Hustle factor carries White to Pro Bowl

Atlanta wide receiver Roddy White(notes) has the numbers to more than justify his third consecutive Pro Bowl selection. He also has the attitude.

Not that attitude, mind you. Forget his Twitter wars and the regular pushing and shoving he gets involved in with opposing players (although some of that feistiness is a good thing).

Rather, White plays the game the right way, with a tenacious, hustling attitude emblematic of why the Atlanta Falcons are 12-3 and sit atop the NFC with one game to go. Yeah, he has a league-leading 109 receptions to go with his 1,327 yards (second in the league) and nine touchdown catches (tied for 10th).

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But White likely has the league lead in forced fumbles by a wide receiver. Certainly among wideouts who don't double as special teams guys.

White had one critical one this season in the victory over San Francisco in Week 4, when the Falcons came back in the final two minutes to win. He also had another one against San Francisco last season and nearly had one against Seattle two games ago.

"That's just the way I play, all out and feisty," White said. "We have to get the ball back, that's what I'm thinking. We just gave up a possession for our offense and we have to get it back. I'm just thinking that way every time that happens. What can I do to get the ball back?"

Again, White is an example of how the Falcons, who are 6-2 in games decided by less than a touchdown this season, have to play. While the Falcons are good, they aren't extraordinary. They're a team built on doing little things very well.


White's effort to get the ball back is a prime example.

"You might get a play like that once a career," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said admiringly. "Really, that play was big for Roddy, but it was also really big for us as coaches and probably for coaches around the league because it was an example of just what we're always talking about. Instead of just saying it, you can actually put that play up on the board and show players, 'Hey, this can really happen if you work at it.' "

By comparison, Cincinnati's Terrell Owens(notes) had the same situation in a Bengals loss earlier this season. However, rather than chase down the Miami defender, Owens walked off after the interception.

"That's not me, I'm not ever giving up on a ball," White said.


In high school, he won state championships in wrestling as a junior and senior. At the University of Alabama-Birmingham, White and his football teammates used to challenge each other regularly.

"We had a key to the lights at the practice field," White said. "We'd start talking at each other and then go out to the field and run routes, the receivers and the defensive backs going at it."

It caught the attention of a security guard.

"That guy used to pull up and watch us going at it."


Silver linings to firings

There is nothing good about seeing someone get fired. For instance, as much as San Francisco coach Mike Singletary deserved to be let go on Sunday night, no one should be happy that Singletary failed in his effort to turn around the 49ers.


But there is a growing feeling that the number of firings this season could have a direct impact on the appetite of some owners to lock out the players. With four teams (Dallas, Denver, Minnesota and San Francisco) already in the market for coaches and perhaps another seven (Carolina, Houston, Oakland, Tennessee, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Miami) about to shop, at least a third of the league could be changing head coaches.

The trickle-down effect of that is the hiring of new assistant coaches and the installation of new offensive and defensive systems. All of that takes time. If you think that one third of the owners in this league will hire new coaches and then spend the offseason watching them do nothing but work with a few rookies they draft in April, think again.

"You're talking about wasting an entire year, throwing it all away," a high-ranking AFC team executive said. "Could you imagine being the Dolphins if they fire Tony Sparano, hire a new guy, draft a quarterback in the first round and then expect to play that quarterback without a full offseason to get ready? I'm sure [Stephen] Ross is going to be really excited about that."

There's also the challenge of selling tickets after an offseason of change, but no preparation. Not only is the artificial excitement of the offseason regimen gone, but also there could be significant doubt that some teams have improved.


"There are good teams, playoff teams, out there that can't sell tickets," the executive said. "I can only imagine what it's going to be like talking to fans where the teams [are bad]."

Top five
1. New England Patriots (13-2):
Logic dictates that Tom Brady(notes) is the MVP of the league. He has been too good despite so many changes. Give Michael Vick(notes) credit. Give Brady the award.
2. Atlanta Falcons (12-3): The loss to New Orleans was troubling, but there's no shame in losing to the champs. The Falcons still rank at the top of the NFC.
3. Chicago Bears (11-4): Thirty-eight points against the Jets and 31 against Philly is a great way to get ready for the playoffs. The doubts are legit, but the Bears keep answering.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (10-4): This was written before the game against Minnesota started, but if the Eagles can't beat that hopeless outfit, I'll rip them seriously.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-4): They better get the No. 2 seed and hope that somebody solves their Kryptonite, er, New England problem. If so, a Super Bowl berth awaits.

Bottom five
28. Denver Broncos (4-11):
Big props to Tim Tebow(notes) for a terrific game. If Josh McDaniels had been smart enough to start him earlier, he'd still have a job. That said, there's a ways to go.
29. Houston Texans (5-10): So which team has laid down more in the AFC South: the Texans or Tennessee? Yeah, not having Andre Johnson(notes) hurts, but that was Denver you were playing.
30. Seattle Seahawks (6-9): Yeah, they might still make the playoffs. So what? This team is bad and going bleak. QB Charlie Whitehurst(notes) played like a palmetto bug headed for a zapper.
31. San Francisco 49ers (5-10): Here was the first question asked to interim coach Jim Tomsula: "What do you expect to accomplish in one week as coach?" Ouch!
32. Carolina Panthers (2-13): Seriously, you have to work hard in this league to be this bad. There's no shame losing to Pittsburgh, but that kind of effort is ridiculous.

This and that


I have a theory that once teams are in the playoffs, playing for seeding is completely secondary. Getting in is all that matters. Earning a week off is nice, but it's far less important. So for all those people who think teams like Chicago, Atlanta, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Baltimore will be playing really hard this weekend to get a better playoff position, think again. For instance, Atlanta and New Orleans are taking their games Sunday so seriously that they each gave their players Tuesday AND Wednesday off from practice after the Monday night game.

Don't be surprised over the report from NBC's Peter King that Stanford's Andrew Luck may return to school rather than come out in the draft with most people expecting him to be the No. 1 overall pick. Luck's father, Oliver, said recently he has looked into disability policies for his son if Luck returns to school.

Kudos to Dallas Cowboys interim coach Jason Garrett for resisting the temptation to go for two points following Marion Barber's(notes) touchdown late in the third quarter against the Arizona Cardinals. While the Cowboys ended up losing by a point, there was no need to overreact to the earlier botched point-after. Unlike many coaches who panic early on the two-point chart, Garrett was patient. Maybe he might have done it differently with QBs Tony Romo(notes) or Jon Kitna(notes) rather than third-stringer Stephen McGee(notes). However, Garrett knew exactly what he wanted to do. Hopefully, owner Jerry Jones took note.

Speaking of Arizona, give rookie quarterback John Skelton(notes) credit for having some serious chops at the end of the victory over Dallas. Skelton, a fifth-round pick from Fordham, made a critical throw to a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald(notes) to help set up the game-winning field goal. Still, one wonders if Cardinals management will take the cheap route this offseason and stay with Skelton rather than go after a veteran quarterback (Donovan McNabb(notes), assuming he gets his wish of a divorce from the Washington Redskins). The ripple effect of staying with Skelton could have an impact on whether the team keeps Fitzgerald when he becomes a free agent.