1. I think this is what I liked about Week 5:
a. Larry Fitzgerald writing "Carol" in cursive on his eye-black strips, honoring his late mother Carol, who died of breast cancer, as the NFL promoted breast-cancer awareness in October games.
b. Chris Long, rushing the passer like the second pick in the draft.
c. Randall Cobb and some Packers wearing the "Chuckstrong'' T-shirts under their unis, their tribute to Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano, who's battling leukemia.
d. Dunta Robinson's corner blitz, leveling Robert Griffin III early in Washington.
e. Really impressed with Alfred Morris, the Washington running back. I know Mike Shanahan doesn't want to hear about it, but his ability to make defenders miss and hit holes quickly reminds me of another sixth-round pick, Terrell Davis, a star running back for Shanahan in Denver.
f. Catch of the day: Reggie Wayne's one-hander against the Packers -- while getting his right hand held. And not far behind it in Week 5 was the one-handed grab by Danny Amendola on Thursday night.
g. Great in-line block of B.J. Raji by Anthony Costanzo.
h. Ed Reed. The ball just finds him.
i. Dan Fouts, doing color on Baltimore-KC: "This is just horrible offense the Chiefs have run." Good CBS graphic too, showing the Chiefs with 10 turnovers in the previous seven quarters.
j. The New England running game is a revelation: two straight games of 200 yards rushing.
k. Terminally underrated Marques Colston.
l. Stevie Brown, who is helping save the Giants' wounded secondary, with an interception and fumble recovery.
m. Well, I'll be darned: Sunday was the third time in Alex Smith's eight-year career that he had a 300-yard passing game. Regardless of what you think of Smith, it's amazing in this age that any quarterback who's played a lot in eight years has only three of those.
2. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 5:
a. Percy Harvin the special teams player of the month for September? Way off the mark. Nine players returned kicks for touchdowns in the month. Harvin was one of them. Greg Zuerlein (12 of 12 in field goals, seven from beyond 45 yards in the month) had one of the best months a kicker has ever had. Harvin shouldn't be penalized for being Harvin and being taken for granted, but he didn't have nearly as impactful a month as Zuerlein did.
b. The Arizona offensive line. Last eight quarters: 17 sacks allowed. Doubt Russ Grimm slept very well over the weekend.
c. Just wondering something about the Steelers: Did they, you know, practice offense at all during the last week?
d. The awful non-pass-interference call the officials overlooked in the end zone against Charles Woodson, who got away with manhandling Reggie Wayne. If that's not interference, nothing is.
e. Billy Cundiff, who has missed four of his past five field goals. Guy's got a great leg. It's got to be a mental thing with him now.
f. Brandon Weeden's carelessness, throwing a pick on 3rd-and-1, deep in Giants' territory, seemingly about to go up 14.
g. Ray Lewis, who really got pushed around by the Chiefs. That weight loss looks like it's hurting him a lot. He just isn't a factor against the run the way he used to be.
h. Chiefs offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, down 6-3 in the third quarter, with a 3rd-and-12, called a draw play to Jamaal Charles. Guys, if you have zero faith in your quarterback, pull him and play the backup.
i. Harrison Smith, unjustly ejected.
j. Blaine Gabbert, who looks like he's reverting to his old feeling-the-pressure ways.
3. I think Andy Reid, after watching Mike Vick lose two more fumbles in the first quarter at Pittsburgh, has to be thinking about benching Vick. Not today, but soon, if Vick can't hold onto it. That's 11 turnovers in the first 17 quarters of the season.
4. I think the NFL's strategy of making the officials invisible, which for the first 28 years I've covered the league was the mantra about the zebras, got shot down during the lockout and subsequent settlement. It's a good thing for Roger Goodell to put in his memory bank for the next labor dispute, the prospect that those employees being locked out could generate the kind of empathy that the officials did this year. I can imagine the suits in the NFL office going apoplectic seeing Ed Hochuli on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The NFL helped make the officials rock stars by showing what the game was like without them.
5. I think this will be my last dispatch from the Replacement Officials Front: I had a conversation with Jim Core, the NAIA ref, World Geography teacher and public school activities director from Meridian, Idaho, and came away thinking: The NFL's lucky the first three weeks of this season weren't more of a debacle.
Core was a late replacement for the referee on the crew due to officiate the Giants-Cowboys game on opening night. Because the ref on the league's top-rated crew in the preseason had been injured, the league tabbed Core to pull double-duty on the first weekend, doing the Giants-Cowboys game with a new crew and the Raiders-Chargers Monday night with his own crew. "I didn't even meet the guys on my crew for the Giants game until that day in the hotel in New Jersey,'' he said. The league got away with one there.
Officials often say chemistry among the crew, and the relationship between the ref and six other field officials, is vital. And this crew did a creditable job that night. You barely noticed they were borderline amateurs. "What surprised me about that night,'' said Core, "is I'd been told there would be a difference between the intensity of the preseason and the regular season, and I didn't really notice one. The game really wasn't faster.''
After the game, Core said he remembers Roger Goodell coming in to congratulate the officials on a job well done. He doesn't remember exactly what Goodell said because, as Core said, "I was in the back, doing my own little happy dance."
Three other observations from Core: He didn't like how hard and how intensely Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano worked the crew during the Giants-Bucs game in Week 2 and called the crashing of the Victory Formation "something you'd see at a high school level.'' Core's crew had the Chargers twice, and he said Philip Rivers "was pretty much a jerk'' (though he wouldn't give specifics) and said one player after the Falcons-Chargers game in Week 3 said, "You guys are horrible." And he praised the class of Giants coach Tom Coughlin, saying he "treated us as total professionals."
Now it's back to the NAIA's Frontier Conference in the Pacific Northwest. "It's still football, and I'll enjoy it,'' he said.
6. I think I'm not sure if Ray Lewis will retire after this season or next, but enjoy watching him play while you can. When he leaves he'll be able to watch his son, Ray Lewis III, play either running back or linebacker for his alma mater, Miami, and will begin what I think will be a lucrative career on TV and behind podiums as a public speaker.
I asked someone who's seen Ray Lewis III play in high school what kind of player he is. "Intense, like Ray,'' the guy said. "And he's got some real talent as a running back. He's definitely a Division I player.'' Ray Lewis III was born on the Miami campus when his dad was in his last year with the Hurricanes.
7. I think this is another example of the absolute folly of the NFL even thinking about an 18-game schedule: The Jets play Houston tonight. Mark Sanchez will likely be without his top two wideouts (Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill) and his starting tight end (Dustin Keller.) Moreover, four of his eligible pass catchers were picked up off the street by the Jets. This is Week 5. You can't in good conscience think about expanding the regular season. You just can't.
8. I think the season's shaping up as a debacle for Troy Polamalu. Strained that calf muscle again -- apparently seriously. With the Steelers on a short week, I don't see how he's ready for Tennessee Thursday night.
9. I think there's some great work being done on behalf of Ethiopians suffering from desperate poverty by pals and receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. They made a trip to Ethiopia last spring on behalf of Oxfam America and were so impacted by what they saw that they decided to help local farmers try to improve the quality of water and crops.
"The trip was incredibly educational,'' Boldin told me. "I met a man with six kids who works all day for 90 cents a day -- and he has to have three of his kids work with him in the morning instead of going to school. People just can't fathom the poverty. You have livestock drinking out of the same water supply as the people. I grew up in the projects, but I can tell my situation growing up was 100 times better than the average person in Ethiopia.''
Glad to see two very good players doing very good work off the field.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. What a homecoming for Penn State. Happy for Bill O'Brien. Down 11 in the fourth quarter. Ran 98 plays ... 98! Beat previously unbeaten Northwestern. Won four in a row. Never would have figured that. My State College correspondent, Emily Kaplan, texted after the touchdown that put Penn State up 39-28: "On the field now and students are chanting, 'Bill O'Brien!' ''
b. Bobby V whacked. Now there's a stunner.
c. Baseball Stat of the Week: Marco Scutaro had more hits (190-184) and scored more runs (87-86) than Jose Reyes this year. More Scutaro: He was better than Albert Pujols in runs, hits, on-base percentage and stolen bases. So glad to see a hardworking player like the Giants' Scutaro be able to play every day and have a chance to be a key guy on a playoff team.
d. Quote of the Week, and the quote for all weeks, comes from Adam Greenberg, after his strikeout against R.A. Dickey of the Mets, in his celebrated at-bat for the Marlins the other night, the at-bat that took seven years to materialize. "I don't care what's gone on the last seven years. It's all worth it for this moment. It's going to last for an eternity for me.''
For those who find it cheapens the sporting experience to see Greenberg get this at-bat, go rain on someone else's column today. This was a terrific experience for Greenberg, for the Marlins, for the 29,000 people in the stands that night, and for those of us who love happy endings, even when the happy ending in question is a strikeout.
e. Runner-up for baseball quote of the week goes to the departing Chipper Jones, after he made an important error in the Braves' Wild Card loss to St. Louis Friday: "My heart is broken. Not for me, but for my teammates, my coaching staff and these fans who have been so great to us this year.''
f. There's a guy baseball will miss.
g. Because of the controversy over who should win the MVP -- Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera or phenom outfielder Mike Trout -- I asked my friend Pete Abraham, who covers baseball for the Boston Globe, for his thoughts. I love the way Pete thinks about the game. His view:
"The crux of any argument that Mike Trout should be the American League MVP instead of Miguel Cabrera is this: The award is for most valuable player, not most valuable hitter. It's historic that Cabrera won the first Triple Crown since 1967. But becoming the answer to a trivia question did not make him a better overall player than Trout. The rookie center fielder of the Angels had excellent traditional statistics. He hit .326 with 30 home runs and 83 RBIs as a leadoff hitter over 139 games. The Angels didn't bring him up until April 28, or he might have had a few more RBIs. Trout also was 49 of 54 stealing bases and led the AL with 129 runs scored.
"But the statistic that stands out is WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. It measures how many wins a player is worth above an average replacement. In other words, it determines how many wins Derek Jeter would be worth to the Yankees instead of Eduardo Nunez. The stat takes into account offensive production, base running and defensive abilities. The math is complicated, but the theory really isn't. It's a better way of evaluating players. Trout has a 10.0 WAR. Cabrera was third in the AL at 7.1. As good as Cabrera is at the plate, Trout helped create more runs with his legs and saved more runs with his glove. This isn't hocus-pocus. Carl Yastrzemski had a 12.1 WAR in 1967, blowing away Brooks Robinson (8.6). WAR is an excellent measure of value and when you consider it, it's hard not to pick Trout as the MVP.''
h. He makes a good case. I would still probably vote for Cabrera, whose team made the playoffs while Trout's did not, and who volunteered to move from first to third so the Tigers could sign Prince Fielder, meaning that I think there should be an asterisk next to his fielding statistics. But it's very close, and I see the Trout side more clearly because of Pete's explanation.
i. So what was a worse call -- the Golden Tate touchdown by the replacement side judge in Seattle two weeks ago, or the infield-fly rule call Friday night in Atlanta? I say Golden Tate. In the baseball call, by the wording of the rule, the shortstop could have caught the ball by making "ordinary effort,'' as the baseball rule states. We see shortstops making that sort of play nightly in baseball. Maybe three times a night. Does the left fielder call him off sometimes? Yes. But that play is an ordinary baseball play, even if it's 50 feet behind where the shortstop might normally play.
Maybe baseball needs to word the rule differently, and take into account the distance traveled to get to a ball, or say the infield-fly rule is only in play within 10 feet of the skin of the infield. I wouldn't have blamed the ump if he didn't make the call, but I don't think -- as the rule is written -- that it was a bad call.
j. You'll enjoy Terry Francona as your manager, Cleveland.
k. Best manager of this era? Tony LaRussa or Buck Showalter?
l. Maybe it's because I'm 55 and I respect, but am not ruled by, the new baseball metrics, but Miguel Cabrera winning the Triple Crown is a very big deal to me.
m. Of course I watched the presidential debate. But I've told my editors I wouldn't be throwing out any partisan or non-partisan opinions on the race. Sorry. I know how many of you look forward to my well-informed take on politics.
n. So would I be allowed to say that the annual cost to every man, woman and child in the United States for PBS is $1.35, or should I keep that to myself?
o. Coffeenerdness: Green Mountain French Roast in the Keurig cups, which the NBC Sports Network has at its studios in Stamford, Conn., is the best brewed-turned-instant coffee I've had.
p. Beernerdness: I'd be the last to complain about the best beer on earth, Allagash White of Portland, Maine, except in this regard: I keep looking for it in places in New Jersey (I've given up on most spots in New York, other than bars where it's on tap), and shopkeepers listed as sellers on the Allagash site either have one four-pack of it left, or are sold out, and invariably say, "It's hard to keep this stuff in stock." I guess Allagash shouldn't make such a great product -- or maybe I should shut up about how good a beer it is.
q. Attention, idiots lording over hockey: You understand, don't you, that fairly soon you're going to ruin a very good thing? Two job actions in the last 18 years have robbed the public of 1,698 games, and the league has canceled the first two weeks of this season.
r. Congrats, Jennifer Livingston of WKBT TV in La Crosse, Wis., for standing up to the emailer who called you a bad role model for girls in the community because you're overweight.
s. No desire to see the final days of The Office. Not even DVRing it. Am I wrong?
t. Finally, my unending thanks to all of you for your support of Steve Gleason's ALS Residence in New Orleans. From this column and Twitter, you've contributed $58,540 as of this morning (the site doesn't include a check for $8,000 from one incredible supporter), so thanks a lot.
Darlington, of NFL.com, wrote a terrific story about the health problems that caused Brian Hartline to lose his appendix and 25 pounds in June when his digestive system shut down. To think that he could be the NFL leading receiver a quarter of the way through the season (in yardage) is pretty amazing when you read Darlington's story.
I've got Houston 33, Jets 13 tonight in the Meadowlands, but the smoke signals coming out of Florham Park, N.J., where the Jets train, were of a team that's mad as heck and not going to take getting pushed around, particularly in the run game.
Coming off a game in which the Jets were outrushed 245-45, it's the only approach Ryan could take. They can't stop the run, and Shonn Greene is just a guy. "We had nosebleed Wednesday,'' Ryan said after the first practice of the week, which actually was Thursday because of the day-later Monday night scheduled this week. "We put in an extra period. This was one of our coach's ideas and we thought it was a great one. I challenged the staff to come up with things that we think will help our team. One of the things was to have a little period, maybe an eight-minute period, where it's just base runs versus your defense. It's ones versus ones and it's your base power running game against the defense ...
"We put guys out there and just put the ball down and said let's have at it. It was all runs ... I challenged our guys to really compete against each other and the only way to get better is when you go full-speed on each other. That's what we got back to and that's what we did. The period was over and you're thinking, 'Golly, I wish we could keep it going.' We thought we had to improve drastically, our run defense and being able to run the football.''
To put it mildly. I'd love to be able to say I'm convinced the Jets will turn their run game around, but I don't believe. I do think they'll have more resolve in the run defense and play Arian Foster better than they played Frank Gore last week. But with so many of Mark Sanchez's receiving weapons gone or playing hurt, I can't see them putting up enough points to compete with Houston.
The Adieu Haiku
Legend grows for Mr. Luck.
He won one for Chuck.
Cazeneuve: Senators "running on empty" heading back to Pittsburgh
Kings take 3-2 series lead with 3-0 shutout of Sharks