“Ain’t gonna be no rematch.”
—Apollo Creed, spent, after 15 rounds against Rocky Balboa, 1976.
FOXBORO, Mass. — Well, America wanted a rematch four decades ago, and, against Apollo’s better judgment, America got “Rocky II.” If we’re lucky, we’ll get a Chiefs-Patriots rematch too, but we won’t have to wait as long. Three months, actually. The AFC Championship Game is 13 weeks away.
How often is the most-anticipated game of a young season the best game of that young season? How often does that game exceed expectations? This one did. New England 43, Kansas City 40. Seven scores in the last 16 minutes, the last one a perfectly timed Stephen Gostkowski field goal that sailed through the uprights as the clock went to :00.
Here’s what I found interesting, standing in the bowels of Gillette Stadium a minute after this one ended: One by one, the Chiefs came off the field, heads mostly up, no anger, no F-bombs. I almost couldn’t tell they lost. That’s because the young phenom, Patrick Mahomes, left 14 points on the field in the first half, overthrowing what would have been two touchdown passes as the Patriots jumped out to a 24-9 halftime lead. “The 40 we got could have been in the fifties if we executed better,” tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. This is what the Chiefs must have been thinking: Our guy, maybe the MVP, was just OK in the first half, and we still scored 40, and it took a 65-yard drive by the GOAT for the Patriots to survive. We’ll be fine.
They will be. The Patriots will be too.
The Lead: Chiefs-Pats
Every game in almost every sport, you see something you haven’t seen before. In this one, Tom Brady’s 200th regular-season victory (first quarterback ever to do that), his most memorable play from the game will be one that might be unprecedented in his career.
Third-and-goal from the Chiefs’ 4-yard line, 5:32 left in the game, Chiefs up 33-30. After watching the replay six or eight times, this sticks out: Kansas City rushes three and drops eight into coverage. Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton did something I’ve never seen before—assuming I saw what I think I saw.
• Julian Edelman, double-covered, bracketed by Steven Nelson and Jordan Lucas.
• Rob Gronkowski, double-covered by safeties Josh Shaw and Ron Parker.
• James White, double-covered by linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Dee Ford.
• Two other receivers, Josh Gordon and Chris Hogan, singled.
I don’t recall ever seeing a defense double three men on one play, but Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton—who gets a ton of respect from the Patriots—doesn’t play by everyone else’s rules.
So Kansas City rushed three: linemen Chris Jones and Allen Bailey, and linebacker Breeland Speaks. Though Speaks almost sacked Brady, and I’ll never figure out why he didn’t follow through on what could have been a drive-stopping sack, Brady got free. (Editor’s note: Speaks had a new rule on his mind.) On the replay, you see these eight cover guys myopically taking their men out of the play. But they weren’t looking at Brady. He had to be looking over the field and thinking, This is the damndest thing I’ve ever seen: three of my guys doubled! But the upshot of that was a big patch of green between Brady around the five and the end zone, and … “I’ve got to watch it tomorrow,” Brady said around midnight, “but I got close to the goal line and figured I’d try to get in. We needed it.”
Who does this? Who devotes six men to three of the opposition? Sutton did, and it almost worked. But Brady, who has a ton of one-yard sneaks for scores, rarely runs near the goal line from any length like this one. He dove (Gisele had to be covering her eyes) and made it.
Semi-lunacy there, but the last 16 minutes was all of that. Here’s how the score fluctuated in the last quarter-and-a-minute:
Third quarter, :56 left: Tyreek Hill TD catch. Pats, 27-26.
Fourth quarter, 10:22 left: Gostkowski field goal. Pats, 30-26.
Fourth quarter, 8:38 left: Hill TD catch. Chiefs 33-30.
Fourth quarter, 5:25 left: Brady TD run. Pats, 37-33.
Fourth quarter, 3:15 left: Gostkowski field goal. Pats, 40-33.
Fourth quarter, 3:03 left: Hill TD catch. Tie, 40-40.
Fourth quarter, :00 left: Gostkowski field goal. Pats, 43-40.
Seventeen total scores. No punts in the first 56 minutes. Brady, 41, and Mahomes, 23, dueling to the end. Total offense: 946 yards.
The Chiefs have played New England three times in the last five regular seasons, and scored 41, 42 and 40 points.
We want more.
Scattershooting after a terrific football game, in no particular order:
• Mutual respect flowed in each locker room. Andy Reid got so much love from the Patriots defenders I thought they were talking about their own head man. “Brilliant,” Pats defensive back Duron Harmon called him. Chiefs OL Mitchell Schwartz said Pats linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who played a brilliant game, “can play anywhere on the front seven—I think he did tonight—and be really good anywhere.” And so forth.
• Tyreek Hill is not normal. The Patriots knew he was Mahomes’ big target, and they stressed internally not to let him beat them. But he scored three touchdowns in the last 16 minutes, on TD catches of 14, one and 75 yards. “He’s by far the fastest person I’ve ever come in contact with,” Harmon said.
• The Patriots remembered that stunning 42-27 opener last year. Remember how New England couldn’t make a short run to make a first down on opening night 2017? The Patriots had four snaps of third-and-two or third-and one on the night. On third-and-goal from the Chiefs’ one in the second quarter, Sony Michel scored a touchdown. In the second half, James White converted a third-and-two, and Michel converted third-and-ones twice in the last 13 minutes.
• It was efficient for the winners. The Patriots were not penalized. The Patriots did not punt. That combo platter has never happened in NFL history.
• The shadow of the Red Sox loomed. “What was the score tonight?” cornerback Stephon Gilmore wondered about Game 2 of the ALCS, which ended 31 miles up the road at Fenway Park. Sox 7, Astros 5. “Well good, we both won,” he said. Two big Boston wins within 50 minutes.
• Dont’a Hightower was fantastic, a major reason for the win. This was probably the best game he’s played since starring in the Super Bowl run the year New England beat Seattle. He hid behind the line to surprise Mahomes with a first-quarter interception, forced the second Mahomes interception just before halftime by catching him from behind and prompting a poor-decision throw … and sniffed out a screen to Kareem Hunt in the fourth quarter for no gain—a key play leading to the game’s only punt. He dropped in coverage, he blitzed, he fake-blitzed and dropped, he fake-blitzed and spied Mahomes. Hightower was all over the place and, as much as anyone on his team other than Brady, was the key to this win—even as the D gave up 40 points. “Makes me valuable, I guess, to play multiple different roles,” Hightower told me after the game. I’d say so.
The Patriots (4-2) have a tough run in the coming weeks, with three of the next four on the road (at Chicago, at Buffalo, Green Bay, at Tennessee), then the bye, then the Vikings and Steelers in Weeks 13 and 15. But it would be surprising to see the Patriots not get one of the top two AFC seeds. The Chiefs (5-1) go home for Cincinnati and Denver, then play the Rams in Mexico before their bye. Baltimore and the Chargers come to Arrowhead in Weeks 14 and 15.
So each team will have some challenges. But if the football gods are feeling it, Brady and Mahomes will meet again. It’ll be colder, and the stakes will be higher. The NFL TV ratings got socked in the jaw last year, and they’re stabilizing a bit this season. But Chiefs-Pats, somewhere, could be an all-timer in Nielsenland. Let’s hope it happens. Save a seat for me in the press box if it does.
Here Come the Bolts10
Every year about this time, through six or seven weeks, a team we didn’t see coming starts coming. Last year, it was Philadelphia, marauding through the NFC in October. This year, that team could be the Chargers. Now, as I just wrote, the Patriots and Chiefs both look powerful this year, and it’s quite possible that the Chargers won’t get hot enough. But they’ve scored 29, 26 and 38 points in a three-game winning streak, and they went into Cleveland and dominated one of football’s most intriguing and competitive teams.
Now the Chargers have a quirky schedule. Sunday’s 38-14 win in Cleveland started a long stretch away from home. No NFL team this season will go 41 days without playing at home. But they have a “home” game in London against Tennessee, then their bye, and then open November with games at Seattle and at Oakland. The Chargers return to their home bandbox in Carson, Calif. on Nov. 18, the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
Not only that, but they’re in a bit of no-man’s-land this week, practicing in Cleveland for three days before taking a red-eye flight on Thursday. They’ll practice at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, just a mile-and-a-half from the Browns’ training facility, also in Berea. They’ll have a treatment room for their players at Baldwin Wallace, and another at their downtown Cleveland hotel 20 minutes away. And they’ll pack up for London after practice Thursday. “We’re going to be tested a lot in the next four to five weeks, starting with today,” coach Anthony Lynn told me from Cleveland. “But this was a great start. We told them we were going into a tough environment against a team that could be 4-1 or 5-0, and they stayed focused.”
Lynn on the plan for London: “We studied it a lot. We decided to prepare here and go to London late Thursday because we think coaches can prepare better here, and players can rest better here. I don’t know that it has a lot to do with it, but the teams that go over later in the week have a better winning percentage, so we’re going to play the odds.”
In the last 11 months, including the final month-plus last year, the Chargers are 10-3—two of the losses coming to Kansas City. Lynn’s not a great believer in the carry-over from one season to another, but he said, “You can’t carry over wins and losses, but you can carry over culture.” And eventually, he’ll be getting one of his best players, pass-rusher Joey Bosa, back from a foot injury. So it looks like both Los Angeles teams could be tough outs this year.
London: The NFL's ATM
Last week, discussing the popularity of the NFL in England, the daily newspaper The Telegraph headlined a story thusly: “It’s now harder to get a ticket for London NFL game than a Beyonce concert.”
“A decade ago it seemed unthinkable that the British public would be scrambling to watch the Tennessee Titans in the same way they do Justin Timberlake,” wrote Alex Finnis of The Telegraph. “On Sunday around 90,000 fans will flock to Wembley—dressed in jerseys from all around the league—to watch the Seattle Seahawks take on the Oakland Raiders. According to StubHub, demand for the London games is up an incredible 333 per cent in five years, and 40 per cent on last season, despite there being one fewer [game]. The NFL is no longer arriving in the UK, it’s already here—and it continues to grow exponentially.”
A couple of other notes about international football: Remember that NFL owners, and the commissioner’s office, are all about growing the pie. So the NFL is going to act in the interest of expanding, doing something different—and making a boatload of money on it. That means a franchise in London. Or two.
Remember when Al Michaels first talked about two franchises in Los Angeles years ago, and the idea was pooh-poohed? We know what happened in L.A. Not saying two franchises are anything close to a sure thing, but it certainly is interesting that the NFL and the owners of Tottenham Hotspur are working on a stadium refurbishing that would accommodate an American football team … at the same time as Jaguars owner Shad Khan is trying to close a deal to buy Wembley Stadium. Last week, a source close to the Wembley process said the last sticking point appeared to be Khan’s willingness—if he is approved to purchase the national soccer stadium—that Wembley would remain the home of English soccer. The source said he expects the Khan purchase to be approved by month’s end, and if it is, “Shad will certainly have a lot of options.”
Among them: playing more than one Jaguars game per season at Wembley, while another team could seriously investigate games at Tottenham.
Also: England is not the only place where the NFL is increasing its footprint around the globe. TV ratings are up more than 10 percent in Mexico, Canada and Germany—all fertile ground for the NFL game. And live-streaming of NFL games in China has doubled from 2017 to this fall.
I stress that NFL owners are continually looking at new ways to make money. Right now, London might look like an ATM to them.
The Month of Buck20
If you’re like me (Lord help you if that’s so), you watched the Thursday night football game and then the first game of the National League Championship Series on Friday night. And you wondered: That’s nimble stuff, FOX’s Joe Buck in both booths, 820 miles apart. Players notice too. David Freese of the Dodgers saw Buck on the field Friday afternoon in Milwaukee. “Hey,” Freese said, “I just saw you on the football game last night.” In the span of 20 hours last week, Buck was in two time zones doing two big games in two different sports, trying to move smoothly between the NFL and the baseball playoffs.
The baseball guys enjoyed talking about the football guys. Buck told Dodgers manager Dave Roberts that when playing against Carolina NFL offensive coordinators are consumed with where Luke Kuechly will be on every play, and he wondered if Roberts felt that same about Brewers strikeout machine Josh Hader influencing middle and late innings. “No doubt,” Roberts told him.
The difference for Buck? It might be the sustained roar at many MLB playoff games. When he worked Giants-Eagles last week in New Jersey, the game quickly became a snoozer, lacking enthusiasm except for the fans occasionally laying into the Giants. But the fans in Milwaukee, four wins away from their first World Series appearance in 36 years, were jet-plane-decibel level early and often; Buck hears that sustained volume more in October baseball than NFL games in October. “It’s a vocal test for me,” Buck said Saturday from the announcers booth at Miller Park. “You have to get loud, and you have to get your voice over that roar of the crowd. When I got into the game, I said to myself, ‘I remember this—I gotta start yelling again.’“
The turnaround from football to baseball began with Buck watching as many innings as possible of playoff baseball. Then the shift was quick. On Thursday at 11:37 p.m. ET, in East Rutherford, N.J., his signoff on FOX: “A final of 34-13. Eagles win it. Thanks for watching Thursday night football … ” Twenty-one-plus hours later, on Friday at 7:02 p.m. CT in Milwaukee, he said: “It’s the Dodgers and the Brewers tonight from Wisconsin. And now welcome inside the broadcast booth. I’m Joe Buck … It doesn’t always work out this way—doesn’t have to. But the two best teams are left in the National League.”
As the primary voice for FOX’s football team with Troy Aikman, and as the lead play-by-play man for its baseball crew with John Smoltz, here’s a rundown of Buck’s travels over the past 11 days, and over the next few days:
• Thursday, Oct. 4—Thursday night football in Foxboro, Colts-Patriots.
• Saturday, Oct 6—In Minneapolis for the funeral of his wife’s stepfather.
• Sunday, Oct. 7—Sunday doubleheader game in Philadelphia, Vikings-Eagles.
• Monday, Oct. 8—Home (St. Louis) for a couple of days. Buck and wife Michelle Beisner-Buck have twin five-and-a-half-month-old boys, Wyatt and Blake.
• Thursday, Oct. 11—Thursday night football in New Jersey. Eagles-Giants. Buck flies from the Teterboro, N.J., private airport to Milwaukee, and he’s in bed by 1:45 a.m. Central Time.
• Friday, Oct. 12—NLCS Game 1 in Milwaukee.
• Saturday, Oct. 13—NLCS Game 2 in Milwaukee.
• Sunday, Oct. 14—Home.
• Today—A 6 a.m. flight to Los Angeles for Game 3 of the NLCS, which starts at 5 p.m. PT.
• Tuesday, Oct. 16—NLCS Game 4 in Los Angeles.
• Wednesday, Oct. 17—NLCS Game 5 in Los Angeles.
• Thursday, Oct. 18—Thursday night football in Glendale, Ariz., Broncos-Cardinals.
The rest: If there’s a Game 6 and/or 7 in NLCS, it/they would be in Milwaukee on Friday and Saturday nights, the 19th and 20th … Buck then does the World Series, which starts on Tuesday, Oct. 23 in the American League city. If that city is Houston, it would be convenient, because he’d do Game 1 and 2 of the Series on Tuesday and Wednesday, then the Miami-at-Houston NFL Thursday-nighter, then World Series Games 3, 4 and 5 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the National League city.
“I love this,” Buck said. “This month reminds me of what my father used to do. He’d do St. Louis Cardinals [baseball games], then in the fall NFL games on Sundays, and then Monday night football games on the radio. My dad would laugh that this is overtaxing. It’s not. It’s fun. I’m watching sports.”
What I Learned
Saints coach Sean Payton on what he has learned in 12 seasons side-by-side with Drew Brees, the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yards.
“So what has Drew taught me?”
Pause. Four, five seconds.
“Mental preparation. Every young quarterback should see what he does to prepare for a game. It’s extraordinary.
“The time he takes to play the game in his mind has been a revelation to me. In his first year  he’s still coming back from his major shoulder surgery, and he’s working so hard to get every edge he can. So we have our bye, and I’m in the office on Sunday afternoon, and I look out onto the practice field, and there’s this one guy, alone.
“True story. The field’s a little far away, and I can’t see who this is, but he’s out there with a football, dropping back and I’d guess you’d call it simulating playing football—playing quarterback. So I go out there. It’s Drew, totally alone. I say, ‘What are you doing out here? It’s the bye. You’re off!’ He says, ‘I wanted to get my game in. I wanted to stay on my schedule, and this is the day and time we’d be playing.’ He’s just out there, you understand, playing against nobody, running through our plays, playing the game mentally.
“I say, ‘Who’s winning?’ He smiles and says, ‘We are.’
“I get in the car. And I thought, ‘I’m glad he’s mine.’
“So what do you learn from this story? His passion for perfection is off the charts. It rubs off on the guys he plays with. It has made us better every single year. I think these teammates become better players than they’re supposed to be. Every week he’ll take the top 15 to 20 plays in the game plan, plays he’s almost sure we’ll run. And he’ll go through every one mentally. He’ll think how he’ll go to his first option, then go through it again and think how he’ll go to the second option, and then again with the third option, ad nauseum. Is that the right word—ad nauseum? He believes in the power of visually seeing something, and every possible option on a route. On the play where he set the [passing-yards] record, the throw to Tre’Quan Smith for the 62-yard touchdown, I can tell you, we worked on that all week, and we never thought the ball was going to Tre’Quan. But he was open, Drew threw it, and it was the right choice. He throws to the guy who’s open. Who was the guy who wrote that book, ‘Throw Me The Damn Ball?’ “
Keyshawn Johnson, he was told.
“Probably wouldn’t have worked with Drew.
“I have also learned another thing from Drew—faith. Back in 2006, we were all-in on Drew. But it was tough. Our city was half destroyed, and he was coming back from this huge shoulder surgery. And our team wasn’t good. Basically, our city and our team were both startups. It reminded me of that scene in ‘Jerry Maguire,’ where Tom Cruise quits that big agent firm to go off on his own. There was that great scene where he storms out and says, ‘Who’s coming with me!’ And here’s Renee Zellweger, kind of meekly, saying, ‘I’ll go with you.’ That was exactly us. And Drew saw our city and our team as sort of a calling, I think. He had faith in us, and we had faith in him.
“One of the most incredible memories of my coaching life comes from that first year. I come in one day and the message light on my phone is on, and I pick it up and I don’t remember exactly what it said, but it was something like this: Sean, this is coach Bill Walsh. I wanted to tell you how much I enjoy watching what you’re doing on offense—the precision, the timing, the discipline. There aren’t many offenses I enjoy, but yours is one. For a young coach like me, wow. We played phone tag after that, and I never got to talk to him about it, which is sad. He died the next year.
“Drew is such a big part of it all. He demands everyone be committed. His dedication, that’s something everyone can learn from.”
The Award Section30
Offensive Players of the Week
Todd Gurley, running back, Los Angeles Rams. With the Broncos banking on a swarm-job defensively around Jared Goff (mission accomplished), coach Sean McVay turned to the run. The Rams sledgehammered Denver (39 carries, 270 yards), led by Gurley’s 208 yards on 28 carries. (It was the first 200-yard rush game by a Rams running back since Marshall Faulk in 2001.) Great sign for the Rams’ intergalactic offense, because it showed they can win any way offensively.
Tyrell Williams, wide receiver, Los Angeles Chargers. With apologies to Melvin Gordon (he could have been in this space, easily), this goes to the emerging star and very physical wideout from Western Oregon. Three receptions for 118 yards, with two touchdowns he had to battle to catch. The first, a 45-yard touchdown from Philip Rivers, was Williams versus three Cleveland defenders, a feat of concentration and strength. The Chargers drafted Mike Williams to be their deep threat wideout. But since opening day 2017, Tyrell Williams has 59 catches for a 17.6-yard average. That’s 3.3 yard more per catch than Antonio Brown.
Defensive Players of the Week
Za'Darius Smith, outside linebacker, Baltimore. In the most dominant defensive performance of this ultra-offensive season, the Ravens shut out Tennessee 21-0 and had 11 sacks. Another one of GM Ozzie Newsome’s draft gifts that keeps on giving, Smith (2015, round four, Kentucky) contributed three sacks of Marcus Mariota and five tackles in a virtuoso game. Net passing yards for Mariota: 51.
Frank Clark, defensive end, Seattle. Tormenting Oakland QB Derek Carr for all of a murky day in old London town, Clark had 2.5 of Seattle’s six sacks in a 27-3 victory that could have been 47-3.
Michael Bennett, defensive end, Philadelphia. Made the seminal play of the game for the marauding Eagle defense in stuffing the Giants. With the Eagles up 7-3 in the first quarter Thursday night, Bennett turnstiled the Giants’ $15-million-a-year left tackle, Nate Solder, and strip-sacked Eli Manning, forcing a fumble that Solder recovered at the Giants 1-yard line. Playing 47 of 65 snaps, Bennett, who turns 33 next month, is giving the Eagles their money’s worth. He had two additional quarterback hits and six tackles in the 34-13 rubout of the G-men.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Jason Myers, kicker, New York Jets. The offense never wants a kicker to attempt seven field goals, but when it happens, it’s nice to know he can make them all. Myers set a franchise record by nailing all seven, plus a perfect 3-for-3 on extra points, in the Jets’ 42-34 win over the Colts. (The NFL single-game record, by the way, is eight field goals, set by the late Rob Bironas for Tennessee in 2007.)
Jason Sanders, kicker, Miami. Impressive win for the Dolphins, and many players stepped up to make the victory possible. Count Sanders in that group. The rookie kicker from New Mexico got the first game-winner of his career, a 47-yarder at the buzzer that saved Kenyan Drake’s behind. Sanders added two other field goals earlier in the game, including a 50-yarder.
Tremon Smith, cornerback/kick-returner, Kansas City. Sunday night was the first time Smith—a rookie sixth-round pick from Central Arkansas—returned kicks in an NFL game. That’s because ace kick returner De’Anthony Thomas broke his leg in practice last week, forcing Andy Reid to look for alternatives. The search is over. With the Chiefs trailing 30-26 with 10:20 left, Smith took the New England kick at the goal line and sprinted up the right sideline for 97 yards, tackled from behind at the 3-yard line by Devin McCourty. The Chiefs scored to go ahead moments later.
Coach of the Week
Don “Wink” Martindale, defensive coordinator, Baltimore. When a unit records more sacks (11) than completions allowed (10), the leader gets an award. Those are the rules. Martindale’s pass rushers got to Marcus Mariota every possible way—up the middle, around the edges, in the pocket, on bootlegs, you name it. The total set a new franchise record and was one short of the single-game NFL mark of 12. And it came with a familiar face watching: Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees used to hold the same position in Baltimore. Shout out to the Ravens social media team for renaming the account RavenSSSSSSSSSSS, one ‘S’ for each sack.
Goat of the Week
Nathan Peterman, quarterback, Buffalo. Two interceptions in the final 90 seconds of a tie game in Houston, the first one giving the Texans a pick-six by Jonathan Joseph, and the second a desperado last gasp with 30 seconds left by Kareem Jackson. Texans 20, Bills 13, and Peterman’s first two NFL seasons continue to be an arduous exercise in personal torture.
D.J. Moore, wide receiver, Carolina. Two touches in the first 25 minutes, two fumbles, 10 Washington points. The first fumble, on a first-quarter punt return, led to an Alex Smith TD pass. The second touch, on a reception from Cam Newton, was forced by former Panther Josh Norman, and it led to a Dustin Hopkins field goal for Washington. Not exactly what a first-round receiver is supposed to be contributing—or an any-round receiver, for that matter.
Quotes of the Week
“We’re better than them. They ain’t better than us. Period.”
—Cincinnati cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, via Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com, after the Steelers beat the Bengals 28-21.
Bengals are 1-10 versus Pittsburgh since Oct. 1, 2013. Kirkpatrick must know some facts the rest of us don’t.
“It’s Brocktober for the Miami Dolphins at Hard Brock Stadium!”
—Scott Hanson, on the Dolphins’ overtime win over Chicago, and the stunning role quarterback Brock Osweiler played in it.
“In thinking about the initiation of this protest, this stance, and where we’re at currently, I go back to something I said in a speech previously—that love is at the root of our resistance, and it will continue to be, and it will fortify everything that we do.”
—Colin Kaepernick, in receiving the W.E.B. du Bois Medal from Harvard on Thursday.
“I can go back to listening to West Coast rap.”
—Cleveland offensive coordinator Todd Haley, to Dan Labbe of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, on the apparent end of his feud with Snoop Dogg, a Steelers fans who consistently advocated for Haley’s firing (“Fire that Mother******,” Snoop once said) when Haley was the Pittsburgh offensive coordinator.
The Dogg visited Browns practice the other day and, as Haley said, “I got to make sure he and I were all good.” By the way, I thought Snoop was Snoop Lion. What did I miss?
“They didn’t ostracize him. They didn’t separate themselves. He is able to go and do what he needs to do to be a better man and then come back a more complete player and person.”
—Vikings defensive lineman Stephen Weatherly, on Pro Bowl defensive end Everson Griffen, who is on leave from the team addressing mental health issues that had him behaving erratically. Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB with a story on the NFL and mental health.
Headline of the Week
“FROM BAD TO HEARSE.”
—The New York Post, after the Giants fell to 1-5 by getting soundly beaten at home by the Eagles.
I: Sad in Cincinnati
In the seven seasons between 1974 and 1980, when the Steelers won four Super Bowls, they played seven games at division rival Cincinnati. The won-loss ledger in those seven games: Cincinnati 4, Pittsburgh 3.
No such luck now. The last six Steelers-Bengals game at Paul Brown Stadium in downtown Cincinnati:
“The Bengals have to be wondering, ‘What do we have to do against this team?’“ said Ian Eagle on the CBS telecast.
It helps when, on the Steelers’ winning touchdown pass to Antonio Brown, the Steelers appeared to get away with an illegal pick springing Brown for the score. The NFL defended the no-call in a Sunday night video posted to Twitter. Said vice president of officiating Al Riveron: “Contact was not initiated by the defender, therefore it is not OPI [offensive pass interference].” My NBC colleagues, Rodney Harrison and Tony Dungy, agreed with Riveron during Football Night in America.
Riveron is right in saying contact was first made by the defensive player, but Steelers receiver Justin Hunter rode the defender downfield—Hunter didn’t just shrug off the defender. The moderate, play-it-down-the-middle officiating site Football Zebras went hard after the call. Football Zebras said: [Riveron’s] explanation is as fresh as week-old fish. This is a clear OPI call, and to spin it any other way is just completely unsupportable.”
For the Bengals, that won’t help.
II: Haplessness of the Giants Dept.
Since the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl seven years ago:
• New England has won at least 12 games every year. New York has not won 12 games in any year.
• New England has 11 playoffs wins. New York has zero.
• New England has had no three-game losing streaks. New York has had nine.
• Tom Brady is 60 games over .500, with a plus-173 touchdown-to-interception differential. Eli Manning is 15 games below .500, with a plus-57 TD-to-pick differential.
• The Patriots have had one coach, and he is 89-27 since that Super Bowl. New York has had four coaches since that Super Bowl, and, since then, they are 28-36, 13-15, 1-4 and 1-5.
III: Haplessness of Ryan Tannehill Dept.
Ryan Tannehill has missed 20 of the last 25 Miami games with injuries.
In pro football, ability is important. Availability is paramount. And this is a bad sign—to me—for Tannehill’s long-term future. He’s struggling to play competently and beat good teams anyway. But how can you rely on a guy who plays far and away the most important position on the field when he’s absent for so many games, the latest of which came Sunday against Chicago?
Drew Brees has thrown for at least 4,300 yards in each of his 12 full New Orleans seasons.
John Elway never threw for 4,300 yards in any of his 16 Denver seasons.
This sounds crazy, but I believe it to be true: From fourth grade till the end of his North Dakota State academic career, Carson Wentz never got a grade lower than an A.
He told me so at the combine in 2016, that when he grew up in Bismarck, N.D., he started getting letter grades in fourth grade. “If I am given a task,” he told me then, “I’m going to do it with 110 percent of my ability. I was trying to be the best I can be at everything so that’s how I applied myself to academics. I came close a couple of times [to a B], got a couple of low A’s, but I pulled it out in the end and it’s still an A.”
I wrote this in February 2016, so you may recall that. I don’t mean to be recycling my stuff here; I mention that because watching how he conducts himself, how he answers questions by trying to be helpful but not ever really giving away what could be a state secret, and listening to those who have coached him with the Eagles, he’s got the worker-bee tendencies and the intelligence to handle whatever the coaches and this big league have thrown at him.
There is a Baker Mayfield Browns jersey in the locker of Milwaukee Brewers MVP candidate Christian Yelich. They got to be pals working out at the same southern California facility last winter.
In this NFL season, one thing I’ve begun to take as gospel is this: When a team takes a chance and fails, it doesn’t mean that team made a poor decision. Failure is viewed so negatively. It often forces coaches to take the safe way out rather than taking a chance to make a play that has more of a chance of succeeding than failing. Coaches do the human thing, the thing they’ve done most often in their lives. It’s the safe thing. But it’s not always the smartest thing.
Taking the work of Pro Football Focus’ analytic tools, considering the option between going for it on fourth-and-short or kicking a field goal has become—to me—more questionable than ever. As PFF notes, there is often a miscalculation of the benefit of a touchdown over a field goal; we don’t often see two outcomes both viewed as successes where the fortune of one is more than double that of the other. In order to learn the probabilities of success and failure on some plays, PFF uses algorithms to determine the odds for each decision using variables that measure the different facets of each offense and defense. The factors—quarterback play, receiving, pass blocking, run blocking, running, pass-rush, pass coverage, and run defense—for each team are adjusted for strength of opponent faced. With that, PFFcreates a model that gives predictions based on the components that might come into play.
Looking at PFF’s calculations on some of the controversial 2018 coaching decisions:
• Week 1, Falcons at Eagles, Atlanta ball, fourth-and-goal at the Philadelphia 1-yard line, first quarter, 0-0 game. The conversion percentage is only 49.4 percent if the Falcons go for it, in part because of the strong Philly front, in part because the Falcons on their two previous shots from the 1-yard line failed. The percentage of the Falcons winning the game if they score a touchdown here: 71.5 percent. The percentage of winning if they are stopped is still 61.4 percent … in part because they’d be leaving the Eagles with such a long field. Atlanta went for it, and Devonta Freeman was stopped for a one-yard loss. So PFF is not always so prescient. The Eagles won, 18-12.
• Week 5, Seahawks at Rams, Los Angeles ball, fourth-and-one (actually fourth-and-a-foot, but PFF doesn’t account for feet or inches—only yards) at their own 42, fourth quarter, 1:39 left, Rams up 33-31. Conversion percentage: 78.2 percent. Chance of winning if they convert: 99.9 percent. (They’d simply run out the clock.) Here’s the key, and it’s why—even though I wrote last week about what a smart call it was by Sean McVay—that it actually was overwhelmingly the smart call by McVay to go for it even if the play failed: The Rams’ chance to win the game was still 59.7 percent if they didn’t convert and handed the ball back to Seattle with no timeouts left and a questionable kicker in Janikowski (who’d made six of nine this year at that point). In other words, PFF still believed it was more likely than not that handing the ball back to Russell Wilson on a short field would have resulted in a Rams win.
• Week 5, Cowboys at Texans, Dallas ball, fourth-and-one at the Houston 42, fourth quarter, 5:40 left, 13-13 tie. Jerry Jones was right: This was a major miscalculation by coach Jason Garrett, punting here. The conversion percentage was 76.2 percent, and the chance of winning with a conversion was 62.0 percent; the chance of winning with a punt: 17.6 percent. The overwhelming stat to note here, and a big part of the PFF algorithm, is that Dallas was 18 of 19 on fourth-and-one plays since the team drafted Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott in 2016—the best such percentage on fourth-and-one in the NFL. This was a risk very much worth taking, and the punt helped doom Dallas in a 19-16 loss.
Nine years ago, I ripped Bill Belichick for going for it against the Colts on fourth-and-two from his 28-yard line, up 34-28, with 2:08 to play and Indy having only one timeout left but also knowing the Colts had shredded the Pats’ defense later in the game. (Thanks to WEEI’s Dale Arnold for pointing out my hypocrisy here, praising McVay and nine years ago criticizing Belichick. The situations were slightly different, because the Rams had probably 1.5 less yards to make. But the risk was about the same: make the attempt, and the game’s all but over.) Looking back, I wish I knew everything then that I know now about probability and analytics.
Moral of the story: Don’t overrate risk-taking. Often, it’s the smartest play.
A PFF Elite subscription gives you access to performance metrics the pros use.
After six weeks, here’s my MVP ballot:
1. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City. (Last week: 1.) The kid flinched in the first half, but showed in the second half that the road stage was not too big for him. At all.
2. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. (Last week: 3.) Fodder for a Saints bye week: Imagine Brees winning the MVP when it’s announced Feb. 2 at NFL Honors in Atlanta. He’d be the second straight 40-year-old quarterback to win it. (Tom Brady won last February at 40.)
3. Jared Goff, QB, L.A. Rams. (Last week: 2.) Goff had his first meh day of the season in the cold at Denver: 14 of 28, no TDs, one pick. But the Rams are 6-0, and he’s at the nerve center of it all.
4. Khalil Mack, OLB, Chicago. (Last week: 4.) His first pedestrian game since the Oakland-to-Chicago trade six weeks ago (two tackles, no sacks) played a part in the Bears getting upset 31-28 at Miami.
5. Philip Rivers, QB, Los Angeles Chargers. (Last week: unranked.) With losses to only the best two teams in football, the Chiefs and Rams, the Chargers are getting a classic Rivers season to lead them: 69 percent completions, a 115.1 rating, a 15-to-3 TD-to-pick ratio.
To comment on the column, or to say anything about anything, you can reach me by email.
Excellent question. From Tom B. of Los Angeles: “Ian Rapaport reported on that Jon Gruden has his own inner circle of personnel that creates entirely separate draft boards, roster boards, and a decision-making process that largely excludes Reggie McKenzie, the front office, and scouting department. This is the same front office which, for the first time in 15 years, built Oakland a young core poised to achieve sustained success. Now, reports have come out that Amari Cooper and Karl Joseph are on the trade block. If Rapaport’s reporting is true, especially given the Mack trade, then is Gruden the de facto GM? How does McKenzie continue to report to work while the team he built is deconstructed and his role as GM is undermined?”
This is a smart, informed question that lots of people around the league are asking, Tom. My feeling is that when Mark Davis made Gruden the highest-paid coach in NFL history (we think), he gave him the power to craft the roster the way he sees fit. In my opinion, McKenzie would have found a way to keep Mack. In my opinion, that was a Gruden call. And in the end, it will be a big error. As for the ego-less McKenzie, I’m sure he views this as part of the new normal, and if he wants to work in this system, this is how it’s going to be.
On the Pats’ game plan Sunday night. From Christopher R.: “With New England going for it on fourth-and-three [from the Chiefs’ 40] in the first quarter, do you think they were afraid of the KC offense?”
No. I just think Bill Belichick felt this way: We can either punt the ball and force the Chiefs to start at, say, their 12-yard line; or I can take a shot with Tom Brady converting a three-yard pass, and, if he fails, the Chiefs get the ball at their 40. Seems logical to me, risking a 28 or 33-yard loss of field position by giving the ball to Brady and trying to complete a pass of at least three yards. It failed. As I explain earlier in “Intelligent Football,” you shouldn’t always judge a coach’s decision solely by whether he makes it.
The unanswerable question (right now) from a frustrated Jags fan. From Matt M.: “What do the Jags do with Blake Bortles?”
Impossible to answer this morning, Matt. Jacksonville has 10 games, at least, to figure it out. Remember, GM Dave Caldwell sculpted the Bortles extension last year so that if he tanks this year the Jaguars won’t get killed in the future. Even if they cut him after the season, it’s a $16.5-million cap hit for 2019 … either that or the Jags could re-work the deal in February to lessen the hit next year, keep him, and push some money into a future cap year. But it’s too early to give up. This is a franchise that has seen Bortles have some very good days at the end of the 2017 season, and I think they’ll ride the ups and downs unless he plays poorly for five weeks or so. This team needs Leonard Fournette back.
King of the Road
I have really grown to appreciate and love San Francisco over the years—and not just because my daughter Laura met her wife Kim there, and Kim has become such an invaluable part of our lives, and because our two grandchildren have been born there. (A fond paragraph about Hazel June King later in the column.) But there’s something about the feel of the place, and the climate, that I just love. In the neighborhood where Laura and Kim live, I’m going to show you two things I noticed on the trip there last week.
No catcalling postings, painted into sidewalks in their neighborhood, strike me as so progressive and important these days, and that yelling sexist and sexual crap at women is not okay. And the library … sharing books, for free, is something we should encourage at a time when we veer altogether toward the phone and away from the printed page. I realize San Francisco has so many issues now, and homelessness is an epidemic. Cities can’t get everything right. I know nothing about the politics of the place. I just know when I visit there I feel like I’m visiting an enlightened city, a beautiful city, that is trying.
Tweets of the Week30
10 Things I Think I Think
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of Week 6:
a. RIP, Jim Taylor, the consistent back who was a sledgehammer for Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay teams in the run game, and who held the Packers’ all-time rushing record for 42 years, until Ahman Green broke it in 2006.
b. RIP, Alex Spanos, the Chargers owner and true self-made man, who turned an $800 investment in a mobile-restaurant business in the early fifties in California into multi-millions, and eventually into enough money to buy the Chargers. Spanos was well-respected around the league as an ultimate league guy.
c. Tremendous tribute by Chargers coach Anthony Lynn about Spanos. “I want to dedicate this game to Mr. Spanos. He’s a true example of the American dream,” Lynn told his team after the game in Cleveland Sunday. “He came over here with little. He built an empire, and then he lived his dream by buying this football team right here. When he got here, he didn’t forget where he came from.”
d. Remember when we thought the AFC South was the rising star of NFL divisions? Top of it this morning: Tennessee 3-3, Jacksonville 3-3, Houston 3-3.
e. How about all the teams we liked entering Sunday: the 3-1 Bears traveling to Miami; the 4-1 Bengals playing to end the home schneid against the arch-rival Steelers; the 3-2 Jags sure to rebound at Dallas; the 2-2-1 hot Browns hosting the Chargers; the 3-1 Panthers traveling to struggling Washington.
f. Overtime loss (Bears) against a backup quarterback; controversial loss (Bengals); decisive loss after trailing 24-zip at the half (Jags); a total skunking suffered by a team (Browns) we wrongly assumed had arrived.
g. Blake Bortles, quarterbacking roller coaster. He’s in a pretty big dip now, to put it mildly.
h. How Jekyll and Hyde are the Cowboys? But that was the team Cowboys ownership and coaching built to be one of the league’s best at running the football and efficient at passing it.
i. Like the black-jersey, teal-pant look, Jags. Really like it. Now, as far as how you played in them, that’s a different story.
j. The Titans of the first month? A mirage, from the looks of the last nine days.
k. Apparently, the responsible official on an incredible missed false start in Cleveland was down judge Hugo Cruz, one officiating source told me. It’s inexcusable to miss this kind of false start on Chargers left tackle Russell Okung, which cost the Browns seven points. It resulted in a touchdown pass to Tyrell Williams.
l. Great, instinctive interception of Baker Mayfield by Chargers corner Desmond King.
m. That sideline catch by Adam Thielen … this guy is a legitimately great NFL receiver. So amazing he had to pay his own way to one of those satellite combines to ever get on any NFL teams’ radar.
n. Really dumb pass-interference mugging in a close game in Houston by cornerback Phillip Gaines of the Bills. No sense of where he was on the field, assaulting Will Fuller of the Texans in the end zone with the ball in the air.
o. Tarik Cohen, the new Darren Sproles. (Said it before. Worth it again.)
p. Matt Ryan (QB rating: 113.6) has had ratings of 148.1, 134.5, 99.1 and 125.5 in the last four weeks, with 12 touchdown passes and no picks. What was all that about Steve Sarkisian being out of his element as an NFL offensive coordinator?
q. Julio Jones: 69 targets, zero touchdowns. That has to be the weirdest stat of 2018.
r. All those who had Logan Paulsen with more touchdowns than Julio Jones after six games, please play your local lottery immediately.
s. David Johnson has had back-to-back 18-carry, 55-yard rushing games. Weirder, he had two catches for 16 yards last week, and two for 15 yards Sunday in Minnesota. I have no idea what that means, other than this: Johnson needs to be more of a weapon for the Cardinals.
t. Tell me what this list of players is: Aaron Ross, Kenny Phillips, Hakeem Nicks, Jason Pierre-Paul, Prince Amukamara, David Wilson, Justin Pugh, Odell Beckham Jr., Erick Flowers, Eli Apple, Evan Engram. It’s the list of former Giants GM Jerry Reese’s 11 top draft picks in his tenure running the Giants, apropos with New York’s firing of Flowers last week for poor play.
u. So only three of these 11 players drafted to be cornerstones remain with the Giants: Beckham, Apple and Engram. Engram, the promising tight end, has missed the last three weeks with a knee injury. Apple has started 22 games in three seasons, but it’s unlikely he’s a long-term keeper. Beckham is an excellent receiver, and almost as good as an incendiary device. So sort of a rough list for Reese—and an illustration why Dave Gettleman is the GM today.
v. Steve Smith, on NFL Network, postgame, Eagles 34, Giants 13: “This season, the New York Giants, stick a fork in ‘em. They’re done.” Gee, how’d you figure that out?
w. Saquon Barkley: speed of a wideout, moves of a scatback, power of a big back.
x. Giants left tackle Nate Solder, the pricey one, looks like he’s not healthy.
y. Jason Peters got pushed back a lot by Olivier Vernon in the first game of the year for Vernon (high ankle sprain), and you start to wonder about Peters. He turns 37 in January, he’s playing beat up this year, and with the Eagles having so many guys they need to pay, what could their plans be for Peters going forward? And what would their plans be at left tackle—moving Lane Johnson there?
2. I think, now that we’re nearly through six weeks, it’s becoming very interesting to see how arguably the best two teams—the 5-1 Chiefs and 6-0 Rams—look, and to project a month ahead. How amazing is it that the (next) Game of the Year in the NFL might not be played in the United States? The Chiefs and Rams could both be a combined 19-1 when they face off on Monday night, Nov. 19, in Mexico City. The obstacles:
• Week 7, Cincinnati at Kansas City. The Bengals have the kind of interior pass rush that could vex Patrick Mahomes.
• Week 8, Green Bay at Rams. No game against Aaron Rodgers is any sort of lock.
• Week 9, Rams at New Orleans. Drew Brees would be licking his chops to face an Aqib Talib-less secondary, and who knows about the health of Marcus Peters in three weeks.
10-0 vs. 9-1, in Mexico. Amazing. It’d still be great if it were two 9-1 or 8-2 teams.
3. I think I cannot imagine how the first six weeks of the season could have gone worse for Jon Gruden.
4. I think the Texans just might survive their immense protection issues. Somehow, they’ve won three in a row, and their division isn’t good. But if Houston does not make the playoffs, I would predict that on Dec. 31, the day after the last game of the regular season, when the Texans do the post-mortem on their season, coach Bill O’Brien and GM Brian Gaine will look at each other, and one of them will say, “Our offensive line didn’t give us enough of a chance, all season.”
5. I think I’ve got the offensive slump/revival of the Eagles figured out. It’s the Alshon Jeffery factor. The reasons:
• Jeffery’s the favorite wideout of Carson Wentz.
• They went nine months and two weeks without playing in the same game.
• Wentz needs a big and reliable target downfield, because he’s always going to take chances downfield, and his coach is going to call plays for the big and reliable wideout.
• They didn’t practice full-speed much at all in the offseason because of injuries and rehabs of each.
• Wentz returned in Week 3 and struggled against Indianapolis. Jeffery played his first game of the year in Week 4 at Tennessee, and Wentz hit him downfield in the middle of two cover men for a touchdown. Chemistry began to happen in that game and then in practice.
• In the fourth game back for Wentz and third back for Jeffery, against the Giants the other night, Wentz rolled right on a scramble play two minutes into the game, seemed to motion for Jeffery to follow him, stared a hole through Jeffery, and threw across his body on the run to Jeffery for a perfect back-of-the-end-zone touchdown. Eagles scored 34.
I believe Wentz now has his two aces in the hole, Zach Ertz and Jeffery, to always rely. I think the Eagles’ slump is probably over.
6. I think the fragility of John Ross, the ninth overall pick in the 2017 draft, has to be concerning to the Bengals. In 13 months as an NFL player, he’s missed 15 of 22 games with shoulder, shoulder, knee and groin issues, the latter of which kept him out a game he was sorely needed—Sunday’s division game against Pittsburgh. Ross has been underwhelming, to put it mildly, when he’s played: seven catches, 79 yards, two scores. He was drafted to become the alter-receiver to A.J. Green, and that job now is securely in the hands of Tyler Boyd.
7. I think in the avalanche of weekend TV shows previewing the NFL, the one that I watch every week and think is so valuable is the “NFL Matchup Show,” on ESPN, with Sal Paolantonio hosting and two very good out-of-the-shadows guys, Greg Cosell and Matt Bowen, breaking down plays. Why do I like it? Because it’s not overly wonky (though Bowen, the former safety, sometimes needs to have a better glossary for his terms), and because it’s accessible to both serious fans and ones who simply ask why certain things happen in the game the way they do. Perfect example: Cosell showing why the Patriots value James White so much. Watch this. It’s only 104 seconds long.
When you see it, you understand why James White has become invaluable to Josh McDaniels’ play sheet, and one of the best security blankets in Tom Brady’s history in New England. What Cosell has done is answer the question anyone who watches the Patriots a lot has asked: Why is James White so prominent in every game plan, every week, for New England? And I feel that’s what this show does so well.
8. I think nothing says everything about this era of football, and about Drew Brees’ consistent greatness, than this: In 12-plus seasons as a Saint, he has averaged a 306-yard passing game. Dan Marino’s career average passing game: 254 yards.
9. I think I don’t want to always seem like the old man telling young people to get off my lawn, but good for the Giants, fining Odell Beckham Jr., according to Jay Glazer, for Beckham’s comments to ESPN last week about Eli Manning and the state of the offense and the team. It’s absurd that, five weeks after signing a $95-million deal and becoming the highest-paid receiver in league history he feels some need to tell America he’s not being used right and he’s not sure about Eli Manning as his quarterback. By the way, the more I see highlights of that interview with Beckham and the laconic Lil (What Am I Doing Here) Wayne, the more I wonder: How did Josina Anderson keep a straight face through that thing?
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. What a story by Andrew Carter of the Raleigh News & Observer, about the role high school football played in the post-Hurricane Florence, post-flooding life in rural North Carolina, with coach Kevin Motsinger balancing his own family with the lives of his battered players and their families.
“Florence had left Motsinger and several of his players without their homes. Some of them, Motsinger included, planned to return one day. Others wondered if they ever could. Trey Parker, an offensive lineman, lost his roof. Eric Hanchey, another offensive lineman, lost most of his clothes. The flooding destroyed his family’s crops. Jahisien Cruse, a linebacker, said he and his family lost just about everything.
“Hours before Wallace-Rose Hill’s game on Friday night at Spring Creek High School in Seven Springs, Cruse found Motsinger in the field house. Motsinger placed his hands on Cruse’s shoulders and looked into the player’s eyes. For a moment, it felt like words of inspiration might be coming, something profound.
Instead, Motsinger asked Cruse if he was hungry.
“Do you need food?” Motsinger asked softly. “Do you need clothing? Tell me what you need.”
“Food,” Cruse said.
b. That is good, feeling, emotive journalism. Good work, Andrew Carter.
c. Story of the Week: by Andy Benoit of The MMQB, about Baltimore defensive line coach Joe Cullen, and how he has resuscitated his career after being naked in his car while visiting a drive-through window 12 years ago.
d. I know Joe Cullen. I can attest to the fact that his comeback is real, and, from what I know of him, he is a good person. People can grow, change and improve their lives. That’s what Cullen has done. I applaud the fact that the NFL, starting with Roger Goodell, did not give up on a good man who had a drinking issue. I can also attest to the growth of Andy Benoit as a writer and story-teller, not just a film student. He tells this story so well.
“Joe Cullen awoke in the driver’s seat of his SUV, blue and red lights bouncing off his rearview mirror. He had no idea how he got there. The last thing he remembered was drinking whiskey with a few colleagues at a bar earlier that afternoon. It was Friday. The 2006 NFL regular season was two weeks away and the Lions’ coaching staff had been let out early. As Cullen waited for officers to approach, something dawned on him: He was naked.”
e. Journalism of the Week: by Jeff Seidel of the Detroit Free Press, on the precipitous fall of the first pick of the 1986 NHL Draft, Joe Murphy.
f. What’s remarkable about the telling of this story is how sensitive Seidel is about the plight of Murphy, who clearly has mental issues, living on a street in faraway northwest Ontario. Writes Seidel:
“At times he is completely coherent and fully engaged … At other times, he slips away from the present day—it’s like he is living in the past and an old movie is playing on a loop in his brain. And now, he is standing on a street, looking over his shoulder in this small tourist town. He looks worried. ‘Who are you looking for?’ he is asked. Murphy glances down the street again. It’s a long block with restaurants. Groups of tourists and fishermen amble down the sidewalk. ‘I like to keep my head on a swivel,’ he says. ‘Just in case, if there is a late back checker or somebody coming through, I pick them up for the defense. That’s what the coach said. Head on a swivel.’ And for that fleeting moment, he is back playing hockey again.”
g. Love this story, too, from Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, on the car accident that changed Hue Jackson’s life.
h. Football Sentence of the Week: From Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com, reporting that the Bengals no-commented JuJu Smith-Schuster simulating the blindside block that concussed Vontaze Burfict of the Bengals in a touchdown celebration—and also no-commented whether Burfict would seek revenge for it Sunday (which he apparently did not):
“Both questions, courtesy of The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Paul Dehner, Jr., are the biggest elephants in a room jam packed with raging large mammals in this heated rivalry unspoken with issues.”
i. I read you, Hobson. You can’t get away with a classic like that without me seeing it.
j. Kind of an odd decision to play Red Sox-Astros, Game 2, opposite Patriots-Chiefs on Sunday night. Why oh why would major league baseball do that? The baseball game is at 7:09 p.m. The football game starts at 8:20 p.m. The baseball game will be in the bottom of the third or the fourth inning by then, probably. My question: The Texans play at noon CT in Houston. So if the baseball game were played at 4:09 p.m. ET, wouldn’t that have gotten a better rating than at 7:09 p.m. ET in the two significant markets involved—Boston (seven) and Houston (10)—and in the smaller New England-and-vicinity satellite markets: Hartford-New Haven (30), Providence (52), Albany (57) and Portland, Maine (77)?
k. Baseball Column of the Week: from Bob Nightengale of USA Today, on the legacy of the Chris Sale trade from the White Sox to Red Sox after two seasons. Smart message. Don’t be so in love with your prospects that you don’t make deals for truly special, established players.
l. I can’t see anyone beating the Astros.
m. We saw “Fahrenheit 11/9,” the new Michael Moore movie. It’s so well-researched, and so frightening—particularly about the governor of Michigan and the Flint water crisis. Recommended, but understand that you’re going to feel like you’re being punched in the face a few times in the movie. You won’t leave the theater happy. At all.
n. Coffeenerdness: Ritual Coffee in San Francisco makes such a good latte. There’s not many shops, but if you’re in town, the stripped down simplicity of the place and the greatness of the espresso will make you happy.
o. Beernerdness: As I told you last week, it’s Sober October for me, and it’s going to be your turn to share beers that you love. We start this week with Dale Bochon of Edmonton, who goes with an Alberta favorite from Wild Rose Brewing in Calgary:
“Our farmers are harvesting their wheat up here in Alberta. And the best of the best goes into Velvet Fog by Wild Rose Brewery in Calgary. A real gem of a wheat ale with a hint of citrus. Must be good if an Edmonton guy is praising a Calgary product.”
p. Hey, that’s a great review. Thanks for the intro into Alberta beer culture. Got a recommendation? Send your name, where you live and a beer you love, with a no-more-than-50-word review. Put “Beer” in the subject line. Thanks.
q. How did I miss the story about LSU defensive coordinator, Dave Aranda, making an average of $2.5 million a year? That’s a pretty big wow. I bet $2.5 million a year goes a long way in the Baton Rouge economy.
r. Cool video of the week: “Girls Like You,” by Maroon 5. See how many of the guest stars you can ID. (Clue: It will be more than I can. I got Ellen, Aly Raisman and Danica Patrick. I think Alex Morgan is in there too, but I can’t swear to it.)
s. Remember Jamal Khashoggi.
t. Finally, on the birth of our second grandchild, Hazel June King, born last Monday in San Francisco: Here she is, staring either at me or at one of the first beams of light she’s seen in her life on this, the second day of her life.
I found myself getting emotional in moments like these, holding six pounds (she’s a light one) of newness and promise and vitality. Not just emotional. Teary. I said to her something like, You are so incredibly lucky to have the great parents you do, and the loving environment you��ll grow up in. It’s a crazy world now, but the world’s been crazy a lot. You’re going to be the one to help make it great. You’ll have every chance to be great. I felt that so strongly last week, seeing her parents Laura and Kim so excited, and her brother Freddy so excited, and seeing friends and family surround her in the hospital. I simply can’t feel negative in any way watching all the love enveloping her. That’s probably why I got moist of the eyes. Hazel’s one lucky girl. And all of us who are her satellites are lucky too.
Green Bay 23, San Francisco 16. Tougher than anyone would think for the Pack, for a couple reasons. One: Nothing comes easy for Green Bay, particularly when Aaron Rodgers is gimpy and the receivers are all beat up and the four guys they thought would rush the passer (Matthews, Perry, Clark, Daniels) have combined for four sacks in five games. I haven’t given up on the Niners, particularly if pesky Matt Brieda (49 rushes, 7.5 yards per rush) and competitive C.J. Beathard can hang in and make a few plays.
The Week Ahead
Tuesday/Wednesday … New York. The NFL fall meetings happen in lower Manhattan, and it sounds like it’ll be an upbeat affair. Roger Goodell, I’m told, will focus on the ratings bumps and not on the officiating inconsistencies when he addresses owners. Owners will also likely hear numbers on preseason concussions, seeing that this was such a huge offseason story. I’d be surprised if the numbers are not trending better compared to the alarming 291 total concussions reported in the 2017 season.
Saturday … Seattle. Happy 60th birthday, Dave Krieg. If that doesn’t make you feel old …
Sunday … London. The Titans and Chargers, as unnatural a rivalry as the league could export to Wembley Stadium, play the second of three NFL games in England this year. And the game sold out in three days. That’s the state of football in London: A game that would have trouble selling out in some American football cities sells 75,000 tickets in 72 hours.
The Adieu Haiku10
Football in London.
A franchise will come. My guess: