TWENTY MONTHS ago, it seemed like a no-brainer.

Reggie Bush

or

Mario Williams?

A once-in-a-decade running back or a defensive end with a questionable motor.

When the Houston Texans went with the big guy behind door No. 2, well, the club's general manager, Charley Casserly, got a lot more votes for Village Idiot than he did for NFL Executive of the Year. Bypassing Bush for Williams was considered Ryan Leaf-like lunacy.

"At least people believed in Ryan Leaf,'' said Casserly, who resigned shortly after the 2006 draft and now works for CBS. "Half the league would have taken Leaf [over Peyton Manning]. But we believed in what we were doing at the time. Now, I think people see what we saw then.''

Fourteen games into his second season, Williams is a blossoming star. He is second in the league in sacks with 13 and leads all NFL defensive ends in tackles.

Bush, meanwhile, who was taken by the Saints with the second pick in that draft, is not playing at all like a once-in-a-decade running back. Forced to be a carry-the-load running back after Deuce McAllister went down in Week 3 with a season-ending injury, Bush is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry and 5.7 yards per reception. Mr. Big Play has become Mr. Small Play.

"We had some questions about whether you could line Reggie up and play him every snap as a runner,'' Casserly said. "We did think he had big-play ability and did think he could have a role on the team. But would you have to have another back with him? That became a question.''

Bush is 6-foot and 200 pounds, which is 2 inches taller and about the same weight as the Eagles' Brian Westbrook, who also faced is-he-an-every-down-back questions when he came into the league. But Bush has a thinner lower body than Westbrook. His lower body resembles that of a wide receiver more than a running back. He also doesn't have near the leg strength that Westbrook does.

Casserly and the Texans felt they could get a running back later in the draft or even in free agency. They didn't think they could get a 6-7, 290-pound defensive end with 4.65 speed like Williams anywhere else.

"We were switching to a 4-3 from a 3-4 and needed a defensive end who could be a force,'' Casserly said. "When you're playing a four-man front, you've got to have a guy you can build that defense around. You saw the impact Reggie White had. I'm not trying to compare this kid to Reggie. But you've got to have that kind of guy in your defensive line. Somebody that people have to game plan against.''

Casserly scouted Williams several times in person and watched endless tape. He didn't see the inconsistent motor that many other scouts saw.

"I thought he played hard in every game I saw him play,'' he said. "What happens with a defensive lineman is, you can go stretches where you don't make any plays. You're playing hard, you're beating your man, but the ball might be going away from you or you just don't make the play."

Around the league

-- The Eagles are eighth in the NFL in total offense, which means absolutely nothing as far as gauging the actual productivity. A much more telling statistic is points per 100 yards. The Eagles are 26th in that category, averaging just 5.73 points per 100 yards. The six teams behind them - the Bills, 49ers, Panthers, Rams, Chiefs and Falcons - have a combined record of 27-57. The Eagles have had 25 scoring drives of nine plays or more this season. Just 10 of those 25 have resulted in touchdowns. On the other 15, they've had to settle for field goals. They're 25th in red-zone production.

-- The unbeaten Patriots already have clinched the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed. But to no one's surprise, coach Bill Belichick said he has no plans to rest any of his starters in the final two games.

"It's not really part of our approach to the game, and I don't think it's a good one to have,'' Mr. Hoodie said. "I don't really understand it, either. You're going to pick out one guy that's important and then say somebody else isn't? I don't think that's a good way to manage your football team.''

-- The best way to beat the Packers? Get them in a lot of third-and-1 situations. The Packers have converted just eight of 22 third-and-1's this season. By comparison, the Eagles have converted 18 of 25 third-and-1's.

By the numbers

-- The Browns' 8-0 win over the Bills last week in a blinding snowstorm was only the second 8-0 game in NFL history. The first was in 1929, when the Chicago Cardinals beat the Minneapolis Red Jackets.

-- It's not uncommon for a team to get shut out in the Pro Bowl voting. But an entire division? It has happened to the NFC South this season. None of its four teams had a player make the Pro Bowl.

-- The Chiefs have lost seven straight games, even though they were ahead or tied at halftime of six of those games.

-- In their five road losses this season, the Lions have given up 214 points. That's just four fewer points than the Steelers and Buccaneers have allowed all season.

-- The Patriots already have scored 523 points, which is the fifth most in NFL history. They need just 34 more in their last two games to surpass the '98 Vikings (556) for the most ever. The Patriots have 67 touchdowns, which have been scored by 21 players.

2-MINUTE DRILL

FROM THE LIP:

-- "I've always been scared about guns, but I'm strongly thinking of getting one. Everybody talks about a small percentage of people having to protect themselves in their own home. But what if you're in that small percentage? If I do get a gun, I'll go through the proper training and all that. Some guys get 'em and think they know what to do by watching crime shows on TV.'' - Redskins offensive tackle Chris Samuels.

-- "Six-pack? I have a keg. I have a keg and I'm proud of it.'' - Vince Wilfork, the Patriots' 6-2, 325-pound defensive tackle, who went on the Abs Diet during the offseason to help him lose weight.

-- "I'm here for the people who didn't make the millions of dollars I made. I've been fortunate enough to be a first-round draft pick, spent the last 10 years in the National Football League and make millions of dollars. I wish I had saved it all so I could give more.'' - Chiefs offensive tackle Kyle Turley, who will donate Sunday's check to Gridiron Greats, an organization founded to provide financial aid to retired NFL players in need.

-- "I think I'm playing well, but Tom, it's just unbelievable. I think his play now, regardless of who he's throwing to, is as good as anybody who's ever played the game.'' - Packers QB Brett Favre, who has all but conceded the MVP race to the Patriots' Tom Brady.

THUMBS UP

-- To the Bengals' Carson Palmer, who, unlike some quarterbacks, isn't afraid to take the blame for losses. The Bengals are 5-9 and Palmer's touchdowns-to-interceptions differential (22-17) is his worst in three seasons. He's 14th in the league in passing, a notch behind Donovan McNabb. "Any time you don't win a game and you play quarterback, there's obviously something you did [wrong],'' Palmer said. "There's a number of reasons why offenses struggle. But the first one I always point to is the quarterback. It's my job to make sure everybody's running the right route, everybody's blocking the right guy, and get [the ball] to the right guy. It always needs to fall on the quarterback. I take all the blame for every struggle we've had ..."

THUMBS DOWN

-- To Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga for hiring Bill Parcells to be his team's executive vice president of football operations. The move will get lots of headlines, but it's not going to get Huizenga's team any closer to the playoffs. He needs a proven talent evaluator, not a former coach in search of still another big payday.

Domo's rankings

1. Patriots 14-0 (1 last week)

2. Colts 12-2 (3)

3. Packers 12-2 (4)

4. Cowboys 12-2 (2)

5. Jaguars 10-4 (5)

6. Chargers 9-5 (8)

7. Steelers 10-5 (6)

8. Browns 9-5 (10)

9. Seahawks 9-5 (7)

10. Bucs 9-5 (8)

11. Titans 8-6 (13)

12. Saints 7-7 (12)

13. Vikings 8-6 (14)

14. Giants 9-5 (9)

15. Redskins 7-7 (18)

16. Texans 7-7 (19)

17. Bills 7-7 (16)

18. Eagles 6-8 (20)

19. Cardinals 6-8 (17)

20. Broncos 6-8 (15)

21. Panthers 6-8 (25)

22. Lions 6-8 (21)

23. Bears 5-9 (22)

24. Raiders 4-10 (26)

25. Bengals 5-9 (23)

26. Ravens 4-10 (24)

27. 49ers 4-10 (30)

28. Jets 3-11 (28)

29. Rams 3-12 (27)

30. Chiefs 4-10 (29)

31. Falcons 3-11 (31)

32. Dolphins 1-13 (32)

What a waste

The Eagles are averaging 350.2 yards per game in total offense, the eighth-best mark in the league. But they haven't used those yards very productively. They're only 26th in the league in points per 100 yards (5.73). Here's a comparison of where teams rank in points-per-100-yards and total offense. The won-loss records show which figure is more revealing. This does not include last night's game:

1. Patriots, 9.03 points per 100 yards, No. 1-ranked offense, 14-0 record

2. Cowboys, 8.10, 2, 12-2

3. Chargers, 8.05, 20, 9-5

4. Colts, 7.90, 4, 12-2

5. Browns, 7.54, 10, 9-5

6. Packers, 7.48, 3, 12-2

7. Steelers, 7.27, 18, 10-5

8. Cardinals, 7.02, 14, 6-8

9. Seahawks, 6.85, 13, 9-5

10. Vikings, 6.84, 11T, 8-6

11. Jaguars, 6.81, 9, 10-4

12. Texans, 6.78, 11T, 7-7

13. Lions, 6.64, 15, 6-8

14. Saints, 6.59, 5, 7-7

15. Bengals, 6.58, 7, 5-9

16. Giants, 6.52, 17, 9-5

17. Bucs, 6.50, 19, 9-5

18. Bears, 6.37, 25, 5-9

19. Titans, 6.31, 21, 8-6

20. Jets, 6.10, 26, 3-11

21. Raiders, 6.09, 24, 4-10

22. Redskins, 5.96, 16, 7-7

23. Broncos, 5.95, 6, 6-8

24. Dolphins, 5.84, 28, 1-13

25. Ravens, 5.75, 23, 4-10

26. Eagles, 5.73, 8, 6-8

27. Bills, 5.66, 30, 7-7

28. 49ers, 5.62, 32, 4-10

29. Panthers, 5.58, 29, 6-8

30. Rams, 5.23, 22, 3-12

31. Chiefs, 5.15, 31, 4-10

32. Falcons, 4.64, 27, 3-11