Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Week 15:
a. Hmmmm. Let's see. Saturday night TV (if you've got NFL Network). Saints-Cowboys. Central Florida-Rutgers. That's a tough call ... if you're Greg Schiano's father-in-law.
b. TiVo Alert: The NFL Network is showing "The Catch'' game at 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve. It's the 1981 NFC Championship Game, Dallas-San Francisco at Candlestick (frozen in time in the very good retrospective this fall by Gary Myers), with Vin Scully and Hank Stram at the mike. That's worth the eternal space on your TiVo right there, Vin Scully describing Montana-to-Clark.
c. America, you're lucky the Rams ditched those uniforms of a decade ago -- the Greatest Show on Turf unis. Hideous. Memo to Rams: Please eliminate them from all future Throwback games, or call them Throwup Games if you use them again. They should all be incinerated.
d. "If I was a fan,'' Jonathan Vilma of the Saints told me, "I'd say [the Vikings] were a fun team to watch, with Favre and all that speed. But as a player, I can tell you how tough they'd be to prepare for, with all those weapons.'' We'd love to see you have the chance, Mr. Vilma.
e. Tom Cable says he'll start Charlie Frye at quarterback Sunday if he's healthy, recovered from getting a head-shot at Denver. What a crazy situation. I don't blame Cable, but how odd it is that you're waiting, waiting, waiting for JaMarcus Russell to show you something, and he shows you a great deal in driving the Raiders to the winning touchdown in Denver ... and now he's back at No. 2.
f. I know this about the Bills: If there's not a new quarterback under center in 2010, the locals are going to tear the stadium down.
g. Aaron Rodgers, 26 of 48, 383, three touchdowns. Ho-hum.
2. I think, apropos of nothing football, I just thought of something at 4:38 a.m. while listening to "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For,'' on ITunes, and thought you might find it interesting. When I went to see U2 in Dallas in October, Tiger Woods was in the house at Jerry Jones' new stadium, and when the first few chords of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For'' were played, Bono said, "This is for you, Tiger Woods.'' Eerie, no?
3. I think Clay Matthews, likely one of my Tuesday topics, was all over the field for Green Bay on Sunday at Pittsburgh, and it's a shame he didn't have more help in the fourth quarter. Matthews ... Brian Cushing, Brian Orakpo ... Jairus Byrd ... James Laurinaitis ... I mean, how do you pick a defensive rookie of the year this season?
4. I think one of the 7-7 teams in the AFC, and there are 20 or 25 of them, is going to make the playoffs. I think Denver falls at Philly on Sunday, falling to 8-7, and the Broncos' 6-5 conference record will lump them into a mosh pit of teams. The playoffs are there for Baltimore to take, if the Ravens can win at Pittsburgh.
5. I think Ben Roethlisberger was almost an afterthought, despite throwing for 503 yards. That's because of the crazy decision Mike Tomlin made -- I believe emboldened by what Bill Belichick did on fourth-and-two in Indianapolis. Tomlin's explanation of going for the onside kick with a two-point lead and a little under four minutes left against the Packers:
"I'll be very bluntly honest with you, based on the way the game was going in the second half, first of all I thought with the element of surprise we had a chance to get it, but if we didn't get it and they were to score, then we would have necessary time on the clock to score or match their score. Plan A didn't work, we got the ball but we were illegal, that was the correct call, but it kind of unfolded the way you envisioned it.
"We had 30 minutes of evidence that we could drive the ball on them, we also conversely had 30 minutes of evidence to show they could also drive the ball on us. That's why we took the risk when we did. We were just trying to win the football game. There was time left in that game that had we kicked that ball away and the half had gone the way that it'd gone, they were converting third downs. They would have moved the ball down the field on us, we wouldn't have had necessary time to respond. I'm just being honest, but it starts with feeling pretty good about the element of surprise and having a good chance to get that ball, but that part of it didn't work out.''
How the mighty defense has fallen. Wow. Mike Tomlin throwing his D to the wolves.
6. I think -- no, I believe I know --how the Colts are going to play the final two games of the year. It's smart to look at the history and the present when trying to figure out how the Colts will play the Jets at home Sunday and vs. Buffalo on the road a week from Sunday.
In 2005, when the Colts were in a similar situation as today, Peyton Manning and the first-unit offense played three series in Game 15 and one series in Game 16. That's the history side of it. Now let's look at the present. The Colts will not play Manning very much more than a series in either of the next two games if they feel they want to rest key players on offense that could affect Manning's health for the playoffs. (That also goes for the defense to some degree. Defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are both nursing injuries they can play with, but it's likely they will rest for much of the next two games.)
Left tackle Charley Johnson has a painful turf toe; he can't injure it any more than it's already hurt, but clearly staying off it would be the best medicine to have him fresh for the Colts' first playoff game in mid-January. Starting wideout Pierre Garcon has a hand injury. Indianapolis will get through this week and see how healthy Johnson and Garcon are before determining how much, if at all, they'll play. That, in turn, will help in making the decision on how much Manning will play.
Tony Ugoh is a useful sub at left tackle while Anthony Gonzalez, out since Week 1 with a knee injury, will try to practice full speed today for the first time since the injury. If the Colts are satisfied with the depth that each of those men provide, and comfortable that each can play Sunday, they might be more inclined to let Manning play for a half this week.
There is one other element of the decision that president Bill Polian and coach Jim Caldwell will take into account this week, and that is the defensive pressure Jets coach Rex Ryan will send in a desperate game for New York's playoff chances. All in all, it will be quite surprising to see Manning play into the third quarter against the Jets, and that will certainly put Indy's unbeaten record at risk.
7. I think this is what I liked about Week 15:
a. Beautiful catch and toe-tapping shy of the end line, Randy Moss.
b. The more I see of Chad Henne, the more I like him.
c. I love how hard the Rams are playing. Sign of respect for Steve Spagnuolo. But 12 losses in a row at home ... stunning.
d. Louis Delmas! What a pick-six by Delmas. If you haven't seen it, go here, and watch Delmas' third-quarter interception returned up the left sideline. Looked like a gymnast on the balance beam for about 20 yards.
e. The 1,000 temp workers in Philadelphia and the 1,500 in Baltimore who got stadiums ready after the east coast blizzard. In Philly, the temps showed up Saturday afternoon, before the snow ended, and were put in luxury boxes until shoveling commenced at about 10 p.m. For 17 hours, in shifts, they shoveled. When they were off, they were fed and watched movies and tv upstairs. Removing 22 inches of snow in a place that big so that it looked like it never snowed ... amazing.
f. Matt Ryan finishing off an 11-play, 73-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown strike to Tony Gonzalez in the closing minutes to defeat the Jets. Ryan hit Gonzalez in the middle of four defenders.
8. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 15:
a. The tackling of Reggie Nelson. The Jacksonville safety was horrendous on two Indy touchdowns, merely bouncing off Dallas Clark and not wrapping up, and then trying to club the ball loose from Reggie Wayne on his 65-yard catch-and-run when he could have tackled him. Ridiculous.
b. Kyle Vanden Bosch kicking at a Dolphins ballcarrier. "Bush league,'' said color man Dan Fouts on CBS. Agreed. Vanden Bosch is normally a great guy. Can't lose your mind like that
c. Keith Null's foolish carelessness. Or maybe his careless foolishness.
d. Bad, bad decision by Mark Sanchez, throwing into triple coverage with a minute to go in a crucial game against Atlanta. His third pick of the day sealed the 10-7 loss.
e.Four interceptions by Matt Hasselbeck. Boy is he going downhill fast.
f. It shouldn't be that hard for the Cardinals to win in Detroit. Arizona's defense is too inconsistent; you just can't give the Lions 161 rushing yards.
g. Jay Cutler, 10 of 27. Three interceptions. Every week you think it can't get worse for Cutler and it does. I'm not saying Mike Shanahan is the only guy to fix Cutler, but someone in that organization has to think of that, and soon.
9. I think Kerry Rhodes looks reborn. Rex Ryan has him coming off the edge more -- Rhodes lowered the boom on Jerious Norwood for a five-yard loss -- and Rhodes just seems to have his love of football back.
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. I've got to see Up in the Air. Didn't get to a movie last week, and there are so many I want to see. Thanks for all your recommendations.
b. Getting audited by the state of New York. Bummer.
c. You go, Elin.
d. One of the great mornings of the season: Saturday, just after dawn, at Fair Grounds Race Course in an old New Orleans neighborhood. Oldest track in the country. Sat in the office of trainer Tom Amoss with Saints PR czar Greg Bensel, a the racing day took shape. In walks jockey Patrick Valenzuela, checking on one of his mounts for the day. The guy won the Kentucky Derby with Sunday Silence. He rode Arazi. He's been tormented by substance-abuse problems and is trying to put his life together, riding in front of 1,000 raceniks in New Orleans. Just a great scene.
e. Coffeenerdness: Cafe au lait (and a pair of warm beignets) for breakfast at Fair Grounds. When the coffee is hot, and you can taste the pungent chicory in it, that's every bit as a good as the best Italian Roast you can find anywhere.
f. Many, many queries about Paul Zimmerman, and so, at the holiday, I want to share with you a couple of things. One is the latest missive from wife Linda. It's a note about his progress, and then a link to her blog about Dr. Z's recovery, including an interesting calendar page with a great picture of the Z-man.
Here's the note from Linda: "Things have been moving right along. Paul is stronger every day and just as determined to improve. He has started 'restraint therapy' ... using his weaker hand/arm and NOT using his stronger hand/arm. Five hours a day five days a week ... but Paul is really working on it seven days a week ... kind of spreading the hours out! This is in addition to his 3 days a week at Kessler. We hope that everyone is having a wonderful Holiday Season ... and wishing all of you a HEALTHY 2010!''
You can find more Zim coverage and a cool photo of him on Linda's blog.
g. I know it's late, very late, for book recommendations for the holidays, but I have two. And it's not too late to get these books in hand by Thursday. (Last Wednesday night, I placed an order with Amazon, got two-day shipping, and the order was in my condo building in Boston the next day by 2 p.m.) So act now, and these can be yours this week ... I think.
h. Book one: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel football writer Bob McGinn's superbly researched The Ultimate Super Bowl Book. In game after game we thought we knew well, McGinn sheds the kind of light that only a deft student of the game can. He has a chapter, 10 to 12 pages, on each Super Bowl game.
I'll give you an example of the knowledge McGinn conveys, using the Giants-Patriots game two years ago as an example, talking about what McGinn correctly saw as the factor in the game that most influenced the outcome: defensive pressure by the Giants' four-man front. "Our guys were possessed, no question,'' then-Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo told McGinn.
Writes McGinn: "Playing the final game of his brilliant 15-year career, [Michael] Strahan led the onslaught with 5.5 pressures. [Justin] Tuck contributed 4.5 and [Osi] Umenyiora had 3.5. Two of Spagnuolo's blitzers, [Kawika] Mitchell and [Gibril] Wilson, each had two pressures ... [Logan] Mankins, [Matt] Light and center Dan Koppen all made the Pro Bowl for a New England line expertly coached by Dante Scarnecchia since 1999. Mankins allowed 5.5 pressures, while Light and right tackle Nick Kaczur allowed four each ... 'Trust me,' special teams coach Brad Seely said months later, 'I know Scarnecchia is still sick about it. Tom was running for his life.' ''
That's the kind of terrific insight you'll get from this book.
i. Book two: The Ultimate Book of Sports Movies, By Ray Didinger and Glen Macnow, with 121 various sports and Hollywood and media celebs picking their all-time faves. I love the comments, James Carville on Raging Bull, James Gandolfini on Bull Durham, and this, from Tim Tebow, on Rocky: "I was probably 10 years old when I first saw it. Our family had a mini-van with a TV in the back and we'd play tapes all day. I watched it over and over, I think because I kept hoping maybe this time he'll win. But as I look back on it, the ending was great because he lost -- but he still won. One of these days I'm going to run those steps and I know I'll hear that music pounding in my ears."
The authors asked me my favorite, and I said Field of Dreams, and I'm glad to count myself in the same league with Pete Carroll, Ernie Accorsi, Phil Simms, Mike Golic and Jim Calhoun on that one. I mean, who can resist the playing-catch-with-your-dad scene? This is a good book to put in the lavatory and read in eight-minutes snippets.
j. Go, you mighty Devils. Amazing, amazing franchise. They lose stars every single year (except Martin Brodeur). Lou Lamoriello simply trusts his scouts' acumen and his eye for players. No one knows half the players on New Jersey. And they're 17 games above .500, best in the NHL, with 51 points, most in the NHL.
Who I like tonight
Giants, 27-26. There's a new sheriff in town for the Redskins, and he'll be doing a lot of watching for the next three games. I asked new GM Bruce Allen what he hopes will be the trademarks of the team he'll be overseeing. "Good players, good coaching and good morale ... lead to winning," he said. Now if he can only settle on the two most important facets of a winner: the head coach and the quarterback.
NFL Truth & Rumors