with Raheem.'' From the start of the offseason program, Morris told his team there wasn't any cavalry coming over the hill -- this was the team they were going with. So far it hasn't been a team for 2012 and beyond. It's been a team ready to play and win now.
Coaching Decision of the Week
Tennessee's fake-to-one-side, kick-to-another onside kick late in the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh. Rob Bironas lined up with the majority of the kick-cover team on his left, lined up to onside-kick left with the Titans trailing 19-11. At the last second, Bironas shifted his body to line up directly behind the ball, the coverage team shifted its focus with three men moving to the middle, and Bironas quick-kicked to an area in the middle of the field where only one Steeler was. The ball bounced off the Steeler, and Titans linebacker Colin Allred recovered.
The Titans practiced the play last week -- led by special-teams coach Alan Lowry -- and it was called because they thought it was the best way to attack the middle of the Steelers kick-return team. It worked perfectly.
Goat of the Week
Matt Moore, QB, Carolina. The Panthers are stunned. Where's the Matt Moore who went 4-1 down the stretch last year, clearly winning the quarterback job and forcing Jake Delhomme out of town? Where's the moxie and the confidence and the deft downfield touch?
Moore continued to play like he was seeing ghosts in a 20-7 loss to Tampa Bay. In eight quarters of two terrible offensive performances by the Panthers, Moore has completed 41 percent of his passes. He's playing with an indecision that has to be a shock to coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson. Fox has a big decision to make to try to salvage his season -- whether to give Moore one more week or to go to second-round pick Jimmy Clausen. It's a call he hoped he wouldn't have to make all season, never mind Week 3.
I know, I know. Looks like I blew this one. I thought Moore was going to play well this season. The scary part of Moore's game right now is it looks like he has none. What would I do if I were John Fox? Probably give Moore one more start. If he's lousy again, I'd give the job to Clausen.
Philadelphia linebacker Ernie Sims went 1,000 days between wins.
True fact: The last time Sims played in a game for a winning team before Sunday's 35-32 triumph over Detroit was Dec. 23, 2007, when the Lions, his original team, beat Kansas City. Since then, he was 0-1 in 2007, 0-16 in 2008, 0-11 in 2009 and 0-1 this year with the Eagles. That's a personal 29-game losing streak for Sims.
"Wow,'' Sims said after the game from the Eagles' locker room. "I never sat down and figured that out.''
Well, who would?
I would -- eight days followed the win in 2007, 366 (a leap year) in 2008, 365 in 2009 and 261 days preceded Sunday in 2010 ... an even 1,000.
"To be honest with you,'' he said, "it did feel like a long time, but not that long. Not 1,000 days. Because I've been on the sidelines for some games we won but I just didn't play those days. So this feels pretty good.''
Mike Florio of Profootballtalk.com ran the team-by-team salary-cap figures on his site Sunday. What intrigued me is that the last two teams on the list -- Tampa Bay ($80.8 million) and Kansas City ($84.5 million) -- are 2-0, and two of the four highest-paying teams -- Dallas ($166.5 million) and Minnesota ($143.4 million) are 0-2.
How not to handle a mini-crisis: Saturday morning, on an Amtrak train from Boston to New York, an elderly man fell in the bathroom while the train was near Stamford, Conn. He banged his head and bruised his arm, and was lying on the floor of the train. The train stopped to discharge and pick up passengers, and a nervous-sounding voice came over the PA about a man having fallen and we might have a delay. "I think we're gonna need medical,'' he said, with a scared edge to his voice.
I mean, are you kidding me? The PA system on a train with 300 passengers is not the place to sound borderline panicky about an old man who falls in the bathroom. A simple, "If there's a doctor on the train, or any medical personnel, please report to the bathroom at the rear of the café car,'' would do just fine.
I live on Amtrak on fall weekends, going back and forth to NBC Studios in New York for Football Night in America, and the train personnel are terrific, by and large. Might be time, though, for a little Calmness Training in emergency situations. (Emergency medical personnel came on the train after a few minutes, and the guy was shaken up but fine.)
My half-marathon (the New Hampshire Half-Marathon, Bristol, N.H.) is 12 days out now, and I'm quite excited to report I'll have Team King running Oct. 2 as the leaves begin to turn in the heart of New England. I'll be joined by my brother-in-law, Bob Whiteley; two good friends from Montclair days, Mike (Mike From Montclair) Goldstein and George Frole; my button-pushing running trainer, Roberto Portocarrera; and a man I don't know but can't wait to meet, Jonathan Kuniholm.
Kuniholm's an engineer at Duke University. In 2004, his Marine reserve unit was called into active duty for the war in Iraq. On the first day of 2005, his unit was ambushed -- five died and Kuniholm was wounded. His right arm had to be amputated below the elbow -- and he worked on the design for one of the advanced prosthesis he wears. The hand looks like a metal hand. It's inspiring to see (I've seen a picture of it.) Kuniholm will join our group the night before the race, when my wife will prepare a pasta dinner for us. I'm grateful to Wounded Warrior Project for sending Kuniholm to the race, and I hope his presence raises the awareness for the cause he's trying to help every day at Duke.
A few notes: The fundraising event at Harpoon Brewery Thursday night with me and some of my Boston media friends sold out in a few hours the other day; thank you very much ... I have a training run Tuesday morning with Amby Burfoot, the 1968 Boston Marathon winner. He works for Runner's World, and I'm hoping he can impart some wisdom about running to me. Like, "Finish the race without embarrassing yourself.''
You can still contribute to our two charities, Feed the Children and Wounded Warrior Project, for the event -- please do -- at http://runpeterkingrun.com. Also, a big thanks to Under Armour for gear for the race ... And I have two items to motivate you to donate:
1. Two Fenway Park club seats in the upstairs State Street Pavilion section to Red Sox-Orioles Wednesday go to the first person to donate $200 to the cause -- and to follow up with an e-mail confirming the donation at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. And Rick Johnston of West Lafayette, Ind., has done a very good deed. He won the two Yankees-Red Sox club seat tickets at Fenway for Friday night, Oct. 1 ... and has graciously donated the tickets back to the cause to be used again. So here's the deal: The first person to donate $400 (either to one of the charities or split between both) and follow up with an e-mail to me at email@example.com will win the two tickets.
Thanks a lot for your support.
"who's the slouch now?''--@MarkCannizzaro, New York Post football writer Mark Cannizzaro, 90 seconds after Randy Moss -- called a "slouch'' by Darrelle Revis in the offseason -- scored on a one-handed touchdown catch over Revis near the end of the first half of the Patriots-Jets game.
"I will destroy the Ravens secondary, simply because i've confidence in the body of work i put [in] this week where i feel i wont fail.''--@OGOchoCinco, Cincinnati wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, days before facing the Ravens in Cincinnati on Sunday.
I wouldn't call four catches for 44 yards and no touchdowns exactly a destruction.
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 2:
a. The Washington Post's "Smarter Stats'' NFL preview page online, by Doug Farrar. A sample this week: "When the Titans go three-wide, don't necessarily expect a pass play -- [Chris] Johnson averaged 8.6 yards per carry out of those formations.''
b. Great rush/forced-fumble combo by Will Witherspoon of the Titans on Pittsburgh's first series, preventing the Steelers from beginning a runaway in Nashville.
c. Jahvid Best is the genuine item. I remember when I put him in the bottom of the first round for my SI mock draft, and I was ... shall we say, derided for it. He's looking like the best bargain in the round right now.
d. Smart player use by Cincinnati offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, putting flex-type tight end Jermaine Gresham wide left as a wide receiver.
e. Leon Hall, a top-five corner, played a top-five-corner game in Cincinnati's win over the Ravens.
f. LaDainian Tomlinson: 22 carries, 138 yards, 6.3 per carry. Reborn.
g. Quincy Black might not ever be Derrick Brooks, but the Bucs linebacker makes a couple of plays a game that remind me of him.
h. Have to admit I was really pulling for Charlie Batch when Mike Tomlin put him in the game. That'd be just about the best story of them all, local community leader leading the team of his dreams as a kid to wins when, by all rights, he should be on the unemployment line.
i. The one-handed touchdown catch by Moss was so good because he never added the second hand, even to secure the ball. He caught the ball over Darrelle Revis with his right hand, palmed it and scored.
j. Richie Incognito was a heck of a signing by Miami, and he played well against the moose of the Viking interior, next to Jake Long.
k. Good comeback week for Philip Rivers.
l. Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney never get old. What impact they had against the Giants.
2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 2:
a. Ref John Parry took the easy and wrong way out in the early-game brawl between Pittsburgh and Tennessee. I don't care about Hines Ward's reputation; four Titans surrounded and mugged him, and one of them slugged him in the head. And it's an offsetting penalty? Dumb call.
b. The Chicago offensive line might be worse than we thought.
c. Vince Young had an alarming regression Sunday. Good quarterbacks have to have more pocket awareness than he had against Pittsburgh.
d. The Browns have lost two games they could have won. Last year, Jerome Harrison rushed for 286 yards against Kansas City. Yesterday, he rushed for 33 yards against Kansas City.
e. The NFC West.
f. Brandon Jacobs' cool. Or lack thereof. He tossed his helmet into the stands last night in Indy. That solves a lot of things.
g. Teams in QB crises: Carolina, Jacksonville, Buffalo, Arizona.
h. Where's the electric back Felix Jones used to be? Has his weight gain caused the occasional Barry Sanders move to vanish from his repertoire?
i. The Giants tackles were awful Sunday night. They're not the first to get pinwheeled by Mathis and Freeney.
3. I think I loved seeing Marion Motley chosen number 74 on The Top 100: NFL's Greatest Players, the countdown series on NFL Network every Thursday night. Very deserving, and Paul Zimmerman would be happy to see that one of his favorite players of all time hasn't been forgotten. Great show, by the way, by NFL Films. Have I said enough that Ed Sabol, founder of NFL Films, absolutely, positively deserves a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Right now, in fact.
Sabol is on the preliminary ballot of 113 men that the 44 Hall of Fame voters will whittle down to 25 in the next month by secret ballot. I spent two hours studying the ballot the other night. We are asked not to divulge our list of 25 whenever we do vote, but this just in: Ed Sabol is long overdue for his bust.
It's difficult to say a man who shot film of NFL games, and helped make legends out of NFL players, deserves to be in Canton over many of the players he and his company shot film of over the years. But ask coaches and players how they fell in love with football, and one of the things you'll hear as much as anything else is the magic they saw on NFL Films shows over the years.
Brett Favre told me the night he won the Super Bowl he dreamed of Steve Sabol one day waxing eloquently about the day Brett Favre won the big game, and he loved the fact that generations would remember the day because of what NFL Films would show them.
Ed birthed the company and gave it life and direction. Son Steve took it to the next level, obviously. But this is Ed's time, and I hope my 43 peers on the voting committee see it that way when we meet to vote in Dallas on Feb. 5.
4. I think this is one piece of evidence I'd throw out there about Ed Sabol's candidacy: I came across this letter from then-commissioner Pete Rozelle to Ed Sabol on Oct. 19, 1977, a week after the league finished negotiations on the richest TV contract a sports league ever signed with the networks. I think it shows the regard Rozelle, and the owners, had for what Sabol did.
Wrote Rozelle: "The improved financial terms prompted me to give thought to all of the factors that have contributed to the NFL's growth on television. One of the major contributions has unquestionably been made by you and your organization. In every way, you and your people have fulfilled our original goal for NFL Films -- to operate as a sound business entity but primarily as a promotional vehicle to glamorize the game and present it in its best light. Your dedication to imaginative film portrayals of our sport can certainly be credited with its success in attracting fans to the stadiums and to their TV sets in ever-increasing numbers. Please convey to your entire organization the great appreciation of this office for NFL Films' outstanding accomplishment. Regards, Pete Rozelle.''
5. I think if you just learned how to pronounce the name of one very high Nebraska draft choice -- defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, by Detroit with the second pick in 2010 -- you'd better get ready for a second one. The Cornhuskers will have another top-five pick next April, again from the defensive side: 6-0, 205-pound cornerback Prince Amukamara. Pronounced "ah-MOOK-ah-mar-ah.'' I spoke with Suh about him the other day. "He's going to be a lockdown corner in this league,'' Suh said. "He's really good.''
He showed it Saturday. His tight coverage helped push down the draft stock of Washington quarterback Jake Locker, thought to be a candidate for the first overall pick next April, at least for now. In the 'Huskers' beatdown of Washington, Locker was an awful four-of-20 -- that's 20 percent completions.
6. I think the most interesting thing I read this week, by far, was the column about Randy Moss in National Football Post by former Packer salary-cap czar and negotiator Andrew Brandt. Terrific insight about how angry Favre was when Packers GM TedThompson didn't sign Moss in 2007. A snippet of it, starting with the time on draft weekend 2007, when it was the Patriots who got Moss over the Packers, because New England was willing to give Moss a one-year deal and a clear path to free-agency after the season, while Green Bay insisted on a second year:
"Brett was livid. The rest of the weekend I was fielding calls from [agent for Favre and Moss] Bus Cook about what went wrong in trying to sign Randy. Ted did not want to deal with Bus, so I listened patiently to their rancor and tried to explain our position. I truly empathized with Brett. He had befriended and admired Randy for years and the two of them had dreamed of playing together. Here was an opportunity for us to make it a reality. But ultimately, we stood on our principles requiring more than a one-year commitment.
"I told Brett to trust what we had at the position; that Greg Jennings would be a star in a couple years. He said he didn't have a couple of years. Brett offered to give up some of his salary for the following season -- although that was his last season with the Packers -- to bring in Randy. I told that was much appreciated but we would never take his money away from him to sign another player. Brett was forever wanting a more aggressive attitude by the front office toward player acquisition than the present regime. My constant message that our method of drafting and developing talent rather than acquiring proven commodities only served to infuriate him and his resentment of a general manager that showed him none of the compassion and welcomed input of previous regimes.''
Wow. That gives you a great window into how little regard Favre had for Thompson by the time his 2008 "retirement'' came about. This isn't the first insightful, important piece by Brandt either. He's really good in the role of writer with a window into how the game works.
7. I think I have four opinions on the Ines Sainz case:
a. If I were Roger Goodell, I would have given the Jets a $25,000 fine, in addition to the good idea of having owner Woody Johnson fund a media-orientation program. Just funding the program makes it a little wrist-slappish. And I would write a letter to every Jets player and coach telling them it's bush-league and beneath them to act like fourth graders trying to get the attention of the pretty girl in class.
b. If I were the boss of Ines Sainz, I would tell her, "Dress a little more conservatively.''
c. That's not a sexist comment. It's a reality-based comment. I've been around NFL players who look at and make comments about attractive female reporters. It's life. Young men are going to make comments about attractive women in the company of other men. There are attractive women who cover the NFL who present themselves as professionals doing a professional job, and dressing for business. Alex Flanagan, for instance, or Andrea Kremer, Rachel Nichols, Michele Tafoya, Suzy Kolber. Or many others. I don't know Sainz, but I don't think she helps the cause of women in the media by dressing for Maxim when she dresses for work.
d. One of the byproducts of the Sainz story is the discussion of why women should be in the locker room in the first place -- or why any reporters should be in the locker room. I've gotten e-mails and tons of Tweets wondering why we should be in there, and saying we could solve this entire problem (which I don't believe there is) by having all the players cool off, calm down, take a shower, get dressed, and then meet us in an interview room.
I understand that. But you need to understand how your coverage, and your knowledge of the game and the characters in it, will be very adversely affected if we in the news media don't get access to the players soon after the game, and in their habitat, the locker room.
To illustrate my case, let's revisit the NFC Championship Game in New Orleans between the Vikings and Saints last January. When Favre entered the interview room for his postgame press conference, it was about 45 minutes after the painful defeat, which he helped cause with a terrible fourth-quarter interception. He took a beating in that game. In the interview room, he was composed but sad. The Associate Press wrote this: "I've felt better," said Favre, who looked every bit his 40 years. "It was a physical game. A lot of hits. You win that and you sure feel a lot better."
Fifteen minutes after the game, a group of writers, me included, entered the locker room. My observations of the scene, and Favre's state, were in Monday Morning Quarterback hours later. Read the first few paragraphs of this link. This should illustrate why the NFL will have to pry my cold, dead hands off postgame locker-room access.
8. I think the reason Albert Haynesworth will be hard to move -- but not impossible -- is that the Redskins refuse to give away a player they've paid $34 million to in the last 19 months. Would they move him before the Oct. 19 trading deadline? They'd love to, but only if they get a good offer for him. And why would anyone give a good offer when they're unsure how motivated Haynesworth would be to work hard when he's already gotten 70 percent of the money coming to him in the contract.
9. I think I admire Jerry Jones for not going all Steinbrenner and firing his kicker, who has missed 34- and 44-yard field goals in the first two weeks. But really, how can you trust David Buehler? And why would going to a Matt Stover be such a revolutionary move?
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. I saw the riveting movie, The Tillman Story, the other night, and it's well worth 94 minutes of your time if you can find it in limited release around the country. But be forewarned: It's disturbing, it does not make the government or the military look good at all, and it's a depressing commentary on our image-is-everything society.
Pat Tillman, as everyone who reads this column knows, was in the first month of his second tour of duty with the Army Rangers in Afghanistan when he was killed by friendly fire. There is evidence presented by filmmaker Amir Bar-Lev that Tillman was killed by men from his own platoon even after he sent up a warning flare that was consistent with a signal from his platoon. When he believed he and another soldier were recognized, he stood up -- and that's when he was mowed down by his own peers. All of his belongings were then burned, including a diary with what-are-we-doing-in-this-war questions throughout. An ugly, ugly chapter in our history, and one some in our government hope you won't watch. Please do.
b. What a great call by Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, the fake field goal in overtime to beat Notre Dame. And how sad to hear he suffered a heart attack hours later.
c. I'll say this about the addition of Manny Ramirez for the White Sox: It actually propelled them in reverse. Since Ramirez entered Chicago's lineup Sept. 1, entering Sunday's games, the White Sox are 7-9, and have gone from four games behind to 10. In 48 at-bats, Ramirez has one homer and one RBI. What a darn shame.
d. Re the train wreck that is John Lackey. I'm at the Red Sox-Jays game Friday night at Fenway, and Lackey gets lit up ridiculously -- 4.1 innings, eight hits, two walks, three hit-batsmen; 13 outs, 13 baserunners -- and in the Globe Saturday morning, this is the quote I read, in part, from Lackey: "They just kind of found some holes.'' Dude, were you even at the game you pitched? You got shelled.
e. Good question by Joe Posnanski: How can Ron Gardenhire not be the best manager in baseball?
f. A couple of Mets notes: Did you know that Wise is the official Cheez Doodle of the Mets?
g. And Saturday's battery for the Mets was Dillon Gee and Josh Thole. With Lucas Duda in left.
h. How do the Mets get away with charging New York Met prices for Binghamton Met baseball? And whoever kidnapped Carlos Beltran, please put him on the 7 train and send him back to Citi Field.
i. Coffeenerdness: Set a personal record for espresso shots (six) and cups of Italian Roast (three) Sunday. There's a reason why I'll someday regret my autumnal Sunday night habits, and that's it right there.
j. Good luck, Ross Tucker. It was great working with you. You've got a great future in this business.
k. Best episode of The Office was on the other night. "The Dundies.'' Remember? If you're a real fan, you'll remember who got "The Fine Work Award.'' And "The Bushiest Beaver Award.'' But can you remember what award Michael Scott gave Kevin?