I love what's going on in Missouri. The Chiefs, with 10 wins the past three years, at 10-5, winning the AFC West. The Rams, 6-42 the last three years, one win from the NFC West title.
There are two great stories there -- the Sam Bradford factor in St. Louis and the deep-roster factor in Kansas City. Let's look at both.
The Rams have their quarterback of the future and he's everything they thought he'd be. "Remember when we talked in Indianapolis?'' Bradford asked me this week, recalling our meeting at the Scouting Combine in February. "Amazing how much has happened since then.''
Bradford took the reins midway through training camp, began taking all the first-team practice snaps soon afterward, and has done something fairly amazing for a rookie: He's played every play of the first 15 games of his rookie year. "Really pretty surprised about that,'' he said. "But the coaches have gotten me prepared, and there's never been a time I haven't felt like I was ready for any situation.''
There's another quarterback who played every snap of his rookie year -- Peyton Manning. Let's see how they compare, keeping in mind Manning's numbers are for 16 games and Bradford's for 15:
On Sunday, the Rams led San Francisco 15-14 with 10 minutes to go. Bradford had just thrown a 49-yard strike to Danario Alexander to the 49ers 3-yard line. On the next play, a pass, a heavy 49ers rush from Bradford's left sent the quarterback sprinting out to his right. One step from dumping the ball out of bounds, Bradford found his fourth option on the original route, Laurent Robinson, with a sliver of room in the end zone. The bullet, thrown in full stride across Bradford's body, found Robinson for the game-icing touchdown. "On a play like that,'' he said, "it becomes backyard football. You just react.'' Reacting has served Bradford and the Rams well on their way to the top of a bad division.
The metaphor for the Chiefs' season: Casey Wiegmann. Really, what were the Chiefs doing signing the 37-year-old center before the season, other than for insurance at a weak position? He played last season in Denver, satisfactorily, but the Broncos had no interest in re-signing him after the season. That's been the brilliance of Chiefs GM Scott Pioli this year, though: His seven draft choices and free agents like Wiegmann and guard Ryan Lilja weren't particularly starry last spring (except for first-round safety Eric Berry). But the combination of eight new starters imported by Pioli, the refocused energy of coach Todd Haley, the smarts of new coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel and the unexpectedly strong quarterback play of Matt Cassel have resulted in a division title in the second year of Pioli's rebuilding job.
The reason I pick out Wiegmann is simple: Nobody recognizes his value in the outside world, and this incredible record got scant attention over the weekend. But on Sunday, in the rout of the Tennessee Titans, Wiegmann played his 10,069th straight play.
Imagine that. Ten straight years of never missing a snap. The record dates back to Wiegmann's first tour with the Chiefs, shortly after the 9/11 disaster, when he took the field at center on Sept. 23, 2001 and never left. Though Wiegmann thought he missed a couple of snaps the following week in a Chiefs rout of Washington, the Chiefs checked the internal play-by-play of that game and found he was in the game for all 69 offensive plays. And in Sunday's game against Tennessee, he passed 10,000 .... and shows no signs of tailing off.
There aren't records kept of such things, but it's conceivable that Wiegmann is the first player in NFL history to have played every snap for such a long period. Think of it: 15 games in 2001 (he missed the opener with appendicitis), 16 games for eight straight years, and then 15 more games this year. That's 158 straight football games, playing every play. Seems physically impossible. But he's done it.
"When I came into this league,'' said the 15-year vet, "I made Indianapolis' practice squad, and I was determined I wouldn't be just a guy. I wanted to start, and I wanted to be the best player I could be. It drove me. But this -- how could you expect this? It's amazing. You sort of take it all for granted when you play for so long, but thinking about it now, it's really amazing. But the other thing about it is I don't want to miss a play in practice either. I try never to miss one there.''
He was humbled recently when Lilja told him he'd one day tell his children he played with Wiegmann. He attributes a lot of his determination of grit to his Iowa high school coach, Ed Thomas, the inspirational NFL High School Coach of the Year in 2005 who was tragically murdered by a former player in 2009. "Coach Thomas has everything to do with who I am as a man and who I am as a player,'' said Wiegmann. "I could never repay him for what he meant to me.'' Talk about the right player at the right time for Kansas City.
Now for your email:
• I NEGLECTED THE LIONS. SORRY.
My fault. I should have written something about the Lions. I need a 4:45 a.m. conscience-of-the-NFL angel on my shoulder to say, "Hey, King! You forgot the Lions!'' As for turning the corner: If Matthew Stafford plays 14 games or more in 2011, the Lions will be playoff contenders. More than that, who knows?
• WELL, I GUESS THIS MATTERS.
Joe, what would you say if I told you Maurice Jones-Drew has 1,641 yards from scrimmage this year and Hillis 1,638? Would you say eight fumbles negate the impact of a season like that? Fumbling is correctable, and it obviously must be fixed. But the fumbles don't mean Hillis is a marginal player.
• CHRIS KLUWE/PUNTING I.
Agreed. I think the whole point I was trying to make when I discussed Matt Dodge was this: Even if you have to punt it 25 yards and it goes out of bounds, that's preferable to trying to punt it 40 yards and hope it goes out of bounds. I realize you can't get it there every time, but it should be a pretty elementary part of your game if you're a punter.
• KLUWE PUNTING II.
• KLUWE PUNTING III.
Point taken. Where I come down on this, basically, is that if you really want to punt the ball out of bounds, don't get greedy and try for a 38-yard punt that barely falls out of bounds. Go for the 25-yarder -- do anything to make sure the great return man doesn't get his hands on it.
Now for your coach of the year views:
• MIKE MCCARTHY.
• BILL BELICHICK.
• ANDY REID.