Week 7 stories I don't know quite how to describe: Kyle Boller and Carson Palmer and Hue Jackson. (Or was that Vince Evans and Billy Joe Hobert and Mike White?) Zero touchdowns, six interceptions to go along with a Raidery 14 penalties and two fumbles. Chargers with the weirdest two-minute drill of the Norv era. Dolphins determined to find a new franchise low every time they take the field. Colts hitting rock bottom, then going deeper to find a new level of embarrassment.
We'll hit those, but the best of the week was pretty good. Burress, blaming no one but himself for looking so pedestrian in the first six weeks of the season, had one of the clutch days of his career. Ryan, Gumby in some other life, is going to have one throbbing left ankle this morning; but he came back from what looked like the worst injury of the year to complete what could be a season-turning win for the Falcons. Tebow ... you saw it. You must have. Third-string for 53 minutes, transcendent for seven. And Murray. He'd never started an NFL game in his life, and only nine backs have had a better day in the history of the league than his 253-yarder Sunday in Arlington.
At 3 in the afternoon on the East Coast Sunday, the NFL weekend looked like the dud of duds. Then a lot of interesting things happened, in a hurry.
Plax finally has one of those days in the Meadowlands. When Burress finished with his three-touchdown day (passes from Mark Sanchez of three, four and three yards), and the Jets finished a frantic 27-21 win over the bumbling Chargers, he cried. "Genuine joy,'' he told me. "Priceless. A day I'll never forget. These are the kind of days I dreamed of when I was away.''
Away. Imprisoned on his gun charge, wondering if he'd ever have a big day like this again, when a quarterback could trust him to get open and they'd be able to build the kind of chemistry he had with Eli Manning when, in 2007, Manning and Burress had one of the great big games a quarterback and receiver could ever have in the NFC Championship Game, that minus-24-wind-chill triumph in Green Bay. "We're getting there,'' Burress said of his relationship with Mark Sanchez, which is less than three months old. "I think it's starting to show up on the fade throws in the end zone.''
That's one of the big reasons Rex Ryan wanted Burress brought to the Jets -- his ability to help a bad red zone team get better. Three times he did that Sunday, though there was little sign in the first six weeks that he and Sanchez were close to making the kind of music they made Sunday. Burress was so frustrated with his performance last week that he took out old gametape and watched, looking for clues. "I got tired at looking at myself playing bad, and when I went back and looked, I thought, Go out there and practice as hard as you can, play as hard as you can, and just have fun. That's what my wife said: 'You're an emotional player. Have fun.' That's what was missing. And I owe everything to Rex and Schottie [offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer] for not giving up on me.''
The Jets lost a beautiful diving touchdown catch by Santonio Holmes due to a holding call. Sanchez was shaky much of the day, and threw a couple of real ducks. But if Holmes and Burress can be the factors they showed Sunday -- Sanchez has to be more accurate in finding them -- the Jets and Buffalo are going to have a good fight for second fiddle in the AFC East.
I was sure Matt Ryan was out for a long time, if not the year. Human limbs aren't supposed to bend the way Ryan's lower left leg and ankle did when tackle Will Svitek stepped on it hard in the third quarter. (Or, as Dan Patrick said last night, "Svitek stepped on his svankle.'') The lower leg appeared to bend like an "L.'' If that wasn't a season-ender, it was at minimum a high ankle sprain, and Ryan was going to miss some time. He missed time, all right. Two plays.
"Have you seen the replay?'' I asked Ryan.
"No,'' he said. "I don't think I want to.''
No, you don't. Ryan lay on the ground -- and depending who you believe, was either taunted or not taunted by a couple of Lions -- and it looked bad for about 30 seconds. But he got up, walked to the locker room, and when the medical staff determined it wasn't severely damaged, Ryan got the lower leg and ankle heavily taped and he came back in. He said he did not take a pain-killing injection.
"I'm good to go,'' Ryan said to coach Mike Smith, and he went back in the game on third-and-eight from the Atlanta 22, with the Falcons up 17-9. Punt there, and the Lions would have good field position, driving to make it a one-point game. But Ryan jogged onto the field without throwing any warmup passes or talking to offensive play-caller Mike Mularkey. On the first snap, he set his right (plant) leg and threw a bullet to slot receiver Harry Douglas on a crossing route. Gain of 49. The field goal Atlanta got there turned out to be the winning points. The Falcons, in danger of losing their fourth game of the season (which would have surpassed their 2010 loss total) instead got a win that kept them within a game of the lead in the NFC South. I'm not going to make Ryan out to be an Army Ranger here, but anyone who saw that had to be impressed Ryan came back at all, never mind coming back and playing well and leading Atlanta to a 23-17 win.
"Luckily,'' Ryan said, "we do a lot of flexibility training, and I'm sure that helped me there. Jeff Fish [Atlanta's director of athletic performance] does a great job with us as far as movement and stretching and making sure we're flexible.'' The Falcons are a big injury prevention team; I know that from being around them. And from the looks at the replay, that injury prevention might have saved their quarterback from a month in a walking boot.
You can't stop Tebowmania. You can only hope to contain it. That wasn't a football game in south Florida. It was a movie. I have four thoughts about Tebow 18, Miami 15:
1. I'm sure this is because Tebow hasn't given offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and coach John Fox reason to think he's ready to play an Aaron Rodgers, bombs-away type of game, but that was the most conservative, buttoned-up gameplan Denver had for most of the game. If you're going to give the guy a chance to win the starting job, you've got to let him play more than this gameplan allowed. A win's a win, but I thought the Broncos were to the right of Michele Bachmann in the game.
2. I don't see how Fox and John Elway know anything more about Tebow this morning than they knew 24 hours ago. This was an incredible victory, unlikely and exciting and wonderful for the fan base. But in terms of knowing whether Tebow has a chance to be your quarterback of the present or future? Nothing got solved. He didn't have a chance to do much in the regular offense, he wasn't accurate for 54 minutes, he led a frenetic rally and wanted the ball in his hands with the game on the line, he was clutch in the two-minute offense, he threw a perfect strike between two defenders to keep the game-tying drive going, he had the presence of mind to call an audible on the tying two-point conversion, and he delivered with the game on the line. Knew all that.
3. Love the fact he had the presence of mind (assist to Urban Meyer) and felt good enough about the offense, and confident enough, that he audibled from a run left to a run right when he sensed two linebackers creeping up from the left on the two-point conversion. There was actually only one. "Before we ran the play, Miami called timeout,'' he told me. "We got a sense of what they were going to do and called our play, but after the timeout, it looked like they were going to a zero look.'' In other words, all 11 men near the line, no one trolling the middle of the end zone for a pass. The audible entails left guard Zane Beadles pulling to the right to wall off the pressure along with tight end Daniel Fells, and for Tebow to sneak in behind them. Worked like a charm. Tebow quick-faked a pass, then tucked it under and ran just to the right of Beadles, who blocked safety Yeremiah Bell, and the game was tied.
Just to add to Tebow Fevor, Kerry Byrne of Cold Hard Football Facts emailed me with this last night: In four starts, Tebow now has two fourth-quarter comebacks from at least 13 points down. In John Elway's career, guess how many he had. Two.
Final point: Tebow's high school team, from Jacksonville, won the 2005 Florida state championship on this field. Tebow's college team, Florida, won the 2008 national championship on this field. And now, with his professional career in Denver on the line, he won a scintillating 18-15 game on this field, with 10,000 tickets sold to Gator fans in the two weeks before the game, once they learned Tebow would be starting for Denver. As Tebow was dressing after the game, a longtime Orange Bowl official, in his orange blazer, shook Tebow's hand. "You've had some great memories here, haven't you?'' the guy said.
"This,'' said Tebow, "was something special. We really fought hard for this. After we scored to make it 15-7, Champ Bailey came up to me and said, 'We're gonna get the ball back for you.' They did. It was so exciting.''
He said, "This isn't the way we planned it. I know I have to play a lot better. I can make more plays. But who we are as a team came out at the end of the game.''
Who is DeMarco Murray? A few things about the 71st pick in the 2011 NFL Draft: He had 71 career rushing yards entering the game ... In one day, his 253 yards was more than Reggie Bush and Marshawn Lynch have gained this season ... Murray was the sixth running back taken in the draft, nine spots after the Dolphins took Daniel Thomas (sorry Dolfans; didn't mean to stick the knife in any deeper than it is today) ... In his first college game for Oklahoma in 2007, he ran for 201 yards against North Texas. Two weeks later, he scored on a 92-yard touchdown run against Utah ... His 91-yard TD run Sunday? Untouched by human hands. (That may say more about the Rams' ineptitude that Murray's ability, by the way.) ... After the game, he said Felix Jones (who missed the rout of the Rams with an ankle injury) was still the starter, and whether he's first- second- or third-string, he's just going to prepare to do what the coaches ask him to do ... The 253 yards Murray gained was 16 more than all-time NFL rushing leader Emmitt Smith ever had in a game.
Dallas may now regret not dealing Tashard Choice for a mid-round pick at the deadline last week, because clearly Murray has forced the coaches into giving him more of a role. Now.
History Lesson of the Week
Most people think Jim Plunkett, when he failed with the Patriots after being the first overall pick in the draft in 1971 NFL Draft, was dealt to Oakland. Not so. New England traded him to San Francisco first, and after two years with the Niners, he was released and got picked up by Oakland. The Raiders won two Super Bowls with Plunkett at the helm.
The Carson Palmer trade this week got me to thinking about the Plunkett deal, and about the subsequent deal the Niners made for O.J. Simpson two years later. And it caused me to reassess my opinion of Bill Walsh, and to think of him as greater than I'd thought of him over the years -- and my opinion of him already couldn't have been much better. Let me explain.
Thirty-five years ago, front offices in the NFL obviously had much different views of draft choices than they do today. In 1976, Plunkett was a 28-year-old quarterback who had bottomed out in New England. Still, San Francisco traded quarterback Tom Owen, two first-round picks in 1976, and first- and second-round picks in 1977 for Plunkett ... and released him after he went 11-15 in two seasons.
If it's possible, the Niners made an even worse trade for the battered and used-up O.J. Simpson in 1978, even after the Plunkett trade stripped them of the chance to pick four top prospects. For Simpson -- who would be 31 when he took the field for the Niners, and shot after a career on the artificial turf in Buffalo -- the Niners dealt second- and third-round picks in 1978, first- and fourth-round picks in 1979, and a second-round pick in 1980. Simpson wound up struggling behind a bad line and gaining just 1,018 yards in two years before retiring.
So for two players who essentially helped the franchise regress, this is what San Francisco paid in a four-year period:
First-round picks: 4. Second-round picks: 3. Third-round picks: 1. Fourth-round picks: 1.
Walsh arrived in 1979; he must have been in agony seeing the first overall pick go off to Buffalo because of the mind-blowingly expensive trade for Simpson. (The Bills had their own problems in the front office; linebacker Tom Cousineau was Buffalo's pick, with that top pick acquired from San Francisco, and he never played a snap for the Bills. He signed in Canada. He later had his rights dealt for the pick that became Jim Kelly, so it wasn't a total washout for Buffalo.) Forced to improvise for a quarterback on draft day 1979, Walsh picked Joe Montana in the third round. Finally back with a full load of picks in 1981, Walsh took Ronnie Lott in the first round. I find it amazing how quickly Walsh restocked a bad team and made it a champion.
Ode to the Everyman
Former Bills center Kent Hull, 50, died of internal bleeding Tuesday at his home in rural Mississippi. After an 11-year career that spanned the Bills' glory years, he retired to his childhood town of Greenwood, Miss., and tended to 800 head of cattle on his ranch. He had been ill for a while with a form of cancer, but his death, at far too young an age, stunned his teammates and hit them hard. "Thurman [Thomas] called to tell me,'' Steve Tasker told me Saturday, "and it was hard to understand him. He was bawling like a baby.''
I write about this mostly anonymous man because players like Hull are the bedrock of so many good teams, past and present. Hull did his job and never sought glory. If glory came, as it did in the form of three Pro Bowl nods and two All-Pro selections, he would deflect it. He was the perfect Bill Polian/Marv Levy player. Do your job, be responsible, lead when needed, care only about winning -- and be smart.
I am confident in saying he was one of the five or six most valuable players on those four Buffalo Super Bowl teams, because of what he meant to the team in making the line calls on the fastest-moving offense in football, and for what he meant as the last guy out of the locker room ... after every game, after every practice. If a problem needed to be solved, he'd help. If someone just wanted to talk, he'd talk. Part of his football life included being there if anyone needed him; someone usually did.
I remember lots of big-talking (rightfully so), boisterous players on those Bills teams, on and off the field, and I remember Hull, with a dip between his lip and gum, accommodating teammates, reporters, fans, and never being too big for any of it. He'd do it quietly. He loved Levy's trademark, "Where would you rather be than right here, right now?'' He lived that. Being a cog in the wheel was his thing.
Hull and Jim Kelly were signed by the Bills after the United States Football League folded in 1986. When they arrived in Buffalo, Kelly got in a limo and was cheered by nutty fans on highway overpasses and on the sides of roads on his way to the Bills' offices. Hull got in the back seat of the Bills' equipment van, with his and Kelly's luggage.
In Hull's first practice with the team, offensive coordinator and line coach Jim Ringo confused him with another player, a guard, and ordered Hull to get down in his guard's stance for a drill. He had never played guard, but he tried to get down in a stance like a guard, and it wasn't quite right, and Ringo blistered him for being in an NFL camp and not knowing how to line up. "Coach, I'm sorry. I'm a center,'' Hull said. Soon, Ringo and Marv Levy realized that Hull was the kind of technically perfect player and peerless engineer of blocking schemes that made the K-gun no-huddle offense work. Kelly was Lindbergh, and Hull the airplane mechanic.
"Someone figured out once that, on average, there were 16 seconds between every play in our no-huddle,'' said Tasker. "Jim would be able to look over the defense and call the formation we'd get in, and make the play call. Then Kent would figure out our blocking assignments and call them out just before Jim would get the snap. Sometimes, Kent would know Jim had made the wrong call for the defense they had out there. Once, Jim got down to get his hands between Kent's legs for the snap, and there was Kent, turning his head around from his stance, shaking his head. Like, 'No, no, no.' And Jim would change the play call. And it got done. No big deal. It just got done.
"And off the field, you know, in an NFL locker room, you cannot hide. Guys are in there talking about politics, personal hygiene, world events, whatever. Discussing, arguing, everything. I can't tell you how many times Kent would be in there, just listening, and then you'd hear him give his opinion, and then you'd hear a few guys say, like, 'Yeah. That's what I think.' That's the kind of presence he had.
"What a teammate he was. And from being at the funeral [Friday in Mississippi], it was the same in his personal life. He had intelligence, his heart was always in the right place. Nothing in his football career or his life was about him. It was about the guys, it was about the team, it was about winning. Period."
That's value. Bruce Smith and Kelly -- you're not winning without them. Thurman Thomas too. And Darryl Talley and Andre Reed: vital players. After that, who? Hull, I'd say. The man who was always there for everyone else.
In retirement, not much changed. When one of his herd was slaughtered, Hull often would take 20 or 30 pounds of the prime beef to a community kitchen that served the less fortunate. "Don't tell anybody,'' he'd say.
That's a man right there.
Jeff Pearlman shouldn't be criticized; he should be praised for a great book.
When the furor over the Walter Payton biography Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton surfaced last month, I told you I'd pass along my thoughts when I'd read it. Now that I have, I can tell you it's terrific.
The painstaking detail is what makes this one of the best sports biographies I've ever read. Such as this: Payton was a senior at Jackson State when Archie Griffin was running away with the Heisman Trophy at Ohio State, and Payton had intense Griffin envy, according to Payton's old college roommate, Rodney Phillips. Pearlman wrote: "Whenever Ohio State was on national television (a common occurrence), Payton watched, his veins bulging with each word of praise from an announcer. 'Look at this garbage!' Payton would yell. 'The holes they're opening for him are enormous. I'd run circles around this guy.' ''
Phillips, who's now a firefighter in Jackson, told Pearlman that Payton had a "controlled rage'' when it came to how Griffin overshadowed him nationally. Pearlman also interviewed a Jackson State trainer, another teammate of Payton and Griffin himself. This is why you should read this book. The research is exhaustive, the anecdotes eye-opening.
Pearlman found out the Cowboys went right down to the wire about whether to pick Payton in the 1975 draft, and they went with Randy White because they thought he'd last longer, not because he was the better player. He found out how disappointed Payton was to be picked by the Bears. He wrote how seriously the Bears questioned Payton after a poor rookie year.
"As the Bears prepared for the 1976 season [GM Jim] Finks and [coach Jack] Pardee continued to question the halfback's drive, work ethic and durability. He found out how many of his teammates in the early years hated him; he once locked the locker room door on the entire team, forcing them to stay outside for a few minutes during a heavy rainstorm, and he once threw a lighted M-80 into a full locker room. He found out about the daughter of a Chicago assistant coach, Dale Haupt, baking him cookies and making a quilt for the Paytons' son -- and Walter buying her a gold bracelet and fawning over her for her kindness. He found out the games Payton played with awe-struck Bear ball boys. Pearlman found out he had to do community service at a local high school for a few months -- and stayed for four years as a volunteer basketball coach. And Pearlman found out about the surreptitious meeting between Payton's wife, Connie, and the woman he had a long affair with, and quoted Connie as saying to her, "you can have him. He doesn't want me or the children.''
You pass judgment on whether a book about a beloved figure that both glorifies and tarnishes him should be written. My judgment is it should. Payton was a superstar, a public figure of national significance for 25 years. Were we demanding to know he used drugs and philandered and at times was a bad teammate with the Bears? No. But figures of renown are subjects of books all the time, and Payton's life, as it turns out, is beyond interesting. It's compelling. It's most often riveting, particularly the parts about his formative years in the Deep South. It's real history, not the gauzy stuff.
Oh. And the prologue of Sweetness ... The first page of the book is jarring. It can't get better than Pearlman's meeting with Walter Payton. But the rest of the book lives up to the promise of the first page. It's that good.
Weird week. Only one of my top four teams played on Sunday, and six of the Fine Fifteen had Sunday off.
1. Green Bay (7-0). Imagine if Aaron Rodgers goes through a season and the worst single-game passer rating is 111.4. That is the planet he is living on now, folks. Amazing thing I've noticed the last two or three weeks is he's able to throw a good fastball when need be, and put some air under it when he needs to do that, and rare is the time when he throws into tight coverage and the ball's tipped. It just gets there. Immune to problems on the road too. His three toughest road games, in terms of defense and crowd noise, have been Chicago, Atlanta and Minnesota. Completion percentages in those: 74, 67, and on Sunday in the Metrodome, 80.
2. San Francisco (5-1). Three of the next four at home (Cleveland, at Washington, Giants, Arizona), and if the Niners can somehow find a way to win three of them, then we've got ourselves two must-watch games on Thanksgiving: Green Bay-Detroit and San Francisco-Baltimore. You have my permission to shut the TV off and eat dinner during Miami-Dallas, the game sandwiched by the others.
3. Baltimore (4-1). OK, I may have been wrong on Bryant McKinnie. I was not complimentary about the Ravens' signing of McKinnie to play left tackle, because I thought he began mailing it in in Minnesota (including the Miami Pro Bowl debacle). But see what happens when a player has to answer to Ray Lewis if he's not at his very best, and where he has team guys like Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda in the offensive line meeting room? McKinnie's lost 20 pounds in seven weeks, and he's getting close to being the perfect left tackle weight for the massive man he is. And though he hasn't played at a Pro Bowl-level yet, he's shored up a position that looked like it might be real trouble.
4. New England (5-1). Bob Kraft is not letting looming free agent Wes Welker get away. He can't. You don't let the leading receiver in the NFL over the past five seasons go, and Welker doesn't want to go anywhere either.
5. Pittsburgh (5-2). Saw Bill Cowher at a restaurant Saturday night in Manhattan. He raved about Aaron Smith, who was placed on IR over the weekend. Just raved. Said Smith was the only lineman they could keep in on nickel downs because he could play the run and pass with equal skill and never made a mental error. He'll be missed.
6. New Orleans (5-2). Welcome to the NFL, Brian de la Puente. Know who that is? That's the heir to Olin Kreutz as the Saints' center. Been on five teams' practice squads since 2008. The good thing for him is we didn't hear his name called much Sunday night, and centers are best when invisible. And the Saints only put up 62 points, with two sacks, no other quarterback hits and no interceptions.
7. Atlanta (4-3). Much-needed bye, then a game against the JV-like Colts in 13 days. Matt Ryan needs to get his left ankle right. Those things are not meant to bend at 90-degree angles.
8. Tampa Bay (4-3). Made it interesting with two late touchdowns, but Bucs never seemed to be in this one. And they lost another running back, Earnest Graham (Achilles) for the year. That led Mike Florio to bring up the T word on Football Night in America, and me to opine, "You mean it might be Tiki time in Tampa?''
9. Detroit (5-2). I don't like how chippy some of the Lions are getting.
10. New York Jets (4-3). The Jets are 4-0 at home, 0-3 on the road ... and, after the bye next week, have five of their final nine on the road.
11. San Diego (4-2). Charger coaches and offensive starters set to begin Clock Management 101 classes at San Diego State Monday night.
12. New York Giants (4-2). Giants need the real Brandon Jacobs (knee, expected to play after the bye) in order to be the real Giants.
13. Buffalo (4-2). This is the reason I dearly hope whoever buys the Bills never moves them. When Kent Hull died, the local sports station, WGR, did wall-to-wall coverage Wednesday. Hours of it. And this was the team's center from the Bills' glory days. The team means so much to the fabric of the community.
14. Philadelphia (2-4). LeSean McCoy/Mike Vick: 150 carries, 941 yards, 6.3 per rush. No team has a better 1-2 run threat right now, even if the Eagles don't want Vick exposed as much as he has been (7.5 rushes per game).
15. (tie) Dallas (3-3). America, meet DeMarco Murray. Loved his honesty when asked after the game about the hole he ran through for his 91-yard touchdown run in the first quarter: "A bus could have gone through there.''
15. (tie) Cincinnati (4-2). Robert Geathers, Domata Peko, Geno Atkins, Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, Pat Sims, Jonathan Fenene, Frostee Rucker. That's the Bengals' eight-man rotation at defensive tackle, and I list them all because defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is playing all eight, and those eight men are playing between 22 and 46 snaps per game. They stay fresh, they stay productive. The Bengals, through six weeks, were tied with Pittsburgh at 4.55 for second-fewest yards per play allowed in the NFL.
Offensive Players of the Week
Dallas RB DeMarco Murray, for having the 10th-best rushing game in the 92-year history of the NFL -- and the best in Dallas history. Think of his 253-yard afternoon against St. Louis this way: He could have been Offensive Players of the Week twice. In the first half, he ran 10 times for 112 yards (11.2-yard average), including a 91-yard touchdown run. In the second half, he ran 15 times for 141 yards (9.4-yard average).
Atlanta TE Tony Gonzalez. Five catches by the steady-Eddie tight end of the Falcons helped Atlanta upset the Lions 23-16 at Ford Field, and the personal significance of the five grabs is just as important. Gonzalez passed Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison into second place on the all-time receptions list. A tight end with 1,104 catches. Amazing. More amazing to me is Gonzalez, 35, has the body of a 25-year-old, and if he chose, he could certainly keep playing after this season. Selfishly, I hope he does. But he might have to play until 45 ... because this morning he's 445 catches behind the all-time leader, Jerry Rice.
Defensive Player of the Week
Kansas City LB Derrick Johnson. And not just for his 13-tackle game in the 28-0 shutout of the Raiders in Oakland. With the Chiefs up 14-0, Oakland drove to the Chiefs' two-yard line early in the second quarter. This was the time they'd get back in the game -- if they were going to get back in the game at all. On second-and-goal from the two, Johnson stuffed running back Michael Bush after a one-yard gain. Third-and-goal from the one: Bush, no gain. Team tackle. Fourth-and-goal from the one: Bush over left guard, stoned by Johnson. And that was Oakland's best chance of the day.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Seattle DE Red Bryant. In the second quarter at Cleveland, Bryant burst through the line to block a 48-yard field goal attempt by Phil Dawson. In the fourth quarter, he got one of his big mitts on a 24-yard attempt by Dawson. In his day job, he also got half-a-sack on Colt McCoy and made four tackles. Bryant was kicked out late in the fourth quarter for head-butting Browns tight end Alex Smith during the 6-3 loss. Quite an eventful day for the oft-invisible Seattle defensive end.
Green Bay K Mason Crosby. In a 20-minute span, starting with five minutes left in the first half, Crosby kicked field goals of 39, 45, 24 and 58. In that time, the Pack went from a 14-10 deficit to a 33-17 lead. Crosby also kicked all seven kickoffs into the end zone. Nice day for the heir to Ryan Longwell.
Coaches of the Week
Virginia (UFL) head coach Marty Schottenheimer. At long last, in his 22nd season as a pro head coach, Schottenheimer won a professional football championship. His Virginia Destroyers beat Jim Fassel's Las Vegas Locos 17-3 in Virginia Saturday night. "I'm a simple man,'' Schottenheimer said. "I told our guys that we didn't need to do anything fancy to win the game. Just go back to the basics and execute, and that's what we did.'' Is that a Marty quote or what? I think I've heard him say that 67 times as an NFL coach.
Kansas City coach Todd Haley. There's quite a bit of mayhem swirling around the Chiefs and their third-year head coach in the wake Kansas City's historically bad start. But to go into the Black Hole with the Raiders all revved up after the big deal for Carson Palmer, and to have the team playing hard, and to have made the cool call of a seven-yard Wildcat touchdown for Javier Arenas ... just a very impressive day for Haley's ability to command his team, even with all the noise reverberating around his job status.
Houston head coach Gary Kubiak. After a 41-7 rout of the Titans in Nashville, the most lopsided win in the Texans' eight-year history, Kubiak would have been excused if he'd had an oh-my-God-what-a-win moment in front of the team. But what he told his players is: "Nothing's decided after Week 7.'' Just the right thing to say, because Houston still has a long way to go to win the AFC South for the first time and make the playoffs for the first time. But this road rout was a very good start.
Goats of the Week
Oakland QBs Kyle Boller and Carson Palmer. Wow. Tough crowd. Palmer walks into a tough situation, practices three days and shares this hallowed honor? Well, the Raider quarterbacks threw six interceptions -- three apiece for Boller and Palmer -- and put zero points on the board. Look on the bright side. Can't get any worse, Carson.
"I know. And it took Tebow to do it.''
-- Denver cornerback Champ Bailey, reminded after Denver's comeback from 15 points down that the Broncos had never won in south Florida until Sunday.
"I'm very disappointed in the NFL union and what they're doing here ... I'm sure you saw the AP story that two dozen scientists and lab directors around the world signed a letter sent to the NFL and players association stating that current tests for Human Growth Hormone are safe, scientifically reliable and appropriate for use in professional sports leagues. The letter was signed by 23 scientists and lab directors saying, 'Any suggestion in the press that its accuracy is a matter of debate is incorrect.' ... Look, these athletes, these NFL players, owe it to the fans to implement these tests right away.''
-- Republican Arizona Sen. John McCain, to KTAR in Phoenix, via sportsradiointerviews.com, on the stance of the NFL Players Association that it isn't sure of the validity of testing for human growth hormone.
The NFLPA hasn't said it won't cooperate and allow testing -- but it has said it is concerned that a football player might have a higher HGH level than the average athletic population, and wants to see more information on the population that is being used for the baseline level for a positive test.
The bottom line: Every clean player in the NFL should be pro-HGH testing. Period.
"Mark Sanchez, under the pressure of the San Diego defense, will be benched."
-- Michael Irvin of NFLNetwork, on the channel's pregame show Sunday.
Host Rich Eisen chided Irvin for finally making a bold prediction. "You've been wrapping weak predictions in bold clothing,'' said Eisen. Sanchez was hardly masterful, but he did pilot the Jets' 27-21 come-from-behind victory over San Diego, throwing three touchdown passes to Plaxico Burress.
"I owe a lot of that stitching in my Hall of Fame jacket to Kent Hull. Our hearts are broken. Myself, my wife Patti and our four children send our love and prayers to his wonderful family. He was my teammate, a brother and a best friend. He will be in my heart forever.''
-- Former Buffalo running back Thurman Thomas, on the sudden death of longtime Bills center and teammate Kent Hull in Mississippi last week.
Sometimes people just say things like that or issue statements like that when someone they know dies. I can tell you from being around the Bills a lot in their glory years that they were crushed by the death of Hull.
Despite the 28-0 thrashing at the hands of the Chiefs, and the inauspicious debut off the bench of their new acquisition, there is still joy in Raider Nation, obviously, with the acquisition of Carson Palmer for a first-round pick in 2012 and a second-that-could-become-a-first in 2013. Most fans, even those who thought the Raiders overpaid, seem happy with the fact that Palmer is set to be the Raiders' quarterback as they contend for the playoffs (presumably) in the last nine weeks of the season.
And though I do think Palmer will be a major upgrade over Kyle Boller, I still don't know what to think about Palmer for the long-term. He'll need to play better than he did over his last three Cincinnati seasons to make the deal worth it. Here's how Palmer's last three seasons -- all with Cincinnati -- compare with incumbent Raider quarterback Jason Campbell's -- in Washington and Oakland -- in the wake of Campbell being lost for at least six weeks with a broken collarbone last week:
Palmer and Campbell are two of the four quarterbacks under contract with Oakland. Palmer cost first- and second-round (at least) picks. Terrelle Pryor cost a third-round pick. Jason Campbell a fourth-round pick.
That's a one, a two, a three and a four for the guys who didn't start Sunday. Kyle Boller did. An unrestricted free agent when the Raiders signed him last year, he cost nothing except a one-year, $1.25 million deal that makes him probably the 60th highest-paid quarterback in football.
Hall of Fame Headache Dept.: Art Monk retired after the 1995 season with 940 catches, most in NFL history. On Sunday, Derrick Mason of Houston became the 11th player in 16 years to pass Monk. Mason had one catch in the 41-7 rout of Tennessee, giving him 941.
Larry Fitzgerald, 27, is 296 catches behind Monk. Andre Johnson, 29, is 242 behind him. We haven't even begun with the children of the aerial generation, the receivers just starting their careers in a time of unprecedented passing.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: The 44 electors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame will have to define what a Hall of Fame receiver is over the next few years, because they'll be facing an onslaught of receivers way beyond Tim Brown, Cris Carter and Andre Reed. Isaac Bruce (1,024 receptions) or Torry Holt (920)? Or both? Hines Ward (980) or Mason (941)? And the tight end position could get similarly silly, numbers-wise. Tony Gonzalez has 289 more catches than any tight end in history.
There has to be something to separate these guys, and each voter has to search his/her conscience to judge them on more than numbers. I am one of the voters. It'll be interesting, and perhaps maddening, to see how it unfolds.
In the first seven games of his career, in 1998, Peyton Manning threw for 1,595 yards. In the first seven games of his career, this year, Cam Newton has thrown for 2,103 yards.
Newton is throwing for 73 more yards per game than Manning did in his rookie year.
One more Newtonism: He has seven rushing touchdowns, which is two more than Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, LaDainian Tomlinson and DeAngelo Williams combined.
I had the pleasure of going to Game 1 of the World Series Wednesday night in St. Louis. Now, when it's 47 degrees, breezy/windy, and there's an occasional mist and light rain in the air, it's not the best night to sit outside for three hours to watch a baseball game. Chilled to the bones, Cardinal fans did. Not that you'd expect people to leave a one-run World Series game en masse, but on such a miserable night, a school night, it wouldn't be odd to see some families duck out after seven to beat the traffic.
In the top of the ninth inning, when reliever Jason Motte was shutting down Texas for the save, I looked around Busch Stadium from my seat halfway between first base and right field, in one of the back rows of the lower bowl of the stadium. There were some seats next to me empty, but I think they belonged to soldiers who had pregame field duties. But as I looked, I couldn't see more than a few scattered empty seats.
I found that amazing, on a night that could have passed for Feb. 19 and not Oct. 19. You just had to sit out in that weather for three hours to understand how miserable it was.
Cardinal fans. Amazing.
"Glad to report my genitalia are in stable condition and expected to make a full recovery!''
-- @TJLang70, Packers offensive lineman T.J. Lang, who was stomped in the groin by Minnesota defensive end Brian Robison during a scuffle in the Packers-Vikings game.
That's going to be an expensive groin attack, Mr. Robison.
"My apologies to @tjlang70, my team, my fans and the @nfl. I am not a dirty player and did not maliciously aim for the groin, just happened to be where it landed."
-- @Brian_Robison, this morning.
"One of the reasons I don't tweet much is cause the weed jokes get kinda old.''
-- @rickywilliams, the Ravens running back, who spawned a whole new tweet line of weed jokes Friday with that tweet.
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 7:
a. Daryl Johnston. Lindsay Nelson. (You'll just have to Google it, youngsters.)
b. I am sorry I didn't make more of a fuss over Drew Brees' 31 of 35 night against the Colts. I can't figure out if it's more Brees, or more the Colts white-flagging it. But completing 89 percent of your throws in an NFL game is something Brees likely will never do again. I mean, it's only been done four times, ever.
c. That's a start, John Beck, completing 22 of 37.
d. Matt Forte (25 carries, 145 yards) just keeps getting more expensive by the week. Bizarre the Bears haven't been able to find some common ground to get him signed.
e. Javier Arenas is one of my favorite players. Now a wildcat touchdown? What a stud.
f. Here's to you, too, Brandon Flowers, with your two opportunistic picks.
g. How dangerous the Steelers have become. Ben Roethlisberger has the kind of weapons now that make Pittsburgh a deep-threat team the way Green Bay is. And Roethlisberger is taking full advantage.
h. Mike Wallace, 20.3 yards per catch through seven weeks. He's entering Swann territory.
i. Steve Smith (seven for 143) is in Swannville too.
j. That was one of the best 13-for-32 games I've seen, Christian Ponder. There's hope in Minnesota.
k. Best play I saw Sunday, and it wasn't close: Green Bay tight end Andrew Quarless came in motion from the left of a trips-left formation (three receivers to the left), and when the ball was snapped, obliterated Jared Allen on a block, leveling him. The play broke down, Quarless ran out and put his right hand up; Aaron Rodgers rolled right and found him. Gain of 21. Go find this play if you've got NFL Game Rewind -- second quarter, 11:43 to play. You'll love Quarless' energy.
l. Can't find fault with the Vikes punting with 2:37 left, down 33-27, with all timeouts left, on fourth-and-10 from their 36. You can't ask Christian Ponder to convert that -- or, at least, you have to think your defense has a better chance of holding the Packers to six or seven plays and a punt rather than thinking Ponder can get 10 yards against a very good dime defense.
2. I think this is what I didn't like about week 7:
a. Fifteen straight games now, in this big passing era, for the Vikings without a 300-yard passing game. Thanks for that note, Stats Inc.
b. What on earth has happened to the Rams? It's like 2010 never happened.
c. Crucial, game-turning (and correct) holding call on Jets center Nick Mangold. That nullified a touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes, and led to Eric Weddle picking off Mark Sanchez in the end zone a minute later.
d. Ndamukong Suh pushing down Atlanta offensive lineman Joe Hawley in full view of the referee in Detroit. And the awful non-call of unsportsmanlike conduct by the referee, who was staring right at it -- Bill Leavy. Who, by the way, must not like working in Ford Field.
e. Oakland-KC: zero touchdown passes, eight interceptions. Nice day aerially.
f. That Oakland balloon from midweek? Now airless.
h. The Colts look like they're sprinting to the Andrew Luck finish line.
h. Work on that two-minute drill, Chargers. San Diego fans have to be sick over that one.
i. The Oakland loss was incredible. But no team had a worse day with more at stake than Tennessee. A 34-point loss at home, with the division lead on the line, against a team missing a top-five-in-the-game wideout in Andre Johnson. Very telling game for the Titans.
3. I think, just for the record, because I know and you should know, Adam Schefter didn't sit on the Carson Palmer trade story because he was protecting anyone. It's an absurd statement and thought. I'm not in the business of defending rivals against baseless claims, but this one was so far out of left field, with no evidence suggesting real truth, that I feel compelled to defend him.
4. I think Donovan McNabb probably should get the message now. In the last 19 months, Andy Reid, Mike Shanahan and Leslie Frazier -- the first guy drafted him, the last guy stuck his neck out for him with the Viking front office -- have all chosen to replace him at quarterback.
You could argue that Reid simply made the choice of two young players (Kevin Kolb and Mike Vick) over McNabb. But the other two men needed McNabb desperately, and he didn't play well enough in either place to keep the job.
McNabb will surely be invited to someone's camp if he chooses to keep playing in 2012, and he may even stick with the Vikings, but I'm not sure he wants to be someone's mentor, even if it is worth $3 million. And with the story about McNabb's slacker work ethic by Mike Lombardi on NFL Network Sunday (I'm not doubting it, though I cannot confirm it), what sign is there that a team would trust McNabb to come in and be Mr. Mentor?
5. I think if the season was seven weeks long and I had to vote today, my Executive of the Year would be Mike Brown. It's not just the Palmer trade. It's sticking to his guns on draft day and waiting, waiting, waiting for Andy Dalton at the 34th overall pick.
6. I think the Chris Johnson story -- he's been downright awful, shows no burst whatsoever, is making zero tacklers miss, and is on pace for a 715-yard rushing season -- will be a cautionary tale for all future running backs who hold out deep into training camp. And if I'm a GM, I'd think very hard about paying a ransom to a player who "works out on his own'' and then wants to be the highest-paid guy at his position. The train wreck that is Johnson's season shouldn't be forgotten.
7. I think if I'm the Browns, I'm having serious questions about Montario Hardesty's ability to be the every-down running back. A win's a win, and Cleveland somehow beat Seattle in a slugfest, 6-3. But Hardesty (33 carries, 95 yards) was a plodder more than a runner Sunday, and had 20 carries of two yards or fewer. I wonder when was the last time a runner has rushed 20 times in a game, basically, ineffectively. At one point in the first half, here were Hardesty's rushes in succession: 1, minus-1, 1, 2, minus-1, two. I'm thinking the Browns should kiss and make up with Peyton Hillis.
8. I think Detroit is holding its breath on the Matthew Stafford knee and ankle MRI, set to be done today after his left leg caved in on a hit on the last Lions offensive play of the loss to Atlanta. Praying a little too, probably.
9. I think the Lions will rally around Ndamukong Suh today, and most likely deny the Atlanta accusations that Suh either was disrespectful or taunted quarterback Matt Ryan when he was on the ground in the third quarter with a leg injury. But I thought Rodney Harrison put it best last night on our Football Night in America set. Basically, he said that perception becomes reality, and that reality becomes very hard to change. "I was known as a dirty player,'' he said, and that tag never left him his entire career. "I don't think Suh's a dirty player, but he's going to get that rap if he's not careful.''
If, indeed, he yelled at an injured player writhing on the ground, that's just going to feed into the image. That's why the worst thing Suh's coordinator, Gunther Cunningham, or coach Jim Schwartz could do right now if the story's true is to blindly back Suh. They'd be enabling him instead of correcting him.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. One of the great box score lines ever, considering the magnitude of the moment, from Saturday night's 16-7 Cardinal victory in game three of the World Series: A. Pujols 1B 6 4 5 6. I forget who said it, but some player in the postgame scrum said it was good and right that Pujols joined Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only men to hit three homers in a World Series game, seeing that Pujols is one of the greatest hitters ever.
b. Congrats on your eight-catch game for Cornell against Brown, Luke Tasker. Bet you'd rather have had the win if you're anything like your father.
c. I see NBC reported there were "flecks of gold'' in the paint on the new, shiny Notre Dame helmets in the Saturday night game against USC. Are you telling me there's no better, more charitable way for a Catholic institution to spend its money than to outfit the football team with helmets made in part with real gold?
d. Proud of you, Maya Pitts and Angel Hart and Deja Davis (former Montclair softball Bears who I had the sincere pleasure of coaching), for your play in helping Montclair (N.J.) to a 1-0 Essex County Tournament soccer victory over Livingston High Saturday night. Miss you guys.
e. The more I walk behind smokers, the more I detest smoking.
f. My niece Charlotte got married Saturday in England to a swell guy named Jonny. Sorry I missed it, you two lovebirds. Have a great life.
g. And my congrats on the nuptials to my brother Ken and his wife Jane. Ken's the greatest guy I know, totally unselfish and generous to a fault, and a wonderful host. So bummed I missed the event. As my wife told me about the three days of festivities over there, Ken's never-ending refrain was, "Can I get a drink for anyone?''
h. That's my bro!
i. I have a few books to catch up on, but my SI boss, Terry McDonell, gave me one the other day I'm really looking forward to cracking: "Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend.'' Have a feeling I'm going to want a German Shepherd after I finish with it.
j. Coffeenerdness: I believe I set a personal record Sunday. Ten total shots of espresso in three lattes between 6 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. Not that it's going to come back to haunt me or anything.
k. Beernerdness: Pleasure to share two Dogfish Head 90s with my Versus Friday night partner Russ Thaler on the Acela the other night. Then nearly fell asleep on the subway when I got to New York from the Versus studios in Connecticut.
l. I like a World Series that's tied 2-2. I like a World Series that's tied 3-3 better. I missed the weekend's games, but I'll be channel-flipping tonight.
m. Someday, Florio, I'm taking you to a baseball game. And I'm confiscating your phone. Baseball's not poison, you know.
Baltimore 22, Jacksonville 9. In case the Ravens wake up in Jacksonville this morning unmotivated, I advise two things: Check the highlights of the no-cornerback Vikings with a rookie quarterback making his first start from yesterday; you'll see how Minnesota took Aaron Rodgers to the two-minute warning and almost won. And two: The Steelers and Bengals are not going quietly into the NFL night. They're 5-2 and 4-2, respectively, breathing down your back. Not time to overlook anyone.