The Award Section
Offensive Player of the Week
Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis.
The Jets, the NFL's best defense in 2009, hadn't allowed a 320-yard passer all season. They hadn't allowed a 420-yard day by any offense. In Indianapolis, Manning threw for 377 -- and the Colts gained 461. Under the circumstances -- the pressure of not losing to a five seed at home, facing a pre-eminent defense -- the 26-of-39, three-touchdown, no-interception, 123.6-rating game was probably the best playoff game of Manning's 12-year career. (I don't consider the five-touchdown performance against the Broncos six years ago on a level with this because Denver had a sieve of a defense.) "If you can't disrupt Peyton Manning's rhythm, he'll kill you. And we didn't disrupt him enough,'' said Rex Ryan. Truer words were never spoken about Manning.
Defensive Player of the Week
Jonathan Vilma, linebacker, New Orleans.
The Saints did let the Vikings march up and down the field on them to be sure, but Vilma stopped two drives with an interception and fumble recovery, forced another fumble, had five tackles and two passes deflected ... and changed the defense on the crucial Brett Favre interception from man to zone, which cornerback Tracy Porter credited for giving him the chance to pick off Favre and save the game for New Orleans. Vilma's second year with Saints after his trade from New York is turning into a special one. He's the defensive signal-caller, and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams trusts him to change any play call at the line if he sees certain offensive tendencies.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Eric Frampton, S, Minnesota.
In a game that looked like it might end 49-48 early but then settled into a defensive slugfest, the third-year special-teamer and dime back made a play that should have turned a 14-14 tie into a 21-14 Minnesota lead just before the end of the first half. Frampton, one of the Vikes' peripheral gunners on the punt team, bore down on Reggie Bush on a punt near the two-minute warning. Bush should have signaled for a fair catch, but in his eagerness to make a play, he let the punt fall into his waiting hands -- and Frampton nailed him almost simultaneously. The Vikings recovered at the Saint 10 and should have turned it into seven, but Favre and Peterson missed connections on a handoff two plays later; the Saints recovered and ran out the clock.
Coach of the Week
Jim Caldwell, head coach, Indianapolis.
He may rock the sporting public to sleep with his words, but it's not his job to be Conan O'Brien. It's his job to win. And in his rookie year as a pro head coach, in the 16 games he's gone all-out to win this year, the Colts are 16-0. He's won in a lot of different ways. He's won 17- and 13-point playoff verdicts, and he won eight games in the regular season by single digits.
It's easy to sit there and say, "Well, he's got Peyton Manning, and anyone who has Peyton Manning just has to roll the ball out there at practice and the team will coach itself.'' Manning, obviously, is a tremendous advantage, and the Colts would be a mediocre team with a much lesser quarterback, but Caldwell has taken Tony Dungy's team, massaged the defensive coaching staff and structure of the defense, and lorded over some major changes on offense, particularly at receiver. He's a win away from a 17-2, Super Bowl-winning year.
Goat of the Week
The fumblers, Minnesota.
All five of them, for a total of six. In particular, Adrian Peterson, who lost his seventh fumble of the season, and scrambled to recover what would have been his eighth. In addition, Peterson and Brett Favre mishandled a handoff together. Favre was credited with the fumble, but it could have gone either way. Putting the ball on the ground six times in a championship game. Ludicrous.
Stat of the Week
The last significant pass of the last game of Brett Favre's last three seasons, all with different teams:
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Is there another Scott Brown in the Republican Party? Jon Runyan flew home from San Diego last week (the longtime Titan and Eagle tackle played one half of a final NFL season as a Charger backup) to begin his campaign for New Jersey's 3rd Congressional District seat. He'll retire from football to take on Democrat John Adler, who was swept into office 14 months ago on a Democratic wave in a traditionally Republican district.
Enjoyable/Aggravating Travel Note of the Week
Two good things and one bad on my trip to the deep south:
Good: A late-afternoon trip to the Fairground Race Track in New Orleans. Nothing better on a sunny, warm afternoon than watching the horses get prepped in the paddock and go out for their races ... even if I didn't cash one winning ticket of any sort in six races.
Very good: Dinner at Gautreau's, a tony French spot built in a 1911 pharmacy in the Uptown District, and one of the truly hidden-gem restaurants in New Orleans. Hidden, because there's no sign for it. I've never been to a restaurant, or any legal business establishment for that matter, with no sign out front.
This place, tucked into a neighborhood street like many of the great restaurants here are, has a nice bench out front, and curtains visible through the big windows, but you'd never know it's an actual restaurant. Owner Patrick Singley bought the classy, signless restaurant in 1993, and when I said I couldn't get over a place of business not having a sign, he said, "It didn't have one to begin with, and I just figured, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' '' Archie and Olivia Manning must feel that way. On Thursday night, the night I ate there, they shared their 39th anniversary dinner.
Bad: Room service order-takers. If it's happened to me once this year, it's happened 10 times -- getting pushed to order things you don't want. Working in my room in New Orleans Sunday, I picked up the phone to order the following: three-egg omelet with onion and tomato, ice water, small pot of coffee, cream. The woman repeated back to me: "Three-egg omelet, onion, tomato, bottled water, coffee with cream.'' No, I said -- I want ice water. "You sure you don't want a bottle?'' was the reply. Quite sure. Thank you very much. I realize times are tough and you're trying to make extra sales, people. But stop forcing things on me that I never asked for.
Tweet of the Week
"Love this: Tailgating Colts fans, trying to shut up the chanting Jets fans, respond with "Jer-sey Shore! Jer-sey Shore!''
NFL Truth & Rumors