10 Things I Think I Think
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Week 13:
a. The Raiders ought to be called more for lining up in the neutral zone.
b. It must drive NFL people crazy to hear Ed Hochuli go on those long, explanatory riffs when he's got his mike open. But I love it. Mike Pereira can't make stolid refs have Hochuli's personality, and he shouldn't try. But his explanations should be textbook for all officials in college and pro football. Fans deserve to hear exactly why something has happened.
c. Good reporting by Greg Gumbel, that Tom Cable plans to play Gradkowski the rest of the year while Russell sits.
d. Clint Session is so much better than I thought he'd be. He's the biggest playmaker in the Indy back seven, and coming out of Pitt in 2007, Session wasn't universally beloved in the Colts' draft room. At 6-foot and 235 pounds, he's the kind of undersized linebacker the Colts have unearthed, successfully, over the years. Thirteen more tackles Sunday against the Titans.
e. I inadvertently left out the Patriots' throwbacks from the ones I like of the old AFL unis. Great classic jerseys and helmets -- another team that would be smart to go back in time, full-time.
f. What must Ronde Barber think of this Bucs mess?
g. Not sure the Bears would be too disappointed if Orlando Pace retired in the spring. He's been a big disappointment at left tackle.
h. Matt Cassel, who looked awful Sunday, is not going to stay in the lineup just because of money if he has many more of those 10-for-29 days like he had Sunday against Denver.
i. I really like Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison, but I disagree with their feeling that Tony Romo can't take a day off to attend a benefit in Las Vegas on a long weekend after a resounding win. One day. And it was not a day, from all accounts, with any debauchery involved.
Dungy and Harrison feel it's a bad example to set for the other players, that the leader of the team is jetting off to Vegas on a day off, especially when the team has such a bad record in recent Decembers. I just don't buy it. He was back in the building for treatment Saturday morning after 24 hours in Vegas.
j. Hey Rodney: Congrats on your new daughter, Sydney. Nice job. The Harrisons had child number four Saturday night in Atlanta, and Rodney, the gamer, was in the viewing room as normal at noon Sunday at NBC.
2. I think he'll get no credit for it other than some nods of thanks from those who own him in fantasy leagues, but everyone in his locker room Sunday knew the kind of day Steven Jackson had, playing in pain with a bad back. His 28-carry, 112-yard rushing performance (along with four short catches out of the backfield) had "gamer'' written all over it. Jackson has proven himself a longterm keeper to Steve Spagnuolo.
3. I think it's going to be hard to stop the Saints. Not saying no one can. The Redskins almost did. But since their Week 5 bye, they've scored 48, 46, 35, 30, 28, 38, 38 and 33 points. How about over an eight-week span when your worst day is scoring four touchdowns!
4. I think Mike Holmgren to Seattle is not quite the slam dunk we might think it is. The other day, when Tim Ruskell walked out of the Seahawks' posh new facility in suburban Renton, the most interesting -- and telling -- thing said by team CEO Tod Leiweke was, "We're not going to join them, they're going to join us.''
I believe Holmgren wants a role like Bill Parcells has in Miami -- a franchise czar sort of role. Parcells has installed a football culture in Miami. But Leiweke sounds very much like he wants to retain Jim Mora as coach (which Holmgren would also do), and find a general manager who fits in with the organization and doesn't cast a major shadow over it.
Would Holmgren, with homes in Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona, be the kind of worker bee at this stage of his life to help a team in need of rebuilding at so many positions on and off the field? Seattle will have three picks in the top 45 of a very rich draft -- its own in the first and second round, and Denver's from a draft-day trade last year. The Seahawks have to plan for a new left tackle with Walter Jones on his last football legs and a new quarterback with Matt Hasselbeck not an ironman anymore (though Hasselbeck certainly can give Seattle a year or two more of quality play if he can stay on the field). It's a good job, but a few weeks ago, the football world thought Holmgren would be crowned with it. Now he may well have to prove to Leiweke he deserves it.
5. I think Houston owner Bob McNair feels he's closer to winning in 2010 by keeping Gary Kubiak than by firing him. At least this morning he feels that way. Could that change? Absolutely.
6. I think this is what I liked about Week 13:
a. You can't throw a football better than Ben Roethlisberger threw it to Santonio Holmes, rainbowing it into Holmes at the goal line in tight coverage.
b. Well, can't throw it better unless you're talking about Tom Brady's touchdown bomb to an in-stride Randy Moss.
c. And you can't catch it any better than Hiram Eugene did for Oakland on his end-zone interception of Roethlisberger.
d. The best big back in the NFC East right now is not Brandon Jacobs. It's Leonard Weaver of the Eagles. Seattle should never have let this nimble big man with good hands go.
e. Jonathan Fanene's athleticism. This nimble Bengals lineman picked a deflected interception out of the air and ran it in for a touchdown, a TD the suddenly toothless Bengals needed after falling behind the Lions 7-0.
f. Way to show signs of life, Jason Campbell. Heck of a job.
g. Sam Aiken's jump-ball-catch-and-run touchdown for 81 yards at Miami tells me one thing about him: The Patriots have a third weapon at wide receiver now.
h. Tamba Hali's three sacks and two forced fumbles. The rest of the team did nothing Sunday, but his 10 tackles and brutish behavior around Kyle Orton is one good sign on a very bad day.
i. I love imaginative special-teams play, and Seattle special-teams coach Bruce DeHaven drew up a smart one at Qwest. In the fourth quarter, the Seahawks hemmed San Francisco in with 13 minutes to play in a 14-14 game. Olindo Mare lined up for a long field goal but took a direct snap and, under some pressure up the middle, quick-punted on a low, line-drive sideways kick to the goal line. Tight end John Carlson leaped, dove and knocked the ball from hitting in the end zone to the two, where it was downed by offensive lineman Max Unger. Great heads-up play by Carlson. San Francisco managed only a field goal in the last 13 minutes, and the Seahawks won 20-17.
j. Great game, Alex Smith, probably your best in the NFL overall.
7. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 13:
a. Nate Washington's drop of a touchdown bomb from Vince Young. I can guarantee you that's the biggest nightmare drop of his career.
b. Tackle, Chris Johnson. Tackle! I mean the Raiders corner, not the Titans back. Johnson flailed at Rashard Mendenhall and allowed him to run another 20 yards in the open field.
c. The Bucs running up 469 yards and scoring six points. Six! They'd better hope the 16-6 loss at Carolina was a growing-pains game for Josh Freeman and not a precursor of the future -- because he threw five interceptions.
d. Joe Burnett. Joe, Joe, Joe. For a guy with very good hands (that's the rep of the fifth-round rookie corner), his drop was amazing. It was the difference between winning and losing in Pittsburgh for the Steelers.
e. Enough moral victories against good teams, Lions. Time to win one of those.
f. And if Matthew Stafford is going to be struggling physically, play Daunte Culpepper, by the way. It's one thing to be Audie Murphy. It's another thing to play the guy who gives you the best chance to win.
g. That's quite a bit of rust you've accumulated, Rex Grossman.
8. I think I agree with Justin Tuck. Maybe not in the "dirtbag'' comments about Flozell Adams, but Adams does too many chippy things away from the play that don't belong in football. That disturbance Sunday at the Meadowlands was another example. The league needs to come down hard on him.
9. I think that was one odd game in New Jersey, by the way. Eli Manning completed 11 passes and won. Romo completed 41 and lost. Jason Witten caught 14 balls, and Miles Austin and Roy Williams combined for 16 more and three touchdowns. That's what happens when your punt defense and regular defense allow 74- and 79-yard plays.
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. Am I wrong, or do Jon Gruden and Dwight Schrute get their hair cut at the same barber?
b. Marco Scutaro at shortstop for the next two years in Boston. I am reminded of the word Mary Beth King uses when she is dismissive and unimpressed: "Meh.'' Glad to see they've got a Pedroia-type gamer on board, but I'd rather have paid Alex Gonzalez to be a peerless fielder for one year at short and looked for a better option in 2010.
c. Why It's Hard To Not Like Derek Jeter Dept.: I'm on record as saying Jeter is the best player I've seen in my life as a baseball fan, from about 1968 to now. Most of you are on record as thinking I'm out of my mind for that. But he said something in accepting SI's Sportsman of the Year award that sums up why he's an admirable guy, why he plays as hard in a 9-1 game in Oakland in May in the eighth inning as he does in the World Series. "I just like the game,'' he said. "I like competing. It's hard to put into words, because it's all I ever wanted to do. I only wanted to play baseball. I only wanted to play shortstop. I only wanted to play for the Yankees. My whole life. It wasn't like I wanted to play for another team and ended up in New York. It wasn't like I wanted to play another position and ended up at short. This has always been the dream of mine: to play shortstop for the New York Yankees. And I get a chance to do it.''
d. Coffeenerdness: Two coffee notes for you who love such things. 1. A critical note about the new Starbucks Caramel Brulee latte. As a professional coffee guinea pig, I feel it's my duty to warn you before you dive into the new offerings. It's the most sickeningly sweet drink I've ever had at Starbucks. A nice first few sips, but once the brulee bits dissolve a bit, it adds to the sugary mayhem ... 2. Praise for a great cup of coffee: Milano roast from Bay Area Coffee Company of San Francisco. Now that'll wake you up in the morning. The darker the better for me, and this is a really dark roast with no bitterness.
e. Texas came within a second -- and maybe not fairly -- of not playing for the national championship because of a bizarre and irresponsible bit of clock management at the end of the game. As I watched Colt McCoy, with a timeout in his pocket, cavalierly call the signals and patiently roll right, I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
f. I don't watch the college game nearly enough to know who's going where next April in the draft, but Ndamukong Suh (pronounced en-DOM-uh-ken soo) looks like he could be the next great three-technique defensive tackle, or even morph into a 3-4 defensive end, or a guy who could play an outside rush in any formation on passing downs. He and Florida cornerback Joe Haden were the best players I saw on TV Saturday. Haden looks as if he could walk onto an NFL team and play cover corner right now.
g. College Game of the Year: Has to be Cincinnati 45, Pitt 44. Found myself magnetized to the game Saturday afternoon because it had as many momentum swings as any other game in memory. Tony Pike was the goat about three separate times and he lived to win it as the end. The missed extra points should remind us all that these are kids who feel the weight of the intense pressure and who make the kind of mistakes they'd never make under normal circumstances.
h. Kudos to former NFLers Reno Mahe and Gabe Reid for spending 10 days in American Samoa, helping the locals and FEMA dig out and rebuild after an October tsunami. Mahe and Reid brought a $50,000 check from the NFL's relief fund to donate to rebuilding efforts, then worked in some devastated villages near the ocean that were wiped out.
"It was a blessing for us,'' said Mahe, just back at his Utah home over the weekend. "What was so incredible was to see the people not waiting for handouts, but pitching together to rebuild before FEMA even got there. It's like what you hear after tornadoes in the midwest. The neighbors just help each other. We were lucky to be able to go to represent the NFL, because there are so many Samoan and Tongans in the league now, and they all want to help.''
i. Congrats, to one of Mary Beth King's former softball teammates, the inimitable Steffi Aspero-Mahmoud, for birthing Ryanne Firdaus Mahmoud Friday. Good luck on a great family life, Steffi.
Who I Like Tonight
Ray Rice is one of those players who needs to be seen to be believed. Last Sunday night, on 24 touches, he strafed the Steelers for 145 yards in a 20-17 overtime win. Tonight, he should get more chances than that. Baltimore needs to control the ball, keep it away from the productive Aaron Rodgers, and eat some clock. Look for Rice and Willis McGahee to combine for 35 to 40 touches, and look for the Ravens to prevail, 29-17.
NFL Truth & Rumors