Melvin Gordon, running back, San Diego. With 261 total yards against an oft-formidable Tennessee front, Gordon controlled the wild 43-35 win over the pesky Titans in San Diego in a crucial game for the long-term future of the franchise. With the Chargers’ stadium initiative needing a two-thirds approval vote Tuesday (not likely under even ideal circumstances), the Chargers just couldn’t lose a game to Tennessee in the final show-me event before the balloting. Gordon took care of that. He led all NFL rushers with 196 yards on 32 carries (with one touchdown), and added 65 yards on four catches. This game was a good template for the Chargers down the stretch: play possession football (they held the ball for over 36 minutes) without turning it over. And it was Gordon who was most responsible for that Sunday.
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Khalil Mack, outside linebacker, Oakland. Two more sacks (7.0 for the year), and also the biggest defensive play of the game for the oh-my-gosh-they’re-really-pretty-good Raiders. Midway through the fourth quarter, Denver down 10 and driving, Mack steamed into quarterback Trevor Siemian and punched the ball out while sacking him. Mack recovered the fumble at the Denver 39, and one minute later the Raiders ran in an insurance touchdown. It was over, and Oakland was the undisputed leader of the AFC West.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
An incredible day of special teams play. Four winners.
Jordan Todman, kick-returner/running back, Indianapolis. Talk about a serendipitous start to a game. Todman took the opening kickoff of a game the pressurized coaching staff and scouting staff had to have at Green Bay at the Colts’ one-yard line. He was never touched. Running through a tremendously well-blocked return unit, Todman didn’t stop until he was in the Green Bay end zone. After 12 seconds, the Colts were up 7-zip.
Kenyon Drake, kick-returner/running back, Miami. He’s not quite Darren Sproles in terms of burst and acceleration, but Drake was one of those guys before the draft last year who had the label of home-run hitter and not an every-down back. His home run beat the Jets on Sunday. With less than six minutes left in Miami, Drake took a Nick Folk kick at the four-yard line and sprinted through the Jets’ kick-coverage team, 96 yards for the game-clinching touchdown. An amazing turn of events.
Matt Prater, kicker, Detroit. Two seconds to go. Fourth quarter. Vikes 16, Lions 13. Lions line up for a 58-yard field goal. Need it to extend the game to overtime, obviously. The amazing thing about this kick? It would have been good from 66, and it was absolutely down the heart of the plate. The Lions lived to play overtime, won the toss and went down the field to score and keep hope alive at 5-3 in the NFC North.
Javorious Allen, running back, Baltimore. An assist is needed here, for Pittsburgh rookie safety Sean Davis, for an abominable matador block that allowed a juking Allen the freedom to rush in and cleanly block a Pittsburgh punt from the left end. Allen absolutely smothered the Jordan Berry punt, and rookie wideout Chris Moore picked it up off the turf and returned it for an insurance touchdown.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Dan Quinn, head coach, Atlanta. This is a nod to Quinn’s complete job over the first half of the season, as well as for the two wins in five days, over Green Bay and Tampa Bay, and for going on the road on a short week and throttling the Bucs on Thursday night. “We looked fresh, we looked fast,” Quinn said after the Falcons, without pass-rusher Dwight Freeney all game and top cover guy Desmond Trufant (shoulder) missing much of it, built a 40-14 lead in the first 50 minutes. “I thought we had a real edge.” Atlanta’s 6-3, and this is a different team from the one that followed a 5-0 start in 2015 with a 3-8 finish. The Falcons play fast, the way Pete Carroll’s Seahawks always play, and the way Quinn polished his head-coaching profile as Carroll’s defensive coordinator in 2013 and ’14.
GOAT OF THE WEEK
Antonio Allen, safety, New York Jets. With the Jets nursing a three-point lead with less than six minutes left, Nick Folk lined up to kick off after the go-ahead touchdown. He kicked, and the Dolphins returned it to the Miami 22. But wait. Allen was a yard offside on the kick, meaning the Jets would now have to kick again, penalized five yards. This time Folk mooned one to the Miami four-yard line, and rookie Kenyon Drake returned it 96 yards for the winning touchdown. Allen’s offside put a dagger in any faint playoff pulse the Jets (3-6) had.
Drew Brees, quarterback, and Michael Thomas, wide receiver, New Orleans. Amazing how quickly Brees and the second-round rookie from Ohio State have formed the sort of quarterback-receiver bond that it typically takes years to build. Why is it the right combination? Because Brees had a very similar receiver, Marques Colston, age out of the lineup at 32; the Saints let him go last spring. And in came Thomas two months later in the draft. How similar are Thomas and Colston? Both around 6'3½”, both around 225 pounds, and both run about a 4.5-second (non-blazing) 40-yard dash. To see why Brees has fallen in like with Thomas, look at his second touchdown catch Sunday, a wrestling match for the ball in the end zone that Thomas won with athletic physicality. For the game, Thomas caught the fourth and fifth touchdown catches of his eight-game career, and he now leads the explosive Saints with 47 catches … on pace for a 94-catch season as a rookie.
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A trip to Bucs coach Dirk Koetter’s office yielded a quite interesting display behind his desk: a helmet from each of his coaching stops. I figured out all—including Boise State, Boston College, Arizona State and Texas-El Paso—but the last two. One helmet looked like Colorado State’s, with a Rams’ horn. But no. That was Highland High in Pocatello, Idaho, Koetter’s first coaching job. And the other … odd. “Gators” was on the side of the helmet. I had no clue on that one.
“San Francisco State,” Koetter said. “My first college job, back in 1985.” And it was “Gators” because of the Golden Gate Bridge nearby.
San Francisco State dropped football 21 years ago, but it had some pretty good coaches, as it turned out, back in ’85.
“You know who else was on that staff?” Koetter said. “Andy Reid.”
Amazing: A defunct program from a small college in the city of San Francisco helped yield two NFL head coaches, on the staff three decades ago. Reid coached the offensive line; Koetter was the offensive coordinator.
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Stat of the Week
In their past 20 games, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are:
a. 9-11. b. 4-5 at Lambeau Field. c. Two wins worse than the Oakland Raiders. d. Three wins worse than the Detroit Lions. e. Owners of the same number of 300-yard passing games (three) as Cleveland.