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Well, just enough happened in week 16 to make sure that week 17 has some games of serious consequence.  If Cleveland and Minnesota had won, we’d be looking at a pretty weak final set of games, with both #1s and #2s locked up, and only the seeding of the wild-card spots at stake.  Now we’ve at least got Minnesota-Denver and Washington-Dallas guaranteed to be important games.  And since those are both happening in the late game, there’s still hope for New Orleans in the first game (and don’t think the NFL didn’t do that on purpose), giving them something to play for.  Then you’ve got the suddenly stumbling Browns vs. the suddenly streaking 49ers, which has some promise of intrigue, and it all ends with Tennessee-Indianapolis, where the Titans need to win no matter what the Browns do to make the playoffs.  So yes, there will be exciting football next week, and not just whether or not the Patriots make it 16-0.

When the Redskins have put themselves in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot, you know I’m going to be in a good mood.  But there’s a lot more to be happy about than you’re your own team when you’re a pure football fan.  So here, I’m going to raise a glass of ‘nog to all the great stuff that happened around the league this weekend, making me proud to be an NFL fan.

Here’s to you, Ben Roethlisberger.  You won’t see a much more efficient game than 261 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs on only 20 pass attempts.  15% of your throws were for touchdowns!  And you were under pressure too – you got sacked as many times as you threw an incompletion!

Here’s to you, Najeh Davenport.  Way to step up and fill in when your team needed you.

Here’s to you, Santonio Holmes.  Your team drafted you to be a deep threat playmaker, and look what you did.

Here’s to you, Ike Taylor.  A pick and half the field for a touchdown.  Nice.

Here’s to you, Marion Barber.  Way to truck it.

Here’s to you, Steve Smith.  Had a feeling you were due for a big game.

Here’s to you, Kawika Mitchell and Corey Webster, for your INT returns for TDs.  Mitchell’s gave the Giants the lead, Webster’s put the game out of reach.

Here’s to you, Ahmad Bradshaw.  Yet another late draft pick comes out of nowhere and has a huge game.  Brandon Jacobs, you get a toast too, but Bradshaw’s game was even better.

Here’s to you, Amani Toomer, for being the only guy on your team Manning could rely on to catch a pass.  The Giants had 7 completions, 5 were to Toomer. 

Here’s to you, John McCargo, for that HUGE goal-line stand, stopping the Giants for a loss on fourth and goal. 

Here’s to you, Buffalo Bills fans, for this heart-warming moment: within a matter of moments, the wind picked up to gusting, and rain began to pour, no doubt a cold rain as it turned to snow an hour later.  And what did the fans do?  Put on their ponchos and cheered like nuts.  Now that’s how a football fan behaves.

Here’s to you, Eagles’ front line, for stopping the Saints at the goal line on three consecutive plays to keep ahead by 7.  That was the game-turning moment, they say.

Here’s to you, Kevin Curtis, for recovering that end-zone fumble in the first quarter.  Heads-up play.  That late TD pass was a nice nail-in-the-coffin, too.

Here’s to you, Donovan McNabb, for once again responding to your critics with a good game. 

Here’s to you, Shawn Bradley.  I always like it when someone gets a sack and a pick in the same game.

Here’s to you, Bears special-teams coach Dave Toub, and the Bears’ punt rush unit, for blowing up 3 punt plays by the Packers.

Here’s to you, Adrian Peterson – not Purple Jesus, the other one – yeah, it took you 30 carries, but it was nice to see someone get 100 yards for the Bears.

Here’s to you, Brian Urlacher and Alex Brown.  Brown joins the sack-and-a-pick club, and Urlacher got a pick for the second consecutive week and ran it 85 yards for six.  Let me tell you how glad Brett Favre is that you all won’t be in the playoffs.  Hey Oshiomogho Atogwe – you’re in good company.  You, Urlacher, and Sean Taylor are the only people who’ve picked Favre off twice this year.

Here’s to you, Kenny Watson, but you don’t know how infuriating you Bengals are being for someone who tries to predict games every week.  Could it be that the Bengals will consider becoming a running team next year?  It worked a lot better than their passing game yesterday.

Here’s to you, Leigh Bodden.  Two picks to keep it competitive – you did what you could.

Here’s to you, Chinedum Ndukwe.  Who cares if Derek Anderson is one of the country’s favorite surprise stories this year?  You made him look flat out bad with your two picks.  The eight tackles and two assists are pretty nice too.

Here’s to you, Leon Hall, Jonathan Joseph, Dhani Jones, Rashard Jeanty, and Marvin White.  With Ndukwe, you combined for 12 passes defensed, including Hall’s and Joseph’s interceptions – that’ll throw any quarterback off.  Anderson only had 7 incompletions beyond those you touched.

Here’s to you, Dustin Colquitt, for blocking that punt for a safety, giving the Lions a nice lead to work with.  

Here’s to you, T.J. Duckett, for exploding for 100 yards on 15 carries when nothing else was working.  Funny how often it takes a player low on the depth chart to end a losing streak.

Here’s to you, Paris Lenon, for a pick return TD that all but secured the game.

Here’s to you, Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne.  All you did was do what you do, and it won yet another game.

Here’s to you, Fred Taylor.  Your fifth straight 100-yard game, and it only took you seven carries.  Anyone not think this guy’s amazing?

Here’s to you, Dominic Rhodes.  I’m not sure why you got 27 carries in a blowout, but you turned them into 115 yards against a very good run defense.  Not shabby.

Here’s to you, Maurice Jones-Drew.  You led the game in receiving and added 44 yards on 10 carries, giving you 140 combined yards.  That’s a good game.

Here’s to you, Bobby McCray, for those two sacks and a forced fumble.  Way to add insult to injury.

Here’s to you, Offensive Player of the Week Anquan Boldin 13 catches for 162 yards and 2 TDs, including three catches on the game-winning drive in overtime.  Yowza.

Here’s to you, Kurt Warner.  You’ve thrown more than 45 passes in three of the past five weeks – how does your arm hold up?  This time it was for 361 yards and 3 TDs and most importantly no picks, which is why you won this one.  Great game.

Here’s to you, Roddy White and Laurent Robinson.  I don’t feel like doing the research, but I bet it’s been a damn long time since two Falcons receivers broke 100 yards in the same game.

Here’s to you, Calvin Pace.  10 tackles and a sack – definitely a factor in the win.

Here’s to you, Chris Redman.  Most people thought your team was in roll-over mode, but you put up a great fight and had your first 300-yard game. 

Here’s to you, Frank Gore.  132 total yards and a TD reception in a surprise win, making Pats fans everywhere go “Oh, come on” at your two-game winning streak.

Here’s to you, Defensive Player of the Week Patrick Willis.  Some said, “Why should he make the Pro Bowl – so what if he racks up a lot of tackles, I need more.”  So you got your 12 tackles but added 2 sacks, forced a fumble, and deflected a pass.  Very nice.

Here’s to you, NBC Sunday night crew – don’t know who said it, but you definitely made me laugh with that “The winning streak is over.  No, not the Pats’, they won.  The Dolphins’.”

Here’s to you, Laurence Maroney.  I’ve been waiting for that to happen.  156 yards and a TD on only 14 carries.  Fantastic.

Here’s to you, Jabar Gaffney.  Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth, and Wes Welker on the team, and somehow Gaffney gets the game-high for receiving yards. 

Here’s to you, Junior Seau, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, and Jarvis Green.  7 sacks between the five of you.  There’s a reason Miami only managed 7 points.

Here’s to you, Seattle Seahawks.  That’s a team victory if I ever saw one – I can’t pick out a single standout performance, but you won by 21 points.  Nate Burleson caught three passes for a touchdown and returned 3 punts for 45 yards – that’s about the best I can find.  Oh, wait, here’s one:

Here’s to you, Patrick Kerney.  A sack and two forced fumbles.  Nice.

Here’s to you, LenDale White.  It’s funny to see that the big guy got all the yards, but the smaller guy (Chris Brown) got the touchdown, but hey, way to defy stereotypes.  

Here’s to you, Jerricho Cotchery, for a very solid effort in defeat.  152 yards on 8 catches is pretty great – way to step up in Laveranues Coles’ absence. 

Here’s to you, Kyle Vanden Bosch.  3 sacks and a forced fumble – if you feel you got stiffed for Defensive Player of the Week, you can make your case against Patrick Willis in the Pro Bowl.

Here’s to you, Clinton Portis.  76 yards rushing, 48 receiving, and 15 passing for a TD (also a TD rushing, not to be confused with T. J. Rushing of the Colts).  And as Madden makes sure we know, you can block with the best of ‘em too.  Truly an all-around great player you are.

Here’s to you, Todd Collins.  You have to pass well to beat the Vikings, and you certainly did.  22 passes completed to 9 different receivers. 

Here’s to you, The Man Upstairs for the Redskins (no, not God).  Way to spot that 12th man on the field, which may well have been a game-saving call.  Though I have to say, if someone wants evidence that the NFL should abolish instant replay, it’s this game.  The Redskins rushed to the line, knowing that the first down reception would likely be overturned on replay.  Brad Childress and the Vikings were so concerned with whether or not to challenge the play that they didn’t make their substitutions in time, and got flagged for 12 men.  Nothing wrong or unethical about what the Redskins did; they merely took advantage of the rules.  But it wasn’t a pretty moment for football, because a stupid botched snap had no consequence thanks to a series of technicalities.  Still, toast to the Redskins’ staff in a moment of pure outcoaching the opponent by being prepared for a strange situation.

Here’s to you, Fred Smoot, for leading the team in tackles and getting a near-TD on an interception of Tarvaris Jackson’s first pass.

Here’s to you, Redskins’ defense, for swallowing up Adrian Peterson all day (apologies for the intentional misuse of your nickname, AD).  18 of his 27 yards came on one play.

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