Eagles feature NFL's most exciting player; Spygate hasn't slowed Pats
Michael Vick in MVP talk, but DeSean Jackson may be NFL's most exciting player
Sixty-four games after Spygate sanctions and Patriots have barely missed a beat
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NEW YORK -- Funny how quickly things change in the NFL. On Saturday afternoon, I thought this would be a big week for coaching news and Brett Favre will-he-or-won't-he, and maybe the Favre/Sterger story. On Sunday afternoon, it was all weather and dome collapse, all the time. By this morning, I'm marveling over Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson. Those are two guys I'd pay to see.
My 10 nuggets, some big and some small, for Week 14:
1. I love watching Michael Vick throw to DeSean Jackson, and then watching Jackson run.
On his NFL Matchup Show Sunday, Sal Paolantonio called LeSean McCoy, the second coming of Brian Westbrook, the Eagles' MVP. The Eagle-loving masses think Vick's not only the team MVP but also the NFL's. Cases can be made for both, I suppose. But then what is DeSean Jackson, other than the most exciting player right now in the NFL?
Vick and Jackson, combined, are the greatest show on turf right now, the reformed (by all indications) quarterback and the receiver who's running hard for the playoffs and for a new contract. They showed it last night in Dallas. With the game tied at 20 and the Eagles pinned at their nine-yard line, Vick threw a simple out pattern to Jackson near the left sideline, and he turned upfield, and ... well, I'll let him take it from there, sounding tired as the Eagles buses motored toward the team plane after midnight in Dallas:
"I was maybe 60 percent by that time in the game,'' Jackson said. "I hurt my ankle in the third quarter. Actually my foot. I didn't feel great. They asked me on the sideline, 'You want to go in and get it X-rayed?' I said, 'Nah. I can't leave my teammates out here like that.' And the ball came to me. Michael threw me a perfect pass, and I just tried to run away from people. It's instinct.''
Usually, Jackson would have left everyone in the dust. But Orlando Scandrick was on the verge of catching him around the Dallas 30, and, sensing him, Jackson turned on one last jet. It's all he had, and he finished the 91-yard touchdown going away. That gave the Eagles a 27-20 lead, which was soon 30-20, and they hung on for a 30-27 win.
What a performance by Jackson. He caught four balls for 210 yards, a 52.5-yard average per catch. For the year, he's blowing away the competition in the NFL with a 23.1-yard average per catch. Not that Jackson was a dud with Donovan McNabb -- he certainly was a major impact player last year -- but with Vick being a dual threat and the defense having to respect his ability to break the pocket, that's more potential open space for Jackson and Jeremy Maclin to make hay.
This is a topic for another day, but it's incumbent on the Eagles to do two things -- keep Vick from getting hit too much (I still am concerned about that; he takes too many shots, and not just the borderline ones that tick off Vick and Andy Reid) and sign him to a contract that will keep him an Eagle for his prime. Vick's too good, and his relationship with these two special receivers is too valuable for Philly to let dissolve.
"It's 7,'' Jackson said, speaking of Vick's number. "Working with Michael has been an incredibly experience. I love it. I look up to him like he's my big brother. We've gotten our reads down, and we're comfortable together.''
Jackson said he'd be fine for the Eagles' NFC East showdown Sunday against the Giants in what could be a division championship game. Which leads me to ...
2. What a great slate of games next week.
Best slate of big playoff-factor gems for early games this season: Eagles-Giants, Chiefs-Rams, Saints-Ravens (not for the timid), Jags-Colts (the AFC South Championship Game, most likely), 1 p.m. ET.
Moment-of-truth CBS doubleheader late game: Jets-Steelers, 4:15 p.m.
Night game vital to Cheesehead Nation: Packers-Patriots, 8:20 p.m.
3. Favre tonight? Maybe. Doubtful, but maybe.
Brett Favre told Ed Werder his consecutive-game streak would have ended if the game against the Giants were yesterday; that's how much his sprained shoulder joint hurt. Could 31 hours make a difference? I talked to Vikings coach Leslie Frazier just before the team left for Detroit late Sunday afternoon, and he called Favre "questionable'' -- the NFL's 50-50 version of injury-reporting. Frazier said he'd talk to Favre at breakfast today at their Detroit hotel and see whether Favre thought he might be able to get enough movement in the shoulder to play tonight at Ford Field. So the story America hates lives for another day.
4. All of a sudden, in a competitive sense, Spygate doesn't seem so important.
In the past week, the Patriots have beaten two of the best teams in the league by a combined 81-10. As it was in 2007, when New England was laying waste to the league while going 16-0 in the regular season, there's a gap between New England and the rest of the league that, in today's football, is rare. I thought the beatdown of the Bears at Soldier Field Sunday was significant because, as Brian Urlacher said, "They came in here, our field, our weather, and pounded us.''
Three years ago, when the Patriots exterminated the rest of the league, they did so under the shadow of Spygate, when they were sanctioned by commissioner Roger Goodell after the first game of the season for secretly videotaping teams' defensive signals to try to gain an advantage. I figure now is a good time to look back at history and judge just how much an advantage the Patriots got from Spygate, because now we have the perspective given us by recent history.
Since the commissioner whacked the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick in September 2007 for the longterm practice of taping the opposition's sidelines, New England has played almost half the number of games (64) as it played coached by Belichick before the sanctions came down (126). So the sample size is good to determine what sort of edge Belichick and his team got from knowing what the opposing signals might have meant. And the answer I found is: not much, apparently.
Before I go on, understand I'm not attempting to minimize what the Patriots did wrong. Roger Goodell was right to take away a first-round pick and whack the Pats $750,000 for the misdeed.
But check out the pre- and post-Spygate numbers, including playoff games, for the Patriots under Belichick, and you'll see why the video practices seem so wasteful:
Pretty interesting. New England's gone from winning two-thirds of its games with the benefit of taping illegally, to winning three-quarters of its games and scoring six points more per game without taping -- and with so many new pieces on offense.
I was reminded of this last Monday, when the Patriots were mercilessly pounding the Jets 45-3, and just thought how interesting it is that the Patriots are the highest-scoring team in football -- by a whopping 41 points -- in a year in which they've totally changed their offensive philosophy to more of a tight-end-centric one with two rookie tight ends as the keystones. (Just when teams start focusing defensively on the tight ends, the Patriots unleash the wideouts. In Chicago yesterday, Deion Branch and Wes Welker combined for 16 catches and 266 yards.) It all just proves to me that Belichick used to be and still is the smartest guy in the room ... and how unimportant to everything on the field the videotaping seems to have been.