The Award Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Justin Gage, WR, Tennessee. Admit it. You, like me, have been down on the Titans wideouts all season. Thought they'd eventually doom the Tennesseans to failure. Well, in the last two weeks, they've come up big, and Gage was huge in the come-from-behind 24-14 win at Jacksonville. Four catches, 147 yards, two touchdowns from Gage, giving him eight catches for 194 yards and three TDs over the past two weeks.
Brandon Jacobs, RB, New York Giants. Entering the game, opponents had rushed 200 times against the Ravens, scored one rushing touchdown in nine games and averaged 65.4 yards a game on the ground. In the first quarter, Jacobs smashed into the Baltimore line eight times for 70 yards, with two rushing touchdowns.
"To be honest with you,'' center Shaun O'Hara said after the game, "our game plan was to run the ball.'' Jacobs needs to share this honor with his line and with fellow backs Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw because the Giants shredded the Ravens for 207 yards on 33 carries. You simply do not do that against the Baltimore Ravens.
Brett Favre, QB, New York Jets. The numbers don't matter. They never matter in classic Favre games. The Jets needed a classic Favre game to slay the Patriots in Foxboro, and they got something better -- a classic, no-mistake game, 26-of-33 (79 percent) with two TDs and no picks. He led the Jets to the winning points on the first drive in overtime, converting a vital third-and-15 with a pass to Dustin Keller. That's the kind of game the Jets brought Favre to New Jersey to win.
Defensive Players of the Week
Troy Polamalu, FS, Pittsburgh. Sad to see the greatest, most beautiful interception of the season -- by any player -- overshadowed when Polamalu got robbed of the strangest touchdown of his life.
Polamalu interrupted a backward lateral on the last play of the Steelers' victory, picked the ball up and ran it in for a garbage-time touchdown. As I explained in my column topper, the TD was disallowed, and then, after the game, the officials admitted they blew the call. No matter (except to America's gamblers).
Polamalu had a diving, scooped interception in the first quarter. He also made a superb tackle of LaDainian Tomlinson behind the line among his three stops in the 11-10 Steeler win.
James Harrison, LB, Pittsburgh. Harrison, in effect, accounted for the Steelers' five first-half points with a safety (he tackled Philip Rivers in the end zone early in the second quarter) and an interception in the red zone late in the half, leading to a Jeff Reed chip shot field goal. Harrison deserves more recognition for his consistently high level of play.
Chris Carr, CB, Tennessee. Subbing for injured teammates and playing key special-teams roles, Carr had four tackles, three passes defensed and a vital interception of David Garrard with six minutes left in the game and Tennessee up 17-14. He also returned three punts and three kicks. On the other side of the field, Cortland Finnegan gave up no completions all day, and the Titans continued to show the strength of their depth. "Carr definitely didn't play like a third corner,'' said Garrard.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Spencer Larsen, LB/FB, Denver. "He's made two or three of the best hits you'll ever see on special teams already this year,'' Mike Shanahan said Sunday, after Larsen became the first player in five years to start on both offense and defense -- and on the first kickoff of the game as well. Larsen made no special-teams tackles taking his regular kickoff-team duties, but he was third on the Broncos with seven tackles as the starting middle linebacker. He played three snaps at fullback.
Larsen is my 2008 Feel-Good Story of the Year. The marginal Arizona linebacker was sitting on pins and needles on Day 2 of the NFL draft last year, wondering if he'd be picked, when Shanahan called and asked if Larsen, 6-foot-2 and 242 pounds, could play fullback. Larsen said he hadn't played in the offensive backfield since high school, but he'd sure try. OK, Shanahan said; we're going to draft you, bring you in for a week, and see how the transition goes. It went fine. Shanahan loved the kamikaze nature of Larsen on defense and special teams, and Larsen made the team. And last week, with five running-back injuries plaguing his backfield, Shanahan moved fullback Peyton Hillis to running back and practiced Larsen at fullback. There were two packages Larsen would play, and Shanahan started the game at Atlanta with one of them. And with middle linebacker Nate Webster hurt, this was Larsen's lucky day: Not only would he start at fullback, but also at middle linebacker. "They never made a big deal about it during the week or before the game,'' Larsen said from Atlanta. "But it's really exciting. I just thank them for giving me the chance.'' Larsen's an older-than-he-seems 24, having taken two years away from the University of Arizona for a Mormon mission in the middle of his freshman year. So blocking Keith Brooking and tackling Michael Turner in the same game isn't exactly real-world tough to him. What I found compelling about the gambit: The Broncos called the league to make sure Larsen could wear a number that wouldn't draw attention to him on offense, because a non-running-back number would require him to report to the officials before the play and notify the defense that their pet block of granite was in the game. So they settled on 46. Smart.
Coach of the Week
Bob Sanders, defensive coordinator, Green Bay. One would have to think that jobs were on the line at Lambeau Field on Sunday, both on the field and on the coaching staff, with Green Bay's sub-.500 record and two-straight poor defensive performances. Sanders and his staff came back strong, orchestrating a scheme to hold Chicago to three points and 234 yards.
Goat of the Week
Ben Watson, TE, New England. Easiest call of the week, and I don't care that Watson came back to score a touchdown later in the game. His huge mistake just after halftime was the most decisive bad play of an important game.
The Patriots, down 24-6 with two minutes left in the first half, drove to score a touchdown just before halftime, and were shredding the Jets' defense with a no-huddle scheme on their first possession of the third quarter. Now, I'd never give a guy the Goat of the Week if he was stripped of the ball. But Watson, getting tackled at the Jet 22 after catching a pass from Matt Cassel, never had the ball touched. He simply dropped it, and the Jets recovered.
Instead of the game being 24-20 with 25 minutes to play and the momentum clearly on New England's side, Watson coughed up this huge chance. The Patriots, despite rolling to a 269-yard second half, never could pass the Jets.
Stat of the Week
The Eagles have had two ties in the last 20 years. Both came on Nov. 16 ... yesterday, 13-13, in Cincinnati; and in 1997, a 10-10 cliffhanger in Baltimore.
1. Kurt Warner, QB, Arizona. He had to beat out Matt Leinart in August to win the starting job, and the odds were stacked against him there, seeing that Leinart was the franchise's Chosen One. All he's done since, at age 37, is have a season every bit the equal to his two MVP years in St. Louis. He's led the Cards to a four-game lead in the NFC West with six games to play.
2. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. The Colts have a playoff pulse because Manning has gutted out the first 10 games of this season. They won at Minnesota because Manning drove them to 18 points in the last 18 minutes. They won at Houston because Manning drove them to two scores in the last five minutes (and Gary Brackett added a third). Indy's one of two teams to rough up Baltimore's defense all season; Again, Manning. The Colts are 6-4 and would be a wild-card team if the season ended today. Without Manning, they'd be 3-7 -- maybe.
3. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta. So much like a young Peyton Manning it's scary. One difference: Ryan is winning (6-4) as a rookie. Manning (3-13) didn't.
4. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota. Vikes are in the playoff derby because they have one offensive difference-maker, the best back in football.
5. Kris Jenkins, DT, New York Jets. The Jets have allowed foes to rush for a yard less per carry this year than last. The biggest reason they're 7-3, I would argue, is an overhauled run defense, led by new nose man Jenkins.