My MVP plays for a losing team.
In the hours before the 3-5 Chargers took the field in Houston to play a game they had to have, Philip Rivers text-messaged his dad thusly: "I don't think Gates is going to play. We gotta find a way.''
That was the Charger theme of the week -- find a way -- with another injury, this one to tight end Antonio Gates (foot, ankle) clouding their chances. Seems like all the great quarterbacks (except for Drew Brees, maybe) are having to put up with massive changes at the receiver and tight end position this year.
Among the pass-catchers for San Diego were Gary Banks, a free-agent wideout from Troy, and veteran backup tight end Kris Wilson and veteran free-agent tight end Randy McMichael. Recent practice squad graduate Seyi Ajirotutu was Rivers' big target Sunday in a 29-23 win over the Texans. He and McMichael, signed as a camp body in June, both caught two touchdown passes, as the four best receivers on the team -- Gates, Vincent Jackson, Legedu Naanee and Malcom Floyd -- all watched.
"The best thing about it,'' Rivers said from Houston, "is because we haven't had most of our front-line guys to practice with, I've gotten to develop a good feel for the guys playing now. McMichael's a starting tight end in this league, and I've been throwing to him a lot in practice. Now I've been throwing to Patrick Crayton and Tutu a lot. I've really been able to gain confidence in them. They're professional receivers.''
I'd give my MVP nod to Rivers over Peyton Manning and Tom Brady right now -- though it's razor-thin -- because Rivers has had to deal with injuries the same way Manning has, and he's had to deal with a new cast of receivers the way Brady has. And he's had to do it while the historically bad Chargers special-teams have consistently put the team in holes that have been very difficult to dig out of. But he's dug out of four, and nearly out of a couple of others. He's thrown for 2,944 yards through nine games, 357 more than any other quarterback. His 8.95 yards-per-attempt is three-quarters of a yard better than any other passer, while his 19 touchdown passes lead Brees by one.
The MVP race should be interesting, especially if Rivers continues on pace to break Dan Marino's passing-yards record for a season, and especially if the Chargers get some receivers healthy and make a run at the division title in the second half of the season. Rivers hasn't won one yet, and there's a reason: His competition is outstanding, as it will be this year.
Tom Brady changes teams.
Calm down. He's simply moving to Under Armour, the upstart outfitter. From Nike, the behemoth. Brady's apparel contract expired last summer and he decided to become the first superstar quarterback to sign with Under Armour, the 14-year-old Maryland outfitter that is one-20th the size of Nike. It's not a huge story in the football world, but it'll raise eyebrows in the business world because Brady's a big cheese, and Nike usually gets all the big cheeses it wants.
Brady is not only joining Under Armour as a contracted endorser, but also he's getting a financial stake in the company. "Tom is a shareholder in Under Armour,'' said 38-year-old company founder and CEO Kevin Plank. "Equity was a part of our deal. That was important to Tom, that [a stake in the company] was a part of the deal.''
Brady, the company's first quarterback, will appear in Under Armour commercials and print ads starting early in 2011. He shot them last Tuesday in Boston (see accompanying photo). He joins Ray Lewis, Michael Phelps and Lindsey Vonn as the biggies in Under Armour's stable.
"Under Armour's everything I was looking for,'' Brady said after the Boston shoot. "It's cool. It's fun. It's what so many of the kids are wearing, and I like to try to stay cutting-edge. I like the company. I think we've got a lot in common. We both want to stay hungry, stay humble.''
Under Armour expects to pass $856 million in revenue this year for the first time. Nike's at about $19 billion. Nike becomes the on-field uniform provider for the NFL, taking over from Reebok, in 2012. Currently, NFL players can wear Under Armour cleats, and they'll be able to wear the company's gloves on field next season. "The key is youth -- the 11-, 12-, 13-year-olds,'' said Plank. "You take one of the iconic athletes in sports, which we believe Tom is, and he validates our brand. He'll apply a face to our brand.''
Talking to Brady the quarterback, you could hear Brady the businessman. (Although had we talked on Sunday, there wouldn't have been much business talk. Brady would have been furious with how the Patriots played.) He knows the future is with the kids, and he knows if he's going to invest in an apparel company, he's going to invest with a company he thinks has a chance to be the Next Big Thing. "At this point in my career,'' he said, "it's got to be about a product I believe in. I felt there wasn't anything better out there. This is such a young company to be where they are. This kind of tells you where the market's at.''
How can this go on?
I mean, really. "I don't think Wade [Phillips] survives this night,'' Cris Collinsworth said as the clock wound down on Green Bay 45, Dallas 7. I don't see how Phillips can. But then again, we're not Jerral Wayne Jones.
Corralled by the media after the game, Jones said he didn't know what he was going to do to address what ails the team, and was asked if he could put a finger on what's wrong. "I don't have enough fingers,'' he said. Well, the defensive coordinator is presiding over a unit that's allowed 121 points in the last 12 quarters.
I agree with Collinsworth (and wrote strongly last week that it was time to show Phillips the door). I cannot believe Jones goes to the Meadowlands next week with Phillips on the plane.
The last word -- maybe.
Some final thoughts on NFL Films' usual high-quality job on its Top 100 show:
It's fun, people. It's not gospel. Because there is no gospel about a subjective choice of the top 100 players of all time.
Best aspect: Educating young and middle-aged fans about the first 40 years of pro football.
Worst aspect: Underrating the great players from the first 40 years of pro football.
Loved that Ray Lewis pointed out the Peyton Manning pass to Dallas Clark, just off the fingertips of cornerback Corey Ivy, in the 2006 AFC playoff game between the Colts and Raves, as the example of what makes Manning so great.
Quote of the series: Mike Holmgren, in feting Reggie White, said his first contact with White as Packers coach during 1993 free agency was a phone call to White that went directly to voice mail. Holmgren said: "Reggie, this is God. I want you to play in Green Bay.''
Never heard that before. White loved it, and the rest is history, obviously.
The most debate seemed to stir around the rating of the quarterbacks of the past 30 years, with six of them bunched together between 4 and 25. (I'd debate heavily about the rankings of the quarterbacks overall, namely that Otto Graham, at 16, was too low because all he did was win at a position where winning is the most important thing, but let's stick to today's players.) See if your position on the passers hardens, or if you get more exercised about them, after you look at how they were ranked, and how they performed, in a few important categories:
|(The TD-Interception ratio is for all games, including playoffs.)|
One final note on Montana, for those who think he was ranked too high: In his final three playoff runs with the 49ers, he won two Super Bowls and had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 22-2.
One final note on Manning, for those who think he was ranked too high: He's the only quarterback in NFL history to have a TD-to-pick differential of better than plus-200.
One final note on the injustice of Elway ranked beneath Brady, thinking Elway took the Broncos to five Super Bowls without much help: Brady's gone to four and won one more that Elway, and he may have done so with a lesser cast. Elway, on his first Super Bowl-winning team, had Hall of Fame tackle Gary Zimmerman, a strong Hall of Fame candidate at tight end, Shannon Sharpe, and a Pro Bowl runner, Terrell Davis; Sharpe and Davis were on the second Super Bowl championship team with Elway as well.
No offensive player from Brady's three Super Bowl title teams is likely to ever merit consideration for the Hall; Randy Moss was on the one Patriots' Super Bowl team that lost. If you go by the eye test, and simply think Elway was better because of his mobility and great play late in his career, that's fine -- and I wouldn't argue with you much. But the argument that Elway did more with less, at least compared to Brady, doesn't wash.
One final note on the series: I expect the next time such a list is undertaken will be in 2020, when the NFL turns 100. And I expect Ray Lewis to be higher than 18.