The Award Section
Goat of the Week
Matt Schaub, QB, Houston.
In the devastating loss to the Colts -- and this was the kind of loss that can cost coaches their jobs -- Schaub built a 20-7 lead, scoring on the Texans' first four possessions, then let the win crash and burn horribly as the Colts outscored Houston 28-0 over a 28-minute span. His five possessions in that span: interception, three-and-out (punt), fourth-and-out (punt), interception returned for a touchdown, and strip-sack/lost fumble. At times this year, Schaub has looked like a big-time player. He took about 20 steps back Sunday.
Offensive Players of the Week
Kenny Britt, WR, and Vince Young, QB, Tennessee.
It wasn't so much making the winning catch at the gun ... but hanging onto it was just as big a feat. For the game, Britt caught seven balls for 128 yards and the one winning touchdown. And I love the fact that Britt could have been the goat of the game after fumbling at the end of a 51-yard reception from Young on the previous drive in the fourth quarter. With 4:55 left in the game, he lost the ball, and it appeared the Titans had lost the game. But here came Young on a 99-yard drive, and here came Britt with the biggest catch of his life.
Give Young credit for keeping his cool as the clock wound down to :00 as he held the ball in his hands, knowing he either had to make a pass to win it and keep the Titans in the playoff race or throw an incompletion and know the Titans would be playing for 2010.
Defensive Player of the Week
Charles Woodson, CB, Green Bay.
Woodson continued an All-Pro year with one of the best games of his life at Detroit on Thanksgiving. "I don't know who's playing better in the league right now,'' coach Mike McCarthy said. The same week his $2-million donation to a hospital at the University of Michigan was announced, Woodson picked off two Lion passes and returned one for a touchdown, sacked Matthew Stafford once, pressured the quarterback twice on blitzes, broke up four passes, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble. A month's work in one long afternoon for the Lions.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Matt Prater, K, Denver.
Prater went four-for-four in field goals attempts against the Giants Thursday night (from 26, 32, 47 and 24 yards), and should have; those are the kicks pros should make. But his kickoffs landed him in this space -- seven of them, all of which went to the goal line or into the end zone. Prater had five touchbacks, and the two kicks that were returned both went for 20 yards, one from the goal line to the Giants' 20, and one from four yards deep returned to the Giants' 16.
Denver got lucky when Detroit, Cleveland, Miami and Atlanta let Prater go in a two-year span; the Broncos signed him last season to replace Jason Elam, and it looks like he can do the job several teams use two kickers for -- placements and kickoffs.
Coach of the Week
Mike Heimerdinger, offensive coordinator, Tennessee.
Give the man his due -- he's choreographed smart game plans for Young five weeks in a row and gotten Young to re-dedicate himself to football full-time for the first time in his NFL career. Heimerdinger and Young have been the perfect match that Norm Chow and Young never could be because Young didn't know everything it took to be a good player under Chow.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. It's now very close between Manning and Favre, but it's still Manning, to me, because of all the new pieces the Colts had to put in place on offense this year, and because Indy's 11-0. But three weeks ago, I thought it was Manning in a walk. Now it's Manning a neck ahead of Favre with two furlongs to run.
2. Brett Favre, QB, Minnesota. Last season after Thanksgiving, playing with a sore arm, Favre went 1-4 with two touchdowns and nine picks. In one game -- Sunday's rout of the Bears --Favre equaled his 2008 post-Turkey wins and exceeded his touchdown throws. Clearly, Favre enters December in far better shape this year than last, which means he might make a good run for his fourth MVP.
3. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. It's going to be hard, but not impossible, for Brees to propel himself past Manning and Favre because the Saints' running game is such a prominent part of their offensive success. Monday night's the kind of game, if Brees dominates, that could vault him into a better spot for the MVP.
4. Tom Brady, QB, New England. So I went back and tried to figure out what's different about Brady in 2009 versus 2007, and what I found told me why I think it will be hard for Brady to win the MVP. The numbers say what I figured they'd say: The Patriots are more methodical this year and not quite as explosive as they were in 2007. The Patriots are averaging four more offensive snaps a game this year (70 to 66) and 0.6 yards per catch less (11.5-yard average this year, 12.1-yards in 2007). Maybe it's that Josh McDaniels dialed up the big downfield throws more than Bill O'Brien has, and O'Brien's more of a move-the-chains play-caller. Maybe. Whatever it is, Brady could have fewer TD throws -- and wins -- than Manning, Favre and Brees, which would leave him trailing in the MVP race.
5. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego. Six in a row for the Chargers. Seven coming up Sunday at Cleveland. In the last three, he's completed 77 percent with no interceptions. Rivers is not just an MVP candidate; he's played his way into the top five or six quarterbacks in football.
Stat of the Week
Back in the spring, Belichick called Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Brady on the carpet for their comments -- Moss' and Welker's, really -- that the New England offense should be more explosive than in its 589-point 2007 season. Sounded far-fetched at the time, and even through the first month or so of this season. But the Patriots have averaged 37.2 points per game in their last five outings; the 2007 teams averaged 36.8. And though the passing game hasn't been as explosive (50 touchdown passes in 2007, 20 so far in 2009), the production of Moss and Welker has been in some ways more impressive. Tracking the averaged combined production of Moss and Welker through 10 games, compared to 2007:
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
You want to know why the Saints love Brees so much?
The clue is in the commercial that aired at halftime of the Sunday night Ravens-Steelers game on NBC -- the one with Brees throwing a pass to President Barack Obama as part of the NFL's "Play 60'' initiative, which urges kids to exercise or play outside for 60 minutes a day.
On Nov. 2, the Saints played a Monday-night game at home, beating Atlanta. After the game, Brees went home; he fell asleep well past midnight. At 7 a.m., he was on a commercial flight to Washington. He spent almost five hours at the White House taping the ad with Obama, Troy Polamalu and some kids. Then he was on a plane back to New Orleans. At 6 p.m., 20 hours after walking off the field following the win over Atlanta, Brees was back at the Saints' suburban practice facility in Metairie, La., watching video of the Carolina Panthers, the next week's opponent.
And you wonder why Sean Payton wouldn't trade Brees for Manning or Brady.
Enjoyable/Aggravating Travel Note of the Week
Quite a nice midseason refresher trip to Seattle for Thanksgiving. It's hard to imagine a prettier American city -- when it's not raining, of course. But a Friday noonish walk around Green Lake, just north of the city, was a 3.2-mile slice of heaven, with about a dozen different pines and other trees with late-turning leaves ringing a pristine lake. There's something very different about cities like Seattle, Portland, Spokane and Salt Lake City, from my experience in the last 10 or 15 years. They're less electronic. People read. People walk. People talk. People are outside a lot more, doing things that require less human-tethering to the almighty Blackberry.
Tweet of the Week
"So will you call Harbaugh's 4th and 5 play boneheaded or will you be consistent and blast him for going for it instead of punting?''
Pretty different circumstances compared to the Patriots' decision. New England went for it on fourth-and-two from its own 28 with a six-point lead and 2:08 to play. Baltimore went for it on fourth-and-five from its 46, trailing 17-14 with 3:31 to play. Baltimore had one timeout left.
A risky move by the Ravens, for sure. But look at it this way: If they punt, the Steelers likely need one first down to run out the clock. And if they go for it and fail, with a neophyte quarterback on the other side of the field, it's no lock the Steelers are going to score any insurance points there.
I think it's eminently debatable, but to me, Harbaugh's decision is more logical than Belichick's.
NFL Truth & Rumors