The Award Section
Offensive Player of the Week
Donnie Avery, WR, St. Louis. By all measure, Andre Johnson of Houston has been better in October. Except one: explosive plays. Avery, the rookie second-rounder who likely will replace Torry Holt long-term as the Rams' deep threat, burned the Patriots Sunday just like he burned the Cowboys last week, streaking down the left side and catching a deep Marc Bulger throw. Against New England, the 5-11, 184-pound Avery had six catches for 163 yards and a 69-yard touchdown. Watch him run. He looks like his feet barely touch the ground.
Defensive Player of the Week
Mathias Kiwanuka, DE, New York Giants. I'll never forget when then-GM Ernie Accorsi, with Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck already in-house, picked Kiwanuka in the 2006 first round. What! Why no receiver? That was the fan reaction. Now, with Strahan retired and Umenyiora out for the year with knee reconstruction, Accorsi's foresight should earn him a 2008 playoff share. Kiwanuka was part of a New York pass-rush that abused Roethlisberger all game long at Heinz Field, sacking him three times and adding five tackles.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Jacoby Jones, PR, Houston. Jones must have taken a Devin Hester pill before the Texans' 35-6 tattooing of the toothless Bengals. That's who Jones looked like in zigging and zagging through the wilderness of the Cincinnati punt-coverage unit three minutes into the game at Reliant Stadium for a 73-yard touchdown. It was the single-most impressive special-teams play of Sunday's action.
Coach of the Week
Wade Phillips, head coach, Dallas. "Quite a few people had our coach fired this week, but it was never going to happen,'' Jerry Jones said after a season-resuscitating 13-9 survival job over the Bucs. "No one's as responsible for this win as him.'' Jones walked into the locker room after the game and handed Phillips the game ball, and he bear-hugged him.
Phillips and defensive coordinator Brian Stewart changed the tenor of the defense -- Phillips mostly -- to attack mode, even when Dallas had to play most of the game with its fourth, fifth and six cornerbacks, all 24 or younger, due to injury and the Pacman Jones suspension. Phillips didn't panic while Rome burned. He just went back to the way he used to dial it up in San Diego, with rushers coming from everywhere. Smart move by a coach who needed a win badly.
Goat of the Week
Johnnie Lee Higgins, KR, Oakland. It's hard to imagine anyone making a dumber play in a football game than Higgins did, unless it's Dan Orlovsky, who ran blindly out of the end zone for a self-imposed safety when he had no intention of doing so a few weeks ago. Higgins though, in an event as brainlocked as any you'll ever see in a game, caught a kickoff running left just in front of the goal line at Baltimore ... AND HE CONTINUED TO RUN OUT OF BOUNDS, WITHOUT MAKING AN ATTEMPT TO TURN UPFIELD, FOR WHAT REASON ONLY GOD KNOWS.
Stat of the Week
Chad Pennington is money on money drives. I find it amazing that a man who got to Miami less than a month before opening day can know the offense as well as Pennington does. How well does he know it? Miami has had 16 touchdown drives in its seven games this year. On those 16 drives, Pennington has completed 88.9 percent of his passes (56 of 63).
Good Guy of the Week
Mike Singletary, interim coach, San Francisco.
On Friday, recounting the story of how he got the 49ers coaching job four days earlier, Singletary got so emotional that he couldn't continue. I think he was crying, but it's hard to tell over the phone.
"Mike Nolan told me you didn't want to take the job, and he had to convince you to take it,'' I said to Singletary. "Was it that difficult a decision, that emotional?''
"It was ... um ... um ... '' said Singletary. Then silence. Ten seconds.
"Sounds like it was difficult,'' I said.
"Little bit,'' he said. Pause. Five seconds. "I think, first of all, Mike Nolan's a good person. Mike and [wife] Kathy are two of the finest, most giving people I have met in my life. I've watched Mike like a kid would watch his dad, and I've learned so much from him as a coach and as a man. A long time ago, I learned you can find another job, but good friends are really hard to come by.''
Nolan said after he'd been let go, Singletary came into his office and told him he couldn't take the job. They were sitting at a small table in Nolan's office. "Look at that desk,'' Nolan told him. "It's empty. It's nobody's desk anymore. You're not taking my job if you become coach here. You're helping keep these players together.''
So Singletary took it. He might have taken it anyway -- my guess is he would have -- but the fact is, out of deference to Nolan, a good man felt he had to get his boss' blessing before taking a job he'd wanted since eschewing a motivational-speaking career to coach in 2003.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
The Giants played at Pittsburgh Sunday for the second time since 1972, an amazing quirk in the schedule for two of the true cornerstone families in the history of the NFL, the Rooneys and the Maras.
How amazing? The Giants played at Pittsburgh 33 times in the 36 seasons between 1936 and 1971. In the next 36 seasons -- between 1972 and 2007 -- New York played at Pittsburgh once.
Postscript: I don't know who was doing the Giants-Steelers on the radio Sunday, but I caught some of the fourth quarter in the car in Dallas. And the play-by-play guy informed his listeners that the Giants had won five of the previous seven meetings in Pittsburgh. That, quite possibly, was the most meaningless statistic ever announced on a radio broadcast of a game, seeing that every starting player in Sunday's game was not alive for six of those seven meetings.
Enjoyable/Aggravating Travel Note of the Week
Everyone knows when you travel to Cincinnati you've got to eat Skyline Chili. What everyone should know is when you travel to Dallas (unless you're a vegetarian or otherwise value your low cholesterol), you've got to eat at the Coppell Deli, or its 2003 expansion-restaurant brother, Deliman's Grill.
It's an old-style, screw-the-calories, Texas diner, made famous by the Cowboys of the early nineties and by John Madden, whose mouth starts watering for the renowned Stubbs Sandwich as soon as the Madden Cruiser hits El Paso.
Owner Jay Khorrami's original place was across the street in suburban Coppell from guard Nate Newton's house, and he saw Newton out walking his dog one day in 1990. "If you're serious about eating, and about winning, you'll come to my place,'' Khorrami told Newton. Newton sent his wife over to pick up a few things and, as Khorrami said, "I threw the whole kitchen at him. Nate liked that.''
Eventually, Newton settled on this sandwich of choice: a one-pound hamburger patty, one-half-pound sausage patty, three fried eggs, American cheese, bacon, crispy tomatoes (Newton liked tomatoes that hadn't ripened), lettuce and mayonnaise -- all between three thick pieces of Texas toast.
Newton ate two of those at a sitting.
Nate spread the gospel of the deli in the locker room, and soon all the players and coaches were going there. Especially faithful was defensive lineman Daniel Stubbs, who settled on a more calorie conservative sandwich than Newton -- a sausage patty, scrambled eggs, bacon, American cheese, between a sliced biscuit. Stubbs ate so many of these that Khorrami asked him if he could name the sandwich "The Stubbs.'' Stubbs said sure, and a legend was born.
Madden got to love the sandwich so much that when he's doing a Dallas game, either home or road, he arranges for a box of them to be sent to the crew. This year, Cowboys PR man Rich Dalrymple brought 30 of the sandwiches, hot, in a Styrofoam crate on the Cowboy charter to Green Bay. Seeing the sandwiches, Madden might have been happier winning a Super Bowl with Oakland, but that's a matter of debate.
When you go, I strongly recommend the Hot Link Stubbs -- bacon, American cheese, scrambled eggs and a spicy link sausage from Richardson, Texas, halved and laying across the biscuit. Good thing I don't live down there, because I'd have to eat one of these a day.