It's midway through the season, so I'm starting the annual reader-enraging MVP Watch. When I vote for the Most Valuable Player for the Associated Press after the season, I vote for one player. But here, I'll tell you each Monday how I'd vote if I had a five-man ballot.
1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay. I know it's stunning to hear this, and to even think of this, but Rodgers has amassed just half of the best season a quarterback has ever had. Can he play the second half at the same level?
2. Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants. "Which Manning?'' my buddy Florio asked me Sunday night when I told him I was putting Manning in my MVP top five. He's a wiseguy. Friday on our NFL preview show on Versus (shameless plug: "NBC SportsTalk,'' 6-7 p.m., Fridays), Florio put Peyton Manning fifth. Eli's second on my list after his scintillating victory in Foxboro -- and after his terrific play in the Giants' 6-2 start. I didn't have Eli on this list as of Friday, but he shot up the list Sunday evening.
3. Tom Brady, QB, New England. On pace to pass Dan Marino's all-time yardage record, comfortably.
4. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. On pace to pass Dan Marino's all-time yardage record, comfortably.
5. Matt Forte, RB, Chicago. On pace to challenge the record for yards from scrimmage in a season.
"You can't spell 'elite' without Eli.''
-- Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck, after the hero of the hour in Foxboro beat the Patriots with an all-timer of a winning drive.
"This is the toughest place in the world to win. It says something about our team, and it says something about our quarterback. We swept 'em, but don't be fooled. We'll see them again in January.''
-- Baltimore pass-rusher Terrell Suggs, after the Ravens stunned the Steelers in Pittsburgh Sunday night.
"You don't become a bad team over a couple of weeks.''
-- Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo, after New England lost its second straight game.
"I want to die. This feeling feels like death. Nothing else can describe this. The pain is that bad.''
-- Pittsburgh Phil, Phil Gennaro, a friend of mine and a 41-year-old claims adjuster from Monroeville, east of Pittsburgh, leaving Heinz Field early this morning. He went on to text that today "will be miserable. I will have to deal with angry people, all because of this game.''
I got this week's idea for Stat of the Week from a reader, Adam Null, of Westmont, Ill. I liked Adam's email so much that I thought I would do just what it suggested. Adam wrote: "Hi Peter. You mentioned in your column Monday that "DeMarcus Ware (12 sacks in seven games) and Jared Allen (12.5 in eight games) are both on pace to break Michael Strahan's single-season record of 22.5. I wonder if those numbers are apples-to-oranges. Since passing has been trending upward for years now, and this year has been particularly pass-happy, how many dropbacks did Strahan face, versus Ware and Allen? It stands to reason that men of similar ability, when presented more opportunities, will produce more sacks."
I love the question, Adam. Thanks. (And just a note here: It's great to have smart fans throwing me suggestions like this. I never would have thought of this, but it's a legitimate question and should be factored in when comparing Strahan's season 10 years ago to the seasons of these rushers today.)
This is a good time to do this: Ware and Allen have played half a season. Strahan, in 2001, played all 16 games. In terms of playing time, all are similar; Strahan played 97 percent of the Giants' defensive snaps (966 of 996 in 2001); Ware and Allen have each played more than 90 percent of their team's snaps this year, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
To answer the question, I added the pass attempts plus sacks for the Giants' defense in 2001 (the year Strahan had 22.5 sacks to break the record), and the number of pass attempts plus sacks the foes of the Cowboys and Vikings have totaled in 2011. Here's what the numbers say:
The way to understand that chart is this: For every 100 pass drops by the opponent, Strahan had 3.97 sacks in 2001 ... and Ware has been exactly as productive in 2011, dropping the quarterback 3.97 times per 100 pass plays. Interesting that the number of pass plays per game is higher now -- and it just might help Allen or Ware, or both, break Strahan's record.
Chargers left tackle Marcus McNeill was whistled for six penalties last Monday against the Chiefs. McNeill's total penalties in his previous 17 games: five.
Prior to Sunday's road game against Washington, the 49ers had their Saturday morning walk-through practice at a field at the Marine Barracks in southeast Washington. After practice, coach Jim Harbaugh told the players to break the huddle down by saying "Semper Fi.'' A few players wondered, "What's that?'' They were told it was the Marine motto and means "Always Faithful.''
And so, with Marines lining the field and watching, the players yelled, "One, two, three, Semper Fi!''
Then Harbaugh had the team buses take a detour on the way back to its Pentagon City hotel -- to the Tomb of the Unknowns. Most of the players and staff had never been there. They spent about a half-hour getting a history lesson and then, silently, watching the solitary guard pace slowly in front of the tomb.
Now that's the way to spend your Saturday morning on the road in the nation's capital. In the words of Mad Dog Russo, "That's a good job by Harbaugh!''
When the Rams scored four points in the third quarter Sunday, it was the first four-point quarter in the NFL's 92-year history.
Ohio University's first eight football games of the year were played on Saturdays. The last four fall, in chronological order, on a Wednesday, Thursday, Wednesday and Tuesday. ESPN, anyone?
There are many things to get used to when you move to Manhattan. The art of getting a cab at peak times is one I'm struggling with. Friday night at 8, I got off a train from Stamford, Conn. (our Versus NFL preview show ends at 7, and I take the Acela back to the city right after that) and was in a rush to get home to the east side of town. Stupid me: Friday night, Manhattan, crowds ... Should have taken the subway.
But I went above ground, began signaling for a cab on 34th. Fruitless. Then I started walking to the east side, hand up in the air, seeking a cab. Two blocks, three, four. Finally, at the corner of 37th and Fifth Avenue, a gypsy cab, one of older black former limos, pulled up. I gave him my address, which would have been a $6 cab ride. When I got out, he said: "Thirty, plus tip.''
From here on out, it's the subway for me.
"I may not be an expert on everything but I am an expert on holding as I held on every play for 12 yrs. that was no hold!''
-- markschlereth, the former NFL guard and current ESPN analyst, on the holding call on the first play of the Sunday night game between Baltimore and Pittsburgh that negated a 78-yard touchdown run by Ray Rice.
"I am a fighter, I fight where I am told and I win where I fight ... George Patton ... Great win Giants, way to fight and win in Foxboro!''
-- @NYG_J_Ballard85, Giants tight end Jake Ballard, who had a tremendous catch on New York's winning drive at New England, then had the winning touchdown reception, in the Giants' exhilarating 24-20 victory over the Patriots.
"Just watched the game 4 times on DVR! I'll just stay awake until it's time to go work out. I hate losing more than I love winning"
-- @RealRClark25, Steelers safety Ryan Clark, at 5:19 a.m. today, less than six hours after the end of the Pittsburgh loss to Baltimore.