After Week 10, it's clear: There are no super teams in NFL this season

Publish date:

1. Mark Sanchez takes his place with the big quarterbacking boys.

2. In the We're Really Serious This Time Note of the Week, Los Angeles is finally moving toward playing NFL football for the first time since 1995.

3. The Jaguars are very good at improvisation.

4. Bill Belichick does something better than Vince Lombardi did, and I'm not talking about playing lacrosse.

5. My Super Bowl pick is in big trouble.

6. So much for all those "what good has an interim coach ever done'' deep thinkers.

Before we go to those exciting places, a look at what lies ahead. After tonight's Donovan McNabb Referendum Bowl, there will be seven weeks left in the NFL season. Seven weeks, 112 games. I don't know how you measure such a thing, but I've got to think this has a chance -- a chance, nothing more, nothing less -- to be the most interesting last month we've ever seen in the NFL.

There are no super teams. The Patriots get throttled by Cleveland by 20, then throttle the Steelers by 13. The Jets go to overtime two straight weeks to survive teams with a combined record of 5-13. The Falcons, Packers, Giants, Saints and Eagles are the best in the NFC, and there are things to like about each one, but are you taking any of them to the bank? Admit it: You wouldn't be surprised to see Oakland or San Diego (combined record: 9-9) play deep into January.

As we digest the league this morning, and things can change in the next couple of weeks obviously, but it's looking like the league did a very smart thing in scheduling all teams to play division games in Week 17. The last month is going to be really interesting, particularly on the weekends of Dec. 5 and Jan. 2. With 19 of 32 teams in first place or within a game of first place (and a 20th could get there with a Washington win at home tonight), check out what an interesting stretch run the NFL could have:

• In the last month, there are 15 division games between teams in first place currently, or within a game of first. That number rises to 17 if Washington wins tonight, because the Redskins and Giants play twice in the last month.

• In Week 13, there are five head-to-head division games among the leaders (including Steelers-Ravens and Jets-Pats). In Week 17, there are five more.

• Not that you'll want to be anywhere near a mall on the last weekend before the holiday, but do not make plans for Sunday, Dec. 19. Check out the non-division schedule in Week 15: New Orleans-Baltimore, Jets-Pittsburgh, Green Bay-New England.

Pretty good times coming up -- assuming no one runs away with any of these divisions. Some team surely will. But this is a different year, the first one since 1959 that every team had at least two losses after nine weeks. It's going to be fun.


Hard to say enough good things about Mark Sanchez this morning.

A quarterback's job, above all, is to win, no matter how the game is won. Sanchez, in the past two weeks, has played two games the Jets should have won -- at Detroit, at Cleveland. Though each was excruciating -- both games were tied at 20 after four quarters -- Sanchez made enough plays when he had to for the Jets to win. His numbers over the two games are individually pedestrian (59-percent accuracy, three touchdowns, two picks), but think how much he played: 138 minutes, 161 snaps, with his offense generating 893 yards. Maybe it should have been easier to win these games, and maybe great teams put away Detroit early and don't need overtime to beat Cleveland. But this is a weird year in the NFL. No team is vastly superior. You've got to win the close games, and the road games, and Sanchez has done it two weeks in a row.

Two things stand out from Sunday's 26-20 win at Cleveland: He played two quarters with a painful right calf after the Browns crushed him on a sack ("He's tougher than nails,'' Rex Ryan said, and watching him grit this out for an hour after the sack, at the risk of joining the cliché festival, I'd agree), and he made a terrific read and decision on the last play of the game.

Before going out for the last series, beginning at the Cleveland 37 with 24 seconds left in overtime, the assignment was clear: get the Jets into close range for another shot for Nick Folk to win the game. (God knows why. Folk had already missed three makeable field goals, any of which would have given the Jets the win long before this.) Sanchez told me after the game that he and Santonio Holmes had a route combination that could have had him take any of four options, depending on the coverage he saw when he got off the line of scrimmage.

"It's one of those things we both have to see, and we both have to be able to adjust when the play starts happening,'' Sanchez said from the Jets bus on the way to the airport late Sunday afternoon. "Tone did a great job reading it. There was -- well, just a little improv there. He's got to see the four options, I've got to see them, and then we've got to make the right choice.''

Holmes ran a quick slant, got the ball delivered perfectly from Sanchez, wheeled around the cover guys, and, thankfully, the Jets wouldn't have to rely on the kicker on this day. Warts and all, Holmes was acquired to make game-winning plays like this, and you get the feeling Sanchez-to-Holmes has a chance to be a New York institution if both stay healthy and on the field.

When I asked if he thought he might have to miss a few snaps because of the calf strain, which caused him to limp like Walter Brennan for a few minutes, Sanchez said, "Never. I'm not coming out of that game. They gotta finish me off to get me out of there, and they didn't.''

Good news for Jets fans. And for a team that's going to need a quarterback to compete with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers to win the AFC this year, and for several to come.

"These are the games I didn't give us a chance to win last year,'' Sanchez said. "Either because of bad passes, bad decisions, interceptions, whatever. That's what I'm happy about. I'm not making the dumb decisions now. I'm really proud how we hung in there today.'' He can start with himself there.


It's a good day to be Jason Garrett.

If I had a dime for every former coach and/or Joseph Abboud-suited network guy who implored Jerry Jones to keep Wade Phillips and let himself dig the Cowboys out of the hole he'd dug for them, I wouldn't be buying my lattes for a long time. Some holes you just don't dig out of. Phillips might be the guy you want running your defense, but he's the good cop, and Dallas needed a bad cop. I'm stunned to say they might have found him in one of the nicest guys I've covered in my years in this job.

Garrett knows he's in an awful hole. He has eight games to prove he deserves to be a head coach in the NFL. If he succeeds by winning five of his final eight, let's say, Jerry Jones will be under pressure to make Garrett -- and not the sexier Jon Gruden, for example -- the coach of his team long-term.

Those around Garrett the past few days feel what I felt in a short conversation Thursday about the job. "You've got five minutes,'' he said sharply -- not rudely, but with the kind of immediacy that said, These are the most important eight weeks of my coaching life, and I've got to spend my time on winning, not talking. Because I don't want to be a quarterback coach in some far-flung place next year.

His team went out and played with Garrett's sense of urgency in dismantling the Giants 33-20. The game showed the value of a head coach in the NFL. Garrett came out determined to force the issue and not play the game safe. On the second series, backup quarterback Jon Kitna twice threw downfield to Dez Bryant, the second resulting in a touchdown. Take chances. Take shots. Try to win. And they did. The future? Who can know. But the best coaches don't look down the road. They look at today, and that's what Garrett was looking at after the game.

"It was a good day for us for a lot of different reasons,'' Garrett said. "One of the things that we emphasize to our players is come to work each and every day. Be great on Wednesday, be great on Thursday and Friday and that gives you a chance to be great on Sunday. We weren't great in all areas today, obviously. There are a lot of things we have to clean up, but I think the intensity in all three areas ... guys fighting for each other, playing for each other, different guys getting involved, guys who have been around here, newer guys in different roles. It was a good day.''



Wrapping up Week 10 ...

I can't quite believe this, but the Jaguars don't practice the Hail Mary. Well, they practice the play in walk-through practices, but not live. That's what the hero of the day, Mike Thomas, told me Sunday night.

With three seconds left in a tie game and the ball at midfield, Jacksonville huddled and, as Thomas said, "basically began to think of overtime.'' Then David Garrard got the play in his helmet and announced it to the 10 guys surrounding him: "Rebound.'' That's the Hail Mary play the Jags don't work live, apparently for injury-risk reasons. "We jog through it, and we know what position to be in, and then we look at diagrams,'' Thomas said. "[Tight end] Marcedes Lewis is the point man. He's supposed to tip it to one of us if he can. I'm the scoop guy, out front.'' In other words, Thomas is the rebounder on the rebound, a couple of yards in front of the scrum, just waiting for the 1-in-100 chance that the ball would get batted to him, or ricochet to him. This time, Houston cornerback Glover Quin boxed out in the end zone and batted it straight ahead instead of down to the ground, which a defender is supposed to do. "When it happened,'' Thomas said, "all I could think was, 'Oh my goodness! Did he really just tap it to me?' '' He did, and the Jags, lifeless after seven games at 3-4, are one of those 19 teams in the running, 5-4 now, with a tiebreaker edge over AFC South leader Indianapolis (6-3).

The Vikings can't bench Favre. Yet. The Vikings are 3-6, and logic says after the most tumultuous year in their history, they ought to be playing for 2011, because they can't run the table. Probably not. But you didn't go get Brett Favre out of the Mississippi retirement home to raise the white flag when you're three games out of first with seven to play. I expect Brad Childress to survive the season, and the way he does that is to try to win every game he can down the stretch. That isn't to say if the Vikings are eliminated three weeks from now that Childress wouldn't or shouldn't play Tarvaris Jackson; I think Childress will make the move and give Jackson a couple of games when the Vikings are mathematically out of it. But not until.

What we learned last night won't be good news for Steeler Nation. Jonathan Scott, subbing for Max Starks at left tackle, and Ramon Foster, playing for right guard Chris Kemoeatu, were porous against the Patriots, and caused Ben Roethlisberger to be sacked five times and hit hard at least four more times. Along with the loss of defensive end Aaron Smith, Pittsburgh might have taken too many hits to be super this year. In the next five weeks, Oakland, Baltimore and the Jets will throw the same kind of odd-man fronts at Pittsburgh that New England did, and for the Steelers to survive, they'll need a healthy dose of short drops and quick throws from Roethlisberger.

As for the Patriots, they continued a ridiculous backs-against-the-wall streak for Bill Belichick (see Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me later in the column), and they did it with a great night from Tom Brady and lots of help from guys who are household names only in their households. The Patriots are 7-2, and the two-headed rushing tandem of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead have combined for 715 yards and 4.4 yards per carry. (The Bears, for comparison's sake, have used Matt Forte and Chester Taylor to rush for 676 and a 3.6-yard average.) Tully Banta-Cain and Mike Wright, not to be confused with Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, combined for three of New England's five sacks. Speaking of Freeney and Mathis, guess who's coming to Foxboro for the annual Polian-Belichick November cookout on Sunday?


This is the best chance Los Angeles has to get a team in a long time.

Nothing's going to happen until after the owners and players get a new collective bargaining agreement, but once that happens, I expect, as I said on NBC last night, the league to get cracking on bringing one of the 32 teams to a new stadium adjacent to the Staples Center and LA Live complex in downtown Los Angeles.

All along, what's held the NFL back is either that the league didn't really want to be at the Coliseum -- and USC wasn't crazy about having the NFL there -- or the league didn't want to be in the endless 'burbs of southern California. But the backers of the new stadium, Casey Wasserman and Tim Leiweke, are well-connected guys who want to build the kind of retractable-roof events center that could be used to attract the 2022 World Cup final (or some future World Cup) and Final Fours, as well as an NFL team. Influential owners in the league are excited about the Los Angeles prospect ending a generation-long drought in the city, and these are owners who -- I can tell you with certainty -- have not been nearly as excited about any of the previous L.A. ventures.

As for the team to play there, the obvious candidates are San Diego (likely the favorite, unless a stadium gets built there, which appears increasingly unlikely) or Oakland. I'd say San Diego's more likely, but this thing has a couple of years to play out.


Look for more Tebow in the coming weeks.

Nearly lost in the Broncos' 49-29 rout of the Chiefs: the emergence of Tim Tebow as a passer and runner. Tebow's not going to replace Kyle Orton anytime soon, and he probably doesn't have a chance to do so, rightfully, until 2012; that's how good Orton has been. But Tebow ran for a one-yard score in the second quarter Sunday, then threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Spencer Larson in the third quarter, a long-awaited first NFL pass from Tebow.

Talked to Denver coach Josh McDaniels last night, and he said, "The package for Tim will continue to grow, and we'll expand it. We like what we've seen in him, a lot. We've had more than a few [passes] in for him in the past few weeks, and we just got a chance to use one today.''

A good day for the Broncos, and a needed good day, happened because Orton was able to pummel the Chiefs secondary early -- he threw three touchdown passes in the first quarter -- and keep Kansas City on its heels. "We wanted to throw the football so we could run later,'' McDaniels said. And it worked.

1. VACANT. Sorry. I watched every good team in football last Thursday and over the weekend, and there isn't a number one. I guess if there were one, I'd take the team that beat Detroit and Cleveland, both in overtime, over the last eight days. That team is ...

2. New York Jets (7-2). Mark Sanchez one day will draft a line of demarcation on his career, and the line will come before Sunday's game in Cleveland. That was a powerfully strong performance against many odds and one very bad calf.

3. New England (7-2). Al Michaels said five minutes into the second quarter Sunday night: "The Pittsburgh Steelers ... 18 offensive plays, 18 yards.'' Tully Banta-Cain, Rob Ninkovich, Devin McCourty -- those are becoming prime-time players and we'd better get to know their names.

4. Atlanta (7-2). Matt Ryan can win big games. That's what I take from Thursday night's pulse-pounder over Baltimore, and it's a great sign for games with Green Bay and New Orleans coming up in the season's last seven weeks.

5. Green Bay (6-3). Now we find out if the Pack's for real: Starting Sunday, three of their games within the next month are at Minnesota (in their last meeting, presumably, with Brett Favre), at Atlanta and at New England. Killer sked, Pack.

6. Baltimore (6-3). Played the Falcons very close in Atlanta.

7. Pittsburgh (6-3). Didn't play the Patriots close at home. That's the difference between 6 and 7. That and the offensive-line injuries to the Steelers. That made the Patriots look like a bunch of jail-escapees on defense Sunday night.

8. New York Giants (6-3). That's the one mulligan for the year. It's allowed. But the problem, as it is with Pittsburgh, is that the Giants' offensive line is so beat up that it could ruin a great offense.

9. Oakland (5-4). No team has had a better bye week in a long, long time. The Raiders were a half-game behind first-place Kansas City in the AFC West entering Sunday's games. Kansas City lost. Oakland has the tiebreaker edge because of last week's head-to-head win over the Chiefs. So now the Raiders and Chiefs are both 5-4, and the Raiders are in first because of that tiebreaker edge.

10. Philadelphia (5-3). Big game tonight, Mike Vick.

11. New Orleans (6-3). Bye week. Interesting two-game stretch in five days now -- Seattle at home, then at Dallas on Thanksgiving. Winnable, certainly, both of them. But that Dallas game is a lot more interesting and more challenging now.

12. Indianapolis (6-3). The Colts will be there at the end. I'm pretty sure of that. I just don't know whether they'll actually win the game when they're there at the end.

13. San Diego (4-5). How amazing is this: If the Chargers beat Denver at home this week, and the Raiders and Chiefs lose, San Diego's tied for first in the AFC West.

14. Chicago (6-3). I don't know any contender with a tougher last seven weeks: at Miami (on a short week), Philly, at Detroit, New England, at Minnesota, Jets, at Green Bay.

15. Miami (5-4).Tampa Bay (6-3). Oops. In an earlier version of the column, I omitted the Bucs from my Fine 15. Don't take it as a slight Bucs fans. Honest mistake.

"Holy cow! We won a game!''-- Buffalo guard Eric Wood, walking off the field after the Bills' first win of the season, a 14-12 decision over Detroit at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"Yes, I feel that.''-- San Francisco running back Frank Gore, asked after the 49ers' narrow win over the Rams -- the Niners' second straight win with Troy Smith at quarterback -- if Troy Smith should be the starting quarterback. Troy Smith and Alex Smith will likely be healthy next week, when the 49ers play Tampa Bay.

"To me, this is high treason. An NFL football player does not turn down a play like that. And if I'm Jason Garrett, the first thing that I'm doing when I take over as the head coach of this team, is I'm getting guys like that -- number 21, who absolutely committed treason, let his team down by passing up a tackle and let the ball get in the end zone -- I'm taking him and I'm getting him out of my locker room."--Former Falcons and Seahawks coach Jim Mora, on NFL Network, after watching Dallas cornerback Mike Jenkins back off a tackle against Green Bay's James Jones eight days ago.

The amazing thing is that Jenkins refused to admit his mistake, or apologize, after the game or the next day. I don't believe he should have been cut, but the Cowboys owed it to the dignity of the franchise, and to the fans, to bench Jenkins for part of the next game Sunday against the Giants for this intolerable act. They didn't do so.

My favorite part of the play on NBC was the graphic we put up right after Jenkins went to the bench, showing that Jenkins -- supposedly a Pro Bowl corner, which he's made a mockery of as his team has gone down in flames -- being thrown at eight times in the first 38 minutes of the game against Green Bay , with eight completions, for 94 yards. Way to be tough during adversity, Mike.

"You share a very intimate relationship with Brett Favre.''-- NFL Network host Stacey Dales, to Steve Mariucci, beginning an interview Saturday on-air.

Mariucci was Favre's quarterback coach at the Packers, and they are good friends. But perhaps slightly different wording would have been in order here.

"No ... No.''-- Favre, to Mariucci, when Mariucci asked if he would play football in 2011.

Offensive Players of the Week

Dez Bryant, WR/KR, Dallas.

Other players had gaudier numbers -- kudos, particularly, to Fred Jackson for lifting the Bills to their first win of the year -- but Bryant was brilliant for the Cowboys in helping them to a stunning upset of the Giants. He had three catches for 104 yards, and had a bomb reversed because he touched the boundary marker and was ruled out of bounds.

Bryant's brilliance on Dallas' first touchdown drive of the day started the Cowboys on their way. His 45-yard diving, fingertip grab of a Jon Kitna pass set up his acrobatic 13-yard touchdown reception -- ruled incomplete on the field, but a touchdown by the replay official -- and put Dallas up 7-3. There is no question that Bryant gives the Dallas offense an energy it has not had, and he was an important as any single player to this unlikely victory.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England

After fumbling at a crucial time last week in Cleveland, Gronkowski had a game he'll never forget Sunday night in Pittsburgh, with touchdown catches of 19, 9 and 25 yards in New England's convincing 39-26 win over the Steelers. Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have formed a formidable 1-2 rookie tight end punch for New England, and the Arizona Wildcat has six touchdown receptions now -- the same as Jason Witten, Chris Cooley and Kellen Winslow combined.

Defensive Player of the Week

Chris Clemons, DE, Seattle.

One of the league's most underrated defensive linemen, Clemons led a punishing Seattle pass-rush. His two sacks, two tackles for loss, pass deflected and fumble recovery -- a month for some players -- keyed Seattle's 36-18 win over Arizona on the road. The Seahawks are one of the strangest teams in the league, and an 18-point road win is an exclamation point on that. But as long as they get the kind of disruptive front-seven play they got Sunday in Arizona, they'll have a good chance to win the worst division in the league in years.

Special Teams Players of the Week

Eric Weems, WR, Atlanta.

The versatile Falcon special-teamer had a 16-yard punt return, a 33-yard kickoff return and one of the best tackles on a kickoff of the season to pin the Ravens back on their failed last drive of the game in Atlanta's 26-21 win Thursday night. When David Reed of the Ravens chose to take a kickoff out of the end zone, starting five yards deep with 20 seconds left in the game, Weems flew in from Reed's right and clipped his legs out from under him at the nine-yard line, making the Ravens' last drive totally futile.

Devin Hester, WR/PR/KR, Chicago.

Very wise use of the dangerous Hester made the Bears' win over Minnesota much easier. He scored on a 19-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, then returned a punt 42 yards and a kickoff 68 yards. All in all, if Hester can impact the game as a receiver AND kick/punt-returner, the Bears have a chance to win multiple playoff games.

Coach of the Week

Jason Garrett, interim coach, Dallas.

How do you give this to anyone else this week? Cowboys in crisis, Jerry Jones fires the laissez-faire Wade Phillips, Garrett takes over a dying team, quarterback position flailing with the loss of Tony Romo, discipline totally lacking, and Cowboys enter their first post-Wade game 14-point 'dogs to the Giants in New Jersey. The final: Dallas 33, Giants 20. This was a more crisp team with the kind of verve and hustle that had been totally lacking. "I felt like him coming down on us, being aggressive on us, helped us out a lot,'' Dez Bryant said.

Goat of the Week

Chansi Stuckey, WR, Cleveland.

Tough call. Very tough. Because the similarly deserving Nick Folk of the Jets missed three field goals, including a 24-yarder that would have prevented overtime, and then another IN overtime that would have ended it. But it wouldn't have come down to a tie had not Stuckey made a boneheaded play, getting the ball yanked from his grasp at the Jet 32 with 10 minutes left in OT. Going down there would have given the Browns a first down at the New York 32, and a very good chance at the winning field goal. Instead, a heartbreaking defeat lay, tortuously, just minutes ahead.

1. Tom Brady, QB, New England. Coming off his worst day of the year -- in a few years, maybe -- Brady was brilliant against the Steelers, completing 30 of 43 for three touchdowns and no interceptions. He takes over my top spot from ...

2. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego. You snooze, you lose. Temporarily. If Rivers is the most valuable, he'll have a shot to prove it over the next seven weeks. And he's got a shot to do so.

3. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. Starting on offense for the Colts Sunday, among others, were Brody Eldridge, Gijon Robinson, Kyle DeVan and Jeff Linkenbach.

4. Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay. Man possessed gets a bye so he can continue to play like a man possessed.

5. Roddy White, WR, Atlanta. Ten catches more than anyone else in football, with a whole lot of them coming in the clutch.

NFL quiz: What player, with a minimum of 20 passes, has the highest completion percentage and passer rating in history?

Before giving the answer, here's his career line:

The answer? Antwaan Randle El.

The former Indiana quarterback, who's been mostly a wide receiver as a Steeler and Redskin, has been pretty good as a part-time passer too, throwing an average of three passes a season.

In looking into the performance of great coaches in NFL history and losing streaks this week, I have even more respect for Paul Brown than ever. That's difficult for me to fathom, because I already considered him the best pro football coach ever.

I set out to look into how Bill Belichick's teams performed after a loss, which, since 2003, has been fairly remarkable. After the bad loss at Cleveland last week, I thought it merited a look, particularly since a treacherous road game lay ahead last night at Pittsburgh. So I decided to look at two-game losing streaks by the great coaches of our time. I picked out five: Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Bill Walsh and Belichick. And I compared their greatest eight-year runs as NFL coaches with Belichick's current eight-year run. How many two-game losing streaks did each one have over their eight-year span. What I found:

Belichick had one in 2006 and one in 2009. New England's 39-26 victory over the Steelers on Sunday night staved off number three. That's it. And no three-game losing streaks for Belichick either.

Here's what amazes me about Brown's record. His Cleveland Browns played four dominating seasons in the All-America Football Conference, then joined the NFL in 1950. In his first six years as an NFL coach, Brown never had a two-game losing streak. Roll that around in your brain. Not 'til 1956 did the Browns lose two straight. I find it amazing, especially since Brown's Browns entered the league with a bulls-eye on them, with the NFL wanting to put the upstart kids in their place. The established league never could.

In Cincinnati Monday, before going to the Bengals-Steelers game at Paul Brown Stadium, I found myself with commissioner Roger Goodell and his staff, in town for the game. PR maven Greg Aiello, a big Twitter guy, was invited with the NFL party via Twitter to eat at Skyline Chili, a local institution. I had eaten my share of four-ways and Cheese Coneys in my five-year stretch at the Cincinnati Enquirer in the '80s, and when I heard Aiello was Tweeting with the Skyliners, I told him they just had to eat at Skyline. "Food of the gods!'' I said.

Glomming along with the crew, I suggested we stop at the Skyline at Seventh and Vine (which was my home-turf Skyline as a local reporter) and have a nice lunch. I had my standard -- the four-way with cheese, and coney with onion, no mustard -- washed down with a diet cola. A four-way is a bed of spaghetti with a few onions on top, and a crown of shredded cheese. I must have eaten three of those a week as a young reporter. Goodell had a three-way bean -- bed of spaghetti, chili, and onions on top.

I think I was the only one of the group in food heaven, but the New Yorkers were very polite to their Cincinnati hosts. I think Goodell took more pictures for the Skyline folks and the lunch-eaters than Kate Moss on a runway during Fashion Week.

"The Texans' pass defense is the worst I've seen in more than 30 years of covering the NFL.''--@McClain_on_NFL, football writer John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, in the fourth quarter of another bad defensive performance by the hometown Texans.

1. I think this is what I liked about Week 10:

a. Matt Ryan's poise. After the Thursday-night win over the Ravens, there's no question in my mind Ryan's the superior player to his 2008 first-round-draft peer Joe Flacco.

b. Steve Smith's downfield blocking for Carolina.

c. Arrelious Benn, stuck in Mike Williams' rookie shadow, with a good catch, move and stretch for a touchdown against the Panthers.

d. Dhani Jones covering Jacob Tamme. I know Tamme caught his share, but Jones played tenaciously when they were matched against each other.

e. Way to tackle, Al Harris. I mean that. Nice debut for the Dolphins.

f. Got to hand it to you, Antonio Cromartie. This is a heck of a comeback season for you, as evidenced by another great open-field tackle, this one on Josh Cribbs.

g. Block of the Week: Cleveland fullback Lawrence Vickers on the corner for Peyton Hillis, paving the way perfectly for a first-half Hillis TD run in Browns-Jets.

h. Edgerrin' little cousin, Javarris, scoring to help Edge's old team, the Colts, beat the Bengals.

i. As bad as Chad Ochocinco was Monday night, that's how good he was Sunday in Indy. He laid out for balls. He played hurt. He played like it was the last game he'd ever play.

j. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who throws a nice ball, threw a beauty, in stride, to Lee Evans against the Leos.

k. Last week for byes. Now we've got seven straight weeks of 16 games a weekend.

l. Troy Smith. Fun guy to watch.

m. LaGarrette Blount. Glad he got a legit chance.

2. I think this is what I didn't like about week 10:

a. Four timeouts in the first three minutes of Miami-Tennessee.

b. I wish Braylon Edwards would just play football, rather than try to avenge some perceived slight by the city of Cleveland.

c. "There more pushing and shoving than I ever remember,'' Phil Simms said on Browns-Jets. "Just play.'' Agreed. Why is Edwards bouncing up from a hit shoving? Ridiculous.

d. Memo to Jets D: Cover Josh Cribbs. He's pretty good.

e. There's the Bengals we know and love ... two turnovers in 14 seconds of the first quarter at Indy.

f. Favre giveth ... Favre taketh away, and then taketh away some more.

g. Chad Pennington's big comeback lasted two plays.

h. Nineteen-play drive for the Jets, longest drive in the league this year. And they get nothing out of it, thanks to Nick Folk's clanged 24-yard field-goal miss.

i. Rashean Mathis, who left Andre Johnson alone in the end zone for an easy touchdown throw. I don't care what the assignment is there, whether you're supposed to go cover someone else. Why would you leave Andre Johnson for anyone near the end zone?

j. Randy Moss' first catch of his Tennessee career came two hours and 53 minutes into Sunday's game. So much for a guy being quick to pick up the offense.

k. The Steelers' offensive line caved in way too much against New England. Oakland comes to Pittsburgh Sunday. Richard Seymour's drooling.

l. Found myself feeling sorry for Larry Fitzgerald Sunday. He's clearly a one-man offense, and it's got to be driving him nuts.

3. I think I still don't understand why Kansas City coach Todd Haley wagged a finger at Denver coach Josh McDaniels Sunday after Denver's 49-29 rout of the Chiefs. SI colleague Jim Trotter tweeted last night that "Haley was not happy with broncos max protecting, throwing deep & blitzing regularly with a 32-point 4th-Q lead." According to Trotter, last year against the Broncos Jamaal Charles had the chance to break the single-game rushing record but Haley pulled him with 2:43 to play, needing just 38 yards. From my perspective, I see nothing that rises to the level of a team making a big stink about getting their noses rubbed in it.

4. I think my biggest question after Sunday's games was not about Brett Favre's near future or Brad Childress' long-term one. It was this: After Dallas went on the road to Green Bay and lost by 38 last week, changed coaches from Wade Phillips to Jason Garrett, and after Dallas went on the road and won by 13 Sunday ... I mean, just how must Wade Phillips have felt sitting down in Texas watching that show from the Meadowlands?

5. I think you shouldn't make too much of this, but Sunday was Chris Johnson's 40th NFL game. He now has 4,072 yards. Through 40 games, Emmitt Smith had 3,396. That's almost 700 more rushing yards than the all-time leader. As my daughters often tell me, "I'm just sayin'."

6. I think the first thing Jerry Jones should do when the offseason begins is to announce he's holding training camp in one place -- and preferably not in the Alamodome, with players working every day (and sometimes twice a day) on artificial turf. Wherever it is, and Oxnard is the prefect place because the southern California weather is perfect for training camp, football has to be the sole focus. I'm not saying that's the reason Dallas stinks. But I am saying it's a sign that preparing the football team for the season has not always been the most important thing in the summer; marketing the team has been. And that's a bad message to send to your players.

7. I think two calls will live in infamy from the final minutes of the Falcons' 26-21 victory over the Ravens. I've watched them several times. Let's address both to see how they affected the outcome of the game:

a. The Terrell Suggs facemask call with 13:11 left. Atlanta led 13-7 and had a third-and-10 at the Baltimore 33. Matt Ryan completed a seven-yard pass to Jason Snelling to the Raven 26. Suggs was called for a facemask violation. What happened is that Suggs and the offending Falcon grabbed each other's mask; but only Suggs was called. Instead of replaying the down and again trying to convert a third-and-10, Atlanta got a down and continued a touchdown drive.

b. The non-pass-interference call against Roddy White on the winning touchdown pass. Baltimore led 21-20 and Atlanta had a first-and-10 at the Ravens' 33 with 27 seconds left. White ran nine yards off the line of scrimmage, came into contract with Ravens cornerback Josh Wilson and pushed him. Wilson fell to the ground. "I just pushed him down,'' White admitted in the middle of a detailed explanation of the play after the game. White continued downfield and, alone, caught the winning pass from Ryan.

If interference had been called on White, Atlanta would have had first-and-20 from the Ravens' 43 with 20 seconds to go ... time enough for at least two more plays to gain the 12 to 15 yards to get into reasonable field-goal range. Would the Falcons have made it? Maybe. But the fact that White didn't get an offensive pass-interference call had the Ravens privately seething, both immediately after the game and the day after the game. And they were right to be seething. That's a blatant non-call that, as I pointed out on NBC Saturday afternoon, could play a major role in home-field advantage in both conferences.

Atlanta, after 10 weeks, is tied for the top spot in home-field competition in the NFC at 7-2; Baltimore, 6-3, is now a game off the pace for home-field edge. And if you don't think home field is a big advantage in January -- at least for the Falcons --a you're not a student of numbers. Matt Ryan is 18-1 in the Georgia Dome as a starting quarterback.

8. I think I have to hand it to Deion Sanders for his magnanimous gesture Wednesday on our Sirius NFL Radio show. Sanders and I hadn't spoken in 10 years. We used to be tight; he gave me the pseudonym he used for all hotel stays, so when I'd need to talk to him on the road, I always had the password to get to him.

But he was broken player when he signed a $56-million contract with the Redskins in 2000. The Cowboys, his employers in 1999, wouldn't have passed him on their physical in 2000, and thus cut him. The Redskins surely didn't do all their due diligence in investigating Sanders' health (he had major turf toe problems that inhibited his great cover ability), and from the start of the season, he was a shell of himself.

The Detroit Lions, in the second game of the season, went after Sanders early and often, which would have been unheard of when Prime was in his Prime. And so early in that season I wrote the Redskins had been robbed by Sanders, and Dan Snyder had made a dumb signing. The dumb signing was right; the fact that Sanders had pilfered the money was a stretch, because clearly it takes two to tango, and the blame should have been on Washington for a dumb signing.

Anyway, Sanders held a grudge over what I said; when I tried to interview him that season, team PR man Doug Green asked him to talk to me, and Deion, according to Green, said, "Tell Peter, God bless him, but I'm never going to speak to him again.'' And that was that until he was a guest on the Sirius show the other morning. At the end of the conversation, Sanders said to me: "Peter, I miss you. We had a great relationship early on, you did something I thought was offensive, but it wasn't bad, because you just gave your honest opinion when you thought I was slipping, and I took it personal. I apologize. You're a good man, Peter. You're a good man. You really are.''

Why, thank you, Deion. No apology necessary. The thing that's hard about this job sometimes is that when you call out people you've had good relationships with, you know it's going to either ruin those relationships or change them forever. It's happened with Sanders, Bruce Smith, Bill Belichick, and, to some degree, with Brett Favre over the years. Reporters have to call 'em as we see em, and sometimes the truth as we see it hurts. That's the business we're in.

9. I think, by the way, if you're going to claim Mike Shanahan is a racist over this Donovan McNabb benching issue, you'd better have some proof. Playing the race card here is dangerous, obviously, and pretty cavalier. Play the performance card. That's what I'd like to do. I'm not saying what Shanahan did was right. But let's look at performance here.

McNabb, entering the weekend, was the 25th-ranked quarterback in the NFL. The 24th-rated quarterback, Chad Henne, just got benched by Tony Sparano. The 28th-rated quarterback, Alex Smith, lost his job to Troy Smith due to injury and is in the process of losing it for performance to Smith. The 21st-rated quarterback, Jason Campbell, could get replaced by Bruce Gradkowski any minute now.

Was it very odd and poor timing and a very questionable decision by Shanahan to yank the quarterback with two minutes left in the game? Yes. Was McNabb making some poor decisions on the field, causing Shanahan to question his grasp of the playbook? Perhaps; I don't know. But the same way I'm not going to make a big deal of black men being 1-2-4 (Mike Vick, Vince Young, David Garrard) in the QB-rating standings entering this weekend because I don't think the success or failure of a quarterback has anything to do with what color he is, I'm not going to think Mike Shanahan benched McNabb for racial reasons unless I have some proof other than something incidental.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. The worst song of all time, "Popsicle Toes,'' was playing as I went into my neighborhood coffee shop in Boston's South End the other day. "Worst song of all time,'' I said to the friendly barista, who said to me cheerily: "We seem to play a lot of those.'' And now, five days later, I can't get the damn thing out of my head. Help.

b. Now, "Harvest Moon'' by Neil Young and "Burn Down the Mission'' by Elton John, you can play those songs any time you'd like.

c. Glad I don't have a vote for the Heisman. What if Cam Newton wins and he's found to be Reggie Bush II a month from now?

d. I'm a sucker for the Matt Light Foundation, but it's because I know how helpful the foundation is to at-risk teenagers the world has given up on. And the foundation is running the coolest raffle right now, involving winning a huge portrait of Tom Brady and Wes Welker, a meeting with those three men (including Light) and four tickets to the Pats-Colts game next Sunday: Get all the info right here. It's worth a click, and an investment of as little as $2.

e. Dice-K for Kosuke Fukudome. That rumor surfaced the other day. And let me say on behalf of Red Sox followers everywhere: "Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.''

f. How do you say, "Worst trade since Larry Anderson for Bagwell'' in Japanese?

g. Not saying Fukudome is useless, but a man who has played in a hitter's ballyard for three years and never hit .265 or driven in 60 runs (despite having 590 and 603 at-bats in two of his three years), and made $33.5 million in the process ... well, I'd call that 80 percent of J.D. Drew, and not exactly a solution for any team except the Toledo Mud Hens. Maybe.

h. Coffeenerdness: Not really high on the Starbucks experience in Manhattan. I've tried eight or 10 of them this season, looking for a comfy spot to write on some Saturdays and all Sunday mornings, and I've come up mostly disappointed. The music is too loud, the panhandlers too prevalent at a couple of the midtown ones, the wireless spotty, and too many rest-room-less. I'm taking suggestions, either by e-mail or Twitter for a good, quietish place to work. Willing to commute to any one of them, but the closer to midtown the better. Let's see if you can help me out.

i. And by the way, urban legend has it that I tweeted if Derek Jeter could win the Gold Glove this year, there's hope that Wade Phillips could win coach of the year. Never said it, never tweeted it. Just wanted to correct the public record and perhaps stem the tide of bashing I've received from a certain large radio station in New York.

j. C'mon, Devils. Snap out of it. Earn your dough, Ilya.

k. Nice week on the road for the Edmonton Oilers. Between Tuesday and Sunday in the Eastern Time Zone, they lost four games by a combined 25-8.

l. Saranac Pumpkin Ale is gone and I am in mourning. It lasted far too short a time for so great a beer, which is why I'm counting the days 'til next October when I can drink it again. Best pumpkin beer on the market, by far, and for some odd reason, I'm attracted to the beer type and have tried every one I've found. Saranac is number one. If you see any stray bottles to purchase anywhere in the Boston area, tweet me. I'll be there.

m. Hey, Mary Pat Mercuro and your Montclair High field hockey team! Congrats on winning the sectional field hockey championship. Great to see the Mounties keeping up the Jersey field hockey tradition. I miss those games, coach.

Philadelphia 24, Washington 13. Now, no one can predict how a man, backed against a wall the way Donovan McNabb is, will come fighting back. But this Eagle defense is a little better than when McNabb pierced it last month. Here's how Peyton Manning's second-half drives ended last week at the Linc: punt, punt, punt, punt, touchdown, interception. The five futile drives netted just 64 yards. McNabb has had 15 days to stew/think/rehab-two-hammies/learn from his last-two-minutes benching against Detroit, and we should see fairly early in this game if it's done him any good, or ruined his relationship with Mike and Kyle Shanahan. If my score is anywhere near correct, the fourth quarter of this game could be very, very interesting for McNabb's future.