Week 3 had its share of redemption and surprising, feel-good stories
Vick delivers again for the Eagles, moves into early MVP discussion
Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys finally win; free-falling Niners in trouble
A new No. 1 in my Fine 15 rankings, Ten Things I Think I Think, and more
Week 3 storylines from NFL cities across the country:
EAGLES -- Michael Vick is not going away. In fact, he's getting better.
SEAHAWKS -- Leon Washington is the gift that keeps giving. The Seahawks got him for the 138th pick in the draft last April. Wouldn't you consider that a fair price for the man who delivered the most electrifying performance of this season?
CHIEFS -- Kansas City is 3-0, and a bunch of guys names Moeaki and McCluster are about to become household names.
FALCONS -- Atlanta pulled off the upset at New Orleans, and I asked coach Mike Smith about what I figured must have been a raucous, hip-hip-hooray time in the locker room after the 27-24 overtime win. "It was businesslike in there,'' he said.
JETS -- Braylon Edwards shaves (thank God), calls Roger Goodell to apologize for being an idiot, sits a quarter and makes a big play to help the Jets beat Miami.
VIKINGS -- Minnesota is off the schneid entering the bye, and Adrian "Glue Fingers'' Peterson aims to keep it going.
COWBOYS -- Dallas is off the schneid entering the bye, and Tony Romo and DeMarcus Ware aim to keep it going.
NINERS -- The Niners are in trouble. Big trouble. And Mike Singletary is out of rabbits to pull out of his hat.
STEELERS -- The quarterback America's rooting for, Charlie Batch, gets his biggest win in years. The quarterback who will be the big story a week from today, Ben Roethlisberger, chops wood. Literally.
A very interesting week.
How much longer will we ask if Vick is fool's gold? He's responded favorably to every challenge so far as the most surprising story of the season. After Sunday's 28-3 rout of the Jags in Jacksonville, this is his 2010 resume:
He overcame the disappointment of not being able to compete for the starting job when Donovan McNabb was traded in April -- and yes, he was crushed when Andy Reid announced immediately that Kevin Kolb was the starter, and Vick wouldn't have a chance to win the job.
He went to training camp knowing he was No. 2 and, as a good soldier, never agitated to displace Kolb. Nor did he outplay Kolb in camp, so there was nothing of note happening to make a story there.
He entered the first game of the season, against Green Bay, when Kolb suffered a concussion, and in the two-and-a-half games since, has led the offense to 80 points, accounting for seven touchdowns and 920 passing and rushing yards. He's thrown no interceptions, and has a 110.2 quarterback rating. He's never had a rating higher than 81 in his career.
On Sunday, he threw three touchdown passes and ran for a fourth score, bailing out his coach after the incredible flip-flop decision Reid made to bench Kolb and start Vick last Tuesday.
This week, he'll face his mentor and local lightning rod, McNabb, in Philadelphia. Go figure how each man will be received when the Redskins take the field.
There's a group of people (I hear from them every time I write about Vick) who won't be happy if Vick succeeds, because of his dogfighting history. But the fact is he did his time and has tried to redeem himself by doing and saying all the right things in the 14 months since the Eagles signed him. Handling the pressure of having the public's eyes burn into him for so long has to make football seem more like a game and less a pressurized business than it ever has. And he's playing like it.
Leon Washington does his best Leon Washington imitation. When I got Washington on the phone Sunday night, I was just sitting down to eat dinner after our show at NBC. Tony Dungy wanted a word with him. "Remember what we talked about at the combine the year you came out?'' Dungy asked. Washington said he'd be most effective if he had 15 to 17 touches a game, handling the kickoff returns and 10 or so plays from scrimmage; that he'd be able to impact every game that way, he told Dungy. What impressed Dungy is that Washington knew himself. He knew that at 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds, he probably wasn't suited to be an every-down back.
His career plans, obviously, were derailed last year, when he suffered a nauseating compound leg fracture against the Raiders. The bone actually pierced the skin. "Since then,'' he told me, "my goal has been to write the kind of story my kids can be proud of -- to see their dad come back from a compound fracture of his leg. And it's going great.''
On draft weekend, Seattle stole Washington, hoping he'd return to form. The Seahawks traded a fifth-round pick, the 138th overall, to the Jets for Washington and a seventh-rounder. The fifth, for New York, became fullback John Conner. And the Jets replaced Washington by taking USC multi-purpose back Joe McKnight in the fourth round. McKnight has been a disaster, a Hard Knocks piņata. It had to have galled the Jets to see what Washington did Sunday.
On the first play of the third quarter, he returned a kickoff 101 yards for a touchdown. And then, after the Chargers tied the game at 20 midway through the fourth quarter, Washington struck again, taking a low hopper at the one-yard line and storming through the Chargers for a 99-yard score. Seattle won 27-20.
"My special teams coach, Brian Schneider, has done a fantastic job identifying what I do well and figuring out the strengths of the guys in front of me,'' Washington said. "He reminds me a lot of [Jets special teams coach] Mike Westhoff that way. The great thing about a kickoff return is it allows you to swing the momentum of a game in one play, and we were able to do that twice today.''
Looks like Washington's all healed -- and worth the money he felt he should have gotten from the Jets.
The Chiefs might think they're a year away, but who says the AFC West in not winnable? Every time I talk to someone with the Chiefs -- player, coach, administrator -- I hear something like, "We're not that good yet,'' or "We've got a long way to go.'' I'm not buying it much longer. What the Chiefs are is unknown, but they're playing too well on defense (38 points allowed in three games) with too many productive new players on offense (the electric Dexter McCluster, the surprising Tony Moeaki) to sneak up on anyone anymore.
Take Moeaki. When GM Scott Pioli scouted Iowa's prospects last year, coach Kirk Ferentz told him Moeaki was one of the three most important players the program has had in his 11 years on the job. Pioli looked beyond the tight end's lack of productivity -- 76 catches in parts of five seasons -- to his intangibles: toughness, leadership, selflessness. He leads the Chiefs with 12 catches and two touchdowns after three weeks.
Pioli's draft class is rapidly becoming one of the league's best in 2010. The top six picks all played extensively Sunday in the 31-10 win over the Niners. Eric Berry's a starting safety. The second-round picks, McCluster and nickel back Javier Arenas, combined, are averaging 15.4 yards per punt return. Third-rounder Moeaki starts at tight end while the other third-rounder, Jon Asamoah, is the third tackle or extra tight end, and fifth-rounder Kendrick Lewis is the starting free safety. You don't want to get too cocky about a two-game division lead yet, especially with a team this young. But if the Chiefs don't turn it over, there's no reason they can't win the West.
Mike Smith makes a gutsy call, and the Falcons survive, thanks to Garrett Hartley. Atlanta, up 24-21, had a fourth-and-six at the Saints' 37 with 3:36 left in the fourth quarter, with the potent New Orleans offense on the sidelines waiting to strike. Instead of punting, Smith chose to go for it. And in the NBC viewing room, the Football Night in America fellows were surprised.
Logic said you pin the Saints back, or try to, with a lead late in the game. Smith chose to gamble, thinking the Falcons had a winnable play called to tight end Tony Gonzalez. "My thought process was we had a matchup we liked, and if our punt went into the end zone, it would be a net of only 17 yards,'' Smith said. "The ball got tipped at the line of scrimmage [before it reached Gonzalez]. No regrets, though. None at all.''
The Saints tied the game with a late field goal and forced overtime. Lucky for Atlanta, Hartley missed a 29-yard gimme field goal attempt in overtime, and the Falcons went down and won it on a 46-yard field goal of their own by Matt Bryant.
That's the fine line here. Both teams are 2-1. New Orleans isn't 3-0 because Hartley missed a kick high school kickers make 90 percent of the time. The Saints were left to pick up the pieces, start auditioning kickers and wonder why they have struggled in all three of their games. Atlanta walked away euphoric after running for 202 yards and dodging a loss.
"We're not even past the quarter pole yet,'' said Smith. "There was no statement made today. I told our guys this week that one of the reasons I like what I see in this team is because they handle adulation and humiliation very well. We lost to Pittsburgh in overtime and handled it, then we beat Arizona and handled that.''
Braylon and the Jets. Below you'll read some interesting facts about Edwards and the DUI case and how other NFL teams have handled such cases in the past couple of years. That is to say they've turned a blind eye to them most often. No matter what Edwards does -- and Andrea Kremer reported last night that he reached out to commissioner Goodell to apologize for getting arrested at 5 in the morning at twice the legal limit for drunkenness -- the only thing that matters now is actions over a period of time.
We've seen in the Vick and Roethlisberger cases that the public may one day forgive after a scandalous offense, though the process is slow. But this much is clear after watching the Jets' 31-23 win over the Dolphins in Miami last night: The Jets need the deep-threat presence Edwards provides, especially with Santonio Holmes missing for one more game. Edwards' 67-yard touchdown catch from Mark Sanchez put the Jets ahead for good in the third quarter.
Even though he drops too many balls, Edwards is the kind of physical receiver who can play over corners' heads and can be a security blanket for Sanchez, who now has six touchdowns and no interceptions in the last two games, both wins over their main challengers in the division, New England and Miami.
We've all had time to debate whether the punishment of sitting out a quarter was severe enough -- that was my prediction Saturday on NBC; I knew Rex Ryan wanted Edwards to sit out only a play or a series, but upper management would have none of that. Know this, if the Jets had benched Edwards, they'd have been the first team to do so after a player's DUI since 2009 began. Now it'll be interesting to see if Edwards can rehab his image, pay his debt to society and team with Holmes to give the Jets a skill-player set that can win more playoff games.
Minnesota and Dallas save themselves. I wouldn't have pronounced either team dead with a third consecutive loss, but both won impressively, reinforcing that they're still serious playoff contenders. The Cowboys completely outplayed the Texans. Tony Romo got Roy Williams involved for the first time in forever. With five catches for 117 yards, Williams had his most important game as a Cowboy.
As for the Vikings, Peterson was back to his dominant self -- 23 carries, 160 yards, two touchdowns. So far this year, he's had 83 touches with zero fumbles, proving his work on the fumbling problem -- he had nine in the regular- and postseason last year -- is working. "I just keep the ball high and tight,'' he told me last night. "It comes natural now because I did it for so long in the offseason. Now, I just play the game. It's not in my mind.''
I'm not a fan of the early bye, but Peterson is. He'll go home to Texas, "relax, see my family and go to the Oklahoma-Texas game.'' As for the coaches, they'll examine the right mix for the offense. Sunday's against Detroit looked good to me while Brett Favre continues to adjust to life without Sidney Rice -- and, now, without Vincent Jackson. "We had 185 yards passing and 183 rushing,'' coach Brad Childress said. "that's good, but we've got to throw it better, and we will throw it better. We may not know exactly what kind of offense we have 'til Week 8 or 10.''
Time to worry about the Niners and the Giants. I picked these two to win their divisions. Now I'd be surprised if either finished .500. How can a team with the front-seven talent and depth of San Francisco get steamrollered for 457 yards by the Chiefs? And how can a team with the supposed maturity of the Giants melt down like it did Sunday at home?
Eli Manning throwing a preposterous left-handed shovel pass into triple coverage instead of eating it. Five personal-foul penalties -- all against smart veterans like David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie. As I said on NBC last night, Tom Coughlin took the blame in his postgame press conference, but it was a different Coughlin who called out his players for their stupid play in the privacy of the locker room.
What peeved Coughlin is that he told his players during the week that Jeff Fisher teams were famous for provoking and needling the opposition, and you can't take the bait; you've got to just walk away. Coughlin should know. Sunday was the 19th time he faced Fisher head-to-head in an NFL game. If either team can turn it around, it's probably San Francisco, because the Niners are in a bad division. But I wouldn't count on it.
Batch tries to make his dream last one more week. A month ago, Charlie Batch was the Steelers' fourth quarterback. He faced an uncertain future, even with Roethlisberger suspended for the first four weeks, because the Steelers might have chosen to start the season with only Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon as quarterbacks, leaving him on the street. One of the most philanthropic players in the league, Batch runs a summer basketball league for the kids in the hardscrabble, gang-ridden area of town where he grew up, trying to keep kids from meeting the same fate his sister met in 1997 -- when she was murdered as an innocent bystander in the crossfire between rival gangs.
All Batch wanted, really, was one chance to shine for the team he grew up worshiping. Sunday in Tampa, he got it. Taking advantage of an injury to Leftwich to stick on the opening day roster, and then an injury to Dixon last week to become the starter, Batch used the entire playbook instead of the slimmed-down game plan Dixon had been using. He threw deep to Mike Wallace twice, connecting on 46- and 41-yard touchdowns --once beating the son of former Steeler assistant Russ Grimm, rookie safety Cody Grimm -- among his three scoring passes.
"Honestly, I didn't think I'd ever get a chance for another start here,'' Batch told me from Tampa. "But what was great today was we had everything in the game plan, and we were going to take our shots downfield early. We were just trying to open it up, because we weren't playing us, honestly. And before the game, Mike [Wallace] said to me, 'Give me an opportunity, Chuck. Throw it up there for me.' We decided that if 35 [Grimm] ever turned his back to me, I was putting it up there.''
That's exactly what happened on one of the TD bombs to Wallace. Batch put it up for Wallace, and Grimm lost the ball, and Wallace won it in the end zone. Just like the Steelers drew it up.
"Game ball goes to Chuck,'' said coach Mike Tomlin after the game, tossing him the ball.
Sweetest words he's heard in years. Now he'll have to stare down the barrel of Ray Lewis, and the 3-0 Steelers will have to beat Baltimore to come out of their Ben-less period undefeated.
Not to keep you hanging, but in tomorrow's column I'll update you on what Roethlisberger's been doing while suspended.
NHL playoff preview: Boston Bruins vs. Detroit Red Wings
NHL playoff preview: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets