The Award Section
Offensive Player of the Week
Bruce Gradkowski, QB, Oakland.
The Pittsburgh kid just might have kayoed his beloved Steelers from the playoffs with a 20-of-33, three-touchdown, no-pick performance in Oakland's 27-24 win at Heinz Field ... all three touchdowns in the final 10 minutes of this shocker. It's what so great about this game. Gradkowski should never, ever beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh in a game with such big playoff implications. It happened because the Raiders played hard and the Steelers made enough mistakes to let them.
Defensive Player of the Week
Vontae Davis, CB, Miami.
With the Patriots up 21-19 and throwing into the end zone to ice the game with 9:45 to play, Davis, the feisty first-round rookie from Illinois, made a play he'll be telling his grandchildren about someday. He leaped with Randy Moss and picked off the pass, killing the drive and helping the Dolphins make a race of the AFC East again. "It's something I'll remember forever,'' said Davis. He added three tackles and another pass broken up, but it was the pick that led to a long and winding road to the game-winning field goal by Dan Carpenter.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Donnie Jones, P, St. Louis.
It's hard to imagine a punter having a better day than Jones did in a losing cause at Chicago. His seven punts averaged 45.3 yards, and in one of the rarities of this or any NFL season, his net average was longer than gross -- 45.7 yards. That's because the one punt he had returned went for minus-three yards by Devin Hester. Jones dropped six punts inside the Bear 20 -- at the 15, 7, 2, 2, 19 and 3. One last variable: he did it punting a K ball (of course; all kicks are made with a fresh ball at the start of a game, a ball not well-broken-in), on a day with 30-degree wind-chill temps and a 8-mph breeze. What a great performance by Jones.
Domenik Hixon, PR/WR, New York Giants.
Nursing a 24-17 lead with six minutes left, the Giants' punt-return team lined up for a boomer by Dallas' Mat McBriar. Fielding it at his 21, Hixon weaved and deked for a few yards, then found an alley down the right side. He got two good blocks and sprinted into the end zone. Ballgame.
Coach of the Week
Bill Callahan, offensive line coach, New York Jets.
It's no wonder other coaches study what the Jets do in the running game. "I really like what Bill Callahan does,'' says New Orleans running game/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, and Thursday night showed why. The Jets ran inside the Bills and outside the Bills, 43 times for 249 yards, dominating the line of scrimmage in a 19-13 win.
Goat of the Week
Shaun Suisham, K, Washington.
I don't mean to doom Shaun Suisham for life, but his missed field goal with two minutes left has to be the gaffe of the year. The snap was slightly high, and the hold not pristine, but the kick has to be made. Just has to. The situation: 'Skins up, 30-23. Two minutes left. Suisham lines up for a chippy from 23 yards out. He makes it, and Washington has the upset of the year in the NFL. It's an extra point! But these are the 2009 Redskins, and Suisham pushed it wide right.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. The new protégés, Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon, are full-fledged members of the Manning tribe at a young age. They've combined for 90 catches and nine touchdowns.
2. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. Creeps into second place with one of the most ridiculous comebacks, helped by Suisham's ridiculous field-goal miss.
3. Brett Favre, QB, Minnesota. He and Brees were close heading into Sunday, and they're still close -- only in reverse.
4. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego. Fourteen touchdowns, three interceptions in the seven-game win streak.
5. Elvis Dumervil, LB, Denver. He's bucking the NFL trend for pass-rushers by actually being good at it. Had his 14th sack of the year in the rout of the Chiefs, and he's in this spot over Chris Johnson and others because when the Broncos were about to go into the tank, he spearheaded a strong defensive effort in the past eight quarters that has seen Denver stuff the Giants and Chiefs.
Stat of the Week
Sean Payton, a branch of the Bill Parcells coaching tree after working under Parcells for three years in Dallas, has done pretty well for himself against the other Parcells alums. By pretty good, I mean going 5-0 in head-to-head matchups, and averaging 40 points a game. (Payton has not coached against the other two former Parcells assistants who formerly coached or currently coach in the league, Al Groh or Eric Mangini.)
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
The last time the Colts lost in the regular season came eight days before Barack Obama was elected president -- the night Tampa Bay and the Phillies tried, in vain, to finish the World Series in an insane frigid downpour in Philadelphia. In other words, not many people noticed a loss by the Colts on that Monday night.
But it's interesting looking back. That loss made the Colts 3-4. We all had serious questions about whether Peyton Manning was just too gimpy coming off his two knee procedures -- the first to remove his bursa sac, the second to deal with the staph infection that set in afterward. Marvin Harrison was a shell of himself. Austin Collie was playing at BYU. Pierre Garcon's head was swimming, trying to adjust to the jump from Mount Union (Ohio) College to the NFL. The Colts couldn't run. The Colts couldn't stop the run.
What a difference 58 weeks makes.
Tweet of the Week
"Why does Indy insist on resting players when their only SB win came when they played it out 'til the end?''
Good question. Bill Polian believes it's better to have a fresh team in January than a team with momentum. If they're one-and-done this year, my guess is Polian, Caldwell and that entire organization is going to have to re-think the assertion that playing the JV for two or three weeks really is the best way to go.
Enjoyable/Aggravating Travel Note of the Week
Amtrak Acela conductor to me, 8:27 a.m. Saturday:
"Fourth-and-two at the 28. Did Belichick do the right thing?''
It never ends.
NFL Truth & Rumors