There are a lot of stories in the naked city this morning -- the Brees ascension over the great Unitas, the 49ers playing like the '66 Packers, the air being let out of the Buffalo Counterfeit Bills, Eric Winston in a rage, Wes Welker with a needle, Chicago playing piranha defense, Minnesota shocking the world, Atlanta off to the best start in its history -- but there is one story that stands above them all. The story is the game of the year.
Halftime score in Indianapolis: Packers 21, Colts 3.
A few minutes before the start of Sunday's game at Lucas Oil Field, just before going out for introductions, interim Colts coach Bruce Arians found his cell phone and texted five words to one of his best friends in coaching, head coach Chuck Pagano. Arians actually hoped Pagano was sleeping, but he knew better. The coach was two miles down the street from the stadium, in room C23 at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center when Arians' text showed up.
All week, even though Pagano was supposed to be in his second week of an arduous chemotherapy regimen to attempt to blast the leukemia out of his bloodstream, his mind was with his team. Every day he'd watch the practice tape sent to his iPad, sending out suggestions to individual coaches. On Friday, Arians spent two hours with him in room C23. They went over injuries. They went over the inactives for Sunday. "How was the tempo of practice today?'' Pagano asked. They actually discussed options of whether to receive or defer the opening kickoff.
The two spoke warmly and openly; they'd known each other since working on the Cleveland staff together under Butch Davis -- Arians as offensive coordinator, Pagano as secondary coach -- and though neither mentioned the obvious, both must have known how odd this was. Arians had always wanted to be an NFL head coach, and was serving under his old friend when Pagano finally got his shot to be a head coach, and now, only because Pagano was sick did Arians get his chance. For how long? No one knows, but it's probably for the season -- Pagano will be hospitalized for about six weeks, and it's unknown how he'll feel when he gets out.
On Friday night, Pagano sent each member of the team a long email with his gratitude for their thoughts and prayers and visits. He let them know it wasn't time for sympathy. He said their total focus had to be to get to .500 by 4:30 Sunday afternoon with a win over Green Bay. Arians put the letter on a PowerPoint big screen in the team meeting room Saturday morning, highlighting key points with a laser pointer. Asked later about the team's reaction as he went through Pagano's message, Arians said, "Grim determination.''
Arians has moved 14 times in his coaching career. Pagano 11. "When you move as many times as we have, you gain brothers everywhere you coach,'' Arians said. "That's how I felt about Chuck when we were together three years in Cleveland. Everyone liked Chuck. He's a man's man. Every time I'd see him when I was in Pittsburgh and he was in Baltimore, we'd hug, ask about our families. I'd always say, 'Hi, Cuz.' That's what I called him. So easy to talk to. That's one of the reasons this thing here has gone so smooth. The veterans and the rookies have bought into Chuck totally. They've bought in hook, line and sinker to the messenger and to the message.''
But there's a brutal nature to the job, each man understood. The games don't get called because the coach gets sick. "As cold-blooded as it sounds,'' said Arians, "a guy gets hurt in practice, if he's down on the field and the trainers are with him, you just move the drill down 20 yards and keep going. Unfortunately, we all know it has to be the same thing here. How long will we go like this? Until he shows back up, whenever that is.''
Gameday. The Colts sold "Chuckstrong'' T-shirts to raise money for leukemia research, and some players from each team wore them under their game jerseys. But the emotion in the place was gone pretty quickly. Green Bay sped to a 21-3 halftime lead. At halftime, Arians said he told the team: "No panic. No panic. We're good. If we play the way we've prepared, we'll be fine.''
Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck was handed a short field after a Jerraud Powers interception on the first series of the second half. He hit rookie tight end Dwayne Allen for an eight-yard score to make it 21-10. "Coming back out of halftime,'' said Luck, "we said, 'There's no 18-point touchdown.' Let's just play our football.''
The two sides seesawed until Green Bay took a 27-22 lead with 4:30 left to play. This is the time when the moral victory was supposed to kick in. Rookie quarterback, valiant effort, Super Bowl favorite on the road surviving, sick coach in the hospital proud of his young team's comeback, get 'em next week.
But Luck and veteran wideout Reggie Wayne weren't done. Luck had come up empty on eight straight third-down conversions when he took the ball at his 20 with 4:30 to go, down by five. On the first third down (3rd-and-9), Wayne ran a short cross and Luck led him perfectly. Gain of 15. On the next third down (third-and-12), Luck made the best play of his young pro career.
Green Bay sent six rushers, with outside 'backer Clay Matthews trying to beat left tackle Anthony Castonzo, while the other outside linebacker, Nick Perry, tried to speed-rush right tackle Winston Justice. Meanwhile, free safety Morgan Burnett, the sixth rusher, slammed into Donald Brown, who was protecting on the left side of the pocket.
Justice pushed Perry wide; a win for Justice. Brown stoned Burnett; a win for Brown. But Matthews got around Castonzo, pressured Luck to step up as he was about to throw for Wayne, and then Luck pulled the ball down, feeling Matthews on his shoulder pads, then loaded up again and fired 24 yards up the field to his right.
Wayne, meanwhile, fought a bump from Charles Woodson at the line. They jostled going downfield. Wayne stopped and pivoted at the Packer 30, hoping for one more chance. And here it came, a little bit high but a few feet toward the sideline from Woodson. Wayne leapt and brought it down, Woodson flailing at air. Gain of 15.
Back downfield, Luck sprawled to the turf. What an effort. "No words to describe this kid,'' said Arians. "One tough hombre. How'd he get out of that blitz to make that throw? You give me any quarterback in this league right now -- I don't care who -- and I wouldn't trade this kid for any one of 'em.''
What about Wayne? The Packers had to know Luck was laser-focused on him on this drive; Wayne was in the midst of the best game of his life. And it didn't matter. "I will never forget the unbelievable play of Reggie Wayne, especially on that drive,'' tight end Coby Fleener said afterward.
But there was another third down to navigate: 3rd-and-7 from the Green Bay 11, with 47 seconds to play. A field goal does no good here. Indy had to convert. With his receivers covered and a hole in the middle of the Packer defense, Luck took off. Though he looks like a lumberer, he actually runs a respectable 4.63 40-yard dash. Diving at about the 6-yardline, Luck got to the 4-, just enough for the first down after a lengthy replay review. He wasted no time on the next play, hitting Wayne on a quick incut, and Wayne stretched the ball in front of him at about the 2-, puncturing the plane of the goal line. Colts, 30-27.
Indy, however, left Aaron Rodgers 35 seconds. And no matter how the crowd and the Colts sideline wished time, just this once, could fly, Green Bay got in position for a 51-yard field-goal try by Mason Crosby with eight seconds left. Crosby had plenty of leg to make the kick.
"I just thought, 'If there's a God in heaven, I pray he misses this,'' said Arians.
Crosby seemed like he got a good kick on it. But something insane happened a millisecond later, inside a retractable-roof stadium with the dome closed this day. The ball veered left so fast and so far about 20 yards into the kick ... it was like an immense gust of wind showed up just then and pushed the kick impossibly left. Yet there was no wind -- the ball just shot to the left for some very odd, somebody-up-there-likes-Chuck reason, a shankapotamus if there ever were one.
Colts win! Colts win! Colts win! In the crowd, total strangers hugged and high-fived. The noise made the place sound like the 2009 Super Bowl year. Peyton angst? What Peyton angst?
"I've been coaching for a long time,'' Arians said. Since 1975, actually. "And that's as good a 30 minutes as I've ever seen, a five-star performance if there ever was one.''
In the locker room, Arians asked everyone to gather inside the huge horseshoe in the middle of the carpeted room. He turned it over to owner Jim Irsay, who held the game ball in his hands. "We know what kind of man we have just down the street in the hospital, fighting ... fighting for his life ... '' and Irsay, after a few more words, started shouting. "THIS BALL IS GOING RIGHT DOWN THE STREET TO THIS COACH!''
Much applause. Then Wayne stepped in. "We got one more game ball,'' he said, and looked at Arians. "For B.A."
Arians took the ball, and he and Wayne hugged.
Said Arians, in a loud voice: "Chuck on three!'' And the room responded.
"ONE, TWO, THREE, CHUCK!''
When Arians finished wiping away the tears and hugging a few more people, he went into his dressing room. He found his phone. There was one more text message to send to Chuck Pagano in the hospital room, two miles away.
So Brees has the record, but the headline had to be shared with the odd atmosphere in the Superdome. Understand something about Brees: He feels inextricably tied to Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis, because in 2006, when Nick Saban's Dolphins were skeptical about Brees' preparedness for the season due to major shoulder surgery, they stuck their necks out and committed $60 million over six years to sign him in New Orleans. That's why Brees emailed Commissioner Roger Goodell eight days ago, asking for papal dispensation so Payton and Loomis and the also-suspended Joe Vitt could attend this game.
The three sat upstairs, Payton with his son Connor (wearing a Darren Sproles jersey), and after the game, Brees was ushered into owner Tom Benson's office for a short meeting with the four men -- Benson, Payton, Loomis and Vitt. "They had a chance to share in that moment,'' said Brees.
The rest of this year won't be easy, because of the schedule -- two games left with 5-0 Atlanta, the Giants and Cowboys on the road, the Niners and Eagles at home -- and because the Saints likely have to go 9-2 to have a good shot at the playoffs. How often will Brees take the Saints on his back and lead them on a survival trip? Pretty often, they'd better hope ... because the defense isn't ready to win any games yet.
With the addition of Mario Manningham and Randy Moss at wideout, the return to health of Ted Ginn Jr., and the different styles of backs on the roster, Smith just sits back and picks the defense's poison. His wideouts caught 13 balls for 200 yards, his two main backs (Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter) ran for 187 yards, and tight end Vernon Davis had a 106-yard receiving day. No wonder Smith is completing 69 percent of his throws.
The Giants fly to San Francisco for a rematch of the NFC title game last winter, and they come with a beat-up team. As Tom Coughlin will discover when he watches the tape of these Niners, he'll need all the reinforcements he can get.
I'm inclined to think he definitely has some hurt feelings over how he was used in Week 1 (five targets, three catches, 14 yards) and as one Patriot press box wag suggested: "The truth is often spoken in jest. Not sure Belichick will find it as funny.''
"When you cheer someone getting knocked out ... it's sickening. It's 100 percent sickening. I've been in some rough times on some rough teams, and I've never been more embarrassed in my life to play football than in that moment right there ... We're not gladiators. This is not the Roman Coliseum. It is not OK [to cheer a player getting hurt]. It is not OK."
I'm glad to hear a teammate say that instead of robotically saying the fans pay their money and they can do what they want. But as for the football side, Cassel is playing shellshocked right now, and Romeo Crennel should start backup Brady Quinn, who was 3 of 3 in brief duty Sunday, when the Chiefs go to Tampa Bay Sunday. The Chiefs need to see if they can get anything going on offense while their season has a glimmer of hope left.
Before the season, Gonzalez said there was a 95 percent chance this would be his last year. I asked him if he was likely to change his mind because he's playing so well. "No, no, no,'' he said. "Not at all. I'm sticking by what I said.'' But he did say I should ask him after the season if he still felt that way. Hmmm.
But the real story in the division is Minnesota. Percy Harvin's a legit every-down threat at wideout, Christian Ponder's completing 69 percent of his throws, and the D has allowed 11 points a game in the last three weeks. All you who thought the Vikings would be two games up on the Packers after five weeks, raise your hand. (Wilfs, you don't count.) Minnesota has a tolerable schedule too. That division is going to have a riotous pennant race.
Here's the problem with Griffin as I see it: The Redskins can't keep him in the pocket because the line isn't good enough to develop a consistent and safe cushion. By making him a pocket passer, they'd be going against the grain of what made him great at Baylor, and they'd be subjecting him to more punishment by making him a sitting duck. At least that's the theory. But in five games, he's had 42 rushing attempts and been sacked 11 times. Not including pressures or knockdowns, that's an average of 10.6 exposures to hits per game. And no 218-pound quarterback is going to be injury-free being tackled that many times, most often by men much bigger than that.
As Jay Glazer reported on FOX Sunday, when the clavicle was dislocated,
The rookie out of Texas A&M has been a 64 percent passer in the two games, and you can see he doesn't get jittery when he feels pressure. "It's not that complicated,'' he said from Cincinnati after the 17-13 Miami win. "I'm just getting more comfortable as the weeks go on. What I was happy about today was I was able to make some good checks at the line [audibles], and I like the fact we made good decisions.''
The best decision by Miami may have been trusting Tannehill with a big job.
The owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Shahid Khan, flies to London this week to begin the serious business of promoting his team to a British audience. This is not just a lark, his plan to play one home game per season in London for four consecutive seasons, beginning in 2013. Khan is determined that the Jaguars become England's NFL team, and perhaps Europe's, over the next few years, and he sees it as part of the plan of the Jaguars' long-term future in Jacksonville.
"This past game,'' Khan told me Friday, "I met half a dozen fans who came from England to Jacksonville for our game, just because of the announcement that we'll be playing there for the next four years. I'm hoping that we establish ourselves as the NFL team people follow in London. We view it as a way to grow our fan base.''
It seems outlandish to think of Londoners taking road trips to Jacksonville to see an American football game. But what if it's a Jacksonville-golf-Disney World-South Beach combo platter week of fun? Who knows if the Jaguars can dent the English sports scene, or the European one. But the Pakistani-born Khan's going to try.
He will make BBC and Sky Sports appearances while in England, and he'll meet members of Parliament anxious for an influx of American sport. He and kicker Josh Scobee will be guests at England's World Cup 2014 qualifier against San Marino Friday night at Wembley Stadium. Scobee will have some sort of kicking exhibition at halftime of the game, and he'll be in England to help promote the team in this, the Jags' bye week. On Thursday, Khan and NFL executive Mark Waller, a London native, will announce the Jags' opponent for the Oct. 27, 2013 game.
Khan is so bullish on the prospect of the team's reach into Europe that he told me it's "highly likely'' Jacksonville may eventually play two home games a year in Europe. Now, if you're a Jaguars fan, before getting apoplectic over the prospect of losing a second home game per season, understand that this is all about fanbase-building, revenue generation and, eventually, free agent and guaranteed-money competition with the league's haves.
"I think our fans understand we're trying to grow our brand and grow the Jaguars,'' Khan said. "Look at anything in life: If it's not growing, it's dying. Check the statistics. Last year, I believe 23 of our top 25-rated TV programs were NFL games. In the United States, football is reaching the point of saturation with its 360 million people. The global population is 20 times that, and we have to tap into it.
"You saw what happened when the Premier League [the professional soccer league in England] started to tap into the international market; it exploded. It behooves the NFL fan and the NFL owner, if you're going to grow the sport and continue in an upward trajectory, to mine the un-mined areas.''
Will it work? Will London or Dublin or a city in Germany -- or more than one of those -- support a full-time NFL team? I'm dubious. But the Khans and Bob Krafts and Roger Goodells are intent on finding out. As Khan says, "It is not without risk, let's face it."
His home market won't take kindly to losing a second home game, and he's going to have to find a way to finesse that to his fans. But I look at it like I look at the market closest to Jacksonville (TV market size: 47), which is 51st-rated Buffalo. Bills fans have to accept that to have a chance to keep the franchise in Buffalo long-term, cultivating the Toronto market is vital. The Jacksonville dalliance with London is totally different, obviously; fans in Buffalo can drive two hours to see a game in Toronto; fans in north Florida can't do that to see the team in London. Khan's outside-the-box thinking is a double-edged sword. But I'm not sure the Jags are in Jacksonville in 15 years with conventional thinking.
The culture that Fisher brought to the defense was simple: hit hard and cover like a glove, and Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins have transformed the secondary into one of the league's stingiest. Fisher has emphasized special teams, as he always did in Tennessee, while hoping the offense can eventually catch up and be competent. If you'd told me in camp this Rams team would be 3-2, I'd have been stunned. But Fisher has done a great job of getting a green team game-ready quickly.
One: Eleven minutes left, Denver ball, 4th-and-1, New England 47; Manning tosses a gimme to McGahee in the right flat, and McGahee turns upfield to run before he's secured the ball ... you know what happened next. Dropped it. Seven minutes later, down 31-21, going in to make it a three-point game, McGahee had the ball stripped on a run up the middle by Rob Ninkovich at the New England 11. Turnover. Ballgame.
Kansas City was inches from taking its first lead in regulation time of the season, and Cassel coughed it up. You could see on the replay how Cassel misplayed the situation by leaning forward before the ball was snapped. Just a huge error.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Baptiste allowed three sacks and five hurries in the 17-3 loss to the Rams. In fact, PFF has Baptiste as the lowest-rated tackle in the NFL, but he's not alone in his badness. Teammate Adam Snyder is the lowest-rated guard in the league, and he allowed three sacks to the Rams as well.
"You know, I don't feel so sick right now."
"I pride myself on being prepared. My number was called and I didn't get the job done. Shame on me.''
"If I were you, I would learn how to be a little bit nicer. I know you don't care and nor do I care if I ever sit down and do an interview with you -- which I have yet to do. Maybe there's a reason for that. I like everybody. I'd like to like you but right now I don't like you. Grow up, young man."
"When I look back on my father's life I remember a man who was much bigger than the game of football. The things he would appreciate most about you have nothing to do with football; it's about who you are as a person. You're a role model for today's youth, a family man and a humanitarian who cares for his community. My father would tell you these are the important things in life, not some record in a book.''
"Nope. They're still using human beings."
Disappointment of the first quarter of the season: the invisibility of Tim Tebow.
Through four games, his underwhelming numbers:
My personal favorite game of Tebow's was the 19-snap, five-yard, one-sack performance at Miami in Week 3.
I don't buy the Wildcat doesn't work in the NFL anymore. Check out the production of Colin Kaepernick, the hugely less famous Wildcat quarterback/backup quarterback, in 39 fewer plays over five games: 17 plays, 88 yards (all rushing), one touchdown. (That does not include the final 12 plays of the Niners' rout of Buffalo Sunday, in which Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith as the regular quarterback.)
If the Jets have been waiting to unveil Special Teams Timmy or Secret Weapon Timmy, tonight might be a good time, when vastly undermanned New York faces the superior Texans.
So how is Peyton Manning adjusting with admittedly less arm strength than he's had before his four neck procedures? Apparently well -- considering he's on pace to throw for 4,822 yards, 35 touchdowns and a 66-percent completion rate. But let's look deeper, through the research of ProFootballFocus.com. In average depth of target (how far downfield his passes are touched, or land on the ground), his average this year is 8.8 yards; in his last healthy season, 2010, his average depth was 9.1 yards downfield. So that's a wash.
When blitzed is when Manning has changed. In 2010, his average depth of target when blitzed was 8.9 yards. This year, it's dropped precipitously, to 5.8 yards. It's likely now that Manning, at least through five games, doesn't think he can throw himself out of pressure and now is trying to think his way out of pressure -- and avoid the hits -- by hitting a receiver closer to the line of scrimmage. His passing chart against New England Sunday shows two throwaways out of 44 passes.
In the other 42 throws: 10 yards or fewer: 24 of 28 for 174 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT: QB Rating of 116.4 ... NFL Average of 93.2 11-20 yards: 4 of 7 for 62 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT: QB Rating of 126.2 ... NFL Average of 78.8 21 yards-plus: 3 of 7 for 109 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT: QB rating of 89.9 ... NFL Average of 95.4 Manning made three poor throws in the game, none of which could be attributed to poor arm strength. Balls float a little but still get to the target. He seems to have compensated. He knows what he's capable of and plays to that. It'll be interesting to see how he plays against a more reasonable schedule over the next eight games.
Dallas' regular season record this century: 98-98.
World traveler Larry Fitzgerald (whose travel photos will be featured Wednesday on SI.com -- he's been to Tanzania, Peru, Chile, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, China, Malaysia, all over Europe and many places in between) says part of the experience of traveling is to try the local food.
"I'll eat anything -- once,'' he said.
Worst thing he's eaten: "Fish eyes, a couple of years ago in China. Disgusting. The texture, the taste, totally disgusting."
I've always thought the two best pregame tailgate spots in the league are Pittsburgh and Green Bay -- and don't ask me in which order, because there are terrific things about both. The Packers have some of the greatest spreads, with the tables of cheeses and meats and beers from all over the upper Midwest. The Steelers? A little less garish on the food, but the same people in the same lots for years and years and years, with the flags and the tradition.
I was reminded Sunday of what I miss by not being at many games with a series of texts from Pittsburgh Phil, reporting from the Heinz Field parking lot. Pittsburgh Phil's a friend of a friend, and we met at a South Side bar a few years ago when I was doing a feature for HBO's
"Big game today,'' he texted at 9:49 a.m. "Wearing gear I usually save for the playoffs: a hat my dad bought the week of the Immaculate Reception, a shirt that led us to ...''
New text: "Super Bowl 40 and a sweatshirt that led us to Super Bowl 43.''
The drinks of choice, Pittsburgh Phil notes, included homemade apple pie moonshine.
I mean, you gotta love Steeler fans. How, I asked, is apple pie moonshine made?
"Fresh apples, mashed and fermented with cinnamon sticks. Mash apples. Add some water. Heat to ferment. Like a sour mash. It turns to vapor and water. Drain apples and cinnamon sticks. Let set. Then add cinnamon sticks for flavor. Apple pie. My dad makes it.''
Not my cup of moonshine, really.
Pittsburgh Phil's final text of the morning: "My buddy also brought deer steaks! Freaking awesome!!''
"Thank you for all the prayers & support I'm ok and I think after all the testing I will play next week."
"Seriously. At what point do people in Cleveland just wake up and say, 'You know, I'm going to focus my energy on gardening?' (Giants 27-17)''
"This is going to put a lot of pressure on Bud Selig to settle the labor dispute and get the real umpires back for the rest of the playoffs.''
"I guess fainting the day after going over .500 isn't exactly acting like you've been there before.''
a. Larry Fitzgerald writing "Carol" in cursive on his eye-black strips, honoring his late mother Carol, who died of breast cancer, as the NFL promoted breast-cancer awareness in October games.
b. Chris Long, rushing the passer like the second pick in the draft.
c. Randall Cobb and some Packers wearing the "Chuckstrong'' T-shirts under their unis, their tribute to Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano, who's battling leukemia.
d. Dunta Robinson's corner blitz, leveling Robert Griffin III early in Washington.
e. Really impressed with Alfred Morris, the Washington running back. I know Mike Shanahan doesn't want to hear about it, but his ability to make defenders miss and hit holes quickly reminds me of another sixth-round pick, Terrell Davis, a star running back for Shanahan in Denver.
f. Catch of the day: Reggie Wayne's one-hander against the Packers -- while getting his right hand held. And not far behind it in Week 5 was the one-handed grab by Danny Amendola on Thursday night.
g. Great in-line block of B.J. Raji by Anthony Costanzo.
h. Ed Reed. The ball just finds him.
i. Dan Fouts, doing color on Baltimore-KC: "This is just horrible offense the Chiefs have run." Good CBS graphic too, showing the Chiefs with 10 turnovers in the previous seven quarters.
j. The New England running game is a revelation: two straight games of 200 yards rushing.
k. Terminally underrated Marques Colston.
l. Stevie Brown, who is helping save the Giants' wounded secondary, with an interception and fumble recovery.
m. Well, I'll be darned: Sunday was the third time in Alex Smith's eight-year career that he had a 300-yard passing game. Regardless of what you think of Smith, it's amazing in this age that any quarterback who's played a lot in eight years has only three of those.
a. Percy Harvin the special teams player of the month for September? Way off the mark. Nine players returned kicks for touchdowns in the month. Harvin was one of them. Greg Zuerlein (12 of 12 in field goals, seven from beyond 45 yards in the month) had one of the best months a kicker has ever had. Harvin shouldn't be penalized for being Harvin and being taken for granted, but he didn't have nearly as impactful a month as Zuerlein did.
b. The Arizona offensive line. Last eight quarters: 17 sacks allowed. Doubt Russ Grimm slept very well over the weekend.
c. Just wondering something about the Steelers: Did they, you know, practice offense at all during the last week?
d. The awful non-pass-interference call the officials overlooked in the end zone against Charles Woodson, who got away with manhandling Reggie Wayne. If that's not interference, nothing is.
e. Billy Cundiff, who has missed four of his past five field goals. Guy's got a great leg. It's got to be a mental thing with him now.
f. Brandon Weeden's carelessness, throwing a pick on 3rd-and-1, deep in Giants' territory, seemingly about to go up 14.
g. Ray Lewis, who really got pushed around by the Chiefs. That weight loss looks like it's hurting him a lot. He just isn't a factor against the run the way he used to be.
h. Chiefs offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, down 6-3 in the third quarter, with a 3rd-and-12, called a draw play to Jamaal Charles. Guys, if you have zero faith in your quarterback, pull him and play the backup.
i. Harrison Smith, unjustly ejected.
j. Blaine Gabbert, who looks like he's reverting to his old feeling-the-pressure ways.
Core was a late replacement for the referee on the crew due to officiate the Giants-Cowboys game on opening night. Because the ref on the league's top-rated crew in the preseason had been injured, the league tabbed Core to pull double-duty on the first weekend, doing the Giants-Cowboys game with a new crew and the Raiders-Chargers Monday night with his own crew. "I didn't even meet the guys on my crew for the Giants game until that day in the hotel in New Jersey,'' he said. The league got away with one there.
Officials often say chemistry among the crew, and the relationship between the ref and six other field officials, is vital. And this crew did a creditable job that night. You barely noticed they were borderline amateurs. "What surprised me about that night,'' said Core, "is I'd been told there would be a difference between the intensity of the preseason and the regular season, and I didn't really notice one. The game really wasn't faster.''
After the game, Core said he remembers Roger Goodell coming in to congratulate the officials on a job well done. He doesn't remember exactly what Goodell said because, as Core said, "I was in the back, doing my own little happy dance."
Three other observations from Core: He didn't like how hard and how intensely Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano worked the crew during the Giants-Bucs game in Week 2 and called the crashing of the Victory Formation "something you'd see at a high school level.'' Core's crew had the Chargers twice, and he said Philip Rivers "was pretty much a jerk'' (though he wouldn't give specifics) and said one player after the Falcons-Chargers game in Week 3 said, "You guys are horrible." And he praised the class of Giants coach Tom Coughlin, saying he "treated us as total professionals."
Now it's back to the NAIA's Frontier Conference in the Pacific Northwest. "It's still football, and I'll enjoy it,'' he said.
I asked someone who's seen Ray Lewis III play in high school what kind of player he is. "Intense, like Ray,'' the guy said. "And he's got some real talent as a running back. He's definitely a Division I player.'' Ray Lewis III was born on the Miami campus when his dad was in his last year with the Hurricanes.
"The trip was incredibly educational,'' Boldin told me. "I met a man with six kids who works all day for 90 cents a day -- and he has to have three of his kids work with him in the morning instead of going to school. People just can't fathom the poverty. You have livestock drinking out of the same water supply as the people. I grew up in the projects, but I can tell my situation growing up was 100 times better than the average person in Ethiopia.''
Glad to see two very good players doing very good work off the field.
a. What a homecoming for Penn State. Happy for Bill O'Brien. Down 11 in the fourth quarter. Ran 98 plays ... 98! Beat previously unbeaten Northwestern. Won four in a row. Never would have figured that. My State College correspondent, Emily Kaplan, texted after the touchdown that put Penn State up 39-28: "On the field now and students are chanting, 'Bill O'Brien!' ''
b. Bobby V whacked. Now there's a stunner.
c. Baseball Stat of the Week: Marco Scutaro had more hits (190-184) and scored more runs (87-86) than Jose Reyes this year. More Scutaro: He was better than Albert Pujols in runs, hits, on-base percentage and stolen bases. So glad to see a hardworking player like the Giants' Scutaro be able to play every day and have a chance to be a key guy on a playoff team.
d. Quote of the Week, and the quote for all weeks, comes from Adam Greenberg, after his strikeout against R.A. Dickey of the Mets, in his celebrated at-bat for the Marlins the other night, the at-bat that took seven years to materialize. "I don't care what's gone on the last seven years. It's all worth it for this moment. It's going to last for an eternity for me.''
For those who find it cheapens the sporting experience to see Greenberg get this at-bat, go rain on someone else's column today. This was a terrific experience for Greenberg, for the Marlins, for the 29,000 people in the stands that night, and for those of us who love happy endings, even when the happy ending in question is a strikeout.
e. Runner-up for baseball quote of the week goes to the departing Chipper Jones, after he made an important error in the Braves' Wild Card loss to St. Louis Friday: "My heart is broken. Not for me, but for my teammates, my coaching staff and these fans who have been so great to us this year.''
f. There's a guy baseball will miss.
g. Because of the controversy over who should win the MVP -- Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera or phenom outfielder Mike Trout -- I asked my friend Pete Abraham, who covers baseball for the
"The crux of any argument that Mike Trout should be the American League MVP instead of Miguel Cabrera is this: The award is for most valuable player, not most valuable hitter. It's historic that Cabrera won the first Triple Crown since 1967. But becoming the answer to a trivia question did not make him a better overall player than Trout. The rookie center fielder of the Angels had excellent traditional statistics. He hit .326 with 30 home runs and 83 RBIs as a leadoff hitter over 139 games. The Angels didn't bring him up until April 28, or he might have had a few more RBIs. Trout also was 49 of 54 stealing bases and led the AL with 129 runs scored.
"But the statistic that stands out is WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. It measures how many wins a player is worth above an average replacement. In other words, it determines how many wins Derek Jeter would be worth to the Yankees instead of Eduardo Nunez. The stat takes into account offensive production, base running and defensive abilities. The math is complicated, but the theory really isn't. It's a better way of evaluating players. Trout has a 10.0 WAR. Cabrera was third in the AL at 7.1. As good as Cabrera is at the plate, Trout helped create more runs with his legs and saved more runs with his glove. This isn't hocus-pocus. Carl Yastrzemski had a 12.1 WAR in 1967, blowing away Brooks Robinson (8.6). WAR is an excellent measure of value and when you consider it, it's hard not to pick Trout as the MVP.''
h. He makes a good case. I would still probably vote for Cabrera, whose team made the playoffs while Trout's did not, and who volunteered to move from first to third so the Tigers could sign Prince Fielder, meaning that I think there should be an asterisk next to his fielding statistics. But it's very close, and I see the Trout side more clearly because of Pete's explanation.
i. So what was a worse call -- the Golden Tate touchdown by the replacement side judge in Seattle two weeks ago, or the infield-fly rule call Friday night in Atlanta? I say Golden Tate. In the baseball call, by the wording of the rule, the shortstop could have caught the ball by making "ordinary effort,'' as the baseball rule states. We see shortstops making that sort of play nightly in baseball. Maybe three times a night. Does the left fielder call him off sometimes? Yes. But that play is an ordinary baseball play, even if it's 50 feet behind where the shortstop might normally play.
Maybe baseball needs to word the rule differently, and take into account the distance traveled to get to a ball, or say the infield-fly rule is only in play within 10 feet of the skin of the infield. I wouldn't have blamed the ump if he didn't make the call, but I don't think -- as the rule is written -- that it was a bad call.
j. You'll enjoy Terry Francona as your manager, Cleveland.
k. Best manager of this era? Tony LaRussa or Buck Showalter?
l. Maybe it's because I'm 55 and I respect, but am not ruled by, the new baseball metrics, but Miguel Cabrera winning the Triple Crown is a very big deal to me.
m. Of course I watched the presidential debate. But I've told my editors I wouldn't be throwing out any partisan or non-partisan opinions on the race. Sorry. I know how many of you look forward to my well-informed take on politics.
n. So would I be allowed to say that the annual cost to every man, woman and child in the United States for PBS is $1.35, or should I keep that to myself?
o. Coffeenerdness: Green Mountain French Roast in the Keurig cups, which the NBC Sports Network has at its studios in Stamford, Conn., is the best brewed-turned-instant coffee I've had.
p. Beernerdness: I'd be the last to complain about the best beer on earth, Allagash White of Portland, Maine, except in this regard: I keep looking for it in places in New Jersey (I've given up on most spots in New York, other than bars where it's on tap), and shopkeepers listed as sellers on the Allagash site either have one four-pack of it left, or are sold out, and invariably say, "It's hard to keep this stuff in stock." I guess Allagash shouldn't make such a great product -- or maybe I should shut up about how good a beer it is.
q. Attention, idiots lording over hockey: You understand, don't you, that fairly soon you're going to ruin a very good thing? Two job actions in the last 18 years have robbed the public of 1,698 games, and the league has canceled the first two weeks of this season.
r. Congrats, Jennifer Livingston of WKBT TV in La Crosse, Wis., for standing up to the emailer who called you a bad role model for girls in the community because you're overweight.
s. No desire to see the final days of
t. Finally, my unending thanks to all of you for your support of Steve Gleason's ALS Residence in New Orleans. From this column and Twitter, you've contributed $58,540 as of this morning (
Darlington, of NFL.com, wrote
Coming off a game in which the Jets were outrushed 245-45, it's the only approach Ryan could take. They can't stop the run, and Shonn Greene is just a guy. "We had nosebleed Wednesday,'' Ryan said after the first practice of the week, which actually was Thursday because of the day-later Monday night scheduled this week. "We put in an extra period. This was one of our coach's ideas and we thought it was a great one. I challenged the staff to come up with things that we think will help our team. One of the things was to have a little period, maybe an eight-minute period, where it's just base runs versus your defense. It's ones versus ones and it's your base power running game against the defense ...
"We put guys out there and just put the ball down and said let's have at it. It was all runs ... I challenged our guys to really compete against each other and the only way to get better is when you go full-speed on each other. That's what we got back to and that's what we did. The period was over and you're thinking, 'Golly, I wish we could keep it going.' We thought we had to improve drastically, our run defense and being able to run the football.''
To put it mildly. I'd love to be able to say I'm convinced the Jets will turn their run game around, but I don't believe. I do think they'll have more resolve in the run defense and play Arian Foster better than they played Frank Gore last week. But with so many of Mark Sanchez's receiving weapons gone or playing hurt, I can't see them putting up enough points to compete with Houston.