You’ll notice in the column this week some odd column headings, and, in particular, one unique correspondent. As a tribute to my alma mater, Sports Illustrated, which slashed about 50 editorial jobs from an already very lean product last Thursday, you’ll see the familiar column heads such as FACES IN THE CROWD, WHERE ARE THEY NOW, THIS WEEK’S SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE and the return of Rick Reilly, fittingly on the last page of this column.
But first a crazy Week 5, with a special section on Brett Favre turning 50 this week. He’s pretty open.
A weird calm came over Frank Reich and the Colts this weekend in Kansas City. Part of it came from the fact, as Reich told me Sunday night, that the Colts had their best week of practice in his 23-game Indianapolis career. Part from the cumulative effect, he said, of having the right people with the right attitude to overcome a clunker like last week’s seven-point home loss to Oakland. And part because, as he said, “I’ve come to learn in the NFL that the game is about so much more than Sunday—it’s about who you are and how you work Monday through Saturday, and you have to get your players to believe you are what you do during the week.”
And so when Reich stepped to the podium in the meeting room at the Westin Crown Center on Saturday night to address his team, he had only one theme. Reich hates gushy coachspeak. That’s when you tell your team it’s sunny when all 53 players can see it’s cloudy. He didn’t give them the same message a week earlier before Oakland that he gave this week. On Saturday night he told his players: “The rest of the world’s gonna be shocked tomorrow night when they see this game. But we’re not gonna be shocked.”
Going over final game details in the coach’s locker room Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium with offensive coordinator Nick Siriani, they saw several surprising upsets. “That’s crazy,” Siriani said to Reich.
“That’s what people are gonna say after we win tonight,” said Reich.
Let’s figure out the last eight months in the NFL, or at least in the Colts’ corner of the world:
January: In Kansas City, Chiefs beat Colts (and star quarterback Andrew Luck) by 18 in the playoffs.
August: Luck shockingly retires 15 days before the season. Unproven Jacoby Brissett takes over.
September: Chiefs beat Raiders, in Oakland, by 18.
September: Raiders beat Colts, in Indianapolis, by seven.
October: The Colts’ best defensive player, linebacker Darius Leonard, set to miss his third straight game (against Kansas City) with concussion-related issues.
So what should the score have been Sunday night? Chiefs, 42-16?
October: In Kansas City, Colts beat the Chiefs by six, 19-13.
“This is a crazy game,” Reich said. “Today in the NFL told you that. But it’s what so great about the game too. It’s so human. The cumulative effect of 53 guys practicing great with a great attitude and a great plan and hunger can do anything.”
Four things about this game were huge:
• Kansas City might have found a bit of kryptonite last week and this one with the man coverage played by Detroit and Indianapolis. (Combined score: Colts/Lions 49, Chiefs 47.) That impacted what Patrick Mahomes could do, because the Chiefs’ speed has wrecked zone coverage, and without the injured Tyreek Hill, KC’s speed isn’t as ruinous particularly against man coverage—particularly when man isn’t what’s expected. ESPN’s Jeff Darlington noted the Colts had played 70 percent zone coverage in the first four games, and Indy rolled lots of man against the Chiefs. “If we don’t find ways to beat it, we’re going to keep getting it,” said Mahomes. Didn’t help that Mahomes had a bum ankle and wasn’t as mobile as usual.
• The run for Indianapolis. “When we got here,” said Reich, “we said we wanted to be a top five rushing team. We had the players up front, and we were gonna commit to it.” Good idea, except when Andrew Luck is throwing for 4,500 yards and 39 touchdowns, it’s pretty easy to game-plan around the passing game. In 2018, the Colts ran 38 percent of the time, and were 20th in the league in rushing. This year, they’re running 48 percent of the time, and they’re fourth in the league in rushing. All but two of the Colts’ last 19 plays were runs, because Reich kept calling what Brissett and the line wanted to run. “Before our last series,” Reich said, “Jacoby said to me, ‘Hey, let’s go run it down their throats.’ “ They did, leading to the insurance field goal and late nine-point lead.
• Chiefs are giving up 5.3 yards per carry. Remember when firing Bob Sutton was going to fix everything? It hasn’t. Just another sign there are no perfect teams.
• The return of Justin Houston. He sacked Mahomes and had the biggest tackle of the night—a fourth-and-one stop of Damian Williams for a one-yard loss with 5:06 left and the Chiefs gambling, down 16-10. Wisely, I thought. Except that Houston knew the play was coming. “I know the formation they used, and from the formation, I knew they’d run power,” Houston told me. “They ran 22 personnel [two backs, two tight ends, one wideout], and I knew they’d run power to the strong side. I had to get off the ball strong at the snap.” He beat the protection on the Chiefs’ left and got Williams from behind. Huge play by a guy who spent 10 years with the Chiefs and wasn’t happy they didn’t bring him back. “I treated this like any other game,” he said. “In high school, I had a big rivalry game in basketball and got too hyped, and I played awful. This was about the team tonight, my new team.” Well, maybe. But Houston sure looked thrilled when he crushed that KC drive with five minutes left in the game.
Lots of football left, of course. The Colts, entering their bye week, are shoehorned with Houston at 3-2 atop the AFC South. Too much football left to draw many conclusions except one: Indy’s 13-4 since mid-October last year, and they have hardly been paralyzed by the body blow of losing Luck on Aug. 24.
For Cousins, A Reprieve
Football Is Crazy, Minnesota Mayhem Dept.:
• Kirk Cousins missed a few (a few?!!!) last week against the Bears in a bleak showing and lost 16-6.
• Wideout Adam Thielen seemed to veiled-threat Cousins out the wazoo after the game with, “You have to be able to complete the deep balls.”
• Out of nowhere, Stefon Diggs didn’t show up for work Wednesday as rumors swirled he wanted to be traded. “There’s truth to all rumors.” Was it Cousins-related? Was it even true?
• Cousins sort of apologized publicly for not hitting Thielen in Chicago.
• Would the Vikes think of yanking Cousins if he didn’t shape up? Would they take the $30.5-million cap hit for cutting him before the 2020 season if he didn’t shape up?
If Cousins was sweating his future, short or long-term, he wasn’t showing it.
“It was a pretty normal week for me, and a very good practice week,” he told me Sunday evening. “I can read between the lines when reporters are asking me things, so I guess there was a lot swirling around. I can tell by the tenor of the questions. But I can tell you I don’t pay attention to what’s out there. I just don’t. Maybe a high school friend will text me something about me coming under fire. I’ve gotten to the point where I tell my friends: ‘You don’t have to text me. Really, it’s better to be in the dark.”
He thought for a moment, then said: “Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.”
I don’t know if Cousins is out of the hole; I doubt it, frankly. But his best game as a Viking (by passer rating) silenced the hounds for a while. In a 28-10 win over the Giants, Cousins was 22 of 27 for 306 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions, and a rating of 138.6.
Cousins entered the game in New Jersey needing to show his accuracy and his decision-making—both suspect this season—could get better. I thought Cousins made two terrific throws to Thielen, his go-to guy, with due respect to Diggs. Makeup throws? Doubt it, but who knows. One was a terrific, accurate throw to the right sideline with cornerback Janoris Jenkins all over him; the ball was dropped into Thielen, who toe-tapped and hung onto it for a gain of 11. Nothing game-determining there, just the kind of throw you’ve got to make consistently in the NFL to be a winning passer.
The second pass was a nine-yard, sort of nondescript TD throw to Thielen, who was trolling the back of the end zone with five minutes left in the third quarter. Deandre Baker got to Theilen a split-second before the pass from Cousins and tackled him, with the ball headed for Thielen’s hands. “When we talk about a player running to the middle or the back of the end zone,” Cousins said, “we talk about putting that ball on the top shelf. Throw it high, give Adam a shot at it, but no one else.” Perfect throw, and even with Thielen getting dragged down, the ball hit his hands and he hung on.
On the Thielen relationship …
“I don’t know if I’ve ever had a closer friend in the league than Adam,” Cousins said. “We sit together on planes. Our families are friendly. What’s funny is the comment Adam made after the game last week is the same one he’s said to me. He thought it was unrealistic to just run it and have that be all our offense. So I had the context. But I guess it took on a life of its own.”
It did take on a life. But it did so because Cousins has missed so many throws he needs to make for the Vikings to get their money’s worth on the three-year, $84-million guaranteed contract that he is midway through. One game in the Meadowlands is encouraging. But it’s not burying the Bears, or winning the division.
“I am aware of the contract, and the expectations,” said Cousins. “I don’t pretend they’re not there. But I’ve never thought about the contract when I’m dropping back on third-and-seven. I feel the tension every week, but it’s a tension I’ve always felt before games.”
The Raiders Are So Interesting
For the Raiders, winning three time zones away last week in Indianapolis was fun. Winning eight time zones away Sunday in London was exhilarating. So much so that Jon Gruden did a bizarre dance in the locker room at Tottenham Stadium and screeched after the 24-21 win over the Bears: “I’m 56 years old, and that’s the most fun I’ve ever had tonight!”
The Raiders almost blew this game, losing a 17-0 lead and falling behind 21-17 and needing to be saved by a late 97-yard touchdown drive. The fact is, though:
• They’re not a fluky 3-2. They’re a totally legit 3-2.
• They can hold up on the offensive line, fortified by GM Mike Mayock.
• They’ve got a franchise back in Josh Jacobs.
• They’re deeper than they have been, and beat a top-tier NFL team Sunday without their top receiver, Tyrell Williams, and two of their first-round picks, defensive end Clelin Ferrell and safety Johnathan Abram, both of whom started the season playing big roles for Oakland. And think of the mayhem this team was in a month ago, with Antonio Brown (we thought) leaving the team in tatters by shooting his way off the team.
• They’re smart. They totally negated the powerful Bears pass-rush by throwing quick and not allowing Derek Carr to be pulverized.
“We’re beginning to figure out our identity,” right tackle Trent Brown, one of the Mayock reinforcements, said from the winning locker room after the game. “Our identity is running the football. Everything, for us, opens up by running the football.”
The Raiders have the nucleus for that run game. It’s Jacobs, the first-round back from Alabama, who never was a workhorse under Nick Saban but was drafted by Mayock and Gruden to be just that. Jacobs never ran the ball more than 20 times in his job-sharing Alabama career—in fact, he ran the ball more than 16 times in a game only that one time—but on Sunday, with the beefy line pushing the Bear front around, Jacobs ran it 11 times in the first and 15 in the second half, grinding out 123 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries.
When I told Trent Brown about his light college use, Brown chuckled, and said, “Josh is a great running back, and it’s going to be interesting in the next couple of years to watch what a great back he develops into. Alabama always has a deep stable. I really appreciate Alabama not giving him that many carries. Keeps him fresher for us in his NFL career.”
Mayock and Gruden were criticized for making Brown the highest paid tackle in football in free agency—and for giving a new life to the formerly retired Richie Incognito, who left football under a cloud in Buffalo. And who knows how the story will play out, but those guys were tremendous Sunday as 40 percent of the line that held the Bears sackless. Amazing, Carr was knocked down just once on the day, and was comfy enough in the pocket to complete 25 of 32 mostly quick passes.
Hard to tell where this season will take the Raiders, but they’re playing like the second-best team in the West, and they’ll have a huge schedule edge in the second half of the season. Five of their last nine games will be home beginning Nov. 3, and only the Dec. 1 game at Kansas City looks like a steep task. Who’d have thought when Brown was wreaking havoc on this franchise on Labor Day Weekend that we’d be seeing the Raiders a game out of first in the AFC West entering the middle of October?
Three Questions With Russell Wilson
Caught up with the Seattle quarterback after the scintillating 30-29 win over the Rams on Thursday night. Wilson, adjusting to life without Doug Baldwin, is off to the best statistical start of his college or pro life. He leads the league in completion percentage (.731), TD-to-interception ratio (12-to-zero), and passer rating (126.3). There’s no question in my mind this is his best season in his eight-year career.
FMIA: You got emotional about [late Seahawks owner] Paul Allen after he was honored before the game. Why?
Wilson: He thought big, believed big. Such a great man, and a great man to work for. We’ve got to think big and believe big too. We’ve got as good a chance as anyone this year.
FMIA: The touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett in the corner of the end zone, with you running left and throwing totally awkwardly, and the ball landing on him perfect—how does that happen?
Wilson: God’s given me a lot of talent, but truthfully, that’s where baseball comes in. I went to spring training with the Yankees, and one of the things about infield play is you’re making these flips that really aren’t natural, moving your body in different ways that might be uncomfortable. Like, turning a double play with [New York shortstop] Didi Gregorius helps me as an athlete. But that also comes from working with the guys in the offseason. Tyler and I have put in a lot of work together. And this offseason, getting to know a lot of the young guys in offseason workouts was huge for us. D.K. Metcalf, 5:45 in the morning, the sun barely up, he’s out there working. The first thing I said to the new guys was, ‘This is your opportunity. No one cares how long it takes to get the job done.’ It’s paying off.
FMIA: Is this your best season?
Wilson: (Pause) I don’t know. It’s my best year this year. It’s today, and I live in today.
Where Are They Now?
SUMRALL, Miss. — Brett Favre, on the verge of 50, looks like he can still play football. Trim and cut like Tom Brady, cardiovascularly fit from riding his bike along southern Mississippi country roads 110 miles a week, he lives a pretty simple life near where it all began. Every morning, he gets up around 5:30 and eats some strawberry yogurt with granola. He says some days he and wife Deana, both born and raised Catholic, pray the Rosary together. He goes and eats breakfast with a cadre of friends from around Hattiesburg. Then he’ll putter around his 465 acres, or hit some golf balls, or ride his bike.
Nine years removed from playing, and three years after being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Favre is happy with this quiet life. He does a little radio, which, for the storyteller he is, is more of his genre than TV. He never really wanted to be a TV talking head.
I visited Favre in August, and we recorded a 47-minute podcast to use around the time of his 50th birthday, which is Thursday. Over the years, we’ve laughed a lot at his stories—and you’ll love the one he tells on the podcast about the automatic fart machine on a tense Packer team bus back in the day. There was some of that, but there was also some of, How are you doing? How are you really doing? Because the football world isn’t this gauzy place full of John Wayne heroes who fade off into a sweet retirement. Football players, particularly those from the Favre era and before, have the long-term effects of brain trauma to worry about now. And talking to Favre, you can tell he’s concerned. Not obsessed with it, but it’s on his mind, figuring that making those 297 consecutive starts, every game over 17-plus seasons, will exact a toll on him later in life.
I should preface what I’m about to write with a story. A couple of weeks after I saw Favre, he and I got together in Kansas City with Patrick Mahomes—the quarterback who is most like Favre of any who have followed him—and Andy Reid, who has coached both of them. We went over film of Favre plays from 25 years ago, and from Mahomes plays of last year. They talked. Favre’s memory was razor-sharp of the tiniest details about each of his old plays. So there’s that.
The bottom line is that so much about the brain as it deals with aging and repetitive head trauma is unknown. I don’t draw conclusions to either understate or overstate anything about how the future will treat Brett Favre, because I just don’t know, and the experts don’t know.
But with the attention being paid to concussions and CTE, Favre knows there could be a new reality coming for him.
“For me, what I have fear of more than anything that 20 years ago was not even a thought is the mental side of it,” Favre said, sitting in his living room while a late-afternoon thunderstorm boomed outside. “You and I were talking before we started the podcast—some of the stories you brought up, I don’t remember. There was a point in my life where I remembered everything … A story I should know, whether it’s one from you or someone else, I have no recollection of it. It bugs me. It makes me wonder.”
Favre told a story of the former Steelers doctor, Julian Bales, reaching out to him after he retired. Bales wanted to do some testing on Favre, to investigate whether he might have elevated levels of Tau protein, the indicator that a person could have Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Bales told Favre there was no known treatment for elevated Tau levels. “No disrespect,” Favre said he told Bales. “But I’d rather not know.”
I asked if he had thoughts that he stayed in football too long.
“Absolutely,” Favre said. “Absolutely. I wonder every day what tomorrow will bring just from [how] I did play. John Wayne was cool then. Maybe not so cool now.”
I asked if he was glad he played football. “Absolutely. Absolutely,” he said.
“I wouldn’t trade any of it, the good and the bad,” he continued. “I spoke most recently at a Boys & Girls Club in Hudsonville, Alabama. There’s 1,500 people. I was asked a lot of questions. One was if you could go back and change something. I said, Let me stop you. I always get this question. I wouldn’t change anything. It is what it is. First of all, we can’t change it, so it’s ridiculous to even think that. Secondly, if everything was good, if I completed every pass, we’d won every game, how would you ever know what a real great win would be like?
“It’s something as a coach I would tell my kids—I would tell my own kids, and I’ll tell my grandkids. Whatever you want to do, make sure that at 25 you don’t look back and say, ‘You know, I should’ve played.’ Or ‘I should’ve worked harder.’ Or, ‘I could’ve been the best in my class.’ Whatever that may be. Or at 35, or 40. When you leave high school, you don’t go back. You better make the most of it. Every adult that I’ve ever been around when talking about this subject, they all say the same thing. If they could go back, they’d go back. Not because you love chemistry or biology, but it was a simpler time in life. We all have some regrets to a certain extent but there are some that are controllable. You’ve got to have the absolute best time you can have. But you’ve got to work hard at it. I know I did … I’m proud of what I did. I had a blast doing it.”
When you listen to Favre, except for maybe-I-played-too-long stuff, you can tell he doesn’t wallow in the what-might-have-been. Most of his life is spent looking ahead, though he is prompted (by people like me) to recall what was. We probably talked for 10 minutes about the fearsome wild hogs on his property. Those are big concerns to him. Controlling the beavers damming up the property in spots—another concern. He likes the life now. He thinks about the future, yes. Does it torment him? Sure doesn’t seem like it.
Lots of players struggle with the post-football transition. I remember once, after the Packers won Favre’s lone Super Bowl, Favre told me if NFL Films tried to find him after his career, they’d have a hard time. One place he wouldn’t be: in the spotlight. That’s pretty much how it’s turned out. When I text Favre these days, sometimes it’s returned immediately, sometimes not at all, sometimes after a couple of days. He’s out riding his bike, or tending to daughter Breleigh’s volleyball games; she plays at Southern Miss, and Favre’s been a big benefactor to the program.
He watches some football—not a lot. He never was one for sports on TV. But he will watch Patrick Mahomes if the Chiefs are on. “He is more polished than I was,” Favre said. “I think our styles are very similar. We use our feet, use our arm strength. You never know what’s gonna come out, including me, including him.”
As I wrote last week, Favre also has been a big booster of a doctor at Florida State, Jake VanLandingham, who is working to develop a topical cream for football players to use pre-game to reduce the effects of head trauma during the game. VanLandingham is also developing a nasal spray to be used after a concussive blow, to lessen the length of time for recovery from a concussion. Favre has spoken to Roger Goodell about getting on board with a medication that could be an antidote to the concussion crisis at all levels of football. VanLandingham is in the trial phase with these medications, and he told me two major colleges could be using the meds within a year. The military, with its history of concussive incidents in combat, is interested in VanLandingham’s work.
So Favre has found other things to do, and other things to think about on those bike trips.
“I try to ride about—I average 110 to 120 miles a week … Like Deana and I rode 27 miles two days ago. Some of the back roads, some of the main roads just depending on what time. When she got me a bike about 11, 12 years ago, one of those bikes you pick up with one finger, I said, What am I gonna do with that? She said, we can go biking together. I’m like, don’t be ridiculous, I’m not biking. How far do you go? She said about 25 miles. I said Are you crazy? Twenty-five miles? One time? One day? And lo and behold, she said if you start getting into it, you won’t waste your time for anything less than. And she’s right. The first couple times I went like three miles and I’m like, alright let’s turn around and go back. I’m thankful that she talked me into it.
“I love to jog but not when it’s 98 and humid. So in the winter I’ll jog a little bit if my body feels okay. I ran in a half-marathon last year with Breleigh, our youngest daughter. She said, ‘Dad, I think I’m gonna sign up for a half marathon. Will you do it with me?’ What are you supposed to say? I’m not doing it? I said of course I’ll do it. So I try to stay as in-shape as possible.”
Offensive Players of the Week
Christian McCaffrey, running back, Carolina. He’s better than any of us thought he would be. Well, maybe except Ed McCaffrey and Christian himself. He’s become a singular force trying to save the Panthers’ season after the early-season bizarre-ness of Cam Newton’s play and injury. In a 34-27 survival test against the Jaguars—in the 25th season for each 1995 expansion franchise—McCaffrey had 237 rushing-receiving yards and scored three touchdowns. Can’t be an every-down back? Well, McCaffrey has rushed for an NFL-high 587 yards, averaging 21 carries and 117.4 yards rushing per game.
Deshaun Watson, quarterback, Houston. Helped by the best game of wideout Will Fuller’s career (14 catches, 217 yards), Watson was flawless in the 53-32 rout of the surprisingly bad Falcons: 28 of 33 for 426 yards, five touchdowns and a perfect passer rating. The Texans are playing pretty well heading into Kansas City next week, and Watson is at the center of it all.
Kolton Miller, Richie Incognito, Rodney Hudson, Denzelle Good, Trent Brown, offensive line (left to right), Oakland. A mostly brilliant performance by the men up front in a 24-21 stunner over the Bears in London. Derek Carr was not sacked by the league’s most fearsome rush. Khalil Mack had three tackles and just one quarterback hit, and the Raiders outgained the Bears 398-236. The key for the men in the trenches, clearly, was a steamrolling run game: 39 carries, 169 yards, three rushing touchdowns. The line dominated the first half, came back to earth in the first 20 minutes of the second half, then rebounded on a game-winning 97-yard drive at the end of the game.
Russell Wilson, quarterback, Seattle. See above. That might have been the game of his NFL life, the 30-29 win over the Rams that put the Seahawks in a first-place tie for the NFC West lead … with the Rams now third.
Aaron Jones, running back, Green Bay. By the time Jones was finished inflicting his damage on the Cowboys in Arlington—touchdown runs of 18, 3, 5 and 1 yards in the first three quarters—the Packers had a 31-3 lead, and the lottery chance Dallas had at that point didn’t come to fruition. Jones has some attitude to him, and it’s an attitude that has served the 4-1 Packers well in the first five weeks. More importantly, he has good instincts for a back around the goal line.
Defensive Player of the Week
Justin Houston, linebacker, Indianapolis. In his return to Kansas City after his unceremonious departure in free agency last spring, Houston played a huge role in limiting Patrick Mahomes from dominating the game. Houston had a sack of Mahomes—who, in fairness, was limping after having his ankle stepped on—and saved his biggest play for last: On fourth-and-one from the Chiefs 34 with five minutes left, Andy Reid went for it (logical call, down by six), and Houston looped around right end to catch running back Damien Williams from behind. Loss of one. The Colts drove to kick a field goal and end it, in effect. Big day for Houston in Kansas City after a career of big ones for Kansas City.
Za’Darius Smith, defensive end, Green Bay. Playing with a sore knee, Smith continued to bolster the case of GM Brian Gutekunst for Executive of the Year after the latter went big in free agency for Za’Darius and Preston Smith. Both have starred in Green Bay’s 4-1 start, and Za’Darius, between trips to the medics Sunday, had two sacks and two more jarring hits on Dak Prescott. Green Bay’s defense, because of its edge rushers, has become a unit to be reckoned with.
Danielle Hunter, defensive end, Minnesota. With the Giants threatening to make it a game in the last minute of the third quarter—Vikings up 25-10, Giants with a fourth-and-goal at the Minnesota 3-yard line—Hunter sacked Daniel Jones, killing the drive and any realistic New York hopes. Hunter led the Vikings with two sacks and seven tackles while the Vikes held the Giants to 10 points in nine drives.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Justin Tucker, kicker, Baltimore. For the 13th time in his starry career, Tucker kicked a walk-off winner. He went four-for-four on the day in tough place to kick, Heinz Field. After hitting 27 and 26-yarders in the first 50 minutes, Tucker tied the game and sent it to overtime with a 48-yard field goal with 10 seconds left. Midway through overtime, he snaked a 46-yarder just inside the left upright. Baltimore 26, Pittsburgh 23, in the most physical game of the NFL season so far.
Desmond King, cornerback, Los Angeles Chargers. The suddenly feeble Chargers are feeling the effects of all the injuries to their offensive stalwarts. The 20-13 loss to Denver had but one highlight, and it was an electric one: King’s 68-yard punt return for touchdown late in the third quarter, making it a 10-point game.
Coach of the Week
Jon Gruden, head coach, Oakland. In a true road trip—at Indianapolis last Sunday, a flight straight to London, practicing in London all week, then playing the Bears on Sunday at the new Tottenham stadium—the Raiders were underdogs in both games, by 6.5 at the Colts, and 4.5 against the Bears. Gruden groused about being 48 days away from home when the schedule came out last spring. But then he went about getting his team ready. The Raiders won in Indy and then came back after some major adversity, giving up 21 straight points to Chicago, to beat the Bears. It’s the first two-game winning streak for the Raiders since Gruden returned to coach last season.
Goats of the Week
Dan Quinn, head coach, Atlanta. A 1-4 start is bad enough for a team that has a majority of starters left from its Super Bowl team in February 2017. But what’s worse is that Quinn has taken over the defensive play-calling and the defense was pathetic in a game the franchise had to have Sunday, allowing 37 points in the second half and 592 total yards. The Falcons, against a suspect Houston line, had zero sacks. I can’t imagine Quinn surviving the season if this team doesn’t play radically better, and soon. They’re allowing a whopping 30.7 ppg.
Cairo Santos, kicker, Tennessee. In a 14-7 loss to the Bills, Santos pushed a 50-yard field goal try wide left, kicked a 36-yarder wide right, had a 33-yarder blocked, and, for good measure, missed a 53-yarder wide left. You won’t have a job long kicking like that. “I don’t feel sorry for myself—I feel sorry for my teammates and coaches,” he said. “I am very shocked right now.” Question is: Will Santos be very employed in Nashville this week?
Greg Zuerlein, kicker, Los Angeles Rams. For a kicker as talented as Zuerlein, the setup Thursday with 11 seconds left, down 30-29 in cacophonous Seattle, lining up for a 44-yard game-winning field goal, was gold. The snap was perfect. The spot was perfect. The hold was perfect. And Zuerlein’s kick looked lovely. It faded six inches wide right. And that is the difference between the Rams being 3-2 or 4-1 today. “He just missed it,” Sean McVay said post-game. I know. Saw it.
They Said It
“If my key works Monday, keep working.”
—Washington coach Jay Gruden, after losing to New England to fall to 0-5, on his job status.
It seemed amazing that Daniel (Quick Trigger) Snyder did not fire Gruden after starting 0-5, losing four straight by double digits, and going 1-11 since mid-November. Didn’t last. Gruden got fired early Monday morning.
“We all know what group needs to play better. That’s on me. So I told those guys [in the locker room], I’ll get it fixed.”
—Coach Adam Gase of the 0-4 Jets, averaging 9.8 points per game, with one TD pass and a composite passer rating of 69.2 (basically, a 1960s passer rating).
“The Giants’ defense couldn’t cover you in a bed with a blanket.”
—FOX’s Michael Strahan, the Hall of Fame former Giant, on New York’s D following the one-sided loss to the Vikings.
Kenny Stills • Houston wide receiver • Photographed in Houston, Texas
At 27, Stills is in his seventh NFL season on his third NFL team—he was drafted by the Saints, traded to Miami in 2015 and then traded with Laremy Tunsil to Houston the week before this season began. Through it all, he’s averaged an impressive 16.0 yards per catch and missed only three games due to injury (including Sunday, when he sat with a bad hamstring and ankle.) As the feature guest on “The Peter King Podcast” this week, Stills talked football and social activism, his off-season trips to work on social-justice issues … and why, two years after the Colin Kaepernick blowup, he’s still taking a knee during the national anthem before every game he plays. One of Stills’ offseason habits: taking a driving trip through parts of the country he doesn’t know well, to see what people are going through today. One of the trips took near his first NFL team, in Louisiana.
“Being in Louisiana, and going to juvenile detention centers—they’re basically little-person prisons. It blows your mind to see 11, 12, 13-year-old kids in a prison-like environment. Like, we’re giving up on them already. It’s frustrating to think a young person makes a mistake, a real critical mistake, and for the rest of their life, they’re supposed to spend it behind bars … We need to do a better job at rehab and re-enter. We just can’t lock people up and leave them in there and expect them to change.
“We [Stills’ foundation] ran a mental-health summit before the season started. We had around 300 kids and their guardians or parents. We talked about feelings and emotions and healthy-living practices, just really trying to get the younger generation to talk about mental health, to talk about the feelings and emotions they’re going through. Give them positive, constructive ways to cope. Working with companies like Head Space, to introduce them to meditation … They can re-wire their brains by thinking positively, thinking positive thoughts and positive self-talk … The more we hold onto [issues], the more they fester and grow and turn into other problems. …
“I’ve still been taking a knee since I’ve been here. You hear people in the crowd who have things to say about it. I’ve gotten good at ignoring those things and trying to continue to do the work that I do. I get out in the community, and meet people, and do a good job of explaining why I’m doing what I’m doing. There are still, daily, issues of police violence … Officers abusing their power is something that’s been happening for a long time. People have had experiences with police brutality. [Some] people say, ‘Thanks for taking a knee. You haven’t forgotten where you come from.’ It’s an issue that still needs to be talked about. When I got here, I went and met with the Houston police chief [Art Acevedo] and we talked about accountability and trying to build strong relations between our community and our law enforcement and that’s what it’s all about.
“For everyone who disagrees with my stance—what I’m doing, what I’m saying—it’s important for us to try and be in another person’s shoes, to try and see their perspective and see where they’re coming from. Everything I’ve ever said or done has been out of love. I’m open to have conversations with people who don’t see or understand, and I think we’ve always come out of those conversations with a little bit more understanding.
“I don’t see the kneeling being something that stops.”
Stills told ESPN’s The Undefeated recently if the kneeling and the activism costs him his football career, he’d understand.
“I’d miss the game. I’m miss the competition, I’d miss the camaraderie and being around the guys in the locker room. But I’m okay with it. I’d rather be able to look myself in the mirror every night … I’m happy with the decisions I’ve made and the person I’ve become and the man that I’m trying to be. If that means I can’t be a part of the NFL or play football, it is what it is. But I’ve got to be able to live with myself and be proud of who I am.”
In the 12 Carolina games since Nov. 5, 2018, here are the quarterback numbers:
Sometimes stats lie. Sometimes they are misleading. The numbers, of course, are stark. But they also do not reflect Newton playing with a bum shoulder or bum foot for virtually all of those eight games.
This Week’s Sign Of The Apocalypse
The 49ers host Cleveland tonight, Oct. 7, 2019, to try to go to 4-0.
Last time the 49ers won to go 4-0: Oct. 7, 1990.
On that day 29 years ago:
• The Niners beat the Houston Oilers, 24-21, in the Astrodome, which was the home of the Oilers till 1996.
• Joe Montana, Roger Craig, Jerry Rice and John Taylor led the San Francisco offense.
• Starting inside ‘backer for the Niners: Matt Millen.
• Olivier Vernon was born in Miami.
• Dallas rookie running back Emmitt Smith had his first 100-yard rushing game as a pro.
• Charles Woodson celebrated his 14th birthday in Fremont, Ohio.
• “Goodfellas” was in theaters. “Home Alone” was in final edits, to be released in November.
During pro football’s 100th season, I’ll re-visit important games, plays, players and events from NFL history.
1989: The best (and maybe most vicious) regular-season game of Joe Montana’s life—49ers 38, Eagles 28.
JOLTIN’ JOE, hollered the cover of the Sports Illustrated issue that arrived in 3.1 million American homes and dental offices after the classic at the Vet in Philly. That was my cover—the second one of my four-month SI career. And it set the stage for what the job was going to be like. Managing editor Mark Mulvoy dispatched me to babysit the game, which the mag did with a game or two every weekend, just in case something big happened. (Man, those were the days.) Oh, something big most definitely happened. Montana got sacked four times in the last seven plays of the first quarter, eight times in all. Reggie White rag-dolled him once, flinging him onto the rug-on-concrete that was the Vet turf. This was a pummeling like Montana had never suffered, with Eagles coach Buddy Ryan sending the house time after time. But then, down 21-10 in the fourth quarter, Montana threw four touchdown passes in 13 minutes—70 yards to John Taylor, 8 yards to Tom Rathman, 24 yards to Brent Jones, 33 yards for insurance to Jerry Rice—and it happened so fast that the Niners had one last series at the end to kneel and bleed the clock.
It had to be the best quarter of Montana’s life, getting battering-rammed for three quarters and coming off the mat to throw four touchdown passes in 13 minutes against the best defense in football.
“Hope you got some good stuff,” Mulvoy told me a couple of hours after the game. “You’ve got the cover.”
Well, you never got good stuff from Montana post-game. Montana post-game in the eighties, Brady post-game today. Same guy.
“You relish being in those situations,” was about as good as Montana got post-game … but the one thing I noticed observing Joe Cool afterward was he wasn’t struggling to get off his stool in the locker room, or wincing putting on his clothes. Nothing. He looked fine.
I do have a lingering memory from that day. It happened as the clock hit :00. I was standing on the field, next to Niners owner Eddie DeBartolo, who might have had a drink in his box during the game. Before or since, I have never seen an owner of a sports franchise as happy as DeBartolo was on this Indian Summer late afternoon. “God, they’re spunky!” he said, waiting for his guys to get to the end zone and the tunnel to their locker room. “I love this team. I’m prouder of them right now than I was at the Super Bowl.”
Then Ronnie Lott came jogging past.
DeBartolo leaped into his arms.
A few years ago, I reminded Montana I’d covered that game, and it was one of the best football games I’d ever seen. Asked him what he remembered about that Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia.
“I got hit a lot, and we won,” he said.
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: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle, Thursday.
Situation: With 1:38 left in the second quarter, Seattle led the Rams 14-6. The Seahawks had fourth down-and-two-feet at the Rams’ 30-yard line.
The decision: Coach Pete Carroll had a choice—send his field-goal man, Jason Myers, out for a 48-yard field-goal try on a chilly evening with 7-mph winds; or try to convert the fourth-and-short and either get closer for a field goal, or try to drive for a touchdown to make it 21-6 at the half.
The thought process: Quizzically, Carroll said after the game: “I was just thinking we were going to win the football game, so keep making the decisions that you know you’re going to win the football game instead of trying to get desperate or something like that. I just figured Jason would make it because he’s such a good kicker.” I say quizzically because to assume it’s easier to make a 48-yard field goal than it is to make two feet with a mobile quarterback like Russell Wilson is questionable.
The analytics: PFF metrics run counter to what Carroll said: The conversion rate of fourth-and-two-feet on that play was 70 percent; the field goal was 65-percent likely. (Converting the fourth down would have left the Seahawks with an 81 percent likelihood of winning the game, versus a 68-percent likelihood if they were stopped on fourth down.)
The result: Carroll chose to send Wilson out to try a hard count to try to draw the Rams offside. That didn’t work. Wilson called a timeout, and Carroll called for the field goal. Myers pushed it right. The Rams drove for a touchdown to make it 14-13 Seattle at the half. Particularly with a strong inside runner in Chris Carson and a versatile and hot quarterback in Wilson—and the fact that even if the field goal had been successful, the Rams would have about 1:33 and one timeout left to drive for a touchdown or field goal before the half.
Sometimes you scratch your head when a smart coach makes a call like this. Four things could have happened with 1:38 left in the half:
• Seattle goes for it and makes it.
• Seattle goes for it and doesn’t make it, giving the Rams possession on the L.A. 30-yard line with about 1:34 to play and one timeout.
• Seattle goes for the field goal and makes it, swelling the lead to 17-6 and giving the Rams the ball back with about 90 seconds and one timeout left.
• Seattle goes for the field goal and misses it, giving the Rams possession on the L.A. 38-yard line with about 1:34 and one timeout left.
In three of the four possibilities, the Rams get the ball back with a timeout and a minute and a half on the clock. It wasn’t a slam dunk to go for it, but it sure seemed like a smarter call.
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What’s your best habit, Chicago QB Chase Daniel?
“I’m pretty OCD, type-A, I think in a good way. Details are big. I am on point, with my job and with my family. Mostly, I’m a people-pleaser. I think of other people.”
What’s your worst habit?
“Probably the same thing. I do care about the people close to me, but I can go overboard with work sometimes. I get a little selfish about work and the time I spend on it. I might care too much about the game sometimes. It’s been good for me to have a son. My wife, Hillary, is pregnant with our second right now. So the perspective of the family has been good to not obsess about the game so much.”
Garrett was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for a tirade against an official.
Three classic moments from the long weekend in San Francisco to celebrate granddaughter Hazel King’s first birthday:
• Walking with 2.7-year-old Freddy King and the dog Crosby on Thursday, we came upon a driveway with a car coming out of the garage. Freddy stopped. Yelled: “HE’S BACKING OUT!” My, my. How precocious.
• Walking to the Peet’s Coffee in the Cole Valley neighborhood Saturday, there was a man playing the accordion, oh, at about 8 in the morning. He was playing “Beat It” by Michael Jackson.
• Saw a man wearing a front-baby-carrier walking in Haight-Ashbury on Sunday morning about 8:30. He also had a pig on a leash.
Faces In The Crowd
Tedric Thompson • Free safety, Seattle • Inglewood, Calif.
Thompson, a 2017 fourth-round pick from Colorado, conjured up Legion of Doom memories in the 30-29 win over the Rams with a juggling interception plucked an inch from the ground with 2:08 left in the game. The first-year starter is trying to be the long-term heir to one of the Seahawks’ all-time greats, Earl Thomas.
Nathan Gerry • Linebacker, Philadelphia • Sioux Falls, S.D.
Better known in high school for track—he won the 100 and 200-meter sprints as a South Dakota high school senior—Gerry started at safety for three years at Nebraska. The Eagles picked him in the fifth round in 2017 and moved him to linebacker. That paid off Sunday, when Gerry made a nifty pick-six off Jets QB Luke Falk.
Jamie Gillan • Punter, Cleveland • Inverness, Scotland
Gillan, a Scottish rugby player as a kid, moved to Maryland five years ago and got a scholarship to punt at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. He earned an invitation to Browns camp this summer. After beating out vet Britton Colquitt for the job, he placed 11 of his 20 September punts inside the 20-yard line, earning NFL Special Teams Player of the Month honors.
Reggie Bonnafon • Running back, Carolina • Louisville, Ky.
With all the focus on Christian McCaffrey—and rightfully so—in the backfield, Bonnafon got his moment in sun in the 34-27 win over Jacksonville. Bonnafon, an undrafted running back from Louisville, broke up a 28-27 game with 3:34 left in fourth quarter, bursting through the line for the game-ensuring 58-yard touchdown run.
Nicholas Morrow • Linebacker, Oakland • Huntsville, Ala.
Undrafted out of tiny Greenville University (enrollment: 930) in Illinois in 2017, Morrow has worked his way to a prominent role in the middle of the Oakland defense. His first-half interception of Chicago’s Chase Daniel in London gave the Raiders a runway to a short touchdown. Morrow also was solid in the run game in a 24-21 upset of the Bears.
Larry Legend. From Lora Walradt: “You know how you name the players of the week in your column every week? Well, if you had the Nicest Guy In Football Player of the Week, Larry Fitzgerald would be it every single week. He shows up, does his job, doesn’t lose his earring, doesn’t have Twitter fights with Rex Ryan, hasn’t whined-bullied-badgered-misbehaved his way off a team, and is an active, contributing member of the community he lives and plays in. By the way, I’m a Seahawks fan who lives in Phoenix, and I root for Larry whenever he has the ball.”
I’m sure he’ll appreciate that. Thanks, Lora.
Thanks, but I’m not the only one who does it. From Noah Cary: “I have always wondered, how do you get interviews with players and front office staff scheduled so quickly after a game or big performance? I am imagining that it has a lot to do with knowing the PR staff for each team, but is there other ways that you go about it? Logistically, it is really impressive.”
Appreciate the kind words, Noah. I believe it was about 12 to 15 years ago that I asked some NFL PR guys if, after a big win that year, if they’d get me a player or coach on the phone from the locker room or plane. The response was pretty positive, I think because of the reach of my Monday Morning Quarterback column at the time. Most often I’ll put out four or five texts in the fourth quarter of games to the PR guys of teams with players I’d like to get. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. My batting average is maybe .600, but I’m careful not to ask unless I’m sure I’m going to use it in the column.
The teams that just had a huge win are pretty likely to help, even with guys in big demand. I got Philip Rivers on the team bus on the way from the Meadowlands to Newark Airport after the Chargers won their first game in 2017. I got Rex Ryan after the Jets shocked the Patriots in Foxboro in the 2010 playoffs, talking about playing six and seven DBs regularly. I got John Harbaugh, on the team bus on the way to the airport, after the Ravens did the same two years later. I got Chase Daniel last week—he was nice to do it—from his home while he watched the Sunday night game with his son.
But I’m not the only one. Albert Breer does it in his column, and Mike Florio does it for the Sunday night games and for Pro Football Talk. Give those guys credit for beating the bushes too. And you’re right: I could not do this without the media-relations guys around the league. Most often, I’m not getting the quarterback or the guy who just scored three touchdowns and has a throng waiting for him without the help of the media guys.
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 5:
a. Teddy Bridgewater. Gaining confidence by the week, he’s 3-0 after an impressive performance in the 31-24 win over the non-pushover Bucs.
b. There are so many special receivers in football today. Michael Thomas is in the top three. What a performance against Tampa.
c. Playing on a bad ankle, Amari Cooper had 11 catches, 226 yards and a touchdown, matched up mostly against excellent young cornerback Jaire Alexander. Cooper kept Dallas in a game when Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott weren’t very good.
d. The Houston offensive line: 53 points, zero sacks allowed. That lopsided Laremy Tunsil trade? Might not be such a lopsided trade.
e. The poise of Pittsburgh quarterback Devlin Hodges, coming into a rivalry game and playing competitively.
f. The Raiders. At 3-2 and entering their bye week, they’re better than we thought, and maybe by a lot.
h. The officiating on the Allen Robinson sideline catch on the ensuing fourth-quarter drive. Robinson made a diving catch while being hit hard on the sideline, and at full speed, it looked impossible that Robinson got both feet down. But he did. Just perfectly called. Two officials got together on the sideline, ignored the noise from the Bears surrounding them, and called it correctly. Jon Gruden’s challenge flag didn’t work.
i. Frank Gore, closer. Trying to hold a 14-7 lead with three minutes left at Tennessee, from the Buffalo 39, Gore ran for 11 and then 19 and then four and then three, causing the Titans to bleed their final two timeouts
j. Dalvin Cook, 21 rushes for 132 yards at the Giants. Not the impact of McCaffrey, but very close.
k. Will Fuller IV had the game of his life—three touchdowns, 217 yards—and showed the Texans aren’t a one-star-receiver attack.
l. Mike Pettine. The Packers defensive coordinator is showing the kind of smothering game plans he can put up with some defensive pressure and cover guys.
m. Brandon Graham (three sacks, two more QB hits) was superb Sunday, though it came against the wounded animal known as the New York Jets offensive line.
n. “Lee Smith! Former Cubs closer!” Good line by DirecTV’s Red Zone host, Andrew Siciliano, after the Buffalo tight end’s first-half TD at Tennessee.
o. Excellent officiating on a strange play in London by Tony Corrente’s crew, calling Lamarcus Joyner of the Raiders for holding and pass interference on Chicago wideout Allen Robinson on the same play. Both calls perfect. Joyner held, then mugged Robinson a few steps later.
p. Excellent analysis by FOX’s Mark Schlereth on a Raider turnover, explaining by listening to the audible at the line by Derek Carr how he checked out of one run play to another—and running back Josh Jacobs didn’t get the check. So Jacobs at the snap surged forward for a handoff, and Carr pitched the ball to nowhere. That’s what you pay analysts to do—show us things we figured might have happened and illuminate what happened and why.
q. Under pressure and running to his right, Chase Daniel finding a diving Allen Robinson with a four-yard third-quarter touchdown pass, capping an 89-yard drive and getting the Bears back into the game in London.
r. Patriots 33, Washington 7 might be the most predictable score in the history of the NFL (he wrote, only partly in jest).
s. Matt LaFleur. That is all.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 5:
a. Highly uncharacteristic of Jason Garrett, losing his cool and screaming at side judge Scott Edwards late in the third quarter of a lost cause, getting a 15-yard flag in the process.
b. Dallas, 3-2. Strange. Dak Prescott with two invisible games in a row against New Orleans and Green Bay.
c. Two straight Dallas turnovers early in the fourth quarter, negated by Packer penalties.
d. Flags, flags everywhere.
e. Same old Jets.
f. I can write it every week. The Steelers are competitive with a third quarterback. The Jets look like a Patriot League team with one. And nine sacks? And 128 yards?
g. Same old Washington.
h. On offense, 220 total yards and lost at quarterback. A Jay Gruden team with 119 passing yards.
i. Just a matter of time for Gruden in Washington, obviously.
j. Stats Lie Dept.: Jared Goff has thrown for 912 yards in the last two weeks, and the Rams have scored 69 points in those two games. They’re 0-2.
k. Andy Dalton’s play. Despite his two late TD passes, and realizing he’s at a major disadvantage because of his poor line, but he missed a wide-open Tyler Eifert in the end zone in a winnable game against Arizona.
l. Chase Daniel somehow not seeing the linebacker, who should have been right in his sights, and throwing a costly pick to Nicholas Morrow of the Raiders. And then throw into three Raiders to lose the game with 1:14 left—probably on a miscommunication with Anthony Miller.
m. The cart in Pittsburgh.
n. “I guess $15 billion a year can’t buy you a working medical cart,” George Atallah of the NFLPA tweeted. That non-working cart—or non-working operator of the cart—caused a woozy Mason Rudolph to have to walk off the field, struggling all the way, instead of being carted off. Just an awful look.
o. Awful replay non-reversal on what was ruled a catch on the field by Diontae Johnson of the Steelers. Johnson bobbled/caught it, took one step and the ball was poked out of bounds by the Ravens defender. “I would have made that an incomplete pass,” said Gene Steratore on CBS. As would I.
p. “What a joke,” John Harbaugh seemed to say on the sideline after the “catch” was upheld. He was right.
q. Jalen Hurd, the third-round rookie wide receiver from Baylor, went on IR with a back injury. The reason I don’t like this? I thought Hurd was the most impressive rookie I saw on my camp tour this summer. He has the body, fearlessness and presence of a four-year vet, and would have been a huge factor right away for the Niners. Well, wait till next year.
r. Roquan Smith. A checkered year continued with a weak game against the Raiders in London. He got blocked into the end zone by a tight end in the first half on a Raider TD, then allowed rookie tight end Foster Moreau to make a big catch inside the 5 on the go-ahead Raider drive in the fourth quarter, then couldn’t stop Josh Jacobs on the go-ahead leaping touchdown at the goal line. Those are plays Smith was drafted to make.
s. Great game, Aaron Jones. But that was a major faux pas, running for minus-10 in the fourth quarter with your team trying to run out the clock against Dallas.
t. It’s not just missing field goals. It’s when you miss them. Dallas youngster Brett Maher missed two in the 10-point loss to Green Bay … and the 33-yarder with 1:44 to go (essentially, an extra point) would have made it a one-score game. But he pushed it nine inches to the right (who knows how I come up with those silly distances) to cap the Green Bay victory.
u. Melvin Gordon’s first game back: 16 touches, 38 yards, Chargers lose to the formerly winless Broncos. I’m just saying.
3. I think any list of the 100 greatest anythings of all time is sure to have its share of demonstrably silly decisions. And such lists are people’s opinion, so who I am to say my opinion is more valid than anyone else’s. But on the NFL’s list of the top 100 games of all time, the New England-Atlanta Super Bowl was number nine. The greatest quarterback of all-time, in his signature game, being down by 25 with 20 minutes to play, and leading four scoring drives and converting two 2-point conversions to send the game to overtime (while shaking off getting the wind knocked out of him on a brutal torso shot from relentless Grady Jarrett of the Falcons), then driving the length of the field with the first possession of OT … in a Super Bowl. I mean, stop. There are not eight games in NFL history better and more dramatic than that one.
4. I think the most interesting thing in a strong story by Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times about Rams receiver Cooper Kupp was the part about Kupp—the Rams believe—being faster today after ACL surgery than he was before the procedure last fall. Read this from the story:
“Kupp meticulously studied video of his form, breaking it down in super slo-mo, and the results were astounding. He said he’s between 1.5-to-2 mph faster than he was before his injury. “It’s a little crazy,” said Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who performed the ACL reconstruction. “We’ve never had this GPS data until the last few years, but I can tell you that’s typically not the way it goes the first year back. He’s surprising everybody.”
Lots of good meat on the bone in the story about a guy we don’t know much about, and it figures Farmer, who is good, found all of it.
5. I think Stefon Diggs to the Patriots at the trading deadline makes sense, especially if the season goes south for Minnesota. Say, for second and fourth-round picks in 2020. A first-rounder strikes me as too rich for Diggs, but a low second isn’t enough. New England never worries about the consequences of trading picks, and won’t if in three weeks they’re getting zero tight end production and still are needy at wideout.
6. I think what makes the trade pretty attractive for New England is that Diggs is 25, has a contract reasonable for a good to very good wideout, and has zero guaranteed money in the last year of it. So the Patriots could cut him before his age-30 season in 2023 without financial consequences. Would you want Diggs, now 25, for the next 3.5 years at $37.2 million? I sure would, if what I had to give up was, say, the 60th and 125th picks to get him.
7. I think I have an issue with Oakland QB Derek Carr, after Vontaze Burfict was suspended for the rest of the season by the NFL following his helmet-to-helmet hit on Colts tight end Jack Doyle, saying of Burfict:
“He is one of the most misunderstood people in the NFL.”
“I know that he’s had history at places, but I think people change.”
“I don’t think it’s fair that if we really got to know the guy, if the people making the decisions really know the guy that we know inside our building …”
“I don’t think he was trying to hurt that man.”
Oh, we understand Burfict. He’s been suspended or fined, mostly for cheap shots, 15 times in the last seven years. He hits people in the head, and there is no indication that he has any intention of stopping. I’ve watched the hit on Doyle 10 times, and Burfict lowered his head, and began to launch himself into Doyle, helmet to helmet, with Doyle totally defenseless. One of the most misunderstood people? People change? If we really got to know the guy? Stop. I don’t care if the guy is the second coming of Mr. Rogers off the field. Off the field is not what Vontaze Burfict does. On the field is, and the NFL was absolutely right to ban him for the season. His appeal hearing is Tuesday.
8. I think the sad part is the NFLPA has to back Burfict in his appeal. I wish the NFLPA would back Jack Doyle.
9. I think Chicago-Oakland was the best game the NFL has played in London, of the 25 regular-season affairs since 2007. There was a 37-32 barnburner, Saints over Chargers, in 2008, and it was a good game. This one—Raiders 24, Bears 21—was memorable because of the upset, because the Raiders scored the first 17 and it looked like an Oakland rout, and the Bears scored the next 21 and it looked like a Chicago rout, and the Raiders won on a late 97-yard drive no one expected. The new stadium at Tottenham was the loudest, consistently, of any of the British venues. All in all, from 5,400 miles away it looked like a heck of a good time, the kind of event the NFL wants to use to parlay London eventually into an NFL city.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Story of the Week: Eli Saslow of the Washington Post, on the incredible paucity of quality medical care in rural America, particularly Texas.
b. One doctor for an area the size of Maryland. Wow. Just wow.
c. And 159 of 254 counties in Texas do not have a general surgeon working there.
d. Baseball Story of the Week: by Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal, on how the Rays made the playoffs despite having an opening-day payroll of half the league average.
e. Rays GM Chaim Bloom: “Baseball is a game where nothing is guaranteed, nothing is certain. … We know there are challenges we face financially, but we don’t let ourselves be limited by them. We use them to inspire us, to spur us to work harder and be more creative.”
f. I love that attitude. (Well, Charlie Morton helped.)
g. Man, the agony of defeat: Sometimes Baseball Can Be Brutal, by Robert Murray of The Athletic, with a great first paragraph on Trent Grisham, the Brewer who made the error allowing the winning run to score in the National League Wild Card game.
WASHINGTON — Trent Grisham sat alone in the Brewers clubhouse, leaning forward in his chair and wiping away tears when he was embraced by Mike Moustakas. For nearly three minutes, Moustakas whispered words of encouragement into his ear. Afterward, Grisham stood up, shook his hand and muttered the words, “Thank you.”
h. Sometimes you just paint the picture of what you saw and get out of the way.
i. Arch Manning, the nephew of Peyton and Eli and son of Cooper, is starting at quarterback as a high school freshman in New Orleans. And he’s getting a lot of pub for it. What is he, 15? All in favor of letting a kid be a kid and leaving him alone for a while, raise your hands.
j. Coffeenerdness: A reader told me to try the Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew at Starbucks. I did. (I always do what I’m told.) It was extremely tasty. Even had some coffee in it, rumor has it.
k. Beernerdness: Loved the Long Root Pale Ale (Patagonia Provisions, Portland, Ore.), which is made by a subsidiary of the clothing company, with a new grain called Kernza—which uses much less water in these environmentally conscious times than regular wheat. All I know is it’s crisp, a little like a witbier with a faint taste of citrus, and just a pleasant beer.
l. Can’t believe it’s been two years, but this tribute to a late, great artist happened two years ago today in Gainesville, Fla.
m. Congrats on a quarter century at the NFL to a pro’s pro in media relations, Brian McCarthy. Good working with you over the years, Brian.
n. I don’t want to erase the rest of the Astros-Rays series, nor the Yankees-Twins. But I’d love to see Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole (14.2 innings, five hits, no earned runs, 23 Ks) go against the Yankees four times—potentially—in a series. Talk about strength against strength.
o. What a cool environment the Oakland stadium is for a baseball playoff game. Just wish they’d win a game more than once in a blue moon.
p. The Nats are pesky. And I like how they went all-in (Max Scherzer in relief) to win Game 2 against the Dodgers in L.A. I mean, why not?
• Tonight: Santa Clara, Calif. Browns at 49ers. Sneaky good Monday night game
• Thursday: Foxboro, Mass. Daniel Jones-Tom Brady I. (And probably the only matchup, unless you see Brady playing either somewhere else, or till 46 in New England.) Talk about being a pain the backside of Belichick—the Giants in the Eli Manning Era have been 3-2 against the Patriots, with the only New York losses by 38-35 (in the final regular-season game of New England’s 16-0 season in 2007) and by 27-26 in 2015—when the 8-0 Patriots needed a 54-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski with one second left to pull out a 27-26 win over the Giants. You can’t love the Giants in this game, but you’ve got to at least acknowledge the fact that they’ve had no fear of the great franchise to the northeast.
• Friday: Bay Area, Calif. Happy 58th birthday, Steve Young.
• Sunday: Miami Gardens, Fla. Washington (0-5) at Miami (0-4). It’s the First Pick In The 2020 NFL Draft Bowl! I can report exclusively that last night in Vegas, the sports books had a conference call and agreed that both teams would open as 16-point dogs.
Life Of Reilly
People bought SI to read the back page of the magazine because Rick Reilly made it appointment reading with his “Life of Reilly” column. Reilly left SI in December 2007 for a job at ESPN. Now he lives part-time in Italy and part-time in southern California. His book, “Commander In Cheat,” about the dubious golfing exploits of Donald Trump, came out earlier this year. When I reached him in Florence (Italy, not Kentucky) on Saturday to ask if he’d write one last Point After in honor of last week’s bloodletting at SI, he said he’d love to do it.
By Rick Reilly
“So what was it like this — what was it called — Sports Illustrated?”
Looking back on it, working there, it seems like a dream now. We were just sportswriters and yet we flew first class. I flew on the Concord once. And your boss would get mad if you didn’t spend your entire yearly expense account.
It was a pile of money they’d give us to take athletes and coaches out to dinner.
“Athletes went out to dinner with you?”
All the time. Or we’d drink with them. Once, I bought Ickey Woods a first-class flight from Cincinnati to Fresno just so I could sit next to him on the flight. Anything to find out more good stuff for your story.
“What was so icky about him?”
Just his name.
“Wait. So how would you find these athletes to ask them to dinner?”
In the locker room?
“You got to be in the locker room with the actual athletes?”
Of course! Don’t you?
“Nah. Here at ClickCrazy.com we just all sit in this big boiler room and watch sports on TV and then rewrite it into 300 words. But we get $25 a story.”
Oh. Well, at SI, you could go wherever you needed to, as long as you wrote the best story in the country about that subject. All my heroes worked for SI: Jim Murray, Dan Jenkins, Frank Deford.
“The old car?”
Uh, that’s the DeSoto. Anyway, the leeway they gave writers was unreal. I once got six weeks to write a 10-page feature on Patrick Ewing and I never used a single quote from him.
“Ten pages of what?”
“You mean a ‘zine?”
No, a magazine. Like, with paper and staples. It came in the mailbox. You have a mailbox, right?
“I don’t think so. But you had to tweet and blog and podcast all those six weeks, too, right?”
None of that stuff existed. All they cared about was you writing a killer piece. They’d put it with these amazing photos. We had the best photographers in the world. They’d go through 1,000 rolls of film to get 5 pictures.
Analog pixels. We had fantastic editors, too. Your piece would get three layers of editing.
“Layers of editing? We don’t even have editing.”
I noticed. Then it would go through the fact checkers and—
“Whoa! People had whole jobs just checking facts?”
I mean, you didn’t want to get a letter.
“People wrote you letters? Like, with stamps?”
Yeah. And they’d sign them with their name and address.
“But how can people troll writers doing that?”
They couldn’t. It was lovely.
“So all these good stories and photos, then what?”
Well, then they’d ship it out and millions upon millions of people would savor it. SI was part of the fabric woven through American sports fans. They’d read it cover to cover.
“On their phones?”
On their couches.
“So how much time would it would take to put out all this stuff?”
Fastest turnaround was four days.
“What?! Four days? That’s so whack! Here at ClickCrazy.com, we’d have 20 stories about that game by then.”
And do people remember those stories years later? Do they save them in boxes? Do people come up to the ClickCrazy.com writers 10 years later and tell them how their stories moved them to tears?
“No. But sometimes we get a funny comment at the bottom.”
“So what happened to this Sports Illustrated thing?”
The internet. Apple. ESPN. People forgot how to savor. After a while, young people only knew us for the swimsuit issue.
“Oh, yeah! We just bought that! We’re gonna slap that on our new ads. It’s gonna say: ClickCrazy and the SI Swimsuit Issue: The Perfect Pair!
And both have hardly any material, right?
“Oooh. Can I use that?”
It’s the end of the
SI world as we know it,
and I don’t feel fine.