Offensive Players of the Week
Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia.
It's almost a guilty pleasure watching Vick play because you keep saying, He'll never last taking this abuse, and in the next breath you say, Run! Run!
Vick could play a long time in the NFL, but he'll never have a fourth quarter and a finish like he had Sunday, bringing the Eagles back from a 31-10 deficit with eight minutes to go. For the game, he ran for 130, threw for 242 and accounted for four touchdowns.
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore.
One of Rice's best games as a storied collegian or pro led the Ravens to a vital victory that tied them for the AFC North lead. He rushed 31 times for 153 yards and a touchdown, and caught five balls for 80 more yards and a second touchdown. The 233 yards wore down the New Orleans defense and his performance was one of the most important elements in beating a team on a six-game winning streak.
Defensive Player of the Week
Jason Taylor, LB, New York Jets.
With the Jets holding a 20-17 lead late in the fourth quarter at Pittsburgh, Taylor made the kind of play Rex Ryan's been waiting for since the team signed him last spring. With the ball at the Steelers' two after a nicely executed Steve Weatherford punt, Taylor burst through the line, grabbed running back Mewelde Moore inches shy of the goal line and flung him to the ground for a safety. The play made the Steelers have to score a touchdown on their last drive of the game instead of a field goal -- and Ben Roethlisberger was unable to get the ball in from the Jets' 10. Huge assist to Taylor on the Jets' biggest win of the year.
Special Teams Players of the Week
DeSean Jackson, WR/PR, Philadelphia.
For the 65-yard punt return heard 'round the world.
Brad Smith, KR, New York Jets.
With the Jets under tremendous pressure to produce points -- any way possible -- Smith took the opening kickoff and ran 97 yards for the first New York TD in three games. When you play the stingy Steelers, the breathing room is negligible, and Smith gave the Jets a 7-0 lead ... when Pittsburgh was expecting to get a strong start to the game by kicking off to the sputtering New York offense.
Dan Connolly, KR/G, New England.
On a gee-whiz day, of course a guard would return a kickoff 71 yards. That's what Connolly did, lumbering down the left side and setting up a vital touchdown in a four-point New England win.
Coach of the Week
Brian Schottenheimer, offensive coordinator, New York Jets.
Schottenheimer called a smart, redemptive game and put struggling quarterback Mark Sanchez in position to make enough plays to win. The best: With New York down 17-10 late in the third quarter, and the crowd jacked up with the Jets having a fourth-and-one at the Steeler seven-yard line, Schottenheimer called a play-action-fake-turned-naked-bootleg left, sucking in the hard-charging James Harrison, and Sanchez ran in untouched to tie the game.
Goat of the Week
Matt Dodge, P, New York Giants.
On the dumbest play of a mind-bending loss, Dodge, with 14 seconds left in a 31-31 tie, punted the ball to the best return man in the game (sorry, Devin Hester, but DeSean Jackson's taken over) instead of angling the ball out of bounds. Jackson ran it back for that touchdown. Now, instead of being in the driver's seat for a first-round bye and playing the divisional round game at home, the Giants will have to struggle to be the sixth seed, which will necessitate an all-road journey to the Super Bowl ... if they even make the playoffs. An inexcusable mistake by the rookie punter.
In the first 1,322 days of quarterback Drew Stanton's Lions career, he won zero games.
In the past eight days, he has won two.
NFL Draft, 2000, 199th overall pick: Tom Brady, QB, Michigan.
NFL Draft, 2010, 199th overall pick: Joe Webb, QB, Alabama-Birmingham.
I talked to Webb the other day, and to do my exhaustive pre-interview research, I looked up Webb's Wikipedia page and saw the 199th-pick thing in the bio. When I got him on the phone, I said, "Hey, Joe. I've got a Joe Webb Trivia Question for you. Who was picked in exactly the same spot as you exactly 10 years earlier in the draft?''
"Tom Brady,'' said Webb. "Yeah, somebody told me that the other day. It'd be nice if I could have a career like that, wouldn't it?''
For more on the young lad preparing to get hit about the head and neck by Brian Urlacher tonight in the coldest game (by 30 degrees) he's ever played in, please go to the end of the column, to my game prediction.
There are those who travel in our business, and then there is Bob Papa.
Papa has three jobs at this time of year -- NFL Network play-by-play man, New York Giants radio play-by-play man, Sirius Radio "Opening Drive'' host. Last week, there was the Giants-to-Minnesota debacle, which had Papa flying with the team from Newark to Kansas City on Saturday, sleeping in Kansas City on Saturday night, flying from Kansas City to Detroit on Sunday, sleeping in Detroit on Sunday night, doing his Sirius Radio show Monday from 7-11 a.m. ET from the Lions' facility in suburban Allen Park, broadcasting the relocated game Monday night, arriving home in New Jersey at 3:45 a.m. Tuesday, sleeping for 90 minutes, driving to the Giants' facility in East Rutherford to do the Sirius radio show from 7-11 a.m. ET, taping a couple of Giants TV shows between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., driving back to the airport in Newark, flying to San Diego for the Thursday NFL Network game, sleeping in San Diego on Tuesday night, interviewing Chargers and 49ers during the day on Wednesday, sleeping in San Diego on Wednesday night, having a TV production meeting Thursday morning, doing the Chargers' 37-7 rout of the Niners Thursday night, boarding a redeye flight from San Diego to JFK Airport on Thursday night, landing at JFK at 6:15 a.m., driving home to New Jersey, being 40 minutes late for his Sirius NFL Radio show (Ross Tucker subbed for him in the first hour) in his in-home studio, doing the Sirius show from 8-11 a.m., and then driving to the Giants' facility in East Rutherford to tape the Tom Coughlin coach's show for the pregame radio show Sunday.
"It's unbelievable,'' special teams coach Tom Quinn told Papa on Friday when he saw him at the team offices. "I go to bed and I see you on the West Coast, and I get up and come to work, and I see you here.''
This week's going to be just as fun. After the Panthers-Steelers game in Pittsburgh on Thursday night for NFL Network, Papa and the studio and game crew will take a charter from Pittsburgh to Phoenix, arriving around 6:30 a.m., on Christmas Eve. They'll go directly to the Cards' facility and interview Arizona players and coaches, then Dallas players and coaches, in advance of the Christmas night (Saturday night) game in Arizona. Papa will take a redeye from Phoenix to Atlanta, connect with a flight from Atlanta to Milwaukee, then get a car to drive him the two hours from the airport in Milwaukee to Lambeau Field, where he hopes to arrive by 11:30 a.m. -- and maybe even have time to take a short pregame nap. Then he'll do the late-afternoon Giants-Packers game on the radio, fly home with the team, and ... "Christmas at the Papas on Dec. 27!'' he said.
I get tired just reading that.
"Other walls Rex likely never knew existed: The Great Wall of China; The Wailing Wall; the Berlin Wall; John Wall.''
-- @NYPost_Serby, the needles-out columnist of the New York Post, Steve Serby, on Rex Ryan's presumptive lack of knowledge about the Jets building a wall on the sidelines to make it tougher for punt-team players to get back in bounds after being shoved out of bounds.