Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Week 5:
a. Tony Mandarich admits to steroid use at Michigan State and using performance enhancers and abusing alcohol as a pro in an interview with Armen Keteyian. Rick, I'm shocked to see gambling going on in this establishment. Absolutely shocked!
b. Welcome to the world, Dylan Madeline Schefter. I think your dad stopped working the phones long enough Friday to soak in what being a dad means. "At 11 pounds, 10 ounces, she stands a chance at becoming the first woman defensive tackle in NFL history,'' reports NFL Network correspondent Adam Schefter. That's one heck of a delivery, Sharri.
c. I've nailed you a few times, Warren Sapp, so it's only right you get a pat on the back for saying so forcefully on Inside the NFL Wednesday night that the Raiders will be in trash until Al Davis gets out of the way and gives the Raiders reins to someone else.
d. Jets safety Eric Smith's weekly salary: $26,180. So he's fined $50,000, essentially two weeks salary, plus he gets whacked for a week. I'm in favor of the NFL policing brutal hits, but I've watched Smith crashing into Anquan Boldin six times now, and I don't know how a Jets defensive coach can coach him to play that play differently.
e. Roger Goodell said Sunday it was "highly unlikely'' the schedule will be adjusted for 2009 to add more regular-season games while subtracting preseason games. Good. I hope it's "highly unlikely'' for the next 30 years that the league would play more than 16 regular-season games.
f. If I'm Rod Marinelli, all I want to do this morning is pull the covers over my head and call in sick. Very sick.
g. Still trying to figure out what Jerry Jones means when he says the Cowboys are going to "overly try'' to get Terrell Owens the ball.
h. The Packers would not give Aaron Rodgers a pain-killing injection to play Sunday. "We don't do that,'' Mike McCarthy told me Saturday afternoon. Other teams do. Who's right? Who's wrong? I don't know. But it's an interesting observation.
2. I think it's hard for me to imagine how defensive coordinators Jim Schwartz of the Titans and Rex Ryan of the Ravens don't get head coaching jobs after the constructions job they've done with their teams.
3. I think this is what I liked about Week 5:
a. Eli and Peyton Manning were 14-of-15 at 1:32 p.m. Sunday.
b. The day Donald Driver retires, the networks need to dig up his first-half touchdown bomb from Aaron Rodgers. I still don't know how he caught it, sandwiched tightly between two Falcons before getting slammed to the ground in the end zone.
c. Sav Rocca just buried a punt at the Washington 2. A beautifully placed punt, which he is majoring in this season.
d. Catch of the Year? Chicago wideout Marty Booker's one-hander at Detroit, one of the best catches of this, or any, NFL season.
e. This is getting eerie. Washington has played 20 quarters in 2008 and hasn't turned it over yet.
f. Kurt Warner doesn't stay down for long.
g. Nor do the Patriots. That was an old-school defensive game, with lots of confusion for young quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan to try to comprehend.
h. Kyle Orton looks more and more like the answer for Chicago, at least temporarily.
i. Tom Coughlin and Lovie Smith suspended top players for the game Sunday, then went out and won by a combined 78-13. Message there? Could be.
j. Patrick Willis was all over the field in an 18-tackle effort for San Francisco, though it did help that the Patriots ran 85 plays.
4. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 5:
a. Joe Flacco's kryptonite: throwing while rolling right. Twice in the first half against Tennessee, the Baltimore rookie rolled right, threw downfield and had the ball picked. One was negated because Tennessee linebacker David Thornton juggled the ball going out of bounds. But the second one stood, and the carelessness led to Tennessee tying the score at 3.
b. In Wisconsin, at 1:05 p.m. local time Sunday afternoon, the Brewers were down 5-0 and the Packers down 17-7.
c. The Lions have sprinted off to some interesting starts this fall. In their four games, they've fallen behind 21-0, 21-0, 21-3, 31-0.
d. Millen's fault, obviously.
e. If I'm Mike Holmgren, I'm asking my front seven this morning: Could you guys explain to me why you didn't try to tackle Brandon Jacobs much? That was an embarrassing effort by the Seahawks on defense. Putrid.
f. This isn't Delaware, Joe Flacco. The strength of your arm won't get the ball through defenders. They'll catch it here.
h. If I'm Marvin Lewis, I'd puke at the next mention of a "moral victory.''
5. I think the Cowboys will never, ever employ Chad Ocho Cinco/Johnson.
6. I think this is what the first month of the season has taught Eric Mangini about Brett Favre: "The biggest thing he brings to the team is he's exactly the same the next play whether the play's a big success or a failure. You try to teach your players that the only thing that matters is the next play, and to have such a great example of that on your team has been fantastic. With Brett, there's never a sense the game is over. He'd never act like it was anyway.''
7. I think those of us who spent much time around Lawrence Phillips figured that one day his life would crumble the way it did in a Los Angeles Superior Court room Friday. Phillips got 10 years in jail for assault with a deadly weapon, stemming from a 2005 incident in which he drove his car onto a field in L.A. and purposely struck four men (ages 14 to 19) after losing a pickup football game. In 1997, when Phillips was in his second season in the NFL, I followed the Rams for Dick Vermeil's first year back in the game. Two passages I'll never forget from the diary of Vermeil's season:
a. Early in training camp: All season long, Vermeil will make little concessions to the '90s. In Philadelphia he never had to excuse a player for 28 hours so he could finish his community service in order to avoid going to jail. But late yesterday, hours before veterans were to report to camp, [vice president of player programs Kevin] Warren spirited Phillips out of his dorm and drove him to St. Louis. Today the player will complete the 80 hours of off-season service he was ordered to perform after his probation violation.
He presents himself at the city morgue to do manual labor. He and Warren are ushered into a room where the coroner unzips a body bag. Inside it lies the corpse of a woman riddled with 16 bullet holes, most around the groin. She was shot outside a riverboat casino, reportedly by an angry boyfriend. Phillips has never seen anything so gruesome. "Her poor family," he says. He and Warren see other bodies -- one of a man who overdosed on heroin and another, badly decomposed, of a man found in the woods. Warren and Phillips skip lunch. On the way back to camp in the afternoon, Warren pulls into a McDonald's drive-thru. Phillips orders nothing. Still too shaken.
b. In November, when Vermeil is on the verge of cutting Phillips for repeated insubordination: The coach sees no difference in Phillips's demeanor. He doesn't get the apology he wanted. Finally, he says, "Lawrence, tell me something. What would you do if you were me?" Phillips thinks for a moment. "Coach," he says, "I'd cut me."
That's right. Vermeil, in effect, asked Phillips if he thought he should cut him -- and the player fired himself!
c. One final note from that season: Vermeil was such a Mother Teresa with his players that he called other coaches he respected in the league, trying to get Phillips a job. But Phillips was a train wreck. He had chances with the Dolphins and Niners and couldn't hack it.
8. I think the worst media thing about this football season is ESPN moving State Farm NFL Matchup to an hour earlier on Sunday morning. If you want to want the best (the ONLY, really) true Xs-and-Os football show on television now, you've got to have the TV on Sunday at 3 a.m. or 7:30 a.m., unless you TiVo or DVR it.
Madness. How many of you, intent on watching a pregame show, plus two afternoon NFL games, plus our NBC Football Night in America show, plus the Sunday night game, want to get up at 7:30 a.m. Eastern to watch the matchup show? If you're sane, you do not.
The value of this show in incalculable for getting to know what really happens in a football game, unless you've got coaches' tape in your house. I got up stupidly early Sunday to see it for the first time this year, and I got these nuggets I never would have known from Ron Jaworski, Merril Hoge and Sal Paolantonio:
Jacksonville's offense plays Pittsburgh so well because the Jags know how to plug the gaps the Steelers linebackers are so effective at bursting through ... Washington's pass defense is superb at disguising coverage, making safeties secret weapons ... Sean Payton's scheme is very good at natural pick plays, often leaving what appeared to be a well-covered receiver a moment earlier wide open ... Tampa Bay's disciplined, physical defense always seems to leave a hole for a blitzer, which last week against Green Bay was middle linebacker Barrett Ruud.
The biggest problem with this show, other than the time it's on, is that it's not 30 minutes longer.
9. I think we need to get one thing straight about the future of the Cleveland Browns (and I know they're on their bye week, but this just has to be clarified because people keep getting it wrong), and that's the contract impact of quarterback Derek Anderson. You'll recall Anderson signed a three-year, $23.85-million contract. The report is true, but the way the contract was structured makes it much less onerous than the money figure seems -- and much less dangerous if the Browns decide to part ways with the struggling Anderson after this year.
The Browns gave Anderson a $7 million signing bonus this year, plus a salary of $950,000 in 2008. In 2009, he's due a roster bonus of $5 million if he makes the team, with a salary of $1.45 million. In 2010, he's due a roster bonus of $2 million if he makes the team, plus $7.45 million in salary. So Anderson makes $7.95 million this year, and if the Browns cut him after the season, the contract will be null and void and the team won't owe him anything. The only remnant of the deal with be a $4.67-million salary-cap charge on the Browns' 2009 cap, the amount of the pro-rated signing bonus assigned to the last two years of the contract for accounting purposes.
I understand there's great excitement about Brady Quinn in Cleveland, but he's totally unproven, and the washout factor for first-round quarterbacks is in the 50-percent range. So here's my question: If I told you that you'd have to re-sign a quarterback who threw for 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns in 15 games last year and whose contract had expired, and I told you that you could lock up him up for three years, with only one of the years guaranteed at $7.95 million, and you could cut him after a year and owe him nothing more, wouldn't you have thought that a good deal? I would.
10. I think these are my non -football thoughts of the week:
a. Advice to the TBS graphics department: Just a small thing here, but a big thing to baseball fans. First pitch of the Red Sox-Angels series was at 10:07 p.m. ET. At 9:59 p.m., as had happened through the Cubs-Dodgers game, the crawl at the bottom of the screen informed us that Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew were expected to be in the starting lineup. Considering the starting lineups are posted at least a couple of hours before the game (the New York Times baseball blog had the lineups posted at 6:58 p.m.), the graphic lied. How difficult would it have been to update the information?
b. One other dumb playoff baseball thing: During the White Sox-Rays opening game, TBS showed 2008 fights between the Rays and Yanks, then the Rays and Red Sox, and Harold Reynolds said this sent a signal that the Rays wouldn't be pushed around by the power teams of their division anymore. Presto! Division title. What crappola. The Rays have been fighting for years. They brawled with the Sox in 2000 and finished 69-92. They brawled with the Sox in 2004 and finished 70-91. They brawled with the Sox in 2005 and finished 67-95. If you're going to use clichés, at least make them true.
c. Use Tom Verducci more, TBS. And not just because he's my SI pal. He's good, smart and inquisitive.
d. Does every Cubs fan dissolve into an emotionless blob at the first sign of adversity? Talk about a couple of woe-is-me crowds at Wrigley. And six runs in 27 innings is not going to win an April series in Pittsburgh or an October series in the playoffs.
e. Overmanaging of the Week: Charlie Manuel pulled Cole Hamels after eight innings in Game 1 of the Philly-Milwaukee series. Hamels had a two-hitter, with one walk and nine strikeouts. He'd retired eight batters in a row. He'd thrown 101 pitches. Over the past 10 games, he'd averaged 107 pitches a game; 20 times this year he'd exceeded 101 pitches.
There was no need to yank Hamels, but Manuel did, in favor of his ace closer, Brad Lidge, who hadn't blown a save all season, but who struggled the last week of the season. You can make the argument Manuel wanted Lidge to get a dose of confidence, but if a veteran closer needs confidence at this point of his career, maybe he shouldn't be a closer in a playoff game. Lidge went strikeout, single, double (run), strikeout, walk, wild pitch (tying runner in scoring position), strikeout in a 35-pitch tightrope walk. Why?
f. C.B. Bucknor, I've got a good class for you to take this offseason: Strike Zone 101.
g. First two games of the BoSox-Angels series ended at 1:25 and 1:29 a.m., respectively. There's some East Coast love.
h. All those last March who picked a Rays-Dodgers World Series, raise your hands.
i. You're the smart one, Bill Plaschke. You recognize Manny Ramirez quit on a great team once, and he'll do it again. In the first three innings Saturday night, Ramirez scored from first on a hard double to right, then tagged up at first base and went to second on a medium-deep fly to center field. I can guarantee you that in eight years in Boston he didn't do those two things in one season, never mind twice in one three-inning stretch.
j. Coffeenerdness: I've got to put in a plug for Bigelow green tea with pomegranate. Rather than the second latte of the day, it's a nice, tasty substitute, at about 245 fewer calories. Smart idea to make green tea tasty.
k. You hit a triple with The Miracle at St. Anna, Spike Lee. Liked it quite a bit. Very good war scenes, and a good, inspiring war story. It meandered, though, and could have been a half-hour shorter than the 2-hour 40-minutes it was.
l. Finally got to see the premiere of Family Guy, and if I had to pick, I'm not sure which TV character I'd chose as the best in history -- George Costanza, Barney Fife, James West or Brian the dog. Brian's quite a maverick.
m. Best pizza in New York, if you like thin crust similar to the best pizza in Italy: Fiorello's, on Broadway, between 63rd and 64th.
Who I Like Tonight, and I Mean Tony Kornheiser
New Orleans 27, Minnesota 17. I made that pick thinking Marques Colston and Jeremy Shockey would be the only vital Saints not to go marching into the Superdome in full uniform tonight. Wrong. Rookie Sedrick Ellis, the 307-pound run-plugger who'd started all four games for the Saints despite a late start at training camp, is out for two to four weeks after a knee scope the other day.
The offensive line is in major limbo, with guard Jamar Nesbit out for three more games after violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Furthermore, the Saints will have trouble with the hard-charging Viking defensive line; center Jonathan Goodwin, tight end Mark Campbell and fullback Mike Karney all showed up on the late-week injury report.
Drew Brees will need a fortified flak jacket tonight. It helps, of course, when you have a quarterback completing 72 percent and on pace to set the NFL record for yards in a season. The dude's averaging 336 passing yards a game. The game's going to be on his shoulders. There's no way the Saints are running on these Vikings, so I expect Brees to put it up 45 times.