The Awards Section
Offensive Player of the Week
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona. He's becoming a gentlemanly Randy Moss, right down to wearing the gloves on his facemask when the game's been decided. He's so fluid, so smooth, such a competitive receiver with the ball is in the air, and so physically gifted that if he gets even a slight edge on a corner it's a sure catch. In the divisional playoff rout of the Panthers, he caught eight balls for 166 yards with one touchdown, a gorgeous catch-and-run-and-extend-the-left-hand-with-the-ball just to the right cone at the goal line, on a perfect dive. There aren't many players in history who could have scored that touchdown. In the two playoff wins, Fitzgerald has 14 catches for 265 yards.
Defensive Players of the Week
Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson, DTs, Philadelphia. For years, Andy Reid and Tom Heckert have gotten razzed for taking so many offensive and defensive linemen high in drafts. Well, the strategy of loading up on the Big Uglies has won the Eagles a trip to the NFC Championship. Patterson and Bunkley, picked in the first round of the 2005 and '06 drafts, respectively, provided the bedrock for the Eagles' tremendous run-stopping in the fourth quarter, eliminating all chances of the Giants getting back in the game after falling behind 20-11.
How'd they stop one of the game's best running combinations on two fourth-quarter, fourth-down surges, and on three third-and-shorts? "We got low, and we stayed low, and we didn't let them [the Giants offensive linemen] get under our pads,'' Patterson said on a joyous Eagle team bus as it sped down the Jersey Turnpike after the game. Not a sexy quote. But on Sunday, a rock-ribbed run defense never let Brandon Jacobs put a stranglehold on this game, and that was the winning insurance for Philadelphia.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Santonio Holmes, WR, Pittsburgh. With an assist to quarterback/drop-kicker Ben Roethlisberger, who backed up the Chargers at their own 9 with a perfect left-footed (surprise!) 25-yard punt. The Chargers got only five yards on the ensuing possession, setting up Mike "52-Yard Net'' Scifres' first punt of the day. Holmes fielded it at the Pittsburgh 33, and when the Charger punt-coverage team strung out way too close to either sideline, Holmes traversed a snowy field 67 yards for the tying touchdown. He made a nifty move at the San Diego 10, stopping almost in his tracks while San Diego wideout Legedu Naanee (one of the best names in any sport) made a diving tackle try. Holmes stepped over him and pranced into the end zone.
Coach of the Week
Ken Whisenhunt, head coach, Arizona. "We're working hard to try to win respect,'' Whisenhunt said after the 33-13 rout of the Panthers. It's coming, quickly. Whisenhunt did something coaches very rarely do this late in the season -- he had his players put on pads and bang each other, just to remind them how you actually win in this game. Horrors! How can a coach beat players up in late December! One who learned the game under Joe Gibbs and Bill Cowher could do it, easily. Whisenhunt is a pragmatist above all, and he knows what buttons to push to get the most out of his team.
Goat of the Week
Jake Delhomme, QB, Carolina. Has any quarterback had a worse playoff game than Delhomme's five-interception, one-lost-fumble disaster Saturday night against Arizona? Unlikely. Brett Favre, in the 2001 playoffs, threw six picks against the Rams, but in that game, Favre was just throwing balls up throughout the second half trying to hit the lottery. Delhomme went 17 of 34 for 205 yards, with one garbage-time touchdown and the five picks, and only one of the turnovers came with the game legitimately out of hand. Here's the amazing thing: You watch all five of those interceptions, and you'll see that every one was thrown into something like double-coverage. "To put into words, I can't,'' Delhomme said. "I am at a loss for words. I had a hand in six turnovers ... I should get the blame. It's inexcusable.''
Stat of the Week I
The Cardinals lost all five regular-season games in the Eastern Time Zone this year, by an average of 20 points.
The Cardinals won their sixth game in the Eastern Time Zone in the playoffs Saturday night, by 20 points.
Stat of the Week II
What happened to home-field advantage in the playoffs? From 2001 to 2004, home teams were 27-13 (.675). As this chart shows, road teams have gone from winning one-third of the time from 2001-04 to being nearly .500 since.
My three guesses? One: Coincidence. Two: It has something to do with quarterbacks on the road becoming so accustomed to playing entire games with silent snap counts, practicing them during the week and playing many games totally with the silent count. Joe Flacco has played two entire playoff games with the silent count. Three: "Parity,'' Eagles linebacker Stewart Bradley told me Sunday night. "Look at the teams that almost didn't make it who are in the championship games next week.''