What do you say? What can you possibly tell a father intending to go back to work after returning from a funeral for his infant son? What words can adequately address a circumstance that mixes feelings of incredible sorrow with tremendous admiration?
Jon Gruden came up with seven.
"Thank you for being here for us," the Tampa Bay coach told his kicker, Matt Bryant, during the team meeting on the eve of the Buccaneers' game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
The Bucs won, 30-21. Bryant connected on all three of his field-goal attempts, including a 24-yarder that put Tampa Bay in front for good with 2:26 left, and all three of his extra-point tries.
But Gruden and everyone else connected with the Buccaneers and pretty much anyone with a pulse certainly would have understood if he had chosen not to take part in the game. His 3-month-old son, Tryson, had suddenly passed away only a few days earlier. The Buccaneers were prepared to add a temporary replacement kicker, but the decision was totally Bryant's.
The team provided a private jet to fly him to Texas, where he and his wife buried their son on Saturday. Bryant returned to Tampa later in the day, but that didn't mean he had to show up for the meeting or play in the game.
The fact he did is something Gruden, as well as so many of us, will never forget.
"It's just sudden tragedy that you can't even fathom," the coach said. "For him to go to the funeral and then fly back and go to the team meeting and then lay down that kind of performance, it just puts things in the proper perspective and tells you a lot about what kind of human being this guy is.
"He came back and kicked for the guys. He knew we needed him, man. We all know, (facing) the Green Bay Packers, it was going to come down to a kick or it was going to come down to any point you can make.
"He needed football, he needed his teammates, he needed the fans. He needed some kind of, I just think, distraction to just get away from all of the horrible nightmares that he and his wife are going through."
Gruden remembered several years ago, when he was Oakland's coach, that the brother of then-Raiders linebacker William Thomas suddenly died right before a game against the New York Giants. Thomas traveled, via private jet, to the funeral and returned in time for kickoff. "And he played the greatest game I've ever seen him play," Gruden recalled. "He basically honored his brother in his performance."
Just as Bryant said he wanted to do for his son.
Gruden had complete faith that Thomas would be able to maintain enough focus to play effectively. He felt the same about Bryant.
"I just have a lot of confidence in him," Gruden said. "We just tried to help support him and show as much love and confidence in him as we always have. The hearts of our team and our fans just poured out to him; it was quite an emotional place. We're just really proud of him and, at the same time, we're just heartbroken for him. It really hit all of us hard."
The hit has not stopped reverberating. For the Bryants, it never will.
Gruden understands that his kicker's psyche is going to continue to be delicate, that the emotions swirling around Raymond James Stadium on Sunday are going to stay with Bryant and the rest of the team for a long time.
"Just because he kicked the game-winning field goal, it doesn't mean his pains are going to go away," Gruden said. "This is a tragedy he'll never get over, and we've just got to keep trying to help him. It's something he's going to have to deal with the rest of his life, and that's when you need friends and you need support.
"It's not going to be easy for him."
Steelers have a lot to prove
It's hard to say just how good the Pittsburgh Steelers should feel about their overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night.
It isn't just that they lost offensive guard Kendall Simmons to a season-ending ruptured Achilles or rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall to a season-ending shoulder injury. It isn't just that their offensive line offers minimal protection to Ben Roethlisberger, whose constant exposure to pressure and hits could very well put him on the sideline along with Simmons, Mendenhall, and running back Willie Parker.
The problem is that the Steelers don't truly seem to have anything on which they can hang the notion of being a contender in the AFC. Their defense? Is performing well enough on that side of the ball to allow them to barely beat the Ravens at home cause for confidence? I don't think so. That was a rookie playing quarterback for Baltimore, and he still managed to make some big plays. And that was a Raven offense that hardly posed a serious threat with its running game.
The Steelers are going to come up against better opponents, certainly ones with better offenses. When their defense isn't able to win a game, can their offense do the job? Based on Monday night's performance and on the pathetic offensive showing against Philadelphia in Week 3, it doesn't seem likely.
More Monday night musings
» The Ravens should feel pretty good about their rookie quarterback, Joe Flacco. He didn't seem a bit overwhelmed with performing on the primetime stage. And Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron made no attempt to "protect" him with a safe game plan. Flacco threw 31 times, two fewer than Baltimore's rushing attempts.
Flacco was efficient, accurate, and put good zip on the ball when necessary. The bottom line is that he led the Ravens on a drive that tied the game in the fourth quarter and put them in a position to win. You can't ask for much more from your quarterback.
But Flacco still has a great deal to learn, and Monday night's game crystallized some of the major differences in facing NFL competition as opposed to what he saw at the University of Delaware. One, you can't hold onto the ball too long, which contributed to some of his five sacks. Two, you need to move the offense with a greater sense of urgency. Three, you can't put too much air under the ball.
Still, Flacco's performance not only had to be a boost to his confidence, but it also gave his teammates and coaches more reason to trust the kid at the controls of the offense.
» The Steelers only got their offense in gear when, at Roethlisberger's insistence, they reverted to the two-minute drill in the second half. Big Ben was more comfortable calling his own plays on the fly, and it showed. The rest of the Steelers' offense also responded well. But it's hard to imagine that the Steelers could keep up this pace through an entire game and/or on a regular basis for the balance of the season. Although Roethlisberger was not sacked in the second half after being dumped three times in the first, he still makes himself extremely vulnerable in the pocket with his style of play. Roethlisberger long ago established he is almost always going to react slowly to pressure, hanging in until the last possible second to try and make something happen, and that would figure to only create greater vulnerability under the often chaotic atmosphere of a hurry-up approach.
Why Haslett will succeed
I've known Jim Haslett since his playing days in the NFL, and I can give you four reasons why he has a good chance of remaining the coach of the St. Louis Rams beyond the interim status he received after Monday's firing of Scott Linehan: The tremendous toughness he displayed as a player is an integral part of his coaching style, and that is something the Rams desperately need after players stopped responding to the softer and less decisive approach of Linehan; he makes a point of connecting on a personal level with all of his players each day, building a relationship of trust that tends to ultimately show itself in a good way on the field; he isn't afraid to seek advice from knowledgeable football people from his expansive network of friends with player-personnel and coaching backgrounds; he has learned from the mistakes of his previous head-coaching stint, with New Orleans.
T.O. speaks up
It only took one loss for Terrell Owens to complain that he isn't a large enough part of the Cowboys' offense. That might have been true in Week 3 against Green Bay, but it wasn't the case against Washington. The Cowboys lost that game mainly because they didn't run the ball enough and because their defense couldn't stop Jason Campbell and the rest of the Redskins' passing attack. Owens always wants us to believe that when he speaks out, tossing his quarterback and coaches under the bus in the process, he is just showing his competitive nature. Not true. What he is showing is what we have seen so many times before -- the ability to destroy whatever cohesion his team, even one loaded with multiple stars, is able to build. Managing their ultra-high expectations is hard enough for the Cowboys without Owens being so quick to place blame when things turn sour. Any chance he'll figure that out? I'm not holding my breath.
Forte making a difference
Matt Forte might not be the most dynamic rookie in the NFL this season, but he is a good one. His persistent, grinding style of running has served the Chicago Bears well so far and should continue to do so. Although he had only 43 yards on 19 carries against the Eagles, he did enough to help Kyle Orton find the openings for some key pass completions. Other runners might be flashier and have better numbers, but there is no discounting Forte's importance to the Bears' being very much in the hunt in the wide-open NFC North.
Titans bringing the D
Future opponents can't help but wince as they watch videotape of the Titans' punishing defense. That figures to give Tennessee a substantive psychological advantage going forward. The other thing you have to like about this team is the well-grounded attitude of its key leaders. An example was the way veteran linebacker Keith Bullock addressed reporters on the giddiness of being 4-0: "We still have a chance to go 4-12."