Very little feels normal as an action-packed Week 5 nears an end
The Bucs are 3-1, Jerry Jones is speechless and Favre's being investigated
The Raiders believe in coach Tom Cable, and Sunday's win was proof
What I liked and didn't like about Week 5, and that includes Dwayne Bowe
NEW YORK -- The voice from across the country late Sunday night said what we all feel, if I'm not mistaken, about the 2010 NFL season.
"What is normal in this league right now?'' Larry Fitzgerald, fan of the game, said from Arizona. "Such a strange year.''
It's Oct. 11, the Monday morning of Week 5, and the league is fresh out of unbeatens. (Last year, after five weeks, five perfect teams remained.) The Colts go 55 minutes without a touchdown, at home, against Kansas City. Half the free world picked the Cowboys to play the first home Super Bowl ever; instead, they're the worst team in the NFC East and have rendered Jerry Jones speechless.
The Packers were supposed to waltz into the playoffs with an Indy-like offense, and we look up this morning to find they've been outscored by Shaun Hill's Lions. Atlanta coach Mike Smith admitted to me the other day the Falcons could be anywhere from 1-3 to 4-0, but after a gritty slugfest next to Lake Erie against the Browns, there's a good chance they're the best team in the NFC at 4-1.
Carolina, San Diego, San Francisco and Cincinnati ... 4-16.
Jacksonville 107 points scored, New Orleans 99.
Max Hall 1, Drew Brees 0.
Kansas City and Tampa Bay, three wins each. San Diego and Dallas, three losses.
Randy Moss, a Viking. Brett Favre, accused. The circus is in town tonight.
Vince Lombardi, on Broadway. (I saw it with my own eyes Friday. He'd laugh if he were around. It's right next door to Wicked.)
An odd year, with an ugly twist to start Week 5.
Say it ain't so, Brett.
That's what the league has to be praying. Deadspin.com last week published embarrassing voice mails and inappropriate photos (that might be the understatement of the year) that it alleges were sent from Favre to an attractive former Jets sideline host, Jenn Sterger, in 2008. Maybe I'm a jaded 53-year-old who's seen a little infidelity in this business over the years, but the voice mails don't bother me much in terms of NFL discipline; what a married man does in his off time is not something I care to police, and I don't believe the NFL should care about it either, unless there is some implied coercion involved, which does not seem to be the case here. Clumsy, yes. Coercion, no.
But in the wake of the league saying it viewed sexual harassment as a serious concern in last month's case of the TV Azteca reporter feeling uncomfortable with the attention paid her at the Jets' complex, it has no choice but to see if Favre has any culpability in this matter. In other words, was he responsible for sending the lewd photos to Sterger? If so, the league will have to hand down some discipline on Favre.
I said this last night on NBC: There shouldn't be a rush to judgment in this case; Favre has never been found guilty of any matter in the league's Personal Conduct Policy in his 19 years in the NFL and should be afforded the presumption of innocence here. You shouldn't assume that Favre, if found culpable in the matter, will be suspended, because commissioner Roger Goodell most often does not go the suspension route on a first offense in the conduct policy. Now, he could find this offense particularly troubling and call for a suspension, certainly. But I don't think it's automatic.
Favre told ESPN last night at the production meeting for the network's Vikings-Jets Monday Night Football game that he looks forward to speaking with Goodell about the issue. Re Sterger, now a co-host of a sports show on Versus: She has no interest in pursuing any sort of sexual harassment claim against Favre or the Jets, I am told. As it relates to her cooperation in this, I was told on Saturday that she would go along with the NFL investigation and be interviewed.
On Sunday, she was in seclusion, and now she may be rethinking how to deal with NFL investigators talking to her. But if she no-comments the NFL, and if the investigation cannot continue because she won't cooperate (which I'm not sure is a logical conclusion to draw), she risks being seen as an enabler. Sterger probably wishes she had deleted the voice mails, other electronic communication and photos. I don't believe she had anything to do with Deadspin.com's acquisition of the photos and voice mails, by the way.
As for Favre, if he's disciplined by the league, he'll have 10 days to decide whether to appeal the commissioner's decision. During those 10 days, he'd be able to continue playing.
Not exactly the kind of headline you thought you'd see in the middle of the NFL season, involving the former SI "Sportsman of the Year.'' But it's out there now, and Goodell and the league have to deal with it. Goodell's going to have a tough call if he finds Favre at fault, but his recent history shows (Ben Roethlisberger in particular) he won't shirk that tough call. I expect a resolution by the end of the month.
One real-football-world Favre note, perhaps inappropriate given the circumstances.
When the game in New Jersey is kicked off tonight, America will wonder how Favre will cope with the maelstrom around him, and the potential circus atmosphere of the evening. Jet fans haven't forgotten Favre raising Super Bowl hopes with the Jets' 8-3 start in his lone New York season, 2008, only to see him lose four of the last five as the Jets fell out of the playoff race.
But if you're looking for a harbinger of his mindset -- I was told by a prominent Vikings official last night that you wouldn't even know there was a controversy with how business-as-usual Favre's been -- two games from his past might approximate the stress he could feel tonight. I don't include normal football stress, like a player would feel in a playoff game. I'm talking personal stress, from things other than football. And I'm thinking of the game he played in Oakland 24 hours after his father's death, and the emotion-sapping game he played in Green Bay, returning to Lambeau Field last year as the enemy after being the hero for 17 years. The numbers tell an interesting story.
Not bad. Then again, he wasn't facing a Rex Ryan defense in either of those games.
And now for the rest of Sunday's stories -- the football stories.
What did I tell you about Max Hall? I know. It's silly to say Hall outdueled Drew Brees and the Super Bowl champion Saints when the touchdowns in Arizona's 30-20 upset were scored by a tackle, a safety and a cornerback. But you've got to hand it to Hall, who I wrote about Friday in this space. Think of the pressure he faced: undrafted free-agent, fourth on the depth chart at quarterback two months ago, trying to succeed legendary Kurt Warner, who was upstairs in the Fox broadcast booth doing the game. In his first NFL start, Hall was playing in his hometown after he couldn't get on the field at Arizona State and had to transfer to BYU to play ...
"Yeah,'' he said late last night. "A lot of reasons to feel pressure, and I definitely felt it. But you've got to just play to have any chance of doing well. That's what I tried to do. It wasn't perfect, but it was a start, and I know I can play better.''
A pedestrian 17-of-27 for 168 yards with no touchdowns and an interception, Hall made his bones in this game late in the first half, scrambling for the end zone and diving through three Saints defenders (or trying to dive) in an attempt to score. The ball popped out and he lay on the field, semi-conscious, while tackle Levi Brown took the favorable bounce and gamboled into the end zone. Touchdown. The crowd went nuts.
"I got dinged a little bit,'' Hall said. "I was hurting pretty good. My head was spinning a little. I got the wind knocked out of me. That's not a smart play by me. I can't be taking on big linebackers and trying to dive through them. I've got to be smarter.''
True, but his teammates loved him for it. "After he got lit up on that play,'' guard Alan Faneca told me, "when he laid it on the line for us -- I mean, we were behind him before that anyway, but when he did that, we were going to lay it on the line for him the exact same way.''
Derek Anderson finished the half, but Hall came back to start the third quarter. "For me to not finish that game, I've got to be dead, or something like that,'' Hall said. Sounds like the Valley of the Sun might have a new hero, and some hope in the horrible NFC West.
Carson Palmer's in trouble -- and the Michael Spurlock was Sunday's beneficiary.
Palmer's season is now officially a three-alarm fire. The Bengals overcame an awful telegraphed interception he threw -- returned by rookie Cody Grimm for a first-half touchdown -- to lead 21-14 in a game they had to win (home against Tampa) if they hoped to muscle into the AFC playoff race. Then Palmer threw two more interceptions in the final 2:30 to blow the game.
The first led to a Josh Freeman-to-Mike Williams 20-yard touchdown pass. The second, with 25 seconds left in the game, led to Connor Barth's winning field goal. A stunner. "We didn't win, and it's my fault,'' Palmer said.
He'll get no arguments from Cincinnati fans, who got their hearts broken by that pathetic display in the afternoon, and then, a few hundred yards away in the evening, by the Reds getting swept out of their first playoff series in 15 years. Blame Palmer, but also factor in young Spurlock, the third-year pro from Ole Miss who made the heartbreak possible.
Starting from the Cincinnati 34 with 14 seconds left after Palmer's third pick of the day, the Bucs had a four-receiver set in the game. "It was an 'all-go,' '' Spurlock told me last night. The receivers would fly downfield, then read the coverage and either keep going into the end zone or cut off their routes, depending on how the defensive backs were playing them.
"They were playing a strict Cover 2,'' Spurlock said. And so he knew he would be very unlikely to catch anything behind corner Johnathan Joseph. He cut his route to the sideline, and Freeman thought he had just enough space to get him the ball. "As a receiver, you just want to catch the ball and let your body go limp," Spurlock said. "Getting your feet in becomes second nature. I knew they were in.'' But did he hang onto the ball? It looked like the ball moved in his hands as he fell earthward, and the Bengals called time to allow for the virtual certainty of a booth review. After reviewing the play, though, the officials let the call stand. And Barth's field goal won it.
Tampa being 3-1 is even more surprising than Kansas City being 3-1. The Bucs went young everywhere on the roster, and the quick development at quarterback, receiver, the defensive line and secondary is -- in a word -- stunning.
"Maybe it's surprising to everyone else,'' said Spurlock, "but not to us. We think we should be 4-0.''
New Orleans visits the Pirate Ship on Sunday. All of a sudden, the Saints have a dangerous game to try to right their own ship.
Move over, Troy Polamalu.
It's good to be able to watch all the games in the NBC viewing room on Sundays, because it allows me to keep an eye on players around the league. And in the first five weeks of the season, no single defensive player in the league has jumped from relative anonymity to stardom like strong safety LaRon Landry of the Redskins. He leads the NFL in tackles (52) through five weeks, and Sunday, he was the most important Redskin defender in a 16-13 defeat of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
Talk about starting and finishing the job: In the first minute of the game, on the first Green Bay series of the day, he creamed tight end Donald Lee and forced a fumble that the Redskins recovered. In the 63rd minute, in overtime, Landry picked off a Rodgers pass intended for the forgotten Greg Jennings; five minutes later, a Graham Gano field goal won the game.
"He's fast, he's a hitter and loves to play,'' coach Mike Shanahan said after the game. "He's that way every snap -- obviously a great football player.''
Landry was a first-round pick by the Redskins in 2007, and the coach then, Joe Gibbs, wanted to pair him with Sean Taylor long-term to give Washington the most feared set of safeties in the league. But Taylor died that November, and when Gibbs retired after the season, the new regime moved Landry from strong safety to free.
"My rookie year, I felt I was in the right position to take advantage of how aggressive I like to play,'' Landry told me last night. "But when the staff changed, coach [Greg] Blache moved me, and nothing against him, I didn't feel it took advantage of what I did best. As a free safety, I'm kind of the savior back there, sitting back. That's not how I play best.''
But new coordinator Jim Haslett moved him to strong again, and Landry is comfortable in run-support and the occasional blitz. Against Green Bay, he led a disguised Washington scheme that seemed to frustrate Rodgers all afternoon.
"I think the best is yet to come for me,'' he said. And maybe for the Redskins too. They've beaten Philadelphia and Dallas already, and they're tied for first in the NFC East. Landry's nearly as big a reason for that as Donovan McNabb.
Spare me, please, all the wonderful words about what a great locker-room presence, unselfish warrior and all-around statesman Randy Moss was in New England. The way the Patriots were talking about him last week, I kept thinking he was a Mother Teresa-JFK combo platter.
Bill Belichick would have you believe there was no good reason to deal Moss other than for the best interests of the team. No good reason, of course, other than the wideout spouting off selfishly in a 17-minute screed after a big opening-day win, and a reported halftime dispute with offensive playcaller Bill O'Brien Monday night in Miami, and whatever other disruptive thing that might have been kept in-house.
Two reasons for all the niceness: Why fire up Moss for his return trip to Foxboro on Oct. 31 with the Vikings? And why alienate those in the locker room who loved Moss?
Here's what I find interesting: Think of all the teams with employees who have close ties to the Patriots and need at receiver. None of them wanted Moss.
Kansas City (GM Scott Pioli, Belichick's right hand-man for a decade, and Charlie Weis, former Belichick offensive coordinator) has a tight end as its leading receiver and could use a deep threat to supplement Dwayne Bowe, Chris Chambers and multipurpose threat Dexter McCluster. No interest.
Carolina (offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson, former Belichick line coach) has the injured Steve Smith, who may be in decline, and three rookies. No interest.
Cleveland (coach Eric Mangini, former Belichick defensive coordinator) has young receivers, none of whom has been a difference-maker, except for the versatile Josh Cribbs. No interest.
No interest from former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in Denver, though that's understandable. The Broncos are set at receiver. No interest from respected adversary Shanahan in Washington.
At the end of the day, Belichick, feeling he had to get rid of Moss, was lucky the Vikings were so desperate. If Minnesota hadn't been so needy, the Patriots would have been faced with this question: Is Moss such a distraction that we should cut him and pay the rest of his prorated $6.4 million 2010 salary?
Postscript: CBS insider Charley Casserly reported Sunday that Moss and Tom Brady had to be separated in recent days from going "toe-to-toe,'' as Casserly put it. But I reported on NBC's Football Night in America show Sunday night that two high-ranking Patriots sources told me the story isn't true. One of them said, "Someone lied to CBS.''
So while I think there was enough mayhem surrounding Moss to prompt a trade, I don't think he went at it with Brady.
At some point, this draft bounty is going to pay off.
In 2009, the Patriots had more draft picks in the top 100 than any other team in the league (6). Same thing in 2010 -- five picks in the top 100 led all of football. Now, looking forward to 2011, New England's extra picks in the first, second and third rounds will give it the most prime picks again.
Let's see how that compares to their archrival, the Jets, with the round and overall choice before each draftee.
A couple of notes. The 2011 projections are based on where the teams are in the standings and where they may end up -- and the likely false supposition that neither team will make any trades before the April draft. And the Mark Sanchez pick could end up being worth a lot more that a single pick. So when I say the Patriots could outnumber the Jets over a three-year period in top 100 picks, 17-6, and when I say this could have a major impact on each team in the next five or six years, it's true. But it's also just part of the picture.
The chart doesn't account for the players mined after the top 100 -- like the Pats using the 113rd overall pick this year on Aaron Hernandez, who, early on, looks like a great addition to the passing game. I wouldn't be surprised to see him take up a good bit of the slack for the departed Moss. He's become a downfield threat early.
A preview of tomorrow's column
I'll cover the Monday-nighter, in brief, as well as look into why three NFC powerhouses -- Dallas, Green Bay and the defending Super Bowl champion Saints -- are struggling. Also, I'll have a few thoughts on the Titans, one of the league's most interesting teams in 2010.
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