1. I think this is what I liked about Week 16:
a. John Skelton, on fourth-and-15 Saturday night from his own 19 with 77 seconds to play and down 26-24, finding Larry Fitzgerald up the right sideline for 26 yards and a game-saving first down.
b. Great factoid by Jim Nantz and Phil Simms on CBS on the fumble by Santonio Holmes that turned into seven points for the Bears in the first quarter. They noted that Holmes said last week he hated wearing sleeves on his bare arms, and when he wore sleeves, they caused him to fumble. And so what happened in the first quarter in frigid Chicago, with Holmes wearing white long sleeves? He had the ball punched out, and the Bears took it the other way for a Matt Forte touchdown.
c. Rob Ninkovich has to be in the top 10 in the NFL this year in quarterback pressures. He's this decade's Mike Vrabel, the underused journeyman linebacker who plays a role Bill Belichick needs to make his defense work.
d. Good heads-up by Bears special-teamer and wide receiver Rashied Davis, tailing a Jets receiver on a fake punt in the third quarter -- what a dumb call by the Jets. The ball was dropped, but Davis didn't get sucked in by the fake.
e. Devin Hester's 38-yard runback in the third quarter. The guy just makes you hold your breath every time he touches it.
f. Redskins, playing very hard.
g. Ravens run defense on Peyton Hills (12 carries, 35 yards).
h. Thirty-nine minutes of possession time by the dominant Chiefs.
i. Speaking of the Chiefs, how about this prescient piece in Football Outsiders: ... And I quote: "The Chiefs have a power running game that can stand up to anyone in football, one that should be buoyed by the arrival of veteran free-agent linemen Casey Wiegmann and Ryan Lilja this offseason. This will help the Chiefs close out games if they have the lead in 2010.''
j. Chris Long, who is looking more and more like a smart top pick, with a huge strip-sack of Alex Smith.
k. Tom Brady, for breaking Bernie Kosar's generation-old record of 309 passes without an interception.
2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 16:
a. The Panthers.
b. Michael Jenkins. A year ago, he was an up-and-coming fearless corner. Saturday night, he was downright awful, including embarrassing matador coverage of Arizona wideout Andre Roberts on a way-too-easy 74-yard touchdown bomb from John Skelton.
c. What, you Cowboys didn't know on fourth-and-15 in the last minute that a rookie quarterback might be looking for Larry Fitzgerald?
d. Typical Jacksonville.
e. Tackling, or the lack thereof, by the Jets.
f. Throw it away, Jay Cutler! Come on.
g. Show up, Tennessee! Come on.
h. Keep running, Braylon Edwards! Come on. Ten minutes left in the fourth quarter, and Brad Smith unleashes a bomb for him in close coverage, and Edwards slows up with the ball heading toward his hands.
i. Didn't like the upheld replay review on the Derek Cox interception in the Jags-'Skins game at Jacksonville
j. NFL scouts and GMs. How is it possible that Danny Woodhead was not drafted?
k. Troy Smith. Not sure he's made a case to be the third quarterback on the Niners, never mind competing for the starting job at any point -- for any team.
l. Robbie Gould, who missed a 35-yard field goal that would have put the Bears up by seven midway through the fourth quarter. "He made 64 straight inside the 40!'' marveled Nantz, digging the dagger in deeper.
m. David Garrard, with a feeble overtime interception. Under pressure by Washington linebacker Rocky McIntosh, he made a soft throw that was picked off and cost the Jags any realistic shot at the playoffs.
n. Eli Manning, who now has five more interceptions than any other quarterback in football. Four picks in a game with major playoff implications ... not good. Some of the throws he makes, it's almost like he's too confident.
3. I think we have to ask this question, and wonder about it seriously: Are the 13-2 Patriots of 2010 hotter entering the playoffs than the 16-0 Patriots of 2007?
4. I think if I'm the Bengals, there's got to be a moral to the story of Carson Palmer having his best game of the year, by far, with Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco on the bench. Go ahead and howl, all you T.Ocho fans. But football's played best when it isn't a sideshow, when the quarterback can go back from center without having to worry about placating any receivers.
We saw it with Tony Romo when Owens was jettisoned from Dallas two years ago. Romo was a better player without him. And when Palmer has his most accurate day (76.2 percent) with his highest rating (157.2) and throws four touchdowns and no interceptions ... I mean, it's right on Mike Brown's doorstep now. The only fair thing for the Bengals to do for their future this week against Baltimore is to see if they can do it again, against a defense (Baltimore's) that's as much of a challenge or a bigger one than San Diego's was.
5. I think Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell might have kissed his head-coaching hopes goodbye in the past two weeks. Actually, in New York's last 68 minutes. Less than five quarters ago, the Giants were in the driver's seat for the NFC East title. A win against Philadelphia -- the Eagles trailed 31-10 with eight minutes to play -- and the Giants could skate home to the NFC East title and possibly the second seed in the NFC playoffs. The Giants have allowed 73 points since.
6. I think the Rams had better win the NFC West, for playoff competition's sake. Watching the Seahawks give up 112 points the past three weeks, I think the Saints, if they're the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs, as it appears will be the case, would beat the Seahawks about 45-10 right now, even at Qwest Field. Think the Saints would take Seattle lightly? You don't know Drew Brees.
7. I think I don't mean to rub it in on the Steal of the Year, but here are the total yards through 15 games for the two men traded for each other: Peyton Hillis 1,638 rushing-receiving yards, Brady Quinn zero passing yards. And the Broncos still owe Cleveland two low-round draft picks.
8. I think, from my time in Minnesota last Monday, I got the feeling that the locals very much want an outdoor stadium (and it's not only the semi-louts in the men's room who chanted "No more dome! No more dome!'' when I was in there). Owner Zygi Wilf wants an outdoor stadium. But the majority of politicians and business leaders seem like they're dome fans -- or at least retractable-roof fans. Stay tuned for a showdown. But at least the climate seems right to get a stadium deal done now, which wasn't the case very often in the past.
9. I think, from what Brett Favre told Andrea Kremer at the Vikings hotel in Philly over the weekend, it sounds like he's finished and won't play either of the last two games.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I think for the scores of you who have asked for Paul Zimmerman updates, here's one: Zim, the former SI and SI.com ace football scribe, had a series of three strokes 25 months ago, and he has been working diligently to rehab to get to his stated goal of being able to write again. Well, the going has been slow, but steady. He's now scheduled to undergo a back operation to improve the feeling in his right leg, and it's hoped that if gets that procedure done, he'll have a better shot to be more aggressive in his physical rehab.
When I find out a little more about the status of that surgery, I'm going to ask for your cards and well-wishes to be sent to him, and I'll give you an address here. But for now, know that Linda, his wife, and Paul are exceedingly grateful to have as many caring friends as he does. Thanks. He still has a fervent desire to get back to what he loves doing, but that's a ways off for now.
b. Wishing both King girls very good luck as they start new jobs on the West Coast today. Go get 'em.
c. Finally saw Invictus, on Christmas night. A tad disappointing, though Morgan Freeman couldn't have been a better Mandela. Disappointing because it dragged in spots, and the rugby scenes weren't as dramatic to a heathen audience (me) as I'm sure they were to the rest of the world..
d. As did the 85-minute HBO Springsteen documentary on Darkness On the Edge of Town. Yow. We don't need 10 minutes on some lawsuit that kept Bruce out of the studios for some period of time after Born to Run. A sentence or two wouldn't have been fine. But a novella?
e. Such a sad New York Times story on cancer-stricken Yale hockey player and Saskatchewan native Mandi Schwartz: Such an inspiring woman, such an awful story ... The family requests that you do the easy thing -- it's basically taking a cotton swab to the inside of your cheek -- and register in the national Bone Marrow "Be The Match Registry'' program: http://www.marrow.org/ ... If the spirit moves you, drop a card to Mandi at Box 308, Wilcox SK, S0G 5E0, Canada.
f. Never was much of an NBA fan, as most of you know. But in moving to Boston, I've gained an appreciation for the Celtics because of how hard they play. The NBA that I know has a lot of teams that play hard the last few minutes and not in the first few. The Celtics seem different. I don't see the team a lot, but I was in attendance last Wednesday against Philly, and even Shaq was getting up and down the floor. (Shaq is listed at 345 but has to be more. Just a massive man.) Love Shaq. Hey, someone else once said that. Or sang that.
g. How can the Devils be the worst team in hockey? Amazing and precipitous.
h. Coffeenerdness: You know you're getting hooked on the eggnog latte when twice in the last week you hear, "We're out of eggnog, sir,'' and you immediately think of who you can scold for having such a dastardly thing happen.
i. Beernerdness: Winter's the time for some heavy beers. Tried two this week -- St. Botolph's Town Rustic Dark Ale (Pretty Things brewery, Somerville, Mass.), recommended by my buddy Steve Gilarde, the bartender at the Butcher Shop in Boston's South End. Thick and very dark, like a British ale, with a copper head that lasts. Very good. And then Saranac's Vanilla Stout. I'm not normally a Stout guy, but Christmas Eve does funny things for your taste buds, and the vanilla isn't overpowering. Just a hint. Nice job. Oh, and good labels on your winter brews, Saranac.
Falcons 24, Saints 20.
What a great game, in retrospect, the Falcons' Week 3 27-24 overtime win at the Superdome was ... and what clues it holds for this game tonight. The clues:
Expect some derring-do. The two teams went for it on fourth down five times in the game. Atlanta coach Mike Smith twice called for his offense to convert on one second-quarter series. On fourth-and-two from the 26, Matt Ryan hit Roddy White for seven, and two minutes later, on another fourth-and-two, he hit Tony Gonzalez for nine.
The Falcons will try to grind it out. Atlanta had a 19-play, 72-yard drive that took 10:39. Get the feeling they want to keep it away from Drew Brees?
Atlanta will try to use power. In the September game, Michael Turner burst over right guard for a 32-yard gain. That was no ordinary formation. There were seven men on the line, and not your ordinary extra men just chipping defenders. These were men who stayed in to block. So look for the Falcons to employ a power running game again until the Saints stop it regularly.
The Saints, even with a healthy backfield, will trust Brees to try to win. The last three times they've met, Brees has completed more than 75 percent of his throws in every game. His yards-per-attempt in each game: 9.33, 7.40, 9.61. Let me ask you a question: If you're Sean Payton, and every time your quarterback drops back to throw you're getting nine yards, on average, wouldn't you throw it all night? Thought so.
Give me the Falcons, with Turner -- and Atlanta's offensive line -- being the game's MVPs.
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