Special Shutdown Corner Season MVP: Chuck Pagano, Head Coach, Indianapolis Colts: Once in a great while, something happens that reminds you just how valuable the personal bonds created by sports can be. It was made clear to everybody this week, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, that there are indeed more important things than sports. Heck -- if there weren't things more important than sports, people like Bob Costas wouldn't have to keep reminding us, because we clearly don't already know.
But what Chuck Pagano imparted to his players in the Indianapolis Colts' winning locker room on Sunday afternoon ... well, this is everything that is great about what it is that we write about. A man diagnosed with leukemia less than two months ago puts it on the line after a series of brutal treatments to let his players know just what he means to them. Whether you care about football or not, there's true substance, meaning, and inspiration in Coach Pagano's words and actions. We should all watch and learn.
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: As for the mere mortals among us, how can we not lead with the Muscle Hamster? The rookie from Boise State, who went nuts on the Minnesota Vikings' defense for 135 rushing yards and 79 receiving yards two Thursdays ago, outdid himself with 251 rushing yards and four touchdowns against the Oakland Raiders' defense in a 42-32 win that put the Bucs at 4-4, firmly in playoff contention. When you consider that the Bucs lost star left guard Carl Nicks for the season last week, Martin's performance is all the more impressive. He broke loose for scoring plays of 1, 45, 67, and 70 yards, merrily breaking tackles and Oakland defenders all the way. Martin didn't come within range of Adrian Peterson's single-game rookie rushing record of 296 yards, but he put the NFL on notice -- there is indeed a new Sherriff in Tampa Bay.
Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts: Speaking of rookie records, how about these numbers? Luck threw for 433 yards against the Miami Dolphins in a 23-20 win that put the Colts at 5-3, square in a playoff race few assumed they'd see for a few years after Jim Irsay's offseason auto-destruction. Luck displayed all his attributes -- surprising mobility, uncanny pocket presence, and a real knack for coming through when his efforts are most needed, converting 13 of 19 third-down opportunities against a Dolphins defense that came into this game with the best third-down defense. He also became the only rookie quarterback other than that Peyton Manning guy to rack up four 300-yard passing games in his first NFL campaign.
Charles Tillman, CB, Chicago Bears: I had Tillman in a tie with J.J. Watt as the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year at the halfway point even before this game, but when you force four fumbles in a single game as Tillman did in the Bears' 51-20 shellacking of the Tennessee Titans... Tillman has been a super-stud on coverage, but his ability to play physically and effectively when he has to drop the hammer that sets him apart.
"It is always on my mind," Tillman said after the game of his specific skill in creating turnovers. "I am very conscious of it. I speak it. I believe it. I practice it. It happens. I guess I have gotten good over the years at punching. ... It can misfire at times, but I would probably say 90, 95 percent of the time if I miss, or I don't get the forced fumble, I am pretty confident that I can get the tackle."
This season, we're pretty confident that Charles Tillman can do whatever he wants on a football field.
Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos: Miller sacked Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton three times, leading a Denver defense that had the second-year quarterback under fairly constant pressure. It's an encouraging sign for Denver fans that even when Peyton Manning has an off-day, as he did in this 31-23 win, the Broncos' defense has it in them to rise up and provide the plays that make the difference.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings: Peterson's Vikings lost to the Seahawks in Seattle, but it wasn't his fault -- Peterson nearly went yard with a 74-yard run on Minnesota's second play from scrimmage, scored on the next play, and gained 144 yards on 12 carries in the first half alone. Unfortunately for Peterson, there was also a second half, and he didn't see much action -- just five carries for 38 yards in the final 30 minutes, despite the fact that quarterback Christian Ponder had another iffy game and the Seahawks were only up by three points at the half.
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