The Award Section
Offensive Player of the Week
Donovan McNabb, QB, Philadelphia. "I knew if I just continued to be myself, good things would happen,'' McNabb said after rising from the ashes to play one of the best games of his 10-year career in a 48-20 pasting of the Cardinals. Four days after getting yanked in Baltimore, and with the pressure of an angry mob of fans on his shoulders, McNabb completed 69 percent of his passes (27-of-39) for 260 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Defensive Players of the Week
DeMarcus Ware, LB, Dallas. Ware leaped to the top spot on my AP Defensive Player of the Year ballot by twice beating oft-All Pro left tackle Walter Jones for sacks in the first half, and then collecting a third in the second half. For the game, Ware had four tackles and he and linebacker Bradie James combined for five sacks. Just because Jones looks like he's not firing on all cylinders is no reason to think Ware's numbers should be tarnished; no one in Seattle can remember the last time, if ever, Jones allowed two sacks in a half.
Ronde Barber, CB, Tampa Bay. Of all the brilliant plays on a day when the Bucs quasi-embarrassed one of the smartest quarterbacks in recent NFL history (Drew Brees), Barber made the biggest play. With Tampa Bay up 20-10 midway through the third quarter and the Saints driving to make it much closer, Brees made a beautiful (apparently) throw to Jeremy Shockey at the goal line, and here came Barber out of nowhere -- actually, off the receiver 10 yards away -- and leaped and swatted the ball out of Shockey's grasp to teammate Cato June. "It's just knowledge,'' Barber said an hour later. "They had an all-go [four receivers sprinting for the end zone], and I knew what Drew likes to do, where the ball is going to go. I knew with a linebacker on Shockey, that's probably where he was going.'' Marvelous recovery time by Barber, who made a play to save a certain touchdown.
James Harrison, LB, Pittsburgh. Midway through the third quarter at Foxboro. Steelers up 20-10. Pats driving. Harrison forces two-straight fumbles in a five-minute span, changing the game and stretching the Pittsburgh lead. He had nine tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss and the aforementioned two forced fumbles. We're getting used to play like this from Harrison and his friends. He and LaMarr Woodley, with a combined 25.5 sacks through 12 games, now have more sacks than any two Steelers combined in history ... and there are still four games left.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Glenn Pakulak, P, New Orleans. "Six years go by,'' Pakulak mused a couple of weeks ago, "and you start to wonder. I've lived on couches.'' Pakulak, prior to signing with the Saints a month ago and kicking in his first NFL games, worked out with Seattle, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Oakland, Tennessee, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis and Buffalo. In a field-position kind of game in bad weather at Tampa Bay, Pakulak had a 70-yard, second-quarter punt from his own end zone and four punts for a 49-yard average.
Coach of the Week
Kevin Gilbride, offensive coordinator, New York Giants. The Giants never leave unmade plays out there, and the 23-7 win over Washington had some great examples. Domenik Hixon made three first-quarter catches, rendering Plaxico Burress -- for the moment -- obsolete. On consecutive plays in the first quarter, Gilbride called for a direct snap to Derrick Ward (gain of five) and a brilliant screen to Kevin Boss for 24 against a Washington blitz. Gilbride has learned the strengths and weaknesses of Eli Manning, and he and Manning are one in play calling and execution.
Goat of the Week
Rian Lindell, K, Buffalo. Regardless of the weather, Lindell wears the horns this morning. From 40 yards-and-in entering the game, Lindell had made 56 straight field goals. In this game, he missed in the first half from 20 (HOW DO YOU MISS A 20-YARD FIELD GOAL?) and in the second half he missed from 40. In a 10-3 loss to a team Buffalo should have never lost to, those are ridiculously bad misses.
Quote of the Week I
"There's a huge paranoia that occurs when you carry a gun ... You just have your hand on your gun. That just drove me crazy. After two years, I just threw it over the highway when I was driving home one night because it was eating me up inside.''
-- Former NFL defensive end Marcellus Wiley, talking on ESPN Sunday about what it was like as an athlete to carry a gun early in his NFL career.
Quote of the Week II
"I was an idiot for believing in the Jets.''
-- Cris Collinsworth, on NBC's Football Night in America show last night.
Quote of the Week III
"Does that count as a rushing touchdown? Or a given touchdown?''
-- Former NFL coach Jim Fassel, on the Westwood One radio broadcast of the Titans' demolition of the Lions Thursday, after watching a very passive Detroit defense allow a 58-yard touchdown run by Chris Johnson in the first quarter.
Stat of the Week
You'll want to clip and save this one for five months from now, when the NFL draft happens in late April. There likely will be a record number of underclassmen picked in the first round of the 2009 draft. It's not only because the players are being warned by advisers about the possible imposition of a rookie wage scale in 2010, when the NFL could well have a new collective bargaining agreement in place (I'm very skeptical that there will be a new CBA by then), but also because the senior class stinks.
Look for half of the 32 first-rounders to be underclassmen, challenging the record 15 third-year players in 2004, with a strong chance of breaking the record of 39 overall underclass players picked in 2008.