Browns, Vikings, Philip Rivers stand out during NFL's wild Week 9

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This is one of those weeks, covering the NFL, when you could write about 10 or 12 things in depth. Pick something. Anything.

The Giants obliterating Seattle in Seattle, continuing to play offensive football like the 2007 Patriots and becoming the undisputed nine-week champion of the NFC. Unless you're the Packers and you'd like to dispute that. ... The state of Donovan McNabb and the eggshell-walking there'll be around Redskins Park this week with Redskins-Eagles II next Monday. ... The Raiders winning their biggest game since the Super Bowl (back when Bill Callahan coached Jerry Rice). ... Michael Vick beating Peyton Manning. ... Ndamukong Suh missing an extra point -- a very big one, as it turns out. ... Wes Welker drilling an extra point. .... The J-E-T-S JetsJetsJets cleaning up their own M-E-S-S.

And Tom Brady changing teams. Sort of. But before I get to that, let's focus on these nuggets:

• Brad Childress lives to coach another day after one of the most enervating days a man could have in coaching, or Brett Favre could have in playing, or Percy Harvin could have in enduring.

• The Manginis out-Belichick the Belichicks.

Philip Rivers is one bad man.

• The Wade Watch continues.

• Arguing some more about John Elway!

On with the show.


I'm starting to like the Browns.

Strange week for the Browns. Mike Holmgren sounded last week like a man who's itching to coach. It's an odd mix in Cleveland. The coach, Eric Mangini, had a shotgun marriage with the new all-powerful franchise czar, Holmgren, and most of us thought it was a matter of time before Holmgren picked his own coach and sent Mangini away.

The last two weeks -- with wins of 30-17 over New Orleans and 34-14 over New England -- have convinced me of a few things. One: It would be a mistake to fire the imaginative Mangini and his hungry staff unless the bottom falls out on this team in the next two months. Holmgren, if he really is interested in going back to the sidelines, should tell the owner of the team, Randy Lerner, that he's had a change of heart, and wants out to coach (pick one) San Francisco or Dallas or whoever. Two: The Browns aren't far away from competing every week in their division. Three: Colt McCoy is afraid of nothing, and I think it's unlikely the Browns will have to spend their first-round draft choice on a quarterback in 2011.

When you're not as good as the opposition, you have to find ways to get an edge. Or two. Two weeks ago, the edge came from a 68-yard fake-punt run by Reggie Hodges to spur the Browns to the win at the Superdome. Sunday in Cleveland, it came from the most imaginative play of this NFL season.

Cleveland was up 10-7, with 3:30 left in the first half, and in possession of the ball at the New England 11. In the huddle, McCoy got the play in his ear from offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and said to the 10 men around him: "Brownie,'' with the formation and snap count. And one of the guys in the huddle, journeyman wide receiver Chansi Stuckey, thought: It's go time. We're really calling it!

On the play, McCoy lined up split wide right. Josh Cribbs took the traditional quarterback position, behind center and not in the shotgun. The offensive linemen didn't go down in their stances, but rather stood up; a couple looked around as if confused, which was part of the play. And the 5-11 Stuckey scrunched down in a low football stance directly behind right guard Billy Yates. Like he was hiding behind the 6-2, 310-pound Yates.

(Two interesting points: Yates was once the highest-paid practice-squad player in Patriots history. New England paid him $420,000 as insurance so that if another team wanted to promote him to the active roster, he'd be tempted to stay with the Patriots. And Stuckey was part of the Braylon Edwards trade a year ago, coming from the Jets -- where he was once coached by Eric Mangini -- to be a sub receiver for Cleveland.)

"Hey, 83 in the backfield!'' Stuckey heard a Patriots defender yell, and it caused him to freeze like a statue.

"The play is really designed for everyone to act weird, like they're confused, like they don't know what they're doing,'' Eric Mangini told me last night. "Chaos. Confusion.''

Then Cribbs ducked under center and grabbed the snap. Immediately and almost imperceptibly, he crammed the ball into Stuckey's breadbasket. Stuckey waited for a second, while Cribbs began to sprint right.

"GO!!!!'' Stuckey yelled. On cue, the offensive linemen pulled left to create a convoy for Stuckey. He squeezed into the front corner of the end zone, just over the orange pylon. "All I knew is I had to score,'' Stuckey told me. "Score, no matter who was in the way or what I saw. You've got to give the coaches credit for calling it. [Mangini] gave Brian Daboll the free rein to call anything on his sheet today.''

That's what a team with less talent than other teams has to do. Be smart. Draw things up in the dirt and say, "Why can't this work?'' Daboll, Mangini and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan have shown the ability to do that. Then there's the super-fast maturation of McCoy, who seems destined to keep Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace on the bench for as long as he keeps making plays; the Browns are 2-1 since he took over (lost to Pittsburgh, defeated New Orleans and New England), and he's completed 67.6 percent of his throws. Very unrookie-like.

"The interesting thing about Colt is he had a much more difficult time not being the man than being the man,'' said Mangini. "That's not the case with many rookies. When he wasn't playing, he was dying. Think of what it was like for him at Texas -- he played four years. Played right away, practically. He took every snap. So he gets here and doesn't play much, and he doesn't work with the first team much. Then, when it was time for him to play, I remember he stood up in front of the team before his first game, at Pittsburgh, and he said to the team, 'Hey, you can count on me. I'm going to play well in this game.' You can tell when a guy's trying to convince you he's confident, and you can tell when a guy actually is confident. Our guys believed in him.''

And then there's the Hillis deal. The Browns dealt backup quarterback Brady Quinn to Denver for Hillis in the spring, and if that's not a big-enough piece of highway robbery, consider this: Denver has to give Cleveland a sixth-round pick in the 2011 draft, and I'm told the Browns will also get a conditional pick in the 2012 draft -- a sixth-rounder or better, depending on Quinn's playing time. I mean, should Cleveland be giving Denver draft choices the way this thing is working out? Hillis is 11th in the NFL in rushing with 644 yards, and he's averaging a gaudy 4.8 yards per rush. Who'd have thought that could ever happen?

"Have you had any better days in coaching?'' I asked Mangini? "Ever?''

"It's right up there,'' he said.

Too early to gloat. Smart. Like his team.


The nine lives of the Minnesota Vikings.

Who knows what the headlines would read in Minnesota this morning if Brett Favre hadn't pulled a Favre in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter and led two classic Favre touchdown drives (after throwing a you-gotta-be-kidding-me interception at the goal line and a fourth-down end-zone incompletion on his previous two series) to force overtime. He then led a field-goal drive on the Vikes' first possession of overtime for the win. One of the unlikely wins in Vikings history, to be sure, rebounding from a 24-10 deficit for a 27-24 win.

If it had ended 24-10 with a wounded Favre limping off the field and Randy Moss smiling as he exited a private plane in Nashville, I think Vikings owner Zygi Wilf would have listened to the boos of the home crowd and seen the CAN CHILLI T-shirts and swallowed $9 million or so and dumped Childress, and given the job to Leslie Frazier for a nice half-season trial run.

But that's not the way it is. The Vikings played valiantly and desperately, got some pass-rush -- finally -- and got the best yardage day of Favre's life (isn't it incredible that Favre has thrown for 400 yards only twice?) with 446 yards. It was a strange-bedfellows day, with two of the guys Childress has been at odds with, Favre and Harvin, being so good on bum legs to help him win.

"Another day at the office,'' said Mr. Deadpan, Childress, afterward, from the bowels of the Metrodome. "How about that Favre -- he goes from the gurney to his career-best day. And Percy -- he's a gutty kid, a hell of a football player.''

To sum up the news: Childress said he is "at peace in my heart'' with the decision last Monday to waive Randy Moss and cost the franchise a third-round draft choice for just four game of average football. Moss had been a disruptive influence (my words, not Childress'), and loudly told Wilf that Childress should be fired after a loss at New England last week, and Childress wasn't going to have it. Childress told me if he had the situation to do over again, he'd "do the process a little differently, but we need to get over the process and realize we did the right thing'' in waiving Moss. By that he meant he'd have called Wilf before informing the players to tell the owner Moss had to go.

He said he has been told nothing about his future as coach. "But I am peace with whatever happens,'' he said. "I have never made a decision since I took this job that was not in the best interests of the Minnesota Vikings.''

And regarding his line at the end of his news conference Sunday about needing assurances that he would still be the head coach of the Vikings going forward -- "I'm not going to stand here like Brett Favre and tell you I need a hug'' -- Childress told me he was joking. Those who know Childress say that droll way he says things the way he did Sunday is his way of joking. "Last week,'' Childress said, "Brett said I hadn't given him a hug. So I was joking.''

Finally, Harvin told me his tiff with Childress had nothing to do with Childress questioning his ability to play hurt -- which one club source said he found hard to believe. Harvin said their disagreement Friday was about Childress' insistence that he get an MRI on his bad ankle, the one that threatened to keep him out of Sunday's game. Harvin, obviously, suited up and played a brave game, catching nine balls for 126 yards, both career-highs.

"The argument was, I didn't want to get an MRI; I just wanted to get out and practice and play,'' Harvin said. "It never was a confrontation with the coach. I don't know how that started.'' Whatever the reason for the Friday tiff, a source said Harvin and his family were furious Friday night. Asked if he felt Childress should continue as coach of the team, Harvin said, "That's not my call.''

At the end of the game, Favre embraced Harvin and said, "I appreciate what you did out there today.''

"We got eight more to go,'' Harvin said. "We can do it.''

They just might be able to, especially in a bad NFC.


My MVP plays for a losing team.

In the hours before the 3-5 Chargers took the field in Houston to play a game they had to have, Philip Rivers text-messaged his dad thusly: "I don't think Gates is going to play. We gotta find a way.''

That was the Charger theme of the week -- find a way -- with another injury, this one to tight end Antonio Gates (foot, ankle) clouding their chances. Seems like all the great quarterbacks (except for Drew Brees, maybe) are having to put up with massive changes at the receiver and tight end position this year.

Among the pass-catchers for San Diego were Gary Banks, a free-agent wideout from Troy, and veteran backup tight end Kris Wilson and veteran free-agent tight end Randy McMichael. Recent practice squad graduate Seyi Ajirotutu was Rivers' big target Sunday in a 29-23 win over the Texans. He and McMichael, signed as a camp body in June, both caught two touchdown passes, as the four best receivers on the team -- Gates, Vincent Jackson, Legedu Naanee and Malcom Floyd -- all watched.

"The best thing about it,'' Rivers said from Houston, "is because we haven't had most of our front-line guys to practice with, I've gotten to develop a good feel for the guys playing now. McMichael's a starting tight end in this league, and I've been throwing to him a lot in practice. Now I've been throwing to Patrick Crayton and Tutu a lot. I've really been able to gain confidence in them. They're professional receivers.''

I'd give my MVP nod to Rivers over Peyton Manning and Tom Brady right now -- though it's razor-thin -- because Rivers has had to deal with injuries the same way Manning has, and he's had to deal with a new cast of receivers the way Brady has. And he's had to do it while the historically bad Chargers special-teams have consistently put the team in holes that have been very difficult to dig out of. But he's dug out of four, and nearly out of a couple of others. He's thrown for 2,944 yards through nine games, 357 more than any other quarterback. His 8.95 yards-per-attempt is three-quarters of a yard better than any other passer, while his 19 touchdown passes lead Brees by one.

The MVP race should be interesting, especially if Rivers continues on pace to break Dan Marino's passing-yards record for a season, and especially if the Chargers get some receivers healthy and make a run at the division title in the second half of the season. Rivers hasn't won one yet, and there's a reason: His competition is outstanding, as it will be this year.


Tom Brady changes teams.

Calm down. He's simply moving to Under Armour, the upstart outfitter. From Nike, the behemoth. Brady's apparel contract expired last summer and he decided to become the first superstar quarterback to sign with Under Armour, the 14-year-old Maryland outfitter that is one-20th the size of Nike. It's not a huge story in the football world, but it'll raise eyebrows in the business world because Brady's a big cheese, and Nike usually gets all the big cheeses it wants.

Brady is not only joining Under Armour as a contracted endorser, but also he's getting a financial stake in the company. "Tom is a shareholder in Under Armour,'' said 38-year-old company founder and CEO Kevin Plank. "Equity was a part of our deal. That was important to Tom, that [a stake in the company] was a part of the deal.''

Brady, the company's first quarterback, will appear in Under Armour commercials and print ads starting early in 2011. He shot them last Tuesday in Boston (see accompanying photo). He joins Ray Lewis, Michael Phelps and Lindsey Vonn as the biggies in Under Armour's stable.

"Under Armour's everything I was looking for,'' Brady said after the Boston shoot. "It's cool. It's fun. It's what so many of the kids are wearing, and I like to try to stay cutting-edge. I like the company. I think we've got a lot in common. We both want to stay hungry, stay humble.''

Under Armour expects to pass $856 million in revenue this year for the first time. Nike's at about $19 billion. Nike becomes the on-field uniform provider for the NFL, taking over from Reebok, in 2012. Currently, NFL players can wear Under Armour cleats, and they'll be able to wear the company's gloves on field next season. "The key is youth -- the 11-, 12-, 13-year-olds,'' said Plank. "You take one of the iconic athletes in sports, which we believe Tom is, and he validates our brand. He'll apply a face to our brand.''

Talking to Brady the quarterback, you could hear Brady the businessman. (Although had we talked on Sunday, there wouldn't have been much business talk. Brady would have been furious with how the Patriots played.) He knows the future is with the kids, and he knows if he's going to invest in an apparel company, he's going to invest with a company he thinks has a chance to be the Next Big Thing. "At this point in my career,'' he said, "it's got to be about a product I believe in. I felt there wasn't anything better out there. This is such a young company to be where they are. This kind of tells you where the market's at.''


How can this go on?

I mean, really. "I don't think Wade [Phillips] survives this night,'' Cris Collinsworth said as the clock wound down on Green Bay 45, Dallas 7. I don't see how Phillips can. But then again, we're not Jerral Wayne Jones.

Corralled by the media after the game, Jones said he didn't know what he was going to do to address what ails the team, and was asked if he could put a finger on what's wrong. "I don't have enough fingers,'' he said. Well, the defensive coordinator is presiding over a unit that's allowed 121 points in the last 12 quarters.

I agree with Collinsworth (and wrote strongly last week that it was time to show Phillips the door). I cannot believe Jones goes to the Meadowlands next week with Phillips on the plane.


The last word -- maybe.

Some final thoughts on NFL Films' usual high-quality job on its Top 100 show:

• It's fun, people. It's not gospel. Because there is no gospel about a subjective choice of the top 100 players of all time.

• Best aspect: Educating young and middle-aged fans about the first 40 years of pro football.

• Worst aspect: Underrating the great players from the first 40 years of pro football.

• Loved that Ray Lewis pointed out the Peyton Manning pass to Dallas Clark, just off the fingertips of cornerback Corey Ivy, in the 2006 AFC playoff game between the Colts and Raves, as the example of what makes Manning so great.

• Quote of the series: Mike Holmgren, in feting Reggie White, said his first contact with White as Packers coach during 1993 free agency was a phone call to White that went directly to voice mail. Holmgren said: "Reggie, this is God. I want you to play in Green Bay.''

Never heard that before. White loved it, and the rest is history, obviously.

• The most debate seemed to stir around the rating of the quarterbacks of the past 30 years, with six of them bunched together between 4 and 25. (I'd debate heavily about the rankings of the quarterbacks overall, namely that Otto Graham, at 16, was too low because all he did was win at a position where winning is the most important thing, but let's stick to today's players.) See if your position on the passers hardens, or if you get more exercised about them, after you look at how they were ranked, and how they performed, in a few important categories:

One final note on Montana, for those who think he was ranked too high: In his final three playoff runs with the 49ers">49ers, he won two Super Bowls and had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 22-2.

One final note on Manning, for those who think he was ranked too high: He's the only quarterback in NFL history to have a TD-to-pick differential of better than plus-200.

One final note on the injustice of Elway ranked beneath Brady, thinking Elway took the Broncos to five Super Bowls without much help: Brady's gone to four and won one more that Elway, and he may have done so with a lesser cast. Elway, on his first Super Bowl-winning team, had Hall of Fame tackle Gary Zimmerman, a strong Hall of Fame candidate at tight end, Shannon Sharpe, and a Pro Bowl runner, Terrell Davis; Sharpe and Davis were on the second Super Bowl championship team with Elway as well.

No offensive player from Brady's three Super Bowl title teams is likely to ever merit consideration for the Hall; Randy Moss was on the one Patriots' Super Bowl team that lost. If you go by the eye test, and simply think Elway was better because of his mobility and great play late in his career, that's fine -- and I wouldn't argue with you much. But the argument that Elway did more with less, at least compared to Brady, doesn't wash.

One final note on the series: I expect the next time such a list is undertaken will be in 2020, when the NFL turns 100. And I expect Ray Lewis to be higher than 18.

1. Baltimore (6-2). As many famous players as the Ravens have, and as many good ones, Ray Rice very often looks like the most important one. He sure did Sunday in the victory over Miami.

2. Pittsburgh (5-2).Mike Zimmer, the Cincinnati defensive coordinator, and the Bengals defense have Ben Roethlisberger a little spooked. That's why tonight in Cincinnati's no gimme.

3. New York Giants (6-2). You've got to give the Giants their due. They've been an offensive powerhouse like no other team in the league in the past month. Last four games: 144 points. That's 36 points a game, with three of the games (Houston, Dallas and Seattle) played on the road.

4. New York Jets (6-2). Well, they survived in Detroit, but that offense really worries me.

5. New England (6-2). No good team played a worse game Sunday. And it's not even close.

6. Green Bay (6-3). But I don't know how much stock to place in a rout of the Dallas Cowboys. You?

7. Atlanta (6-2). You should be able to enjoy a clutch late win over your upstart division rivals for a while. "No 24-hour rule this week,'' coach Mike Smith announced after the game. "Two hours.'' Falcons host the first Thursday night game of the year (not including the Saints-Vikes opener) against Baltimore, and the Falcons coaches had to get to work Sunday night on the game plan.

8. Oakland (5-4). When's the last time you could say the Raiders showed real poise in a big game when they appeared to get jobbed by an official's call late, and hung in to make two long drives to tie and then to win?

9. Philadelphia (5-3).Eagles 12-0 after the bye under Andy Reid (Overused Stat of the Years Dept.) ... and they'd be 11-1 if not for the laser arm of Mike Vick finding DeSean Jackson in the end zone.

10. New Orleans (6-3). So much for the catastrophic Drew Brees knee injury. A 34-3 road win solves a lot of what ails you.

11. Indianapolis (5-3). I think the Colts are better than this, obviously. But maybe just not this version of the Colts, with another key player dropping Sunday at Philly. Austin Collie (concussion) is the latest man to go down.

12. Tennessee (5-3). Here's a stat for you, Titans fans: Teams that have employed Randy Moss this season are 4-4 with him, 5-3 without him. Moss arrived in Nashville on a private plane Sunday night, and he made the first smart decision of his Tennessee tenure: He wasn't required to speak to the media, so he didn't.

13. Kansas City (5-3). Small consolation, but the touchdown from Matt Cassel to Dwayne Bowe to give the Chiefs the lead in the fourth quarter is what Scott Pioli paid all that money for last year.

14. San Diego (4-5). Really impressed with a team so beat up and playing so valiantly on the road.

15. Tampa Bay (5-3). I would have run LeGarrette Blount for that yard at the end too.

"A guy just spit in my face! I don't give a damn about Karlos pulling somebody's facemask. Like they didn't see Chad Henne get hit twice when he slid. Yeah, a little Stevie Wonder and Anne Frank ... Is that the blind girl? Helen Keller ... I don't know who the ---- Anne Frank is. I'm mad right now. I'm not as swift as I usually am.''-- Miami linebacker Channing Crowder, angry at some calls in the Baltimore-Miami game that went against the Dolphins -- and angry that no one saw what he claimed was Ravens fullback Le'Ron McClain spitting in his face during the game.

"I think that's always been something that people have said because L.A. wasn't too far from San Diego. I have done some TV stuff and I do enjoy doing it but, bottom line, I love playing football. Once people try to let that go and not forget that I'm going to put on that helmet and play 110 percent and lay it out on the line. It doesn't matter how bright the lights get.''-- Shawne Merriman, in his introductory news conference Saturday as a member of the Buffalo Bills, speaking about the impression in football circles that he was as interested in being a Hollywood player as he was in being a football player. The Bills claimed Merriman on waivers even though he has not had a good season rushing the passer since 2007. They'll give him a chance to resurrect his career beginning next Sunday against Detroit at home.

"I don't think he's the type quarterback at this stage that Shanahan wants to move forward with. Shanahan wants someone that is a little more accurate passer as well as not carrying as many injuries from over the years, the extra baggage. You get beaten up over a period of time and McNabb today certainly doesn't move around as well as he used to and his accuracy hasn't improved as a passer.''-- Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath, on Donovan McNabb and coach Mike Shanahan's controversial week-old benching of the player thought to be his franchise quarterback.

"I want to apologize to the Indianapolis Colts for really embarrassing and making a bad name for them. We are an elite group of men who pride ourselves on being good citizens. In this situation, I put myself in a horrible situation, I did a really dumb thing and I messed up. I've paid my price and will continue to do so. Now it's my time to earn trust back, from my teammates, my family most importantly, and the city of Indianapolis and the Colts organization in particular.''-- Colts punter Pat McAfee, reinstated after a one-game suspension for getting drunk and going for a 4:30 a.m. swim in an Indianapolis canal during the Colts' bye week -- when the temperature was 39 degrees.

Offensive Players of the Week

Jason Campbell, QB, Oakland.

His numbers in the overtime win over Kansas City were pedestrian -- 19 of 33, 229 yards, one touchdown, one interception -- but he made rookie wideout Jacoby Ford a very famous man Sunday in the biggest game Oakland has played since 2002. Campbell drove the Raiders to a game-tying field goal at the end of regulation by completing passes of seven, 19 and 29 yards to get into field-goal range. Then, in overtime, Campbell threw a pass of beauty, a spiraled rope traveling 47 yards, again to Ford, to get in position for the winning field goal by Sebastian Janikowski. Great job of redemption Campbell, who started this game only because nominal starter Bruce Gradkowski is hurt.

Peyton Hillis, RB, Cleveland.

The Browns beat the Patriots the way the Patriots have been beating teams for years -- by pounding them and physically dominating them. Hillis, who has surprisingly soft hands for a big man, accounted for 220 yards from scrimmage. He rushed 29 times for 184 yards and caught three balls for 36 more. This has turned into a marvelous pickup, considering Hillis can run through people and around more than just the defensive linemen.

Defensive Player of the Week

Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay.

The more I see of Matthews, the more I think we're watching a player with Ray Lewis energy and instincts. Case in point: mid-second quarter Sunday night against Dallas, lined up across from tight end Jason Witten. At the snap of the ball, Matthews sped inside the left shoulder of Witten and slammed head-on into ballcarrier Marion Barber. Sniffed out the play and the gap perfectly. For the game, Matthews had four tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss and an interception in the 45-7 wipeout of the destitute Cowboys.

Special Teams Player of the Week

Jacoby Ford, KR/WR, Oakland.

Ford, the rookie from Clemson, made his mark on a big game the way few rookies have this year. He returned the opening kickoff of the second half 94 yards for a touchdown. As if that wasn't enough, he exploded on the receiving scene for six catches and 148 yards, showing grit and determination in the process.

Coach of the Week

Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator, Oakland.

The Raiders can run the ball down throats. They can throw competently to new receivers with two under-the-radar quarterbacks. With 115 points in the past three weeks, Oakland's offense is becoming one of the league's most formidable. The Raiders are thankful they imported Jackson, who's been a godsend of stability to a team closer to good than any of us thought.

Goat of the Week

David Herron, LB, San Diego.

It's an epidemic, played out in the theater of the absurd. Technically this didn't count as the fifth San Diego punt blocked of this season, because Mike Scifres' first boot of the day at Houston actually traveled one yard past the line of scrimmage after it was blocked deep in San Diego territory. This, in effect, was the fifth blocked punt in San Diego's nine games, an incredible run considering that in special-teams coach Steve Crosby's eight previous years with the Chargers, his punt teams had only two blocked. Here, Herron, picked up 12 days ago as part of a raft of special-teams changes, was playing right guard on the punt team, and he vacated the hole to double-team an inside rusher.

Sign of the Week

"WAIVE CHILDRESS.''-- Sign at the Metrodome Sunday. Probably doesn't need much explanation.

1. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego. I'm stunned to have moved him to first overall, jumping over Brady and Manning. The Chargers are 4-5, and how can the MVP come from a 4-5 team, particularly when his competition has winning records. It's because Rivers has been magnificent, particularly in light of winning a tough road game the Chargers had to have without any of his three favorite receivers from 2009 -- and he still threw four touchdown passes and stayed on pace to shatter the all-time yardage record for a season.

2. Tom Brady, QB, New England. Very bad day in Cleveland. Awful. Brady was off all day.

3. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. Pretty soon, Dan Patrick and I will be running routes for Manning. In games.

4. Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay. "Could you ever vote for a defensive player, like Matthews, for MVP?'' Dan Patrick asked me last night at NBC. I could, but probably only in a year when the great defensive player helps a very good team win double digits and being more important to the team than the quarterback. That'll be tough for Matthews, particularly in a year when Rivers, Brady and Manning are playing with so many new pieces every week.

5. Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore. Man among Ravens.

"Special thanks to all the media. The little league world series is now more physical than professional football. You've been heard!''--@RyanClark25, Steelers safety Ryan Clark, at 6:39 p.m. Eastern Sunday.

"Never thought I'd look at Diane Lane and think of Tom Coughlin. Just happened on flight to Seattle. Watched & thoroughly enjoyed Secretariat.''--@giantspathanlon, Giants PR maven Pat Hanlon, Saturday after the team's charter landed in Seattle for Sunday's game, on the feature film that was the Giants' in-flight entertainment. Diane Lane. Tough gal, evidently.

NFL Quiz: Who is the NFL's passer-ratings leader this morning? The answer is at the bottom of this column, in number 10 of Ten Things I Think I Think, but I have four clues for you:

1. In four previous full seasons as a starting quarterback, his highest rating was 81.6.

2. He's the only quarterback of the 32 qualifiers who has not thrown an interception this year.

3. Before this season, he'd never had a 60-percent passing season, nor a 3,000-yard season.

4. He could be the most intriguing free agent in NFL history in 2011, assuming there is actually some sort of free agency season in 2011.

Come on. This is easy.

So this week I wrote in the magazine about the impact of special teams on the 2010 season ... if you'd like to take a look ... and I am left with this nugget I didn't explore in the story.

In his first eight years as Charger special-teams coach, Steve Crosby had one long snapper for the 128 games he coached: David Binn. In the first six games of this year, Crosby had five. Detailing them:

Week 1 -- David Binn. Placed on IR after one game (hamstring).

Week 1 -- James Dearth Placed on IR after two days in camp (broken foot).

Weeks 2-3 -- Ryan Neill. Placed on IR after two games (knee).

Weeks 4-5 -- Ethan Albright. Released. "He was 40 years old,'' said Crosby; 39, actually.

Weeks 6-9 -- Mike Windt Active for four games.

I asked Crosby how Dearth got hurt. "Damned if I know,'' he said. "He was at practice, his foot hurt, he got it examined, and it was broken.''

The Chargers, 4-5, have allowed touchdowns on punt and kickoff returns, have had a kicker injured slipping on artificial turf indoors, have had four punts blocked and a fifth (Sunday at Houston) deflected, and, arguably, have lost four games this year directly attributable to special-teams gaffes.

Flew the Delta Shuttle from Boston to New York Saturday afternoon for a weekend of work at NBC. I had a window seat and the woman next to me, maybe 22, fell asleep as soon as we boarded. She slept through the takeoff and didn't wake up until we were descending into LaGuardia Airport.

I didn't know quite how to handle a peculiar problem.

This woman slept with her mouth wide open, and for much of the trip, her face was pointed in my direction. She'd apparently had a very long night the previous evening, or a morning with a few belts, because she smelled, well, all liquored-up. And for about 42 minutes, I had booze breath coming at me. I didn't do anything about it. For 42 minutes, you can stare out the window and read the paper and just hope your neck doesn't melt.

1. I think this is what I liked about Week 9:

a. Terrific nugget from Sunday morning's "NFL Matchup'' show: When Michael Vick was sandwiched five weeks ago and suffered a rib injury against Washington, a review of the coaches video found Vick should never have taken off to run. He had a crosser, from right to left, totally uncovered in the middle of the field and just never saw him. Great example of how Vick still doesn't see the whole field when he goes back to throw. For him to have a long career, he has to learn to scan the field better so he doesn't endure the kind of hits a quarterback is bound to receive if he takes off six or eight times a game, every week.

b. And a very good early Veterans Day story (Thursday's the day) by Ed Werder on ESPN's pregame show on Brad Childress' surprise reunion with son Andrew during the coach's summer trip to Afghanistan with three other coaches. Andrew Childress is a Marine, on the front lines in Afghanistan, and left his unit for a few days to see his father on the USO trip. You had to get emotional watching that story, particularly in the e-mails Andrew Childress sent to Werder explaining why he wouldn't sit for an interview (he didn't want to set himself apart from his platoon).

c. Cleveland defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (bet you didn't know Ahtyba) beating a Pro Bowl-caliber guard, Stephen Neal, for a sack of Tom Brady.

d. What a catch by Aaron Hernandez, getting both feet down at the end line of the end zone to finish an acrobatic grab.

e. Ray Rice: 83 yards rushing, 97 yards receiving. Ho-hum.

f. Not a bad set of hands on Raiders tackle Khalif Barnes, who caught a two-yard touchdown pass against the Chiefs for his first NFL catch.

g. Santonio Holmes. Anyone else think he looked a little like Larry Fitzgerald in Super Bowl XLIII on that catch-and-run down the middle of the field in overtime?

h. Darrelle Revis held Calvin Johnson to one catch for 13 yards. Welcome to Revis Island, Megatron.

i. Nice try on the PAT, Ndamukong Suh. And not bad form, either.

j. Wes Welker hit his PAT. His versatility knows no bounds.

k. Darren McFadden continues to dominate. He had 114 total yards Sunday. Where would the Raiders be without him?

2. I think this is what I didn't like about week nine:

a. Cheap shot by Detroit corner Chris Houston, blindsiding Jets wideout Jerricho Cotchery way away from the ball at the end of a play -- with an official staring right at him.

b. Amazing how reliant the Vikings are on Percy Harvin -- even with a badly sprained ankle. They need to figure a way to get the ball to Greg Camarillo more.

c. Where is Santonio Holmes, Brian Schottenheimer? Call his number more often.

d. You'll be hearing from the league soon, Nick Collins, for that helmet-to-helmet hit on Roy Williams.

e. Charlie Whitehurst. Your job is safe, Matt Hasselbeck.

3. I think the win by the Chargers could well have set them up nicely for the second half of the season. They're 4-5. They're 1.5 games behind first-place Kansas City in the AFC West. They have a bye this week. Then they're home for four of the next five (Denver on a Monday night, at Indy on a Sunday night, Oakland, Kansas City, San Francisco). Isn't this the way the Chargers always do it? Getting in position after crushing early disappointments, staring over the edge of a cliff, and recovering just in time to make something of their season? If San Diego gets Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson right for the stretch run, how many teams in the league will be more dangerous?

4. I think the coolest event of the weekend in New York, obviously, was the ING New York City Marathon, and not just because one of the Chilean miners actually ran and finished the thing in a little over 5 hours. But how about Amani Toomer, who raised about $20,000 for charity by starting last and getting $1 for every runner he passed along the way ... and finishing his first marathon in 4 hours, 13 minutes and 45 seconds.

"I feel great,'' Toomer, the Giants' all-time leading receiver, said Sunday evening. "I really wanted to break four hours, but I started cramping up near the end and I had to slow down.'' He ran for a few reasons, one of them to prove that football players, who've seldom been much for marathons, can run the long distance, and also to prove to himself that he could do it. Because he'd gotten some attention for his plan to raise a buck for everyone he passed, and because he's a recognizable former Giant, Toomer was a familiar face along the course. "The people everywhere were fantastic,'' he said. "Some guy gave me a one-dollar bill to help with the cause.''

5. I think Eli Manning, quietly, is having a terrific year. The Giants have rebuilt their receiver corps around Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith (12 touchdowns combined), and Manning (65.7 percent) is throwing downfield well, and with accuracy. The Giants are going to be a tough out because they can rush the passer, they can run it and they can throw it over the top.

6. I think Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch deserves credit for a terrific column the other day -- and a good explanation of why the Rams, desperate for a receiver to help rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, didn't trump the Tennessee Titans and pick up Randy Moss on waivers before the Titans claimed him.

Miklasz interviewed Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, who did not want to be quoted on the story but who spoke with the columnist so he could understand why the team passed on Moss. And then Miklasz walked the journalistic tightrope we sometimes have to walk in cases like this, and he did very well. Wrote Miklasz:

"I think Spagnuolo believes the team's infrastructure could withstand the Moss temper, the pouting, the loafing on select plays. But still, the Rams decided to play their final eight games without Moss. You see, Spagnuolo believes there is a right way to do things. And a wrong way.

"Spagnuolo insists that he is willing to take a chance on a risky player, a player with a shaky rep -- but not this particular player. I don't know what Spagnuolo was told when he made his calls, as he did his homework. But the coach gathered enough information to make the no-Moss ruling. And you know what? Even as someone who was in favor of bringing in Moss, I can respect Spagnuolo's decision. That doesn't mean I agree with it. But I definitely respect it.

Why? It's pretty simple: I trust this coach. I see how he's building a roster, and reinforcing it by filling it with as many honorable, team-oriented, character players as he can find. The Rams are a surprise at 4-4 for several reasons. Bradford, for sure. Some emerging young lions on defense. An improving offensive line. But this goes beyond talent. Spagnuolo is putting together an admirable team ethic. Everyone works hard. Everyone is accountable. There are no separate rules for star players. This team is unified. It's tenacious. Whatever the players do, they do together. They don't point fingers. They don't splinter. There's no hint of controversy. They're all in ... all 53 of them.''

The Rams clearly and justifiably got spooked about Moss' inability to shut his mouth and be a team guy.

7. I think I don't blame the Titans for picking up Moss. Not at all. This is the last-chance diner for Moss. There are already 20 to 25 teams that would never sign him to a multi-year deal in 2011 (his stated goal), and a few more teetering on the verge of never doing so. But it's worth the $3.3 million gamble for the Titans, whose coach has a chance (and I mean a chance -- there's no sure thing in the study of Mossology) to get a receiver who clearly will take some of the heat off an inexperienced receiver corps, and a group that will be without budding star Kenny Britt while he recovers from his hamstring injury.

It's no lock that Moss will behave in Tennessee, but Moss knows he needs to be on his best behavior if he hopes to make any money in 2011 and beyond. That guarantees nothing, of course. But I understand the gamble Tennessee is taking -- the Titans believe Moss can win them a game down the stretch. If he does, it's money well-spent.

8. I think the only coach in football who I'm sure can handle Moss is Bill Belichick.

9. I think Tom Brady has never forgotten where he's come from. I saw him the day after the World Series ended, which was also the day after Indianapolis and Houston played in the Monday night game. He said, "You see the game last night?'' I thought he meant the football game. I said I did see it. And he said: "How about those Giants!" Then I knew what he meant -- the San Mateo, Calif, native watched his Giants win the World Series for the first time in his life.

10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:

a. Does Oregon have uniforms? The definition of "uniform'' has to have something of the concept of sameness. I'm not knocking the unis; I actually like them. I just wonder if they've ever worn the same uniforms two games in a row ... or two home games in a row.

b. If TCU goes unbeaten, aren't the Horned Frogs deserving of playing for the national title?

c. If Boise State goes unbeaten, aren't theBroncos too. The NCAA has to pray one of them loses. Actually, I bet the NCAA hopes they both lose once.

d. Quiz answer: Michael Vick, with a rating of 105.3. He leads Vince Young (103.1) and Philip Rivers (102.9) entering the last eight weeks of the season.

e. There simply is no actress alive with the skills, presence, beauty and grace of Grace Kelly. Saw Dial M For Murder' the other night for the first time. (Shame on me, after seeing Rear Window at least five times.)

f. Nice win, Chris Russo. Have you been fitted for your World Series ring yet?

g. Coffeenerdness: The pumpkin spice latte, no whip. So delicious. So misunderstood.

h. There's no way the Yankees don't get Cliff Lee. Is there?

i. Ninety-four days 'til pitchers and catchers report.

Pittsburgh 17, Cincinnati 13. Not a great night for the Steelers if you've got a fantasy football matchup riding on great Pittsburgh productivity. This is Cincinnati's last-gasp playoff hope, and if I thought its passing game could move the ball consistently, I'd be a Bengal man tonight. But I don't see it.

One side note: Roger Goodell will be at the stadium tonight, and if you have a hankering to see the commish or to ask him what magic bullet he has to bridge the labor gap, come on down to the parking lot outside Paul Brown Stadium. He'll be meeting fans around 5 p.m.