NFL Nation: Rodney Harrison



Have you ever wanted to get tackled by an NFL linebacker?

Yeah, me neither.

But at least one person did, and A.J. Hawk was happy to deliver.

The Green Bay Packers veteran inside linebacker granted a fan his request, and Hawk leveled him. Not on a football field but on a golf course.

Hawk, who is about to begin his ninth season with the Green Bay Packers, is one of several NFL players competing this week in the American Century Championship, a celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

During a practice round, Hawk got an unusual request from a fan. He wanted to be tackled by the 6-foot-1, 242-pound linebacker.

So Hawk, the Packers' leading tackler in seven of his first eight NFL seasons, obliged. With a running start, he lowered his right shoulder into the willing spectator, who then popped up and embraced Hawk with a hug.

Of course, there's video of the tackle, courtesy of American Century Investments' Instagram account (see above).

If you want to see Hawk do what most people do on a golf course, you watch see him and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers compete in the tournament, which begins today and is televised on NBC Sports Network and NBC.

Hawk is paired with former NFL safety Rodney Harrison and Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson. Rodgers is playing with former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher and NBA standout Stephen Curry.
David TyreeJohn David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports
» VOTE HERE » NFC Plays: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in New York Giants history. In the next two days, we'll feature Lawrence Taylor's sack that broke Joe Theismann's leg in 1985 and the Joe Pisarcik-Herman Edwards "Miracle at the Meadowlands" play from 1978. Please vote for your choice as the Giants' most memorable play.

Score: Giants 17, Patriots 14
Date: Feb. 3, 2008 Site: University of Phoenix Stadium

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Giants' history?

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    8%

Discuss (Total votes: 44,899)

What's forgotten about this play is that Giants quarterback Eli Manning was as close to being sacked as a quarterback can possibly be without actually being sacked. The Giants trailed the undefeated New England Patriots 14-10 with a little more than a minute left in Super Bowl XLII. It was third-and-5 on the Giants' 44-yard line, the eighth play of a drive on which the Giants already had converted a fourth down and would later need to convert another third. The play broke down and it appeared as though the Giants would have to pick up a long fourth down to keep their hopes of the upset alive. But Manning slipped out of the grasp of New England defensive end Jarvis Green, stepped forward in the pocket and fired the ball over the middle, where little-used Giants wide receiver David Tyree and Patriots defensive back Rodney Harrison were jumping for it at the same time.

Replays would show that Tyree caught the ball with both hands but that Harrison's hand got there too and knocked Tyree's left hand off the ball. As the two fell to the ground together, Tyree pinned the ball against the forehead of his helmet with his left hand, then managed somehow to get his left hand back on the ball and maintain possession all the way to the ground.

The result was a miraculous 32-yard gain and a first down that kept alive the Giants' chances. Three plays later, Manning found Steve Smith to convert a third-and-11, and on the play after that, he connected with Plaxico Burress for the 13-yard touchdown catch that gave the Giants the 17-14 lead.

The Giants kicked the ball back to New England, but with only 29 seconds left on the clock, Tom Brady couldn't get the ball out of his own end, and the Giants secured the third, and most astounding, Super Bowl title in their history. Tyree's catch was improbable enough to fit the moment. No one thought the Patriots, who carried an 18-0 record into the game and would have been only the second team in NFL history to finish a season undefeated, would lose. Most expected this to be a coronation of the best team in the history of the game. Manning, Tyree and the Giants did everything they possibly could to deny it.

Chat recap: A look at safety play

April, 10, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- We had another lively Dallas Cowboys chat on Wednesday with a wide range of topics.

We touched on the Cowboys possibly trading down in the first round if a player like Aaron Donald was not available, the non-issue (to me anyway) of Tony Romo, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray in Jerry Jones’ suite at the NCAA title game, if the scheme change was just an excuse for some of the poor defensive play in 2013 and, as always, drafting a quartrerback.

If you want to read the whole chat, click here.

If you have more questions, send me one on Twitter (@toddarcher) and use the #cowboysmail hashtag. The mailbag posts will go up Friday and Saturday.

But Geno in Plano asked a question I’d like to expand upon.

Church
Thomas
Geno: the Cowboys seem to undervalue the safety positions- always seem to back fill or try a stop-gap; any chance of signing a more proven commodity this year pre- or post- draft?

Todd Archer: I don't think so, Geno. There's not a real proven guy worth it right now. Look at Marinelli's safeties in Chicago. They were solid players but hardly stars. Maybe they look in the draft, but I really think they try to see what they have in J.J. Wilcox, Jeff Heath and Matt Johnson.

To expand, I have received a ton of questions about the safety spot this offseason because there is no doubt the play was poor in 2013 next to Barry Church. The Cowboys have not expressed interest in any veteran safeties that I have been able to determine, so it looks clear they will go with Wilcox, Heath and Johnson, as I stated in the answer. Personally, I’d take a look at Steve Gregory, but they are not about to take me up on that suggestion.

Jimmie Ward is among the pre-draft visitors, so they could look at him as well.

But the notion is that the Cowboys have to have an Earl Thomas to succeed in today’s NFL. Sure, but how many teams have an Earl Thomas? Five years ago everybody was saying the Cowboys needed to get a safety like Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed. Sure, but how many of those guys are rolling around?

They are rare players. I think the Cowboys would have selected Kenny Vaccaro last year if he wasn’t scooped up by the New Orleans Saints before Dallas picked in the first round. He was gone, so they traded down.

In his three years with the Chicago Bears, [Rod] Marinelli’s safeties were Danieal Manning and Chris Harris in 2010, with Chris Conte and Major Wright handling the duties in 2011-12. The Bears let Manning walk as a free agent when the Houston Texans offered him a big deal. Conte and Wright were third-round picks in the 2011 and 2010 drafts, respectively.

Wilcox was a third-round pick last year by the Cowboys.

Since 2000, the winning Super Bowl teams have had five All-Pro safeties: Rodney Harris (New England), Polamalu (twice), Darren Sharper (New Orleans) and Thomas.

You can get by with functional safeties. Marinelli did it in Chicago. He will try to do it here as well.

The question should be do the Cowboys have a functional safety next to Church, not whether they can get a Thomas.

Whew, simultaneous catches no sweat now

September, 27, 2012
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With the NFL's regular officials set to return, I wanted to assure everyone that simultaneous-catch rulings will be handled in a manner agreeable to all parties.

The shoddy manner in which replacement officials handled the Seattle-Green Bay play Monday night could never happen with the professional game officials on duty.

Let history be our guide.

A 1998 ruling from a game between the Seattle Seahawks and San Diego Chargers comes to mind. Seattle's Joey Galloway and San Diego's Terrance Shaw went after a deep pass at the Chargers' 2-yard line. Officials awarded the ball to the Seahawks, who scored a touchdown two plays later, breaking open a close game.

And, as you might expect, the regular officials handled the situation with aplomb.

"Back judge Bobby Skelton tripped and rolled into the end zone," the Associated Press reported at the time, "but [he] saw the simultaneous catch prior to falling down, referee Larry Nemmers said afterward."

Even though the call went against San Diego, the Chargers appreciated the professional administration of the rules.

Consider postgame comments from June Jones, the Chargers' interim coach at the time.

"But you know, that's the way the NFL is," Jones said in the AP report. "The official who made the call was on his back in the end zone. That's all I have to say about that."

Galloway conceded that Shaw had a better grip on the ball. He was, of course, gracious afterward.

"I don't care if we stole it or they gave it to us, we won," Galloway said.

While rules governing simultaneous catches can be tricky to the uninitiated, veteran officials know all the nuances. In this case, it appears officials communicated information to players accurately and in a manner consistent with the rulebook.

"The official said when two guys get it at the same time, 'I give it to the guy who had it last,' " Chargers safety Rodney Harrison said, according to a Seattle Times report. "Terrance had it last, so I don't understand it."

Shaw skipped postgame interviews that day. He had been ejected from the game for arguing the call with umpire Jeff Rice.

Carry on.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Thirteen modern-era NFL players were finalists for enshrinement Saturday in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Only one was named offensive or defensive player of the year during his career.

That was the Seattle Seahawks' Cortez Kennedy. His eight Pro Bowls, all-1990s selection and overall dominance made my job as his presenter quite simple. State the facts and let Kennedy's career do the talking. Picking the final five out of 15 modern-era finalists is always tough, however, because it usually requires leaving off worthy candidates.

[+] EnlargeCortez Kennedy
US PresswireNo doubt, Seattle's Cortez Kennedy was one of the most dominant defensive players of his era.
The 43 other selectors and I met for more than seven hours before identifying Kennedy, Chris Doleman, Dermontti Dawson, Curtis Martin and Willie Roaf as the class of 2012. Jack Butler made it as a seniors candidate.

A few thoughts on the process and the results:

  • This class made it through at a good time. Larry Allen, Michael Strahan, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp, Bryant Young, John Lynch and Steve McNair become eligible for the first time in 2013. Shaun Alexander, Derrick Brooks, Marvin Harrison, Rodney Harrison, Tony Dungy and Mike Holmgren join the list in 2014. Isaac Bruce, Edgerrin James, Walter Jones, Junior Seau, Chris Samuels, Kurt Warner, Ty Law and Orlando Pace are among those eligible beginning in 2015.
  • Former St. Louis Rams
    and Arizona Cardinals
    cornerback Aeneas Williams should feel great about cracking the final 10 in his first year as a finalist. Williams had 55 career interceptions and scored nine touchdowns. He was a big-time playmaker for bad and good teams alike.
  • The situation at receiver remains a mess and it's not going to get easier with Harrison becoming eligible in a couple years. Voters are having a tough time deciding between Cris Carter and Andre Reed. Both made the final 10 this year. Reed made the final 10 last year as well. Having both crack the final 10 this year made it harder for one of them to break through. Voters were more likely to choose one wideout when forced to pick only five players.
  • Former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. did not make the reduction from 15 to 10. I think it's tougher for voters to quantify how owners and even coaches -- think Bill Parcells, who missed the cut from 10 to five -- contributed to their teams' success. The discussions for Parcells (55-plus minutes) and DeBartolo (42-plus minutes) were more than twice as long as the discussions for other candidates. Hall bylaws prevented voters from considering the legal troubles and suspension that preceded DeBartolo's exit from the game.
  • DeBartolo was a finalist in part because he hired Bill Walsh, promoted a winning culture, cared tremendously for his players and helped win five Super Bowls. He spent this weekend with former 49ers player Freddie Solomon, who is in the final days of a battle with cancer. The 49ers' renewed success this past season also reflected well on DeBartolo, who has become a tremendous resource for current team president Jed York, his nephew.
  • Electing one pass-rusher (Doleman, who spent part of his career with the 49ers) to the Hall could give former 49ers and Dallas Cowboys pass-rusher Charles Haley an easier time in the future. But with Strahan joining the conversation in 2013, Haley faces stiff competition again. Former Rams pass-rusher Kevin Greene did not make the final 10 despite 160 career sacks.

It's been a whirlwind day. Hall bylaws prevent me from sharing specifics about what was said in the room during the proceedings. The Hall also asked voters not to reveal their votes outright. I voted for five of the six players enshrined on the final cut and supported others. As always, however, reducing to only five in the end required leaving off candidates I hope will make it in the future.

Patriots: Fit in or get out

February, 2, 2012
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Albert Haynesworth, Deion BranchAP Photo/US PresswireFormer Patriot Albert Haynesworth, left, and starter Deion Branch exemplify the "Patriot Way."
INDIANAPOLIS -- As displayed in his video documentary "A Football Life," New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick enjoys fishing in his free time. It's fitting, because in football Belichick is not afraid to cut bait.

Many players have come and gone in New England. Some have worked out better than others. But the culture of winning remains the same.

There are only seven players remaining from the Patriots' last Super Bowl team in 2007. In four years, nearly the entire roster has been remade into a championship contender.

Big-name players like Randy Moss, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison all left New England for various reasons. Some were released, retired, or traded and wound up on television.

You also have recent malcontent situations this past season such as former Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather and former Pro Bowl defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth. Meriweather had off-the-field issues last season and surprisingly didn't make the 53-man roster. He landed with the Chicago Bears. Haynesworth was acquired in a big trade this summer and released about midway through the season.

Football is a cruel business. But it's particularly cruel in New England if you're underperforming and not buying into the program. You can multiply that by 10 if you're a malcontent.

"Most head coaches and GMs, they're never really willing to swallow their pride and admit that they made a mistake," former Patriots fullback and NFL Network analyst Heath Evans explained. "Bill just says 'Well, I thought we could fix [Haynesworth]. We couldn't. So bye-bye.' Most guys will sit there and hurt their team by allowing a cancer to infiltrate the system, the mindset, how you get something done. But Bill never hesitated.

"He saw enough. He gave [Haynesworth] enough chances and, boom, he's gone. That's an aspect of the structure and discipline. Bill doesn't care how it makes him look or what he's doing. He's going to do what's best for the team."

Haynesworth and Meriweather were cut because they no longer fit. Moss, Seymour and Vrabel were traded while the value was still high enough to get something for them. Belichick is always thinking about the next move.

Patriots starting receiver Deion Branch was fortunate.

The former Super Bowl MVP held out for more money during New England's training camp and the preseason in 2006, and was eventually traded to the Seattle Seahawks for a first-round pick. Branch got the money he wanted. Seattle signed him to a $39 million extension. But Branch never had the same success in Seattle and was traded back to New England for a fourth-round pick in 2010.

Branch was a good teammate, but the holdout with New England left a bad stench. The Patriots showed they were willing to forgive, and now Branch is one of the veteran leaders of this year's team.

"I was very honored," Branch said. "Not many have the opportunity to come back to the same team that drafted you. Guys don't get the opportunity to go through that phase. I was just very thankful."

New England receiver Chad Ochocinco is an interesting case. He's caused issues in the past with the Cincinnati Bengals. But he's quickly -- and wisely -- bought into the "Patriot way."

Ochocinco only has 15 receptions, but fellow Patriots have described him as the model teammate. He accepted his role in New England, no matter how small it is, for the greater goal of trying to win a championship. Moss also caused problems elsewhere and quickly changed his stripes when coming to New England. The talkative Ochocinco received advice from Moss this season on how to handle the transition.

"I learned to shut the [expletive] up," Ochocinco said this week.

Why doesn't this work everywhere? Why isn't every NFL team selfless and without internal issues?

"I think it doesn't work everywhere, because everyone has to buy in. I mean coaches, players, front office and owner," said former NFL executive Michael Lombardi, who once worked with Belichick. "With the Patriots, everybody buys in from the top all the way through. It's a way of life in New England. It's not just a daily job."

According to veteran guard Brian Waters, star quarterback Tom Brady plays a major role with team chemistry. Brady is an extension of Belichick in the locker room. No one is more competitive and works harder than the team's highest-paid player.

"Everybody's got egos, everybody's got their own way of doing things or what they think is the best way of doing things," Waters said. "But to have a coach set the tone and a player follow the tone as good as Tom, it's hard for any player on your team to even think about having a different thought process. If the best player on your football team is buying in 100 percent, then who are you to be any different? That’s something you have an appreciation for."

Evans, who played with the Patriots from 2005-08, went on to tell a great story involving future Hall of Famer Junior Seau. He was a 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker who joined the Patriots late in his career in 2006.

"Junior Seau, when he first got there, I don't think Junior had ever been yelled at a day in his life, or maybe even coached," Evans recalled. "Junior was over the center, trying to time the snap count, and he must have jumped offsides three times in our first practice. So Bill had it all teed up -- 'the lowlight film' is what he called it. Everyday we had a lowlight reel, and you do not want to be on that lowlight reel, because 52 other players are watching your bad mistake.

"So Junior is there jumping offsides and Bill just goes into his rant. Junior is like, 'Is he really doing this to me?' It was to the point where Junior stood up and said 'Buddy' ... He couldn't believe Bill was giving him the business like that."

No one player is bigger than the team in New England. The Patriots have done a great job of consistently sending that message and getting rid of players who don't understand. It's resulted in another Super Bowl appearance Sunday against the New York Giants.

The 2011-12 Patriots are particularly close-knit. Owner Robert Kraft says it's arguably his favorite group since owning the team, and they are one game away from capping a special season.

"One thing I've learned is that many games are lost and won in the locker room before the game starts," Kraft said this week. "Now, they have to go out and execute [against New York]."

NFL Any Era: Hines Ward

January, 26, 2012
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Lynn Swann and Hines Ward ESPN.com IllustrationImagine Hall of Famer Lynn Swann in a five-wide formation with Hines Ward. MATCHUP GALLERY
ESPN.com is unveiling its "Any Era" team this week which features 20 current players with the toughness to play in any period of NFL history. The team was assembled by votes from 20 Hall of Fame players (here's a full explanation of the project).

Coming in at No. 8 on the Any Era Team is Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. Is there really any other wide receiver that would define "Any Era" more than Ward? You can love him or hate him, but you don't ever want to be a defensive back on a running play with him on the field. ESPN's John Clayton put it best when he called Ward a "ruthless blocker" and "a tough player who just happens to catch the football."

When I asked Ward recently about his toughest moment, he immediately talked about his third season when he knocked helmets with Chargers safety Rodney Harrison. "I put the best and hardest hit on this guy. I thought I crushed him," Ward said. "He looks back, shakes his head and says, 'Yeah, 86, that's what I'm talking about. I like that.' I looked from the huddle, and thought, 'Oh, no.' That will always stick with me for the rest of my life."

Here are explanations from three Hall of Fame players on why Ward made the cut:
LYNN SWANN: "Is there another receiver in the past 12 years who has a tougher reputation than Hines? If we are talking about being tough, then I don't know how you can't choose him. I'd like to go out of the box, but Hines fits this category too well. There are some very talented receivers in this league, and they'll catch the ball and then get out of bounds. It might not always be the best decision, but whenever he catches the ball he turns and fights for every yard. He takes guys on, he'll block and I mean really block."

LARRY CSONKA: "I like Hines Ward for his size and toughness and flat-ass orneriness. He has the temperament to play anywhere, any time. He makes big catches, big blocks and has the disposition that would allow him to play in any era. He doesn't bother with the trivial stuff. He plays to win and he knows, most of the time, he will."

JOHN RANDLE: "The thing about Hines is he would crack you in a second. You had to have your head on a swivel. You'd watch a game just to see who Hines would crack on. He'd try to line up at tight end, and you knew if there was going to be a crack, it was Hines crackin' somebody. And then afterward, he'd have that grin on his face. Because it was on you; he'd say, 'Hey, stop me.' That was his reputation for me. As a football player, I look at it like the Western days, being an outlaw and you'd go from town to town to defend your reputation. And they knew you were coming. For Hines, there was that smile on his face, and you'd see it on tape, 'Hey, I got ya.'"

Ward is the fourth AFC North player to make the list, but there are more division players in the top 4. The AFC North blog will post every time a division player makes the Any Era Team.

Suspension better catch Suh's attention

November, 29, 2011
11/29/11
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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has fined Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh at least three times in two seasons for plays he considered beyond the scope of the game. Those fines, totaling at least $42,500, had little impact on Suh's approach and failed as a deterrent from the actions that led to his ejection from last Thursday's game against the Green Bay Packers.

So Goodell has taken the next logical step in a progression of discipline that, for Suh's sake, must stop here. Tuesday's two-game suspension must catch Suh's attention, because neither Suh nor the Lions want to contemplate what could come next.

Barring a successful appeal, Suh will lose about $164,000. But I doubt that total will mean much to a player whose rookie contract included $40 million guaranteed. What should impact Suh is the implied threat of all suspensions. The NFL can give him a lucrative career beyond his wildest imagination, and it can also take it away.

NFL history is packed with players who, like Suh, plowed through the line between aggressive and dirty. Most of them, however, played in an era long since past. The NFL's place atop America's mainstream entertainment structure requires a more disciplined environment.

In a statement released Tuesday, the league said Suh has now violated its on-field rules five times since joining the Lions in 2010. (We know of three fines and this suspension, so one episode remains unreported.) Speaking over the weekend on NBC, longtime NFL safety Rodney Harrison said he didn't begin to curb his style until he started missing games as a result.

"I was a young player once and I was very prideful and arrogant, just like Ndamukong Suh," Harrison said. "But I didn't learn until the commissioner handed me a suspension. Then I really understood the impact of what it did to my teammates in that locker room."

Under the terms of the suspension, Suh will miss the Lions' game Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints and the Dec. 11 game against the Minnesota Vikings. As we've discussed, I'm not sure if the Lions would beat the Saints even with Suh and I think they should defeat the Vikings without him. When he rejoins the team Dec. 12, hopefully Suh will have realized that the game can go on without him if he can't conform to its standards.

There should be no doubting how serious Goodell has taken Suh's career path, culminating with the pounding of Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith's head into the ground three times followed by stomping on his arm. On only one other occasion has Goodell suspended a player longer than one game for actions that occurred on the field; that was Albert Haynesworth's stomp on the throat of Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode in 2006.

Suh's past history played a factor, but it's clear Goodell wanted to send as strong of a message as he could while remaining within the confines of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

If this discipline doesn't get Suh's attention, I'm not sure what will.

Earlier: Suh reached out Sunday night to Goodell. Former NFL coach Tony Dungy blames the Lions and coach Jim Schwartz as much as Suh for this episode. Last Thursday's events were the end of Suh's innocence. You have to wonder if Suh's far-reaching corporate sponsorships will take a hit. We'll soon know if his apology was genuine or mere spin.
Well, that didn't take long.

Harrison
Harrison
Haynesworth
Haynesworth
It was just a matter of time before a former New England Patriot laid the wood on recently released defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. In short, New England's big offseason acquisition brought nothing in return and the Patriots ended the experiment this week after eight games.

Former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison crushed Haynesworth in an interview Wednesday evening on Vic Carruci's Cleveland Browns Daily show on WKNR:
"To see Albert Haynesworth get an opportunity to come to a great organization, with a great coach, a fabulous quarterback and all the good parts around him...to see him come out there and flat out quit, for him to pretend like he's hurt and not go out there and become a professional football player with every chance and opportunity that guys hope and dream for, he gets it. He gets a $100 million contract, and to see him flat out quit was very disappointing. And I'll tell you this, he's going to look back five, 10, 15 years from now when he's done playing football. He will look back on his career and he will be sitting in his mansion. But he will feel miserable, because no one is going to ever respect the name Albert Haynesworth because he flat out quit. That's a shame and that's a disappointment. You shouldn't play the game of football for money. You should play it because you love it. If you love it, and you go out and play well, you're going to make money. You're going to have a good life. But I'm very disappointed in Albert Haynesworth."

Ouch!

Harrison is part of the old guard in New England. He was an enforcer during the Patriots' dynasty years when they won three Super Bowls. New England's defense has been unable to replace players like Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Ty Law and Richard Seymour. The Patriots have tried to find replacements in mercurial players like Haynesworth and it hasn't worked out.

That's clearly been frustrating for former Patriots like Harrison.

Did Shaq Suh strike again?

October, 24, 2011
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So here is what we know:

With 10 minutes and 31 seconds remaining in the third quarter Sunday at Ford Field, Detroit Lions defensive end Lawrence Jackson drove Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman Will Svitek back into the pocket. Svitek stepped on quarterback Matt Ryan's left ankle, leaving Ryan writhing on the field in pain.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Tim Fuller/US PresswireFalcons quarterback Matt Ryan is helped by medical staff after being sacked during the third quarter Sunday against Detroit.
What happened after that is a matter of hearsay. Multiple Falcons players told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that Lions players were taunting and otherwise acting disrespectfully toward Ryan while the Falcons medical staff attended to him. I watched the TV replay and neither saw nor heard any evidence of that, but obviously much of what happens on an NFL field goes unheard by the public.

Receiver Roddy White said that Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Cliff Avril behaved in a way that caused him to lose "a whole lot of respect" for them. White said Avril "was kicking at [Ryan's] feet and said, 'Get him off the field.'"

Falcons center Todd McClure said: "I had respect for Suh before the game. But when Matt was on the ground, the things [Suh] was saying and the trash he was talking was definitely uncalled for. There are certain things you don't do. [He said], 'Get the cart' and several other things that I can't repeat."

Via Twitter, Avril said: "Come on, I'm not in the business of hurting not one guy on the field... I would never taunt anyone on an injury."

Suh has yet to respond, as far as I'm aware.

Are White and McClure accurately depicting what Suh and/or Avril said and did? Are they exaggerating? Short of an NFL Films audio emerging, we might never know for sure. But this episode will only add fuel to the debate about the way Suh plays the game, and if he and his teammates are too often pushing the edge of aggressiveness and moving into the realm of being chippy or dirty.

Suh likened himself to Shaquille O'Neal this summer, suggesting he gets penalized based on his superior strength relative to opponents. Whether he likes it or not, he's also being judged by players and officials based on his reputation. There's nothing he can or should do about his strength, but if he acted the way the Falcons say he did after Ryan's injury, he's going to lose whatever benefit of the doubt he still maintained with officials and the league office.

One of the most notorious players in recent NFL history was safety Rodney Harrison, who is now an NBC analyst. Sunday night, Harrison said: "I don't think [Suh] is a dirty player, but I've talked to guys around the league, and they say he is a dirty player. The bad thing about that is it takes away from how good of a player you are. You don't want that reputation. He's too good of a player, and plus it hurts your team."

In the video below, ESPN analyst Antoino Pierce said: "If those things were said, that's wrong." But he also added that the Falcons' offensive line should take some ownership of the situation as well: "You have a job to do as an offensive lineman. If you don't want them to be dirty or hit your quarterback, keep him away."

Examining the most crucial event in the history of every team in the division.

A longtime Cincinnati Bengals assistant named Bill Walsh was having a hard time convincing NFL teams to hire him as a head coach.

The Bengals had promoted another assistant, Bill "Tiger" Johnson, when Paul Brown retired after the 1975 season. Walsh spent 1976 as offensive coordinator with the San Diego Chargers before leaving the NFL entirely for the best head-coaching job he could get. Years later, Walsh accused Brown of conspiring to keep him from advancing.

Bill Walsh
Malcolm Emmons/.US PresswireThe 49ers won three Super Bowls under coach Bill Walsh.
While Walsh was building a winner at Stanford, the sputtering San Francisco 49ers were running through four head coaches in less than two calendar years. Young owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. made Walsh the fifth in 1979.

"Caution should be exercised in proclaiming Bill Walsh the savior of the 49er franchise," Bay Area columnist Ed Jacoubowsky wrote at the time. "But the selection of Walsh as director of the club's football operations probably is the best step the young owner could have taken."

Probably? Let's make that a "definitely" in hindsight.

The organization would never be the same. Offensive football would never be the same. The balance of power in the league itself would shift for a decade, and then some. This was the most crucial event in 49ers history and more significant than any the team's current division rivals have experienced.

That message came through clearly at the SportsNation ballot box, where Walsh's hiring received significantly more votes than any other NFC West Flash Point among the more than 129,000 ballots cast across the division. The 49ers' Flash Points drew more than 44,000 votes, most in the NFC West, and Walsh's hiring commanded better than half of them.

"If the 49ers never hired Bill Walsh, they would not have changed the organizational structure of the team, how players are graded and drafted, how to prepare those players for the season and utilize them on the field of play," razzberry80 wrote. "Bill changed EVERYTHING. Joe Montana was the best, but without Bill Walsh, Joe is probably not drafted by the 49ers."

Another 49ers fan, servegmo, credited Walsh for drawing him in as a fan living in Costa Rica.

"He is the reason people from all over the world started watching football," servegmo wrote. "He put the 49ers in a position where they changed football as a whole -- the offseason preparation, the inclusion of black coaches, the practices, the West Coast offense, how he managed the draft (drafting the best players EVER at quarterback, wide receiver and safety). How many coaches can say that?"

The 49ers won three Super Bowls in 10 seasons under Walsh, who qualified as a football visionary in strategy, philosophy and personnel evaluation. Walsh became famous for scripting plays to separate in-game emotions from the decision-making process. His personnel moves and broader philosophy scripted more lasting success: five Super Bowls, including two won after Walsh retired from the sideline.

With full support from DeBartolo, who had learned from past mistakes, Walsh showed an exceptional eye for talent. Has any coach possessed a superior vision?

"When he drafted Ronnie Lott, he thought, 'He's a corner now, but he'll be a longtime All-Pro safety,'" former Walsh assistant and two-time NFL head coach Dennis Green said for this project. "When he drafted Roger Craig, he saw him as a fullback now, but a little small for the fullback we really needed, so we would draft a fullback and Craig would make the transition to running back.

Trent Green
AP Photo/Harold JenkinsTrent Green's knee injury paved the way for Kurt Warner to step in at quarterback.
"Bill did that sort of thing constantly when he thought players could fit in a certain way and be very unique players."

Walsh's hiring commanded 53 percent of votes cast for the 49ers' Flash Points, with "The Catch" ranking second at 37 percent. Of course, there never would have been such a signature play if Walsh hadn't put together a 1979 draft class featuring Montana in the third round and Dwight Clark in the 10th.

RAMS: Trent Green's injury pivotal

The Kurt Warner story might never have been told if the San Diego Chargers' Rodney Harrison hadn't knocked out Green with a severe knee injury during the 1999 preseason.

Fans voted that moment supreme with 49 percent of more than 28,000 votes. Only Mike Jones' Super Bowl-saving tackle against Kevin Dyson (36 percent) came close to challenging.

The comments section of the Rams-related item drew barely more than a dozen contributions, however. So much for exit polling.

[+] EnlargePaul Allen
Robert Giroux/Getty ImagesPaul Allen helped bring an NFC title to Seattle.
"The ownership change [in 1972] precipitated everything that has happened to the Rams in 'modern' times," patdpenguin wrote. "The true answer to the question would be the ownership change, but as a lifelong fan, speaking with my heart, I would choose the Trent Green injury. Prior to that, the team had not proven anything, and was spinning its wheels."

SEAHAWKS: Paul Allen trumps all

The Seahawks were planning a move to Los Angeles during their darkest days of the 1990s, at one point even conducting free agency from an elementary school parking lot in Southern California.

Allen wasn't much of an NFL fan at the time, but he rallied to the cause of keeping the team in Seattle. Allen led a push to secure a new stadium, contributing $130 million of his own money in exchange for $300 million in public funding, as part of a deal to purchase the team.

Within a couple years, the team had landed Mike Holmgren as coach and general manager. Multiple division titles and the first Super Bowl in franchise history followed.

"I went with Allen buying the team," DiLune2 wrote. "It is hard to point to any one of those [other] moments as the one point where it all changed. They were part of a long, ugly slide. Allen buying the team, though, was the one point in time where you can look and say, 'It all changed right there.'"

[+] EnlargeLarry Fitzgerald
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images Larry Fitzgerald caught nine passes for 152 yards and three TDs in the NFC Championship Game.
CARDINALS: Beating Eagles to reach Super Bowl

Sixty-eight percent of more than 26,000 Cardinals voters pointed to the team's victory over Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game. No option for any team drew a higher percentage.

The runner-up for the Cardinals -- securing a new stadium in 2006 -- lagged with only 16 percent. But some felt strongly it should have prevailed.

"Wow, this is a slam dunk," longtime blog contributor Leesters wrote. "The stadium changed this team overnight. It went from the least competitive financial situation in the league to one of the best, in one year. Free agents could be afforded, better coaches, better home-field advantage. If it wasn't for this stadium, there would be no NFC Championship win."

Parcells, Bledsoe and the Hall of Fame

February, 9, 2011
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I once heard Tom Donahoe, the former Buffalo Bills president and general manager, call quarterback Drew Bledsoe a future Pro Football Hall of Famer.

Then again, Donahoe used to say a lot of things.

I was reminded of this when taking a glance at players who will make their first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot for 2012.

Buffalo News reporter Mark Gaughan, who's on the Hall of Fame selection committee and last weekend was elected president of the Pro Football Writers Association, blogged the top newcomers to consider the next few years.

[+] EnlargeBill Parcells and Drew Bledsoe
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaBill Parcells and his former quarterback Drew Bledsoe will be on the Hall of Fame ballot next year.
The lists are helpful in speculating when fan favorites such as Andre Reed and Curtis Martin will get their Canton calls. They both were finalists this year -- Reed for the fifth time, Martin for the first -- but weren't added to the 2011 induction class Saturday.

Perhaps that development was fitting for Martin because his coach with the New England Patriots and New York Jets will be on the ballot again. They could get in together in 2012.

Bill Parcells has been a finalist twice, but not since 2002 because rules for coaches changed. They now must wait five years from their last game to be eligible for induction, and Parcells returned to the sidelines with the Dallas Cowboys in 2003.

Is Parcells a Hall of Famer? I know Miami Dolphins fans aren't too thrilled with him these days, but he did add to an already remarkable legacy -- two championships, different teams to the Super Bowl, a few organizational turnarounds -- by guiding the Dolphins from 1-15 to the AFC East title as their football operations boss.

Also on the ballot next year will be Bledsoe, running backs Corey Dillon and Tiki Barber, fullback Mike Alstott, guard Will Shields and coaches Bill Cowher and Marty Schottenheimer.

Bledsoe had a fine career with the Patriots, Bills and Cowboys and ranks eighth all-time in passing yards. But he was a Pro Bowler only four times and never was first-team All-Pro. Bledsoe was helpful in getting the Patriots their first championship, so he does have a ring. But that was Tom Brady's team.

Dillon also was a four-time Pro Bowler and won a Super Bowl with the Patriots. He ranks 17th in rushing yards and never led the league in a major rushing category.

Schottenheimer played for the Bills and Patriots before winning 61 percent of his regular-season games as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers. His 200 victories rank sixth all-time, but his 5-23 playoff record will hurt.

That group of first-time candidates -- plus the newcomers for 2013 -- bodes well for Reed. There won't be any new receivers for him to box out. He already has jockeyed ahead of contemporaries Cris Carter and Tim Brown by making the cut from 15 to 10 in the selection process the past two years. Carter and Brown haven't.

Gaughan highlighted first-year players for next few classes.

2013: Quarterback Vinny Testaverde, offensive linemen Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden, defensive tackle Warren Sapp, defensive end Michael Strahan.

2014: Running back Shaun Alexander, receiver Marvin Harrison, linebacker Derrick Brooks, safety Rodney Harrison and coaches Tony Dungy, Jon Gruden and Mike Holmgren -- if they don't return to sideline work.

2015: Quarterback Kurt Warner, receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, tackles Orlando Pace and Walter Jones and linebacker Junior Seau.

Broncos video bust entangles Patriots

November, 29, 2010
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The NFL's latest videotaping scandal has drawn out the New England Patriots, much to their annoyance.

As I wrote Saturday when the NFL announced it was punishing the Denver Broncos for filming a San Francisco 49ers walk-through prior to their game in London last month, Spygate has re-emerged as a hot topic.

Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels was the Patriots' quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator under Bill Belichick when the Spygate story unfolded in 2007 and 2008.

Steve Scarnecchia, the Broncos videographer who was fired for shooting the 49ers walk-through, was on the Patriots' video staff from 2001 through 2004, when some of those infamous violations were committed. He's also the son of Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia.

"Fox NFL Sunday" insider Jay Glazer reported McDaniels told his coaching staff in a Friday meeting that what the Broncos did in London wasn't as bad as what the Patriots did for years.

Glazer on McDaniels' description of what happened in New England: "That was practiced. That was coached. That was worked on."

The Broncos' transgression was a popular subject on Sunday's various NFL shows.

NBC Sports analyst Tony Dungy on McDaniels reportedly making the Patriots admission: "That is really a violation of honor code of coaches. You talk to your staff, 'Here's what we do at our place. We don't talk about what anybody else does. What happened in the past.' I don’t think he should have talked about that."

Dungy on severity of Denver's violation compared to New England's: "If he’s referring to videotaping, that's a completely different story than stealing signals. If you're videotaping walk-throughs, opponents' practices, that is really, really a serious allegation."

NBC Sports analyst and former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison on whether this scandal will dog the Patriots: "First of all, it won't be a distraction. This team is 9-2 and Belichick is a mastermind, absolutely a mastermind of keeping guys focused on the task at hand. In 2007 this similar situation happened to us, and as players we said 'Someone's attacking our coach. We're going to protect him.' We went out there, went 16-0, 18-1 overall, and we blew everybody out by 20, 25 points."

Harrison on McDaniels talking about Patriots practices: "Josh is a good guy, and I felt like he was a loyal guy. He was a guy that Bill Belichick gave an opportunity to, and it really surprised me that he would come out and say something like this."

CBS Sports analyst Bill Cowher: "As far as the punishment, no, it's not enough. The precedent was set when the New England Patriots were fined, Bill Belichick himself over $100,000, and draft picks should be taken away. I know they say [Steve Scarnecchia] acted independently. I don't agree with that because I think in every room, in every building, the dynamics, you always have to answer to a superior. I have a hard time believing this was done independently. It was not heavily fined enough. Draft picks should have been taken away."

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Harrison: Suspensions will curb head shots

October, 18, 2010
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The headline of a Sporting News preseason yearbook feature on Rodney Harrison once called him "The Last Assassin" for the way he ruthlessly hammered ball carriers. He walloped a defenseless receiver or two in his day.

But the former New England Patriots safety claims the only way to rid the NFL of players delivering helmet shots is to skip the fines and dole out suspensions.

"You didn't get my attention when you fined me five grand, 10 grand, 15 grand," Harrison said on NBC's "Football Night in America" set Sunday. "You got my attention when I got suspended, and I had to get away from my teammates, and I disappointed my teammates from not being there."

In the NFL culture, some ultra-aggressive defenders view fines merely as investments or necessary employment fees. Many wouldn't be on a roster if they weren't capable of delivering the big hit. So when they get flagged for a helmet-to-helmet blast or for nailing a receiver who's watching the ball, an occasional fine is part and parcel.

"But you have to suspend these guys," Harrison said. "These guys are making millions of dollars."

Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather was flagged for launching himself at Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap, one of multiple dubious head shots around the league Sunday. Heap was defenseless. Meriweather went helmet-to-helmet.

New York Jets safety Jim Leonhard also was called for unnecessary roughness for drilling Denver Broncos receiver Brandon Lloyd along the sideline on a long third-quarter completion. The 15 yards helped the Broncos score a touchdown on the drive. But replays showed Leonhard used his shoulder.

Meriweather likely will be fined. He wasn't ejected, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick, clearly upset, yanked him. Meriweather eventually returned because safety Jarrad Page hurt his left calf.

"It's not the fine that's going to do it," NBC studio analyst Tony Dungy said. "These guys are not doing this on purpose, but they've got to lower their strike zone, change it. We had this with the quarterbacks a few years ago, and we got the defenders to change. You have to protect these receivers. Some of these guys may be out two or three weeks, and the only way to make it fair is have these defenders sit out if they damage someone."

Harrison explained his target area was "right on the chest. You're taught to separate the guy from the ball. ... Now all of a sudden, as you're coming, you start raising up a couple inches. Now it's helmet to helmet. Now they're going to have to reprogram these players to start hitting lower, by the waist."

Best Patriots Team Ever: 2004

June, 30, 2010
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Notable players: QB Tom Brady, RB Corey Dillon, WR Deion Branch, WR/DB Troy Brown, TE Daniel Graham, T Matt Light, DE Richard Seymour, OLB Willie McGinest, OLB Mike Vrabel, ILB Tedy Bruschi, CB Ty Law, CB Asante Samuel, S Rodney Harrison, K Adam Vinatieri, ST Larry Izzo.

[+] EnlargeBrady
Matthew Emmons/uS PresswireTom Brady and the Patriots collected their third Super Bowl win in four seasons.
Analysis: The New England Patriots are the only AFC East club with three championship seasons to consider, and one could argue with conviction their best team didn't win the Super Bowl.

But 2004 stands apart. The Patriots claimed their third Vince Lombardi Trophy in four seasons to establish themselves as one of the all-time great teams. Brady and head coach Bill Belichick ensured their place in Canton.

The Patriots picked up where they left off after winning Super Bowl XXXVIII the year before. They increased their win streak to an NFL record 21 games. They ranked fourth in scoring and second in points allowed. They lost two games all season, Week 8 at the Pittsburgh Steelers and Week 15 at the Miami Dolphins.

After beating the Indianapolis Colts for the second time and holding Peyton Manning's offense to three points in the divisional round of the playoffs, the Patriots scored 41 points to avenge their defeat in Pittsburgh.

In Super Bowl XXXIX, the Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles more comfortably than the 24-21 score indicates. Adam Vinatieri didn't need to drill a field goal in the closing seconds for a change.

Most impressive win: The Patriots never were more dominant than they were in Week 10 against the Buffalo Bills, a borderline playoff team that won three out of four heading into Gillette Stadium and six straight afterward. The Patriots rolled up a season-high 428 offensive yards and limited the Bills to 125 yards to win 29-6.

What can Brown do for you? Pretty much whatever you could ask of him. Brown caught only 15 passes in the regular season, but in Week 9 against the St. Louis Rams, he entered the game as an emergency defensive back when Samuel went down with an injury. Brown finished the season with three interceptions (one shy of the team lead) and broke the Super Bowl record for punt returns.

Honorable mention

2007: It's the greatest NFL team not to win the championship. Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker rewrote a good chunk of the offensive record book, but the Patriots fell short of finishing the season undefeated, losing in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants.

2001: New England won its first championship with an offense that ranked sixth in scoring and a defense that ranked sixth in points allowed. Belichick's controversial decision to stick with Brady when Drew Bledsoe returned to health created a superstar.

2003: New England went 14-2 to win its second title in three years. The offense was pretty mediocre, but the defense posted three shutouts, gave up six points or fewer five times and averaged 11.9 points against over the final 10 weeks of the regular season.

1976: Patriots fans thought a storybook season was unfolding in the bicentennial. Steve Grogan and Sam Cunningham led the Pats to an 11-3 record, but a controversial late-hit call helped them lose to the Oakland Raiders in the playoffs.video

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