The Award Section
Offensive Player of the Week
Matt Moore, QB, Carolina.
This could easily have gone to Jonathan Stewart (28 carries, a franchise-record 206 rushing yards), but I've got to hand it to Moore, for a simple reason: He's a career benchwarmer, and in the past eight days he's beaten Super Bowl champions Brett Favre and Eli Manning by a combined 67-16, and he's done it by completing 68 percent of his throws (36 of 53) for 470 yards, with six touchdowns and no interceptions. "Some guys just need a chance,'' Steve Smith told me, "and this is Matt's.'' The only question is, what took John Fox so long to yank Jake Delhomme in the midst of the worst year of his life and play this wunderkind?
Defensive Player of the Week
Aaron Schobel, DE, Buffalo.
A few days before Sunday's game in Atlanta, Schobel told reporters in Buffalo he was considering retirement. "I don't think I'm as athletic as I once was,'' the 32-year-old defensive end said. "If I'm not as good as I once was, I'm not going to be around.'' He might want to hold off on buying the Winnebago. Schobel had three sacks of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan (one in each of the first three quarters of Buffalo's loss to the Falcons. Two of them were strip-sacks, though Buffalo didn't recover either fumble. These were the 76th, 77th and 78th career sacks for Schobel, and the first three-sack game he's had since 2006.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Brad Smith, KR/WR, New York Jets.
Not only did Smith, the former Mizzou Tiger quarterback, give the Jets their first lead over the previously 14-0 Colts with a 106-yard kickoff return for touchdown, but also the special-teams ace had three tackles in the Jets' 29-15 win. Smith caught the Pat McAfee line-drive kickoff awkwardly around his facemask six yards deep, then took the ball up the right sideline, touched only once and never seriously threatened. His touchdown, the second longest kickoff return in NFL history, gave New York a 10-9 lead on the first play of the third quarter.
Coach of the Week
Richard Bisaccia, special teams coordinator, Tampa Bay.
The 77-yard punt return for touchdown by Micheal Spurlock that helped the Bucs shock New Orleans continued a superb season for the Bucs' special teams. Bisaccia's crew has returned punts and kickoffs for touchdowns, blocked two extra points, blocked one field goal, blocked two punts, deflected one other punt and recovered two onside kicks. Bucs special teams accounted for 14 of their 20 points at New Orleans.
Goat of the Week
Oniel Cousins, T, Baltimore.
He had one of the worst quarters a tackle could have, and it could go a long way toward knocking the Ravens out of the playoffs. Early in the fourth quarter of a 20-20 game in Pittsburgh, the Ravens' right tackle -- playing because left tackle Jared Gaither was out with an injury, forcing normal right tackle Michael Oher to play the blind side -- took the Ravens out of field-goal range with a shove in the back to LaMarr Woodley long after the whistle. Instead of trying a 43-yard field goal for the lead, the Ravens had to punt. On Baltimore's last possession, trailing 23-20, Cousins was beaten for successive sacks by Woodley, again taking Baltimore out of field-goal range. The second sack forced a fumble that was recovered by Ziggy Hood, ending the game.
Stat of the Week
I'll tell you a sign that a team loves a player:
LaDainian Tomlinson does not have a 100-yard game this year. He has not averaged more than four yards a carry in any game since opening day. He's had one run of more than 25 yards in 221 carries this year. But the coaching staff and organization knows how important his legacy is, and how touchdowns are ultra-important to him, so he's remained the goal-line back, and has 12 rushing touchdowns, third most in the league.
Check out the top five on the NFL's all-time touchdown list, and see the one category in NFL history -- touchdowns per season -- in which LT is lapping the field:
You'd have to go back to Jim Brown to find a comparable touchdown-scorer to Tomlinson. Playing a 12-game schedule for half his career and a 14-game schedule for the other half, Brown scored 126 touchdowns in nine years, an average of 14.0 per season.
Tomlinson has a slight edge over Brown in touchdowns per game in a career: 1.09 per game for Tomlinson, 1.07 for Brown.
As you know, I'm loathe to put players into Canton before they finish playing. I love the five-year waiting period because it allows the emotion to settle and the numbers and impact of a player to sink in, with the chance to calmly compare one star to another. But one day around 2017, Tomlinson has a heck of a chance to be joining his boyhood idol, Emmitt Smith, in the Hall of Fame.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Great point fromCold Hard Football Facts Sunday night: In his past two games against Jacksonville, Tom Brady is 49 of 54 (.907) with seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
Factoid II: Wes Welker was targeted by Brady 13 times Sunday. And caught all 13.
Aggravating/Enjoyable Travel Note of the Week
This is not my travel note. It is veteran NFL referee Bill Leavy's. It happened two weekends ago, when snow blanketed the East Coast and travel was predictably difficult.
Normally, an NFL official flies to the game site to arrive Saturday afternoon for meetings, video study and a meal. Leavy, a retired cop and firefighter, lives in San Jose and had the Ravens-Bears game on Dec. 20. On Friday, he got an alert from the league office that advised him to fly Friday because of the bad weather approaching. So he booked a redeye with another official on his crew from the same area, back judge Keith Ferguson. The flight would leave San Francisco, fly to Boston overnight, and they'd change planes for the short hop to Washington. Then they get a lift to the BWI Airport Marriott on the southern edge of Baltimore to meet up with the crew and have their regular Saturday meetings.
"Everything was fine until we started our descent for Washington,'' Leavy said. "We were second in line to land when the pilot pulled up and got on the speaker and said, 'They've just closed the airport in Washington. They're going to divert us to Raleigh.' So that's where we went.''
It was snowing lightly in Raleigh. Leavy looked for trains and buses to the Washington-Baltimore area. He could find nothing. So he and Ferguson rented an SUV and set off on the five-hour drive, 300 miles, to the hotel a few miles south of the site of Sunday's game. It was 1:30 in the afternoon. With any luck, they'd be at the hotel by 6 or 6:30. So they got on the road and the snow picked up. By the time they were around Richmond, traffic was crawling and the snow was heavy. Officiating czar Mike Pereira knew they hadn't been to bed yet, and for their safety and sanity and the good of the game Sunday, he wanted them to get a good night's sleep. They got off the interstate twice looking for hotels. Nothing. All booked. So they knew they had to keep driving.
Then, about 40 miles south of Washington, in a heavy storm, traffic on all three lanes stopped dead. For 30 minutes. An hour. Two hours. Nothing moved.
"I know everyone'll think we're suckups now,'' Leavy told me, "but we were just sitting there, tired of listening to hours of country music and Christmas music, and I got out our training tapes and our weekly replay tapes, and we just sat there, in the middle the highway, doing our homework, basically.''
"Is it possible,'' Leavy asked Ferguson, "that we'll still be sitting here tomorrow in the middle of this highway -- and the Ravens and Bears will play the game without us? I might miss my first NFL game.''
Four hours. Finally, about 2 a.m., more than four hours after they'd stopped dead in the road, the traffic started moving. At 4 a.m., they got to the Marriott, checked in, and slept. Leavy got seven hours. He felt great. They worked an uneventful game, got a nice phone call thanking them for their efforts from Roger Goodell, and then planned to leave Monday morning. One problem: His plane ticket was mistakenly ticketed for Sunday, not Monday. Instead of getting home Monday afternoon, Leavy got home around 9 Monday night.
"It sort of felt like 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles,' '' Leavy said.
So you wanted the glamorous life of an NFL official, did you?
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. Manning was pedestrian Sunday, but he probably can't sit enough to lose his fourth MVP to Rivers.
2. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego. In the Chargers' 10-game winning streak, Rivers has 20 TDs, six picks, six games with a rating over 100 and zero games with a completion percentage under 60. There's no denying it now -- Rivers is playing the best football of any quarterback drafted in the past six years.
3. (tie) Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. Something is going wrong here. Normally, I'd say a 32-of-37 game would be cause for celebration and a leap up high into the MVP standings here. But this was a dink-and-dunk 32-of-37, producing only 17 points.
3. (tie) Brett Favre, QB, Minnesota. He and Brees have impossible roads to the MVP, barring something very strange happening.
5. Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets. In 35 minutes, his man in Indy, Reggie Wayne, had three catches for 33 yards and no TDs. The strong streak of good play continues.
NFL Truth & Rumors