1. I think this is what I liked about Week 14:
a. Pittsburgh's ferocious rush. I thought Jason Worilds was supposed to be a big disappointment. He looked terrific Thursday night against Cleveland.
b. Cleveland linebacker Chris Gocong, for an incredible goal-line stand in Pittsburgh. On four snaps from the two- or inside the two-, the Steelers sent Rashard Mendenhall between the tackles. Four straight times. And Gocong was in on all four tackles. On one play, his crushing hit knocked Mendenhall dizzy.
c. New York Daily News Jets beat man Manish Mehta's story on Jets coaching intern Mike Smith helping/saving third-year pass-rusher Aaron Maybin's flagging career: "Without him, I'd probably be a fish without fins in the open sea," said Maybin, who has six sacks and four forced fumbles in 10 games. "He understands me better than any of my coaches since I was in college.''
d. Washington KR/WR Brandon Banks. The 147-pound smurfy returner had never thrown a pass in his two-year NFL career (there's a big surprise), but against New England, he took a reverse and threw a wobbly, left-handed pass 38 yards in the air to Santana Moss, for a touchdown. Cool call.
e. Ray Rice, who wants the team on his shoulders
f. Baltimore's 4-0 in the games Ray Lewis has missed.
g. What a run by Joe Webb. Impressive second half for the neophyte.
h. "CLIFF AVRIL JUMPED OFFSIDE!'' Good bit of stunning in Thom Brennaman's voice before the last play at Detroit.
i. The Chargers. Everything about them looks good.
j. What got into Shonn Greene? Whatever it is, the Jets could use a lot more 24-for-129 days like he had Sunday.
2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 14:
a. Mike Wallace's effort, or lack thereof, blocking on plays he's not involved in.
b. The Steelers' play-calling on their goal-line offensive series in the second half against Cleveland that resulted in zero points, four times calling Mendenhall's number between the tackles with a combined one yard gained. They could have at least once put Ben Roethlisberger in the shotgun and spread the field with quick receivers and a physical one, Hines Ward.
c. Cleveland's skill players. I don't see a single difference-maker.
d. Sure looked like whole sections of Paul Brown Stadium came dressed as empty seats Sunday.
e. Brady's first-half numbers at Washington: eight of 19. Strange to see him miss a wide-open Gronkowski in the end zone..
f. Chris Johnson's first-half numbers against the Saints: five carries, five yards.
g. Kansas City's total yards in the first half at the Jets: four.
h. Terrible, awful, ridiculous call by Jeff Triplette's crew, the London Fletcher hit on a sliding Brady that prompted a roughing-the-passer call on Fletcher late in the first half at Washington. First, Fletcher is clearly in full tackle mode before Brady began his slide. Fletcher never hit him in the head. This is a great example of nervous-nelly officials being waaaaaay overprotective of franchise quarterbacks.
i. Boy, Josh Freeman has fallen to earth with a thud.
j. The 3.5-yard onside kick by Kansas City's Ryan Succop. That'd be funny if the Chiefs weren't so awful Sunday. Totally embarrassing day for the Chiefs, all the way down to the safety at the end of the game.
k. Darrius Heyward-Bey: three dropped passes in the first 13 minutes at Green Bay.
l. Carson Palmer trade's looking really good for Oakland, eh?
m. Tim Jennings! What are you doing giving the Denver wideout a 12-yard cushion down the stretch when your defense, Chicago, has to make a stop?
3. I think I'd like to thank Mike Carey, the ref in New Orleans-Tennessee, for not overturning a vital call in the end zone in the third quarter. I feel strongly that referees are taking liberties with the "indisputable visual evidence'' being needed to overturn calls on the field. In this game, the official on the field ruled Jimmy Graham had part of one foot on the white sideline as he came down with a Drew Brees touchdown pass. Incomplete -- that was the ruling on the field. Over and over again the replay ran, and it was uncertain whether Graham's right toes touched the white or not. One angle seemed to show they did, the other looked like they didn't. You can't overturn those, and Carey didn't. Good call.
4. I think Jacksonville RB Maurice Jones-Drew deserves more than a little pat on the back. The Jags' 41-14 win over Tampa was a very off-the-radar game, but Jones-Drew was brilliant: 136 rushing-receiving yards, two rushing touchdowns, two receiving touchdowns ... and he's now broken the Jacksonville record for touchdowns in a career. It took Fred Taylor 140 games to score 70 touchdowns. Jones-Drew has now scored 73 in 90 games. Amazing production for a guy everyone said was too small to be an every-down back in the NFL.
5. I think back 11 months and how everyone in Houston wanted Gary Kubiak fired, and I think how Bob McNair had the patience and the vision to see the team was missing an attacking defense and a couple more puzzle pieces, and I think: Every owner who's thinking about firing his coach should ask himself if the team is really very far away, and if it isn't, what's going to be gained by firing the coach? In some cases, I can see the intelligence in changing coaches. But in some places -- Minnesota, Washington, Philadelphia, most notably -- I see good coaches having bad years with the ability to turn things around next year. I wouldn't make a change in any of those places.
6. I think Tennessee has more good players that we don't know than any other team in the league.
7. I think I heard some very good news out of Roger Goodell's mouth Sunday when he spoke to the press in Detroit. He said the playoffs wouldn't be expanded anytime soon because it would risk diluting the importance of regular season games. Expansion equals dilution. Twelve of 32 teams making it is more than enough. Sixteen of 32? NHL-ish. NBA-ish. Renders so much of the regular season unimportant.
8. I think a great example of how stupid the old NFL scheduling model was came into play this weekend. The schedule format changed in 2002, so that each team would play teams in the opposite conference once every four years, and an NFC team would play in every AFC team's stadium once every eight years. The AFL and NFL merged in 1970. In the 42 seasons since the merger, Sunday was only the third time the Patriots played at Washington. Yes: 1981, 2003, 2011. How can a team on the Eastern Seaboard go 22 years without playing another team on the Eastern Seaboard?
9. I think I'll always have a lot of respect for Thomas George, but we'll agree to disagree on his story in a new NFL magazine about who is deserving of the MVP this year. George writes that Peyton Manning deserves the MVP because, to paraphrase, the Colts have gone from a playoff lock to 0-13 with Manning out all season after neck surgery.
My two unswayable points on this: The award is called Most Valuable Player; if you don't play, it's folly to be eligible for the award. And where does this stop? If Drew Brees breaks his leg next Labor Day weekend and the Saints go 1-15, should he win it? "It's disrespectful and ridiculous ... to the guys who are actually playing the game,'' said Dwight Freeney. Agreed.
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. Loved the New York Post's preview of SantaCon, the annual bar crawl in which hundreds (thousands, from the appearances of Manhattan streets Saturday) dress up as Santa Claus and get plastered. Wrote the Post: "'Tis the season ... for drunken Santas to stagger through the city like a bunch of booze-soaked fruitcakes annoying everyone in sight. On Saturday, a legion of liquored-up louts clad in Kris Kringle outfits will hold the dreaded annual Village bar crawl called SantaCon.'' The story went on to quote a bartender saying the louts were "probably from New Jersey and Staten Island.''
b. No arrests, incredibly, in this year's SantaCon, according to media reports Sunday.
c. SI's Sportsman of the Year event last Tuesday was terrific, especially hearing one winner, Mike Krzyzewski, tell the other, Pat Summitt, in an emotional voice how honored he was to share it with her. The winningest men's coach and winningest women's coach, I thought, were the perfect honorees, for their lives of modeling so many people the right way. Got a kick out of Coach K saying he and his family, on a night like this, with lots of Sportsman alums in the house, would be over in the corner saying, "Hey, there's Chris Evert! There's Gretzky! Now we're in the room, dammit!'' Cute.
d. Coffeenerdness: Great order at my Manhattan Starbucks the other day: "Eight espresso shots in a venti cup.'' There's some high-test for you. Watched the fellow go over and add six or seven sugars, stir, and walk out of the place. He's probably still awake.
e. Beernerdness: A shame. I've been living on Vitamin Water and regular water for four or five days, mostly. So I'm sorry, I have no fun beer news to report. Will make it up to you over the holidays. Promise.
f. Smart move by the Cardinals, not upping the ante on their 10-year, $220-million contract offer to Albert Pujols. I don't blame Pujols for migrating to the American League for $3.4 million more per year
g. "I am completely innocent,'' Ryan Braun told Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, after it was revealed by ESPN that he tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance in October, making him subject to a 50-game ban to start 2012. All of Wisconsin is saying the same thing this morning: You'd better be.
Seattle 23, St. Louis 9. This says quite a lot about my faith in where the Seahawks are headed -- even without their two starting tackles (Russell Okung, James Carpenter, both on IR) and guard John Moffitt, who was on IR anyway, then suspended four games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. And it doesn't say much about my belief in the Rams making this a competitive evening in Seattle.
Of course, if you'd like to spend your leisure time a little differently, check out the TCM channel starting at 8 Eastern time: The 1951 version of Christmas Carol is on, followed by Oliver Twist from 1948. Hey, it's not Tarvaris versus Sam, but it's classic.
Sabres ruin Stamkos' return to Lightning with 3-1 win
Seguin's hat trick leads Stars in rout of Canucks