Offensive Players of the Week
Dez Bryant, WR/KR, Dallas.
Other players had gaudier numbers -- kudos, particularly, to Fred Jackson for lifting the Bills to their first win of the year -- but Bryant was brilliant for the Cowboys in helping them to a stunning upset of the Giants. He had three catches for 104 yards, and had a bomb reversed because he touched the boundary marker and was ruled out of bounds.
Bryant's brilliance on Dallas' first touchdown drive of the day started the Cowboys on their way. His 45-yard diving, fingertip grab of a Jon Kitna pass set up his acrobatic 13-yard touchdown reception -- ruled incomplete on the field, but a touchdown by the replay official -- and put Dallas up 7-3. There is no question that Bryant gives the Dallas offense an energy it has not had, and he was an important as any single player to this unlikely victory.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England
After fumbling at a crucial time last week in Cleveland, Gronkowski had a game he'll never forget Sunday night in Pittsburgh, with touchdown catches of 19, 9 and 25 yards in New England's convincing 39-26 win over the Steelers. Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have formed a formidable 1-2 rookie tight end punch for New England, and the Arizona Wildcat has six touchdown receptions now -- the same as Jason Witten, Chris Cooley and Kellen Winslow combined.
Defensive Player of the Week
Chris Clemons, DE, Seattle.
One of the league's most underrated defensive linemen, Clemons led a punishing Seattle pass-rush. His two sacks, two tackles for loss, pass deflected and fumble recovery -- a month for some players -- keyed Seattle's 36-18 win over Arizona on the road. The Seahawks are one of the strangest teams in the league, and an 18-point road win is an exclamation point on that. But as long as they get the kind of disruptive front-seven play they got Sunday in Arizona, they'll have a good chance to win the worst division in the league in years.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Eric Weems, WR, Atlanta.
The versatile Falcon special-teamer had a 16-yard punt return, a 33-yard kickoff return and one of the best tackles on a kickoff of the season to pin the Ravens back on their failed last drive of the game in Atlanta's 26-21 win Thursday night. When David Reed of the Ravens chose to take a kickoff out of the end zone, starting five yards deep with 20 seconds left in the game, Weems flew in from Reed's right and clipped his legs out from under him at the nine-yard line, making the Ravens' last drive totally futile.
Devin Hester, WR/PR/KR, Chicago.
Very wise use of the dangerous Hester made the Bears' win over Minnesota much easier. He scored on a 19-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, then returned a punt 42 yards and a kickoff 68 yards. All in all, if Hester can impact the game as a receiver AND kick/punt-returner, the Bears have a chance to win multiple playoff games.
Coach of the Week
Jason Garrett, interim coach, Dallas.
How do you give this to anyone else this week? Cowboys in crisis, Jerry Jones fires the laissez-faire Wade Phillips, Garrett takes over a dying team, quarterback position flailing with the loss of Tony Romo, discipline totally lacking, and Cowboys enter their first post-Wade game 14-point 'dogs to the Giants in New Jersey. The final: Dallas 33, Giants 20. This was a more crisp team with the kind of verve and hustle that had been totally lacking. "I felt like him coming down on us, being aggressive on us, helped us out a lot,'' Dez Bryant said.
Goat of the Week
Chansi Stuckey, WR, Cleveland.
Tough call. Very tough. Because the similarly deserving Nick Folk of the Jets missed three field goals, including a 24-yarder that would have prevented overtime, and then another IN overtime that would have ended it. But it wouldn't have come down to a tie had not Stuckey made a boneheaded play, getting the ball yanked from his grasp at the Jet 32 with 10 minutes left in OT. Going down there would have given the Browns a first down at the New York 32, and a very good chance at the winning field goal. Instead, a heartbreaking defeat lay, tortuously, just minutes ahead.
1. Tom Brady, QB, New England. Coming off his worst day of the year -- in a few years, maybe -- Brady was brilliant against the Steelers, completing 30 of 43 for three touchdowns and no interceptions. He takes over my top spot from ...
2. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego. You snooze, you lose. Temporarily. If Rivers is the most valuable, he'll have a shot to prove it over the next seven weeks. And he's got a shot to do so.
3. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. Starting on offense for the Colts Sunday, among others, were Brody Eldridge, Gijon Robinson, Kyle DeVan and Jeff Linkenbach.
4. Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay. Man possessed gets a bye so he can continue to play like a man possessed.
5. Roddy White, WR, Atlanta. Ten catches more than anyone else in football, with a whole lot of them coming in the clutch.
NFL quiz: What player, with a minimum of 20 passes, has the highest completion percentage and passer rating in history?
Before giving the answer, here's his career line:
The answer? Antwaan Randle El.
The former Indiana quarterback, who's been mostly a wide receiver as a Steeler and Redskin, has been pretty good as a part-time passer too, throwing an average of three passes a season.
In looking into the performance of great coaches in NFL history and losing streaks this week, I have even more respect for Paul Brown than ever. That's difficult for me to fathom, because I already considered him the best pro football coach ever.
I set out to look into how Bill Belichick's teams performed after a loss, which, since 2003, has been fairly remarkable. After the bad loss at Cleveland last week, I thought it merited a look, particularly since a treacherous road game lay ahead last night at Pittsburgh. So I decided to look at two-game losing streaks by the great coaches of our time. I picked out five: Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Bill Walsh and Belichick. And I compared their greatest eight-year runs as NFL coaches with Belichick's current eight-year run. How many two-game losing streaks did each one have over their eight-year span. What I found:
Belichick had one in 2006 and one in 2009. New England's 39-26 victory over the Steelers on Sunday night staved off number three. That's it. And no three-game losing streaks for Belichick either.
Here's what amazes me about Brown's record. His Cleveland Browns played four dominating seasons in the All-America Football Conference, then joined the NFL in 1950. In his first six years as an NFL coach, Brown never had a two-game losing streak. Roll that around in your brain. Not 'til 1956 did the Browns lose two straight. I find it amazing, especially since Brown's Browns entered the league with a bulls-eye on them, with the NFL wanting to put the upstart kids in their place. The established league never could.
In Cincinnati Monday, before going to the Bengals-Steelers game at Paul Brown Stadium, I found myself with commissioner Roger Goodell and his staff, in town for the game. PR maven Greg Aiello, a big Twitter guy, was invited with the NFL party via Twitter to eat at Skyline Chili, a local institution. I had eaten my share of four-ways and Cheese Coneys in my five-year stretch at the Cincinnati Enquirer in the '80s, and when I heard Aiello was Tweeting with the Skyliners, I told him they just had to eat at Skyline. "Food of the gods!'' I said.
Glomming along with the crew, I suggested we stop at the Skyline at Seventh and Vine (which was my home-turf Skyline as a local reporter) and have a nice lunch. I had my standard -- the four-way with cheese, and coney with onion, no mustard -- washed down with a diet cola. A four-way is a bed of spaghetti with a few onions on top, and a crown of shredded cheese. I must have eaten three of those a week as a young reporter. Goodell had a three-way bean -- bed of spaghetti, chili, and onions on top.
I think I was the only one of the group in food heaven, but the New Yorkers were very polite to their Cincinnati hosts. I think Goodell took more pictures for the Skyline folks and the lunch-eaters than Kate Moss on a runway during Fashion Week.
"The Texans' pass defense is the worst I've seen in more than 30 years of covering the NFL.''
--@McClain_on_NFL, football writer John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, in the fourth quarter of another bad defensive performance by the hometown Texans.