1. I think this is what I liked about Week 14:
a. Well, Greg Hardy, I guess you were right.
b. Nick Foles, who looked like a starting NFL quarterback at Tampa.
c. The tackling machine known as Luke Kuechly. Sixteen more for the Carolina rookie linebacker against the Falcons.
d. Cleveland's ability to smother an offense. Three wins in a row. Didn't think we'd see that out of the 2012 Browns.
e. Victor Cruz's ability to stretch a defense.
f. Nice touch by Dean Spanos, giving Norv Turner the game ball after a too-little, too-late win in Pittsburgh.
g. Colts, 7-1 in their last eight.
h. Marshawn Lynch, with his 128 yards and three rushing touchdowns, even against the white-flag Cards.
i. Colin Kaepernick, 3-1 as a starter, with that gorgeous option run.
j. The Rodney Harrison quote Sunday night: "No one's afraid to play Atlanta."
k. Holy Jason Avant! What a catch in the corner of the end zone by the pride of Verona, N.J., Anthony Fasano.
l. The Rams, who are relevant again, much sooner than we thought they'd be.
m. Nick Fairley, with the mauling sack of Aaron Rodgers pushing the Packers out of realistic field-goal range in a tie game.
n. Seattle's sked. 'Hawks won't face a hostile crowd until the first playoff game, if they make it. They're at Buffalo (actually, at Toronto to play Buffalo), then have the 49ers and Rams at home to close.
o. Good sliding catch for the win in Tampa by Jeremy Maclin.
2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 14:
a. Christian Ponder's ball security. So, so lucky he got away with that incomplete pass while being thrown to the ground. Could well have been a fumble.
b. Horrendous coverage by DeAngelo Hall on the second touchdown reception by Anquan Boldin. Pausing with the ball in the air?
c. Tennessee cornerback Alterraun Verner, not corralling a fumble that could have ended the day for Indy in the second quarter.
d. Way to cost your team 15 yards for taunting Andre Smith, Rob Ryan. (In an otherwise good day for Ryan and the Dallas defense.)
e. Donnie Avery, who will be sick over the perfect Andrew Luck pass that floated through his hands and off his facemask, costing Indy a fourth-quarter touchdown.
i. I like Michael Irvin. I don't like his cackling when I am watching the highlights.
j. The way Robert Griffin III's right leg flailed. I am surprised the thing didn't break in half. And he might play Sunday? That can't be real.
3. I think I have to throw a bouquet out to Army quarterback Trent Steelman. If you watched the Army-Navy game Saturday, your heart had to break for Steelman, a four-year starter who'd never beaten Navy and had Army in position to win the game at the Navy 13 with 64 seconds left, trailing 17-13. Steelman muffed a handoff to Larry Dixon, and Navy recovered to win the game. Steelman wept so uncontrollably that, watching his devastation, you had to almost weep with him. But the Navy coach, Ken Niumatalolo, put it perfectly after the game when he said: We should all be proud as Americans that this guy is going to be defending our country. They don't get any tougher than Trent Steelman."
4. I think Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, at 6-foot-1, will be an intriguing pro whenever he chooses to enter the NFL draft. What's good for him, obviously, is the success of Drew Brees and Russell Wilson, which will diminish the perceived importance of height in a scouting report for quarterbacks.
For those who have asked: College players are not eligible for the draft until after their third season of eligibility is completed, which means Manziel theoretically could enter the draft in 2014 after his third college year and sophomore football season, or in 2015 or in 2016. Andrew Luck had the same option. He redshirted his freshman year at Stanford, 2008, and played in 2009 and 2010, then passed up entering the 2011 draft to play his redshirt junior season in 2011. Then, of course, Luck declared for the 2012 draft, but he could have stayed in to play this season.
5. I think, with all the talk about Jon Gruden's coaching candidacies, remember these things:
a. ESPN would feel betrayed after clearing Ron Jaworski out of the three-man Monday night booth this season if Gruden left. Not that this would prevent Gruden from taking a great job in the NFL, but simply a point to keep in mind. He wouldn't go with ESPN's blessings, regardless what the PR spin is when he leaves.
b. Gruden's going to have to have a veteran quarterback who's smart enough to process and execute the whims of his offense, and to be flexible. A Tony Romo, for instance, or Philip Rivers.
c. I would not be at all surprised if the Cowboys have a bad final three weeks if Jerry Jones goes after Gruden hard.
6. I think Brandon Jacobs cannot hide his disgust any longer at being nothing but an insurance policy for the Niners. Via ProFootballTalk.com, Jacobs wrote on Instagram this week, asked by a fan to put up a photo of him wearing some 49ers gear: "I am on this team rotting away so why would I wanna put any pics up of anything that say niners this is by far the worst year I ever had, I'll tell you like I told plenty others."
I always knew Jacobs wouldn't take the bench well. He never did in New Jersey either.
7. I think the kickoff debate, spurred by comments Roger Goodell made to TIME this week, won't be the only rules change the Competition Committee is going to study, and I hope it's 2013 and not later. Interesting history lesson here: The abolition of the extra point was first discussed 60-plus years ago by then-commissioner Bert Bell. His son, Upton, told me about it over the weekend.
"My father, being a coach and player, really thought about how important the rules would be to a new and more wide open game,'' said Upton Bell in an email to me. "He was constantly talking about getting rid of the extra point and making the field goal the focal point, second only to a touchdown. He thought the extra point was unnecessary and that he could improve the quality of the game by having the touchdown count for six or seven without kicking the extra point. In the year he became commissioner (1946), he tried to sell the idea that by eliminating the extra point, it would take away another option of the gamblers and how they set the point spread.
"By the fifties, he had Paul Brown sold on it. So again, he tried in 1951 to get the owners to agree with it, along with bringing in one of his favorite projects, sudden death. He was particularly interested in the effect of the extra point on television. He thought it slowed the game down. Both times, he got close but didn't have enough votes. He finally got sudden death through but I can remember him, almost until the day he died, talking about how he wanted to get rid of the extra point.
"Ironically, when I owned a team in the World Football League in Charlotte, one of the few things that the League did well was abolish the extra point and you went for two points, which was called 'the action point.' Believe it or not, for the two years we survived, it was one of the most exciting plays in the game and forced coaches to really think and plan. That's what I think would happen if the NFL got rid of the extra point and forced the coaches to make a decision.''
Just for your information, in the last 45 NFL regular season weeks, kickers have missed 23 extra points. That's 23 misses in 705 games (not including Sunday). I've been harping on this and probably won't stop: Why waste 45 seconds on a play that's 99.3 percent certain (which it's been since the start of the 2010 season)?
8. I think the NFL must look at the picture-perfect hit by Reggie Nelson to the sternum of Dez Bryant to jar a reception loose from Bryant. Must. And if the officiating staff of Carl Johnson can look at this hit and justify the personal foul on Nelson, then I have to think about covering another sport. A stunning and stupid penalty. Defenders have to be allowed to defend, for crying out loud.
9. I think -- and I don't care how much of an Eagles homer this makes me sound like -- I was happy to see the delight on the Philadelphia sideline as the seconds ticked off on the win in Tampa. That's not an eight-game-losing-streak team, and it doesn't mean Andy Reid is suddenly a lousy coach. It's football. And it's good to see the seeds planted with a young quarterback like Nick Foles bear fruit -- he improvised on the winning drive, inventing a fourth-down-conversion pass in the huddle.
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. Johnny Football is a good Heisman choice, but for many reasons, I thought Manti Te'o was a better one.
b. Nothing against Manziel (how many first-year starting quarterbacks walk into Tuscaloosa and beat Nick Saban and the unbeaten Tide?), and I don't watch a lot of college football, so I shouldn't have a vote. But think of this: Where was Notre Dame before this season in the eyes of America? Not ranked in the AP writers' poll, ranked 24th in the USA Today coaches' poll.
With an inconsistent offense all season, Te'o was huge in so many big wins -- two picks of Denard Robinson in beating Michigan, a late pick of Landry Jones to seal the win over Oklahoma, leading goal-line stands against Stanford and USC, and, arguably, the best leader on any team in college football. They stand No. 1 now, the only unbeaten team in the land, and I agree with Brian Kelly: If Te'o doesn't win the Heisman this year, no defensive player will ever win it.
c. David Stern on my old state (N.J.) supporting the addition of sports gambling to the landscape: "New Jersey has no idea what it's doing." Hey! Them's fightin' words!
d. My thanks to coach Andrew MacKay and the Ashland (Mass.) Clockers football team for hosting me at the team awards breakfast Saturday. I miss high school sports, and Saturday was a great example of what I'm missing -- good kids, good coaches, great life lessons.
e. Coffeenerdness: Nothing like the 1:16 a.m. pot of Starbucks Italian Roast to jolt you awake and make 4,000 more words seem not such a hopeless task. I'd mainline it if I could.
f. Beernerdness: Can't beat getting off a train in Providence Friday night and finding the Luxe Burger Bar a few steps away with the last few minutes of Celtics-Sixers, and Harpoon IPA on tap. Now that's a quality 90 minutes before bed right there.
g. So I made my semi-annual pilgrimage to my favorite restaurant in New Jersey, Osteria Giotto in Montclair, the other night. And I thought about lots of different things to order, but I did what I do nine out of 10 times there: "Lasagna." And our server, Marisa, told me every time I go in there and have the lasagna and then mention it in the column, they have a run on lasagna and can't keep it in the place. Well, tell the boss to make extra this week, Marisa.
It's never been better than I had the other night. So good, in fact, that I got two pieces to go and froze one. I took Brandon Jacobs there before the NFC title game almost five years ago, and he was so smitten with the lasagna that he got four pieces to go.
h. I like that Royals-Rays trade for Kansas City, because I'm very partial to James Shields and like Wade Davis too. I guess the outfielder Tampa Bay got, Will Myers, might be the best player in minor-league baseball, and obviously the Rays know what they're doing. But this is the first time in forever Kansas City looks to have a major-league rotation (Shields, Davis, the enigmatic Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie and someone). The Royals might be OK.
i. It's entirely possible the Red Sox are the fifth-best team in the East. Just because you spend $13 million a year on Shane Victorino doesn't make him a $13-million-a-year player.
j. Chris Christie on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart was kid-like talking about hugging his new best friend, Bruce Springsteen. Cute.
Dillon, an SI.com columnist, wrote a terrific story last week about the forgotten man in the Comeback Player of the Year derby, Carolina linebacker Thomas Davis. Davis, who clearly has to be in the discussion for Comeback Player, has had his right knee reconstructed three times in three years -- in November 2009, March 2010 and September 2011, and had sincere doubts about going through a third rehab after the last one. But he did. And as Davis told Dillon: "I feel like I'm doing this for guys who are to come. I'm doing it for the guys who are going to go through injuries and the teams that are going to have to make decisions on guys that have been injured. Don't give up on the player. And if you're a player, don't give up on your dreams."
Re my pick for tonight -- New England 27, Houston 23 -- I think the Patriots will struggle protecting Tom Brady if Sebastian Vollmer is missing with his stiff back. It's got to be all relatively healthy hands on deck if New England's going to be able to block left end J.J. Watt and keep him from wrecking the Patriots game plan.
The skill players for New England, and missing Rob Gronkowski (broken forearm) for at least another week and Julian Edelman (foot) for the season? I don't worry much about that for them. As Houston safety Danieal Manning told me, "Tom throws to anybody -- he just doesn't care. Even with Gronkowski down, they're not in trouble. I faced [backup tight end] Visanthe Shiancoe when I played for the Bears and he was in Minnesota, and he's a stud. There's no way they'll be worried about the guys they don't have. Their depth is so good.''
This game has the feel of one of the great Monday night games, with the two teams a combined 20-4 and the Patriots on fire. Neither team has lost since Oct. 14. It's reminiscent in some ways to the Giants-49ers game on Dec. 3, 1990, when New York and San Francisco entered with twin 10-1 records. The Niners won 7-3, stopping the Giants on four shots inside the 10-yard line midway through the fourth quarter.
But the biggest takeaway from that game was the near-fight between Ronnie Lott and Phil Simms after the game, when Lott went crazy because of something he thought Simms had said about him before the game. Crazy story: Jim Burt went to San Francisco in the twilight of his career, and he played for the Niners in this game against the team that made him famous. A few hours before the game, Burt told Lott a phony story to get him fired up. He said Simms thought Lott was overrated, washed up and went out of his way to avoid big hits. Lott was a crazyman all game, and sought out Simms afterward, and they went facemask-to-facemask before being pulled apart.
Not enough bad blood between New England and Houston; they've met only three times, and never with much on the line.
"I'll be telling my grandchildren someday I played against Tom Brady,'' Danieal Manning said. "These are the kinds of games you love playing in."
Can't imagine Danieal Manning and Brady going face-to-face after this one, unless it's to say, "Nice game."
Yo! Adrian! And
I don't mean Talia Shire.
You smell a record.