The Award Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Brian Westbrook, RB, Philadelphia. One day, if Westbrook stays healthy for three more years, there's a decent chance we'll discuss his credentials seriously for the Hall of Fame. If we do, someone will bring up this game against the Giants, with his team's season on the line. He set a career-high with 33 carries for 131 rushing yards and a touchdown, along with six receptions for 72 yards and a touchdown. Thirty-nine touches for 203 yards. On the same day, he passed Harold Carmichael as the franchise's all-time leader in yards from scrimmage (9,085).
Matt Schaub, QB, Houston. Playing in minus-three wind chill, he had the best game of his life, all things considered. In the Texans' 24-21 upset of the Packers at Lambeau, he completed 28-of-42 for 414 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. "I was just looking for someone to hug,'' he said afterward. Play many more like that, son, and you'll have plenty of folks who will want to hug you.
Defensive Players of the Week
Brandon Meriweather, S, New England. This is the kind of breakout game that can launch a player's career. Six tackles -- three of them behind the line of scrimmage -- plus one sack, two passes defensed and the most important forced fumble of his two-year career. With 1:56 left in the fourth quarter, he leaped over the line to sack Seneca Wallace, forcing the fumble that essentially ended the game. With injuries already battering the defense, and Vince Wilfork, Tedy Bruschi and James Sanders leaving the game with more of them, young guys like Meriweather have to come through for this team to make it to January.
Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore. When will he slow down? 2014? The more I watch the Ravens, the more I marvel at his staying power -- and not just the staying power to hang around. He's excelling the same way he was in the Ravens' Super Bowl year, and he's leading the same way too -- at 33, in his 13th season. In the 24-10 beatdown of the Redskins (it could have been much worse), Lewis had 13 tackles (three for loss), two quarterback hits and a 13-yard sack.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Justin Tuck, DL, and Kenny Phillips, S, New York Giants. With the Giants bordering on being out of their NFC match with Philadelphia seconds before halftime, David Akers lined up for a field-goal attempt that would have given the Eagles a 13-0 lead. But Tuck fought through the Eagle wall, stuck his left hand in the air and blocked the attempt. Kevin Dockery picked up the ball at the Giant 29 and began running, and Phillips knocked holder Sav Rocca and pursuit man L.J. Smith off their pins long enough for Dockery to get the touchdown to make it 10-7.
Trent Cole, DE, Philadelphia. For the most athletic kick or punt block of the season, without question. Cole, all 270 pounds of him, leaped over the long-snapper, Jay Alford, on a Giant field-goal try in the first half and got his hand on a John Carney kick. Go find this one on YouTube. You'll have to see it three or four times to believe Cole's athleticism.
Coach of the Week
Jim Johnson, defensive coordinator, Philadelphia. As you saw up higher in the column, how could you not be wowed by what Johnson did with his defense against the Giants? His troops played far more aggressively than in the first meeting of the year against the Giants (when New York scored 36). In the first 57 minutes of the game -- before the Giants scored against a prevent defense in the final minute --Philly allowed only 141 yards.
Goat of the Week
Domenik Hixon, WR, New York Giants. You can't make a worse play than Hixon made on the first play of the second quarter. Eli Manning led Mr. Replacement Plaxico Burress perfectly, and he dropped it. No excuses, no pressure, no nothing. He simply dropped it, a perfect illustration of what this day was like for the Giants.
Stat of the Week
Detroit left tackle Jeff Backus, the first pick of Matt Millen's general-managership, has started every game in his NFL career, 125 in all. He has been a part of a 12-game losing streak, a 13-game losing streak and a 14-game losing streak.
"Not until we win that first game will I feel good about anything,'' he said, glumly, after Sunday's 20-16 loss to Minnesota.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. While the game against Cincinnati was still being contested, Manning was 24-of-29 with three touchdowns and no picks.
2. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta. I decided not to demote him. He stays No. 2, barely, because it's still an amazing thing that the Falcons are 8-5 and Ryan, a rookie, has thrown seven interceptions in 366 attempts.
3. Brian Westbrook, RB, Philadelphia. With the Eagles' season on the line at 5-5-1, Westbrook, battered and bruised, handled the ball 64 times in the next two games -- wins over Arizona and the Giants -- and produced 333 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns. That's value right there. With his team's season on the line, he was the man most responsible for the Eagles winning two games.
4. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. As clutch as clutch can be Sunday, particularly on a vital two-minute drill before halftime against Atlanta.
5. Troy Polamalu, S/James Harrison, LB, Pittsburgh. I can't decide. They're nearly in a dead heat. Harrison makes three key plays a game. Polamalu leads the league in interceptions and patrols the middle like Jack Tatum.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
The New York Giants printed their season tickets this year with photos of players on each ticket. Ten tickets, 10 different players. For their game against the Eagles on Sunday -- the Giants first home game since the Plaxico Burress shooting scandal -- the picture on the ticket was (you guessed it) of Burress, making his Super Bowl-winning touchdown catch, on the fade route in the end zone, to beat the Patriots.
"A fade,'' Randy Cross, my Sirius NFL Radio partner, said the other day. "That's appropriate.''
Dr. Z News of the Week
Your response to the news of Paul Zimmerman's two strokes was heartfelt and overwhelmingly positive. I visited Paul the other day at his new rehabilitation facility in New Jersey, and your e-mails -- printed into a 17-pound ream of more than 2,000 sheets of paper --are by his bedside, helping him get through what will be a long period of recovery. Also by his bed: a New York Jets sweatsuit, with "DR Z'' emblazoned on the pants, with a handwritten get-well note from Eric Mangini; and a huge bouquet of flowers from Eddie DeBartolo Jr.
Linda, Paul's devoted wife, wanted to pass along her wishes, which follows now:
"Where do I begin? Do I start with the crushing blow of the strokes? And the damage to Paul's right arm and leg, and more importantly his loss of speech and the ability to read and write? My heart breaks 50 times a day as I watch him face this devastation.
"Or should I start at the place we are now? Paul's immense drive to come back, the movement he has forced into his right arm and leg, the ability to make us understand he is all there, his humor intact. He is a superhero, as one of our daughters calls him. That statement alone would send him reeling in pain, so don't tell him I actually said that in print!
"He is amazing. God, that word is small compared to the effort I see him exude hourly. Yes, the doctors and staff are amazed at his hourly progress. One of his strongest motivations is returning to his keyboard and writing about his beloved game.
"I owe so much to all of you for your outpouring of love and support. I sit by Paul's side during breaks in his rehab, reading over 2,000 notes that all of you have taken the time to write. We are savoring each one. Yes, he is ranking them from 1 to 10. After all, he has to keep up some form of rankings.
"With much love to all of you ... please keep us in your thoughts and prayers."
--Linda, a.k.a. The Flaming Redhead.