The Award Section
Offensive Player of the Week
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore.
"I wanted to be the guy today to start this game right. I wanted to be the guy to say, 'This is going to be a fast-tempo game,' '' Rice said after motoring for 83 yards and a touchdown on the first play of the game at Foxboro. It set up Rice's 22-carry, 159-yard day. Rice was right. The Ravens ran it 52 times for 234 yards, the kind of running game you'd have against the Detroit Lions, not the once-proud Patriots. And Rice continued to prove he belongs in the discussion when you're talking about the top 10 backs in the game.
Defensive Player of the Week
Bradie James, LB, Dallas.
For filling almost every defensive category on the stat sheet: six tackles, one sack, one tackle-for-loss, two quarterback hits, one pass defensed, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery. And for making the play that I thought snuffed out the Eagles' last hope. One minute left in the half, Philly driving, down 24-7, ball at the Dallas 48 ... Donovan McNabb dumped a hot-route to fullback Leonard Weaver at the 43. James met Weaver squarely, jarred the ball loose and recovered it. Dallas went on to score a field goal before the half, and the Eagles weren't coming back from 27-7.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Rico Murray, S, Cincinnati.
I celebrated Jay Feely higher in the column, so I'm reserving this for a guy who made one of the heads-up plays of the weekend -- and I bet you don't even remember it. First: Imagine you're Rico Murray. Grew up in Cincinnati. Went to storied Moeller High, then on to college at mid-major Kent State. Undrafted. Signed as a college free agent by the Bengals. Spent most of the year on the practice squad. Got into four late-season games on special teams. Two tackles. Active for the playoff game against the Jets. On the first Feely punt of the game, the ball hits at the Bengals 32, and takes a high bounce, and out of nowhere streaks in Murray, who is not the return man on the play. He grabs the ball, much to the surprise of players on both punting units, and turns upfield and sprints 23 yards to the Jets 45. Seven plays later, Cincinnati strikes first and takes a 7-0 lead. Just a very smart play by a kid whom I'm sure will never forget it.
Coaches of the Week
Greg Mattison, defensive coordinator, and Chuck Pagano, secondary coach, Baltimore.
We all know that was a flawed Patriots team on the field Sunday in Foxboro, but to hold an experienced playoff team with a top quarterback to 196 yards at home is tremendous achievement. Mattison called a terrific game. Figuring Baltimore needed to move Brady out of his comfort zone in the pocket, he had middle blitzes called early and often, forcing Brady to throw on the move. And Pagano, according to Harbaugh, "did a fantastic job of dissecting their pass routes, to the point where our defenders felt they had a handle on everything New England ran.'' It helps to have Wes Welker sitting up in the owner's box, and to have Randy Moss nursing some sort of injury and playing soft all day. But the Ravens embarrassed the Patriots, and the defensive scheme was a big part of that.
Goat of the Week
Shayne Graham, K, Cincinnati.
I could have easily given this to Carson Palmer, who had a horrible day in Paul Brown Stadium. And Neil Rackers was a candidate too, very nearly blowing the Arizona season by missing a chippy. But Graham lined up for a 35-yard field goal, with the Bengals down seven in the third quarter, and curled it barely wide left. And then, kicking a gimme to bring the Bengals to within one score with four minutes left, Graham inexplicably missed wide right to insure the Jet victory. Graham helped the 2009 Bengals look like so many other Bengals teams -- not clutch, playing dumb when it counts.
Stat of the Week
I've said it more than once: JaMarcus Russell is the second coming of Ryan Leaf. The lack of desire, the inability to get in top shape (one source close to the Raiders says he reported to camp 35 pounds overweight last summer), and not making football the overriding focus in his life all have contributed to his failure as an NFL player.
Russell is on his way, but I've got to hand it to Leaf, who is almost singular in his badness in recent NFL history. Comparing the first three ill-fated seasons of Russell's Oakland career with the entire three years of Leaf's run (he played two years in San Diego and one in Dallas):
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
This is what happens when you give a city hope:
In March 2006, the Saints had 44,000 tickets available.
Today, the Saints have a season-ticket waiting list of 50,000.
Enjoyable/Aggravating Travel Notes of the Week
Flew to New Orleans and back in midweek and found nothing different about the security process. Nothing. Other than putting my toiletries in one of those one-quart Ziplocs, I didn't change at all either. Strange. Thought it'd be a lot more bothersome.
One other note, from a quiet Amtrak regional train home from New York Sunday. Five people in my car. I sit in the middle of the car and continue typing out a story for the magazine on Drew Brees. A smartly dressed woman in the back of the car, eight rows behind me, is on the phone. She is Loudwoman. "CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? ... YEP, 35 TOMORROW! THE BIG 3-5! ... NO, NOTHING. NOTHING. WHAT SHOULD I DO, GO TO A STRIP CLUB? ... YEAH, LIKE RICHIE WOULD DO THAT ...'' And on and on it went. After a couple of minutes, I packed everything up and went to the front row of the car. It was better, but still not silent, for the next 10 minutes. Then it got quiet for a while. Then clip ... clip ... clip
Loudwoman, clipping her nails on Amtrak. Fingers, not toes.
In the immortal words of George Costanza (I believe in the "Chinese Restaurant'' episode), "We live in a society!''
Tweet of the Week I
"Did the Rooney Rule go to Ireland with its namesake?''
Or, as I said on NBC Saturday, Seattle conducted the longest sham interview in NFL history with Minnesota defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier.
Tweet of the Week II
"Just got back in town. Wow.''
Wonder what he means.
NFL Truth & Rumors