NFL Nation: 2010 Week 12 High Energy

NFC West High Energy Player of the Week

November, 30, 2010
NFC High Energy: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a player who gave his team a significant boost in Week 12.

Setting aside this space for St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford seemed like a sure bet before Brian Westbrook's surprise 136-yard rushing performance for the San Francisco 49ers.

[+] EnlargeBrian Westbrook
AP Photo/Paul JasienskiBrian Westbrook rushed 23 times for 136 yards and one touchdown Monday night.
Bradford still came out OK.

Westbrook provided the more significant boost relative to expectations.

The 31-year-old running back had carried only five times for 9 yards this season before Frank Gore's hip injury forced the 49ers to alter course during the first quarter of their 27-6 victory over Arizona on Monday night. Westbrook posted the third-highest single-game rushing total of his career as the 49ers gained 261 yards on the ground.

"I felt good, I felt very young, I was fresh," Westbrook said.

Maintaining a similar level of performance across multiple games seems unrealistic. The 49ers will face tougher defenses. Teams will prepare for Westbrook's style. Westbrook won't be as fresh after taking punishment each week.

For one game, at least, Westbrook provided the boost his team needed.
NFC High Energy: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a player who gave his team a significant boost in Week 12.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMatt Ryan improved his record as starter in the Georgia Dome to 19-1.
For the last year or two, there has been a lot of conversation about whether Atlanta's Matt Ryan is an "elite'' quarterback.

I've never been sure exactly what the qualifications are for that distinction. But I'm pretty sure getting signature wins against very good teams and leading late game-winning drives must fall somewhere on that list.

If they do, what Ryan did Sunday must have him at least closing in on elite status. In what was perhaps Atlanta's biggest game of the season so far, a showdown with fellow NFC power Green Bay, Ryan outdueled Aaron Rodgers.

With the score tied 17-17 with 56 seconds left, Ryan marched the Falcons down the field, completing four of five passes. He set them up for Matt Bryant to kick the game-winning field goal that allowed the Falcons to become the first NFC team to reach nine wins.

Ryan also continued his winning ways at the Georgia Dome, where he has lost only one game in three seasons -- and that came in 2008. For the day, Ryan completed 24 of 28 passes (85.7 percent) as the Falcons went a franchise-record fourth straight game without a turnover. The team won its fifth consecutive game and won for the ninth time in its past 10 games.

AFC East High Energy Player of the Week

November, 30, 2010
NFC High Energy: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A player who gave his team a significant boost in Week 12.

For the second straight week, readers responded decisively to my request to select the AFC East High Energy performer.

In a landslide, New York Jets all-purpose device Brad Smith beat out the other candidates I proposed: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne and the Dolphins' run defense.

[+] EnlargeBrad Smith
AP Photo/Bill KostrounBrad Smith was able to complete this 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown despite losing his shoe.
Smith was a game-changer in a Thanksgiving night triumph over the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Jets were down in the third quarter when he took an end-around run 53 yards for a touchdown to give the Jets a lead they wouldn't surrender. He also delivered an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown right after the Bengals pulled within seven points in the fourth quarter.

"The whole atmosphere in the building just flipped once Brad made that run," Jets safety Jim Leonhard said. "That’s what he does. He's so explosive, and you know that you've got to get him touches because whenever he gets his hands on the ball that's what can happen.

"Sometimes offensively it's going to be a struggle for a while, trying to figure things out and how the defense is attacking you. But Brad was that spark."

On the kickoff, Smith slithered his way up the left side and then broke across the field. He lost his left shoe before making the TD-clinching cut at about the Bengals' 45-yard line.

Smith also had a reception for 23 yards and took a couple direct snaps. He played quarterback at Missouri and was the first player in Division I history to pass for 8,000 yards and run for 4,000 yards.

"He is an amazing guy and an amazing talent," Jets coach Rex Ryan said in his postgame news conference. "I'm definitely glad he was on our side. He's a phenomenal athlete. Everything we asked Brad to do, he does.

"Quite honestly, when our DBs were down, I was like, 'We'll put [running back] Joe McKnight in there, and we've always got Brad Smith.' He’s just a great football player."
NFC High Energy: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a player who gave his team a significant boost in Week 12.

[+] EnlargeBrian Cushing
AP Photo/Dave EinselBrian Cushing played arguably his best game of the season Sunday against Tennessee.
On an afternoon when the Houston Texans' defense finally got a complete effort, Brian Cushing was in the middle of it.

The Titans' offense struggled on third down because it was in third-and-long a lot. And it was in third-and-long a lot because of plays like Cushing’s four tackles for a loss.

Houston made the Titans one-dimensional by completely taking away Chris Johnson. The Tennessee running back had five touches in the first half, and Cushing was in on a tackle for a loss on three of them, including a drop of Johnson for a 1-yard loss on a third-and-2 pass.

Cushing missed the first four games of the season while serving a suspension for a violation of the league’s policy against performance enhancers. He’s not been nearly as effective since his return as he was when he won defensive rookie of the year in 2009, and a brief move to full-time middle linebacker after DeMeco Ryans was lost for the season didn’t really work.

This was his best game of the season.

“It’s kind of getting back in the groove,” Cushing said. “I just wanted to go out and play relentless. If you play hard, good things will come.”
NFC High Energy: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a player who gave his team a significant boost in Week 12:

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireJay Cutler threw four touchdown passes in Sunday's win over Philadelphia.
Considered from at least one perspective, quarterback Jay Cutler has never played better than in the Chicago Bears' 31-26 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. His 146.2 passer rating was the best of his career and only three completions from a perfect score (158.3).

Longtime teammate Earl Bennett called Cutler's four-touchdown, zero-interception performance one of "the top five games I've seen him play." Few have carried so many layers.

Cutler has been known to make a mistake (or 26) in his career, and Sunday's matchup came against one of the NFL's most opportunistic defenses. And fairly or otherwise, many national observers tabbed the Eagles as the team that would burst the Bears' surprising season.

Cutler responded as you would hope a top-flight franchise quarterback would: with a nearly flawless performance. The Bears didn't ask him to win the game on his own -- he attempted only 21 passes -- but he provided confident leadership and executed on all of the opportunities that were presented to him.

Cutler is now one victory away from his first winning season since high school. Leading the Bears to the playoffs, whether it is via the NFC North title or a wild-card spot, would go a long way toward erasing questions about his leadership and ability to play well in pressure situations.

NFC East High Energy Player of the Week

November, 30, 2010
NFC High Energy: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a player who gave his team a significant boost in Week 12.

The New York Giants were missing star receivers Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks in Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and they desperately needed someone to fill the void. But in the first half, one of their prime candidates, tight end Kevin Boss, was costing his team with penalties and drops. A holding call on Boss nullified a Mario Manningham touchdown catch and the Giants were down at halftime 17-6.

[+] EnlargeKevin Boss
Chris McGrath/Getty ImagesKevin Boss made a play when the Giants needed him most in Sunday's win over the Jaguars.
But late in the third quarter, Boss started atoning for his errors with two catches for a combined 42 yards. With 3:24 left in the game, Boss and quarterback Eli Manning made a sight adjustment at the line of scrimmage. Boss found some open space and Manning unloaded the ball against the Jags' blitz. Boss broke Courtney Greene's attempt at a tackle and raced 32 yards for the game-winning touchdown. That's why he's our High Energy Player of the Week.

Justin Tuck, a daily reader of this blog, will surely inform Boss of this high honor when the players return to practice Wednesday.

"It's important to be on the same page as the quarterback, and Eli and I were both able to see the pressure coming," said Boss, who finished with 74 yards receiving on three catches. "I was able to read it hot, and he threw me a pretty easy ball and I had some room to run."

The emergence of Boss in 2007 made it possible to trade Jeremy Shockey, but he has had an up-and-down career since his performance in the Super Bowl. On Sunday, he made huge plays for the Giants when they needed him the most. We'll see what he does for an encore against the Washington Redskins.
NFC High Energy: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

It's debatable whether Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis will make it to his first Pro Bowl this season. But what isn't debatable is that Hillis is running away with the High Energy Player of the Week honors in the AFC North.

[+] EnlargeCleveland's Peyton Hillis
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliPeyton Hillis rushed for 131 yards and three touchdowns against Carolina.
Hillis is in a class by himself as the division's only multi-time winner. The bruising running back was chosen for the third time after rushing for 131 yards and three touchdowns in a win over the Carolina Panthers. His 11 rushing touchdowns this season makes him just the third player in Browns history to accomplish that feat.

Cleveland's acquisition of Hillis from the Denver Broncos for backup quarterback Brady Quinn is the most lopsided trade of the 2010 season. The Browns only have four wins but would be nowhere without Hillis, who leads the team in rushing (905 yards) and receptions (46).

If Hillis can keep up this pace in December, he might be Hawaii bound.

Previous AFC North High Energy Players

Week 1: Ray Lewis, LB, Baltimore Ravens

Week 2: Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh Steelers

Week 3: Brett Keisel, DE, Steelers

Week 4: Hillis, RB, Browns

Week 5: Ray Rice, RB, Ravens

Week 6: Lawrence Timmons, LB, Steelers

Week 7: Ed Reed, S, Ravens

Week 8: Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Steelers

Week 9: Hillis, RB, Browns

Week 10: Mike Wallace, WR, Steelers

Week 11: James Harrison, LB, Steelers
NFC High Energy: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a player who gave his team a significant boost in Week 12.

[+] EnlargeJamaal Charles
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonThe Chiefs' Jamaal Charles rushed for 173 yards on 22 carries in Seattle.
With all due respect to Dwayne Bowe, who is playing as well as anyone in the NFL, we’re picking one of his teammates this week.

Yes, Bowe had three touchdown catches and 13 receptions in the Chiefs’ 42-24 win at Seattle on Sunday. But we gave the high-energy nod to Bowe last week. It’s time to share the love with his teammates.

Plus, Jamaal Charles was no slouch against the Seahawks.

Charles had a whopping 173 yards on 22 carries. His big day moved him into the 1,000-yard rushing club for the second straight season. He has 1,021 yards rushing this season, which is the second highest amount in the NFL, and his 6.3-yard average per carry leads the NFL.

This guy is a major reason the Chiefs are the NFL's No. 1-ranked run offense. Charles is a threat to break a long run every time he touches the ball. Bowe might be displaying a high level of energy, so is the Chiefs’ talented running back.