Offensive Players of the Week
With apologies to the great -- and I mean great -- performances of Carson Palmer and Josh Freeman, I have two quarterbacks who deserve to be honored:
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay.
He's the poster boy for quarterback concussions, having suffered two this year and missing time because of them. But he returned from his Dec. 12 concussion to shred the Giants' defense and eliminate the G-Men from serious playoff contention with a 25-of-37 passing day, for 404 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and an other-worldly 139.9 passer rating. Not to look in the rearview mirror or anything, especially with Matt Flynn having played so well last week in Foxboro, but imagine if Rodgers had been healthy enough to duel with Tom Brady last week. It's a shame for the American football fan, not to be dramatic. But these two guys won't face each other for another four years, unless they meet in a Super Bowl, and they're the kind of inter-conference matchup we see too seldom.
Matt Cassel, QB, Kansas City.
Hard to have a better first half than Cassel did in helping put the upstart Chiefs in position to win the AFC West. With touchdown passes of 14 yards (to Jamaal Charles), five yards (Charles) and 75 yards (Dwayne Bowe), Cassel completed 16 of 23 throws for 233 yards, those three touchdowns and no interceptions. In two months, Cassel's gone from a question mark to a guy who, in many Brady- and Vick-less years, would be a legitimate MVP candidate.
Defensive Players of the Week
Ed Reed, S, Baltimore.
The Ravens held the Browns to 280 total yards, and Reed was his old self in undressing rookie Colt McCoy (27.0 quarterback rating, no touchdowns, three interceptions). Reed had two interceptions, increasing his career interception figure to 52, tying the fabled Larry Wilson for 24th on the all-time list. Tied for 22nd: Deion Sanders, Ty Law.
Chris Harris, S, Chicago.
Hard to imagine a player from a team surrendering 34 points getting this prestigious award players strive weekly to earn. But Harris did it all as the Jets were trying to win through the air, making 11 tackles, picking off Mark Sanchez on a desperate final New York drive late in the fourth quarter, and recovering a fumble in the Bears' win that kept them alive for the second seed in the NFC playoffs.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Ted Ginn, PR, San Francisco.
The 49ers were their usual stumblebum selves midway through the second quarter at St. Louis: down 9-0, already having had Troy Smith trapped for a safety, five total passing yards. Ginn took a punt and weaved through traffic for 78 yards and a touchdown. That was all but eight points of the feeble 49ers offense for the day.
Coach of the Week
Todd Haley, head coach, Kansas City.
Haley took a four-win team with a questionable quarterback, new offensive and defensive bosses and play-callers, and shoddy offensive and defensive lines ... and turned the Chiefs into a division champion. He'll be a contender for coach of the year, but whether he wins it or not, he deserves credit for changing the structure of the team and for changing players' mindsets.
Goat of the Week
David Buehler, K, Dallas.
Loved Jason Garrett's line about his kicker postgame: "He's been a fairly consistent kicker at times.'' Mr. Fairly Consistent At Times hit a 53-yard field goal earlier in the Saturday night game at Arizona, then hit the left upright on an extra point with 1:41 to play, keeping the score at Dallas 26, Arizona 24. Ninety-one seconds later, Jay Feely's 48-yard field goal gave the Cardinals a 27-26 win. Buehler's job has been kept safe by Jerry Jones all season because of his big leg. There are lots of big legs in NFL camps, but Buehler might not have the big head for this job, considering he also missed game-altering kicks against Minnesota, Chicago and Washington.
Kansas City's Jamaal Charles is trying to become the most dangerous back, per carry, of the past 50 years in the NFL. I looked at the best backs (minimum 10 carries per game, on average) for a single season since 1960, and Charles, with one game left, is right there with them:
Amazing company for a player who turns 24 today -- and who shares the rushing job on the Chiefs with banger Thomas Jones.
Incredible. It's happening again, barring a Week 17 Colt loss (against the moribund Titans) and Jag win (against Houston). The New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts will meet for the ninth straight regular-season -- no non-division foes have a streak this long -- in 2011 if each team finishes first in its division this season. The Patriots have first locked in the AFC East, and the Colts' magic number is one to win the AFC South.
Every season, I get the question from fans about why the Patriots and Colts meet ever year, and it must be some fix job by the league to make sure Tom Brady and Peyton Manning meet every year so the networks have such an attractive game. Not true. Scheduling formulas are set years in advance, most often pairing teams from other divisions in the same conference against teams finishing in the same slot. The Patriots and Colts have met every year since 2003. So go back to 2002, and look at their places in the standings. Both finished second in their divisions 2002, then first in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007, then second in 2008, then first in 2009, and then -- if the Colts win or Jags lose next week -- they'll both finish first in 2010. No gerrymandering there, just very, very odd that two teams finish in the same spot in the standings nine years running.
Preamble to the Travel Note: Bob Papa's travels got some props last week, when I explained the long and winding road he had to take to get from Newark to Pittsburgh to Phoenix to Green Bay to Newark to do three football games in four days. But the weather on the Eastern Seaboard caused Papa, in the booth to do the NFL Network game Saturday between Dallas and Arizona, to get nervous about flying through Atlanta on the redeye to Milwaukee. So he and Alex Flanagan, also bound for Wisconsin and the Giants-Packers game for NBC, were graciously invited to take the Dallas charter back to Texas, where they got on an early Sunday flight to Milwaukee, and a car to Green Bay. John Mara, I'm sure, will love the GMen's play-by-play man hitching a ride on Jerry Jones' plane.
Sunday night, 9:30, in my midtown Manhattan hotel room. The phone rings. It's Mike Florio, Mr. Profootballtalk.com and my Sunday NBC partner in crime.
"You OK?'' he said. "I'm just checking in on you. Wanted to make sure you got back OK.''
I thought: What are you? My mother?
But this was one of those "you had to be there'' things. It's a four-block walk from NBC studios to my hotel. Florio stays at a different hotel, about five blocks from the studio; he walked to his hotel with Rodney Harrison and Tony Dungy. I walked to my hotel alone. Now, I grew up in northern Connecticut, and I've walked in/sledded in/shoveled my share of snow. This storm, the same one pounding Philly 90 miles south, was a sideways job blowing snowbursts at 40 mph. I had a wool hat and gloves on, and jeans. By the time I'd walked the six or eight minutes to the hotel, my clothes were soaked through and my face bright red from the whipping wind and snow.
That is one heck of a storm, even without the accumulations. As I write this column, I'm staring out the window onto my midtown street. No cars. No people. Just a storm blowing from west to east with no end in sight.
"If someone tries to schedule the Second Coming for a Monday night, NFL will have it postponed until Tuesday to protect ESPN's exclusivity.''
--@sportswatch, media columnist Neil Best of Newsday, after the NFL moved the Vikings-Eagles game to Tuesday, leaving the crucial Monday night Saints-Falcons telecast on ESPN in an exclusive window.
"Did anyone get the license plate to the bus I was just threw under?"
--@OGOchoCinco, Cincinnati wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, after Bengals coach Marvin Lewis called him "mopey'' and said, "When things don't go Chad's way, that's kind of how it happens.''