Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think I like the Titans' level-headedness. I asked Keith Bulluck if he thought the Titans -- the only unbeaten team left in football -- should be considered the league's best team, and he responded the way he should have -- that this isn't college football, and polls are not involved. "Too early to think about that anyway,'' he said. "We just have to go out every week and play with this kind of intensity. What we talked about before this game was, 'We can't let [the Chiefs] stay in it and think they can play with us. Get on 'em early.' '' I'd say a 34-10 win, with 334 pulverizing rushing yards, did the trick.
2. I think I don't care if the Vikings are just a game out of first place in the NFC North. They're cooked. Any team that plays as poorly in all three phases as the Vikes did at Chicago -- allowing 48 Chicago points in the first 46 minutes of the game -- will be home for New Year's.
3. I think if the Fox report on Brett Favre is correct about him advising the Detroit Lions with tips on how to beat the Green Bay Packers, his reputation will be irrevocably tarnished in Wisconsin. Favre "gave the [Lions'] coaching staff like an hour or a 90-minute dissertation, every single thing that the Green Bay Packers do on offense.'' I know Favre and former Lions GM Matt Millen are close, and Millen is a great admirer of Favre's. There's nothing illegal about this, if it did happen. But it would be seen as an act of betrayal by the Packers and their fans, obviously. Favre texted me before the Jets-Raiders Sunday to call the story "total bs ... not true and pretty ridiculous. I'm telling you it's not true. What the hell is their [Fox's] problem?'' Lions Chief Operating Officer Tom Lewand told me, "Our coaches are perplexed. There was no coaching of our coaching staff [by Favre].'' But there was one semi-damning quote out of the Lions' locker room Sunday. "No comment,'' said head coach Rod Marinelli, when asked about the report.
4. I think this is what I liked about Week 7:
a. Hines Ward's textbook de-cleating block of Cincinnati linebacker Keith Rivers -- resulting in a broken jaw for Rivers, which likely will cause him to miss the rest of the year -- is a great example of why Ward's teammates love him and so many opponents loathe him. There was nothing wrong with the block, which had Ward come in from the side, catching Rivers unaware. It's just a vicious but legal football play made by the best downfield blocker among all NFL wide receivers. Opponents will look at tape of the play and think Ward didn't need to explode Rivers the way he did, but that's nonsense. Ward went all out, and when you do that in this game, sometimes people get hurt.
b. How did Jake Delhomme's touchdown throw to Steve Smith make it cleanly through two clinging Saints' defenders?
c. All you high-school coaches out there having trouble teaching your defense how to tackle and wrap up in the open field need to get video of the Buffalo-San Diego game. Early in the third quarter, Bills safety Donte Whitner wrapped up wideout Legedu Naanee in the flat for a gain of three. Perfect.
d. Kawika Mitchell has been a boon to Buffalo's D, as his pick and forced fumble against the Chargers continued to show.
e. Justin Tuck, 49ers. Man, boys.
f. Mewelde Moore said he played "a real patient game, picking and choosing the right holes'' in Cincinnati. Twenty carries, 120 yards, two touchdowns (and another receiving TD) ... call it what you want. All I know is Moore's the latest example of how you can find running backs, and unless it's Adrian Peterson, I'm never drafting one in the first round.
g. Congratulations, Cable guy. Your players are playing hard for you.
h. The Ravens smothered the Wildcat formation in Miami. Discipline in the defensive lanes did the trick. Baltimore's front seven didn't get knocked back or sideways much, and there was always a Raven in the holes Ronnie Brown had been finding for the first four weeks they'd tried the formation.
5. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 7:
a. Marty Booker dropped two catchable balls in the end zone in the first half for Chicago, something reliable veteran receivers don't do in a full season, never mind one hour.
b. If Gus Frerotte is going to throw four picks against a Chicago secondary missing its top three corners, maybe it's Tarvaris Jackson time again.
c. Damon Huard must wake up some mornings and say, "Was it really worth $1.75 million to come back and endure this?''
d. The Browns have to be pulling their hair out about Derek Anderson. A week after he looks back to October 2007 form, he plays awful again at Washington.
e. I need to be educated on why Darren Sproles, in a game the Chargers needed a spark, touches the ball two times from scrimmage.
f. The Colts looked feeble in Green Bay. Imagine that we're getting to late October, and they've played one complete game.
g. I see no hope for the Bengals. None. And Carson Palmer's on the way to shutting it down for the year.
6. I think this is the Bad Raiders Karma of the Week, courtesy of NBC stat maven and Raiderphile Elliott Kalb: In Lane Kiffin's second game as Oakland head coach last year, Sebastian Janikowski kicked a 52-yard field goal in overtime to win at Denver, but the kick was nullified when ref Walt Anderson ruled Denver coach Mike Shanahan called timeout before the snap. Janikowski had to kick again -- and missed.
In Tom Cable's second game as Oakland coach Sunday, Jets kicker Jay Feely missed a 52-yard field goal attempt that would have tied the game in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter, but the miss was nullified when the ref ruled Cable called a timeout before the snap. Feely had to kick again -- and made it. That sent the game to overtime. The Raiders did end up beating the Jets in OT this time, but I'm not sure any corner has been turned here.
7. I think, speaking of Bad Raiders Karma of the Week, how about this one: In 2006, Raider boss Al Davis loved Texas safety Michael Huff. He was convinced for most of the predraft season that Huff was his man. The only player who gave Davis pause near draft day was Texas quarterback Vince Young, and if Young had been available when the Raiders picked at seven in the first round, Davis might have had a decision to make.
But Young went third, to Tennessee, so Davis didn't have a tough decision to make after all. In came Huff. After the second day of the draft, the Raiders, as all teams do, signed a group of college free-agents. One was Louisiana Tech safety Hiram Eugene. Last week, Huff, a poor playmaker, was yanked from the lineup. Hiram Eugene was inserted. Huff has made $15 million in his three NFL seasons. Eugene has made less than a mill. And even if Young had made it down to the Raiders in the '06 draft and the Raiders had picked him, how would that be looking now? Not very good.
8. I think the real sadness of the death of Montclair High football player Ryne Dougherty will be if it doesn't change how high school football organizations across the country deal with concussions. Here's a kid who was cleared to return to football despite telling friends he was still having headaches following a concussion earlier in the season.
I was struck in the last few days in a grieving community by how the show must go on, about how -- despite the sadness for a life cut short -- football went on as normal. I'm not in position to suggest this week's game should have been canceled, though that certainly seemed appropriate, because I don't know what the considerations were. But someone died in a school activity, two months after a player in nearby Cliffside Park died of a head injury in a tackling drill. Is high school football safe enough? That's the question, at least in New Jersey, that every responsible administrator, coach and athletic director should be asking right now.
9. I think Carson Palmer must be exceedingly worried about his right elbow. Why else would he be sending his MRI -- supposedly devoid of major damage to his right elbow -- to renowned orthopedist James Andrews and at least three other noted ortho guys around the country?
Palmer has talked to Jake Delhomme of the Panthers, who had the ligament replacement surgery that Palmer fears he might be facing, and Delhomme's advice: "I was more trying to reassure him that the surgery works, if that's what he needs. I had more than just that done, but you don't lose your quality of life, and you can be sure the surgery is better now than it was a few years ago, when it was difficult to come back from. I told him it was a very easy rehab. Basically, I told him not to be afraid, that if this is what it was, he'd be able to come back from it.''
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Congratulations to the Rays, who deserved to win the ALCS. The Red Sox had too many holes in the lineup. That's what this postseason came down to. David Ortiz wasn't Ortiz. Jason Varitek is as noble a captain as is playing in all of sports today, but he's also a shell of himself, for some reason; one good at-bat in seven games is not enough to forestall the inevitable of looking for another catcher, I'm afraid. Jacoby Ellsbury went missing. But the series was tremendous fun, which is what sports should be, taking the Red Sox from the depths of despair to a 1-0 lead midway through Game 7. What a lineup the Rays have. How do you get through Upton-Pena-Longoria-Crawford unscathed? You don't, often, which is why I think the Rays will handle the Phils in six.
b. Two world championships in four years, Sox fans. Don't get greedy.
c. I saw W. Entertaining and fairly informative. But I'm bothered, as I am with most Oliver Stone movies, by this: I figure somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of what I'm seeing is based in absolute fact. But which 20 to 40 percent is his best guess based on? Is the lifelong enmity and disappointment Bush the father shows toward Bush the son -- even well into the latter's presidency -- true? Hard to imagine such an extrapolation, that a father would be so down on a son, even after the son makes it to the presidency.
b. If I see any of the Blackberry, Sprint, Viagra or Cialis or DirecTV commercials in the World Series that have blanketed the TBS games, I'm going to have to listen to Jon Miller and Joe Morgan on the radio. Not sure what would be worse: Being in solitary for a month or watching another night of those commercials during the 53-minute breaks between every half-inning.
c. B.J. Upton plays too shallow. But he is one incredible ballplayer.
d. Chip Caray, I'm sure you're not an idiot in real life. But you said something fairly idiotic Saturday night when your Triple-A network, TBS, had a power outage (how is there not backup power, Major League Baseball, or a backup to the backup, for a network before the biggest game of this baseball season) causing America to miss the top of the first (including a bunt single and a pickoff of Coco Crisp at first base) and then a Josh Beckett strikeout to lead off the bottom of the first, then a monstrous B.J. Upton home run, then a walk to Carlos Pena. And after TBS came back on the air as Evan Longoria batted, Caray said, "You haven't missed much.'' Right. You saw it all. We saw nothing. To you it's no big deal because you saw it. Thanks for the taunt.
e. Cautionary Tale of the Week: Jere Longman's excellent New York Times piece about Delaware freshman volleyball player Elena Della Donne, the nation's most celebrated basketball recruit last year. Della Donne left UConn in June, burned out on basketball, and says she may never play again because it felt like a job. "I was sick of being unhappy [playing basketball],'' she told Longman.
Bonnie Kenny, the Delaware volleyball coach, said: "No kid should have to go through what she went through. Adults need to pay attention. It's a problem in youth sports. These kids are burned out. From 12 to 18, I bet Elena can count on her hands the amount of weekends she didn't have anything to do related to sport. She's missed the opportunity to be a kid."
I cannot say this more stridently: Read this story, and heed their words, all you who think you're doing the right thing by having your kids, at 10 or 11, pick one sport to concentrate on and play it 48 weeks a year. Or those who think playing sports at the highest level is always the best thing for your kids. In my town, Montclair, N.J., kids are asked at 10 to make a long-term commitment to a sport, particularly soccer, instead of becoming a well-rounded athlete with other interests. It's not right, and just because you can make kids at 10 or 11 (when they're wind-up toys) go to endless practices and travel games doesn't mean it's the best thing for them.
f. Coffeenerdness: Sam Farmer, the ace NFL writer for the Los Angeles Times and an underrated guy in cleverness, had this java-related reference to Adam Jones' five-game career with the Cowboys -- if that's all it is: "If it's over, he didn't have a cup of coffee with the Cowboys, he had a shot of espresso.''
g. Family Guy continues to amaze. It's better than The Office, which I couldn't have said two months ago.
h. Re: Cialis: I have never met anyone who said to his wife or girlfriend: "Hey, let's take two claw-footed bathtubs out to the beach, put them side-by-side, sit in them, watch the sun set and hold hands awkwardly and uncomfortably.
Who I Like Tonight, and I Mean Tony Kornheiser
New England 28, Denver 23. Before my wisdom about this game flows, I need to rewind to last week's pick, with an explanation. I picked the Giants last week (another gem from your loyal correspondent) with this comment: "I don't have time to explain this pick, and I don't have time to call my boss to tell him why. I've got to take my 2-year-old Golden Retriever to Obedience School. I'm not sorry either. I would make the same decision again.''
Which led to this e-mail from Chris Goodrich of Kenai, Alaska: "Your tone was down this week. The article was great, but much angrier than normal. I hope the dog was not that bad, and I look forward to Tuesday's mailbag.''
Well, one of my editors for this column had said he really wanted to change my comment. Said it didn't make much sense. I said 80 percent of the readers would get it in the wake of Plaxico Burress skipping out on the team for a day, getting suspended by the team, saying by way of excuse: "I just ran into some family issues, as far as taking my [2-year-old] son to school. I didn't feel any reason to explain to them what happened. I would still make the same decision again.''
We all square on that one? OK. Let's move on to this game. The prevailing wisdom is the Patriots are going to eventually fall off the face of the earth because of the inexperience of Matt Cassel. They might. And on a night when the guy across the field is mad young bomber Jay Cutler, you might wonder why I think Cassel's going to make enough plays to win. Now, I don't know that he will. It's just a gut feeling.
Bill Belichick was right about Drew Bledsoe when he thought he should get rid of him in 2001. He was right about Tom Brady when he thought he should bank the team's future on him in 2001. This team's short-term future is on the line right now, and Belichick has refused to call in any type of cavalry, preferring to go with Cassel and two young backups. Tonight, against a defense surrendering a league-worst 72.4-percent completions, I think Cassel moves around, continues to learn on the job and makes enough plays to out-duel Cutler.