The Award Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Brandon Marshall, WR, Denver
There's a reason the Broncos have put up with so much guff regarding Marshall, and that reason was abundantly clear with 1:46 left in a tense 10-10 tie with Dallas at Invesco. Kyle Orton hit him in tight coverage by Dallas cornerback Terence Newman, and Marshall weaved the last 30 yards through five Cowboys to score the game-winner.
Justin Hartwig, C, Pittsburgh, and Chris Kemoeatu, G, Pittsburgh
We've been screaming about what a bad job the Pittsburgh running game -- and in particular the Steelers offensive line -- had been doing through the first three weeks; Pittsburgh was 27th in the league in rushing entering Sunday night's game. But Hartwig and Kemoeatu led the best rushing game of the season (in memory, actually) that allowed first-time starter Rashard Mendenhall to rush for 165 yards and two touchdowns, and kept Ben Roethlisberger clean enough to throw for 333 yards with only seven incompletions in 60 minutes.
Defensive Players of the Week
Darren Sharper, FS, New Orleans
Four games, a league-high five interceptions. This former college teammate of Mike Tomlin at William & Mary picked off two passes and led New Orleans with eight tackles as the key Saint in the battle of unbeatens at the Superdome. His first pick of Mark Sanchez was returned 99 yards to give the Saints a 10-0 lead in the second quarter; his second iced the win in the final minutes.
Patrick Willis, MLB, San Francisco
With five tackle, an interception returned for a 23-yard touchdown and 2.5 sacks, Willis continued to force himself into the class of the very best linebackers playing today. In the decisive win over the Rams, Willis again looked like a young Ray Lewis.
Champ Bailey, CB, Denver
Money players like Bailey do what he did in the final 30 seconds of the aforementioned tight game with Dallas. On third-and-goal from the Denver 2, Tony Romo threw a slant in the end zone to Sam Hurd; Bailey knocked it away. On fourth-and-goal from the Denver 2, Romo threw another slant to Hurd in the end zone; Bailey reached around him to knock it away. For the game, Bailey was back to his old wily self, with eight solo tackles and four passes broken up. For those who thought Bailey was in decline, think again.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Shaun Rogers, DT, Cleveland
My guess is the average Special Teams Player of the Week doesn't have the body dimensions of this very large and wide man. But you win this prestigious award when you block two kicks, including what would have been the winning extra point. Instead, Cincinnati was forced into overtime. Rogers doesn't look much of a leaper at 345 pounds, but he has 14 blocked kicks in his career, most among active players.
Coach of the Week
Josh McDaniels, head coach, Denver
Don't trade Jay Cutler, McDaniels was told. Kyle Orton can't play, McDaniels was told. You'll never win in Denver with a popgun offense, McDaniels was told. Brandon Marshall's too much of a distraction and you should dump him, McDaniels was told. Here's what no one told McDaniels: You'll be 4-0 after the first month of the season.
Goats of the Week
Mark Clayton, WR, Baltimore
Good for Clayton. He came up big after the game, taking complete blame for the six-point loss to the Patriots. Joe Flacco had his Ravens marching unerringly downfield with a chance to win the game in the final minute. On fourth down, Flacco threw a short fourth-down conversion pass to Clayton inside the Patriots' 10 ... and the ball bounced off the receiver's chest. Good to be noble, but Clayton's still a goat.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. He's 305 yards ahead of Drew Brees now, and, at 33, he's already third in NFL history in touchdown passes with 342. It's hard to imagine he's as good as he's ever been with two new receivers to break in, but he is.
2. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. Dropped to number two with his second straight touchdownless game. Great thing about it is, the Saints are winning, and he doesn't care about any touchdownless games.
3. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota. The more I see of him, the more I think I'm seeing the second coming of Walter Payton.
4. Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets. Three more very good defensive plays in a tight game Sunday at New Orleans.
5. (tie) Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants. Has led the Jints to a 3-0 road record -- best in football -- while piloting an offense with new receivers to 27 points a game. And don't worry about that heel injury. Nothing's torn. It's just going to have to be pain he deals with.
5. (tie) Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore. He's a Mark Clayton drop from being third on this list.
Enjoyable/Aggravating Travel Note of the Week
For 24 years, I lived in New Jersey, until moving to Boston last winter. I've found myself getting melancholy for the Garden State. Friday and Saturday illustrate why. Spent Friday at Jets camp, 30 minutes west of the Meadowlands in Florham Park, with lunch in tony Madison with Darrelle Revis and Jerricho Cotchery. Had pizza and Peronis with lots of old friends in Cedar Grove at Lombardi's, which has the most underrated thin-crust pizza in Essex County.
Drove into the city Friday night around 10, passed Giants Stadium and realized how old I am; what was I doing driving past a Springsteen show at the Meadowlands and not stopping for the final hour? After taping Notre Dame halftime for NBC in the city Saturday afternoon, I went to a quintessential Jersey wedding in Bloomfield with our old friends the Volkerts marrying off daughter Kelly. Picked up the Star-Ledger to catch up on high school sports. (What a vastly improved sports section; I like it as much as I like the Boston Globe.) The reception was in Hasbrouck Heights, a few long spirals from where Bill Parcells grew up, in a 12th-floor banquet room overlooking I-80.
A perfect weekend to get a much-needed Jersey fix.
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