There’s weirdness in every NFL season. We learned a lot about football Sunday, with some of it being quite offbeat.
“Wow, wow, wow,” Devlin Hodges said an hour after he quarterbacked the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Chargers in California, one year to the day from beating VMI as the quarterback at tiny Samford (Ala.) University. “What a wild ride. I won an NFL game. What a feeling. What a feeling.”
Hodges over Philip Rivers was a fitting end to the day that had other weirdness. The San Francisco defense is starting to play in New England’s league, the Chiefs have some legitimate problems, we’ve got a real MVP race, the glory guys of the 2015 draft are on contractual life support, Lamar Jackson can play any way he and the Ravens want, and it’s almost wait till next year for the Browns (again).
And Dallas lost to the Jets.
Jameis turned it over six times.
No NFC team is worse than the Falcons.
Unexpected story: Crisis in L.A. Make that Crises in L.A.
But you love quarterbacks. So on the weekend that the 2018 Alabama Duck Calling Champion won the Sunday night game for the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers, we open FMIA with the first verity of a strange football weekend.
1. There’s a changing of the guard at quarterback.
Jimmy Garoppolo, Teddy Bridgewater, Kyle Allen and Devlin Hodges (the duck-caller) are 14-0. Brady’s still winning and Brees will be back, but the signs are there for the new. The 2004 class is fading away, with Eli Manning benched, Ben Roethlisberger out for the year and Philip Rivers 2-4. Exactly half of the league’s 32 teams are starting passers in their third year of starting experience or less. When ex-MVP Cam Newton, 30, can go from starry starter to hurt to wondering if he’ll get his job back when he’s healthy, you realize that NFL, as Jerry Glanville once made famous on NFL Films, stands for Not For Long.
“Perfect,” Darnold said after stunning the Cowboys in New Jersey, about the fact the 6-0 Patriots are on deck for him and his 1-4 team.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” he said. “I want to play the best. It’s great.”
When I asked Hodges about all the young quarterbacks playing early and playing well, he was naively honest, which I appreciated.
“To be honest,” he said, “that’s a good question, and I wish I had an answer. I don’t know. I just know, for me, this is something I’ve believed I could do since I was 5 years old. Nothing about this scares me. In college, we were throwing it 50, 60 times a game, and I got a lot of good experience. I just believe I can play.”
What else we learned in Week 6:
2. The 49ers are a revelation.
Maybe it was when bull-strong pass-rusher Nick Bosa walked Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth back into Jared Goff early in the Niners-Rams game. Or maybe it happened late in the second quarter, when the Niners stoned the Rams’ Malcolm Brown twice on plunges from the 1-yard line. More likely, it came in the fourth quarter, this realization that the San Francisco defense, at least in the NFC, is as good as it gets.
Niners up 20-7, Rams have the ball fourth-and-one at the L.A. 44-yard line, 10:26 to play. Sean McVay decided to go for it. Rookie back Darrell Henderson, steamed straight ahead, and safety Jimmie Ward sprinted through a crease on the offensive right side, evading a Robert Woods block, dove and hugged Henderson by both shins, and he fell two feet short of the first down. Three minutes later, now on third-and-two at the Niners’ 28, Ward rocked tight end Gerald Everett, breaking up a pass that would have been a first down if caught. Now another fourth down.
There’s a route in the NFL called a “Jerk Route.” The offense attempts to isolate a wideout on a linebacker or safety on a very short curl—or a short curl and quick cross, to create space. Cooper Kupp of the Rams, from the slot, is very good at it. And now the Rams wanted to run it to try to save the game. “I see it in practice every day,” Ward told me from L.A. after the game. “Our guys do it. They work on those shifty routes every day. I’m used to it. I see how their offense tries to set it up, so I knew they were gonna try to run it on this fourth down. Kupp, with no Rams receivers in his area code, posted up near the middle of the field, then darted to Goff’s right to get free of Ward. When the pass was right on Kupp, Ward enveloped him and hog-tied him to the ground. Incomplete.
Twice in three minutes, on fourth down with San Francisco protecting a two-score lead, Ward stopped two drives by himself.
“I’d wear Jimmie Ward’s jersey on the sideline if they’d let me,” said Niners coach Kyle Shanahan.
The Niners have held two offenses with good weapons, the Browns and Rams, to 10 points in the last eight quarters. They’re 5-0, and it’s the defense that’s the key right now—a hammering front with a team of physical cover players mindful of the Legion of Boom. Ironic that Richard Sherman is having a revived year at corner. “This game was fun,” said Ward, a sixth-year Niner playing for something for the first time in his career. “This is my first year playing in games like that. We’ve got 11 guys swarming to the ball. Not about one guy. It’s about all 11 getting to the ball.”
3. The Rams and Chargers aren’t L.A.’s darlings anymore.
In 2018, the Rams lost three regular-season games. The Chargers lost four.
In 2019, through six weeks, the Rams have lost three regular-season games. The Chargers have lost four.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff (7.0 yards per attempt, seven TDs, seven picks) has been inconsistent and didn’t have time or a pocket Sunday to do much. But I wouldn’t give up on the Rams; they scored 69 points in the two games prior to Sunday, only to be let down by the defense and a shanked kick by Greg Zuerlein. The Chargers are another story. They’ve scored 20 or less four times in six games, losing all four. They miss Derwin James. Philip Rivers is getting hounded out of the pocket too much. With four formidable pass-rushes on the schedule in the next month (Tennessee, Chicago, Green Bay, Oakland), it’ll be a challenge for the Chargers to get back in the pennant race.
4. Evidently, Lamar Jackson’s going to run.
When I went to Ravens camp this summer, the vibe was that Jackson’s penchant for running—he averaged 17 rushes per game in his seven regular-season starts in 2018—wouldn’t be duplicated in 2019. He even told Ben Shpigel of the New York Times in September, in a story published Sunday, “I hate running … I like throwing touchdowns instead of running them.” He’s gone back to his old ways the last couple of weeks, running 33 times for 222 yards, including 19 times for a gaudy 152 yards in the win over Cincinnati and its porous run defense Sunday. It was an odd game, though. The Ravens put up 23 points, and it felt like it should been 40.
“We’re just going to do what the defense gives us,” Jackson told me post-game. “The game’s so fast. I’ve got a sharp mind. I really don’t care if I’m running or passing. Just win games.”
“So what percent of your runs today were designed runs, and what percent did you take off because of pressure?” I asked.
“Ninety percent were designed,” he said. “Ten percent I took off on my own.”
Likely that has something to do with Cincinnati allowing 5.3 yards per rush. But Jackson’s apace to carry it 184 times, and we’ll see if the Ravens want him to be exposed that much. From the pocket or using his mobility, Jackson’s a fascinating watch, and he plenty’s accurate (.651) in case he decides eventually to pass first and second, and maybe third. He’ll be tested when Baltimore plays Seattle and New England in the next two games.
5. The Cowboys look like a 3-3 team.
Of all the team fan bases I pissed off with my preseason predictions, picking the Cowboys to not make the playoff seemed to enrage the most people. I take no joy in Dallas losing three straight, including Sunday’s all-day-struggle of a 24-22 loss to the previously 0-4 Jets. But this is a team with problems entering the NFC East showdown with similarly disappointing Philadelphia, also 3-3, next Sunday night in Texas. The Cowboys can’t be great with their offensive injuries; they’re just too thin to survive the loss of both tackles (Tyron Smith and La’el Collins) and two prime receivers (Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb). The problem with Dallas is they feasted on three down teams early (Giants, Washington, Miami) and now don’t have many breathers the rest of the way—maybe against the Giants and Washington.
I was bothered by one thing that had to do with coaching Sunday. In particular, offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. On the two-point conversion attempt after Dallas rallied within two points in the closing seconds, you had to figure defensive coordinator Gregg Williams of the Jets would send an extra rusher or rushers at Dak Prescott. He sent his best: safety Jamal Adams, who came up the middle, blocked by no one. Tell me: How does one of the best blitzing safeties come straight at the quarterback, straight up the middle, without being accounted for? That’s a question I’d be asking in a the offensive staff meeting today if I were Jerry Jones and I couldn’t sleep when I got back to Dallas just thinking about that scheme disaster.
6. Teddy Bridgewater is a perfect man for this time.
When Drew Brees got hurt in Los Angeles in Week 2, the Rams routed the Saints. At 1-1 and with Brees set to miss four to six weeks, it was a restless time inside Saintsland. The Saints stayed out west that week, and when they got to Seattle for their Week 3 game, Bridgewater decided to invite his offensive mates to dinner one night. The entire offense came. Michael Thomas spoke. Terron Armstead spoke. And then Bridgewater, who is quite reserved, stood. He told his teammates, ‘I’m not Drew Brees. I’m Teddy Bridgewater. And it’s not about me, at all. It’s about the team.” He told them he was going to do everything he could to make the men in that room believe in him.
He’s done a good job accomplishing that, to be sure. Seattle was 2-0, and Bridgewater led the Saints to victory. Dallas came to New Orleans 3-0 the next week, and the Saints won again. Then they rolled over Tampa Bay and played close to the vest in Jacksonville, winning 13-6 on Sunday.
This is not the Brees Saints. New Orleans, uncharacteristically, is plus-six in scoring margin. (Same as the mediocre Titans.) Brees should take the job back when he’s healthy, of course. But if Bridgewater does nothing else this season, his calm demeanor, competent play and strong presence, as well as his hold-the-fort 4-0 record, has been more than anyone expected in New Orleans. And his play verifies the faith GM Mickey Loomis and coach Sean Payton had in him to pay a backup quarterback $7.25 million for the year.
Five truths, in staccato fashion
• Sam Darnold’s the genuine item. “The worst part about being out was I was healthy for the last three weeks, but my spleen was enlarged,” Darnold said after the win over Dallas, speaking about sitting with mono. “I had great energy. I really felt fine. But the tests that came back just showed I couldn’t play because of the spleen.” He’ll play better, and he’ll play four quarters better. But there were glimpses of what Adam Gase saw when he started working with Darnold in April. His 92-yard deep-strike TD to Robby Anderson, with the ball thrown 47 yards in the air, on target, was worthy of the wait for Darnold over the past month. “We needed it so bad,” he said. “Being 0-4 is just so awful.”
• The end looks close for at least one of the class of 2015. Classy Marcus Mariota got yanked after another wholly ineffective performance for much of the 16-0 Tennessee loss to Denver. Looks like GM Jon Robinson will lead a search for another quarterback in the 2020 draft. Mariota’s a perfect person, but he’s played to the level of a backup quarterback after being the second overall pick in 2015. The first pick that year, Jameis Winston, looked like he’d earned a second contract from Tampa Bay with his above-average play in weeks two through five. But his six-turnover game against Carolina on Sunday has to give GM Jason Licht pause. Licht badly wants to keep Winston and sign him, but he’s got to be smart too. The Bucs come out of the bye in 13 days with four road games in six weeks. Which, for Winston right now, might be the best thing.
• Yes, I do think the Chiefs face some trouble. Two home losses the last two Sundays are more than just a warning across the bow. These numbers are troubling: 37:15, 39:48. Those are the times of possession for the Colts and Texans in their wins over Kansas City. You know why those are so high? Because both teams wisely played keepaway from Patrick Mahomes, which you can do by running the ball a lot. And why wouldn’t you run on the Chiefs? They’re allowing 5.2 yards per rush. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo needs to tighten up that front, or it’ll be yet another year that the Chiefs Kingdom spends a bitter February wondering what might have been.
• The MVP is a horse race. As of this morning, my pick would be Seattle QB Russell Wilson. Patrick Mahomes would be second, Deshaun Watson third, Tom Brady fourth and probably Christian McCaffrey fifth. Would love to pick a Niner somewhere. Of course, it’s all fruitless to list several guys, because in the official MVP voting, conducted by the Associated Press, 50 voters pick one candidate, and one only.
• The Steelers found a keeper caretaker, and maybe more. When Chris Simms and I visited Steelers camp in August, we heard about this quarterback I’d never come across before: Devlin Hodges of Samford, in Alabama. Word was the rookie was afraid of nothing, came in and out of huddles like he’d been there. “My goal was to make the final 53, and if not, then the practice squad,” Hodges said last night. But he didn’t make the team out of camp. He went home to Alabama, waiting for the phone to ring. Then his agent, Bus Cook, told him the Jets were interested in working him out, and to hustle to Birmingham to fly to New Jersey. Hold on. Driving to the airport, Hodges heard from Cook again. Turns out the Steelers wanted to sign him to the practice squad. Hodges never went to Jersey. He went back home and packed to live in Pittsburgh for a while. He joined the practice squad Sept. 10, then was put on the active roster a week later. And when Mason Rudolph was concussed last week, the job was Hodges’. “The game’s the same, but the players are faster,” he said of the difference between Samford and the Steelers. He completed 15 of 20 for 132 yards, and he threw a 26-yard catch-and-run TD pass to James Connor to give Pittsburgh a 21-0 lead in the second quarter. How did it all feel, I wondered, to be in the NFL and win a game. “Well, I won an NFL game, and they can never take that away from me,” Hodges said, walking onto the plane for the return to Pittsburgh. “But right now, I am so hungry. And I want to look at my phone; I’m sure everyone from home’s been leaving me messages.” Who knows how long the dream will last? With the Steelers on their bye this week, Mason Rudolph will have a week to come out of the concussion protocol. Whatever, the Steelers know they’ve got a good insurance policy in Hodges now.
The NFL is Blowing This
I hate talking about officiating. I hate writing about officiating. Fans don’t wake up Sunday morning in Tacoma to watch football and wonder if incidental contact on a Russell Wilson-to-Tyler Lockett pass downfield is enough to constitute interference. They wake up to say, Tough game for Russell today in Cleveland. Hope he can do enough to win.
But to me, enough’s enough with this new pass-interference replay rule. Thursday night was the death blow for it. Watch this play from the fourth quarter of the Patriots’ 35-14 win over the Giants. It’s Golden Tate of the Giants, doing an intermediate in-route with Patriots corner Jonathan Jones in coverage.
As Tate rises to try to catch the pass, Jones, behind him, uses his right arm to clearly pin Tate’s right arm to his right side. It appears, though it’s not absolutely certain, that Jones’ left arm interferes with Tate’s left arm too, but that’s not clear and obvious from this view. The only clear and obvious part is Jones arriving way early with his right arm to inhibit Tate. As the pass arrives, Tate is unable to use both hands in any way to try to make the catch, and he falls to the ground, aided by Jones. Incomplete. Textbook defensive pass interference. But on the field, there is no flag for interference.
Let’s go back in time now, to the league meetings in March, when the league passed a rules change for one year to allow coaches to throw the challenge flag in the first 28 minutes of a half to force a review on an interference call they felt was not interference, or to challenge a play that they felt was interference but no flag was thrown. “The standard [to change a call] is clear and obvious visual evidence,” senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron said. NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said, “Our credibility is on the line.”
Owners voted to change the rule primarily because of the bad non-call in the NFC title game. But the rule that was written didn’t discriminate. It didn’t say, To be called tighter in playoff games. Section 2, Article 1 of the replay review was written this way: “An on-field ruling will be changed only when the senior vice president of officiating or his or her designee determines that clear and obvious video evidence warrants a change.”
When NFL officials met for their annual officiating seminar in July in Dallas, Riveron, speaking to them, stressed that to change a call, “clear and obvious visual evidence” for a change would be needed. Those in the room said he must have used the phrase 15 times in discussing how instant replay would be used to uphold or change rulings on the field. One of the plays Riveron used for an example of a play he’d have changed: the deep fourth-quarter throw in the Super Bowl from Jared Goff, intended for Brandin Cooks, with Stephon Gilmore of the Patriots in coverage.
There was no flag for defensive pass interference thrown on this play. All through the offseason, Riveron said this was interference on Gilmore, and a flag should have been thrown. And under the rules change, he’d rule defensive pass interference on the Patriots. Gilmore, Riveron said, “grabs [Cooks’] hand and does not allow [Cooks] to get his hand up. That is a foul. So we would put one [a flag] down on this. He significantly hinders the opponent’s opportunity to make a play on the ball. That is a foul.”
Let’s go back to the Tate/Jones play Thursday night. After no flag for pass interference was thrown on the field, Giants coach Pat Shurmur threw the challenge flag. Referee Brad Allen, after consulting with Riveron in the New York officiating command center, said the play would stand as called on the field. No pass interference.
Riveron said with certainty that the Cooks play was interference and ruled the Tate play was not interference.
If Riveron truly believes that—and he must, because he was strident in the off-season about Cooks and strident enough Thursday night to not overturn the Tate non-call—then Roger Goodell should either read him the riot act today or order him to call interference the way it was voted on last March.
You cannot watch football with any neutrality and say the Cooks play was interference and the Tate play was not. Twice the Tate play should have been called pass interference. It’s inarguable.
I talk to coaches and I talk to general managers. They are getting the point now: It is futile to throw a challenge flag on a pass-interference call or non-call. “But if it’s going to be next to impossible to change a PI call,” one GM told me Friday, “why was the rule changed in the first place? Why go through this huge exercise if the league’s decided nothing’s going to change?” As Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com reported, only one of 21 challenged calls between Week 3 through Thursday night’s Pats-Giants game was changed. This is not why the rule was modified last March. The rule was changed to fix obvious mistakes. If the Tate call was not a mistake, then the Nickell Robey-Coleman non-PI call in the NFC Championship Game was not a mistake.
What the league has made obvious is this: If it’s a game with huge implications, we’ll make the call. If it’s a 35-14 game in October with three minutes left with a 2-4 team being wronged, we’re not changing it. Nothing to see here, move along.
It turns out this rules change, through six weeks, has had a quite incredible unintended consequence: It has made the public, and the 32 teams, trust NFL officiating even less than it did when Nickell Robey-Coleman plowed into Tommylee Lewis in the Superdome nine months ago.
More Brains Examined, More CTE Findings
The brains of deceased former football players used to trickle into the CTE Center at Boston University. But the spate of publicity about CTE and the worried families wanting to know the truth about their late football-playing loved ones have increased the donations in recent years so that now about 600 brains of former players at all levels of football have been sent to the BU facility for examination. “We’re getting four times the donations we were getting five years ago,” said Chris Nowinski, co-founder of the Concussion Legacy Institute. Not all have been studied yet. In a recent study by the Annals of Neurology publication, we learned:
• In examining 266 deceased former players, 223 were found to meet the criteria for CTE—about 83 percent.
• The fact that 43 former players did not test for CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which is characterized by a dangerous protein, Tau, being found in the brain) wasn’t particularly encouraging to Nowinski. “Just as some people who smoke cigarettes for 50 years do not get lung cancer, not everyone who played football for years gets CTE,” he said.
• The risk of CTE doubles every 2.6 years of playing tackle football.
• Being diagnosed with CTE is more a function of the number of years a person plays tackle football, not the number of concussions a player suffers.
• Nowinski and his foundation are beginning a campaign called “Tackle Can Wait,” featuring a PSA of young boys in football uniforms smoking cigarettes. The theory: It’s as dangerous for a child’s health to play tackle football for his long-term health as it is for a child to smoke cigarettes. Nowinski is recommending that parents not allow their children to play tackle football till at least age 14.
“My gut says this issue is more widespread than we thought it was,” Nowinski said. “But I think we have a tremendous opportunity for preventing CTE going forward. Do you really need to start playing tackle football at 5 or 6, with all the information that’s out there about the damage it can cause at such a young age? We’re starting the new campaign to try to educate parents to wait to enroll their children till high school in tackle football. There’s still a million kids playing [tackle] at a young age, and progress [in promoting flag over tackle] is moving slower than I expected. Most people, once you get on the tackle train, you don’t get off. We need to get to the parents. Once you look at this data, you’re going to have a make a serious decision for your child.”
The PSA is a bit haunting—but it’s supposed to be.
Offensive Players of the Week
Sam Darnold, quarterback, New York Jets. What a difference a quarterback makes. After missing three games with mono, and being outfitted with a special sets of rib pads made by pad company XTECH to cover the circumference of his torso and protect his spleen, Darnold beat the big, bad Cowboys when no one expected it. His 92-yard TD pass to Robbie Anderson was the play of the day, and he threw for 338 yards and two touchdowns in the 24-22 upset of the Cowboys.
Stefon Diggs, wide receiver, Minnesota. On the receiving end in Kirk Cousins’ best game as a Viking, Diggs caught seven balls for 167 yards and three touchdowns. He also drew a flag on another near touchdown for defensive holding, leading to an insurance touchdown and a 18-point fourth-quarter lead over the Eagles. Diggs, of course, has been a mystery man this fall, going AWOL two weeks ago for a day and spurring a heavy fine by the club. All was forgiven Sunday in Minnesota.
Kyle Allen, quarterback, Carolina. Now, after a two-touchdown, zero-turnover game for Allen, you can start asking the question about whether the Panthers should automatically go back to Cam Newton when he’s healthy. Not saying Ron Rivera should stick with Allen; just saying it’s a question now, particularly after his precocious and managerial play in the Panthers’ 4-0 run with him at quarterback. What stood out in Carolina’s 37-26 win in London was Allen’s 12-play, 99-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter, chewing up 7:32 on the clock. With Christian McCaffrey being keyed on by the Tampa, Moore used 16, 21 and 23-yard strikes to Greg Olsen, Curtis Samuel and D.J. Moore to push the ball into scoring range. Who’d have thought when the 0-2 Panthers lost Newton to a Lisfranc injury that the undrafted Allen would step in and have the Panthers at 4-2 at the bye, in second place in the NFC, comfortably ahead of both Tampa and Atlanta? Who’d have thought he’d throw 122 passes without an interception?
Defensive Players of the Week
Jimmie Ward, safety, San Francisco. His first five Niner teams since arriving in 2014 from Northern Illinois were 25-55. Yes, they stunk. No more. Thanks to two mega-stops on fourth down in the fourth quarter by the aggressive and instinctive Ward, the Niners advanced to 5-0. After six weeks, San Francisco has a three-game lead in the loss over its arch-rival and defending NFC champ, the Rams.
Kyle Van Noy, linebacker, New England. I suppose acquiring Randy Moss for a fourth-round pick and then having Moss set the NFL record for touchdowns in a season with 23 in 2007 would have to qualify as the best trade Bill Belichick has ever made. The 2016 for Van Noy might be number two, if only because of the ridiculous and miniscule value the Patriots used in trade with Detroit. New England traded the 215th pick in the 2017 draft for Van Noy plus the 239th pick in the draft. The Patriots have paid Van Noy $12.1 million over the past three years to play 88 percent of their defensive snaps, and now he’s become a vital part of football’s best defense. On Thursday night, Van Noy pressured Giants QB Daniel Jones seven times and sacked him once, and he broke open a 21-14 game in the fourth quarter with an athletic 22-yard fumble return for touchdown.
Vernon Butler, defensive tackle, Carolina. Butler was part of a great defensive-line effort that resulted in seven sacks of Jameis Winston in the 37-26 win over Tampa Bay in London. On consecutive plays in the second quarter, Butler strip-sacked Jameis Winston. I have never seen that before, strip-sacks on consecutive plays. Butler and his defensive front-mates made life miserable for Winston.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Thomas Morstead, punter, New Orleans. Six punts for a 41.8-yard average won’t make many headlines. But look closer. In a field-position game, Morstead was the dominant player, dropping his six punts at the Jacksonville 9-yard line, the 2, the 15, the 30, the 14 and the 11. With zero return yards. You can’t have a much better day as a punter.
Brandon Wilson, safety/kick-returner, Cincinnati. When your team is 0-5 and 28th in the league in scoring, it’s always a good idea to return the opening kickoff of the game for a touchdown. What strategy by coach Zac Taylor! Wilson took the short kick at the Cincinnati 8-yard line and was untouched on his way to stunningly easy 92-yard score to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead.
David Moore, wide receiver, Seattle. Sometimes, a blocked punt takes more than just a strong rush. It takes smarts to figure out which hole to burst through. That’s what Moore did in the second quarter at Cleveland, Seattle down 20-9. Playing almost a roving inside linebacker before a Jamie Gillan punt in Cleveland, Moore picked a hole near the right guard, ran through it, and smothered the Gillan punt. That led to a Seattle field goal in the Seahawks’ 32-28 win.
Coach of the Week
Bill O’Brien, head coach, Houston. I thought he coached a brilliant game in the 31-24 victory at Kansas City. O’Brien knew he wanted the Texans to keep the ball away from Patrick Mahomes—who wouldn’t?—and so he devised a game plan putting the ball equally in the hands of his most important player, Deshaun Watson, and in the hands of his backs. After seeing the Colts shred KC on the ground last Sunday, O’Brien read the game perfectly. The Texans ran it a clock-eating 41 times (for 4.7 yards per rush), and Watson threw 42 passes without being sacked. Time of possession: 39:48, just perfect. The Chiefs ran only 47 plays. O’Brien also made a prescient call at the two-minute warning, up 31-24, by going for it on fourth-and-two, and making it, instead of giving the ball back to Mahomes. Great game for a coach who’s now won four of five.
Goats of the Week
Matt Bryant, kicker, Atlanta. With 1:53 left in the fourth quarter in the desert, the Falcons scored to trail the Cards 34-33. An extra point would tie it. Bryant, ol’ reliable at 44 years old, had made 163 of 166 PATs since the NFL moved the extra point back to the 15-yard-line, making it a 33-yard kick. Many kickers struggled to keep the accuracy up at gimme levels for the PAT. But not Bryant, a 98.2-percent PAT man on the longer extra points. Well, he shanked this one wide left. Falcons lost. Falcons 1-5. Falcons most disappointing team in the league this year, due to moments like this.
Jameis Winston, quarterback, Tampa Bay. Five picks, seven sacks taken, a lost fumble, six of the 16 Bucs possessions ending in Winston turnovers in a 37-26 loss to Carolina, rekindling all the speculation why the Bucs shouldn’t re-sign Winston to a second contract. Don’t read the internet today, Jameis. And don’t read your coach’s quotes either. “Throw the damn ball away,” Bruce Arians said of Winston post-game.
Dontrell Hilliard, running back, Cleveland. Seesaw game in Cleveland. Punch-drunk teams by the end. Just under three minutes left, Seattle up 32-28, Cleveland ball at its 20. Baker Mayfield throws to a fairly open Hilliard … and the ball, right on target, squirts through Hilliard’s hands directly to Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright. Seattle didn’t need to score then; all the Seahawks needed was to bleed the clock, forcing Cleveland to burn its timeouts. Russell Wilson did it, victory-formationing the final two snaps. Would the Browns have been able to drive for the winning touchdown? We’ll never know, but Hilliard’s error was huge. (I realize Hilliard had a 74-yard kick return, but that’s not enough to make up for this.)
“How ‘bout them Cowboys!”
—Jets safety Jamal Adams, after New York’s 24-22 upset of the Cowboys.
“We’re going to stay in the now, stay in the focus of what we’re doing right now. We’re not going to deal with the question until it is time. When the time comes, I will address it … [Cam] is in the rehab program and our quarterback right now playing for us is Kyle.”
—Carolina coach Ron Rivera, seeming to put the starting quarterback job in play by not committing to Cam Newton once he returns from rehabbing his Lisfranc injury. His replacement, Kyle Allen, is 4-0.
“There might be teams out there that think they have a blueprint on how to handle Kansas City.”
“Well, they just got punched in the nose.”
—The CBS crew of Ian Eagle (first quote) and Dan Fouts (second quote), after the incredible throw-and-catch by Patrick Mahomes to a levitating Tyreek Hill on a third-and-21 for the first points of the day. Sounded good then, but Houston beat the Chiefs 31-24.
“THEY CAN’T F—IN’ STOP US!!!”
—Houston running back Carlos Hyde, picked up by a field mike after scoring a first-half touchdown at Kansas City.
Right he was.
Luke Kuechly • Carolina linebacker • Photographed in Spartanburg, S.C.
Kuechly’s third-quarter interception of Jameis Winston on Sunday led to an insurance touchdown that put the Panthers-Bucs game out of reach for Tampa. Aside from playing football and studying football, Kuechly has another passion: fishing.
“Started in fifth grade. One of my buddies growing up in Cincinnati was a big fisherman. He’d show me these picture of the big trout he’d catch. They were always big, and he’d say how much fun it was. One day I went up with him fly-fishing, and that was it—I was hooked. Zanesfield, Ohio, right by Columbus. I’ve been fishing ever since. Been to the Bahamas bonefishing, fly-fished out in Idaho, fly-fished in Colorado. The Bahamas were super-cool, but I think everyone can picture what that looks like. Idaho is amazing. The mountains in Idaho—we were on a float trip, a big whitewater rafting trip, for five, six days. The mountains were beautiful. I love mountains. That’s the best spot. We caught cutthroat trout. Little trout, about eight to 12 inches long. The wild trout are so cool because their colors are so great. They’re real pure colors. The fish are smart. You’re fighting current, and they understand that when they get hooked and they’re in the current, the current makes them feel stronger. They play the current with their own swimming ability, so it’s a challenge to hook ‘em and then to get ‘em out of the water. They’re not real big, but super pretty. Deep color. Vibrant. Versus some of the fish I’ll catch in the Carolina area—some of them are stocked fish, they’re a little duller and don’t have the same pop when you look at ‘em. You catch those wild fish, in the strong current, and it’s so satisfying. Like, ‘I got one!’
“I love to eat grouper. Didn’t catch that with a fly rod. We were in the Gulf of Mexico, fishing, down in Naples (Fla.), and they’re real meaty fish. They’re fun to catch. Fighters, strong, kind of gnarly-looking. And when you fish out in the ocean, you never know what you’re going to catch.
“Fishing’s great. You get away, out in nature, in some of the prettiest places anywhere.”
Chip Kelly’s record in his last 50 games as a head coach (UCLA, 49ers, Eagles): 13-37.
Chip Kelly’s record in his previous 50 games as a head coach (Eagles, Oregon): 36-14.
Highly respected special-teams ace Matthew Slater of the Patriots played a Thursday night game last week and said the games “don’t fit under the umbrella of player safety.” Rams running back Todd Gurley called Thursday night football “the dumbest thing ever.”
You’ll get no argument from me on it, though I do get a guilty pleasure out of the games when they’re good—Seahawks 30, Rams 29 in the Week 5 Thursday-nighter might be the game of the year (so far). But if you’re a player and you’re going to call for the elimination of Thursday night football, you have to say you’re willing to surrender the money that goes along with it.
FOX pays a reported $600 million this year for the rights to 11 Thursday night games. Amazon pays an additional $65 million for the streaming rights to those 11 games. In addition, because NFL Network televises 13 TNF games, the league’s network makes ad revenue for the games too, that must be shared with the players. NFL Network is approximately a $1 billion business annually, so let’s guess that $300 million comes in from sales related to the Thursday night games. So $600 million from Fox, $65 million from Amazon, $300 million from NFL Net. That’s $965 million in revenue from Thursday night football.
But because those 13 Thursday prime-time games would be absorbed back into the Sunday and Monday inventory, you’ve got to assume the league would be able to get more from the Sunday and Monday night carriers, or they’d be able to get some money from additional streaming rights. I’m going to ballpark it. Say $300 million is gained by plowing those 13 games back into beefing up Sunday, Monday and streaming.
So by my math, which I ran by two people who would know about this, let’s say the loss of Thursday night football would be a revenue loss of about $665 million for the league. About 48 percent of that money goes to the players, per the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. That means $319 million would be lost revenue to the players if the Thursday night games went away … $319 million less money for the league’s estimated 1,900 players on active rosters and on injured-reserve.
For the NFL’s 32 teams, that is a loss of $10 million per team on the salary cap. This year’s cap is $188.2 million. A loss of $10 million per team would result in the cap falling to $178.2 million, or a decline of 5.3 percent with no weekly Thursday package.
Matthew Slater’s cap number this year is $2.9 million. If the Thursday night games went away and New England applied the lost revenue equally across the board to all contracts, Slater would be facing a loss of $153,700 in revenue.
So the answer should not be: “We shouldn’t be playing Thursday night football.” The answer should be: “I’m willing to forgo 5.3 percent of my compensation this year in order to not play Thursday night football.”
Went nowhere in the past week, but I did discover one of the best bars in New York City. The Art Café + Bar in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn (my new neighborhood) is described online as a “Bohemian haunt” and basically, that’s all there is to say. Eclectic out the wazoo, with a great local beer selection and a nice garden at the triangular intersection of Washington, Underhill and Pacific. Met a friend there Thursday, and one beer turned into three, and I would have had four if life did not intercede. Our wait person was managing her son while taking care of us. Just a fun place with music (reggae that afternoon) and trees providing shade on a sunny Indian Summer afternoon.
1973: The Giants Move to New Haven, Sort Of
I grew up in northern Connecticut, which is now solid Patriots country. But in my football-loving pre-college youth, from about 1967-74, Connecticut was Giants country. The Patriots didn’t exist till the sixties, and the Giants were championship contenders till the mid-decade. When the Giants needed a temporary home while Giants Stadium was being built in New Jersey, ownership chose Yale Bowl, a classic old football barn (opened in 1914) in New Haven, 90 minutes northeast of New York City. Great for me: I was a Giants fan in a family of them, and with the tickets $8 and the stadium an hour from our house, well, I bought tickets to three games. Freshly drivers-licensed, I drove the family Mustang with a buddy to games against the Dallas Cowboys, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Minnesota Vikings in November and December.
The Giants stunk. They’d end up 1-11 in their 12 games at Yale Bowl, and I’d read about Giants players grousing that every game there felt like a road game. What did I care? The NFL was an hour away. Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly, Fran Tarkenton (then of the Vikes) a 60-minute drive away. The Cowboys were less than two years removed from a Super Bowl when they arrived in the Nutmeg State on Nov. 11, 1973, with Staubach and Bullet Bob Hayes and ex-Yalie Calvin Hill in the backfield, and Bob Lilly and Lee Roy Jordan honchoing the defense.
Funny the things you remember about days like this. Weekends were a time for leaf-raking at our house, so I had to work till late Saturday, at least till dusk, to finish my chores because I wouldn’t have Sunday to rake. Then I had 7:45 a.m. Catholic mass to attend. I was off by 10 to get to the parking lot and soak in my first NFL game. It felt big-league, particularly seeing Staubach and Lilly come out of the ancient tunnels of the Bowl. But this was weird in retrospect: The goalposts were on the goal line (they moved to the back of the end zone before the 1974 season), and so the first points we saw—a 13-yard Toni Fritsch field goal for Dallas—seemed almost amateurish. Dallas 23, Giants 10. Not much of a game, from my memory.
Dallas superscout Gil Brandt was there that day. “We flew right into New Haven on Saturday,” Brandt said. “Short runway, as I recall. And the Giants had the only decent hotel in town filled, so we had to stay in some sleazy hotel I think out on highway 35 in Connecticut.”
Amazing memory, Gil. It was probably Route 34, a good-sized east-west road through New Haven, but man, credit to you for getting close to the number.
“I remember we had to take a bus from the locker room to the stadium, and then take a bus from the stadium to the locker room after the game. The players weren’t too impressed. ‘Is this major-league football?’ But we were a good team back then. We played there twice, right? I do remember one thing: Drew Pearson took an end-around pitch from Roger, and he threw a perfect touchdown pass [to Golden Richards].” That came in the 1974 game in New Haven.
Eight dollars to see Roger Staubach, in his prime, in an old barn in Connecticut. Pretty fun.
What’s your best habit, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce?
“I wake up early, 5:30 or 6. I attack the day. That’s the best habit I’ve learned in my life. Start the day active, accomplishing things.”
What’s your worst habit?
“I like to enjoy some barbecue. You know, Kansas City’s good for that. I really like to enjoy barbecue. Probably too much. I just love it. Is that bad? I think it’s bad.”
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: Houston at Kansas City, Sunday.
Situation: Houston 31, Kansas City 24 with two minutes left in the fourth quarter. Houston ball, fourth-and-three at the Chiefs’ 27-yard line. The Chiefs have no timeouts left.
The decision: Houston could either attempt a 45-yard field goal to make it a two-score game with about 1:55 to play—but with a kicker who’s been shaky this year in Ka’imi Fairbairn; he is two of five this year from beyond 40 yards. Or they could go for it. If successful, the Texans could run out the clock because the Chiefs had no timeouts left.
The thought process: Tough decision for O’Brien, but likely it came down to skepticism over his kicker (rightfully so; he’d missed from 46 yards a quarter earlier) and the thought, on the way to a 472-yard offensive day, that he trusted Watson to find three yards. “I just felt like it was a manageable enough distance that we had a play that we felt we could execute,” O’Brien said.
The analytics: PFF calculated that Houston would have a 60 percent chance of making the first down, and if the Texans made it, they had a 100-percent chance to win. If they failed to convert, their chances to win fell to 84 percent. The chance of making the 45-yard field goal by Fairbairn, per PFF: 72 percent.
The result: O’Brien called for a short pass, Watson to DeAndre Hopkins, and it was complete for an eight-yard gain. First down. That was the clincher in Houston’s upset win. The decision clearly was the right one, and would have been even if Watson failed to convert. Too much at stake allowing a slumping kicker to try a 45-yard field goal in a hostile place with a big game on the line.
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Come down harder on big hitters. From John Oswald, of Perth, Scotland: “Every week I watch NFL Red Zone and every week I see helmet-to-helmet hits that are guaranteed to mean the guilty party will incur a fine. However, this fine and the 15-yard penalty does not appear to be having any effect on the players. Most of the players are incredibly fortunate in that they receive remuneration that most of us could only dream of. I have seen Mason Rudolph and Josh Allen carried off and the only penalty has been the 15 yards. Is it time for the NFL to copy other team sports and if the foul is serious enough, make the offending team play the rest of the game one player light? The NFL seems determined to clean up the game but their efforts so far don’t seem to be working.”
Good question, John, and thanks for writing. First: The Josh Allen collision was at least as much the fault of Allen as the defender, and the NFL, which fines players at will, didn’t issue any fine on that play. But I understand your point. I’d be in favor, regardless of the fault, to see the offending player get more than a 15-yard penalty. Maybe that’s ejection, but a more reasonable sanction might be this: Make the offending player sit for one full quarter. Even if the foul was not intentional, it will give one more bit of insurance for players to avoid at all costs the mega-hits that end up making players like Rudolph wobble off the field.
The Rick Reilly Fan Club. From John Maloney: “Thank you for Rick Reilly. I grew up with Sports Illustrated and have always been in awe of its excellence — the best writers and the best photographers. We always grieve the things we lose as we age, and it’s not always about ourselves.”
Remember, John: Lots of very good writers left at the magazine. Many of those you still know well—including the football gems you’ve gotten to know well from The MMQB writers are there and will continue to shine. You may not read them in the magazine as much as you did years ago, but they’ll all be online too.
More Reilly. From Michael Brown: “Can’t he please write the Point After every week?”
Hey, he gave us a freebie. He did that one out of the goodness of his heart. He’s not in that business any more. Plus, I couldn’t afford him.
Watkins is a veteran NFL beat man, tweeting from the Dallas locker room after the Cowboys lost to the Jets.
This is not an endorsement of Bose, or of the Ravens. It’s a simple acknowledgement that there are patrons, either with babies or with special-needs people in their families, who will be well-served by these rooms. I think it’s a wonderful idea.
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 6:
a. Jimmy Garappolo: 13-2 as NFL starting quarterback.
b. Brett Maher’s first half at the Jets. The Dallas kicker hit field goals of 50 and 62 yards, each with room to spare. That’s his second 62-yarder as a pro, and he’s the first NFL kicker to have two kicks of at least that length.
c. Jamal Adams is one of the 20 best defensive players in football. I hope the game against Dallas is a sign the Jets won’t be a purgatory team forever, so Adams eventually plays in games that matter.
d. One heck of an up-the-middle blitz by Adams on his play of the day, the pressure on Dak Prescott that made the potential game-tying two-point conversion pass go awry.
e. The fair-catch free-kick in London. It’s the first one in the NFL in six years. The rule: After any fair catch, the receiving team can take a free-kick, either held or drop-kicked, from the spot of the fair catch, unchallenged by the defense. The defensive team must stand 10 yards away until the ball is kicked. When Carolina fair-caught a punt with one second left in the first half, the chance was perfect: Panthers kicker Joey Slye lined up for what would have been a 60-yard field goal, with the ball held normally at midfield. Slye kicked it wide right. It would have counted for three points if it went through the uprights.
f. Seattle is 2-for-2 in Eastern Time now, with Eastern games at Atlanta, Philly and Carolina left. This is a formidable team, and they’re never out of it with Russell Wilson in charge. And now the Seahawks get a valuable and rested piece back for their defensive front—Jarran Reed, suspended for the season’s first six games—just at the right time. The Ravens come to Seattle next Sunday as the most dangerous rushing team in football.
g. The return of Tyreek Hill.
h. Good dog.
i. Linebacker David Mayo of the Giants, a waiver pickup at the final cutdown from San Francisco. He was everywhere (and needed to be) Thursday night in a 12-tackle, half-sack performance for the Giants.
j. Fun to watch Christian McCaffrey, unless you’re a Buc. On his second-quarter 25-yard TD catch-and-run, McCaffrey faked the Bucs’ 2016 first-round pick, Vernon Hargreaves, to the turf at the start of the run, then stiff-armed the Bucs’ 2019 first-round pick, Devin White, to the turf at the end of the run. Talk about having an all-around game.
k. Good observation by Rich Eisen of NFL Network, after Jameis Winston threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage in Bucs-Panthers: “Essentially, the Panthers are going to get the ball to start both halves.”
l. Lavonte David, spying and sniffing out a pass in the flat for McCaffrey on the first series of the game for Carolina. Two-yard loss. Good athleticism and instincts.
m. Pretty sure this means nothing except to schedule nerds: Carolina and Tampa Bay finished their NFC South season series Sunday, 64 days before Houston and Tennessee start their AFC South season series.
n. Sunday’s six-game early window. Makes the Red Zone-watching less frenetic. You can focus on drives and games longer.
o. Nick Chubb’s first quarter: 67 yards, one touchdown. Watching Sunday, it’s clear that Freddie Kitchens wants to be a run team first.
p. Underrated Saint in the secondary: safety Marcus Williams.
q. Incredible hands in a layout catch by Bengals wideout Auden Tate, the former FSU seventh-rounder.
r. After watching running back Miles Sanders for six weeks, it’s pretty obvious that, upon further review, there were not 52 better players in the draft last April. (Sanders was picked 53rd overall by the Eagles).
t. Offensive Symmetry of Sorts of the Week: The Rams’ first drive of the game: seven plays, seven rushes, touchdown. The runs all came without Todd Gurley: 9 yards, then 10, 7, 9, 8, 5 and 8 yards. Tremendous beginning.
u. Not easy to sack Russell Wilson. Myles Garrett did it twice.
2. I think this is what I did not like about Week 6:
a. The Falcons. Then again, I haven’t liked them in any of the five previous weeks either. Not a good sign for endangered head coach Dan Quinn, watching the Cardinals go up and down the field.
b. Rams linebacker Cory Littleton with a huge gaffe, dropping a possible pick-six with 70 seconds left in the first half of a 7-7 game against the Niners.
c. Another desultory performance by Marcus Mariota in 4.5 years of them.
d. If you’re going to say Kirk Cousins stinks, Zach Brown, you can’t say after he shreds you: “I’m here to talk about the game. Any other questions besides Kirk Cousins?” Nope. You stuck your chin out and got punched, and you’ve got to face the music.
e. Giants coach Pat Shurmur waving the white flag, punting from his own 33-yard line on fourth-and-two with 7:08 left in the game and the Giants down 28-14. What are the chances when you punt with 7:08 left in the fourth quarter that you’ll hold Tom Brady without a TD or field-goal drive, then get the ball back, score a touchdown, recover an onside kick, and score another touchdown against the best defense in football? I can tell you this: a hell of a lot lower chance than it would be to try to convert a fourth-and-two, then score twice in the last seven minutes.
f. Classic case of a coach trying to keep the score respectable over taking the last best shot for a prayer to try to actually win the game.
g. Serves Shurmur right that punter Riley Dixon’s punt went only 30 yards, the Patriots shredded the Giants D in a three-minute TD drive, and scored an easy touchdown to make the score uglier, 35-14. (And cover the spread.)
h. Shurmur the next day wasn’t backing down: “We had found a way to get them stopped on a few occasions, so I thought we were just going to punt the ball, get them stopped and continue to play. That was the thought at the time.” I just find it hard to believe that he really believes the Giants would have had two possessions and two touchdown drives in the last four minutes of the game.
i. Jameis Winston’s protection. All day.
j. Jameis Winston’s absolute refusal to throw the ball away when pressured. Man, it’s a part of playing quarterback in this league that you should know by year five.
k. Lord. You’ve got to catch that bomb, Mike Evans.
l. Tampa could never have had a worse sequence of 10 offensive snaps—could they?—than in the final two minutes of the first half Sunday: strip-sack and fumble recovery; strip-sack and lost fumble; 15-yard completion to Evans; incompletion; Evans drops bomb from Winston; incompletion; false start; false start; false start; punt. Is there an adjective worse than brutal? If so, that’s what that 10-play stretch was.
m. I can’t imagine a Bruce Arians-coached team has played worse than the Bucs played Sunday.
n. Officials threw six penalty flags on the Chiefs in the first 4:18. Six!!!!
o. If Carlos Hyde had been watching tape of his old team, Kansas City, and how they play defense, he’d have seen a gabbing and poking defensive team. And on the first offensive play of the game, Hype got the ball ripped out by Frank Clark. Not smart football by Hyde.
q. DeAndre Hopkins, with Houston up 24-23 and driving to go up eight, dropped what would have likely been a touchdown pass. Stunning, considering the quality of Hopkins’ hands. And more stunning: Deshaun Watson threw an interception seconds later. That a huge drop by Hopkins.
3. I think it’s okay to praise something about Washington in a week when the franchise looked awful. Owner in hiding, press conference with the team president in a golf shirt looking like he’s squeezing in a 13-minute news conference before playing 18 holes, then letting it leak that the team won’t be doing research about the next coach till near season’s end. I mean, just an awful look all around.
But then there’s Terry McLaurin, the rookie wide receiver who continues to show Washington can do something right. Think back to April. Day two of the NFL draft was the Day of the Wideouts. They went 36, 51, 56, 57, 59, 62, 64, 66, 67 and then, finally, 76. Number 76 was an uncelebrated Ohio State Buckeye, McLaurin. In his last three years at OSU, he had 75 catches. He was a good but not starry NFL prospect. But the 6-foot, 208-pound kid from Indianapolis is so smooth, so prepared, so skilled that his adjustment to this level of football has been seamless. In Washington’s 17-16 win at Miami on Sunday, McLaurin caught his fourth and fifth touchdown passes of his rookie season. The 25 and 33-yard TD catches from Case Keenum were the only two Washington touchdowns in a game they almost lost, to the worst team in football, Miami.
4. I think I’m very rarely one to question players’ injuries, because we don’t know what is going on inside a player’s body. Having said that, I am going to question Jacksonville cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s injury. This smells too much like a player using everything in his arsenal to shoot his way off a team. Until this sudden back injury popped up, allegedly the cause of Ramsey missing the last three games:
- Ramsey had been a Jaguar for 54 games and started them all.
- In game before Ramsey reported the back injury, he played all 79 snaps against Tennessee.
- In his 54 career games, he has been an ironman, playing an average of 64.8 snaps out of 66 per game.
It’s time, Jags. Make the move. Get Ramsey out now.
5. I think if I were a coach, I’d like coaching on Kyle Shanahan’s staff. Shanahan on the challenge of entering a game against a good team when your own team has some significant injuries:
“That’s what I think we all like about coaching is the challenge each week of putting together a game plan with your team and trying to practice it and get better at it and then see how good everyone does versus whatever their plans are on Sunday. I enjoy that the most about coaching. That’s why I enjoy the NFL and hope I never have to go recruit and things like that. You have injuries every year so you always have to adjust. The more you get to go through those situations, I think, the better you get at doing it. The first time I had to deal with injuries as a coordinator, you think that there’s no chance, but you start to realize the more you’re in this league that that happens all the time, so you’ve got to deal with it. That’s why depth’s so important. That’s why you’re always working with guys, working with the practice squad, working with the first guy on the roster and the last guy on the roster. The true cliché of you’re always one play away from starting, it happens a lot.”
6. I think the difference between the six-game stretch the Patriots are now in and the next six they’ll face is striking. Starting in Week 2, New England’s slate: at Miami, Jets, at Buffalo, at Washington, Giants, at Jets. Starting in Week 8, New England’s slate: Cleveland, at Baltimore, at Philadelphia, Dallas, at Houston, Kansas City. Obviously the Bills are a daunting team, and obviously, we all overrated the Browns in the preseason.
7. I think the next time you hear someone talk about how impressive it is that such-and-such quarterback is so impressive because he threw for 45,000 yards in his career, remember the yardage inflation that comes with playing quarterback in the last 30 years. Think of this factoid: Johnny Unitas is 20th on the all-time passing-yards list. Joe Montana is 19th. And Kerry Collins is 18th.
8. I think I do not understand why Richard Sherman said Baker Mayfield did not shake his hand before the game a week ago, when video showed Mayfield did shake his hand. I really don’t. It reminds when nose tackle Jim Burt, after he left the Giants for the 49ers three decades ago, was accused of saying stuff the Giants supposedly said dogging the Niners, when there was no evidence they actually said it, just to fire up his new teammates before they played New York.
9. I think I join the rest of the free world in wondering how Cleveland wideout Jarvis Landry could be whistled for a blindside block for this quite innocent play against an onrushing Seattle defender.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Human Feat of the Week: Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge broke the two-hour barrier for the marathon, running it in 1:59.40 in Vienna. He broke the old record (his own) by 45 seconds … and did it with conditions set up for him to break two hours: fresh pacers coming in regularly to keep apace for a sub-two-hour run, and a vehicle puttering ahead of him at the pace he needed to go so he could break two hours. The record for a marathon race is Kipchoge’s, in 2:01.39.
b. I asked Tim Layden, the NBC (and former Sports Illustrated) track and field expert, how he thought this compared to Briton Roger Bannister breaking the 4-minute-mile barrier in 1954. Layden wrote in a text:
“I think the comparison is somewhat fair,. Number one, the four-minute mile was a more universally understood barrier. It was a bigger thing to a broader audience—although that audience was smaller and more difficult to reach, because the world’s population was smaller and communication was very different. Number two, there’s a fair amount of controversy surrounding Kipchoge’s record. This is true even for people who accept that Kipchoge is by far the greatest marathoner—and probably the greatest distance runner overall—in history and just an incredible, incredible athlete. However, the record was absolutely engineered. Perfect conditions on a closed course, a small army of world-class runners pacing him and surrounding him, souped-up running shoes made by Nike. Nothing even close to a ‘race.’ It should also be noted that Bannister had pacers in his sub-4. This is common in world-record track races. But nothing resembling the assistance provided Kipchoge. Bottom line is that was an incredible achievement by a great, great athlete. But I will always consider that there are two world bests in the marathon: the ‘real’ race best of 2:01.39, which Kipchoge also holds, and Kipchoge’s sub-2.”
c. Inspiration of the Week: Harry Smith of NBC News, on 95-year-old former president Jimmy Carter working for Habitat for Humanity, Carter’s passion, a day after falling and cutting his forehead.
d. Carter: “They took 14 stitches in my forehead, and my eye’s black, as you notice. But I had a number one priority, and that was to come to Nashville to build houses.” Habitat says he’s help build more than 4,000 homes in 14 countries for the less fortunate.
e. Football Story of the Week: Brian Costello of the New York Post, on new pads made by new pad designer Ted Monica of XTECH Pads of New Jersey to protect Sam Darnold and his susceptible spleen. The rib protector Monica constructed for Darnold stretched completely around his ribs and was attached to his shoulder pads. Smart idea, and not heavy.
f. TV Story of the Week: Carter Evans of CBS on the vaping crisis is smart and thorough, and scary.
g. Brian Cashman is so good, and so opportunistic. The Yanks GM traded Aroldis Chapman to Chicago at the deadline three years ago, and Chapman, shakily, helped the Cubs win the World Series. Cashman got Gleyber Torres in return, and signed Chapman in free agency too. Now Torres is on the verge of being one of the best players in baseball. He’s 22. He hit his 40th home run of 2019 Saturday night in Houston.
h. Baseball is a wonderful game, and a cruel one at the same time. Take Nats-Dodgers. What are the Nats, minus Bryce Harper, doing there, in Dodger Stadium in a decisive Game 5 of the NLDS? What are they doing in the playoffs, period? But they’re there, and they’re down 3-1 to start the top of the eighth, with Cooperstown-bound Clayton Kershaw on the mound. Curve ball, low, to Anthony Rendon. Ball one.
i. Fastball, 89-mph, to Rendon. He crushed it to left. Home run. Nats down 3-2.
j. Next pitch: Breaking ball, 89-mph, to Juan Soto. He crushed it to right-center, way deep in the bleachers. Nats tied it 3-3.
k. Kershaw out. Nats won in the 10th on a Howie Kendrick grand slam. For the third straight year, the World Series expectations of the Dodgers died on the field at Dodger Stadium with a four-run, season-ending loss. 2017: Game 7 of the World Series: Houston 5, LA 1. 2018: Game 5 of the World Series: Boston 5, LA 1. 2019: Game 5 of the NLDS: Washington 7, LA 3. Happy for the Nats—they’re a fun bunch—and I guess you can say the Dodgers got what they deserved. But it’s just a cruel and sudden way for a 6.5-month odyssey to end. How long does it take to get over that? Weeks? Months?
l. Two quibbles with Game 5 of Nats-Dodgers on TBS: The game opened, and there was Dodgers ace Walker Buehler throwing on the mound, and TBS put a graphic up with his stats: 4-1, 3.26 ERA, 215 K. I thought, 4-1? Not possible. Of course not. Buehler was 14-4. We all make mistakes—and I point the finger at me first and foremost; I’ve made my share. But you’ve had a day and a half to get the graphics done for the biggest game of the season for both teams, and you get the starting pitcher’s won-loss record wrong, and way wrong? Not good.
m. And when Nats catcher Kurt Suzuki got hit in the wrist and the ball caromed up to hit him in the face, Ernie Johnson said, “Oh no.” And then Johnson and color guy Jeff Francoeur went silent for 53 seconds. I get solemnity when a guy is lying on the ground, but 53 seconds? I thought I accidentally hit the mute button. What occasion in broadcasting is cause for 53 seconds of dead air?
n. Sorry to be nitpicky. Those two things just hit me wrong.
o. Kudos, though, for the great camera shot of Buehler, on the bench after being relieved by Clayton Kershaw, screaming in triumph when Kershaw struck out the first batter he faced to end a Washington threat in the seventh.
p. And kudos to TBS for the great camera work, showing Kershaw alone, all alone, in the dugout more than once after he gave up the two homers on two pitches.
q. Anibal Sanchez, fourth starter on the Nats? Looked more like a one Friday night. Heck of a job.
r. Coffeenerdness: Gran Caffe De Martini, my go-to coffee spot in Brooklyn, has a fun macchiato: chocolate Nutella coats the bottom of the cup, two shots of Italian espresso cover it, and a dollop of steamed milk sits on the top. That, people, is the right way to live.
s. Beernerdness: Found a very good pilsner for you to try: Jack’s Abby Post Shift Pilsner (Jack’s Abby Brewing, Framingham, Mass.) was there at a bar in Brooklyn the other night, and because I have such fond memories of Jack’s Abby from my short life in Boston a few years ago, I tried it. (Actually, tried three.) Drank all three from the can—I’ve become a fan of drinking beer in the vessel in which it’s delivered. This was malty and slightly bitter, but in a good way. When you sit somewhere for two hours, and you’re deep in conversation, and you’re just looking to sip a nice beer for a while, Post Shift Pilsner was lovely.
t. Happy trails, Shep Smith. The FOX afternoon anchor resigned, and no one seems to know exactly why. Loved his words at signoff Friday: “Even in our currently polarized nation, it’s my hope that the facts will win the day, that the truth will always matter, that journalism and journalists will survive. I’m Shepard Smith, FOX News, New York.”
u. Steve Kerr responded to the bully-in-chief the right way.
v. Truthfully, I don’t know how an elementary or middle-school teacher in the United States can do his/her job when it comes to combating bullying or name-calling if an offending child can simply say in retort: “Well, President Trump does it.”
w. I’d love to hear from teachers this week about that. Have you had issues when a student or parent will bring up the way our president talks to people and about people? If so, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me the story.
x. Finally, good for Ellen DeGeneres for talking to all people, not just those she knows she’ll agree with. We have gotten to a point where the simple act of DeGeneres sitting at a football game with former President Bush and smiling and having civil discourse is a mortal sin. That’s where we are. People who disagree should talk, not threaten and dog-cuss on social media. And of course I understand the past of Bush, and how DeGeneres should be angry about some of his past proclamations and decisions. But that doesn’t mean they can’t associate and even be casual friends. I was astonished to hear and read the debate about whether two people 180 degrees apart politically and socially should converse. OF COURSE THEY SHOULD! What are we teaching our children when we see someone with a different view on something important and we say, “Honey, we don’t talk to that person. That person disagrees with us, so when you see that person, don’t talk or be friendly in any way. You will never talk to that person.”
y. Finally, my sincere thanks to NBC Sports’ Kevin Monaghan, who left the company last week after 38 splendid years. Monaghan, a content and digital guy now after many iterations at the company dating back to the early eighties, was my contact person when I went to work full-time at NBC 16 months ago. He just figured I’d need someone to handle the mundane stuff (insurance, computer, logistics on the training camp tour) and stepped in to honcho everything. I called him two or three times a week for a year, asking how this worked or that worked or what I needed to be concerned about with web traffic. Such a gem, an unselfish and giving gem. I’ll miss him every day.
Tonight: Green Bay. Lions at Pack, 8:15 p.m. ET. It’s proving time, Lions. From 1992 to 2014, the Packers beat the Lions 24 straight times in Wisconsin. In the last four years, Detroit’s 3-1 at Green Bay. That’s sort of a big deal. But the Pack was slip-sliding in the last three or four years, and now Green Bay’s back, playing good defense with a new offensive scheme that’s got Aaron Rodgers all excited. It’s cool to be pumped if you’re a Lions fan, with one loss through a quarter of the season, but they’re going to have to do better than a plus-2 point differential to have arrived. That starts tonight, by trying to win a game they probably shouldn’t.
Tuesday: Fort Lauderdale. NFL fall meeting. Briefings on the state of CBA talks, health and safety, a vote for further league investment in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, an officiating discussion (much-needed), and chest-puffing about TV ratings—up 6 percent through Week 5. Not a big meeting. Some execs could lay the groundwork for some trades, with the trade deadline two weeks away (Oct. 29). A few GMs might be sniffing around A.J. Green of the Bengals and Jalen Ramsey of the Jags.
Sunday: Orchard Park, N.Y. Dolphins at Bills, 1:05 p.m. ET. Likely the 4-1 Bills will be on New England’s tail through Thanksgiving. Next six Bills tilts: Miami, Philadelphia, Washington, at Cleveland, at Miami, Denver. Amazing. Buffalo could be 8-3 or 9-2 when they invade Jerryworld on Thanksgiving afternoon.
Last two unbeatens?
Pats, Niners. Best two teams on
defense? Pats, Niners.