Welcome to November. Halloween was one of the more tame Sundays we’ve had this season, but there are still some interesting storylines to look at. Here are three, followed by some quick thoughts and weekly awards:

Mike Shanahan attempts to send a message; will it work?

Mike Shanahan has balls. I mean, the guy comes in and takes over the Redskins in the offseason, and the first big thing he does is trade within the division for Donovan McNabb. A few months later, he embarrasses Albert Haynesworth in an apparent effort to remind his highest paid player who’s boss. And now here we are in late October, and Shanahan has just benched McNabb in favour of Rex Grossman.

Shanahan claims he sat McNabb late in Sunday’s game with Detroit because he thought Grossman was better suited to work the hurry-up offence. And while that assertion isn’t completely crazy (McNabb has never been particularly good late in close games) it’s a bit of a stretch to think that Grossman provides an upgrade in any situation.

So was Shanahan merely trying to send another message? Was he trying to relay to McNabb that his poor play (especially in clutch situations) hadn’t gone unnoticed? After all, McNabb had been a microcosm for his entire team as of late. He wasn’t playing well, but no one was noticing. The Redskins weren’t really doing anything right, yet they kept winning.

All that changed on Sunday, when the Lions put Washington in its place. In the process, Shanahan put McNabb in his.

The things Shanahan did to Haynesworth in August and McNabb yesterday were insulting. But this isn’t grade school, and Shanahan doesn’t seem to be concerned with his star players’ feelings. He shouldn’t have to be.

This is a contract year for McNabb, and Sunday’s incident will certainly add some pressure. Will the move light a fire under him? We’ll find out soon if Shanahan is being a genius or reckless. Or both.

What does Jerry Jones do now?

Even Jones seems to finally realize that his team is done. And considering that the Super Bowl is going to the Dallas area this year, Jones is clearly pissed off that things have turned out this way.

“I’m embarrassed. Of course I am,” Jones said after the Cowboys were smoked by Jacksonville to fall to 1-6. “And, to every fan, I should have and do take the ultimate, ultimate responsibility. I do. That’s the way we’re structured. That’s the way I run it. There’s no question that I have the plan and executing it to have the best players and the best coaching that we can have. I’m dumbfounded that we are 1-7.”

“You couldn’t get me to say it, but you know that I thought we had a team here that could be one of the top competitive teams in the NFL. I’m very, very, very sorry to our fans. You should have better than this.”

So what’s next for Jones and the Cowboys? The pieces are in place — they appear to have the top-end, superstar-type talent to compete. Their problem is the small stuff: penalties, careless mistakes, special teams gaffes. They haven’t had a general manager since Jones took over as owner over two decades ago; and their pushover head coach doesn’t appear to have a lot of control over his players.

Right now, the Cowboys don’t appear as though they care. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a team as aloof as these guys are. And that’s a reflection of a) poor coaching and b) poor management.

Jones should clean house. He should fire Wade Phillips, Jason Garrett and the rest of the staff. But instead of searching for their replacements, he should hire a proper general manager and let that guy run the show. Until that happens, the Cowboys will continue to be a constantly distracted brawn-over-brains team. And that just doesn’t work in the chess match with human pawns that we call football.

Speaking of teams that are done, how ’bout the Vikings?

The Packers are winning despite their injuries, the Lions are 2-1 after an 0-4 start and the Bears still have the firepower to win 10 games. The Vikings? Well, they’re now tied for dead last in the NFC North and Brett Favre has yet another injury to deal with.

Favre had to leave Sunday’s loss to the Patriots after taking a hard shot to the chin. I don’t want to make too much of the loss, because New England was a heavy favourite at home, but you have to wonder if it’s just not the Vikings’ year.

There was a time when Favre was the least of their problems, but now the Jenn Sterger situation combined with his growing list of injuries has created a distraction. And while we’re on the subject of distractions, there’s Randy Moss, who made a fool of himself and embarrassed his coach and his teammates with an impromptu postgame rant Sunday.

Making matters worse, Moss isn’t delivering much on the field. He hasn’t fixed the problems in the passing game and he’s yet to establish any substantial chemistry with Favre.

The schedule isn’t overly tough in the second half, but the Packers — who were being left for dead by many only two weeks ago — find themselves getting healthier and gaining confidence. It’s going to be very hard for Minnesota to keep up.

QUICK HITS

  • Favre might have a concussion, which means the two biggest stories of the 2010 season might be about to collide. In the entertainment world, this would be like a marriage between Bieber and Gaga. It’s gonna be a crazy week.
  • The Steelers pass defence has me worried. New Orleans had a completely one-dimensional attack Sunday night, but Pittsburgh still had way too much trouble stopping the Saints through the air.
  • Are the Raiders becoming the favourite in the AFC West? I still don’t feel particularly good about 3-5 San Diego and Kansas City struggled against the Bills. Oakland has outscored its opponents 92-17 in the last two weeks.
  • If Nnamdi Asomugha (ankle) is forced to miss time, forget everything I just said.
  • It’s official: Kerry Collins is the best backup quarterback in the NFL. For indisputable proof, please watch Tennessee’s last drive from Sunday.
  • The Titans can succeed without Vince Young, but they need Kenny Britt in order to compete with the Colts in the AFC South. The injury Britt suffered Sunday is one to keep a very close eye on.
  • The Redskins need to find more ways to get the ball into Brandon Banks’ hands. Google him.
  • There isn’t a team in the league that confuses me as much as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers do. Tampa at Atlanta in Week 9 — that’ll give me some clarity.
  • Why do the Cardinals continue to line up four receivers and whip the ball around? They just don’t have the talent or personnel to do that anymore. If they can’t adapt to changes like the loss of Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin, they should consider looking for a new head coach in the offseason.
  • The Bills aren’t lucky, I’ll admit that. But in the NFL, you generally make your own luck. Sunday’s result was a shame, because Chan Gailey performed his best coaching job thus far.
  • Elsewhere in the AFC East, that was the worst game I’ve seen Rex Ryan coach.
  • Crazy that the 49ers are now just 2.5 games out of first place in the NFC West. I’m still thinking there’s a chance they pull it off. It wouldn’t shock me if any of the four teams in the NFC West won that division.
  • Chiefs-Raiders: the game of Week 9. What a messed up league.

WHAT THE HELL?

It’s quite obvious this week…

AWARDS

Player of the week: Jamaal Charles — How ’bout 177 yards on 22 carries for Kansas City’s “backup” running back? He saved the Chiefs against Buffalo.

Team of the week: Green Bay Packers — They can win shootouts (Week 7 vs. Minnesota) and they can win defensive battles (Week 8 vs. the Jets). Considering all their injuries, it’s hard to believe they’re in minor control of the NFC North.

Surprise player of the week: David Garrard — The 2010 season has been a roller coaster ride for Garrard, but he’s definitely on top right now. A nearly perfect day against a good Cowboys defence.

Surprise team of the week: Jacksonville Jaguars — And so the GLS survivor pool luck runs out.

SETTING THE PACE

  • Philip Rivers (5,298) is still on pace to break Dan Marino’s single-season passing yards record (5,084).

IF THE SEASON ENDED TODAY

MVP: Peyton Manning, Colts — Amazing, isn’t it, that Manning and Tom Brady — the top two players of the last decade — are 1-2 in the MVP race midway through this season? Manning’s 34; Brady’s 33.

Offensive player of the year: Roddy White, Falcons — Rivers, Adrian Peterson and Charles are part of the conversation.

Defensive player of the year: Clay Matthews, Packers – Another sack as the Packers registered the first shutout of the 2010 season. Matthews has 9.5 sacks in just 6.5 games.

Offensive rookie of the year: Sam Bradford, Rams — It’s not just about wins and losses for quarterbacks, and Bradford has lots of room for improvement. But the fact that a Rams team that is very similar to the 2009 version is 4-4 at the midway point says a lot about the impact Bradford has made.

Defensive rookie of the year: Ndamukong Suh, Lions — Honestly, the guy is Albert Haynesworth circa 2008, but with more athleticism. Massive game against the Redskins.

Coach of the year: Todd Haley, Chiefs – He’s had this thing all year, but Bill Belichick is starting to give Haley a run for his money. How’s the Randy Moss trade looking now?

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