Posted: Monday February 7, 2005 11:09AM; Updated: Monday February 7, 2005 8:00PM
The Final Fine Fifteen
1. New England (17-2). Just think how amazing it is that a team goes 17-2 in back-to-back seasons. This team now, without question, is one of the top 10 teams of all time.
2. Philadelphia (15-4). Rodney Harrison said to the decidedly unproductive Freddie Mitchell during the game, "You can't even catch balls and you're being covered by a safety. How does that feel?"
3. Pittsburgh (16-2). Fan walks up to Jerome Bettis the other night in the lobby of the headquarters hotel here, the Adam's Mark, and says, "You're looking very ... uh ... hefty tonight.'' Bettis looks puzzled. "Is that, uh, supposed to be a compliment?'' he says.
4. Atlanta (12-6). Good for Jim Mora: He spent Sunday decompressing in Hawaii with the wife and kids.
5. Indianapolis (13-5). Peyton "Juan Valdez'' Manning was a hit at the Sports Illustrated advertisers' dinner Friday night with his dad and Eli.
6. New York Jets (11-7). Sean Landeta would like to punt for you, Herm.
7. San Diego (12-5). Get that stadium built, San Diego. Please. We need more Super Bowls in your town.
8. St. Louis (9-9). How much longer for Marshall Faulk? A year?
9. Green Bay (10-7). Emceed a brunch that featured Steve Mariucci as one of the guest speakers yesterday. Asked him about Brett Favre. Mariucci said he has talked to Favre since the season ended but at the time they spoke he didn't think Favre knew yet what he was going to do. Mooch told him: "When it's time, you'll know.''
10. Minnesota (9-9). Red McCombs wants $600 million from Glen Taylor to buy the team. Too much. I think $550 million is excessive without a stadium deal on the horizon.
11. Denver (10-7). Someone can have Reuben Droughns for a low second-round pick. By draft day, Denver will take a first-day pick of any kind.
12. Baltimore (9-7). What a surprise: DeionSanders was wearing a boot protecting his injured foot, limping around the Media Center last week. Sounds like he still wants to play. One concept for you, Ozzie Newsome: "Incentive-laden contract.''
13. New Orleans (8-8). Time to put up or shut up, Aaron Brooks, with a new offensive direction.
14. Carolina (7-9). I bet John Fox was in some distress watching the game yesterday. There, but for the grace of injuries, go the Panthers.
15. Buffalo (9-7). If I'm the Mularkeys, I'm hoping Nick Saban doesn't get New England's Eric Mangini as his defensive coordinator. That would make the Bills' task to catch the Patriots even harder, because it would improve the Dolphins that much more and threaten to put Miami between Buffalo and the Pats. What a division the AFC East could be next year.
The Awards Section
Offensive Player of the Week
Philadelphia WR Terrell Owens. Playing 46 days after breaking his leg and damaging ankle ligaments, Owens had a tour de force Super Bowl -- nine catches and 122 yards in a losing cause. Say whatever you want about the guy's off-the-field actions; on the field he was a champion, a player who devoted his life to rehabbing for his job so he could get ready for the biggest game of his career. Afterward he was, a bit justifiably, angry about how he was seen as selfish in some quarters (though this was not nearly as widespread as he thought) for his manic attempt to return to the lineup. "If it was Brett Favre doing this, they would have called him a warrior," he said. Buddy, you're a warrior.
Defensive Players of the Week
(tie) New England LB Tedy Bruschi and S Rodney Harrison, who combined for 14 tackles, two sacks, three passes deflected and three interceptions. "I don't want to single anyone out, really," Belichick told me after the game, "but Tedy and Rodney were so outstanding. They make so many big plays for every game. What can you say? They're just great football players."
Special Teams Player of the Week
New England P Josh Miller. He had an excellent directional day, booting his first punt out of bounds at the Eagles 7 yard line, and punting seven times for a 45.1-yard average. The Eagles, an excellent special-teams unit, had only 19 return yards in the punting game. A 42-plus-yard net-punting game is superb, particularly under the pressure of a day like this one.
Coaches of the Week
(tie) New England coordinators Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel. Call them the Patriots Alumni Coaches of the Week. Weis is bound for Notre Dame and Crennel for Cleveland. (The Browns offered Crennel their job around 11 last night and he accepted, confirming the worst-kept secret in football.) Starting late in the first half, Weis called the plays on five drives that ended with, in order: touchdown, touchdown, punt, touchdown, field goal -- 36 plays, 211 yards, an offensive blitzkrieg against the NFC's stingiest scoring defense. Crennel chess-pieced the defense, surviving injury after injury, including starting free safety Eugene Wilson in the first half of the Super Bowl. Though the Eagles moved the ball consistently, the Patriots forced four turnovers by making Donovan McNabb rush all night.
Stat of the Week
The Patriots are kings of the close game. The margins of victory in their 9-0 playoff run since 2001: 3, 7, 3, 3, 10, 3, 17, 14, 3.
Factoid That May Interest Only Me
Bizarre yet not surprising media question of the week:
Reporter to Bruschi: "Do you believe in unicorns?"
Bruschi, after several seconds of thought: "I guess there are some unicorns out there, somewhere."
Quote of the Week
"We came up to visit the family at Christmas, and it looked like they were going to have to face the Colts at some time during the playoffs with that beat-up secondary of theirs. And so I asked Bill about it. He said, 'We'll be all right.' You know, they usually are all right."
--Steve Belichick, the 86-year-old father of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, after New England's 24-21 Super Bowl XXXIX win.
Aggravating/Enjoyable Travel Note of the Week
I tied a Super Bowl record (two) for most times getting lost on bus rides to and from the stadium by one reporter.
Both times, media members who are familiar with Jacksonville had to help out bus drivers who didn't know their way around the town.
It reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry reserves a car, but then finds out his vehicle's not available when he goes to pick it up. He says something along the lines of: "I don't think you understand the purpose of a reservation. You hold the car, and then I come and pick it up." In this case I don't think the bus drivers -- or the NFL -- quite knew the expectations: We get on the buses, and they know how to make the five- or six-mile drive to or from Alltel Stadium. But I can assure you the patrons of the bus were very polite as they pointed out the error of both drivers' ways. Sort of.