"Hold it up!"
Atlanta Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall had just scooped up a gift fumble from Tennessee Titans running back LenDale White and began bolting for the end zone. On the NFL Total Access set, where the NFL GameDay and NFL Scoreboard crews convene to watch games every Sunday, Deion Sanders jumped out of his seat.
"Hold it up!"
In my season-and-a-half working with Deion, I've noticed that very little phases the future Hall of Famer by way of Florida State. I mean, the man has been there and done that. In two sports. But, it's not like Deion has lost his passion for the game. Far from it. In fact, nothing gets him more fired up than watching one of his several protégés in the NFL take one to the house. Ed Reed. Devin Hester. And should anyone hold the ball up in the air en route to the house in tribute to Prime Time, well, that right there is the cherry on top.
"Hold it UP!!!!"
Deion was now standing several feet in front of all of us, screaming at the TV screen featuring Hall, who wears No. 21 in Prime's honor. But, quizzically, Hall didn't raise the ball in the air, as he did last year when he snagged a "pick six" off Kurt Warner. Even stranger, Junior Seau, of all people, did it a few minutes later.
Indeed, in Week 5, San Diego's most famous "graduate" snagged a Derek Anderson pass over the middle for his second interception of the game -- his first two interceptions in five years. As Seau weaved through the traffic, dodging one Cleveland Brown after another, the 18-year veteran suddenly took the ball and waved it high in the air. In the center of the field. What in the world got into his head? The Graduate is going to find it awfully hard to complete the Master's degree program at the University of Belichick if he keeps doing that.
"It was a fun time and, obviously, I'm going to get reprimanded," Seau said, adding he even thought of lateraling the ball a la Randy Moss prior to holding it up a la Deion Sanders. "Coach wouldn't have liked that, either. So I didn't want to have two whammies in one play."
Said the coach in question, Bill Belichick, when questioned about Seau's uncharacteristic antics: "Junior adds a lot of energy to our defense, but I don't know what Junior is thinking sometimes."
Seau as Deion Sanders? Belichick as Rodney Dangerfield? Such was the wackiness of Week 5 in the NFL.
Behold the Monday Night Football contest, an apparent mismatch between the streaking Dallas Cowboys and the banged up Buffalo Bills (in fact, the Bills have been so perennially injury-marred that the term "banged up Buffalo Bills" may soon qualify as redundant). Instead of a blowout, what we got was one of the best Monday Night games in recent memory, right up there with the Dolphins-Jets all-nighter in 2000, the Colts comeback on the Buccaneers in 2003 and last year's "Crown Their Ass" Bears-Cardinals contest, an instant classic that also happens to be the last time a team turned the ball over six times and still won.
If we only had some First 5/17ths of the NFL Season Awards to hand out. (But we don't because, like the ESPYs, the First 3/17ths of the NFL Season Awards only happen once a year, right?) If we did have a 5/17th to dole out, the Buffalo Bills would receive this year's Marty Schottenheimer Award for Most Harrowing Defeats.
Think about it. The Bills had Denver dead to rights in the season opener, until the very end. If you recall, with the clock running under 10 seconds, the Broncos field goal unit ran onto the field like a volunteer fire company and, without calling a time out, Jason Elam got off his game-winning kick in the nick of time. It was Denver's only lead of the game. Then cut to Week 5, when the Bills, playing their first Monday night home game in 13 years, honoring the Hall of Fame induction of Thurman Thomas, leading the undefeated Dallas Cowboys by 10 points thanks to six turnovers by Media Darling Tony Romo, still lost. And the Bills lost that double-digit lead by allowing the following to unfold: A last-minute touchdown, a subsequent on-sides kick and a rookie field goal kicker booting the game-winning 53-yard field goal not once but twice. All to preserve an unbeaten season and first 5-0 start in 25 years for the very same franchise that tormented Thurman Thomas more than any other.
Again, if only we could get Joan Rivers back on that red carpet. Dick Jauron isn't here tonight, so to accept the 5/17th Marty Schottenheimer Award for Most Harrowing Defeats on his behalf is… Marty Schottenheimer!
As for Dallas, there's a lot of talk of how the bloom came off the Romo rose because of his five picks and one lost fumble against Buffalo. But, I'm on the opposite end of that spectrum. Despite his propensity for continuously throwing the ball to the opposition Monday night, Romo kept firing away, displaying the necessary instant amnesia a quarterback must have to succeed, certainly in a game on the road. As Brent Musburger might say: "That's moxie, folks!" Certainly, Romo's uncanny self-confidence came in handy at crunch time, when he went 11-for-14 for 89 yards and a touchdown in the final two (game-saving and game-winning) drives.
This now makes two instances in which Romo has proven his mettle under adverse conditions -- the other being his entire performance to date coming off the botched hold in the 2006 playoffs that many thought would send him into a 2007 tailspin. But not Romo, who apparently will keep on flinging it with abandon. In case you're keeping score at home, Romo is now only 256 career interceptions behind Favre, who, by the way, with one errant throw against Washington this weekend, will set the all-time record in that department, too.
When Brett Favre throws his 278th NFL career interception, breaking the all-time record, will they pause for George Blanda to deliver a message on the big screen?
See you at Wembley,
EdBed, United Kingdom*
Outstanding return to the blog, EdBed -- one of the many Brits who dutifully read this space with regularity. (I tried to sound British in that last sentence, by the way.) Whilst we're on the subject of Favre (winding down the whole sounding-like-a-Brit portion of the blog, I promise), this wacky Week 5 also restored a normal order of things to the NFL.
The defending NFC champion Bears are back, with a fourth straight win in Green Bay. The Chargers are back, too, with a rare win in Denver on two accounts -- they've now won back-to-back games in Denver for the first time in 29 years and Denver suffered its worst home loss in 31 years. The Steelers bounced back from their first loss of the Mike Tomlin era by looking more like their 2005 version than the Seahawks, as Pittsburgh routed Seattle 21-0 without starters Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, Santonio Holmes and Casey Hampton.
Now, the Bears and Chargers are one division home win away -- against the Vikings and Raiders, respectively -- from being .500 and back to square one through six weeks. The Chargers and Bears may just wind up being factors this year, after all. And those Pittsburgh Steelers will just simply not allow us in the media to start dubbing the Week 9 contest between the Patriots and the Colts, try as hard as we might, as the de facto AFC Championship Game preview.
But nothing -- not the Steelers, not even the still-undefeated actual defending champion Indianapolis Colts -- nothing (!) can stop us folks in the media from unabashedly touting this week's game as a de facto Super Bowl preview all week long. You, the fans, already smell that hype machine coming ...
Sorry, Tony. A fitting idea from a Veterans Affair Representative. Putting the pitting of America's Team against the Patriots on a national evening broadcast sounds like quite an American concept. But, it's not happening. CBS has the rights to that massive game, only the fifth contest between teams at 5-0 or better in league history. So, late Sunday afternoon, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will put on their Arnold Brandt-designed CBS Sports jackets and bring you the action on America's Most Watched Network. In fact, I've researched it: The only way NBC or ESPN could get the rights to this game is if Horatio Cane came off the CSI: Miami set, put on his sunglasses, declared it a murder and ripped it from CBS's cold, dead hands.
But, I digress.
Get Rich, Quick
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Back to the whole restoration of NFL order in Week 5 thing. It sadly did not happen for two struggling playoff teams from 2006 -- the Jets and the Saints both lost for a fourth time Sunday. Now, they say (although I never know who "they" is; maybe "they" is what "they" is) the difference between winning and losing in the NFL is slim. And that difference manifests itself in many ways. For instance, last year the Jets offense was called things like "innovative" and "intricate." Now, after a 1-4 start in a division that already is all but sealed in favor of New England, the Jets offense is called things like "gadget-driven" and the worst of all faint praises: "finesse." Other than being despondent over the late-season collapse of their Mets, the sudden and apparent end of the Joe Torre Era in the Bronx and the unmitigated disaster that is the Knicks, New York sports fans are most up in arms about another year seeming to go down the tubes for the Jets.
Many J-E-T-S Jets fans complain about the lack of a big-time, big-armed vertical passing game, even though nothing is prettier in the game today than Laveranues Coles snagging a rainbow Chad Pennington pass at its highest point. It happened twice against the Giants. But, it's not about the passing game, folks. The Jets rank 19th in the league with six passing plays of over 25 yards and 21st overall in yards per pass attempt (6.7). Not terrific numbers, for sure, but much better than these: 25th in the league in run defense, 29th in the league in rushing offense and tied for last in the league in yards per rush, a mere 3.0 yards per pop. It's about the run, people. The Jets can't stop it, nor, despite the much ballyhooed addition of Thomas Jones, have they been able to execute it.
And then we have the officially freefalling 0-4 New Orleans Saints. It's a tough thing to say, and part of me still doesn't believe it, but the more the 2007 Saints struggle the more credence can be lent to the argument the 2006 Saints were a flash in the pan. I was one of the many so-called experts who thought these Saints were loaded for Bears -- not only for 2007 but well into the future. But, boy, does this team have holes or what? Especially on defense! Offensively, every facet of the team has gone south in a hurry, specifically Drew Brees - a stunning nine picks and only one touchdown for the 2006 Pro Bowler. You think the Jets' big-play offensive numbers are lacking? Try this one for size: the top-ranked offense from 2006 currently is tied for 27th in the league with a mere four pass plays of 25-plus yards and dead last in the NFL with 5.25 yards per pass attempt.
"If we continue to make the dumb mistakes, drop as many passes, penalize ourselves on big plays, not take advantage of our field position, then it's hard for the result to change," said Saints coach Sean Payton. "There's a lot of blame to go around here and it's not just the kicker. There are a handful of positions that we need to evaluate closely and make sure we're playing the right guys."
He wasn't kidding. Payton and the Saints spent all day Tuesday holding a host of auditions at kicker, running back, you name it. There was even a Mike Vanderjagt sighting in New Orleans -- sadly five weeks too late for a Drunk, Idiot Kicker Reunion in Indianapolis. Next up for New Orleans: A Sunday night trip to Seattle, where the Seahawks will be eager to get the awful taste of their dreadful Pittsburgh performance out of their collective mouths. Certainly after that loss dropped them to second place behind the Arizona Cardinals, who find themselves as division leaders heading into Week 6 just like … the Oakland Raiders.
Excellent work once again. Except for one minor detail. The entire Pacific Northwest doesn't care about the damn SEATTLE WASHINGTON Seahawks. When you misquoted their record nobody here got mad or happy, we didn't even notice because we don't care, that's Canadian news.
I'm from Portland, OR, and only a few people here care about the Canadian Seagulls and that is because they're from Seattle. Let me explain something; Seattle is a four-hour drive from Portland on a good day. Ninety-nine percent of the time, Washington traffic on I-5 resembles Arrowhead's parking lot on game day, not a freeway. Which is almost a relief since once traffic starts moving they drive their '80s-era pickups like maniacs in that state. Two days later, when we finally arrive, we're asked what it is like living in a one-horse "Cootertown" by a bunch of pale-faced jittery snobs that think they're the next Bill Gates. No wonder Boeing packed up and left.
Portlanders are tired of being forced to live in Seattle's shadow … Most of us grew up 49er fans more than anything. So please, next time you refer to [their] fan base please leave my wonderful state and wonderful citizens out of it. Thanks for your time.
Kehl Van Horn
P.S. Go Chiefs!*
Whoa. Kehl. May I call you Kehl? How do you pronounce Kehl? Anyway, let's just take it easy. Although your line about "pale-faced jittery snobs" was a fabulously socio-economic way to smear Seattle for its weather, coffee addiction and liberal arts community, I didn't mean to step on anybody's toes here. No reason to go Trailblazer on me. I just assumed most everyone in Oregon liked the Seahawks. My bad. You all do wear Nikes, though, right?