Posted: Monday December 6, 2010 7:44AM ; Updated: Monday December 6, 2010 2:29PM
Peter King
Peter King>MONDAY MORNING QB

MMQB (cont.)

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Tarvaris Jackson, playing in relief of injured Brett Favre, threw two touchdown passes and three interceptions in the Vikings' win.
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Quick hits while we kill time (and I know you're doing that in your cubicle right now; admit it) waiting for Jets-Pats tonight:

Favre may skate. Nothing's certain yet. But I'm hearing, as I said on NBC Sunday night, that it's likely Brett Favre won't be suspended for his alleged contact with former Jets sideline host Jenn Sterger, and he may not get sanctioned for it at all. The league is expected to announce a decision on Favre either this week or next -- I hear commissioner Roger Goodell wants to have the case adjudicated internally before the end of the season, so any discipline the league wants to impose could be doled out before the likely end of Favre's career.

If I'm right, what seems logical to me is the league was not able to connect the sordid cell-phone photos from Favre to Sterger beyond the shadow of a doubt. If that's the case, my interpretation is that barring absolute proof those photos came from Favre, the league would probably not discipline Favre much (if at all) for the awkward phone messages he allegedly left for Sterger while both were in the Jets' employ.

Favre may play. Talked to Vikings coach Leslie Frazier Sunday after the Vikings' rout of the Bills, and he said if team medics tell him Favre is ready to go this week -- after bruising a shoulder bone and joint and his sternum on a hard Buffalo hit early in the game -- he'll play against the Giants. "I expect him to be back this week because I'm like you and everybody else over the past 18, 20 years,'' Frazier told me. "He gets hurt, but he always seems like he rebounds and is ready to go the next game. But we'll see.''

Frazier, obviously, was very happy with Tarvaris Jackson's performance in relief. He has a head coach's next-man-up philosophy about players on his 53-man roster and said, "If Tarvaris is our quarterback against the Giants, we'll be confident.''

Interim Coach "I Told You So'' Note of the Week. Jason Garrett is 3-1, a Roy Williams fumble from 4-0. Frazier is 2-0. We might be about to hit uncharted territory for interim coaches. Is it possible that 49ers owner John York, or maybe Carolina owner Jerry Richardson, would request permission after the season to interview one or both coaches? And unless they've been signed to head-coaching contracts after the Cowboys' and Vikings' seasons, would they consider interviewing for the gigs? Why not? Both coaches have been superb in taking the focus away from the off-field mayhem and putting it on the field.

The Redskins are awful. Four sacks of Donovan McNabb, and seven pressures, in Washington's embarrassing 31-7 loss to the Giants. Two interceptions of McNabb. Three drops by McNabb's receivers. Six fumbles. Six! And this ultimate indignity: How beautifully fitting that Devin Thomas -- a second-round pick of the 'Skins in 2008, a high-profile example of their draft failings, cut by the Redskins earlier this season and picked up by the receiver-needy Giants -- would make the special-teams play of the game.

Rushing from the inside of the formation early in the fourth quarter with the Redskins trying to rebound from a 28-7 deficit, Thomas jousted with Washington safety Kareem Moore and made a left-handed deflection of a Hunter Smith punt near the goal line, and the wounded duck ended up feebly making it to the Washington 13. It had to be the sweetest play of the star-crossed Thomas' short career. And one of the ugliest of the Redskins' season.

Washington, 5-7 with four teams playing well on the end-of-season schedule, is done, and Mike Shanahan now has to make the decision that will define his coaching tenure, in my opinion. He has to decide whether to keep Donovan McNabb for the long-term and build the team around him. It's a tough call because McNabb looks mostly old and ineffective.

How did Pat Sims fall for No-Brainer Freeze? It'll be a long time before Cincinnati defensive tackle Sims lives this one down. Fourth-and-two, 34 seconds left, Bengals up 30-27, Drew Brees at the line of scrimmage, barking out signals for the Saints in a rising and falling cadence. The play is called "No-Brainer Freeze,'' simply, because every one of the 10 players aside from the quarterback is not supposed to use his brain, and every one is supposed to freeze. No movement is required because there's not going to be a snap, and the play is designed to have the play clock run out or the quarterback call a timeout just before it does. The Saints practice Brees' cadence -- sharp, then lower, then rising, then barking, then slower, then fast.

"There's no way we're snapping the ball,'' New Orleans coach Sean Payton told me from the Saints' lead bus in Cincinnati after the game. "We work on it. You try to bark it out and hope you can get them to jump. Against the Jets last year, it worked; we got their big tackle to jump. But usually teams know what you're doing. In this case, we were going to take the delay and then just try to kick the field goal to tie it and send it to overtime.''

But as Brees got to a particularly loud part of his snap-count, Sims took one false step across the line, drawing a Saints lineman across, and flags flew, and the Bengals got penalized, and Brees, on the ensuing first down, hit Marques Colston for the winning touchdown. "We work on that every week,'' Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said. "We worked on it Wednesday. We told them the Saints did this and to watch for it.''

It's the kind of mistake bad teams make. It's the kind of incredibly miniscule, boring piece of practice that every player dreads. But on Sunday in Cincinnati, it won the Saints a game, and kept them within one game of the NFC South-leading Falcons. That's what draws me to plays like this. I love the minutiae that win and lose games. After 59 minutes, the Super Bowl champs were trailing a 2-9 team, and the crowd was whipped into a frenzy, and it was fourth down, and it looked like the Saints were going for it to win it right here, and here was the cool Brees drawing a lesser player offside to win the game. That's some great stuff right there.

Last week, it was Saints defensive back Malcolm Jenkins chasing after and stripping Dallas wide receiver Roy Williams that led to the Saints' 30-27 victory in Dallas. This week, it was Brees drawing a gullible lineman offside that led to the Saints' 34-30 victory in Cincinnati. That's how good teams play, and win.

The Rams are not a one-rookie show. Sam Bradford has led the Rams to a tie atop the NFC West at 6-6 with four games to play. He's been particularly strong in his past five games, completing 65 percent of his throws with just two interceptions. But almost as impressive at his position has been Bradford's road-trip roommate Rodger Saffold of Indiana, who was chosen with the first pick of the second round -- the first pick of the second day of the draft -- and who, entering Sunday's victory at Arizona, had allowed only two sacks in 11 games. "I thought it was one,'' Saffold said the other day. "I'm pretty sure it's one. Stylez White of Tampa. That's it.'' The Rams have him down for a second, but let's not quibble.

The guy's been really good, and the Rams are glad they didn't take the bait to look to trade the pick back on draft day. "If you remember back then,'' coach Steve Spagnuolo said, "there was a lot of talk about how we could get a lot for the pick because teams would have a long time to think about it and make us offers. But once we saw Rodger was there, we never thought very seriously about a trade. He was the guy we wanted, and we couldn't be happier we picked him. He's stepped right in and done a really good job.''

I asked Spagnuolo about the second overall pick in the 2009 draft, Jason Smith of Baylor, now playing right tackle, and Saffold, the lesser pick, the left side. That goes contrary to what football wisdom says. You pay big money to the left tackle if you have a right-handed quarterback, to protect his blind side. And you pay moderate money to the right tackle. "The difference here,'' said Spagnuolo, "is that Jason played mostly right tackle at Baylor and Rodger played left at Indiana. So they're playing the spots they're more comfortable in.'' It's not broke, and the division-leading Rams don't plan to fix it.

Cortland Finnegan has another side. Three days before his brawl with Andre Johnson, Finnegan asked coach Jeff Fisher if, on Thanksgiving, he could report to work a little bit late. Fisher wondered why. Finnegan told him he needed to run in a five-mile Thanksgiving morning race in Nashville, the Boulevard Bolt. Actually, it wasn't Finnegan running on his own. He'd be pushing a cancer patient, local high school athlete Kelsey Towns, who, not long after treatment to battle sarcoma, was determined to run in the race she'd competed in for 11 years.

Finnegan met Towns on a visit to Children's Hospital in Nashville in the offseason, and they kept in touch during her subsequent chemotherapy treatments. "Every day I visit her during chemo,'' Finnegan said. "It's great for me, really. She is just the most positive person, no matter what's going on in her life. When she told me about the race and how much she wanted to do it, I asked, 'Can I push you?' And it wasn't difficult, not at all. Especially because it meant so much to her. She'd run it since kindergarten. I really enjoyed it. It was sort of heartwarming.''

I'll have a little more about Finnegan next Monday as the Titans head into the rematch with Houston the following week. I'm not trying to convince you he's saintly. Just trying to show you a side of a player you might not know.

***

Some clarification on Cam Newton.

I've been asked a few times in the last couple of weeks: How high will Cam Newton be drafted? I've tried to give my guess -- which is that he'll go somewhere in the top 10 if he chooses to come out, barring damaging information being found when NFL teams dig into him over the next five months, before the April 28 first round.

Believe me -- the off-the-field stuff is the key right now. First: Newton has eligibility left at Auburn. NFL teams were warned again last week to not discuss underclassmen with the press, so you're not going to get much truth out of teams right now. But from talking conceptually with four scouts or GMs, I can tell you at least two teams with interest in quarterbacks going forward will seriously look at Newton in the first round if he chooses to come out, which I hear is likely.

Second: How can any GM or scout tell you right now a reliable spot where Newton will be drafted? They've done none of the kind of work they need to do to have any idea where they'd pick Newton. One team that would be interested in Newton has as its bedrock belief that you have to build with solid guys. If that team, for instance, gives Newton a passing grade, he could be a very high pick. If that team, and others, find that the Florida cheating allegations and the payment allegations are true, he could slip down a round or two. My point: You don't know what those investigations by teams will find, so it's impossible to place him anywhere in the draft right now -- without a very big asterisk.

 
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