Quote of the Week I
-- Baltimore defensive lineman Trevor Pryce, after Roethlisberger burned the Ravens with throws on the run out of the Pittsburgh pocket.
Quote of the Week II
"Jon is never happy. He can never love his players -- especially his quarterback. Jon always wants new, even when new is not necessarily better.''
-- Mike Lombardi, who worked in front offices in Philadelphia and Oakland when Gruden coached with those teams, writing on the National Football Post after the firing of Gruden by the Buccaneers.
Quote of the Week III
"Don't shed any tears for me. I got to live a dream most people don't get to live.''
-- Colts coach Tony Dungy, who retired at 53 last week with a 92-33 record in his Indianapolis coaching career.
Quote of the Week IV
"Barack is selling hope. And I'm buying.''
-- Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, on his anticipation for the inauguration of the new president Tuesday.
The Award Section
Offensive Player of the Week
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona. Fourteen Cardinals -- including Kurt Warner -- have caught passes in the postseason, with the Cards having 770 yards of offensive output with eight touchdowns. Fitzgerald has 54 percent of the receiving yards and 63 percent of the receiving touchdowns in the Cards' 3-0 playoff run. His three-touchdown first-half, an NFL playoff record, staked the Cards to a 21-6 lead over Philadelphia. For the day, he caught nine balls for 152 yards, his third straight 100-yard game; for the playoffs, he's 23 for 419, with five touchdowns.
Defensive Player of the Week
Troy Polamalu, SS, Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh led 16-14 with five minutes left in the game, with Baltimore having the ball at its 29, trying to make one last run. On third-and-13, "I just kind of read the quarterback's eyes,'' Polamalu said.
Polamalu's man, tight end Todd Heap, stayed in to block, so it freed Polamalu to freelance and guess on the play. Joe Flacco tried to look Polamalu off of doubling Derrick Mason, but Polamalu stuck to his gut, studied Flacco's eyes and rose up to pick off a pass three feet over his head. He returned the pick 40 yards for a touchdown to clinch Pittsburgh's 23-14 win.
Coach of the Week
Todd Haley, offensive coordinator, Arizona. Gadget plays, feisty confrontations, utter confidence. That's what Haley showed Sunday in the NFC title game victory over Philadelphia. Haley trusts bright third-string quarterback Brian St. Pierre so much that he told him he could choose when to call their reverse/throwback-to-the-quarterback/bomb that the Cards had practiced all week. St. Pierre gave him the thumbs-up on a first-half first down from the Arizona 38, and the play worked to perfection, with Warner throwing a TD pass to Fitzgerald.
Haley told Anquan Boldin to simmer down late in the game when he had a personnel package on the field that didn't include Boldin. Boldin yelled back and had to be separated from Haley. Fox got a nice little Keyshawn moment to go with a championship game. What's more, Haley put up 32 points against one of the acknowledged masterminds of the coaching profession, Jim Johnson.
Goat of the Week
Limas Sweed, WR, Pittsburgh. The Steelers had a nailbiter in the AFC Championship Game because Sweed, uncovered while sprinting down the left side with one minute left in the first half, dropped a sure touchdown pass, then, for some pathetic reason, dropped to the ground and acted injured. The Steelers had to blow their third timeout because of it, and then missed out on a short field-goal try at the halftime gun because they had run out of clock. "A lot of guys were pretty upset about that,'' linebacker Farrior said. I should hope so.
Stat of the Week
I think the week leading up to the NFC Championship showdown must have been "Put Kurt Warner In the Hall of Fame Week.'' On ESPN radio in New York on Friday, host Michael Kay told me I was the first football person he'd spoken to who said Warner wasn't bound for the Hall of Fame with a victory on Sunday.
Warner is, far and away, one of the most compelling stories I've covered in the 25 years I've written about pro football, and one of the top five best people. He's had five terrific seasons, won two MVP awards and one Super Bowl. A very good résumé -- probably the most unorthodox résumé of a Hall contender in NFL history.
I'm one of 44 voters for the Hall of Fame, and I could well be in the vast minority on this. But Warner, at this point, even with the victory over the Eagles, making him the second quarterback in NFL history (Craig Morton, Denver and Dallas) to quarterback different teams in the Super Bowl, is not yet a Hall of Famer to me.
The reason, mostly, is longevity. Three times he has played full seasons in an 11-year career. In two other years he's had 11 starts. It comes down to this: Do five outstanding years make a Hall-of-Fame career?
In essence, five great years got Gale Sayers into the Hall of Fame, and I supported that. Why have I not been a supporter of Warner (at least right now, if I had to judge only on his current résumé) or Terrell Davis, the Broncos running back? Because Sayers, for a five-year period, 1965-69, was the best offensive weapon in the game and one of the most electric players in NFL history. He was a combo-platter of Adrian Peterson and Devin Hester, returning punts for 14.5 yards a pop and kickoffs for 30.6 (the only returner in history with a 30-yard kickoff-return average), and running from scrimmage (with a mostly bad team) for five yards a clip and 4,956 yards working in a 14-game schedule.
Warner has had five outstanding seasons, but can you argue he was a singular player in his era? I don't think so. Davis had four huge seasons as a back and three strugglers due to injury; can you argue he was a singular players in his era? I don't think so.
Judge Warner's unique career for yourself, and let me know your thoughts. I'll print your e-mails come Tuesday.
Would my opinion change if Warner, who will be 38 on opening day 2009, won a third MVP? Or he won a second Super Bowl, with a second team? It very well could. Let's see what the future brings.