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. "No mention of the Lions' three-game winning streak and two of them on the road with an injury-filled roster? We've sucked forever. Give us some credit when we finally turn the corner! (Do you think we have turned the corner, honestly?)''-- Mark, Troy, Mich.
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. "Yes, the trade of Peyton Hillis for Brady Quinn was terrible. However please note that Hillis has eight fumbles this year, more than any other RB in the league. The guy runs hard, but he also turns it over. If he were on Pittsburgh, New England, Atlanta, would he have received the same number of touches as he got in woeful Cleveland? My guess is that he would be on special teams, only, on any team vying for the playoffs."-- Joe G., Portland
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. "I buy the argument that a botched snap puts the punter out of position and makes it more difficult for him to align his body correctly for the perfect out of bounds kick, and I know that precise kicking mechanics are very important for consistent performance. But Kluwe's comparison of directional punting with a quarterback throwing balls into trash cans illustrates why his defense of Dodge rings false: while a quarterback might practice and prefer a two-step drop, if the blitz is on he is still expected to make a smart play and not to just heave the ball up and hope for the best. Don't punters practice kicking while out of position following botched snaps to prepare themselves for this situation? If not, they should.''-- Jeff Gavornik, Austin, Texas
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. "Interesting essay on the intricate details of punting a football. However, I have a strong feeling that most NFL players could come up with a detailed essay about how hard their jobs are. Bottom line is kickers are paid handsomely to kick a football where the coach tells them to. I'm sure it's difficult -- but is anything in the NFL easy?''-- Burl, Vallejo, Calif.
• KLUWE PUNTING III. "99 out of 100? Those seem like unrealistic expectations. Compare for example the free throw, which (in my opinion) is much more "elementary" than a punt in an NFL game. Free throw shooters do not have to deal with swirling winds, rain, snow, or 280-pound defenders running at them. Yet the greatest free throw shooter in NBA history could "only" hit 90 out of 100. The league average isn't even close to that. Practically nothing is automatic in professional sports, especially something with so many factors at play like a punt.''--Mark V, Chicago
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. "Regarding Coach of the Year, I understand that McCarthy probably won't get as much attention because the Packers were the preseason favorite to go to the Super Bowl. However, if someone would have told you at the start of the season the Packers would lose Jolly, Harris, Harrell, Grant, Burnett, Finley, Martin, Barnett, Neal, Poppinga, and Jones before the end of October; Tauscher, Chillar, Havner, Bigby, and Smith for at least 4 games; that Rodgers would miss at least one game due to concussion; that other key players like Matthews, Woodson, Jenkins, Hall, Lee, Driver, Clifton, and others would either miss a single game or deal with nagging season long injuries; how many games would you guess the Packers would have won this year? Not only that, but their losses have been by an average of less than four points and the only game they didn't play well was Detroit.''-- Scott Zsori, Hales Corner, Wis.
• BILL BELICHICK. "Just another thought about your final four head coaches, and how they fared against your Fine 15:
-- Belichick's Patriots: Beat Ravens-4, Steelers-5, Bears-7, Packers-7, Colts-10, Jets-11, Chargers-14. Lost to Jets-11.
-- Reid's Eagles: Beat Falcons-2, Colts-10, Giants-13 twice, Jaguars-15. Lost to Packers-7, Bears-7.
-- Morris' Bucs: Beat nobody in your top 15. Lost to Falcons-2 twice, Ravens-4, Steelers-5, Saints-6.
-- Spagnuolo's Rams: Beat Chargers-14. Lost to Falcons-2, Saints-6, Chiefs- 9, Bucs-12.
So yes, Belichick has Brady, and sure, the Eagles, Bucs, and Rams have made great strides forward, but the Patriots have beaten your best teams while almost completely rebuilding the offense and defense."-- Kevin, Lexington, Mass.
• ANDY REID. "Any coach who has the guts to trade his quarterback for the last decade, then bench the guy he traded him for, and then the third guy comes in and plays well enough to be the MVP ... that's my coach of the year.''-- Terry Primanti, Moorestown, N.J.