The last time St. Louis Rams receiver Keenan Burton was on the field, he tied an NFL career high with five catches, and the 54 yards was a personal best.
If the records seem modest, remember that Burton is a second-year player for a team that is not exactly an offensive powerhouse. But in that game, two weeks ago, Burton helped the Rams snap a 17-game losing streak with a 17-10 win at Detroit.
"I love playing football, and I'm grateful for the opportunity," said Burton, who starred at Kentucky. "I try to do what they ask me to do."
The Rams (1-7) will be asking everyone to contribute this Sunday when they host New Orleans (8-0). So far, coaches like what they are seeing from Burton.
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After a season-ending injury to Laurent Robinson in Week 3, Burton moved into the starting lineup. Since then, he has 25 receptions for 253 yards and has caught a pass in 16 consecutive games. He has had five catches in three of the past four games.
That production by Burton has impressed rookie coach Steve Spagnuolo.
"This particular week, I thought he had a real good week of practice," Spagnuolo said. "He looks real confident to me in what he's doing out there. He's really helping all those other guys out there. He's very smart, a real pro. I think he's doing a really good job."
Pat Shurmur, the Rams' offensive coordinator, said he has seen steady development from Burton.
"Keenan is a guy that everybody would love to have on their team anywhere," Shurmur said. "He is a very steady guy, very detailed, learns exactly what we are asking him to do, and then he goes out there and executes."
Veteran quarterback Marc Bulger likes what he has seen from Burton. Getting in sync with a receiver takes time, but he says Burton's work ethic is paying off.
"He's learning. I've always said it's just a lot of repetitions and experience in this league," Bulger said. "He's starting to get that. He's willing to learn. We get to talk a lot during practice. He asks the coaches questions. He has a great attitude, which I think is going to help pay off when he really starts becoming one of the best receivers in the league."
That's Burton's goal. He enjoyed a prolific career at UK, where he ranks fourth all-time with 182 receptions. He had 2,320 yards and 25 touchdowns for Rich Brooks, who coached the Rams their first two years in St. Louis before being fired.
"I talk to Coach Brooks often," Burton said. "I actually look at his picture every day because it reminds me of how things were at Kentucky and gives me the extra motivation that anything is possible."
Burton's role model as a pro is Torry Holt, now with Jacksonville after being released by the Rams in the off-season.
"Torry was the best thing that ever happened to me," Burton said. "He gave me a lot of knowledge. He taught me how to practice, what to look for. I watched him take care of his body, how to eat and things like that. He's one of the most professional guys that I've been around. I don't think it gets any better than Torry Holt."
Zimmer still coping after wife's death
One of the most surprising teams this season has been the Cincinnati Bengals, who are tied for the NFC North lead with the Pittsburgh Steelers at 6-2.
The Bengals' success has been even more amazing considering the immense personal pain defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer has worked through.
His wife, Vikki, died suddenly Oct. 8 from natural causes at age 50. The couple had been married 27 years. This past week, Zimmer opened up to reporters for the first time since his wife's death.
"The wins are not nearly as good now," Zimmer said Monday. "We beat Chicago (two weeks ago), played pretty good on defense that game. I go home, and it was actually a hard day because I go home, and I'm there.
"Like, yesterday we beat Baltimore (17-7). Everyone's excited, and I'm excited, but it's not the same excitement. I'm more concerned about how (son) Adam is doing and the girls (Marki and Corri) are doing. I'm happy that we won, just not as ecstatic. Those are the things that I notice."
Zimmer, who has long been respected around the league for his tenacity and work ethic, still prepares for each game the same way. But he finds himself "doing a little less football stuff and more dad stuff."
During the Bengals' bye week, Zimmer visited his kids. Adam helps coach the linebackers for the New Orleans Saints. His daughters live in Dallas.
After three tough weeks of work after his wife's death, it's what Zimmer needed.
"It helped me realize that I have to help my family more than what I am," Zimmer said. "I went to Dallas and saw my two daughters and realized that I have to help them more than what I did. Then we went to New Orleans and saw Adam and realized it's tough on him, maybe more so than I anticipated it would.
"He used to call Vikki every night on his way home from work. The girls, I'll call them, and the one is just crying like crazy on the phone, and I'll ask what's wrong, and she'll say, 'I'm sad.' Those things kind of helped me realize I got to do better with them."
The players have tried to be there for him inside the Bengals' offices. Zimmer has gotten quite a few visitors in the past few weeks.
But for the most part, Zimmer has been the same.
"He's still doing his thing," said defensive tackle Domata Peko. "When you see him, he's happy with how good we're playing, but he also motivates you. If you're doing something wrong, he's not going to be afraid to tell you straight up from the oldest guy to the youngest."
Porter ruled out for Sunday
Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter was ruled out of Sunday's game against Tampa Bay because of a coach's decision. Miami didn't give any information about the reason for the move Saturday by Coach Tony Sparano. Porter made no tackles in last week's loss to the Patriots after calling them cheaters and saying he hated them.
Porter has only 2½ sacks this season, compared with an AFC-high 17½ last year.