by Michael Lombardi
November 02, 02009
Many people remember Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s speech when he said, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” For me, however, some of MacArthur’s greatest words were delivered when he quoted poet Samuel Ullman in a speech on his 75th birthday.
“Youth is not a time of life -- it is a state of mind. It is not a matter of red cheeks, red lips and supple knees. It is a temper of the will; a quality of the imagination; a vigor of the emotions; it is a freshness of the deep springs of life. Youth means a tempermental predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over a life of ease. This often exists in a man of fifty, more than in a boy of twenty. Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years; people grow old by deserting their ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.”
Sunday, on the sacred grounds of Lambeau Field, we saw an old soldier, the enthusiastic Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, in a different uniform perform brilliantly in leading his new team -- with a test of will and no thought of just fading away.
November is revelation month. Every week in November, we learn which teams are authentic playoff contenders and which ones will fade away. Sunday, we learned without a single, solitary doubt that the Vikings are a better team than the Packers (we also learned that the Eagles are better than the Giants, but more on that later). Favre does make the Vikings better, but so do rookie wide receiver Percy Harvin (who has my vote for rookie of the year), defensive end Jared Allen and running back Adrian Peterson. But the biggest differences between the two teams are the big boys up front in the Vikings’ offensive line -- they tilt the balance of power toward the Vikings. Yes, Favre has been magnificent in both games, throwing for seven touchdowns and no interceptions, but he was not sacked in either game while Aaron Rodgers hit the ground 14 times. You would have to dig deep into the statistical archives to find a team winning games with a minus-14 in sack differential.
Imagine for a moment if Favre had stayed in Green Bay and Rodgers had gone to the Vikings. The outcome of both games most certainly would have been the same. The Vikings’ offensive line dominated the game, so when an effective player is under center, the offense functions at a high level. For the Packers to focus on Favre beating them is a mistake. Yes, he played a part, but the Vikings’ offensive line was difference in both games. Until the Packers fix their line, they won’t be able to beat the Vikings on any field.
Favre did conquer in his return, and maybe he’s just following the sage advice of Gen. MacArthur. You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt, as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear, as young as your hope, as old as your despair. So long as your heart receives messages of beauty, cheer courage, grandeur and power from the earth, from man and from the Infinite, so long is you are young. Mr. Favre is not going to fade away.
The Sunday best
Miami wide receiver Ted Ginn had a bad week last week, hearing from the Miami faithful and former players that he was not a good player — certainly not worthy of the ninth overall pick in the draft. But instead of sulking or blaming someone else, he took the attitude, “It’s not about what you do on offense, it’s about what you do to help the team win.” Sunday, Ginn returned two kickoffs for touchdowns to help his team sweep the season series against the New York Jets. I love those words. The son of football coach, he obviously learned about being a good teammate and fighting adversity from his proud father.
Speaking of proud fathers, former Chargers defensive back Gil Byrd must be awfully proud as his son Jairus, who had two interceptions for a third straight game. He joins former 49ers DB Dave Baker as the only players since 1960 with two or more interceptions in three consecutive games.
The Rams beat the Lions to end their 17-game losing streak and go into their bye feeling a little better about themselves. The preparation for this win started last week during the Colts game when, in spite of the lopsided score, head coach Steve Spagnuolo was coaching his players with passion and enthusiasm. He never quit or complained, so why should his team?
Vince Young is back as a starter for the Titans, and running back Chris Johnson went crazy, gaining 228 yards on the ground and helping the Titans earn their first win. Johnson’s “lights out” day was more yards than the Browns, Raiders, Bills, Dolphins and Broncos gained.
Trailing the Bills 10-6 at the half might have been enough for the old Texans to stop playing, but not these Texans. They rallied to score 22 points in the fourth quarter to win and are now a franchise-first two games over .500. Next, a big-time showdown with Colts this weekend.
Last week might have been the quietest week ever in the great rivalry between the Giants and the Eagles, since both towns have baseball teams in the World Series. I’ll bet the Giants wish it was a quiet week this week, too, but I strongly doubt it after they got hammered by the Eagles for their third straight loss to Philly. The Eagles are the better team and seem to be able to force the Giants into making mistakes.
Speaking of the Eagles, let’s face it -- wide receiver DeSean Jackson is the best long-ball hitter in Philadelphia. His six touchdowns have come on receptions of over 50 yards. Move over, Ryan Howard.
The Sunday funnies...
The Seattle Seahawks are not a good road team, having lost 11 of their last 13 on the road. For that matter, they are not a good team right now. And in case you didn’t know, they play in the rather weak NFC West, which is the only division in the NFL that doesn’t have more than one team with a .500 record.
It was once told to me that “judgment becomes impaired by arrogance,” and that might have been the case in New York. The Jets pride themselves on being cocky and refused to change their strategy of kicking to Ted Ginn -- and got burned not once but twice. The stat sheet looks like a Jets win until you read the return yards section: Dolphins 318, Jets 160.
Speaking of kicking off, why did the Packers kick the ball to Percy Harvin? Haven’t they seen enough of him racing the ball back each week? I don’t think a team should back down from a challenge, but be smart. Why do we film all the games if teams are going to ignore the past accomplishments of their opponents?
The Browns are funny in those god-awful pants, but the direction this team is headed under head coach Eric Mangini is not funny to the loyal and loving Browns fans. Patience in all sports is important, but patiently going down the wrong road is still going down the wrong road. Team owner Randy Lerner might want to make sure he knows where Mangini is taking his team -- because from my viewpoint they’re going nowhere.
On the lookout…
On the shores of Lake Erie, the Texans found their running game under the direction of former Eagles castoff Ryan Moats. Moats had a career day replacing the fumble-prone Steve Slaton, gaining 126 yards rushing and scoring three touchdowns.
Running back Matt Forte of the Bears finally had a good running day (I know it was the Browns defense), gaining 90 yards on 26 carries and scoring two touchdowns. A little observation from my scouting background: Some of the second-year backs who had to take the bulk of the carries last season -- Forte, Slaton for the Texans and the Falcons’ Michael Turner – don’t seem to have the same bounce or explosion they had a year ago. Every week, I keep waiting for them to regain their old form, but it’s not there. We’ll see if Turner does tonight.
The Cowboys had a very good win last week against the Falcons, but as former Packers coach Vince Lombardi once said, “The greatest reward for doing is the opportunity to do more.” And more the ‘Boys did as they were impressive in dominating a bad Seattle team. The ‘Boys are going to be tough to beat at home with over 80,000 people screaming for them. They might be getting hot at the right time.
On the lookout for all fantasy fans…
49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree looks like the real deal, and everyone but one person knew he was the best wideout in the draft this year. He’ll continue to get better and better each week as he learns the pro game on the fly.
Packers fullback Spencer Havner has four receptions and three touchdowns the past two weeks. You have to love a player who does all the little things well and gets a reward now and then in the red area. This might not happen every week as teams now might adopt the policy of hoping to contain Havner, not stop him.
Off the beaten track
I think the only way to beat the Colts is the way the 49ers played them Sunday. Teams should forget about yards allowed and worry about red-area defense. Opponents should forget preparing their first-and-10 schemes and spend three days getting as many repetitions as possible against the Colts’ red-zone schemes. Forcing field goals gives you a chance because no team is going to slow them down. The 49ers allowed 410 yards but held the Colts to no touchdowns in four red-zone visits. They didn’t win, but they gave themselves a chance to win — which is the first step.
The Dolphins have one of the most impressive-looking teams in the NFL coming off the team bus, and they play with a physical style. Paul Soliai, their backup nose tackle, is quickly becoming a big-time nose tackle. But the Fins might want to diversify their coverage in the secondary since they lead the league in penalties — mostly as result of too many illegal contact calls.
Many people think the Panthers are a grind-it-out run team, but in reality, they have to make big plays to be successful on offense. Big plays for them must come from their running game. In upsetting the Cardinals, they scored 14 points on just seven plays in the first half, mostly on the running of DeAngelo Williams, who had 100 yards at the half on just 10 carries.
Three-step dot drops...a dot dot dot thought...
…For the Giants, all the talk about getting better is just words. They must execute with more precision and detail to turn this slump around. You’re only a good team when you play like a good team.
…The Jags’ Maurice Jones-Drew is fun to watch run the ball, but what I love most is when he moves piles with his amazing lower body. His team might not be any good, but he’s great. Tackling get worse as the season enters November, so all the backs who run hard and break tackles can have great days.
…Every defensive coordinator in the league now knows that Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown is left-handed and can throw moving to his left. But did they remember that the Colts’ Joseph Addai can throw moving that way as well? They will now. Left-handed backs are easily forgotten. I bet former Eagle and Dolphin Keith Byars laughs every time he watches a running back throw going to his left. Byars had seven career TD passes — all left-handed.
…The Colts’ Peyton Manning thought it was great to grind it out for a win against the 49er. No one can see the big picture as clearly as Mr. Manning. He knows these young Colts are going to have to learn to fight through adversity in order to win critical games in November and December.
…I’m sure Eagles head coach Andy Reid was saving Leonard Weaver, his big fullback, for the right game, and it came against a physical team like the Giants. It’s so important to have a player who helps you win within the division. Divisional matchups are critical, and Weaver proved to be a valuable signing yesterday.
…Miami head coach Tony Sparano had the line of the day when addressing his team after beating the Jets. He said, “Give them some credit for being a good team because we know they won’t give us any.” Two wins against the Jets this year is all the credit Sparano needs.
…November football is exciting and makes me ask myself every Monday morning, “Is it Sunday yet?”
Head coach of the week
John Fox, Carolina Panthers
He made the tough decision to keep quarterback Jake Delhomme as his starter in spite of his poor play. The Panthers were ready to play and dominated the Cardinals, who were coming off one of their best road wins of the year against the Giants. Fox is a fighter and a very good coach. He might be on the hot seat in Carolina, but he keeps fighting.
Assistant coach of the week
John Bonamego, Miami Dolphins special teams coach
The Dolphins couldn’t make any plays on offense, with or without their wildcat. Their special teams gave them 315 total yards, which is sensational, as the Dolphins found a way to win a close game. Ginn may have done all the heavy lifting, but Bonamego had the scheme on the second one, which was very good.
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