SI.com columnistPeter King fills in the big picture for the 2008 season
BY MID-AUGUST,I'd made up my mind: This was going to be the Year of the Jaguar. I'd been toJacksonville, liked the club's off-season tinkering, was sure David Garrardwouldn't be a one-hit wonder and thought to myself, This is the season for anAFC power shift. Not that I ever get the Super Bowl teams right in August. Ifamously picked the Browns to make it in 1995—three months before their seasonwent up in flames with the news that the franchise was moving to Baltimore. Butwhat would a season be without my horrendous forecast? The Jaguars over theCowboys in Super Bowl 43 in Tampa.
Then I went tothe Patriots' camp in Foxborough and sat in the press tent, which was set upbehind an end zone with one side open to the field.
Twenty yardsaway, his back to me, Tom Brady barked signals in an 11-on-11 drill. Randy Mosswas split right, Wes Welker was in the slot and Jabar Gaffney was split left.Brady took the snap. Moss sprinted straight up the seam, a step ahead of thepursuing corner, without a safety over the top. He never looked back. Bradyscanned the field and lofted a pass over the oncoming rush and up the seam. Oneof hundreds of plays in dozens of practices I'd seen over the past month. Therewas nothing special about the route, the decision or the throw.
August 31, 2008
When the ball wasfive yards out of Brady's hand, Moss had not turned back to look for it.
When the ball was10 yards downfield, Moss still hadn't looked.
When the ball wasabout five yards from him, Moss finally glanced up. As he did, the pass droppedover the corner's outstretched hands, right into Moss's. He caught it instride, 18 yards from the line of scrimmage, and ran untouched upfield.
I thought, Hereare two great players who really didn't know each other at this time lastsummer—and then had the most prolific year a quarterback and receiver ever hadas New England set the NFL record for points in a season. Now Moss and Bradyknow each other's tendencies, communicating with winks and nods and other bodylanguage, the way Mark Duper and Mark Clayton knew Dan Marino, the way JerryRice knew Joe Montana.
It might soundridiculous to suggest a quarterback who threw 50 touchdown passes in a seasonand a receiver who caught 23 of them could be better. But I had just seen formyself how they could, whether or not it would show up in their stats.
Now I'm thinking,Jacksonville is not going to beat New England in January. Not in Foxborough,which is likely where the game would be if they met in the playoffs.
"Please picksomebody else," Garrard had told me on my visit to the Jags' camp."Aren't you wrong every year?"
That never stopsme. Patriots 30, Cowboys 16.
Which means, ofcourse, that if you live in Jacksonville or Cleveland or San Diego orPhiladelphia or anywhere but the six New England states, you should be veryhappy. Your team has a great chance to go all the way.
The Perfect GameDay
After 24 seasonson the NFL road, this is how I would game-plan my dream Sunday
5:30 a.m. Wake upat the Le Méridien (né Park Hyatt) in San Francisco in time to watch MerrilHoge and Ron Jaworski jawing on NFL Matchup. Take a leisurely walk to thePeet's on Mission and get a latte or the Major Dickason's Blend, a very strongcup of dark coffee.
4:15 p.m. Watchthe Colts and Patriots go at it at Gillette Stadium, with the weather stirringthings up, because that's the best matchup the NFL has to offer. WheneverManning and Brady play, there's a chance for history.
10 a.m. Strollthrough the parking lot at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. One time a tailgaterrecognized me and hollered, "Peter, have a sausage!" So I did."Have some cheese!" So I had a huge chunk of cheddar. "Have an OldStyle!" Well, I said, "can I see you later?"
7:15 p.m. Visitthe Panthers' locker room to get postgame comments: Muhsin Muhammad forperspective, Ryan Kalil for a pithy quote, Jordan Gross for a breakdown of lineplay, Jake Delhomme for insight.
11:45 a.m. Findmy seat in the press box at Reliant Stadium in Houston—an extrawide armchairwith room on either side to spread all my crapola. Put me between LenPasquarelli of ESPN.com and Paul Zimmerman of SI, and I'll learn three or fourthings from them I didn't know.
8 p.m. NighttimeTV at Graves 601 Hotel in Minneapolis. Vivid big-screens in every room. I sitthere, Monday Morning Quarterbacking, watching highlight shows as if I'm in atheater. Starbucks in the lobby too.
2:30 p.m. Dine on(sorry, I can't break the tie) the barbecued pork at FedEx Field (I make sureI'm hungry when I go to a Redskins game) and the crab cakes at M&T BankStadium in Baltimore (better than Legal Sea Foods'). Later, an espresso fromthe stand near the Qwest Field press box in Seattle.
3 a.m. Lights outafter getting callbacks from four players who were the stars of their gamesthat day. I'd settle for two: Hines Ward and Braylon Edwards, hopefully,because they're always revealing.
They Want to GrowUp To Be Like Ray Lewis
The position thathas the most talented young players is middle linebacker
REMEMBER THOSElumbering inside linebackers who were your father's favorite players? Theyessentially played like stand-up tackles in many defensive schemes, stoppingpotent running teams cold. Big, bulky Harry Carson and Gary Reasons lined upover the Redskins' guards in the 1980s, and they were as important to theGiants' dominance over Washington as Lawrence Taylor was when he was flying atthe quarterback.
"The commondenominator of middle linebackers today? Wheels," says Mike Peterson, theJaguars' middle man. "See the ball, run it down. See the receiver, coverhim. You're not just in a little box anymore. You're sideline tosideline."
Ray Lewis set thestandard for MLBs, beginning in 1996 as a Ravens rookie. With offensesspreading the field more in recent years, there is a greater premium onathleticism and speed at the position. Though Lewis has been an inside 'backersince Terrell Suggs arrived and Baltimore switched to a 3--4 in 2003, youngMLBs such as the Seahawks' Lofa Tatupu still see Lewis as a model.
Last yearunder-25 middle linebackers Tatupu and DeMeco Ryans of the Texans were Pro Bowlstarters, and rookie Patrick Willis—a half ILB, half MLB for the Niners—led theNFL in tackles. "Today's 4--3 lets the middle linebacker run clean,"says Barrett Ruud of the Bucs. "It's like you're playing running back atlinebacker, looking for the space to run so you can make plays."
The best and thebrightest of the new men in the middle:
|1.||Tom Brady, QB, Patriots||2|
|2.||Peyton Manning, QB, Colts||1|
|3.||LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers||3|
|4.||Randy Moss, WR, Patriots||246|
|5.||Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings||243|
|6.||Drew Brees, QB, Saints||8|
|7.||Carson Palmer, QB, Bengals||9|
|8.||Mario Williams, DE, Texans||220|
|9.||Jared Allen, DE, Vikings||203|
|10.||Steven Jackson, RB, Rams||30|
|11.||Joe Thomas, T, Browns.||170|
|12.||Walter Jones, T, Seahawks||10|
|13.||Kevin Williams, DT, Vikings||14|
|14.||Julius Peppers, DE, Panthers.||4|
|15.||DeMarcus Ware, LB, Cowboys||62|
|16.||Shawne Merriman, LB, Chargers||11|
|17.||Steve Hutchinson, G, Vikings||23|
|18.||Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers||85|
|19.||Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys.||137|
|20.||Champ Bailey, CB, Broncos||6|
|21.||Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Seahawks||20|
|22.||Tommie Harris, DT, Bears||25|
|23.||Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants.||93|
|24.||Patrick Kerney, DE, Seahawks||162|
|25.||Antoine Winfield, CB, Vikings||31|
|26.||Brian Westbrook, RB, Eagles||96|
|27.||Brian Urlacher, LB, Bears||7|
|28.||Eli Manning, QB, Giants||127|
|29.||Justin Tuck, DE, Giants.||489|
|30.||Luis Castillo, DL, Chargers||116|
|31.||Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers.||38|
|32.||Aaron Kampman, DE, Packers.||16|
|33.||Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals||58|
|34.||Devin Hester, WR-KR, Bears||69|
|35.||Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers.||15|
|36.||Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts||68|
|37.||Dwight Freeney, DE, Colts||13|
|38.||Julian Peterson, LB, Seahawks||78|
|39.||Braylon Edwards, WR, Browns.||318|
|40.||Wes Welker, WR, Patriots||126|
|41.||Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys.||76|
|42.||Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions||63|
|43.||Terrell Owens, WR, Cowboys||103|
|44.||Terrell Suggs, LB, Ravens||56|
|45.||Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Raiders||45|
|46.||Ed Reed, S, Ravens||12|
|47.||Jason Peters, T, Bills||39|
|48.||Jay Cutler, QB, Broncos||91|
|49.||Bob Sanders, S, Colts||196|
|50.||Patrick Willis, LB, 49ers||253|
has you covered with reports from NFL experts throughout the week
THE DAILY LINEUP:
Monday—Peter King's Monday Morning QB
Tuesday—Peter King's Mailbag, Don Banks's notes fromaround the league
Wednesday—'Dr. Z's Power Rankings, quick hits fromformer player Ross Tucker
Thursday—Peter King's Weekend Pickoff, Dom Bonvissutoranks the best games
Friday—Dr. Z's Mailbag, Adam Duerson's Game to Watch,Michael Lombardi's Frankly Football
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Sunday—Don Banks's Snap Judgments