Commentary

10 Spot: Manning eyes 50,000-yard club

Originally Published: December 24, 2009
By Adam Schefter | ESPN.com

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is not only piling up passing yards, he's passing milestones.

The next one could come as early as Sunday, if he plays long enough, when Manning will attempt to become the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 50,000 yards.

He needs a mere 159 more yards. If he doesn't do it Sunday against the Jets, he likely will do it the following Sunday in Buffalo. Manning is about to join the exclusive 50,000-yard fraternity that includes Brett Favre (68,692), Dan Marino (61,361) and John Elway (51,475).

Call it the Indy 50,000 -- with no end in sight.

And there's more. Manning is on his way to his record-setting fourth NFL Most Valuable Player Award. He is trying to match the 2007 New England Patriots unbeaten regular-season mark and the 1972 Miami Dolphins full-season unbeaten mark.

By the time Manning finishes playing, it's conceivable that he could hold every significant NFL passing record, along with the title of the greatest quarterback in history.

Then again, maybe he already is.

Now on to this week's 10 Spot:

[+] EnlargeBrian Dawkins
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesBroncos safety Brian Dawkins, who played 13 seasons in Philadelphia, gets a crack at the Eagles on Sunday.
If this week were nicknamed, it would be dubbed Reunion Week. Just check out the inordinate number of high-profile reunions. In the highest-profile one, Denver Broncos safety Brian Dawkins returns to play the Philadelphia Eagles, the team that wasn't willing to pay him the way Denver was. Cincinnati Bengals running back Larry Johnson squares off against the Kansas City Chiefs, the team that placed him on waivers this season. New England Patriots running back Fred Taylor will try to get healthy enough to play against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team that cut him last offseason. Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner will be up against the St. Louis Rams, a team that he once helped win a Super Bowl. Oakland Raiders quarterback Charlie Frye returns to play against the Cleveland Browns, the team that once traded him away. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck plays against the Green Bay Packers, who once traded him to Seattle.

It's almost as though the NFL schedule-maker decided to match any player who once left a team against his former team this weekend. No matter how much these players let on what their reunion means -- or doesn't mean -- chances are it means even more than they're saying. Deep down inside, these types of games usually bring out the best in players such as Dawkins and Johnson.

Brad Childress' nickname is "Chilly," an apt term to describe the frost that has built up lately between him and Brett Favre. But the idea of any cold should be enough to make the Vikings shudder. Despite the fact that Favre built his legacy in frigid Green Bay, he now has lost his past seven road games when the game-time temperature reaches 37 degrees or colder, including last Sunday night's game in Charlotte, N.C. Not only have Favre and his team lost those games, but they have been blown out in them, outscored 195-68. In five of those games, Favre's team failed to score more than seven points. A Favre-led team has not won on the road when the game-time temperature was 37 degrees or colder since Jan. 6, 2002, when the Packers beat the New York Giants 34-25 at the Meadowlands.

The flip side is the Chicago Bears, who in their past 10 games in 32 degrees or colder at kickoff have a 10-0 record. Now Favre and the Vikings head to Soldier Field to play the Bears on "Monday Night Football," when it is predicted to be in the 20s at game time. And if the Vikings lose another game and the Eagles win their last two, then Philadelphia would open the playoffs as the NFC's No. 2 seed -- with the first-round bye and the home game in the divisional round. And if the Vikings enter the postseason as the No. 3 seed, they would have to take on the Eagles in the divisional playoff round if they won their wild-card game. So if Favre doesn't win in Chicago's cold Monday night, he very well might have to win in Philadelphia's cold in January.

No disrespect to Mel Kiper Jr. or Todd McShay, but one of football's top tandems this season is a pair of undrafted free agents few scouts or pundits noticed. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is an undrafted free agent from Eastern Illinois and wide receiver Miles Austin is an undrafted free agent from Monmouth. This season, they have combined for 11 touchdown connections, more than any other undrafted quarterback and undrafted wide receiver ever, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Former Titans quarterback Billy Volek and wide receiver Drew Bennett held the previous record of 10 in 2004. But what might be even more impressive is how Romo is shattering some of the December perceptions that previously existed about him. In his past three games, Romo hasn't fumbled or thrown an interception. When Romo didn't turn over the football against New Orleans, it marked the first time this season that the Saints' defense hadn't forced at least one turnover. Now Romo must try to do the same Sunday night at Washington against an opportunistic Redskins defense. But if Romo can hold on to the football, Dallas can hold on to its playoff spot.

Cincinnati closes the season against the Chiefs and Jets. But the Bengals might want to start preparing mentally for a potential playoff return trip to San Diego, where they lost in Week 15. With it looking more and more like the Chargers will wrap up the AFC's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye, the Bengals could find themselves returning to San Diego for the divisional playoffs if they can win in Round 1. As much as Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer might enjoy a return trip to his home state of California, he has not enjoyed much professional success there. In his three NFL games in California, Palmer is 0-3, including losses this season to the Raiders and Chargers. Palmer has not won a game in California since 2002, when he led USC to a win over Notre Dame during his senior season.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireThe Jets' Mark Sanchez has suffered through typical rookie QB woes.
No team runs better, plays defense tougher or is any stingier than the New York Jets. They are No. 1 in the NFL in rushing offense, No. 1 in total defense and No. 1 in scoring defense. And yet, for some reason -- maybe multiple reasons -- they can't win consistently. Despite their gaudy rankings, the Jets have a modest 7-7 record. This is partly due to the fact that their rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez has struggled, partly due to the fact that they are minus-4 in giveaway/takeaway and partly due to the fact that their usually reliable special teams have failed them. The Jets surrendered two long touchdown returns to Miami's Ted Ginn during a 30-25 loss in Week 8 and missed two field goal attempts in a 10-7 loss to Atlanta in Week 15. Reverse those two results, and New York is sitting with a 9-5 record, ready to challenge the New England Patriots for the AFC East title. New York is talented enough to become the first team to beat Indianapolis this season, especially with the Colts expected to rest some regulars. But when the Jets look back on a season in which they dominated in so many areas, they will ponder what went wrong.

In the weeks leading up to the 2007 draft, the debate about which quarterback would be selected first was endless. Some thought Notre Dame's Brady Quinn, more thought LSU's JaMarcus Russell. In the end, the majority was right. Russell wound up going to Oakland at No. 1, and Quinn tumbled to Cleveland at No. 22. Neither has had the career he envisioned. Quinn has struggled in Cleveland, where he has led the Browns to two victories this season, throwing for a combined 156 yards in those wins. In Week 15, when Cleveland beat Kansas City 41-34, Quinn threw for 66 yards and two interceptions. Russell lost his job twice this season, once to Bruce Gradkowski, then to Frye, before leading Oakland to a come-from-behind victory over Denver in Week 15.

[+] EnlargeJaMarcus Russell
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesJaMarcus Russell was drafted No. 1 overall in 2007. It's been a bumpy ride since.
Now Cleveland and Oakland square off, and neither quarterback might play. Quinn is out for the season with a foot injury and Russell has been benched in favor of Frye, a Browns castoff who would certainly be the starter had he not suffered a concussion last Sunday in Denver. The stories on Quinn and Russell should be recalled when scouts try to decipher whether Oklahoma's Sam Bradford or Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen should be the first quarterback drafted in 2010 and where they should be drafted. Drafting quarterbacks is dangerous sport. Cleveland's game versus Oakland is the ultimate proof.

When he attended Brigham Young University, Andy Reid played guard and tackle. He continued coaching the position at San Francisco State, Northern Arizona, UTEP, the University of Missouri and for the Green Bay Packers -- up until the time he became the Philadelphia Eagles' head coach. Reid's background has served him well. Along with offensive line coach Juan Castillo, Reid has taken a battered offensive line and made it the centerpiece of one of the NFL's more explosive offenses. The Eagles went to training camp with hopes that Shawn Andrews would play right tackle, Stacy Andrews would play right guard, Todd Herremans would play left guard and Jason Peters would play left tackle. But Shawn Andrews never played a game because of a back injury, Stacy Andrews played only two games because of a lingering knee injury, Herremans missed the first five games with a stress fracture in his foot, and Peters missed a majority of four games with a variety of injuries.

Instead, Winston Justice has played right tackle, Nick Cole has played right guard, and the Eagles have not just gotten by, but excelled. Attention is showered on wide receiver DeSean Jackson, running back LeSean McCoy, tight end Brent Celek and even quarterback Michael Vick. But the Eagles' offensive line, and the way it has held together under duress, has been one of the key reasons Philadelphia carries a 10-4 record into Sunday's game against Denver.

[+] EnlargeAndre Johnson
AP Photo/Wade PayneHouston's Andre Johnson has a phenomenal 389 yards receiving the past two weeks.
Titans running back Chris Johnson, now only 128 yards shy of a 2,000-yard season, is not the only Johnson on a blistering pace. Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson leads the NFL with 1,433 receiving yards -- 223 more than Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne. Should Johnson hold on to what now seems to be an insurmountable lead in the final two games at Miami and against New England, Johnson will lead the NFL in receiving yards for the second straight season.

Now consider this: Since the 1970 merger, Jerry Rice is the only receiver to lead the league in receiving yards in back-to-back seasons. In the past two weeks alone, Johnson has accumulated 389 receiving yards as the Texans try to make one more unlikely postseason push. But Johnson's push is now complete. Last season he led the NFL with 1,575 receiving yards, a total he is likely to surpass this season. While the spotlight shines on receivers such as Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, Johnson is the league's most productive and least heralded wideout.

On New Year's Eve 2005, on one of the most significant plays in Chargers franchise history, then San Diego quarterback Drew Brees dropped back to pass in his end zone. Before Brees could throw a pass, Broncos safety John Lynch blindsided him, knocking the ball loose. As Brees dove for the football, Denver defensive tackle Gerard Warren jumped on him -- and tore the quarterback's labrum. It turned out to be the last play that Brees played for the Chargers in the last game the franchise has lost in December.

Since then, Brees has signed with New Orleans, Philip Rivers has been elevated to starter in San Diego, and the Chargers have reeled off an NFL-record 18 straight wins in December, including Friday night's thumping of the Titans. It's not the Colts' NFL-record 23 straight regular-season wins, but it's the next-best thing. San Diego's win streak has surpassed the record that Dallas set from 1968 to '72, when the Cowboys reeled off 13 straight December victories.

The Schef's Specialties

Game of the week: Baltimore at Pittsburgh. These teams have played four games since the start of 2008. Two went to overtime, one was decided with 43 seconds left and one was the AFC championship.

Player of the week: Texans QB Matt Schaub. On one afternoon, Schaub will try to propel the Texans into playoff contention.

Upset of the week: Chicago over Minnesota. As horrible as they have been, the Bad News Bears are capable of rallying for one game that would could inflame tensions in Minnesota.

Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.