You know what’s great about the NFL? Thievery.
It’s an admirable trait. You’re an NFL coach, you see something you like, you take it, and then you give props—or at least you should give props. And I’ve found most coaches give credit where it’s due.
Take rookie Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel. When Vrabel walked to midfield after the Titans’ 26-23 overtime win, he said to innovative Super Bowl champion coach Doug Pederson, among other things: “I appreciate you letting me lean on you at times.”
Bold copycatting is one of my 10 Stories of the NFL at the Quarter Pole. Let’s go through them, and then I’ll take you to Nashville, and to Chicago, and to that Competition Committee meeting the other day trying to wrangle this out-of-control roughing-the-passer mystery. In the NFL’s 99th season, here are the big storylines, in no particular order:
1. Offense has too much of an edge. The recent history of 400-yard passing games shows that as well as anything:
2014: 11 400-yard passing performances in 256 games
2018: 12 … through 62 games
“The game is becoming far less physical, and the intimidation factor is gone,” former defensive tackle and current ESPN Monday night analyst Booger McFarland said. “The quarterbacks know they can get hit, but not really hit like they used to.” Agreed.
2. The Rams rule. Since Sean McVay arrived last season, the Rams are 15-5 and average 30.9 points per game. They’re the best team in football, the only 4-0 team as October dawns, and except for the Chiefs, it’s not very close.
3. The Browns aren’t the best team, but they might be the most compelling. They might have gotten replay-jobbed out of a two-game winning streak in Oakland on Sunday, but with Baker Mayfield at the switch and a defense that is easy to love, these Browns are swashbuckling fun, even at 1-2-1. Prediction: the 45-42 loss in Oakland won’t be the last WAC-type game these guys play this year.
4. Seattle seems like a powderkeg. Narrow wins over Dallas and the Cardinals can’t put deodorant on the Earl Thomas story. Thomas, one of the best players in franchise history and who reluctantly reported to the team during a bitter contract dispute, broke his leg in Arizona. On his way off the field, he showed his middle finger to the Seattle sideline. We’re all guessing because Thomas did not speak after the game. But it’s not a tough guess. Thomas held out for the hope of a new contract, or to be traded to a team that would give him a new contract. When Thomas was getting wheeled off with the busted leg, his face didn’t show pain. It was a ticked-off look, for getting hurt before he could get a new contract. The next time Thomas is on the field, it will be for another team, at age 30, coming off a broken leg. Not exactly a great negotiating position. Bizarre story for a team that used to sing Kumbaya but now looks like it’s disbanding.
5. No one knows what roughing-the-passer is. I had an NFL offensive coordinator tell me Saturday, “We just want to know what the [roughing-the-passer] rules are now. We don’t know.” When top league officials and the eight-man Competition Committee conference-called the other day, they looked at approximately 30 plays. The Competition Committee recommended, among things, that the infamous Clay Matthews roughing call on Kirk Cousins in Week 2 is not the kind of penalty officials should call. Awkward. The officiating department doubled-down on the veracity of that call. But the Competition Committee saw what America saw: You can ask a defender to take his head out of tackling the quarterback, and to tackle the quarterback in a zone from sternum to thigh, but you can’t ask the defender to totally lay off the quarterback unless you want 51-42 games. In this conference call, the body-weight sack was deemed fine and flaggable, the Matthews-type hit unacceptable.
6. It’s hard to get back to the Super Bowl. The Eagles are 2-2, with losses to Tampa Bay and Tennessee. The Patriots are 2-2, with losses to Jacksonville and (a desultory one to) Detroit. Who’d have thought the Eagles and Vikings would meet in Week 5 with a combined 3-4-1 record? I say the Eagles will rebound when Carson Wentz gets accustomed to playing real football after missing it for nine months with his knee injury. The Patriots … well, no team improves from September to December traditionally better than New England. Not even close. That 38-7 Patriots win Sunday was a ridiculously dominant performance over a Miami team that entered Foxboro as contenders but left less than pretenders. Let me remind you that the Patriots have won five Super Bowls in the last 17 years, and the five championship teams had these records after four weeks: 1-3, 2-2, 4-0, 2-2, 3-1. As Kevin Bacon once said, “ALL IS WELL!” And as running back James White told me Sunday: “No one wins a championship in three weeks. We had no concern at all. We just knew we had to play with more urgency, which we did today.”
7. Jimmy G’s wounded knee. What a bummer, bonus-baby Jimmy Garoppolo kayoed in his first full San Francisco season by an ACL injury eight day ago in Kansas City. The Niners paid him $27.5-million a year, average, last February, and the frustrating thing for the team is he needs to take snaps. He’ll enter 2019 at age 27, having had just 10 starts, and the team unsure how good he’ll be. “The frustrating thing is that Jimmy just needs to play,” GM John Lynch said last week.
8. Patrick Mahomes looks like a million bucks. The numbers are ridiculous entering tonight’s game against Denver: 3-0 record, 13 touchdowns, no interceptions, a 137.4 rating. “We’re not surprised at anything,” his godfather and former MLB reliever, LaTroy Hawkins, told me. Football people are buying in too.
9. The Raiders, a proper 1-3, got karma-ed by trading Khalil Mack. Oakland needed every break in the world to beat the Browns in overtime Sunday to avoid going 0-4. The Grudenmen will be haunted by dealing Mack to Chicago … and the Bears will thank their lucky stars every game Mack dominates some poor quarterback.
10. Chicago got its first big game from Mitchell Trubisky, and look out if it’s the first of many. The six-touchdown-pass masterstroke to rout Tampa Bay on Sunday was so different from Trubisky’s first three mediocre games. Coach Matt Nagy told me: “The teaching moment for me this week was just letting Mitch know that no matter what happens, we are all in his corner.” Something worked. Trubisky had five touchdown passes by halftime. If Trubisky is even a B-minus QB the rest of the way, this defense is going to make the 3-1 Bears very hard to beat.
Mike Vrabel has this in common with Doug Pederson: He seems totally unimpressed with what he’s doing. Last year, nine mornings before the Super Bowl, I was with Pederson at a Wawa convenience store in south Jersey. No one knew who he was. He liked it that way.
So there was Vrabel, coaching against Pederson and his Super Bowl champs Sunday in Nashville. The game was in overtime. Philly led, 26-23, with 77 seconds left. Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota had been drafted for moments just like this one, and for last week, when the 1-1 Titans had gone into Jacksonville and eked out a 9-6 win over one of the AFC favorites. Mariota, playing with some numbness in his throwing hand, got the game ball for last week’s win, and before the game against Philadelphia, Vrabel said to him: “I can’t wait to watch you play this team.”
Fourth-and-two at the Philadelphia 32. Tennessee kept the field-goal unit on the field during a Titans timeout. “But I knew we were going for it,” Vrabel told me over the phone. A couple of players urged him to go for it, and Vrabel said, “Relax, the offense is going back out.”
So how did he reach this decision? A few things. A 50-yard field goal attempt for Ryan Succop wasn’t a gimme. Vrabel knew his players wanted to go for it. And strategic conscience, assistant to the head coach John “Stretch” Streicher, had given him good advice from his perch in the coaches’ booth upstairs. “If you’re going to go for it,” Streicher said through the headphones, “make sure you leave enough time so you can run enough plays to score.” Vrabel met Striecher when he was an Ohio State assistant, and Streicher got some football experience as director of football ops at James Madison and Texas State before Vrabel called him to come to Nashville last winter.
“Stretch has been valuable for me and our staff,” Vrabel said. “He advises me on replay, timeouts, the clock. In this case, even when the field-goal team was on the field for us, I thought we should go for the win. The odds of making a 50-yard field goal are probably slightly better than making a fourth-and-two at that point in the game against that defense. But I just thought of our players—they love going for it. I thought how tough Marcus was, and how much confidence I had in him. Plus, I guess ties help you, but I don’t know. We didn’t want a tie, even against a great team like this one.”
“The risk, though,” I said. “How do you weigh the risk?”
“I think people are more conscious of making [risky] decisions like this than ever before,” Vrabel said. “I studied Philadelphia a lot this offseason. Doug is the gold standard when it comes to making bold moves like this. We talked at the owners’ meetings and I’ve called him a few times about things. I’m lucky he’s been approachable about some of the things he does. So I’ve done a few things. We threw a pass on a punt to a gunner [for a touchdown] against Houston.”
By the time Tennessee sent its offense back on the field, the Eagles burned a timeout to match up. Then Mariota hit Dion Lewis—one of the go-for-it cheerleaders on the Titans sidelines—for 17 weaving yards. Three plays later, on third-and-10 from the 10, Mariota threw a high-ball in the end zone that 6-foot-3 Corey Davis needed every inch of his Dwight Clark-like reach to nab. Touchdown. Sixteen plays, 75 yards.
In the locker room, the collegiality of the Titans was there for all to see. At 43 and cut like an NFL linebacker (which he was until 2010), Vrabel ping-ponged between players, whooping and hollering at the realization that they’d beaten two of the final four teams from 2017 in back-to-back weeks. “We’re not where we need to be!” Vrabel shouted. “But we’re 3-1 after the first quarter [of the season]!”
Later, Vrabel said, “I don’t think we’re the most talented team in the NFL. But I know they love to play, and they play hard every day. Making decisions like I had to make today, that’s the easy part. Executing is hard. And they’re executing.”
The Other Mega-Call in Overtime
The situation: Texans 34, Colts 34 … overtime … 27 seconds left … Indy ball, fourth-and-four at the Colt 43. “We’re going for it 10 times out of 10,” coach Frank Reich said.
In 2016 and 2017, Reich was Doug Pederson’s offensive coordinator. He loved Pederson’s guts, and not just because it’s fun to go for it on fourth down—within reason. But because he saw the benefit with the team. It built confidence within the offense. Reich is convinced that Pederson’s confidence in Nick Foles when Foles was struggling late in the regular season and in the first playoff game for the Eagles was a major factor in the backup quarterback turning into such a force in the NFL title game and the Super Bowl.
So here was Reich on Sunday, with Andrew Luck having one of the best days of his pro career—40 of 61 at this point, and in full command of his offense. Reich had two timeouts left and needed 25 yards to be in safe Adam Vinatieri field goal range. Punting would likely ensure a tie. If he went for the first down and made it, then Vinatieri might get a chance to win it. If he went for it and failed, the Texans would need maybe 13 yards to be in good field-goal range.
I see the tie arguments. But I see going for it too, particularly on a day when Luck was hot. I think I would have gambled on Luck and Vinatieri and gone for the win. The larger issue: You know you’re probably not a serious playoff contender, and you’re trying to show your team you believe in them, and you’ve got a hot quarterback and a Hall of Fame kicker.
The Colts wake up 1-3 this morning instead of 1-2-1. Big deal. I doubt the players are saying, What’s wrong with my coach? My guess is the players would have been ticked off to punt the ball inside the 20 instead of going for it.
Stream of consciousness, Trubisky chapter
Sunday could have been a landmark day for Mitchell Trubisky. We’ll see. His rookie coach, Matt Nagy, thought the day (six touchdown passes, no interceptions in a 48-10 win over the Bucs) could be a turning point for a young quarterback who’d been struggling. Nagy and Trubisky both felt the pressure in the City of Broad Shoulders, and the weight was getting heavy. The Bears defense was playing like classic Midway Monsters since Khalil Mack arrived a month ago. But the offense … 77, 83 and 73-passer-rating games from Trubisky, and the Bears were 27th in passing yards per game entering Sunday. Not very good for a quarterback savior.
What did Trubisky do about it? Got to work, according to Nagy.
Nagy on his quarterback and what it’s like to start a football game touchdown-punt-touchdown-touchdown-touchdown-touchdown-field goal-touchdown:
“All I want him to worry about is what I think about as a quarterback and nobody else. That’s no slight to anybody. We need to do this our way. When you bring in a Khalil Mack and the defense starts playing the way they’re playing, you start winning some games. When you’re not playing up to par right away or matching your defense, there’s instant frustration from a lot of people. Mitch understands that. Our lessons this week was let’s just sit together and let’s figure out why we’re struggling on our offense and see if we can find some answers. We on offense had by far our best week of practice all week long. More specifically, in the red zone, because that’s where we’ve been struggling, to go 4-for-4 in the red zone is a tribute to the players.
“What keeps getting used with our offense is, are we pulling back? We’re not pulling back. What we’ve done though is just dissected a little bit. Maybe tweaked a few things, whether it’s the progression of a play for Mitch, whether it’s too many options at the line of scrimmage. I think the combination of that and just really guys offensively honing in on, worrying about what they do best and worrying about their own position and not worry about anybody else. See the difference in practice. You know sometimes, you start getting tight in these situations. You start trying to get perfect. We did the opposite of that this week. Everybody was loose in practice. We were just letting the ball fly. We didn’t have that tightness where sometimes you get into that funk. I think that reflected in the game.
“What the difference was, there was more of an aggressive mentality with the players executing any type of downfield throws. It would have been easy to pull back and just go right back to the run and try to get out of the game. Our players and coaches didn’t want any of that. We were wanting to just keep rolling. They were in that quote unquote zone. They felt it.
“After the game I told him just how proud I am of him. I told him about three different times that this is just the start. I want this to be his offense. I want him to understand that he can take this offense to another level. He’s gone through a lot here in the last couple weeks and it’s not easy. But these are the days and the games that you never forget.
“I go back to this week. When everybody was gone after practice, Mitch stayed after practice and threw about 50 to 60 deep balls into a stationary net about 50 yards downfield. Him and Dave Ragone, our quarterbacks coach, they were dropping back … Dave was giving him some pressure in the pocket. Mitch would slide his feet and just throw. There was a span there where he hit 10 out of 12 into the net. Just like Michael Jordan shooting threes. [GM] Ryan Pace and I were standing back there watching him doing it and we just looked at each other. We said, This kid’s in a zone. He’s out there after a three-hour practice. For it to come to fruition today and see him have success with down-field throws, it was really cool.”
What you’ll read about this week
• Ingram’s baaaaack … already. The Saints’ charter from Newark, bringing the team back from the 33-18 win over the Giants, landed at the New Orleans airport at 12:01 a.m. When the players and coaches cleared the secure area maybe a half-hour later, they had a guest waiting: running back Mark Ingram. The NFL suspended Ingram for four games for testing positive for a PED. With Ingram eligible to return to the team today, he wasted no time in doing so. Ingram hugged coach Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis, and while most of the players and staff headed to their cars, the last two Saints in the airport were Ingram and his running mate in the backfield, Alvin Kamara. Cool scene. Kamara and Ingram will be job-sharing over the next three months (longer, if the Saints make the postseason) and they’re good friends.
• That gigantic call in Oakland. The NFL has done a much better job this year at not micromanaging replay challenges, and not overturning calls made on the field unless the evidence is indisputable. Yet there was a very big reversal in the Browns-Raiders game, and I still haven’t seen indisputable evidence for the change of the call. The situation: Cleveland ball, Browns up 42-34, 1:41 left in the fourth quarter, third-and-two at the Cleveland 17. Carlos Hyde rams up the middle and lands on his back right at the yellow stripe, the TV gadget showing a faux first-down line, with the ball breaking the plane of the TV stripe. That stripe, of course, is not official. There’s a measurement, and by the nose of the football, the crew signals a first down. If it stands, Cleveland can run out the clock, most likely. Oakland has no timeouts left.
But the play was reviewed. While it was under review, analyst and former NFL VP of Officiating Dean Blandino—who preceded the current VP, Al Riveron—said on FOX: “I don’t see any way they can change this call.”
Upon further review, ref Walt Anderson and the New York officiating command center overturned it.
“Shocked,” was Blandino’s reaction.
Officiating czar Al Riveron told me Sunday night the first-down line was “north of the 19-yard-line,” and Hyde didn’t reach it, in his view. “When his wrist goes down, it goes down at the same time as the elbow … everything hits the ground at the same time. The helmet [of Hyde] is barely breaking the plane of the 19, and the ball is not breaking the plane. We can clearly see when the wrist, forearm and elbow hit the ground, it’s short of the [first-down] line.”
On the TV replays I saw, I didn’t see the line that Riveron and crew figured; I just saw the yellow TV stripe. Sometimes the ball is near a yard marker or some other landmark, but it wasn’t the case here. So I didn’t see what Riveron saw. I’m not saying I’m right; I’m saying I didn’t see what Riveron saw.
“What’s your reaction to what Blandino said on TV?” I asked.
“If I were to comment on everything said by people who once sat in this chair,” Riveron said, “I won’t know where I would start and where I would end.”
None of this will salve the angry Cleveland fandom today. But that’s the league’s reasoning.
’I understand football now. It’s a business’
Retired Giants pass-rusher Osi Umenyiora, who once had six sacks in one game, on coming to the understanding that the lords of football are going to protect the quarterback at all costs—even if it means enforcing rules that don’t make a lot of sense.
“It took me a while to learn this, and I don’t think people understand the reality of the game sometimes. Football is a multi-billion-dollar business. Decisions are made based on dollars and cents and profits. Football is a great game. Maybe it takes away from the luster of it, but it’s more a business than a game, and the business part of this requires that your best players be on the field.
“When I came into the NFL [in 2003], we were taught to think of the NFL as a game. But then you see the quarterbacks and what they mean. I mean, Von Miller and Rob Gronkowski and Odell Beckham are huge players in the NFL. But nobody determines the outcomes of games like franchise quarterbacks. Watch what happens to the 49ers now; watch the viewers turn them off with Jimmy Garoppolo down now. Look at what happened to the Packers last year when Aaron Rodgers went down. Those guys get hurt, and the TV numbers, the viewership numbers, go down. So you see the NFL—what do they do? They keep doing more to protect the franchise quarterbacks. They’re protecting their investment. The quarterback stays on the field, business is good. The quarterback is off the field, business is hurt. If there was another position that determined the success or failure in a game as much as quarterback, I guarantee they’d be doing the same thing to protect that position. But there isn’t one, so the league doesn’t do it. It’s sad, but it’s reality.
“Once you’ve learned that, you understand the actions of the league a lot better.
“I understand how tough it is to get to the quarterback. They throw the ball quicker and quicker. And I understand the pain of the pass-rusher today. It’s a really, really difficult job now, a tough position to be in. You’re asking guys to change the way they play football. I hate to see it. But those are the rules that are going to be enforced.
“I also think it’s 100 percent possible for the pass-rushers to change. My teammates on the Giants used to make fun of me when I tackled—Justin Tuck, Michael Strahan, Dave Tolleson. I wouldn’t land full on the quarterback. I’d always go for the ball. Look at the game I had six sacks—I don’t think I landed full on the quarterback once. Maybe once. [One of the six sacks of Donovan McNabb in 2007 was a fall on McNabb’s torso—which likely would have been flagged today.] My focus was on knocking the ball from the quarterback’s hands instead of driving through him. When you knock the ball from a quarterback in the pocket, that counts as a sack and a forced fumble. One of my line coaches, Mike Waufle, used to say, ‘Get the trifecta!’ That was the forced fumble, the sack, and fumble recovery. We called it the holy grail. It’s a bigger play than just a sack—that’s what I tried for all the time.
“I think rushers are going to find a way to adjust. They have to. The officials are going to err on the side of protecting the quarterback.”
Umenyiora, who had 90.5 regular-season and post-season sacks in 11 NFL seasons, works as an NFL TV host on a twice-weekly football show on BBC in London.
Offensive Players of the Week
C.J. Beathard, quarterback, San Francisco. Kyle Shanahan kept saying all week the Niners would be competitive with Beathard replacing Jimmy Garoppolo. And it’s not only that Beathard needed to be good on the road against a quality team, the Chargers; it’s that San Francisco had to get over the devastation of losing their franchise quarterback with 13 games left. Beathard was more than competitive. He was very good—23 of 37, 298 yards, two touchdowns and two picks (one that bounced off a receiver in what should have been an easy catch). Down 26-17 late in the third quarter, Beathard threw an 82-yard catch-and-run TD to tight end George Kittle to cut the Chargers’ lead to 26-24. Then Beathard led a field goal drive to take the lead in the fourth quarter, 27-26. It’s hard to reward a player from a team that lost, particularly when they were so many worthy performances, but what Beathard accomplished gives the Niners hope that they can be a competitive franchise all season.
Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Dallas. This is the kind of game Dallas needs to play to win: max Elliott touches. He had 29 total touches for 240 scrimmage yards (25 carries for 152, and four catches for 88 yards and a touchdown). Dallas needed all of it in the 26-24 last-second win over Detroit.
Cooper Kupp, wide receiver, Los Angeles Rams. You know your receiving corps is in fine fettle when the number three guy, Kupp, is on pace to catch 86 balls for 1,392 yards, 16 touchdowns and a 14.5-yards-per-catch average. Kupp beat linebacker Anthony Barr for one touchdown catch Thursday night and two corners for the other one in a nine-catch, 162-yard, two-TD night against Minnesota. Kupp’s a possession receiver and a field-stretcher.
Mitchell Trubisky, quarterback, Chicago. Four touchdown passes in the first 21 minutes against the Fitzlostmagic Bucs, six in all. Trey Burton, Allen Robinson, Tarik Cohen, Joshua Bellamy and Taylor Gabriel all caught TDs in the first half. Trubisky (19-26, 354 yards, 6 TD, 0 interceptions) finally looked at ease and confident. By the way, no Bear quarterback has had five touchdowns in a game in the past 60 years. Trubisky had five in the first 25 minutes of this game.
Mitchell Trubisky. (Getty Images)
Defensive Players of the Week
Tony Jefferson, safety, Baltimore. In the annual Ravens-Steelers grudge match at Heinz Field, the Ravens took an early 7-0 lead on their first drive. When the Steelers got the ball back, Ben Roethlisberger threw a third-down pass to tight end Vance McDonald in the left flat. Jefferson, the physical former Cardinal, stole the ball from McDonald while tackling him. Jefferson just ripped the ball out of tight end’s muscular grasp. With a purring offense, the Ravens scored on the ensuing possession, and it was 14-0 before all the fans were in the stadium.
Jadeveon Clowney, outside linebacker, Houston. The Texans (0-3) went down 7-0 four minutes into a division game at Indy. On the next two Colts’ series, Clowney turned the game around. First series: Clowney jumped on a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown; 7-7. Second series: Clowney careened past left tackle Le'Raven Clark and nailed Andrew Luck for a third-down sack back to the Indy 10. With the short field after a punt, Houston drove for a quick touchdown, and it was 14-7, Texans. Late in the third quarter, Clowney forced an intentional grounding on Andrew Luck. For the day, Clowney had a touchdown, two sacks, and four tackles for loss. With the inconsistency of Houston’s offense this year, it’s going to be up to star-studded front seven of the Texans to stay competitive.
Kyler Fackrell, linebacker, Green Bay. The Packers pressured Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen from the first snap in his second career start in holding the Bills to 11 first downs and zero points. Fackrell, constantly buzzing around the backfield, sacked Allen three times, a career best.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Adam Vinatieri, kicker, Indianapolis. It wasn’t the toughest kick of his career; it wouldn’t have been the toughest kick of his high school career. But Vinatieri’s 42-yard field goal just before halftime against Houston was the 566th of his career, breaking Morten Andersen’s all-time NFL mark of 565 field goals. Vinatieri’s 44-yarder in overtime put the Colts ahead, but the Texans went on to win. Barring injury, the 45-year-old Vinatieri should break Andersen’s scoring record by midseason.
Brett Maher, kicker, Dallas. Speaking of non-tough kicks, Maher made four of them—from 32, 43, 22 and 38 yards, the final one winning the game as the clock ran out, 26-24 over the Lions. For all the pressure Maher has been under replacing one of the best kickers in football, Dan Bailey, a game-winner with the searing glare of Jerry Jones looking on from on high is worth praise.
Taysom Hill, quarterback/punt-team upback, New Orleans. Another brave call on special teams by coach Sean Payton, and one of his favorite players, Hill, executed. Midway through the first quarter, on fourth-and-two from the Saints’ 33, Hill, the upback on the punt team, took the short snap and fired a 10-yard pass to defensive back/gunner Justin Hardee. Cool play. Smart play. The Saints went on to drive for a field goal.
Justin Tucker, kicker, Baltimore. Heinz Field is, historically, a bit of a Bermuda Triangle for kickers. Except for one. Tucker was four-for-four in field goals Sunday night in the 26-14 victory over the Steelers. In fact, Tucker was the only person to score in the second half in this game. He hit on field goals of 47, 49, 28 and 31 yards after halftime. Now he has a streak of 17 straight at Heinz Field, and the most accurate field-goal kicker of all time stretched his lead over Dan Bailey to almost two full percentage points. Tucker, number one, has made 90.2 percent of his kicks. Bailey, number two, is at 88.3 percent. That seems like a wow to me.
Coaches of the Week
Mike Vrabel, coach, Tennessee. The Titans have gone bold this season because Vrabel likes to play that way. From the cool fake-punt touchdown throw by safety Kevin Byard in Week 2 to the gut-feeling go-for-it on fourth-and-two in overtime against the Super Bowl champs Sunday, he’s fine with putting his developing rep on the line—and he told me it’s largely because his players love it, and he thinks it makes for a tighter team, all pulling together. Whatever it is, the Titans have beaten two of the NFL’s final four teams from 2017—Jacksonville and Philadelphia—in the last eight days, and they’re 3-1 with the tiebreaker edge in the AFC South after a quarter of the season.
Sean McVay, coach, Los Angeles Rams. When McVay got to southern California 20 months ago, job one was fixing quarterback Jared Goff, who had a lousy rookie year that left his confidence shaken. Since then, Goff has rebuilt his mechanics and footwork and confidence, and he has been one of the game’s most efficient, explosive quarterbacks. The five-TD master-show by Goff in the win over the Vikings reinforced all the work McVay has done with him. Wrote Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times post-game: “[McVay] is the quintessential Goffensive coordinator, drawing up plays that allow his third-year quarterback to pick apart opponents with surgical precision.” True.
“I’ll just address it now. We are not playing to tie. We’re going for it 10 times out of 10.”
—Frank Reich, the Indianapolis coach, on going for the first down in a tie game with 27 seconds left in overtime, on fourth-and-four from the Colts’ 43. The attempt failed, Houston took over on downs, and advanced to kick the game-winning field goal as time ran out.
“I loved it. We had a discussion before the play and I agreed. I didn’t give [wide receiver] Chester [Rogers] enough of a chance to make a play, and I’m sick about it.”
—Andrew Luck, who threw the incompletion that led to Houston winning.
“You know that Reich honeymoon? Yeah, it’s over. Took a month, but it’s over.”
—Indianapolis columnist Bob Kravitz, in his post-game column for WTHR-TV.
“Isaac Rochell! ROCHELL ROCHELL! WITH HIS FIRST CAREER INTERCEPTION!”
—CBS play-by-play man Andrew Catalon, channeling his inner “Seinfeld,” calling the decisive play in Chargers-Niners, the Charger interception halting the last San Francisco drive of the game.
“We were terrible on offense.”
—Aaron Rodgers, who curiously took some swipes at the play-calling after Green Bay put up 423 yards in a 22-0 shutout of Buffalo.
Watch this story, people.
“My fault, Ben!”
—Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, while steamrolling Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket last Monday in the Bucs’ 30-27 loss to Pittsburgh, captured by an ESPN mic.
This is what it’s come to in today’s football: In mid-play, pass-rushers are apologizing to quarterbacks.
“Jon Gruden, looking for his first NFL win in 3,591 days.”
—Scott Hanson, host of “NFL RedZone” on NFL Network, as overtime started in Oakland with the Raiders and Browns tied at 42.
Comparing the Rams before and after Sean McVay is an exercise in why coaching matters. McVay is 20 games into his NFL head-coaching career after the Rams’ 38-31 win over the Vikings on Thursday night. So I charted his first 20 games versus the Rams’ previous 20.
Points Scored: 618
Points Differential: +222
Passer Rating: 104.1
Before McVay (Previous 20 Games)
Points Scored: 315
Points Differential: -152
Passer Rating: 72.7
Jared Goff’s passer rating before McVay arrived: 63.6.
Since McVay arrived: 106.4.
One month. Six transactions. Unemployment. The recent life of Corey Coleman.
Before being a first-round pick of the Browns in 2016, Coleman, 30 short months ago, told NFL Network he was the best receiver in the draft. “I can pretty much do everything,” he said. “I can return kicks, I can return punts. I can play in the slot. I can play outside.”
Well, he can. But only if someone will employ him.
The month of September for Coleman, picked 15th overall in 2016—32 spots ahead of Michael Thomas, 150 spots ahead of Tyreek Hill:
Sept. 1: Cut by the Buffalo Bills 26 days after they traded a seventh-round pick for him.
Sept. 7: Worked out for the Cardinals in Tempe, Ariz. Not signed.
Sept. 10: Worked out for the Patriots in Foxboro, Mass.
Sept. 11: Signed by the Patriots to a one-year contract.
Sept. 17: Cut by the Patriots after they acquired Josh Gordon from Cleveland.
Sept. 19: Signed by the Patriots to the Practice Squad.
Sept. 29: Cut by the Patriots from the Practice Squad.
September 2018: a month that will live in infamy, and anonymity, for Coleman.
Andy Reid should get credit for a few things in Kansas City. He wanted a quarterback he felt was smart and he thought he could win with when he got to the Chiefs in 2013, and so Kansas City acquired Alex Smith in trade from San Francisco. Smith got Reid’s teams to four playoff appearances in five seasons, but Smith was limited with his deep balls and his January performance. So Reid (and then-GM John Dorsey) traded up to draft Patrick Mahomes in 2017. The rest is very early history.
But here’s where Reid deserves a little more credit. In each of the past two seasons—through 16 games in 2017 and through three weeks in 2018—his quarterbacks lead the league in a stat Pro Football Focus calls Open Receivers. PFF judged the percentage of throws each quarterback in the league makes that are at least 10 yards downfield and where the receiver has at least one yard of separation on the defender. In other words, downfield throws that are, in NFL terms, open.
Give Reid and his staff credit for play design and play calls. And give the receivers and quarterbacks credit for executing the throws and catches.
The top five quarterbacks last year and this year in Open Receivers:
Qualifying players must have played half their team’s games to be included in this chart.
A PFF Elite subscription gives you access to performance metrics the pros use.
Transaction of the Week
From the NFL’s Transactions Wire, last Tuesday:
Signed TE Pharaoh Brown to the practice squad.
Released TE Pharoah McKever from the practice squad.
The 6-6 Pharoah Brown, 24, had been waived by Oakland on Sept. 1.
The 6-6 Pharoah McKever, 24, had been waived by Pittsburgh on Sept. 1.
To comment on the column, or to say anything about anything, you can reach me by email.
I want to know too. From Mack R.: “Please explain to me why the NFL can’t have video review on penalties. I’m not blaming the refs for not being able to see if it’s a penalty or not, but a simple video review or challenge would right a wrong.”
I agree. I always will agree with you. In fact, I think every play should be reviewable. People who don’t want this say it will unduly lengthen already long games. I say it might, slightly, but coaches would be judicious with their challenges because the only way I’d favor this is if the NFL didn’t expand the challenge system. It’s okay to have two challenges per team per game; I would be opposed to any more. But if a call is wrong, it’s wrong, judgment call or not.
On Titans releasing Rishard Matthews. From Gary T., of Monroe, Ga.: “Heck of a risk Rishard Matthews is taking. He was set to make over $8 million this season. I can’t see any team signing him for anywhere near that amount.”
You’re a little high on the money, but I agree. Matthews obviously was frustrated with his involvement in the offense to this point—with just three catches in three weeks—but that’s due to him missing most of training camp with a knee injury and working his way back into the offense in September. He would have been significantly more involved in the offense going forward. Matthews hasn’t been happy, I’ve heard. But it’s surprising he wouldn’t stick around to build up some numbers and collect his $300,000 a week (or so). That’s more than he’d make anywhere else this year.
Do you haiku? From Jason G., of Intervale, N.H.: “As a huge fan of The Adieu Haiku, I thought I’d pass this one along.
Jimmy G, bum knee.
Politics or wins?
I can give you no higher compliment than to say I wish I’d thought of that one this week, Jason.
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Week 4:
a. I guess the Packers really couldn’t have used Jordy Nelson. He told me in camp they didn’t negotiate with him before releasing him. Watching him in the first month, he’s been classic Nelson for the Raiders.
b. Best throwback unis: Saints road whites.
c. Hilarious moment of the day: Josh Rosen scrambles late in the first half of his first NFL start and he goes down near midfield, then he reaches his hand up to Seattle middle linebacker Bobby Wagner; like, Hey, help me up, will you? Wagner looked at the outstretched hand and just walked away. Weird little educational moment for the kid.
d. Jon Gruden will see that dropped 53-yard touchdown pass by Martavis Bryant in his nightmares for a long time.
e. Marshawn Lynch, when he’s right and when he’s into it, runs as hard as any back in football, by far.
f. Kyle Shanahan was right about C.J. Beathard: He is better for those five starts in 2017. Beathard played a competitive, strong game at the Chargers.
g. J.J. Watt, it’s like you never left. Two more sacks, one stripping Andrew Luck.
h. When Josh Allen looks back one day on the dumb throws of his career, the first throw on the reel will be the pick he threw across his body, falling out of bounds, desperado-style, that was picked by Jaire Alexander at the goal line on a series the Bills desperately needed points.
i. Remember when Ryan Fitzpatrick was an MVP candidate? Was that eight days or eight years ago?
j. Khalil Mack: four games as a Bear, four games with a sack and forced fumble.
k. But could the Lions’ uniforms be any more drab? All light gray? Who in the Lions’ hierarchy said, “Hey, let’s go with the light gray socks, light grey pants, light gray jerseys, and white numbers and white names on the back of the jerseys? That’s a great look!”
l. Just what the Falcons needed with all the defensive injuries they have: Atlanta’s Marvin Hall returned the opening kick to the Cincinnati 47, setting the stage for the Falcons’ first touchdown of the game, just five minutes in.
m. “I’m more than the Philly Special guy,” Trey Burton told me in July in training camp, and the new Bear tight end delivered with an aired-out 39-yard touchdown catch from Mitchell Trubisky.
n. So that’s why the Patriots drafted Sony Michel: 25 carries, 112 yards.
q. That touchdown catch by New England wideout Phillip Dorsett, caught a few inches off the ground while somersaulting in the end zone, was a thing of beauty.
r. Miami cornerback Xavien Howard, player of the week last week, was the picked-on player of the week Sunday in Foxboro.
t. Johnny Hekker threw that fake-punt pass against the Vikes 49 yards in the air, and it was a perfect spiral. Would have been the play of the week except for the little matter of the incompletion.
u. How the officials whistled Adam Thielen down when he was untouched on that first-half completion when he was clearly not touched … beyond me. Officials are supposed to call what they see, not what they think they saw. Brutal error.
v. Excellent job on Thursday night, with the upstairs spotter directing that the game officials should take an angry Thielen off the field when he looked slightly woozy after a head-to-leg hit falling to the ground.
w. Alvin Kamara and Benjamin Watson both getting two hands on passes in the end zone on the same drive, and neither coming down with the ball … now that’s not something I thought I’d be typing this week, or any week.
x. Man, it’s tough to watch Eli Manning when he’s pressured. He seems so incapable when the heat’s on.
y. Baker Mayfield hasn’t made a lot of dumb plays, but tied 42-42 and not taking a relatively sure 10 to 15-yard completion when he’s at the Oakland 49 with 14 seconds to go, preferring to throw a prayer into heavy coverage … not smart. It was picked. No field goal shot. Overtime instead.
2. I think Sunday was the first time I thought Todd Bowles has an expiration date on him. Not his fault that the offense looks like a green rookie is leading it. But not many teams in New York give a coach a fifth year after four playoff-less seasons, which is where the Jets are heading.
3. I think I support guaranteed contracts for players more than ever after watching the Tyler Eifert injury in Atlanta on Sunday. To put it mildly, Eifert’s broken right leg was jarring and disturbing, his foot pointed grotesquely to the right instead of straight. It showed the danger every player faces on every play. Fight for those guaranteed contracts in the new CBA in 2021, players.
4. I think there is little question what the game of the year is now. And no one would have picked it even a month ago. Clue? Week 11. Another clue? Not in the United States. It’s Chiefs-Rams on Monday, Nov. 19, in Mexico City. I’m not much of a gamblin’ man. But as my good friend Brent Musburger would say, Take the over.
5. I think I know one of the big reasons the NFL is so psycho about the health of quarterbacks. Let me take you back to April, when I did my annual story on the NFL schedule, inside the room where the slate is invented by NFL schedule-meister Howard Katz and his crew, including NFL director of broadcasting Mike North, who said this about the creating of the 2018 schedule:
“The fact that we had some new playoff teams from last year, the fact that we had some teams playing well at the end of the year—teams like San Francisco—means when we go into the scheduling process, we don’t necessarily have to rely only on the traditional brands. Yes, the Cowboys and the Patriots, and the Steelers and the Packers, and the Super Bowl champions are going to be on national television plenty. But … San Francisco is going to be a really interesting story, early in the season.”
That bullishness on the Niners resulted in them getting the NFL limit of five prime-time games. None came in the first three weeks, when the starting quarterback would have been Jimmy Garoppolo. Incredibly, the NFL scheduled the Niners for five prime-time games in an eight-week span. The Niners’ schedule in prime time: Week 6, at Green Bay (Monday night, ESPN); Week 7, Rams (Sunday night, NBC); Week 9, Oakland (Thursday night, FOX); Week 10, Giants (Monday night, ESPN); Week 13, at Seattle (Sunday night, NBC). Sunday night flex rules allow the league to move the Niners out of Week 7 and Week 13 games on NBC.
Three points to make about those possible flex dates:
• Re: Rams at Niners, Week 7—Not a lot of great potential flex options here. I’d bet on New Orleans at Baltimore as the best shot if each has a winning record a week from today—if the league flexes. Moving New England-Chicago from the early Sunday window would give the Patriots an unheard-of five straight prime-time games. But if the Rams continue to be a juggernaut, the sexiness of McVay/Goff/Donald would make it tempting for the league to keep the game, even with C.J. Beathard the other quarterback. In the end, I think the league won’t want to flex this game unless the Niners looks like a lost cause a week from now. Deadline for flex: Oct. 9.
• Re: Niners at Seahawks, Week 13—Minnesota at New England, the current FOX doubleheader game in the late window that Sunday, could be interesting here. San Francisco at Seattle was compelling too because of Richard Sherman returning to Seattle for the first time, but if both teams are struggling and there’s a better game, this week will a better chance for a flex than Week 7.
• Just so you know, here are the prime-time rules: A team can be scheduled for as many as five prime-time games. A team can be flexed into a sixth prime-time game in any week from Week 5 through 16. And the league can choose any game in Week 17 to be the Sunday night game. Theoretically, then, a team scheduled for five prime-time games and then flexed into a sixth could still end up playing a seventh if it’s chosen for the final game of the season.
6. I think the Vikings are in trouble. They’re tie-loss-loss in the last three games, and they go to Philadelphia on Sunday … probably without their best pass-rusher. Everson Griffen is undergoing some mental-health evaluation after a couple of bizarre episodes in Minnesota in the past week. Imagine a loss in the NFC title rematch, and the Vikings starting 1-3-1. Some thought the Vikings would lose three all season, never mind three in the first 30 days.
7. I think I don’t know why this injury hit me the way it did, but man, I feel for Jake Butt, the presumptive long-term starter at tight end for the Broncos. Butt tore his ACL in practice the other day. That’s three torn ACLs in four-and-a-half years, and now he’s torn the left and the right in a span of 21 months. “We feel terrible,” coach Vance Joseph said. How can you not?
8. I think this was a significant quote last week that got lost a bit but really should not. It comes from Mike Tomlin, after the Steelers’ 30-27 win over Tampa Bay, a game that was slowed to a snail’s pace by 28 penalty flags (with 24 of them accepted). The Monday night game plodded along at 3 hours, 19 minutes. Tomlin said:
“That probably wasn’t a fun game to watch. The penalties were a significant element of the game. As somebody who appreciates the game and understands we’re in the sports entertainment business, it is worrisome from the fan perspective. I do worry about what it’s like to watch that game at home with penalties being administered at the rate that they were.”
Why was it so significant? Tomlin is a member of the eight-man NFL Competition Committee, and I can tell you from my contact with the committee that he’s highly respected on it. I am certain his voice about keeping flags in officials’ pockets was heard on the committee’s conference call the other day.
9. I think there are so many good football books out this fall. It’s hard to keep track of them all, and I wish I could give them all the attention they deserve. One that caught my eye when it was in the blurb phase, and he reached out to see if I would read and provide a couple of thoughts for the cover, was Doug Farrar’s “The Genius of Desperation: The Schematic Innovations That Made the Modern NFL” (Triumph Books). Farrar’s theory was so valid. So often in football history, coaches and innovators have succeeded out of desperation and from trying things no one else had tried. It’s easy to watch football and copy another coach’s plays or approach; it’s accepted and almost an honor to those having ideas stolen. But it’s better, with a better chance to leave footprints and win big, if you invent something.
I asked Farrar about that aspect of his book. It was particularly rewarding, Farrar said, “to tell the stories of NFL innovators who blazed a revolutionary trail, but have never gotten their due. The first chapter is devoted almost entirely to Clark Shaughnessy, who started out as a consultant for George Halas and the Bears in the late 1930s. Shaughnessy brought motion and passing options to the T Formation that not only allowed Chicago to beat Washington 73-0 in the 1940 NFL Championship, but also catapulted Stanford from a 1-7-1 mark in 1939 to a 10-0 record and a Rose Bowl win in Shaughnessy’s first year as head coach. Then, in 1949, he became the Rams head coach and created the modern three-receiver formation when he moved Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch from tailback to receiver. When he returned to the Bears as defensive coordinator, he so effectively shut down Red Hickey’s shotgun formation, it would be another 20 years before anyone really used it again. People don’t really know who he is, and he has a remarkable history.”
History books can be dry affairs. Not this one. This one breathes.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Sad week, mostly but not altogether, for our country. I watched TV all day Thursday (that was enough); I’m a slight political junkie, and I came away with a few thoughts.
b. I don’t have any reason not to believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford about the sexual-assault event that seems to have traumatized her. Her story that she was attacked by a 17-year-old Brett Kavanaugh more than 30 years ago was haunting and harrowing. Kavanaugh vehemently insisted he was innocent. No matter your side in this, if you had one, it’s impossible for us to know exactly what happened. Maybe only two people on the planet really know what happened.
c. But what bothered me more than anything was this realization: The people who sat in majority control of this hearing, the 11 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, are, in order: white male, white male, white male, white male, white male, white male, white male, white male, white male, white male, white male. Their ages: 85, 84, 67, 66, 66, 63, 58, 55, 47, 47, 46. Think about that. Eleven white males, average age 62.2, sitting in judgment of a 53-year-old white male from the upper crust of society. There is a dispute, a she-said, he-said dispute. She is eminently believable. He is adamant about his innocence. Certainly it’s going to be impossible to know with certainty what happened. But why is it in the United States of America in 2018—with a population of 327 million (median age 37.8 years old), of which 165 million are women—that the ultimate jury in this case is so non-representative of what this country really is right now? We are 50.8 percent women, and there are no women on the Republican side of the Judiciary Committee. We are 39 percent non-white, and there are no non-white Republicans on the committee. Incredible to me that in this day and time, the political process is stuck in 1969.
d. Why are so many people fed up with Washington and want to start over? That last paragraph.
e. Thank you for the outrage, Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher. And thank you, Jeff Flake, for having the guts to call a timeout in these proceedings.
f. My friend Jenny Vrentas posted this from Good Reads, and I found it important reading over the weekend. What an educational read. Men simply can’t know exactly what a woman’s life is like when it comes to sexual harassment and assault.
g. Disturbing Media Story of the Week: by Robert Silverman of The Daily Beast, on the raunchy, over-the-top culture at Barstool Sports, particularly the instances in which female reporters who dare write about the sexist stuff are harassed.
h. Some of the skin-crawling stuff, led by Barstool founder Dave Portnoy, done to reporters like Laura Wagner of Deadspin, is a disgrace. It’s Howard Stern gone too far. As Silverman reported:
“Portnoy filmed a Barstool blogger in the shower without his consent, then called his employee “crazy” after he vigorously and repeatedly objected; he also told another 20-year-old employee her looks would deteriorate in five years, such that she wouldn’t be worth putting in front of the camera (the employee fled the radio segment in tears); Portnoy wondered on-air if Harvey Weinstein should be able to offer roles in movies in exchange for consensual sex, and he wrote blog posts mocking the appearance of Deadspin’s editor in chief and the editorial director of Gizmodo Media Group, both of whom are women.”
i. Late in my tenure at Sports Illustrated, we were in discussions to do a Sunday NFL segment with Barstool personality PFT Commenter. It didn’t work out and—though I like the clever weirdo PFT Commenter—I’m glad it didn’t, after reading all of this misogynistic stuff in Silverman’s story.
j. Not that it will generate a pebble-in-the-ocean effect, but I won’t be appearing on any more of the programming in the Barstool empire.
k. Coffeenerdness: I’ve railed against this for some time, to no avail. The consistency at Manhattan Starbucks is nonexistent. I believe the trainers of the trainers need to be trained better.
l. Beernerdness: I saw Good Natured American Blonde Ale (Good Nature Brewing, Hamilton, N.Y.) on the menu at a New York restaurant the other day, and, being the dad of Colgate alum Mary Beth King, and discovering that the brewery was just off campus, I had to try it. Good choice. A lighter ale, but hoppy and pleasant. Enjoyed it.
m. Story of the Week: from journalist Jeff Neiburg on what happens when, in the prime of your life, having just started a new job you’re going to love, a doctor tells you that you have an inoperable tumor at the base of your brainstem? Well, you go to a baseball game with your dad.
n. Great humanity from Jeff Neiburg, sitting in his doctor’s office, his mind racing: “When will I start experiencing double vision? Will that even happen? What if it doesn’t grow? What if it grows fast? Why do I feel so completely normal and physically strong? Man, the brain is really fascinating. Science is wild. Can’t I just stay here forever? Will I get to grow old with Lisa, the love of my life? How many more baseball games will I go to with my dad?”
o. The MMQB’s Tim Rohan and I went to the final Jacob deGrom start of the year, his presumptive Cy Young-insurance game. I keep score of games, baseball weirdo that I am. You can see for yourself (assist: Rohan, for scoring for the couple of innings when I had to make a phone call), if you can read my writing.
p. On the occasion of the day after the regular season ends, this note: I’ll miss the box scores for the next six months. I always do.
q. I will not miss this rotisserie baseball season. Every decision I made was wrong. I finished a desultory eighth in my 12-team New Jersey league. The last week was especially perfect. So sick of Ryan Braun hitting like a backup catcher for months, I benched him for the last week of the season, and of course he proceeded to hit five home runs in five days. I stink.
r. Best wishes in the job search to one of the very good ones, columnist Bob Kravitz in Indianapolis. He’s honest and earnest and pointed and real. I love reading him. I hope I’m able to continue to do so.
s. Sad to see former Eagles safety Wes Hopkins, who I covered a bit but didn’t know, and Hall of Fame wide receiver Tommy McDonald, who I didn’t cover but go to know, both pass away last week. McDonald was one of the most interesting Hall of Fame cases I recall trying to adjudicate. He stood just 5-9, and was a classic NFL flanker in the fifties and sixties. At his peak, from 1960-62, he was the biggest receiving threat—arguably—in the game, averaging 19.2 yards per catch and 1,030 yards per season, with 36 touchdown catches. Those would be incredible numbers today.
t. Most notably, McDonald was the happiest Hall of Fame enshrinee I’ve ever seen when he got into the Hall in 1998. He wrote me (and I suppose all of the voters) a hand-written note declaring, in capital letters, “I JUST WANT YOU TO KNOW YOU’VE MADE AN OLD MAN VERY HAPPY!”
u. If Tiger Woods is such an intimidator, why has he won just 13 of 36 Ryder Cup matches he’s played? Maybe he’s the intimidatee.
v. Great tribute to the retiring and beloved David Wright by the Mets and their adoring fans Saturday night. The career wasn’t as long as he’d have liked, but I’d be hard-pressed to name a classier New York athlete in the three-plus decades I’ve lived in and around the city.
w. Football Profile of the Week: Master Tesfatsion of Bleacher Report on Antonio Brown is special. The detail is what makes this so good. You just fly through it. My favorite detail: On the day Tesfatsion spent with Brown, the enigmatic Steeler receiver flossed his teeth three times.
x. TV Story of the Week: ESPN’s powerful piece on Mike Tomlin going to Haiti to support efforts to end human trafficking, with a special focus on the case of one Haitian man with a harrowing story of loss.
y. The 1962 Mets lost 120 games. The 2018 Baltimore Orioles lost 115 games. That is all.
Kansas City 31, Denver 23. It’s in Denver, but Kansas City has won three straight in Colorado and five straight in the series, and now they’re playing with better weaponry for the Broncos to defend. But the big matchup is on Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ right side. The last three times Von Miller has lined up at his customary left outside linebacker position across from Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, Miller had zero-sack games. ESPN needs to have an iso camera on that matchup all night.
• Thursday … Foxboro. Julian Edelman, at 32 years old and in a very short week of practice, returns from a four-game PED suspension, and the Pats’ win Sunday makes his arrival significantly less urgent. But with a game against an Indianapolis defense that’s one of the most surprising units in the first month of the season, the Pats hope Edelman will be a factor for his close friend Tom Brady, starting in the first quarter.
• Friday … New York City. Jesse Palmer turns 40. Did you know in his pre-Bachelor life he once played football? In the National Football League? For the New York Giants? You didn’t? Well, here’s a little education. This is the 15th-anniversary season of his three NFL touchdown passes. Jesse Palmer Quiz: Who caught two of his three NFL touchdown passes? Oooh, the suspense. If you guessed Visanthe Shiancoe, you win a lifetime pass to read this column.
• Sunday … Cincinnati. For better or worse (often times the latter), the Bengals have cast their lot with troubled linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who returns from his third suspension in three seasons (three, three and four games) when Cincinnati needs its leading tackler most. The men in stripes are surrendering 28.3 points a game, and the AFC East-leading Dolphins come to town first, followed by two of the league’s top five passing games in succession—Chiefs and Steelers.
Chaotic day, but …
Kudos to A Ballplayer.
Well, well played, Mauer.
To comment on the column, or to say anything about anything, you can reach Peter by email.