Maybe I should talk today about Tom Brady or Todd Gurley or one of the other great players who had a great day yesterday in the NFL, but I want to start by talking about a backup quarterback on a bad team: Ryan Mallett.
Mallett might be my least-favorite player in the NFL right now, because the players I don’t like are the ones who won’t do the work to get the most out of their natural talent. And there may be no one in the NFL who gets less out of his talent than Mallett.
The Texans’ team flight to Miami for yesterday’s game against the Dolphins took off without Mallett, because Mallett didn’t make it to the airport. Mallett explained that there was traffic in Houston, and he couldn’t get to the airport in time.
Do you buy that excuse? When you add up the players, the coaches, the trainers and the various support staff that travel with an NFL team, it can be 100 or so people. There’s no indication that any of them other than Mallett missed the flight. Did they all get to the Houston airport by hoverboard? Or did they get to the airport on time despite experiencing the same traffic in Houston that Mallett hit, because they — gasp — accounted for that traffic when they decided when to leave for the airport?
And, of course, stuff like this is par for the course from Mallett. After Mallett lost out to Brian Hoyer in the Texans’ quarterback competition in training camp, he no-showed a practice that week. When Mallett was at the Scouting Combine before the 2011 draft, he skipped a meeting with the Panthers after staying out late the night before.
Some players have such a drive to succeed in the NFL that they’ll do anything to make it. Mallett is not one of those players. It’s a shame because Mallett has a big arm and the talent to be a good NFL quarterback, but he just doesn’t have the mental makeup of a successful NFL quarterback.
Now let’s get past Mallett and move on to some of the good things from Sunday in the NFL:
We got a glimpse of the future of watching football on Sunday morning. Some day, streaming services — not cable, not satellite — will probably be the way we watch everything. On Sunday, with the Bills-Jaguars game in London streaming on Yahoo, we got a glimpse of that. I thought it was a good show, but there’s still work to do before the NFL would be ready to make streaming the primary way it shows all its games.
I was watching on my Apple TV, and I have good high-speed Internet from Comcast. For me, there was no buffering at all and a crystal-clear picture as good as I get when watching cable or satellite. Obviously, not everyone has a digital media player or high-speed Internet, and many users complained that on older computers or slower connections, the quality wasn’t as good. If you have a really slow computer or a really slow Internet connection, you wouldn’t be able to watch at all. That wasn’t a problem for me, but it would be a problem for tens of millions of Americans, and until the penetration of digital media devices and high-speed Internet rivals that of cable and satellite TV, it’s hard to envision the NFL showing many games online only.
But it’s coming some day. The NFL’s current deals run through the 2022 season, and you can bet that for the next seven years, the league will conduct more experiments with streaming games like the one it conducted yesterday. If it finds the right way to provide streaming games to fans, it’s possible that in 2023, the league will embark on a new contract with Netflix or YouTube or Hulu or some streaming video service that doesn’t exist yet, and that we’ll all watch all our football on the Internet.
Todd Gurley is the best running back in the NFL right now. Is it crazy to say that, just four games into Gurley’s NFL career? I don’t think it is. Gurley, the Rams’ sensational rookie, had 128 rushing yards on Sunday and is now averaging an NFL-high 110.5 rushing yards per game. Gurley has an unbelievable blend of strength and speed, and he’s also an extremely smart runner: Watch his 48-yard run against the Browns yesterday, and look at the way he scans the field, reads the defense and makes the decision to cut from the left side of the field all the way to the right sideline. He’s a special player just four games into his career, and he’s only going to get better.
Tom Brady was amazing against the Jets. Brady’s raw stats — 34-of-54, 355 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions — were plenty good. But the stats don’t even come close to telling the whole story. The Patriots’ receivers had some brutal dropped passes, and if they’d been caught, Brady might have had 10 more completions and 100 more yards. And that’s against a Jets team that probably has the best pass defense in the NFL right now. Oh, and on a day when starting running back Dion Lewis was injured and the Patriots’ backups combined for one yard on six carries, Brady was the Patriots’ leading rusher, with 15 yards and a rushing touchdown as well. Brady, who has 16 touchdown passes and just one interception, is playing at an incredible level this season.
Looks like Dolphins needed a coach who would kick them in the butt. When the Dolphins fired head coach Joe Philbin after Week Four, I was a little skeptical of interim coach Dan Campbell’s tough-guy act. But there’s little doubt that Campbell has gotten results. The Dolphins were a mess under Philbin, but now they’re 2-0 under Campbell, with a blowout win over the Titans last week and a blowout win over the Texans yesterday. They’re a different team under hard-ass Campbell than they were under the soft-spoken Philbin. Now they face an enormous test with a trip to New England next week.
Harvard guy makes a bonehead play. Everyone talks about how Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is brilliant, with his fancy-schmancy Harvard degree, but Fitzpatrick may have made the dumbest play of the day yesterday: With the Jets down by seven and only a few seconds left, Fitzpatrick threw a completion to the middle of the field. The Jets had no timeouts, so the game ended with them trying and failing to get set to spike the ball. Fitzpatrick needs to know better than that: If you’re out of timeouts, you have to throw to the sidelines, not the middle of the field. I guess Football Clock Management isn’t on the syllabus at Harvard.
Maybe the NFL should consider divisional realignment. Do we really want to put an AFC South team in the playoffs? The Colts are 3-4 and playing so badly that Chuck Pagano may be fired before the season is over. But they’re also in first place in their division and likely to host a playoff game in January. Bad teams shouldn’t host playoff games. Switching from eight four-team divisions to four eight-team divisions would be a simple way for the league to avoid a situation like we’re seeing in the AFC South this year, where there’s a division without a good team, and therefore a bad team in the playoffs.
A big moment for Eric Berry. Berry, the Chiefs safety who battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma last year, had his first interception since being declared cancer-free yesterday. That was the NFL’s best moment of the week.