With 4 weeks left, Steelers in great shape in AFC; reeling Colts are not
Ravens-Steelers lived up to the hype; MJD as a Colt?
Brett Favre may escape punishment for Jenn Sterger ordeal
The Fine 15, Weekly Awards and 10 Things I Think I Think
NEW YORK -- Four weeks to go in the regular season ... 29 days left, 37 division games to play (including tonight's Armageddon Bowl in Foxboro) ... three divisions tied at the top ... four divisions with a one-game lead at the top ... and, as we all predicted, the Kansas City Chiefs are the lone division leader with breathing room.
Headlines from Week 13 in the league where they play for pay:
Steelers 13, Ravens 10. Game of the Year, no doubt. Four consecutive three-point games now between the teams. If we ask real nicely, commissioner, could we see this game eight times a year instead of two?
Colts coach Jim Caldwell should begin his press conference today saying, "Playoffs? PLAYOFFS?''
Brett Favre's not getting suspended, unless I've got the football acumen of Cosmo Kramer. And he might not be sanctioned at all for Sterger-gate.
Interim coaches in the NFL this year: 5-1. And they'd be 6-0 if Roy Williams hadn't been stripped by Malcolm Jenkins on Thanksgiving.
Maurice Jones-Drew might not be good enough to make the Pro Bowl (he's behind Arian Foster, Chris Johnson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Fred Jackson and Peyton Hillis in the AFC voting), but he is good enough to push the Jags into the driver's seat in the AFC South.
Drew Brees is very good at the No-Brainer Freeze. Pat Sims is not.
I can't imagine what you're thinking if you're a Redskins fan today. Maybe this: Is it really possible that we traded Cerrato, Zorn and Campbell for Allen, Shanahan and McNabb ... and got worse?
The Rams were 6-42 the last three years. They are 6-6 this year, tied for first in the NFC West. Their first-round pick deserves much of the credit, but let's not forget his roommate.
Inside the NBC Studios Sunday, we watched game after game, slack jaw after slack jaw. Bengals up on the Saints by three with four minutes to go; Saints win. Lions up on the Bears by three with nine minutes to play; Bears win. Darkness falls. The Bucs lead Atlanta by three with five minutes left; Falcons win. Indianapolis comes all the way back from 17 down to lead Dallas by a point with five minutes left; Cowboys win. Now midnight approaches in Bludgeonville. The Ravens lead Pittsburgh by four with five minutes to go; Steelers win by three.
Fourteen games Sunday. Seven decided by four points or fewer. Just another pleasant valley Sunday. On with the news of the day:
You don't want to bet against the Steelers.
Troy Polamalu was the last Steeler left in the shower early this morning, and Mike Tomlin was feeling frisky. "Hey, Troy!" Tomlin yelled into the shower, according to Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times. "You in there washing your hair? Take your time! I ain't leaving you, baby!"
Polamalu's strip-sack of Joe Flacco with less than four minutes to play was -- is -- the play of the season for Pittsburgh. It led to the Steelers' only touchdown of the game, with three minutes left at Baltimore. It was no Mazeroski beating the Yankees with a homer in the ninth inning of a Game 7, but it was big because of the spoils.
The win left the Steelers in terrific shape to grab one of the two AFC byes in the playoffs -- and to be at home for their first playoff game. Pittsburgh (9-3) now leads the Ravens (8-4) with a decided advantage in the schedule. Comparing the Ravens and the Steelers down the stretch:
Hard to imagine the Steelers blowing it. Winning at Cleveland won't be easy -- for either team. But the Steelers have two relatively easy ones to Baltimore's one, and the Steelers have three of four at home while Baltimore is two home and two there.
Two points about Baltimore: You cannot, if you're Joe Flacco, be strip-sacked at that time of the game, at that spot on the field. This is not Flacco's first strip-sack, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's has to drill it into him to have better field awareness against an attacking team like Pittsburgh at such a vitally important time of the game. To me, with a blitzing team like the Steelers on the other side of the ball, you have to assume you're only going to have two to three seconds, max, to get the ball out, and throw it away if something doesn't come open immediately. What's the worst thing that can happen? Punt? For the Ravens, that's a good thing.
Two: Don't second-guess John Harbaugh's decision to forego the 48- or 49-yard field goal attempt that could have sent the game to overtime in the final minute. There was a 17- to 31-mph wind in the kicker's face to contend with, and even the strong-legged Billy Cundiff (he leads the NFL in touchbacks) would have been very hard-pressed to make a long kick. "A very low-percentage kick,'' Harbaugh said. In pregame warmups, the Ravens staff put the outer limit of Cundiff's range at the Steeler 30; if any ball was outside the 30, the Ravens wouldn't try a field goal. This was close, but Harbaugh thought he had a better shot at converting a fourth-and-two than making the field goal.
MJD a Colt once upon a time?
Three or four times in the last three games, I've seen Peyton Manning walk off the field after an interception or a bad bit of communication with a receiver, moving his hands as if to show where the receiver really should have been, with the kind of frown that seems immovable. Manning bummed out is noticeable enough. Manning without good-enough weapons ... that's the reason Indianapolis is in the mess it's in at 6-6, a game behind first-place Jacksonville, with the worst record it has had this late in a season since 2001.
Ah, but what could have been. In 2006, the Colts picked Joseph Addai in the first round of the draft, and he's had a nice career in Indianapolis. Nice, but not starry. As the second round of that draft progressed, even though they'd chosen Addai number one, the Colts gave serious consideration to picking Maurice Jones-Drew 62nd overall. And they very well might have -- if the Jaguars, picking 60th, hadn't chosen Jones-Drew in their spot.
GM Bill Polian wouldn't have thought twice about taking another running back there, especially since he'd just jettisoned Edgerrin James. And if the Jags hadn't jumped on Jones-Drew, I have a very strong feeling the Colts would have, and their world would have been shaped a lot differently today.
The Colts' rushing attack, again, is feeble, in part because of a neck and shoulder injury that has sidelined Addai much of the year. Imagine how un-feeble the running game would be with Jones-Drew, the league's second-leading rusher, with 100-yard games each of the last five weeks, running on the carpet of Lucas Oil Stadium. Manning and Jones-Drew. Scary thought. I bet Manning wouldn't be in the slump he's in right now.
But as big a blow as the loss in the running game is, the loss of Dallas Clark is worse. He was lost with a wrist injury after six games; Indy is 2-4 since. Manning always talked of Clark as if he were a security blanket. In fact, he used those words with me about Clark on a couple of occasions. I remember asking Polian about Clark's value last season. "He's our MVP,'' Polian said.
Marvin Harrison and later Reggie Wayne were Manning's most explosive downfield threats. But near the line of scrimmage and on intermediate routes, Clark had become his most reliable weapon since losing slot receiver Brandon Stokley to free agency after the 2006 season. In the 22 games since the start of the 2009 season until he got hurt, Clark caught 137 passes. He'd line up in the slot, he'd flex out wide, he'd line up tight to the formation.
Without him, and without wideouts Anthony Gonzalez and Austin Collie for much of this year, Manning has struggled to blend in a bunch of new receivers. But the biggest loss is Clark, and if the Colts are going to salvage their season in the next four weeks (they can still win the AFC South by going 4-0 down the stretch, as unlikely as that seems), Manning has to make sure Blair White and Jacob Tamme know to be dangerous. They're not going to know what Clark knew, but they'd better be close, or the Colts, stunningly, will be going home for the winter.
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