The Award Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta. Ryan won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award in Oakland on Sunday. That or he took a very comfortable lead over Chris Johnson of the Titans. Both are deserving; in fact, Johnson may well be the Titans' offensive most valuable player.
In Oakland on Sunday, the highest-drafted quarterback in 2007, JaMarcus Russell, met the highest-drafted quarterback in 2008, Ryan, and it was one of the biggest mismatches of the season. By halftime, Atlanta led 24-0 and Ryan was nearly perfect: 13-of-16 for 184 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. Russell was mired in the Black Hole that the Raider franchise is in -- two of seven for nine yards, with three sacks.
Ryan's mastery of the Atlanta offense is Year 2 Peyton Manning-like. That's no exaggeration. He's comfortable with everything offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey calls, and his only weakness through the first half of the season is accuracy. He's completed 58 percent of his throws, and Mularkey, obviously, would like to get that in the mid-60s. Otherwise, Ryan's been so far better than Mike Smith or anyone else with the Falcons ever hoped.
Ryan finished 17-of-22 for 220 yards against the Raiders, who looked very much like a team ready to go home for the year -- and it's not yet Thanksgiving.
LenDale White and Chris Johnson, running backs, Tennessee. Midway through the second quarter at Tennessee, Green Bay took control on an Aaron Rodgers-to-Donald Driver touchdown pass. The Pack led 10-6. On the ensuing drive, Tennessee showed why it might be more than just a hold-the-fort offense, using the NFL's best 1-2 running back combo platter -- White, who leads the NFL in touchdown runs with 10, and Johnson, who leads the AFC with 715 rushing yards. On second-and-10 from the Tennessee 26 with 4:13 left in the half, here were the next three plays:
1. White off left guard for 54 yards.
2. First-and-10 at the Packer 20: Kerry Collins passes to Johnson for 17.
3. First-and-goal from the Packer three: Johnson off right guard for a touchdown.
For the game, Johnson had 30 touches for 161 yards and that touchdown, and White had eight carries for 77 yards. Total yards in the 19-16 Titan overtime win: 238.
"They are an awesome duo,'' Collins said over the cell afterward. "Their presence makes it impossible for a defense to concentrate too much on the pass, because on any down, they know we could get it to one of them.''
Defensive Player of the Week
John Abraham, DE, Atlanta. I don't care that Atlanta played the god-awful Raiders. When you hold an offense to three first downs, as the Falcons did in Oakland, it's a tremendous achievement. And Abraham was the leader of the pack in Atlanta's shutout of the Raiders, sacking JaMarcus Russell three times (giving Abraham 10 sacks for the years), and adding five tackles and a forced fumble. The Falcons are handling Abraham superbly, playing him approximately 60 percent of the time and keeping him healthy -- they hope -- for the full season.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Joshua Cribbs, WR/KR, Cleveland. There were other big kicking-game plays Sunday, but few with the significance of Cribbs' 92-yard kickoff return for touchdown. Ten minutes into Ravens-Browns, Baltimore led 10-0, and to think Cleveland could come back with its struggling offense against the league's No. 2 defense ... well, that probably wasn't going to happen. Unless the Browns made a big play on special teams. And Cribbs did. He took the kickoff after the Browns went down by 10 and zig-zagged through coverage for that 92-yard score. That made it 10-7. The Browns eventually came back to lead 27-13, but they gave it away in a 37-27 loss. For the game, Cribbs had 10 returns for 278 yards and a touchdown.
Coach of the Week
Jon Gruden, Tampa Bay. After the 30-27 overtime win in Kansas City, which made Gruden the winningest coach in Bucs history (Gruden 57 wins, Tony Dungy 56), Ronde Barber hugged Gruden at midfield and congratulated him for surpassing the coach Barber loves. Later, from the team bus, Barber said: "I told my wife before the season, 'I've now played for coach Gruden longer than I played for coach Dungy,' and we were both amazed. He told us at halftime we'd have to do something special in the second half to win.''
They did, rebounding from the biggest deficit (21 points) to win a game in club history. Gruden has the Bucs at 6-3 at the bye, and he knows what his team of veterans and young players needs. He gave them seven days off, a rarity for a team when it has a bye. Did you hear the hoarse Gruden after the game? His larynx needs a bye.
Goat of the Week
The Cowboy Hierarchy. The Cowboys had no chance in this game because the Cowboys had no competent backup plan in the offseason for Tony Romo getting hurt. Brad Johnson (5-of-11, two interceptions and down 21-7 when yanked) had no business trying to win a big game at Giants Stadium, and Brooks Bollinger is nothing more than a marginal third-stringer.
Look around the league. Very few quarterbacks consistently play all 16 games, and the Cowboys should have either drafted a decent one in the last couple of years and developed him under an excellent QB coach in Jason Garrett, or acquired a younger one than Johnson, who's 40. This fact absolutely amazes me: The Cowboys have not drafted a quarterback in seven years.