In the visitors locker room in Tampa Bay, Giants coach Pat Shurmur, the badgered and ridiculed one, had just handed the game ball to rookie quarterback Daniel Jones, the badgered and ridiculed one, and the room erupted with cheers for Jones, who debuted marvelously in succeeding the local football Jeter, Eli Manning. Giants 32, Bucs 31. And now his 52 teammates wanted to hear from him.
“SPEECH! COME ON!”
Quick shake of the head from the grinning Jones, like: I won’t be making any locker-room speeches, thank you.
“Break us down, D.J.!” safety Jabrill Peppers yelled.
Holding his right arm aloft as the centerpiece for a team cheer, Jones said, “Giants on three! One-two-three, Giants!”
Doing a rah-rah-team thing was so much better than a speech for Jones, who, like the man he succeeded, isn’t much of a speech-maker. But when you play the way he did Sunday (two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns, including the winning scamper from seven yards out with 1:21 left), you can be as quiet as you want. This is not a great Giants team. In fact, it’s probably not a good one; time will tell. But once you have your quarterback, and you can build around that quarterback, life is just better, and you feel like you’re a competing NFL franchise again. Winning eight of the previous 34 games, with a 38-year-old quarterback who’d been mediocre or worse for much of the last seven seasons, made the future seem consistently dim. Aside from loyal ex-teammates (It’s not Eli’s fault!), Shurmur turning to Jones seemed not only long overdue but almost merciful toward Manning.
It’s incredible how fast fortunes can change in the NFL.
The non-Antonio storyline of Week 3: Eight teams have quarterback instability of some sort. Examining how they did:
• The Giants didn’t need a plane to charter home from Tampa. Daniel Jones passed his first test on the quarterback of the future.
• The Jaguars, much to the delight of their good-ol’-boy crowd, used a good-ol’-boy passer from Mississippi, Gardner Minshew, to sink Tennessee.
• The Panthers got a four-TD day from Kyle Allen, who looked better than Cam Newton’s looked all year, to whip Arizona.
• The Colts, continuing to do fine thanks without Andrew Luck, beat Atlanta behind the league’s fourth-rated passer, Jacoby Brissett.
• The Saints got a nice game from Teddy Bridgewater in Seattle as Drew Brees rested post-thumb-surgery. New Orleans 33, Seattle 27.
• The Steelers fell to 0-3 as the reality of playing the year without Ben Roethlisberger hit. Mason Rudolph was just okay in a loss to the 49ers.
• The Dolphins actually were competitive for three quarters with Josh Rosen subbing for Ryan Fitzpatrick. But they can’t win, and didn’t in Dallas.
• The Jets were abysmal, and third-stringer Luke Falk played like a ninth-stringer in a toothless loss in New England. Heal, Sam Darnold, heal.
Five teams with quarterback instability won. Three lost. I’ll cover Minshew and Allen in a while. But first back to Jones and the Giants.
The Lead: Giants
Giants fans didn’t have to wait long to see what the coaches had been seeing all camp and preseason. In the second quarter, Jones faked an inside RPO and kept it, running around right end for a seven-yard TD. Trailing 28-10 coming out of halftime, he zinged the first pass of the third quarter to tight end Evan Engram up the left sideline; a 75-yard touchdown resulted. Then, with his top wideout Sterling Shepard double-covered in the end zone, Jones threw a line drive to a diving Shepard where only he could catch it. Touchdown.
It came down to this: Bucs up 31-25, 1:21 left. Giants ball at the Tampa 7. Fourth-and-five. Shurmur planned to flood the field with five receivers: three wides, a back and a tight end. With ace pass-catching back Saquon Barkley on crutches with a high ankle sprain, the Giants were diminished. But at the snap, all five receivers moved away from the middle of the field—running back Wayne Gallman to the right flat; Shepard to the left flat; wideout Bennie Fowler on a left-to-right crossing route; Engram taking two Bucs defenders on a simple out route to the left, two yards deep in the end zone; and rookie wideout Darius Slayton trolling the back of the end zone. Seven Bucs total clung to five Giants.
“What did you see at that moment, when those receivers were in their routes?” I asked Jones an hour after the game.
“Space,” Jones said. “Kinda open there in the middle of the field. I saw grass.”
When Jones emerged from the scrum, he might have been able to hit Slayton, running from right to left nine yards deep in the end zone, with corner Carlton Davis in pursuit but with a little window. But why throw? With northern New Jersey and Staten Island and Brooklyn and Manhattan and Yonkers and Queens and upstate New York and Greenwich and Stamford and Danbury all screaming at their TVs: Run, Daniel, run!, he ran straight ahead, in the Central Park of open NFL spaces. No Buc was within six yards of him when he crossed the goal line. I heard that the Giants didn’t intend for the play to evolve into an easy touchdown run there, but whatever the intent, the reality looked genius.
Luckily for the Giants, Bucs kicker Matt Gay played along with the tabloid storyline, missing a 34-yard goat-of-the-week-ensuring field goal at the gun. The final: Giants 32, Bucs 31. The sleepy franchise has life. This morning, the back page of the Post blares:
NEW MANN IN TOWN
“It must feel incredibly rewarding,” I said to Jones.
Bait not taken.
“Yeah, I mean … fun to get a win, but at the end of the day it’s one game. We’ll look forward to building off it. I gotta run. Thanks!”
Jones has made the Giants interesting now, for the rest of 2019 and, presumably with some reinforcements including a pass-rusher, a top wideout and a better offensive line, for the future. Watching him Sunday, you saw a quarterback of the present, and the future. Eli Manning’s had seven rushing touchdowns in a 15-year career. Jones had two in three hours—and one was on a designed run. His arm was accurate and crisp. He had a good feel for the pocket, and for sensing pressure.
You’ve probably heard how much Jones is like Manning. True. They’re both overly humble, and those close to them say neither is acting. When I asked Jones about the help he got from Manning this week, he said: “His support is something I’m super-grateful for. His biggest message to me was to keep it simple. Not try to be perfect. Not try to get the perfect call or the perfect check every time. Get on the same page, be clear in the huddle, and be confident, and go with it. That was tremendous advice. I’m a first-year player. I need that.”
“He’s mature beyond all of our years,” Shurmur said. The Giants will take that into an uncertain future—but a future much more promising after Week 3 than after Week 2.
Highs, Lows of Week 310
If Patrick Mahomes stays healthy, he’ll waltz away with his second straight MVP. The Ravens swarmed Mahomes, with 12 sacks/hits/significant pressures, per Pro Football Focus. But he continued his incredible play, even without the injured Tyreek Hill. His per-game passer ratings: 143.2, 131.2, 132.0—for an average of 134.9. He’s a 72-percent passer, averaging 398 passing yards a game, with 10 touchdowns and no picks. He’s so in control that even when a team is beating him up (and horse-collar-tackling him, as the Ravens did on one play Sunday), he slithers out of trouble and in a Favrian way but without the interceptions, he finds another speedster or his oak tree, Travis Kelce. Mahomes now has advanced to the point on the Reid Trustworthy Scale that Reid ran the play Mahomes chose to close out the game Sunday. With a five-point lead and 1:51 left, with a third-and-nine at the Chiefs’ 37, he flipped a 16-yard pass to running back Darrel Williams to clinch the game. Mahomes just turned 24, and he’s contributing to the game plan now. “You just can’t give him enough knowledge,” Reid said.
Andy Reid passed Chuck Noll on the all-time wins list. Reid’s 210th win puts him one ahead of Noll now, but everyone (including Reid) knows there’s a pretty significant number attached to that too. Super Bowl wins: Noll 4, Reid 0. New England is still the roadblock for Reid, and the Patriots defense will be a formidable challenge for Mahomes and Reid in Week 14 in Foxboro. The way these two teams are playing, that game could determine home-field in the AFC playoffs.
The Jalen Ramsey trade market seems to have cooled. It’ll take a gutsy team to pay a huge price (two ones plus something, or a one and another pick and a good player) for a cornerback you’re likely to have on your team for 1.75 years. Keep hearing Ramsey will honor his contract and play out the fifth-year option, but then he wants to be a free agent. We’ll see if a team like Philadelphia gets desperate.
The Lions are 2-0-1, and they’re not beating themselves. They looked like the same old Leos after blowing a big lead and tying Arizona in Week 1. But then they’ve had physical wins over the Chargers and Eagles, two returning final-eight teams from last year, and strong Super Bowl hopefuls this year. At Philly, Matthew Stafford didn’t turn it over and he wasn’t sacked—and that’s a rare daily double for him. “Welcome to the NFL—this is what it feels like,” coach Matt Patricia told his team post-game. Very interesting matchup Sunday in Detroit: Chiefs-Lions, combined 5-0-1, in a surprisingly interesting game.
Teams in trouble:
• Denver is 0-3. The Broncos have lost seven in a row, Joe Flacco was sacked a career-high six times, coach Vic Fangio said Flacco has to get rid of the ball quicker. Those things are alarming. This is the most alarming: Through three games, Denver’s defense has neither a sack nor a takeaway. With Von Miller and Bradley Chubb on D, that is one disturbing trend. “This is one of the cleanest games ever for my jersey,” Aaron Rodgers said after Green Bay’s 27-16 win over Denver. A Vic Fangio team, not being able to get to the quarterback or turn it over. Very troubling.
• Pittsburgh is 0-3. The offense is struggling, and will continue to do so without 2017’s big three (Ben, Brown, Bell), but it’s the fortified defense that’s surprising early. Pittsburgh’s allowed 28.3 points a game, and their pass defense is allowing 74-percent accuracy. They swarmed about Jimmy Garoppolo on Sunday in California, but couldn’t take advantage of the five turnovers they forced. Mason Rudolph’s got some improving to do if he was to be considered Ben Roethlisberger’s heir one day.
• Cincinnati is 0-3. I didn’t expect much out of the Bengals. In fact, they’re almost exactly what I thought they’d be, particularly without the injured A.J. Green. You’re not going to have much NFL success in today’s game averaging 18 points per game, and in particular when you’re running it at just 2.4 yards per carry.
The Rams really impressed me Sunday, and they didn’t even blow out the Browns. Not an easy game, going into the emotional pit of the Browns stadium, where fans were celebrating hosting a Sunday-nighter for the first time since Mastadons roamed the earth. The Rams, per PFF, had 25 quarterback disruptions (sacks, hits, significant hurries), seven by Aaron Donald. Baker Mayfield’s going to have nightmares of Donald. But he’s not the only one. Two rushers acquired in the past year, Dante Fowler Jr. and Clay Matthews, combined for 12 disruptions of Mayfield. Particularly when Mayfield tried to roll right and throw—a staple of his mobile game—he could barely breathe. The final was 20-13, and the Rams have to feel good about three things: They’ve traveled to Eastern Time twice in the first three weeks and beaten competitive teams, Carolina and Cleveland. They haven’t played their best offensive football yet—which is slightly worrisome because the Cleveland secondary was so depleted Sunday. And the return of Cooper Kupp makes a good receiving corps superior. I’m buying Rams stock.
Showdown at the Bills Mafia Corral. The Bills are 3-0, and they host the 3-0 Patriots on Sunday in Crazytown. I’m a firm believer in the home field being particularly valuable in Orchard Park, and particularly against the hated Patriots. Problem is, New England’s won seven in a row in western New York. This is probably a year or two early for the Bills’ rebuild to bear fruit, particularly against the Patriots. But this will be a good measuring stick game for the Bills and for quarterback Josh Allen, who made some game-saving scrambles and throws late in the 21-17 survival test over the Bengals on Sunday.
Take your time, Cam. Hard not to notice the difference between a rusty and evolving Cam Newton in the first two weeks of the season (56.2 percent completions, no touchdown passes, five rushes for minus-2 yards) and what backup Kyle Allen (73.1 percent accuracy, four TDs, no interceptions) delivered Sunday in a 38-20 win at Arizona. Allen was consistent and productive in relief of Newton, out with a sore foot for who knows how long. Allen is from nearby Scottsdale, so what a life highlight it must have been to come off the bench in his hometown and deliver in the clutch. “I didn’t even think about all the outside stuff,” Allen said. “I try to make football as simple as I can. We needed to play well and win a game today—that’s it.” He found Greg Olsen for two touchdowns, and used the speed of his wideout and Christian McCaffrey to frustrate an Arizona defense that had no solutions for the run or pass of Carolina. Afterward, Allen said he soaked in what he’d done. “I had to take it in, standing on the field, looking around. I was thinking, ‘Dang, I’m in the NFL, playing in my hometown.’ This is pretty wonderful.” Here’s another oddity: In Sunday’s game, Allen played in the town where he grew up. This week, if he continues to spell Newton, he’ll play in Houston; he went to college at the University of Houston. At least he’ll be used to the nostalgia.
It’s getting late early in the NFC East. The 3-0 Cowboys don’t have many weaknesses, and now they have a two-game lead over the beat-up Eagles and the Giants, and Philadelphia has a short-week game at 3-0 Green Bay on Thursday. Certainly not saying the Cowboys can’t be caught, but I’d feel better about the division race actually being a race if the Eagles weren’t so injured and if Dallas struggled at something.
Nearly Minshew + Bama
Following the Jaguars’ season-saving 20-7 victory over Tennessee on Thursday night, one glorious storyline of this Antonio-scarred NFL season jumped to the fore: Sixth-round rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II of Jacksonville might really be a heck of a football player.
What a story he is, too. From 2015 to 2018, Gardner Minshew criss-crossed the country in a quixotic quest—from Troy University to Northwest Mississippi Community College to East Carolina to Washington State—to find a starting quarterback job at the highest level. Even in his two years at East Carolina, he never won the starting job outright. And it’s amazing to think that instead of being a rising star in the NFL right now, he could either be backing up Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama, or he could be working as a graduate assistant offensive coach on the Alabama staff under Nick Saban. Said a source close to the Alabama program: “Nick really wanted him as a backup [in 2018], in case Jalen Hurts or Tua [Tagovailoa] transferred after spring ball, depending on which one lost the starting job. Then Nick would have kept him as a GA because he probably wouldn’t have gotten into the NFL, and because Gardner wanted to get into coaching whenever he stopped playing.”
Because Minshew still had a redshirt year left, he could have sat last year and came back this year behind Tagovailoa—if ‘Bama had approved.
But that all became moot because Washington State had an uncertain quarterback year in 2018 following the suicide of likely starter Tyler Hilinski. Washington State coach Mike Leach told me last night that had Hilinski lived, “then we’re not chasing a quarterback.” A couple of weeks after Saban wooed Minshew, Leach offered him a strong chance to come to Pullman and win the starting job.
As Leach told me: “My quote to him was, ‘Do you want to go to Alabama and hold a clipboard, or do you want to come here and lead the nation in passing?’ “ It didn’t take long for Minshew to take Leach’s offer.
“Nick,” the Alabama source said, “was really disappointed.”
“Gardner just felt like he wasn’t through playing,” his dad, Flint Minshew, told me from the family home in central Mississippi Saturday night. “In his heart, he figured he could coach the rest of his life, but he might only have one more chance to play a season of college football. But he was so grateful to Coach Saban for recognizing he could really play. After high school, nobody wanted him. Even his state schools, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Southern Miss, never had interest. You can probably hear it in my voice—I’m still pissed off about it.”
Gardner became a phenom at Washington State, throwing for 4,477 yards, winning the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and earning a trip to the combine. The Jaguars picked him 178th overall. On Thursday night, there was no question which quarterback looked like he had a better future: Minshew, over the second overall pick in 2015, Marcus Mariota of the Titans. Minshew threw four beautiful deep-ball completions, played with the confidence of a five-year vet, and had his head coach, Doug Marrone, gushing. “I was thinking going into this game, ‘How many times has this guy played a game and then had a short week to prepare to play another one?’ That doesn’t happen in college. If he does something well, you’ll see him pump his fists on the field, but by the time he comes over to the sideline, he’s moved on. Hey, I have to do this better. Hey, this happened on the fourth play of that series. Hey, did you guys see this the way I saw it? He’s really good at communicating, and he has a maniacal work ethic.”
We’ll see what the future holds, but Minshew has probably another month or so to stake his claim for playing time, until Nick Foles returns from his broken clavicle. He could give the Jaguars a ridiculously pleasant problem trying to figure out whether to play the kid with the mustache and the drive, or the Super Bowl champion who slayed the Patriots. That’s for tomorrow. Today is too good a story to gum it up with what-ifs.
“When you’ve had to kick down the door your whole life to get recognized and get a shot, this is pretty satisfying for Gardner,” Flint Minshew said. “He was never Johnny Five Star, so I guarantee you he appreciates everything he has and will continue to appreciate it and work at it.”
Jags at Denver, 4:25 p.m. ET, next Sunday. Might be must-see TV.
The Eli/HOF Dilemma20
Let’s let history be our guide about whether Eli Manning earns entry in the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day. To do so, I have separated quarterbacks from the modern era into three 20-year periods: 1960-’79, 1980-’99 and 2000-’19. I assigned Hall of Fame quarterbacks to the period when they played all or the majority of their careers.
I wanted to see how many quarterbacks in the modern era have been enshrined, to see how it might impact how many quarterbacks gain entry from the current age, when passing dominates football more than it has in any period in pro football history.
1960-1979: With between 21 and 28 teams in this period (AFL and NFL), 11 quarterbacks made the Hall. The 11: George Blanda, Terry Bradshaw, Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Sonny Jurgensen, Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, Bart Starr, Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton, John Unitas.
1980-1999: With between 28 and 31 teams in this period, 8 quarterbacks made the Hall. The eight: Troy Aikman, John Elway, Dan Fouts, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Warren Moon, Steve Young.
2000-2019: With 32 teams in this period (all except the first two seasons), 2 quarterbacks have made the Hall so far. The two: Brett Favre, Kurt Warner.
There are no rules, of course, mandating how many players at any position from one period get in the Hall. But barring injury or retirement by Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers, by 2021, nine of the top 10 quarterbacks in passing yards and touchdown passes will have played the majority of their careers between 2000 and 2019. The rules change and passing-stat-inflation will have to be taken into account, surely. A good number of quarterbacks—likely between eight and 12—could make the Hall from the current era of the NFL.
Favre and Warner are two. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees make five. The best candidates after that, in some order, are Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, seemingly ahead of Carson Palmer and Donovan McNabb. Where Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford end up … TBD, in part because we’re not sure how long any of them will play. I could see Ryan playing another six or seven years and Wilson another decade.
Eli Manning has his negatives, to be sure. In 15 years as a starter, he’s a .500 quarterback in the regular season. He’s never finished in the top three in the NFL in passing yards, yards per attempt or passer rating—and only once (2015) was he in the top three in touchdown passes. He has, however, led the NFL three times in interceptions. In 13 of his 15 seasons, he didn’t win a playoff game. Those points have to count, and they will be considered by the group voting when Manning comes up for election in 2025 or beyond.
But few quarterbacks have had higher highs. Manning had two incredible postseasons, two bigger postseasons than any his brother Peyton had. Twice, in 2007 and 2011, he had unlikely 4-0 playoff runs, winning in Green Bay over Favre (’07) and Rodgers (’11), and beating Belichick/Brady with late heroics in two Super Bowls, ruining New England’s perfect season in the first one. That 17-14 win, with the David Tyree Velcro catch, will go down as the most bitter loss for both Brady and Belichick in their lives. “That one still eats at me,” Brady told me a couple of weeks ago.
In history, there are few good comps for Eli Manning. Most Hall of Fame quarterbacks win in the regular season and postseason. But I found it interesting to compare him to Jurgensen, who never started a playoff game and got into the Hall on the fourth ballot. Their stat lines:
Why did Jurgensen make the Hall? He was a strong-armed Dan Fouts type. Five times he led the NFL in passing yards. When he threw for 3,723 yards in 1961, it was a single-season NFL record. Twice he led the NFL in touchdown passes. Twice he was first-team all-pro. Manning never led the NFL in passing yards or touchdown passes, and never was first- or second-team all-pro in 15 seasons. Each has a major flaw on his résumé: Manning was an average-at-best regular-season player who owned two postseasons and twice won Super Bowls against the best coach and quarterback in the modern game. Manning also will finish his career in the top 10 in passing yards and touchdowns—but how much of that is the statistical inflation of the era in which he played? Jurgensen was a very good regular-season player whose teams lost more than they won and who did nothing in the postseason.
Voters in 1983 enshrined Jurgensen. Will voters overlook Manning’s regular-season mediocrity because he had two of the greatest postseasons a quarterback has had?
It’s not going to be an easy call. I will understand those who don’t vote for Manning. My gut is that he gets in at some point, but as one of the 48 voters in the room, I’ve found the only predictable thing about Hall voting is how unpredictable it is. That’s no cliché. Rarely do I have a good handle before the meeting about how the votes will come out.
One more thing about Manning that should not go without comment:
Manning clearly knew this day was coming—losing his job to first-round pick Daniel Jones—dating back to draft day. Last Tuesday morning, as happens every Tuesday morning, Manning and Daniel Jones got to the Giants facility in East Rutherford shortly at 8 to get in a workout and begin their off-day study of the next foe. Coach Pat Shurmur called Manning into his office to tell him he was making a change at quarterback. Then, when Manning left, Shurmur called Jones into his office to tell him he was the new starter. Those two meetings were over by about 9:45. For the next five to six hours, Manning and Jones then did what they’d done on previous Tuesdays: work out, study the Bucs (the Week 3 opponent) on tape, and talk about the game ahead. Only this time, the roles were reversed. Manning was the backup, helping Jones prepare.
Manning didn’t leave Shurmur’s office and walk/storm out of the building, or say, I need a day to think. I’m out. Manning left Shurmur’s office to help his successor try to beat Tampa Bay. That’s the kind of person Eli Manning is.
The Award Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Alvin Kamara, running back, New Orleans. With no Drew Brees in the house of noise in Seattle, coach Sean Payton did what any sensible coach would do: He put the ball in the hands of his most dangerous player. Teddy Bridgewater threw Kamara nine passes for 92 yards and a touchdown, and handed it to him 16 times for 69 yards and a touchdown. The 33-27 win against the previously 2-0 Seahawks wasn’t that close, and Kamara was a huge reason why. With 3-0 Dallas coming to town this week, I’d suggest the same recipe.
Daniel Jones, quarterback, New York Giants. Impossible for a neophyte kid under pressure all day—Shaq Barrett sacked him four times alone—to have played better than Jones, particularly down the stretch. Jones finished 23 of 36 for 336 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions, but that wasn’t what decided the game. That was Jones’ legs. He ran for two touchdowns, which was never a part of Eli Manning’s game, and the seven-yard TD scramble up the middle with 1:16 left was the biggest play by a Giants team since their last playoff year in 2016.
Jacoby Brissett, quarterback, Indianapolis. First 23 minutes of the 27-24 win over the mistake-prone Falcons: 16 for 16, 178 yards. First three games of 2019: 71.7 percent accuracy, 7-1 TD-pick ratio, 112.0 rating. The Colts are an Oakland home win next Sunday from being 3-1 in the first quarter of the season, with a quarterback playing every bit as well as Andrew Luck did last season—if not quite as explosively.
Gardner Minshew, quarterback, Jacksonville. Good but not great numbers (20 of 30, 204 yards, two TDs, no picks), max impact. Threw three deep balls very well covered by Malcolm Butler, and he completed them all—two to D.J. Chark, one to Dede Westbrook. His presence, his poise, his deep arm … all by a guy who looks like he drove to the game in a pickup truck and tailgated for three hours. “Actually, it’s remarkable,” coach Doug Marrone said. This from Minshew: “A lot of people never thought I’d get this opportunity so now that I do have it, I have to make the most of it. I know through everything I’ve learned in my career and the situation I am in, I may only get one [chance] so you got to make the most of it.”
Defensive Players of the Week
Calais Campbell, defensive end, Jacksonville. In 2017, the Cardinals let Campbell, then 30, walk in free agency, figuring his best days were over. Man, were the Cardinals wrong. Campbell played one of the best games of his vastly underrated career for Jacksonville on Thursday night, dominating Tennessee with a three-sack, two-QB-hit, five-pressure game of Marcus Mariota in the 20-7 Jaguars victory. Here’s how great a game it was for Campbell. PFF gave Campbell an individual grade of 12.9 for the game, which is humongous. To put that into perspective, Aaron Donald, the no-doubt best defensive player in football, has played 84 career games through Week 2. In two of the 84, Donald graded out at 12.9 or higher. Campbell’s 10 pressure plays on Mariota set the tone in a dominant defensive performance by the Jags that, until garbage time in the fourth quarter, shut the Titans out for the first eight drives and 47 minutes of the game.
Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith, linebackers, Green Bay. GM Brian Gutekunst made it a priority to buy a pass-rush in the offseason, signing the Smiths from Baltimore (Za’Darius) and Washington (Preston). They’re paying very quick dividends. Preston had three sacks and Za’Darius two against Joe Flacco in Green Bay. The five sacks resulted in 45 yards in losses and one forced fumble, and were huge in the 27-16 win over the Broncos.
Eric Wilson, linebacker, Minnesota. As if the Vikings needed another front-seven pass-rushing weapon. Wilson, a smallish undrafted free-agent from the University of Cincinnati, had two sacks and seven tackles in the 34-14 rout of the Raiders. He sealed the win with nine minutes left, burying Derek Carr with a 15-yard sack. He was part of a defense that never let the Raiders breathe.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Matthew Slater, special teams captain, New England. With five minutes left in the fourth quarter, and the Pats punting from the Jets’ 40, New England’s Jake Bailey wanted to pin the Jets inside their 10. With Slater sprinting downfield, the ball hit at about the 1.5-yard line, and Slater deftly grabbed it and re-directed it back to his right as he lunged into the end zone. The ball bounced at the two-foot line and was downed at the Jets’ 1. Just a genius play by Slater, one of the best special-teams players in NFL history.
Deonte Harris, punt-returner, New Orleans. I do believe this is the first time in FMIA history that Assumption (Mass.) College athletes make appearances in consecutive weeks. (Last week: Tampa Bay long-snapper Zach Triner.) Harris is a fairly amazing story. First: He is 21 years old. Second: Twice in his college career (NCAA Division II) Harris returned two punts for touchdowns in a game. Third: He is 5-foot-6. Electric dude. He made the Saints in training camp as (obviously) an undrafted free agent. With the team up against it Sunday in Seattle because of the absence of Drew Brees, Harris provided the spark on the first punt of the game, an uncharacteristically short job by ace Seahawks punted Michael Dickson. The 38-yard punt was fielded by Harris, running up to catch it, at his 47-yard line. On the returns, Harris looked like he was playing at a different speed. No Seahawk had a good shot at him, and the 53-yard touchdown return was finished fast. What a weapon. Now, Harris almost negated this august award when he fumbled away a punt return in the second half, but Seattle didn’t score with the turnover, so we’ll let Harris slide.
Jamal Agnew, kick returner, Detroit. Four minutes into Lions-Eagles at Philly, Agnew set the tone for the Lions. His 100-yard kick return stunned the crowd and helped them to a 20-10 halftime lead. Special-teams play has been a huge point of emphasis by Matt Patricia, and it paid off Sunday in Detroit’s upset of the Eagles.
Coach of the Week
Pat Shurmur, coach, New York Giants. Why’d you bring Eli back? Why’d you pull the plug on Eli after only two games? Why are you giving up on the season after only two games? It’s not Eli’s fault—the defense stinks! I think I’ve accurately quoted the Giants fandom/talk-show callers/public-at-large in greater New York over the past week—and I haven’t even included the king of New York sports talk, Mike Francesa, semi-berating Shurmur on the air the other day, causing the Giants to end the Shurmur/Francesa show on WFAN. But the way Jones played Sunday is why Shurmur made this call. For one week anyway, he can sleep well, knowing he made the call that was inevitable, even if it seemed precipitous. “We believed in Daniel from the day we drafted him,” Shurmur said after the 32-31 win in Tampa.
Goat of the Week
Matt Gay, kicker, Tampa Bay. Missed two PATs early, and those two points were huge in allowing the Giants to come back and take a 32-31 lead in the final minute. But Jameis Winston drove Tampa back to chip-shot field-goal range with four seconds left. Gay, the fifth-round rookie, drafted to end the nightmare that is Buccaneer kicking life, had a 34-yard attempt from the middle of the field on a lovely south Florida early evening. Snap fine. Hold fine. Kick wide right by inches. Bucs lose, 32-31.
Quotes of the Week30
“I should have run it one time [on Cleveland’s last four offensive snaps]. That’s why I’m kicking myself in the ass right now.”
—Cleveland coach Freddie Kitchens, after Baker Mayfield threw three incompletions and an interception in the last 43 seconds Sunday night, sealing a 20-13 Rams victory over the Browns.
“As far as the allegations, I don’t know what’s true, so I will not call these women liars, and I will not say that Antonio Brown is guilty. But as far as his actions, when it comes to how he is just burning bridges everywhere he goes, it’s the last thing from genius. It’s very self-destructive behavior, which is unfortunate. The world is going to provide obstacles in front of us. You don’t need to provide them yourself.”
—CBS NFL analyst Nate Burleson, Sunday, on “The NFL Today.”
“I watched it very, very closely. I was so impressed with Eli. We are friends. I have watched him for his whole career—we came in in the same draft class. The way he handled this, I don’t know how you handle a tough situation like this any better. To me, the most amazing thing about Eli is how he’s handled himself his entire career. Think of it. The biggest market in the country, no ugly headlines. No scandals! Sixteen years! It’s amazing, I think.”
—Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, to me, on the Eli Manning demotion last week.
“Right now we’re 0-3, living in a world of suck.”
—Denver wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, to ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold.
“He’s a liar. He lied to everyone. So that’s a man I do not trust. I would hope nobody else would too.”
—Washington safety Landon Collins on the general manager of the Giants who allowed him to walk last March, Dave Gettleman.
Ryan O’Callaghan • Former lineman for the Patriots and Chiefs • Photographed in Napa, Calif.
O’Callaghan played 51 NFL games from 2006 to 2010. He came out as gay in 2017. In his book, “My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me and Ended Up Saving My Life” (Akashic Books), written with Cyd Ziegler, O’Callaghan details a football life that veered into heavy opioid use. He says he planned to kill himself after his career ended. His story is detailed in the book, and in “The Peter King Podcast” out this week.
“I chose football as a cover for my sexuality. Football was my beard. No one would ever think a macho football player could be gay. It worked for quite a long time. I never had long-term plans. I hated myself. I was absolutely miserable. My friends didn’t know who I was.
“My whole plan was to play football and kill myself. I was convinced from a young age that my family would never love me if they knew who I really was. The things you hear as a child—every time you hear someone say ‘faggot’ or talk bad about a gay guy, or see something on TV and make fun of that. If you have a closeted kid, he hears every one of those times you say something. It sticks with him. This was 25 years ago. Most of the things they said were out of ignorance, not hate.”
A psychiatrist convinced O’Callaghan that, as long as he planned to kill himself, why not tell those he was closest to before he committed suicide, just to see what their reaction was, and to see if he was right about them. At 29, he came out to his family.
“So I hadn’t really been speaking to my parents in the months leading up to it, because in my mind I was pushing them away to make it easier on them when I killed myself. So I called them. I said, ‘Hey, I’m gonna stop by. We need to talk.’ We all sat down in the family room. I broke down, and I ended up telling ‘em, ‘This is what’s going on: I’m gay.’
“It was quiet for a second. Then my mom got up, gave me a hug. She had a look of relief on her face. Turns out she thought I was gonna tell them I was terminally ill, because I was like, Hey, we need to talk. She was almost relieved. My dad at the time was quiet. It took him a little while to come around. Looking back, I might have expected him to be okay with it quicker than he was, but he spent 29 years picturing his son as something that he wasn’t. So, of course, he’s not gonna be totally on board overnight. I’m happy to say we have a better relationship now than we ever have.
“Time went by. I ended up meeting someone. The first time I introduced my parents to someone I was dating was right before [induction] in the Shasta County [Calif.] Hall of Fame, and I was going to bring him. I did bring him. So we went by my parents house before, and I introduced him, and so after that night, my dad, the next day or a couple days later, he said, ‘Well, Brandon seemed nice.’ Since then, it’s been great. It went a thousand percent better than I ever imagined it would go.”
It’s early, of course, but let’s compare the New England defense in its last four games to the last four games of one of the most dominant defenses of this era, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.
The Patriots’ games stretch back to the Super Bowl against the Rams and include the first three games of this season. The Ravens played four playoff games in 2000, so those are the games we’ll use for comparison.
Touchdowns allowed: Baltimore’s defense allowed one in four playoff games of 2000. New England: zero.
Yards allowed per game: Baltimore’s defense allowed 209.3 yards per game. New England: 214.3.
Third-down conversions: Baltimore’s defense allowed 12. New England: 8.
In fairness to the Ravens, they were playing four playoff teams; two of the Patriots’ four foes have been the moribund Dolphins and third-string-QB Jets.
But it’s a pretty amazing thing to note that, against any foes, a team in today’s football can go four straight games without allowing a touchdown.
Starting quarterbacks for Adam Gase in his 52-game NFL head-coach career: Ryan Tannehill (24), Jay Cutler (14), Matt Moore (6), Brock Osweiler (5), Sam Darnold (1), Trevor Siemian (1), Luke Falk (1).
That’s seven. In effect, it’s eight: In the final game of 2017, Cutler played the first three snaps and David Fales the final 68.
Eight quarterbacks in 3.2 seasons. Gase’s record coaching the Dolphins and Jets: 23-29.
King of the Road50
I did not travel during the week, but I did walk from Manhattan to Brooklyn over the Brooklyn Bridge. I strongly recommend it, though maybe not on a lovely Saturday in the middle of the day. There’s a platform above the road level, with pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and visitors to the city pausing at just the right spots—there are many—to take photos. Turns out on Saturday that hundreds of people had the same idea as we did—Hey, what a beautiful day! Let’s walk the Brooklyn Bridge! Still good to gaze at two lovely boroughs and the Statue of Liberty though, even competing with the bicycles for space.
The NFL Century
1969: The integrated Kansas City Chiefs, in the last season of the American Football League, change football.
In Michael MacCambridge’s new book “’69 Chiefs: A Team, A Season and The Birth of Modern Kansas City” (with terrific black-and-white photos by Rod Hanna), the side stories are the best stories. Such as: The Chiefs, in 1963, were the first pro team to employ a full-time African-American scout; Lloyd Wells worked the historically black colleges mostly. In 1967, Willie Lanier became the game’s first black middle linebacker, significant because that position was considered the quarterback of the defense. And by 1969, the Chiefs were the first pro team to have a majority of black players in the starting lineup.
In the 23-7 Super Bowl win over Minnesota, Mike Garrett and Otis Taylor, both black, scored the Chiefs’ touchdowns. Five defensive starters—Curley Culp, Buck Buchanan, Bobby Bell, Lanier and Emmitt Thomas—in the game, all black, went on to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
MacCambridge wrote: “The blend of personalities worked in ways that they clearly didn’t on teams of the same era. ‘You could have men from the South, men from Alabama, and you would have some from the West Coast, where Huey Newton was gaining prominence, and you had some of us from the East, who were perhaps a little more elitist,’ said Willie Lanier. ‘But you had all of that coming together, and people got along. People allowed whatever philosophical and political philosophies to be left at the door, and to become part of this thing called the Kansas City Chiefs, and the objective was to win and to be better than anyone else and to get to this important step, which was the Super Bowl. I can’t remember any racial strife at all.’ ”
That’s 50 years ago. Pretty interesting.
The Best. The Worst40
What’s your best habit, Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp?
“Moving forward. In life and football, you face adversity. It’s inevitable. When adversity hits, be able to reflect, rectify and respond. When you respond, you’ve already fixed what needed to be fixed. I don’t like living in the past. There’s no point in looking back on things, saying ‘What if I had done this?’ You know, sulking on it. You feel all the guilt and shame when you do something wrong. To be able to move forward on that and be able to learn from that and not make that mistake again is something that I pride myself on.”
What’s your worst habit?
“The phone. I’m probably on my phone too much. But we’re working on it. My wife’s helping me out with that one. When I come home from the facility, just be able to put my phone down, let it be until the next day. It’s helped a ton also having a child—my son’s 14 months—to be able to come home to him and my wife is so much fun for me. That’s definitely helped.”
Tweets of the Week
This was brought up on the Thursday night telecast of Tennessee-Jacksonville, causing Troy Aikman to say: “Tom Brady, one of the least-controversial people we have in our game. He is league royalty. When he makes a statement like that, that should get somebody’s attention. I agree. This is ridiculous.”
Strategy of the Week30
Each week, with the aid of Pro Football Focus research, I’ll take a big call in a game from the weekend and explain the whys, and whether it made sense from an analytical view.
Game: Baltimore at Kansas City, Sunday.
Situation: Kansas City up 30-19, 12:27 left in the game. The Ravens have just scored to pull within 11 points, and Baltimore coach John Harbaugh has a decision to make on the conversion—though most coaches would just kick the PAT.
The decision: Harbaugh chooses to go for the two-point conversion to try to cut the lead to nine points, rather than kick the PAT to go down by 10 with likely two possessions left in the game. On TV, Ian Eagle thinks the way most people think: “The math just doesn’t work.”
The thought process: Harbaugh said after the game it was a “clear analytic decision to go for two. We had a mindset that we would come in and score as many points as we could … We are not going into it blind. We got the numbers.”
The analytics: According to Eric Eager of PFF: “Had the Ravens converted the two-point conversion, they know that scoring a field goal and a touchdown with a conventional PAT wins the game outright, instead of leaving similar decisions to the end of the game. Mathematically, if Baltimore missed the two-point conversion attempt, the Chiefs were 94.3 percent likely to win, Baltimore 5.7 percent. If Baltimore made the two-point conversion, Kansas City was 89.1 percent likely to win, Baltimore 10.9 percent. By kicking the PAT, Kansas City was 92.8 percent likely to win, and Baltimore 7.2 percent. The benefit of making the two-point conversion over kicking the PAT was 3.7 percent win-probability points, while the loss via missing the two-point conversion over kicking the PAT was just 1.5 percent. Assuming the Ravens are a modest 50% on two-point conversions, this is easily the preferable decision.”
The result: Lamar Jackson threw incomplete to Nick Boyle on the two-point try, and the Ravens lost the game 33-28. On the day, Baltimore was zero of three on two-point tries. “We are going to keep playing that way, for the record,” Harbaugh said. “When you write your articles … we will disagree with your criticism. This is the way we are going to play all year.”
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Mail call. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter.
Too soon to tell. From Ernie L., of Columbus, Ohio: “Is Antonio Brown a Hall of Famer?”
I’ll say the same thing I said when asked after Eli Manning beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl for the second time: Let’s wait till the end of his career, and judge the career in its entirety. We don’t know how it’s going to end, or if it’s over right now. But to this point, he certainly is trending toward a Hall of Fame level: four first-team all-pro honors (huge in this aerial era) in eight seasons, and he’s led the league twice in receptions and in receiving yards. For probably six of his eight NFL seasons prior to this one, Brown was a dominant player at a position of immense competition for greatness, with so much talent across the board. I just think in any player’s case (except maybe right near the end of a career like Marino’s or Barry Sanders’), there’s no sense in judging it before it’s over—because a player’s case for the Hall is not heard till at least five years after his career ends. Remember: Hall of Fame bylaws prohibit voters from considering what happens outside football.
Eli doesn’t belong in the Hall. From Ian Lakin: “Please tell us you won’t vote Eli Manning for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Please, he’s played 16 years and made four Pro Bowls. He has never had a great season. He certainly has had awful ones. In the two Super Bowl victories he played well, but was far from great. I never watched a game and thought he would dominate. I would appreciate your thoughts.”
Happy to give you my thoughts, Ian. One: I am 62, and I doubt I’ll be a voter when Manning’s case is first heard, say, in around 2026. Two: I’ll dispute you for a long time on how he was “far great” in the two Super Bowls. In the first game, against one of the best teams of all time, the 18-0 Patriots, he had 80 and 83-yard drives that ended in two fourth-quarter touchdowns to win 17-14. In the second games, he drove the Giants 88 yards in the last five minutes to score a touchdown that beat the Patriots 21-17. In those eight quarters, Manning was a 67-percent passer; he turned the ball over once. Two for two in Super Bowls against the great Belichick. Pretty good. Three: I totally, absolutely understand the anti-Eli sentiment over him not dominating games and being a .500 regular-season quarterback. You’re right. That’s why his Hall of Fame case is a puzzler.
I don’t know how much the league can do to stop power plays. From Alex Ferrari: “The trend of having disgruntled players forcing their way off losing teams seems to hurt mediocre teams and unfairly help top teams. Is this an issue for the next collective bargaining agreement?”
Interesting question, and of course the NFL hates the trend that is mindful of recent behavior in the NBA. But you can’t force players to play for a team. It’s going to take two or three times when a team says, “If you don’t play for us, we’re not trading you, so you won’t play.” Not sure that is the smartest thing either, because it creates a never-ending distraction till the player leaves town. It’s a dilemma.
10 Things I Think I Think20
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 3:
a. Dana Jacobson’s pregame on-camera question to Bill Belichick: “I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask, what was the final straw with Antonio Brown?” Perfect. Not dramatic. Just 17 words that needed to be said/asked.
b. Andrew Marchand of the New York Post calling Belichick’s three-second reaction, a bush-league piercing glare at Jacobson, “the death stare.” Just what it was.
c. Bill Cowher on Brown: “He doesn’t need a football field. He needs counseling.”
d. The athleticism/pirouetting ability of Travis Kelce, who is the biggest tight-end threat in the NFL.
e. Phillip Lindsay runs like a runaway semi truck when he’s near the goal line. I like that.
f. This Lindsay is marvelous. At 190 pounds, he’s a goal-line back. Seriously. He runs at the goal line like his life’s on the line.
g. The Tom Brady-Phillips Dorsett chemistry is really growing. No longer is the Dorsett-for-Brissett deal wholly one-sided. Dorsett’s really valuable.
h. Every game I watch Christian McCaffrey, he looks better. Not getting caught on his 76-yard touchdown run in Arizona, for instance. Even when defenders have good angles on him, he’s got a sense of how close they are and what he has to do to not get tackled. Plus the speed, of course.
i. Loved, loved, loved Josh Rosen looking aghast, down 10-0, when Brian Flores chose to go for the field goal instead of the touchdown on fourth-and-three at the Dallas three. I get that it’s maybe a 35 percent chance you’re making a touchdown there. But Miami needed sevens in that case, not threes.
j. Robert Woods is a far better receiver that he gets credit.
k. Vegas oddsmakers. Pats were 20.5-point favorites over the Jets; it was 20-0 two minutes into the second quarter. Cowboys were 22-point favorites over the Dolphins. Dallas won by 25, New England by 16. The Patriots were 30 points better than the Jets, but sometimes the score just doesn’t reflect the difference between the two teams. That’s why betting on football is absurd, IMO.
l. I mean, Dallas was so much better than Miami that Ezekiel Elliott’s backup had a 100-yard game. Tony Pollard: 13 for 103 and a touchdown.
m. Dan Fouts after the speedy Mecole Hardman scored on an 83-yard catch-and-run from Patrick Mahomes: “Remember, Hardman runs a 4.2 40. Looks like he ran a 4.2 80 that time.”
n. How Julio Jones caught that TD pass while being mugged by Quincy Wilson of the Colts … amazing.
o. “We might really have something in this Waller at tight end,” Jon Gruden told me on draft weekend. Sunday numbers for tight end Darren Waller: 13 catches, 134 yards.
p. My Lord. That first-quarter catch by Giants tight end Evan Engram, a one-handed job closely guarded. The best thing about it: Engram caught and lunged for a first down all at the same time.
q. Much respect, Mike Evans and Keenan Allen. Tremendous games in losses.
r. No one thought much of it when the Ravens stole Mark Ingram from the Saints last spring. But Ingram is a big reason why the Ravens are so physically imposing, and not just on offense. He runs angry, and smart. Pretty big getting in the end zone three times in a huge game at Kansas City.
s. What a play by Green Bay cornerback Jaire Alexander, stealing the ball from Denver tight end Noah Fant in the open field. Denver was its own worst enemy in Wisconsin.
t. Catch of the Day: DeVante Parker of the Dolphins with a one-handed catch downfield in Dallas while being interfered with. Lone highlight of the Miami season.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 3:
a. Drop of the Day: DeVante Parker’s red-zone drop with 40 seconds left in the first half at Dallas, with Miami driving for the halftime lead.
b. Drop of the Day II: Dallas Goedert dropping a TD pass in the end zone—the second straight week an Eagle has dropped a sure touchdown throw in the end zone.
c. I played the flagged Miami onside kick back four times, and I did not see any Dolphin offside, leaving early before the kick. It was close, as Dean Blandino said on FOX, with all 10 Dolphins needing to have at least one foot on the 34-yard line … and I certainly didn’t see any Miami player in the traditional offside, beyond the 35, at the time of the kick. That’s a flag I don’t think was justified.
d. Marcus Mariota. He is trending toward 2020 free agency, with the Titans letting the second pick in the 2015 draft walk.
e. Shawn Hochuli, the Thursday night ref. Awful roughing-the-passer call on a perfect pass-rush by Tennessee’s Kamalei Correa, who had a textbook hit on Jags QB Gardner Minshew.
f. How was that not a helmet-to-helmet hit by Dallas safety Jeff Heath on a defenseless receiver, Allen Hurns?
g. I don’t know exactly what the Atlanta offense is good at anymore.
h. Miles Killebrew dangerously ripping off Miles Sanders‘ helmet on the Eagle returner’s kickoff return. Man, Sanders is lucky he wasn’t seriously hurt. How do the refs miss that?
i. Huge drop/fumble by Nelson Agholor, leading to a 10-point halftime lead for Detroit in Philadelphia.
j. Bengals: one first down in the first 28 minutes at Buffalo.
k. Horrible news if Keanu Neal‘s Achilles injury is a season-ender.
l. This is eight days old, but I keep thinking about the end of Bears-Broncos, when a pass play ended with the clock showing :01, and by the time the Bears were recognized for calling time, the clock showed :00, and the officials huddled and put one second back on the clock. That allowed the Bears to have a chance to try—and make—a 53-yard field goal to win. Why I hate this officiating decision: At no other time of game would officials huddle to put one second back on the clock on a pass play in the middle of the field. So why do they huddle and put one second back on the clock after the last play of the game—or what should have been the last play? Why was the last play officiated differently than the other 131 in the game?
3. I think there are five Antonio Brown points I’d like to make:
• Any team even considering signing Antonio Brown should consider that, in a span of 15 days this month, Brown: confronted his GM at practice in Oakland, reportedly calling Mike Mayock a “cracker;” posted a fine letter from Mayock on social media, in anger; missed practice the day after those incidents; posted a video of a private conversation with coach Jon Gruden (which Gruden reportedly approved), with Gruden saying, “Please stop this s—- and just play football;” was fined $215,000 for conduct detrimental to the team; was cut by the Raiders the same week he was a key element in the first game plan of the season; was signed by the Patriots; was the subject in a civil suit by a former college friend and trainer, Britney Taylor, who said he sexually assaulted her three times; was dropped as a client by Xenith, the helmet company; was dropped as a client by Nike; was the subject of a Sports Illustrated profile with a second woman describing sexual misconduct by Brown while she was working his apartment and describing Brown as a serial welsher; texted the second woman—according to her attorney—in a threatening way, apparently as a way of trying to make her shut up; was warned by the NFL to not have any contact with the woman; and was cut by the Patriots the same week he was a key element in their game plan.
• If I’m a club owner or president, I tell my GM and coach, “We are not signing Antonio Brown. We are not even discussing signing Antonio Brown. The only way we’d reconsider is if he is totally innocent in the Britney Taylor case, guiltless in the case with the second woman, and goes though some counseling that can prove to us that he’s capable of being a teammate in a team sport.”
• No player in my 36 seasons covering the NFL has dug himself so many holes in such a short period of time.
• Did you see “Animal House?” Thirty-seven minutes after news hit that Brown was getting cut, agent Drew Rosenhaus Tweeted that Brown was “looking forward to his next opportunity in the NFL.” Which reminded me of this Kevin Bacon scene from “Animal House.” Drew, the house is on fire. Time to call the fire department.
• Must be nice to throw $28.9-million out the window. That’s what Brown did. Per Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap: Brown could have made $29,625,000 (including his 2020 guarantee) by showing up and playing the full 2019 season with the Raiders. If the Raiders collected his announced fines and if the Patriots are successful in not paying Brown his guarantees and bonuses this year, Brown will have earned $749,604 from the Raiders and Patriots this year, total. Which means that Brown, by not sticking with Oakland, blew $28,875,396.
4. I think the question everyone is asking about Cam Newton is not, Will he ever regain his MVP form? It is, Why is he wearing babushkas to his post-game press conferences?
5. I think there’s probably not a good way to prevent teams from tanking without considering a draft lottery, and I think it would be tough to get 24 teams (the NFL changes bylaws only when three-quarters of the teams vote to do so) to approve a draft lottery. I was interested in reading Miami GM Chris Grier’s words about the Laremy Tunsil/Kenny Stills trade to Houston and the Minkah Fitzpatrick deal to Pittsburgh:
“We got a phone call from Houston and they kept pursuing us. Multiple, multiple times, we talked and kept telling them ‘no’ and what it would take and they came and offered it. A funny story I was saying the other day. I called Laremy about the trade, and Laremy walked in my office and saw [the terms] on the board and goes, ‘I would trade me for that.’ But seriously, we were not trying to do it. With Minkah, it was just one of those things. The player had expressed that [it was] maybe time for him to change, so we tried to make it work. Myself, Brian [Flores] and Steve [Ross] … We had multiple conversations with him, saying we wanted him here and viewed him as a core piece and wanted him here. The kid just felt it was time for him to move, and we told him what the value was. We told teams we had multiple offers, and we felt that the Pittsburgh one was the one best for the organization.”
Okay. But what about the next player who wants out? The precedent’s been set.
6. I think this is the most incredible thing about Bruce Arians taking the delay-of-game penalty before the final field-goal try by his kicker, Matt Gay, with four seconds left: Gay’s attempt, as it turned out, was from 34 yards out. It could have been a 29-yarder; Arians said he thought Gay would have an easier time making the kick from 34. So wait. In the first half, Gay missed two extra points. Those are 33-yard kicks. Why would you think it’d be better for him to kick from the 34 instead of about the 29? Makes no sense to me.
7. I think it’s fitting this morning to recall that Cleveland GM Sashi Brown, seven months before getting fired in 2017, picked Myles Garrett over area kid Mitchell Trubisky. Which, of course, allowed the Browns’ next GM, John Dorsey, to pick Baker Mayfield first in the 2018 draft. Both of those decisions should allow the Browns to be competitive for a long time.
8. I think if I were Adam Gase, and Luke Falk looked as awful as he did Sunday in Foxboro, I’d take this bye week and get David Fales ready to play in Philadelphia coming out of the bye. Sam Darnold might be ready, but in case he’s not, I’d start Fales, and get him ready for the next two games after that: home starts with Dallas and New England. Falk’s just not good enough.
9. I think one thing was easy to spot in the Sunday night game: Eric Weddle is one excellent tackler.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Public Service Announcement of the Week: This is a tough watch, but it’s an important watch in this country at this time. Please take 65 seconds to consume the Sandy Hook Promise video about what our school children are facing every day.
b. We have no excuses to not act, and yet we do not act.
c. Story of the Week: Amie Tsang of the New York Times (with photos and video by Suzie Howell) on how Brexit will wreak havoc with the food chain in Great Britain.
d. Now, you think: What do I care about how people in England get their food? And truly, it’s not the most pressing issue in the world. But it’s fascinating to take the 1,700-mile journey of a Sicilian tomato with Tsang and Howell, and to see how the 10-day life of a tomato might not be long enough with the political and logistical woes caused by Great Britain leaving the European Union. Fascinating, too, for journalists to see how well a story can be told with not a lot of words, but in pictures and video. Loved this idea and the execution by Tsang and Howell.
e. College Football Story of the Week: Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel’s takedown of Jim Harbaugh’s University of Michigan football team after its 35-14 loss at Wisconsin is thorough, with strong opinion backed by undeniable facts.
f. Very strong by Thamel:
“No wins over Ohio State, three straight bowl losses and, still, zero signature victories. Michigan’s last three games against Power Five opponents have resulted in combined losses of 138-68, on average losing 46-23 to Ohio State, South Carolina and Wisconsin. They also outlasted Army in overtime, 24-21, in a game where Army manhandled the Wolverines physically in the trenches. The tenor of those losses, combined with the flailing of Michigan’s offense has raised a question once thought unthinkable: Should Michigan move on from Harbaugh?”
g. Football-Nerdy Story of the Week: Bo Wulf of The Athletic quizzes Josh McCown to see if he can remember all 37 of the men who have caught NFL touchdown passes from him.
h. Good luck to Tony Wyllie, the longtime Washington senior VP of communications, for navigating a very difficult organization for a decade, and realizing the things he could change and those he could not. I remember in 2013 calling Wyllie to give him a heads up that I would no longer be using his team name “Redskins” in stories I wrote because I felt it was a derogatory term. He tried to talk me out of it, respectfully, saying the team would never change it and it was one of 32 NFL nicknames—how could I do that? We went back and forth, never heated. At the end of the conversation, we said goodbye and that was it. No threats, no yelling; just a fairly impassioned defense of the team’s right to use the name. Fine. We disagreed. And no grudge. A week or two later, I called to get one of his players on the phone, and life went on. Wyllie is moving to a big job with Special Olympics, and good for him.
i. Two shoutouts to friends today. Congrats to Robert Klemko for some excellent reporting on the Antonio Brown story last week. It was Klemko’s reporting about a second woman being sexually harassed by Brown that led Brown to try to intimidate her last week, and led the NFL to tell him to lay off, and led the Patriots to cut Brown. Klemko did not set out to get Brown whacked. He set out to report a story about Brown off the field. What he found was a disastrous set of irresponsible and perhaps criminal behavior.
j. Klemko on the lessons from reporting this story that he’d share with journalism students:
“Make the extra phone call. Don’t be scared of taking to a million people and you know you’re only going to quote 10. Take your time. We could have rushed this story. But it was reviewed and edited by six people at SI, and also a lawyer, just to be sure we were doing the right thing.”
k. Conor Orr’s cover story on the Cowboys was illuminating, a story in plain sight about the advantages the Cowboys have at their nirvana football HQ in Frisco, Texas, that included shoulder-rubbing with the DFW business elite. Contracts are good there. The perks post-football are important too. Orr writes about “the underlying promise that, if you succeed here, you’ll never have trouble finding lucrative work once your career is over.”
l. The cool thing for Orr is that, before Mark Mravic pushed to hire him at The MMQB and Sports Illustrated, he was thinking about leaving the very uncertain sportswriting business. And now, here he is, with an SI cover story on the Dallas Cowboys. So happy for him. On Sunday, he drove a copy to his parents in Pennsylvania, to show them. How proud they must have been.
m. Radio Tribute of the Week: Nina Totenberg on the late Cokie Roberts, a fellow NPR fixture.
n. Beernerdness: There’s a gem of a beer bar in my new Brooklyn neighborhood called BierWax. The cool thing is that there’s a bunch of obscure craft beers on tap, plus a slew of canned beers in those funky cans, one weirder than the next. The “Wax” part refers to vinyl. All the music played in the bar (which has a pleasant patio out back) is played on record albums. BierWax has hundreds. On Saturday evening, we ducked in to have one pre-dinner beer with my daughter Mary Beth and her husband Nick, here for a weekend visit. I tried one of the 10 drafts: Baron Von Weizen (Defiant Brewing, Pearl River, N.Y.), a hefeweizen with just the right hint of fruit and coriander. Liked it so much I went back for a six-ouncer before we left.
o. Coffeenerdness: Can I make one last appeal, Starbucks, to bring back the newspapers? Your shops are not the same without them.
The Week Ahead
Tonight: Landover, Md. Chicago at Washington. “The sky is not falling for us,” said Case Keenum the other day. Perhaps, but with 0-3 looming, and coming off seasons of eight, seven and seven wins, and seeing a stadium with gaps of empty seats, I’m wondering about the patience level of Daniel Snyder. A loss tonight would drop coach Jay Gruden’s record to 13 below .500 with zero playoff wins in his six seasons. Good thing for him that he’s got two winnable games (Giants, Dolphins) sandwiching a home tilt with the Patriots in the next three weeks.
Thursday: Green Bay. Philadelphia at Green Bay. This is a short-week game that the Eagles do not need right now. Man, Philly’s beat up for this game. And the Packers are going to bring the heat with the Smiths (Preston, Za’Darius) on Carson Wentz. Great Thursday nighter. Just hope the Eagles can hang in physically.
Sunday: New Orleans. Dallas at New Orleans, prime time. Very cool story here. Three years ago, while with The MMQB, I did a story on the band at St. Amant High School in Ascension Parish (between New Orleans and Baton Rouge), which had been flooded badly, as had the surrounding community. I appealed to readers to help the school re-stock the instruments lost and ruined in the flood, and America responded. Now, at halftime of this game, the Saints have arranged for the St. Amant Marching Band to play. You may remember this touching story. So great to see the band hit the big stage in the Superdome.
The Adieu Haiku10
Moral of story:
Simple. Antonio Brown’s
not a good person.