1. I think this is what I liked about Week 15:
a. Vincent Jackson. He's back, baby.
b. The Lakers, getting in the spirit of the NFL season on a road trip on the East Coast last week. In Washington, they heard Donovan McNabb booed. In Philadelphia, they heard Mike Vick cheered.
c. London Fletcher, for a flying tackle of Tashard Choice on the goal line on a vital fourth-and-goal early for Washington.
d. Marvin Lewis giving some of his younger receivers playing time, at the expense of Chad Ochocinco. Why not?
e. Josh Freeman. What a smart, precocious, heads-up young quarterback. Did you see the poor center snap late in the first quarter that Freeman lunged to catch and, pressured, threw a quick toss to Cadillac Williams for a first down? Tremendous.
f. Great, athletic interception by Quentin Mikell off Eli Manning.
g. Marcedes Lewis. What hands!
h. Lance Moore! What feet!
i. From the fertile mind of profootballtalk.com's Mike Florio: The Steelers have more wins in Miami (two) than the Dolphins have (one) in this calendar year.
j. Terrell Owens finishes the season with a torn meniscus, 73 catches and hopes that he can play two more years. For which team is another matter.
k. Jacoby Ford, six touches, 118 yards from scrimmage. Might be a perfect Al Davis player, full of speed and quickness.
l. Donald Brown, with his first 100-yard day after a middling two-year career. His 14-carry, 129-yard day was a huge reason why the Colts control their fate in the AFC South this morning.
m. Really impressed with Atlanta going on the road for four out of five, winning all five, and not just by a little -- but by an average of 12 points per game.
n. Good for Cedric Benson, though it's too little/too late. His 150-yard rushing day in the win over Cleveland boosted him over 1,000 yards for the second straight year in Cincinnati.
o. The Jets breaking the Pittsburgh schneid. They'd been 0-7 in the 'burgh since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
p. Great ability to catch one-handed by tight end Jimmy Graham of the Saints. Sean Payton's got a keeper there.
q. What incredible hands and sideline acumen by Calvin Johnson of the Lions.
r. Jason Garrett's offensive acumen since taking the head coaching job. There's a sense of urgency there. Points scored in his six games with the top job: 33, 35, 27, 38, 27, 33.
2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 15:
a. One thing at a time, Mike Vick. Not a very good idea to be bringing up the idea of dog ownership right now.
b. Andy Reid for not challenging a ball that appeared to be a clear non-catch but ruled a catch in the first quarter against Hakeem Nicks and the Giants.
c. Nicks, for dropping a 30-yard easy catch from Eli Manning two plays later.
d. Rex, Rex, Rex.
e. The empty seats at playoff-contending Tampa Bay when the cameras showed the wide shots.
f. How is the DeSean Jackson flop in the end zone last week a penalty, and the Mike Thomas flop in the end zone for Jags not?
g. Imagine you're Jim Schwartz. You're watching the game in Tampa Sunday, and you look skyward, shake your head and say, "My professional career is in the hands of Drew Stanton.''
h. Really disliked the non-reversal in the first half of the Giants-Eagles. With 22 seconds left and the Giants up 17-3, Jeremy Maclin was contacted immediately after a Mike Vick pass hit him in the gut. The ball appeared to be coming loose almost immediately, and Giants safety Kenny Phillips picked it up and ran to the Eagle 8. Parry went under the hood and ruled the play on the field stood. On the next play, Eli Manning threw his third touchdown pass of the half, and the Giants went in with a 24-3 lead. Problem: Maclin never had clear possession of the ball -- it should have been ruled incomplete.
i. Armenti Edwards, inactive. Good thing the Panthers traded the 33rd pick in the 2011 draft for that guy.
j. Austin Collie, concussed again. This is turning into a very sad story.
k. I'd have given MJD more than 17 touches for the Jags in the AFC South title game.
l. Matt Hasselbeck. Grim day capped by getting yanked for Charlie Whitehurst.
m. Maybe it wasn't Randy Moss on the phone call to the Nashville talk show that sounded very much like Randy Moss. But it's interesting that, again, he was not targeted by Kerry Collins in the Titans win over the Texans.
3. I think I have one hope for the postseason -- that a 12-win wild card team in the NFC plays its first playoff game at a seven-win NFC West champion. Maybe then we'll realize the absurdity of guaranteeing a division winner a home playoff game. A division winner deserves a playoff spot for sure. But the playoff seedings should be based solely on record.
At the league meetings in Fort Worth the other day, Giants president John Mara, a member of the Competition Committee, said a proposal to seed the playoffs on record only would likely be considered in the offseason, "but I don't hold out much hope it'll change.'' I applaud Mara for swimming against the tide and saying: "If you win 10 or 11, you shouldn't go on the road to face a team that wins seven or eight.''
4. I think I am all for skepticism regarding who knew what and when did they know it regarding the Sal Alosi sideline fiasco in New Jersey eight days ago. But I'm not for declaring Rex Ryan or Mike Westhoff guilty without any evidence.
5. I think more ominous clouds over the future of Jeff Fisher in Tennessee formed the other day when I spoke with recently retired Titans center Kevin Mawae on Sirius NFL Radio. He said he thinks, as I do, that the Fisher/Vince Young relationship "is headed for a divorce,'' with Fisher likely the one who will be leaving. "If I'm a player in that locker room,'' Mawae said, "I know how much [owner] Bud Adams loves Vince Young. I hate to say it, but I think Bud Adams would side with Vince Young.''
6. I think there will be a record number of Super Bowl coaches on the market, with a weak pool of teams with coaching vacancies. And that pool could be even weaker because, as I wrote recently, teams won't be aggressively seeking coaches the same way as usual because new coaches may have to go a long way into 2011 -- August? September? -- without putting an imprint on a new team because of the potential job action. Imagine six coaches who've worked Super Bowls being out there: Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Brian Billick, Jeff Fisher, Jim Fassel, John Fox. And all would want to coach in 2011. My guess is unless there's an opening in Houston, Cowher's going to stay in TV for one more year, at least.
7. I think it must have been really, really odd for Josh McDaniels to sit at home in Denver Sunday and watch Tim Tebow make his first career start in Oakland. Watching the player he brought to Denver, when so few people in the league thought Tebow was a first-round-caliber player. That just had to be ... weird.
8. I think the upshot of Mike Shanahan doing what he's wanted to do for a couple of weeks now, benching Donovan McNabb, gives Shanahan the chance to see if Rex Grossman can become his Redskins version of what Jake Plummer was in Denver -- the quarterback of the short-term in Washington while he searches for a long-term replacement. Plummer was more than that until Shanahan discovered his limitations.
To make this move with three games left showed the depth of Shanahan's distaste for McNabb's play, and also shows that Shanahan and GM Bruce Allen are sure to move McNabb in the offseason. Now the question is: What can Washington get for McNabb, or will the Redskins simply have to release him? I'd say his trade value is now perhaps a fourth- or fifth-round conditional pick.
Two quarterback coaches, Andy Reid and Shanahan, have given up on McNabb in the span of nine months, and those two men are respected coaches in the league. So if San Francisco (which I bet will have interest) or Minnesota wants McNabb, neither will have to give away the farm. But just remember the clause in the contract that any acquiring team will have to think hard about: McNabb is due a $10-million bonus no later than the day after the first game of 2011. So unless McNabb re-does the deal, that's going to be an anchor on whoever trades for him -- and have much to do with the compensation Washington can get.
One last thing: The Redskins owe Philadelphia a fourth-round pick to complete the McNabb trade from last April. You can bet Washington will bluster about not taking anything less than that when the market for McNabb opens. Actually, I'm sure Allen will begin by asking for a lot more than that, but he's not going to get it.
9. I think I sensed zero optimism about the CBA negotiations with the players when I was at the NFL meeting Wednesday in Fort Worth. And to infer anything out of what Roger Goodell said to the press afterward (which I heard) about being optimistic for a settlement by the Super Bowl is silly. He didn't do it.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. What is it about the human brain that allows you to hear a song for the first time in, oh, 20 years, and after five or six seconds, know every word to the song? Or is it just my brain that does this? Had the car radio on Sirius 60s on 6, and the first few bars of a song I used to love in sixth grade, "Spooky,'' comes on. And right away, I blurt out with the music, "In the cool of the evening when everything is getting' kinda groovy, I call you up and ask you if you'd like to go with me and see a movie ... '' I wish some smart brain student could tell me how that happens -- and then how I cannot remember a factoid from last week's NFL games.
b. Hey Newsweek, whoever did your graphics makeover must have worked in advertising before coming to magazines, because all your stories look like ads. And vice versa.
c. The Fighter is my movie of the year. Loved it. Loved the characters (especially Christian Bale as the druggie trainer), loved the fight scenes, loved the family element (sisters were a little over the top), and loved the fight scenes. As realistic as any fight scenes I've seen. Mark Wahlberg's so good, particularly at playing the wounded guy you root for.
d. Congrats, Bruce Cornblatt and Bob Costas and the MLB Network for that great Pirates-Yankees Game 7 of the World Series rebroadcast, with the players on hand to see something they hadn't seen in years. Maybe ever. Two amazing things about the telecast: So surprised at seeing Roberto Clemente step in the bucket so noticeably on every pitch from a right-hander. And Casey Stengel managed that game like a nut job. Talk about knee-jerk. He showed no faith in any of his pitchers that day, then warmed up Whitey Ford and never used him in a 10-9 loss. Terrible job that day by Stengel.
e. I am tired of the Gecko, but not of the Falcons on the bus in the Play 60 commercial.
f. OK, I will admit in the midst of a disinterested season that the Christmas episode of The Office was a keeper, from the snowball fight to Kelly's office Christmas gift of the Hello Kitty laptop sleeve to Holly's return.
g. Many of you have asked my opinion, as a Red Sox follower and season-ticket holder, of their Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford moves, supplemented by the bullpen-beefing signings of Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler. It's easy: Happy for me, sad for baseball. Wish there were a cap in baseball, and wish Pittsburgh and Kansas City had the same chance to win every year in baseball as the Steelers and Chiefs do in football. There's nothing I love better in my leisure time than a warm day at a ballpark with a weird beer, but I don't know if I'd have that same feeling if I lived in Overland Park, Kan. Joe Posnanski, how do you do it?
h. So proud of my niece, South Windsor (Conn.) High violinist Laila King, after seeing her in the school's 2010 Winter Orchestra Concert Thursday night. What beautiful music. Laila's the daughter of my brother who died last summer, and as the family sat with Caroline during the concert, all I could think of was how proud her dad would have been to see her on stage, as a sophomore with mostly older kids, playing such sweet music. Great job, Laila.
i. As if Laila King reads "Monday Morning Quarterback.''
j. How many different ways can Auburn coach Gene Chizik find to dance around all the Cam Newton/investigation questions? He's very good at it.
k. And Newton, to me, has done a very good job of showing his human side in the wake of his Heisman victory. It'll still be very interesting to see how he gets dissected in the next five months, before, I assume, he enters the 2011 draft.
l. The Ohio Bobcats must be allergic to bowl games.
m. Congrats to the UConn women's basketball team, on the occasion of the Huskies' 88th straight win, tying the UCLA men's team for the longest winning streak in the history of college basketball. Don't know which streak for sure was tougher to achieve -- my guess is men's teams two generations ago were more competitive than many of the teams this UConn dynasty has faced -- but that's being picky. It's a terrific achievement.
n. Coffeenerdness: Back to the nine espresso shots between 6:30 a.m. Sunday and 3 a.m. Monday routine. That can't be good.
o. Beernerdness: Debuting the new category today, by popular demand. I won't use it every week, because there will be some weeks when I have either no beer or boring beer and won't waste your time. This week was a good week for beer variety, because I had the weirdest-named beer of my life (Clown Shoes Brewery Eagle Claw Fish Imperial Amber Ale, from Massachusetts -- a little yeasty for me) and, at an airport bar in Dallas, had my first Lone Star longneck in 20 or so years. I'm not a beer snob. When I'm writing, as I was at the airport, a light, simple beer like Lone Star is perfect. But the beer of the week goes to Ommegang Witte wheat ale, with a lemon, from a brewery in Cooperstown, N.Y. Took me back to summer for a few sips. Very good.
Vikings 13, Bears 10.
So here's more on the legend of Joe Webb, the aforementioned 199th pick in the 2010 draft, who gets his first NFL start tonight, against the Bears, on the Monday Night Football stage. Born and raised in Birmingham, he went to Alabama-Birmingham, strafing Central Florida for 426 yards as a redshirt frosh in his second career start, and he became the only player in NCAA history to pass for more than 2,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 in successive seasons. He had plenty of arm, but wasn't invited to the Scouting Combine, and the Vikings took the 6-3, 226-pound Webb as a receiver prospect in April.
"At the first minicamp after the draft,'' Webb recalled, "I threw the ball back after one of the pass routes, and I guess coach [Brad] Childress liked what he saw.'' In fact, Childress watched Webb throw a few balls, knew his history, was skeptical whether Brett Favre would return for the season, and at the end of the minicamp told Webb that when he came back for the full-squad minicamp in a couple of weeks, he'd be coming back as a quarterback.
He showed a surprisingly strong arm in training camp, and good mobility. After some success in the preseason -- Webb had a 48-yard touchdown run, and three touchdown passes -- he became a darling of the fans. And now, even though the Vikings are playing for nothing the last three weeks of the season except for individual jobs, the Minnesota fans seem excited to see whether a cult-hero kind of player (the fans feel about Danny Woodhead in New England the way they feel about Webb in the Twin Cities) can take a step toward being in the mix for a quarterback roster spot in Minnesota in 2011.
Webb didn't sound at all intimidated when we spoke Friday. "Not at all,'' he said. "I grew up watching Monday Night Football and it's an honor to play in the game. I respect the Bears a lot. But I am not afraid of them. They put their shoulder pads on just like I do.''
He said the best advice he got about tonight was the simplest, from Brett Favre. Just be you. Just play the way you play. The odds are against Webb and the Vikings, obviously, but on an emotional night -- the last outdoor NFL game in the state was exactly 29 years ago today -- with the 50 greatest Vikings of all time being honored, something about Webb's game tells me he's going to be able to handle it.
Clues on how he might do? Well, with a 10 ¾-inch hand -- very big by quarterback standards -- he should have no trouble gripping the ball on an ice-cold night in the north country. But he's never played a game, at any level of football, when the temperature's been below the mid-thirties.
By the way, this is the 100th meeting in the history of the series. Minnesota leads 52-45-2.