Winning at home for the first time in—are you ready for this?—378 days, keptCarolina's playoff hopes alive, took pressure off coach John Fox and gave riseto unchecked joy. After the stomping of San Francisco, defensive end MikeRucker (above) explained, "Having fun and laughing ... that's what we weredoing out there."
Blossoming at 32: The second baseman batted .288 with 32 stolen bases for theNL champion Rockies in 2007, and now he's landed a three-year $16.5 milliondeal from Houston. Sweeter still: The Astros are giving Matsui his own physicaltherapist.
The Rams' running back (right) had 167 total yards and broke off a 50-yard TDrun to seal a win over Atlanta. And the homophonous Warriors' forward (hespells it Stephen) had led Golden State on a 7--1 run—averaging 21.6 points andplaying ferocious D—since returning from a seven-game ban (strip-club incident)on Nov. 18 (page 145).
As it should be. Five wins in six games—including three straight by an averageof 28 points—had first-place Detroit once again looking like a 50-win team.
This one really hurts. A second straight loss (to rival Tennessee) all butdooms Houston's playoff chances, as does this: QB Matt Schaub (above) left witha dislocated shoulder, and guards Fred Weary and Chris White are out for theyear with leg injuries. Tackle Travis Johnson to the Houston Chronicle:"You get so tired of losing."
Parker versus parker. The Heat guard was still being held out of games whilethe team looked into his scuffle with a female valet parking attendant inMiami. Maybe the Heat was just looking for an excuse: The guy was shooting 32%from the field.
How they've fallen—off the trees (yes, we know it's leaves) and in the NHL'sNortheast Division. Tepid Toronto had lost seven of 10 through Sunday and seemheaded fora third consecutive playoff-less season. So how's it looking forfourth-year G.M. John Ferguson Jr.? Well, hiring him, said Maple Leafspresident Richard Peddie, was, "a mistake on my part."
Seems like old times. Seven losses in eight games—including five by 16 pointsor more—conjured up memories of Los Angeles's dark days at the turn of thecentury.
SI PLAYERS NFL POLL
Who is the NFL's most overrated running back?
Shaun Alexander, Seahawks 19%
Edgerrin James, Cardinals 14%
Larry Johnson, Chiefs 11%
Willis McGahee, Ravens 10%
Reggie Bush, Saints 7%
The 2005 NFL MVP Alexander returned on Sunday after missing three weeks with asprained left knee and had 20 carries for 65 yards against the Eagles; hereceived nearly 29% of the vote among fellow running backs....McGahee was thetop choice among defensive linemen, drawing roughly 17% of their vote.... Jamesnow shares goal-line duties with Marcel Shipp.
[Based on a survey of 278 NFL players] • For more onthe poll, and to comment on it, go to SI.com/players.
STEVE NESIUS/AP (RUCKER)
CHARLES SMALL/US PRESSWIRE (SCHAUB)
DOUG BENC/GETTY IMAGES (PARKER)
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (JAMES)
JOHN BIEVER (ALEXANDER)
BILL GREENBLATT/UPI PHOTO (JACKSON)
DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/AP (MATSUI)