Brawls rare in the NFL, not so rare in college football
Houston Texans' WR Andre Johnson and Tennessee Titans' CB Cortland Finnegan were involved in a fight during in the fourth quarter of their game on Sunday. Both players were ejected from the game, and on Monday, Commissioner Roger Goodell fined each player $25,000, but did not hand down any game suspensions.
I had never witnessed a fight during a game while in the NFL, where both players were punching each other with their helmets off. College was a completely different story.
While at Florida, there was always one team that would provoke a fight during pregame: Florida State. In fact, during my first three years, we got into some form of altercation with the Seminoles before every game. The fights would usually begin with the visiting team jumping up and down on the home team's logo in the centre of the field. Or maybe one team would intentionally run through the other's stretch lines.
Whatever the case, one fight in particular stands out. In 1998, we were on the road playing the Seminoles in Doak Campbell Stadium. We were favoured to win the game, and if we did, stood a chance of playing for the National Championship.
During the pregame fight, our best cornerback, Tony George, threw a punch and was ejected from the game. That meant that a true freshman had to take his place and cover one of the best receivers in college football at the time, Peter Warrick. Warrick ended up going off that day, and we lost a big game that kept us from playing for the National Title.
While watching Johnson get ejected from the game on Sunday, I couldn't help but empathize with QB Matt Schaub, who lost his best playmaking receiver. I would've been livid at Johnson if I were Schaub or head coach Gary Kubiak! Fortunately for the Texans, they were able to overcome Johnson's loss, and still win the game 20-0.
This was something that I found to be just about unprecedented in the modern NFL: fighting during the game.
I'm curious to see the results of Goodell's punishment without suspension to both Johnson and Finnegan, and how that affects other NFL players moving forward. Does simply fining players dissuade them from fisticuffs in the future? We'll have to wait and see.
Not Home for the Holidays
The married players wanted to be home with their families so that they could be a part of Christmas with their children. The single guys didn't really care as much since they were most likely going to be celebrating the holidays alone anyways!
When I was playing for the Giants in 2004, we had to fly to Cincinnati on Christmas Day because we were playing the Bengals on Boxing Day. I remember waking up Christmas morning, and feeling very odd since it was the first Christmas that I had ever not spent with my family.
I had a Christmas tree in my living room and I opened presents that my family had sent, and that teammates had given me in the locker room. Eli Manning and I were living in the same building in Hoboken, NJ, so he came over early that morning and I cooked breakfast for the two of us before heading over to the stadium. We listened to Nat King Cole sing Christmas carols at the apartment since that would be our only chance all day to really celebrate and appreciate the holiday!
Think about the Dallas Cowboys, who play each and every year on Thanksgiving Day! I guess as professional athletes, we would just mentally prepare ourselves to play no matter what day the game fell on. Certainly our families would complain about us not being home for the holidays, but the obvious rebuttal was that as pro football players, we had three months off at the end of the season when we would make it up to our wives, girlfriends, and families. You can't please everybody...
Uncharacteristic stretch for Peyton Manning
For the second straight week, Peyton Manning threw multiple interceptions that cost his team. On Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, Manning threw four INTs, two of which were returned for scores, and the Colts suffered one of their worst home losses with Manning at QB. It's the first time in Manning's 13-year career that he has thrown seven interceptions in a two-game stretch. The question becomes, should he accept all the responsibility?
Whenever quarterbacks throw picks, there are a multitude of reasons. Firstly, the pass protection in Indy hasn't been great over the last two games (losses to New England and San Diego). Too often has Manning been forced to throw under duress in the pocket.
Secondly, the Colts have had many offensive skill players miss practice time, which has not allowed Manning to be on the same page with his receivers etc. WR Pierre Garcon is one of those guys who Manning has struggled to find on a consistent basis, week in and week out.
Finally, some of the blame must be directed at Manning himself. On Sunday, Manning tried to hit his Pro Bowl WR Reggie Wayne in between three defenders, with the result being a pick-six. Poor decision, poor throw. Manning admitted his own faults after the game in his press conference.
Let's be clear about one thing: we're talking about the four-time MVP here. It's Peyton Manning. This will get fixed, but in order for the Colts to take charge in the all of a sudden lacklustre AFC South division, they'll need fewer turnovers on offence, and it starts and stops with Peyton Manning.
Falcons should be considered favourites with Matt Ryan
At 9-2, the Atlanta Falcons should now officially be considered the favorites in the NFC. In a conference with 12 teams vying to playoffs spots - and seven teams with a 7-4 record or better - the Falcons have now proven that they have what it takes to win the NFC South division and make a run at the Super Bowl.
I've been very impressed with the play of QB Matt Ryan this season, as he continues to develop as the Falcons' franchise signal-caller. His accuracy, decision-making, and poise in the pocket are consistently getting better, and because of it, he gives his team the chance to win, week in and week out.
This past Sunday, Ryan led his team on a last-minute drive to set up a game-winning 47-yard field goal from Matt Bryant against the Green Bay Packers. It was the second straight home game that Ryan has led his team on game-winning drive (he threw a TD pass to Roddy White vs the Ravens three weeks ago). I guess they don't call him “Matty Ice” for nothing!
What's maybe even more remarkable is the quality of Ryan's play at home. Ryan has a remarkable 19-1 record when starting games at the Georgia Dome so far in his career! His home record ties him with Danny White as the winningest QBs in their first 20 starts at home in NFL history.
A near flawless record at home with Ryan under centre is one reason to favour the Falcons' chances should they reach the playoffs with home-field advantage. Their ability to run the football is another reason why I like the Falcons, regardless of where the games will be played. RB Michael Turner is currently fifth in the NFL with 974 rushing yards. That is significant if the Falcons have to play on the road in cold, rainy, or snowy conditions in the post-season.
The Falcons also have a tight end in Tony Gonzales who, in his 14th year, can still get open on play-action passes and work the middle of the field. If you factor in the emergence of Roddy White as one of the league's premier talents at the position, it appears that the Falcons have the balance on offence to continue winning games and put themselves in the best possible position for a Super Bowl run.
Do you ever wonder how players and coaches feel about playing on holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas? I remember there being mixed emotions in the locker rooms that I played in.