Football and war really do have something in common, other than the clichés.
Good story by Jay Glazer on FOX's pregame show about how independent neurologists will soon be employed at all NFL games, so that a team physician paid by a franchise won't have a conflict of interest about whether to allow an injured player back in the game. There's no exact timetable for when the neurologists have to be on the sidelines, but Goodell hopes it can be phased in as this season goes on.
Glazer also reported that the NFL has been in touch with the Department of Defense about sharing information related to head injuries and brain trauma for soldiers and football players. It stems from Goodell's trip to the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters in July 2008.
"That story's almost two years old,'' Goodell said when I asked him about it at NBC on Sunday. "When I went to Afghanistan, I went with Admiral Mullen [Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff]. We stopped in Ireland and got a beer in Shannon, and he said one of the issues they were having was MBTI, the Mild Brain Trauma Injury. When a soldier has a brain injury, when is it safe to put him back on the battlefield? I said, 'We have a lot of experience with this, admiral. We'd be happy to exchange information with you.'
"Our people went down and spent time at the Defense Department and exchanged information. And literally two weeks ago, I saw Gen. [David] Petraeus and the chief Army doctor, and they're going through a very similar issue -- return to the battlefield. That's something our medical personnel should keep sharing. It may not be a single answer. One soldier might be different from another. That's one of the reasons why we say these should be medical decisions. There's a lot of dialogue going back and forth.''
A couple of other notes from my talk with Goodell:
He wants players to start wearing more and better equipment. Too many players, he said, wear helmets that are comfortable rather than the state-of-the-art helmets that absorb more shock.
He said he thinks organized offseason conditioning has spiraled out of control. (And bully for him on this -- it's ridiculous how year-round a job playing and coaching has become.) "I'm a firm believer that players are overworked in the offseason,'' Goodell said. "They probably need to get away from the game a little bit more. And when they're away, they probably work harder.
"There needs to be limitations in the offseason with respect to the type of work, and how much work, is done. Teams will definitely have sufficient time to get their offense and defense in ... Should maybe rookies and first-year players have more time in training camp? That's something [San Diego coach] Norv Turner mentioned this week. It's something that needs a lot of dialogue, and that's one of the things the player forums will look into.''
The first regional meeting of special adviser Tony Dungy's player-advisory group will be Dec. 8 at a site to be determined. Dungy will meet with selected players invited from teams in different regions of the country.
Three teams have a legit argument to be the best team in football (maybe a fourth, if you include the Patriots), but pick against the Vikings at your own risk.
That was a total dismantling of the Seahawks by Minnesota. Seattle's terrible. Ten first downs, four rushing yards, 18 minutes of possession. The Vikings' defense just smothered them. But what makes Minnesota dangerous is that Brett Favre's playing like he played in his three-year MVP run a decade and a half ago. In fact, my Twitter followers are appealing for me to have Favre pass Peyton Manning in my MVP Watch below, and if he keeps this up, I'm going to have a very tough decision at the end of the year.
Just look at the numbers. We might be seeing his most impressive season. Comparing the average of his three MVP years (1995 through 1997; he shared the '97 MVP with Barry Sanders) to this year:
Watching Favre through 10 weeks, I'm starting to think he's going to make it through 16 games, and more. His groin strain doesn't seem to be bothering him. If it is, coach Brad Childress and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell are doing a good job choreographing safe plays for him. But the way Favre's jumping around after touchdowns, he looks pretty healthy. He's leaving nothing to chance. If this is his last go-round, he's going to be sure there's nothing he hasn't done to make sure he reaches as high as he can.
"Last night,'' Childress told me after the 35-9 win over the Seahawks, "when I got to the hotel, I looked in our film room. It was about 5:30. And there's Favre, sitting there by himself, watching video. He's amazing. He's a worker. He's the master of the piano, a great guy I can point to as an example for the rest of the team.''
Clearly, it's helped Favre to have the best offensive supporting cast he's ever had. The line keeps him clean, he has the best all-around back in football, Adrian Peterson, behind him, and he has three deep threats (Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice and Bernard Berrian), the kind of depth at receiver he didn't have with the Packers or Jets. "Maybe in the back of my mind, I know I don't have to do as much,'' he told reporters after the game.
The MVP race could be a doozy. In 1995, only four quarterbacks threw for 4,000 yards. This year, 10 could. Manning's on pace for a 5,074-yard season, though he'll probably fall far short of that. Once the Colts have their spot in the AFC playoffs clinched, look for Jim Caldwell to rest Manning and most of his starters as much as he can.
The MVP's not very high on Favre's agenda, I'm sure. What he's focused on is winning a second Super Bowl. It's why he came back. And it's looking like a pretty smart decision, by Favre and Childress, the one who went and got him.
Aaron Rodgers is cleaning up his act in the pocket.
First eight games: 37 sacks, five interceptions. Last two games: six sacks, no interceptions. There's no question Rodgers was simply holding onto the ball too long, and his leaky offensive line -- particularly at right tackle -- was getting him bowled over.
"We've been working on the three variables [for sacks],'' coach Mike McCarthy said after the Pack beat San Francisco 30-24. Protection, Rodgers' internal clock, and running enough quick-opening patterns that Rodgers always has an open one to choose from when the pressure comes. Against Dallas last week and the 49ers Sunday, he looked more comfortable and maybe a tick faster. "His time clock's been excellent,'' McCarthy said, "and he's responded really well to coaching, which he always has done.''
Rodgers has been a 70-percent passer over the past two weeks. His play in the last eight quarters is a good example of how during the season players can polish facets of their games that need to be fixed, or else the season's going up in smoke. The Steelers are seeing more and more pressure on Roethlisberger, and he's going to have to quicken his delivery in the pocket or he won't last 16 games. Rodgers did it just by knowing he had to make decisions faster, and that time savings might help save Green Bay's season.
Coincidence of the Week.
Sitting next to Tony Dungy on Sundays at NBC is an education. Here's something I wouldn't have realized: In two straight weeks for the Colts, the decisive defensive play was the same call -- just tweaked to have the two interior linebackers rush on one play and cover the next week.
Against New England on fourth-and-two, Gary Brackett and Clint Session rushed and hurried Tom Brady's throw to Kevin Faulk. Sunday in Baltimore, the Ravens had the same feeling as New England last week. Trailing 17-15 with 2:49 left, Baltimore had a third-and-seven at the Colt 14. They could play it safe and run the ball into the line and kick the go-ahead field goal. But that would give Manning the ball with two minutes left and a chance to drive down for the winning points. Sound familiar?
This time, Brackett and Session faked blitzing, then settled back into coverage. "We knew Ray Rice was the guy they liked to go to in the red zone,'' Brackett told me. "And so I had my eye on him as he released out of the backfield, but I didn't play tight with him. The quarterback lost me. I don't think he ever saw me. And when he threw, I just jumped in front of Ray.'' Interception. The Colts hung on, 17-15.
"The same play's been the difference-maker two weeks in a row now,'' said Brackett. "I've had a few big plays in my career, like the forced fumble on [Jerome] Bettis [in a 2005 AFC Divisional playoff game], but this one was definitely huge.''
The play kept the Colts' regular-season winning streak, now at 19, intact. But two weeks in a row, Indy's had a very close shave. It easily could have lost last week, when New England blew a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead. Instead, the last two Sundays have been very good for the Colts. Thanks to Cincinnati's loss in Oakland, the Colts' win in Baltimore gave them a three-game lead in the race for home-field in the AFC playoffs with six games to play.
Vince Young sounds new and improved.
A couple of times last year, when he was most frustrated, Vince Young would text Kobe Bryant, who had become something of a mentor. He'd write something like, "Man, I wanna play so bad. What do I do?'' The answer would always come back from Bryant with something like this: "Stay focused. Work on your craft.''
As Young told me last week: "That's what I needed -- someone I respected, like him or Brett Favre, to tell me everybody goes through tough times. Adversity comes, work hard, work on your game, and you'll come out of it OK.''
The Vince Young we'll see tonight at Houston is still only 26. But he's already had three careers. The moody savior, who played precociously but with pocket limitations. The lost cause, who seemed mentally overwhelmed by the demands of his job, and fame. And now the maturing, complete player. That's awfully premature, but in the span of three weeks since taking over for Kerry Collins, Young has been a different player. How different? Offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger sometimes has to push him to use his rare athletic gifts. "He tells me to run much more than I think of running,'' Young said. "He tells me 1-2-3, check your receivers, and if they're not open, go. Run. He's pushing me to run.''
The more surprising thing about Young through three starts this year is his accuracy -- 65.7 percent. "I'm patient now, and I've realized patience is the key to this offense,'' he said. "Check down, use my legs to get out of the pocket, extend plays, have another chance to complete a pass.''
In the past, Young has given lip service to saying it was for the best that coach Jeff Fisher gave Collins the starting job over him. But now it sounds like he knows he needed some time to adjust to the life as a millionaire, with the demands of family and friends weighing on him. Those demands came to a head early last season, when his worried mother reached out for help after seeing Young leave his house with a gun.
"That was blown out of proportion,'' said Young. "My mom never saw me with a pistol before, and when she did, she got nervous. I have a pistol for protection. I was never gonna harm myself, but she got nervous.''
He went on. "I never doubted myself, never doubted anything. I knew I was a great athlete. I just had to grow up, on and off the field. I knew I had the talent. There was so much going on, all the adversity, so much going on. I understand now ... Coach Fisher gave me some time to figure my life out.''
I asked if he regretted not being picked by the Texans three years ago. "No. But I do love going to Houston and playing,'' he said. All that's at stake tonight at Reliant Stadium is keeping alive Tennessee's needle-in-a-haystack playoff hopes at 3-6. These are the kinds of games Young was drafted to win, and it looks like he'll be around for a while to try to win them.
I lied. One really final note from 35-34, unless I find something else that deserves to be in here.
New Orleans coach Sean Payton was so impressed with Indianapolis' 35-34 win over New England a week ago that on Monday he dialed Peyton Manning's cell phone to congratulate him. What caused him to call was not the win. It was what Belichick did -- go for it on fourth-and-two with a six-point lead and two minutes left ... rather than punt the ball so Manning would have a chance to beat him.
The call rang into voice mail.
"Sean Payton here,'' Payton said into the phone. "Just wanted to tell you that last night was the greatest compliment I've ever seen a quarterback paid.''
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