Colts' Ballard, Bears' Jennings prove major playmakers in Week 8
-- Tweet from New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck at 1:13 a.m. today, six minutes after the team charter from Texas just beat Hurricane Sandy up the East Coast.
The flight, Tuck texted a couple minutes later, was "not really that bad. Just glad to be home."
He should be. The weather establishment has been scaring the tar out of the 100 million or so whose lives will be rattled by this event (justifiably, apparently). As I was writing last night, I came across this from veteran meteorologist Stu Ostro of the Weather Channel, with the capital letters in the second paragraph his:
Wow. Time to cower in the corner (and I don't mean Bill). Two sets of scribes began to fight Sandy Sunday night. After covering the Giants-Cowboys game in Arlington, Texas, Mike Vaccaro and Steve Serby (
And headed south from the Meadowlands after the Dolphins' win over the Jets was Team
Now I'll get to football, but respect the weather. It's going to be a rough three days on the East Coast, or more.
But what really will help Manning the rest of the way is the knowledge he doesn't have to do everything himself. Denver held New Orleans to 252 yards Sunday night, and in the Saints' 39 games since opening day 2010, that's the Saints' lowest yardage total. Thomas Morestead punted eight times last night, his high over that same period. "We knew we had to take away Drew's ability to throw it deep,'' said Wesley Woodyard, the special-teamer-turned-playmaking-linebacker, from Denver after the game. That starts with being solid in our run defense, so we know what they're going to do. Then we had great coverage over the top, not letting their receivers get open over the top. They're a great offense. They can score on anybody. This was a big night for us.''
And I look at the fact that the Eagles, 3-4, can still save their season, and they go to the team playing the worst defense in NFL history next Monday. The Saints have allowed more yards over the first seven games of an NFL than any team ever has. This is the kind of game made to give a struggling team confidence. And Reid has invested so much time and effort in Vick -- who didn't turn it over once Sunday in the loss to Atlanta -- that to yank him now Reid would have to have an inordinate amount of trust in rookie Nick Foles to win big. I think there are too many signs that Vick and McCoy could bust out in New Orleans for Reid to yank Vick now.
The Colts drafted Jennings in the second round the year they won the Super Bowl, and he never had the confidence in the NFL that he showed at Georgia. He needed experience, and a mentoring corner like Charles Tillman has helped. He caught a lucky break when Steve Smith fell midway through the fourth quarter and he was able to dart into the open space, pick off Newton and run for a touchdown. Earlier, he had a perfectly timed diving interception on an attempted throwaway by Newton, a poor decision by the quarterback. "I've been able to grow up here, and learn front some great players -- Charles Tillman, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs,'' Jennings said. "There's no reason why you can't get better if you have great players to follow.'' The Bears are going to be a dangerous team, but only if they can protect Jay Cutler, who was sacked six more times by Carolina Sunday.
"I knew I was going to dive for the pylon,'' Ballard said as the Colts waited to take off from Nashville for Indianapolis after the game. "I did it twice in college and didn't make it. Once, I fumbled through the end zone. The other time, I got stopped at the inch-yard line.'' Huh? The inch-yard line? "Yeah, just an inch or two away. This time, I know I couldn't run to the end zone. I was going to have to dive. When I jumped, somebody hit my legs, and I rolled over in air.'' Mouton clipped his leg, McCarthy got him by the shoe, and he turned over, like he was taking a nap on his back in air. As he fell, he leaned for the pylon. His helmeted head hit the pylon, and then Griffin fell on top of him in a full, legal mugging.
"I know the rule,'' he said. "you hit the pylon without going out of bounds, it's a touchdown.'' Very big day for the kid. His dad came to the game. It was his first touchdown. It won the game -- in overtime. It got the Colts over .500. "It's a special feeling,'' Ballard said. "I'm looking forward to watching it. I have a feeling I'll be able to find it on the internet."
Not saying a man whose team was 9-29 in the last 2.5 years doesn't deserve to have his job jeopardized, even though the timing for firing GM Marty Hurney in Carolina was ridiculous. What good does it do to fire a GM in the middle of a season?
Don't tell me, though, that Hurney left the cupboard bare. His sixth-round pick in 2010, defensive end Greg Hardy, had three sacks of Jay Cutler Sunday. His big 2011 free-agent keeper, Charles Johnson, Hurney's third-rounder in 2007, had two sacks of Cutler with two forced fumbles. His first-round pick this year, linebacker Luke Kuechly, had another big game Sunday, with 10 tackles.
I know the way the business works, and I know Hurney deserves to be under the gun, and I know Cam Newton now is not a sure long-term thing in Carolina, and Hurney wanted Newton as his franchise quarterback. I'm just saying nothing is ever totally black and white in this game, and Hurney's record should include it all: the questionable free agent spending, the unlikely Super Bowl run in 2003, the three playoff berths in 10 seasons, the inability to get Carolina out of a losing funk over the past four seasons.
"I didn't lose my composure. I just called him a punk, and that's exactly what he is."
"I just think he gives us the best chance to win. That's my opinion, and it's the only one that matters."
"Now it's time to go back and concentrate on my own broken life and try to repair that. I've done a lot of things I need to address ... We're not in the '80s. We're not in the '90s anymore. You have to govern yourself accordingly."
"Baseball's been the most consistent thing in my life, outside of baseball."
"We've got to play tomorrow like there's no tomorrow."
You will excuse Rams coach Jeff Fisher if he needs a couple of stiff drinks on the flight from Heathrow Airport outside of London back home to St. Louis today. If he never sees the New England Patriots again, that'll be just fine with him. The last time he faced New England as coach of Tennessee, the Pats beat the Titans 59-0. On Sunday, the first time he faced New England as coach of the Rams, the Pats beat the Rams 45-7. Numbers you might like -- but Fisher won't -- from those eight quarters of football:
Each week, thanks to play-by-play game dissection by ProFootballFocus.com, I'll look at one important matchup or individual performance metric from one of the Sunday games.
This week, I wanted to take a look at the first half of Houston defensive end J.J. Watt's season. He's been the best defensive player in the league so far, and so I had ProFootballFocus.com analyze where the 23-year-old versatile run-stuffer and pass-defender has lined up, and what alignments his plays have been made from.
Watt has played 377 snaps, including all penalties. The breakdown of those:
In run defense, he has played 127 snaps. As a pass rusher, he has played 243 snaps. And he has dropped into coverage seven times.
In many cases, the hype doesn't match the productivity. But Watt deserves every headline he's getting, from his performance in the first half of the season.
"We've traveled before,'' Bill Belichick, he of the electric quote, said upon arriving in London Friday, playing down the long flight from New England to London.
The Patriots played at Seattle in Week 6. Flight time from Boston to Seattle: 6 hours, 3 minutes.
The Patriots played in London in Week 8. Flight time from Boston to London Heathrow: 6 hours, 25 minutes.
The Patriots (6,500) and Rams (7,670) logged more air miles in Week 8 than the Packers will fly all season (5,774).
So my brother Ken retired from his job in England in September, and we decided to give him a fun, frequent-flier-aided retirement gift: a trip to see a World Series game. So he came over and, as it turned out, the only game that would work for me was Game 1 in San Francisco, which we didn't know would be in San Francisco until last Monday night. Thanks to my friend Corey Bowdre with the Red Sox, we were able to buy seats at face value and we set off for California. I spent much of last Tuesday in Atlanta with Tony Gonzalez for some
I was deep in coach, in a middle seat. (The only way to fly! A middle seat for five hours and 15 minutes!) The 50ish woman seated to my left got increasingly frustrated with her iPad, sighing heavily, until finally she said, "Damn daughter!" and took the iPad and hit herself on the scalp with it. I clanked over, wondering if I was to feel the wrath of the iPad-abuser next, and she said, "My daughter must have erased this app I need! I can't figure the damn thing out!'' I told her I was sorry, and asked her what she did for a living.
"I'm in sales,'' she said. "On the way to San Francisco for a sales conference."
"Oh,'' I said. "What do you sell?''
"Well, various things,'' she said.
Well, all right then. We flew the rest of the way in crammed, painful quietude.
I got to visit my daughter while in San Francisco. She works at Twitter, and one of the highlights of the trip (other than the fun of seeing her) was touring the office and getting to eat lunch in the cafeteria. Great benefit of working there: breakfast, lunch and dinner are free, and stupendous. (I had the grass-fed beef chili Americano, with heritage beans, and the tomato salad). Beer on tap there. No dessert. Hmmm. I saw no one with a beer at lunch, but I did see lots of different cold teas and flavored waters.
The layout of the office is conducive to exchanging ideas, with big tables and employees sitting at their desktops, and a ping pong table in a lounge nearby, with coffee and energy bars and ... well, let's just say it's not the kind of office I've ever worked in before. The thought process at Twitter seems smart: Make it a good place to work, a comfortable place where you enjoy spending hours a day, and you're probably going to be a productive employee.
Heck of a good time at the game Wednesday. The day was perfect, sunny and cool, and the crowd giddy from batting practice on. That's a beautiful stadium, in a great place, with excellent sightlines. Not the easiest thing to do, squeezing in a quick jaunt out west to see the Series in a busy week, and catching a redeye home to get normal work done, but I'm incredibly lucky to be able to do so, and to be able to be with my brother doing it.
"Now that the Series is over, can the Panda play guard for the Eagles?''
"Based on what I'm watching right now, Mississippi State would get killed by an NFL team, because they're getting killed by an NFL team.''
"We are warriors on the field, but are human as well. I pray everyone sends prayers forth for Marcus Lattimore & others that are injured''
a. Did you see Steve Smith catch a ball late in the first half at Chicago, get blasted, get right up and line up for the next play?
b. Brandon Marshall is playing this season as if he has a new life and wants to make sure he doesn't blow it. That, essentially, is the case. A gamer.
c. Marshawn Lynch. Mayock's right -- the most underrated tailback in football.
d. Good to see Titus Young becoming a playmaker in Detroit. Someone has to pick up the slack from the disappearing Calvin Johnson.
e. Jonathan Dwyer, the third-year back from Georgia Tech, hurts people when he runs. Even when the Steelers get their backfield totally healthy, Mike Tomlin has to find carries for this guy.
f. Stevan Ridley, 15 for 127, his third game over 125 yards this year.
g. Chandler Jones is one impressive rookie rusher. He had a 17-yard sack of Sam Bradford.
h. Always impressed with how Ben Roethlisberger moves in the pocket to avoid traffic. How can a man that big be that quick?
i. What a move by Carolina fullback Mike Tolbert, faking Brian Urlacher off his feet in the second half at Soldier Field.
j. Ronnie Hillman, just 21, is the speed complement Willis McGahee has needed in Denver.
k. Richie Incognito, the mauling Miami guard, graded out like a road-grader against the Jets.
a. One word for those Steeler uniforms: vomitous.
b. Seriously, NFL: We know why you do these throwback uniforms. (Throwup, in this case.) You want fans to go buy another type of Steelers jersey for the holidays. That's what this about. And I defy you to find one self-respecting Steeler fan who would be caught dead in those mustard-and-mud striped jobs with the stupid numbers. And the socks. I think Margaret Hamilton wore those in
c. If I called those jerseys ugly, it'd be a compliment compared to what they really are.
d. Dying to find out how you got James Harrison to put that garish garbage on.
e. Awful decision by Cam Newton late in the first half, tossing the ball away while being sacked -- and resulting in a diving pick by Tim Jennings.
f. You have to make that catch, Calvin Johnson, down the stretch, in the corner of the end zone.
g. Philip Rivers isn't getting much help, obviously, but a few of his throws in Cleveland were way too far off target for a man with his resume.
h. Washington kicker Kai Forbath, for booting an extra point try right into the line. Blocked? No. Horribly mis-hit, yes.
i. Interceptions No. 7, 8, 9 and 10 for Tony Romo at Dallas Cowboys Stadium this season.
j. The Chiefs. A two-month nightmare continued Sunday, when they spent their seventh straight game without a lead in regulation. I mean, how is it possible to NEVER lead a game? It's the first time such a thing has happened in the NFL for such a long span since 1940.
k. And Romeo Crennel, if you don't know why Jamaal Charles only carried it five times in the game, you'd better find out.
l. Rex Ryan's confidence. Gone. Vanquished. Sanchized.
m. Dallas' home-field disadvantage. The Cowboys are 14-13 in the house that Jerry built. Not dissimilar from their 99-100 regular season record this century.
n. Mark Sanchez. Rex, it's time.
a. Congratulations, Susan Slusser of the
b. San Francisco: best walking city in America.
c. Really happy for Marco Scutaro, who should not have been cast out by Boston at the end of last season, for winning the World Series. And to all the Giants. That was a great team win. Can you imagine the Giants next year if they could convince Tim Lincecum to pitch the eighth inning, and they had Lincecum in the eighth and Sergio Romo in the ninth? They'd be tough to beat.
d. So the Giants beat the Tigers four straight by a total of 10 runs, and the Tigers beat the Yankees four straight by a total of 13 runs. Does that mean the Giants would beat the Yankees four straight by a total of 865 runs?
e. Couldn't last forever, Ohio Bobcats. Good luck the rest of the way. And congrats, Miami, for bursting our bubble.
f. When I look at Donald Fehr, I think: They're not playing hockey until Groundhog Day.
g. I need to see
h. Coffeenerdness: My football-season equilibrium was put to the test with Starbucks closing all shops in New York at 4 p.m. Sunday with the subways and trains scheduled to be shut down three hours later.
i. Beernerdness: If you have one baseball wish left (for those of you who like the game), I'd suggest this: Wish for a bleacher seat at AT&T Park in San Francisco, go to the park in time for batting practice, visit the Anchor Brewing stand behind the bleachers in center field, get an Anchor Liberty Ale, and just watch BP, preferably in the sun. That was the scene last Wednesday for me and my brother, and the beer, and scenery, were perfect.
Think of it: Just two weeks ago, St. Louis rookie Greg Zuerlein booted a 66-yarder eight feet to the left of the left upright -- but it hit the net behind the end zone and would have been good from 72, easy, if it were just on target.
The most poignant stuff Layden got was from Dempsey, who was born with only half a right foot and a miniature right arm with no fingers, and the Saints. Detroit led the awful Saints 17-16, with two seconds left. The ball was on the New Orleans' 37-yard line; in those days, the goal post was on the goal line, not 10 feet back, and so the kick Dempsey was to try would be from his own 37, a 63-yarder. "On the sideline, Dempsey heard the voice of special teams coach Don Heinrich. Tell Stumpy to get ready to kick a long one,'' wrote Layden. And the kick ... The description by Layden, one of the best writers I've had the privilege to work with over the years, is sublime: "Dempsey's kick died in the air just inches past the crossbar and fell to earth like a buckshot mallard dropping into a flat-water pond.'' Beautiful. You'll enjoy the story.
Touchdowns: 0. Field goals: 3. Missed field goals: 1. Punts: 18. Fumbles: 4. Interceptions: 3. Lost on downs or end of half: 2.
In other words, Skelton has his work cut out for him, as they say.
Hey, Jim Cantore!