ATLANTA — It should be obvious now, as the Los Angeles Rams feel the slings and arrows from around the league for gorging on the present at the expense of the future, what the identity of this franchise is. They completed three trades in an afternoon last week, for goodness sake, two involving Pro Bowl players. It’s not about the PSLs or filling the new stadium next year or knee-jerking a response to a three-game losing streak.
It’s about the personality of the people who lead the team. And in a larger sense it’s about a sea change in how the new wave of GMs and team architects are approaching the NFL. Last Tuesday, when GM Les Snead had completed two deals from his California office—acquiring offensive lineman Austin Corbett from Cleveland and trading cornerback Marcus Peters to Baltimore—he was working on a third. Snead and GM Dave Caldwell of Jacksonville were close to doing a mega-trade for dissatisfied Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
In a Ritz Carlton ballroom in Fort Lauderdale, during the NFL’s fall meeting, Rams owner Stan Kroenke and Rams Chief Operating Officer Kevin Demoff awaited word on the deals. Around 4:30 p.m. ET, Snead and football VP Tony Pastoors both pinged Demoff with details of the first two trades. Demoff showed Kroenke the news. Not a bad afternoon’s work for Snead and his staff.
Kroenke didn’t pump a fist; it’s not his way. Instead, he asked Demoff about the unhappy Jaguar. He wondered, Is the Ramsey deal still in play? It was, and within an hour, that was done too—Ramsey for the Rams’ first-round pick in 2020 and first and fourth-round picks in 2021, even though L.A. is buying Ramsey for only the remaining 1.5 seasons of his rookie contract. The Rams are optimistic about signing him long-term, but have no guarantee of employing Ramsey beyond the expiration of his contract in 14 months.
Three trades in five hours. Now it was Saturday, in the bar of the team’s Buckhead hotel, the day before Rams-Falcons, and Demoff and Snead dissected what the team had done, and what it meant. “This is who we are,” Demoff said. “This is what we do. This is our belief as an organization. Stan isn’t fearful, Les isn’t fearful, and [coach] Sean [McVay] isn’t fearful. This league is so fast-moving. It hasn’t been this way forever for us, but now, we’re going to value the great player over the potential of a draft choice.”
For a guy who’d been on the team for four days, Ramsey didn’t seem like much of a newcomer in the 37-10 rout of the pathetic Falcons. He didn’t give the full Jalen, but it was close. He didn’t start. He came in early in dime packages only, where he could match up against Julio Jones, mostly in bump coverage in the left slot or wide left or right. He did play in the regular scheme later, and it appeared he played six or seven snaps in the Rams’ zone coverage. In all, after two practices, he played 36 of the Rams’ 53 defensive snaps.
Ramsey was not a shutdown corner Sunday. In coverage snaps against Jones, he allowed four catches for 69 yards. He used a jarring hit on Devonta Freeman to force a fumble that the Rams should have recovered but lost in a scrum. Ramsey also demonstrated why he’s a cornerback so many receivers love to hate. On six different occasions, he yapped full-throated at Jones; it’s a wonder with the blizzard of flags in the league now why Ramsey didn’t get one for taunting/berating. Ramsey’s the classic case of a guy you hate when your team plays him, but you like his results when he’s on your team.
“I talk sh– every game,” said Ramsey, matter-of-factly and unapologetically, in a short madhouse locker-room scrum after the game.
In the upset of the week, his back seemed just fine.
When this was still a game in the second quarter, in an eight-play sequence, Jones beat Ramsey twice for significant plays. First, a quick slant from right to left for 17 yards, when Jones got inside Ramsey and sprinted toward the middle with a full stride on him. Then, a simple go route down the right sideline. Gain of 39. Jones simply out-raced Ramsey. So Jones didn’t torch Ramsey; overall, he got the better of him, but it was a good contest.
“If I was really in my groove, like on my sh–, it would really be scary out there,” he said.
Good for Ramsey in not bragging about his game, because it was a decent performance. That’s it. But maybe that’s to be expected after three weeks off with an injury no one in Jacksonville believed was an injury.
“I feel like I played okay,” he said. “I’ve got to get in my groove a little bit more. There’s maybe one, maybe two plays I wanted to have back or play a little bit different.”
For a game at least, all was right with the Rams. After losing three straight, this was a good week for a star-jolt, and for a soft underbelly of the schedule. The Rams stay in Atlanta to practice this week before over-nighting to London on Thursday evening, then playing the Bengals at Wembley Stadium on Sunday. Combined Falcons/Bengals record: 1-13.
There’s enough in what the Rams are doing for a book about how modern football is changing. I don’t have time for a book, so let’s do Cliff’s Notes. The Rams are not alone in bulking up on trades. Cleveland, Baltimore, Oakland, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh (!) are dipping their toes in the pool more than they used to, or more than their predecessors. This could be an outlier season regarding trades, but I doubt it. With eight days to go before the trading deadline, see how times have changed in 10 years:
2009: 39 trades in the calendar year, involving 50 players. Seven traded players were Pro Bowlers at least once.
2019: 54 trades (with eight days left in the period), involving 69 players. Thirteen have been to at least one Pro Bowl.
That’s a snapshot, not a long-term study. But it just feels like trading has picked up, and though the Rams may be at the head of the pack, they’re not alone. One GM told me over the weekend when I relayed those trading stats: “I bet that numbers ends up at 65.”
“I’ve been thinking about it,” said Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian, “and I want to withhold final judgment, but there are a few factors. Miami’s getting rid of players. The Rams are aggressive. And I think for players with leverage, they see this as being the NBA. I’ll go where I want to go. Ramsey, Antonio Brown—trade me, and the hell with the consequences. But there’s also a little bit of the old [Dodgers GM] Branch Rickey in some of the newer GMs. Rickey said, ‘The only title you can win is the title you can win this year.’ “
Polian then made a fascinating point: He said he didn’t want to be a “curbstone psychologist.” But he said, “I think this generation of GMs might be a little more transactional. It used to be not many GMs thought about taking risks. They were from a generation where their parents might have grown up in the Depression, or remembered the Depression. Life was hard enough without taking risks. Today, the idea that you can make these decisions and change your team quickly is inculcated in this generation. I’m not sure of that, but it seems to be true.”
I love that theory. I think it is dead-on. Why wait to fix a problem when you might get fired after two years? When I told Demoff and Snead, they were fascinated. “Bill makes a great point about our league now, and your trade data backs up the fact it’s not just us. Bill Belichick is great at it too. When they have a hole, he doesn’t wait. He attacks. He trades. He takes chances too.”
Demoff pounced next: “The NBA is coming to the NFL. This [the Ramsey trade] is a similar case to those NBA deals.
“Prior team-building formulas, where you basically had guys for their careers, is pretty much over,” he said. “Think of the guys who’ve moved in the past year. Khalil Mack. Marcus Peters. Jalen Ramsey. Jarvis Landry. Laremy Tunsil—”
“Odell!” Snead interjected.
“Beckham too—forgot him,” Demoff said. “But I think there’s one other important factor here. Today, it’s easier to find ways to measure performance. There’s a rise of analytics, there’s better technology, better and more accurate data. What we’ve found is you can find undervalued players easier than before. So I think football people are getting better at synthesizing data to find players.”
I had one more question: “All indications are that Ramsey pulled a power play to force his way out of Jacksonville. They weren’t going to trade him until he basically just stopped playing. Do you have any fear that’ll happen here?”
“No,” Snead said. “I can honestly say I do not fear that. He’s coming to L.A., which is where players love to play. He’s got Sean, who is great at creating a culture players thrive in.”
The Rams are a destination place now. But in trading two first-rounders for Ramsey, they’ve basically gone all-in on paying him for the long term. And already they are paying four players top-of-market deals: quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley, wideout Brandin Cooks and defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Peters was jettisoned to Baltimore in part because L.A. knew it didn’t want to pay him in the $15-million-a-year range long-term after this season; Baltimore may not either, but they needed a playmaking cornerback for this season. And though Ramsey could make more than Peters, that’s coming in 2021, not 2020. Getting Ramsey now gives the Rams two seasons—and, as importantly, two postseasons—to maximize their window.
One thing worries me, even with the cap rising $10/12 million a year. When players get quite good, will the Rams, as the Ravens have done regularly, be willing to let them go to get the compensatory third/fourth-round pick? I present the case of wide receiver Cooper Kupp. He has become Jared Goff’s favorite target. (Targets in 2019: Kupp 78, Robert Woods 58, Brandin Cooks 44.) At $1.05 million and $1.2 million through the end of 2020, Kupp is incredible value. You can’t pay ‘em all, and Kupp could be a casualty of Ramsey’s arrival—if the Rams pay to keep him. That’s an issue for 2021, but the Rams must have angst about it now.
“The Rams way is just not sustainable,” one veteran front-office man (not a GM) told me Friday. “You cannot pay all those guys in a cap era.” Maybe. But I’d have two rejoinders, neither of which is, It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch. One: The Rams have found some pretty good low-cost players in the process. Two: It probably depends on the development of Jared Goff more than anything else, because no one wins everything without very good play out of the quarterback.
The Ramsey deal went over big in the locker room, as you’d figure it would. Don’t discount the importance of that. “Players loved it,” Goff said. “Going out and seeing him at practice the other day—wow. That’s something players really like.”
“When your team is built for the now,” safety Eric Weddle told me in the locker room Sunday, “and you have a chance in the future to have two of the best players in this league to build around, Jalen and Aaron Donald, you can get role players to build around them. In all honesty, a draft pick around 25 or 30 you’re probably going to trade anyway. When you have a chance to get one of the best players in the league for two ones, I mean, why not do it?”
The only reason is Ramsey might not be around forever. But the Rams are comfortable with what I call The Newbie Risk/Reward Factor. Which means: When in doubt, go get the stud, and worry about everything else later.
Three little details in the trade discussions last week, down in the weeds, that I liked:
• The Rams, who’d been talking on and off to the Jags about Ramsey for a month, were worried that the Eagles might increase their offer if the defense continued to struggle. (Adam Schefter reported Sunday that Philadelphia had offered first- and a second-round picks.) Philly might have been wise to offer the two ones. In the last week, two offenses led by Kirk Cousins and Dak Prescott have put up 38 and 37 points on the Eagles.
• The teams in trade discussions with Jacksonville were convinced the problem for Ramsey was with Tom Coughlin and no one else.
• The Rams would have done the Peters deal even if they couldn’t get Ramsey. The rush on Peters came because Baltimore wanted a corner to play in Seattle on Sunday, and if they hadn’t gotten Peters on Tuesday, they’d have pivoted to one of two other prospective deals. Thus the Rams’ haste in dealing Peters.
Weak seven? Average margin of victory in the first 13 games of week seven: 13.7 points. One game—Titans 23, Chargers 20—came down to the final seconds, and that was fairly unsatisfactory because no one still knows what happened in that goal-line street fight in Nashville on the fumble/non-fumble by Melvin Gordon. Picking through the rubble of the weekend:
• The Chicago offense is a four-alarm fire. Somehow the Bears scored 25 points in the 11-point loss to New Orleans at home. What really is more telling about their performance is this, on both sides of the ball: New Orleans was playing without Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara, and the once-mighty Bears defense gave up 424 yards and 36 points; on offense, the Bears totaled 90 net yards in their first 10 drives. The offense is so abysmal that coach Matt Nagy has to strongly consider doing something he absolutely, positively doesn’t want to do: bench Mitchell Trubisky for Chase Daniel. That’s how bad Trubisky looks in year three. I’d consider benching him for a quarterback who inspired little confidence in his game-plus of action relieving the injured Trubisky. The alternative is playing Trubisky next Sunday at Soldier Field, knowing that the moment he jogs out of the tunnel, all the positive energy Nagy will pump into Trubisky in practice all week will disappear in an avalanche of boos. This isn’t about making any long-term judgment in Trubisky; there will be time for that. This is about putting the best quarterback on the field to win one game. Right now, that’s not Trubisky.
• The MVP after seven weeks is … No idea. A vote today would be the most wide-open vote since 2003. Fifty media members vote for one player each, and in 2003 Peyton Manning and Steve McNair tied for the win with 16 votes, and four other players split the final 18 votes. Now, with the specter of Patrick Mahomes possibly playing only 12 full games, I’d put three players at the head of the class right now: Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Lamar Jackson. The Jackson candidacy could get quite intriguing. He’s on pace to rush for 1,317 yards, which is absolutely insane, with a passer rating of 94.1. Imagine rushing for more yards than Alvin Kamara, with a better passer rating than Carson Wentz. Jackson’s on track to do both of those things. Plenty of season left, thankfully for the voters.
• Buffalo isn’t the most impressive 5-1 team we’ve ever seen, but consider its near future. The Bills’ next five foes are a combined 8-25. Still hard to imagine them overtaking New England, particularly with the tiebreaker edge in the Pats’ favor, but consider this intoxicating thought: The Bills, as current fifth seed, would travel to the Colts if the season ended today; tell me they couldn’t win that game. The Bills are a hard team to figure. The Dolphins led them Sunday, in Orchard Park, for almost 28 minutes, and ran up 381 yards of offense. The Bills got booed lustily as they left the field at halftime, down 14-9. And were it not for third-year corner Tre’Davious White, they very well could have lost this game. Miami started the second half with a 10-minute drive, and Ryan Fitzpatrick tried to end the drive with a short TD pass to Isaiah Ford. White picked it off at the Buffalo 2. Two drives later, White forced a fumble at the Miami 28, recovered by the Bills. Talk about big turnovers: Both led to Buffalo touchdowns, and a 14-9 deficit was turned into a 24-14 lead. Ballgame.
• To say Cincinnati is a dumpster fire would be insulting to dumpster fires. The bell tolls for thee, Andy Dalton. (Even though it’s hardly your fault.) The Cincinnati schedule over the next eight weeks: Rams in London, bye (bye’s a 3.5-point pick), Baltimore, at Oakland, Pittsburgh, New York Jets, at Cleveland, New England. Then the golden game, Dec. 22, in south Florida: Cincinnati (0-14) at Miami (0-14). Home on Christmas break in various parts of the United States, Justin Herbert, Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow wonder: Who am I rooting for here? Men, I’ve got bad news for you: One of you is going to end up with a striped helmet next fall.
• The Mahomes story. The Chiefs got good news on the dislocated kneecap suffered by Mahomes on Thursday night in Denver. Though the injury makes Mahomes more susceptible to recurrences in the future, Adam Schefter reported he could miss three weeks or less. The next two foes, Green Bay (next Sunday night) and Minnesota, are dangerous, and a trip to Nashville without Mahomes would be a hard game to win in three weeks. The Chiefs have a 1.5-game lead on second-place Oakland, plus the tiebreaker edge, in the weak AFC West, so K.C. still has a significant inside track on the division title. But as for a top-two seed and a bye week, that’s going to be a challenge with division leaders Baltimore and Indianapolis hot teams right now. Still, the Chiefs got a good 50 minutes from Matt Moore the other night, so who knows? Mahomes left a mark on his team, by the way, the way he left the field Thursday night. “When Pat walked off,” Andy Reid said, “he wouldn’t take the cart. I think that probably set a tempo. Let’s go. It’s time to go. Everybody toughen up and let’s roll. I saw Tyreek [Hill] grab the offensive guys and the skill guys and tell them that we’re rolling here, we’re not letting up an inch.” They didn’t. But can they do that against Aaron Rodgers? I’ll tell you what would be very weird: A loss to Green Bay would give the Chiefs three straight losses at Arrowhead Stadium. Now, there’s no way I ever thought that would happen in the Reid/Mahomes era.
• A tribute to Teddy Bridgewater. Drew Brees got hurt five weeks ago, and Bridgewater is 5-0 as his replacement, and you have to wonder if, in the wee hours one night this week, when Sean Payton’s beautiful offensive mind starts thinking of gameplans for Arizona this weekend, he’ll also wonder if he could win the biggest games with Bridgewater. That’s the biggest tribute Bridgewater could engender. In his first two wins, he managed the team—held the fort. In the last three, he’s put up 26.7 points per game with a 108.3 passer rating. He’s calm, accurate and not prone to mistakes. All the reasons Minnesota favored him over Johnny Manziel in the 2014 pre-draft process are apparent now, and Bridgewater is earning himself a future. I’ll tell you two interesting spots for Bridgewater if he leaves New Orleans after this season: in Denver, where John Elway might view him as the long-term starter, and if he falters, as the mentor for Drew Lock; or as Tennessee’s pick to succeed Marcus Mariota. He’ll be one of the league’s most interesting spring 2020 stories.
Offensive Players of the Week
Aaron Rodgers, quarterback, Green Bay. Rodgers entered Sunday having accounted for eight touchdowns—all passing—in the Packers’ 5-1 start. He had the fourth six-TD game of his illustrious career, throwing five touchdown passes and running for a sixth score in the 42-24 win over Oakland.
Jacoby Brissett, quarterback, Indianapolis. Playing for sole possession of the AFC South eight weeks after the sudden retirement of Andrew Luck, Brissett outplayed one of the hottest quarterbacks in football, Houston’s Deshaun Watson, who could be a Brissett rival for years, in Indianapolis’ 30-23 win. Brissett (26 of 39 for 326 yards, four touchdowns, no picks) earned his most important victory in the NFL, vaulting the 4-2 Colts past the 4-3 Texans for sole possession of first place in the division. All four touchdown passes came in the first 44 minutes, when Indy built a 28-16 lead.
Chase Edmonds, running back, Arizona. Playing three hours from his hometown (Harrisburg) and 45 minutes from his college campus (Fordham University in the Bronx), Edmonds rushed 27 times for 126 yards, including touchdown runs of 20, 20 and 22, as the Cardinals beat the Giants in New Jersey. Big day for Edmonds, and not just because of the game’s locale. With David Johnson hobbled by a sprained ankle and limited to one carry, Edmonds was going to get almost all of the work Sunday—and he was more important, too, because the game was played in a driving rain with wind. Not a day for Kyler Murray to be in control of the ball.
Defensive Players of the Week
Marcus Peters, cornerback, Baltimore. Great play by Peters in his first game as a Raven, and in the town (Seattle) where he went to college. With five minutes left in the first half and the Ravens trailing 10-6, Peters baited Wilson into a mistake. Playing on the offense’s right side at the wide corner, Peters took off and began sprinting downfield—until he saw Wilson throwing to the receiver, Jaron Brown, in the space he vacated. So Peters pivoted, turned around, and picked the ball off right in front of Brown. He sprinted 67 yards for the touchdown, and the lead. Nice trade, Eric DeCosta.
Chandler Jones, linebacker, Arizona.The second-best trade GM Steve Keim has made (aside from paying pennies on the dollar for Carson Palmer when Bruce Arians took over as coach) was acquiring Jones from New England in 2016, and it continued to pay dividends Sunday in New Jersey. In the 27-21 win over the Giants, Jones had a career-best four sacks of Giants QB Daniel Jones and five tackles. Interesting: Sunday was his 55th game as a Cardinal, after playing 55 for the Patriots pre-trade. In the equivalent number of games, Jones had 36 sacks for New England. He now has 49.5 for Arizona.
Nick Bosa, defensive end, San Francisco. The more we see of Bosa, the more it looks like he could be the best of all the recent top-of-the-draft-pick pass-rushers and QB-disruptors. Playing in the howling wind and steady rain Sunday in a mudpile in Washington, Bosa keyed a 9-0 victory with a sack of Case Keenum, seven tackles, and one head-first dive into what looked like a Slip-N-Slide in standing water. There are days you need to play rock-ribbed D and simply play to not turn it over and to win with field position. That’s what Sunday was for Washington.
Anthony Hitchens, linebacker, Kansas City. First 20 games for the Chiefs: zero sacks. Twenty-first game for the Chiefs: two sacks, including a strip-sack returned for a touchdown by teammate Reggie Ragland, and a 10-yard sack of Joe Flacco four plays later. The Chiefs had nine sacks, and the most dispiriting was the strip-and-score that made it 20-6.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Cordarrelle Patterson, kick-returner, Chicago. When your offense is performing as poorly as Chicago’s, the special teams become paramount. Trailing New Orleans 9-0 late in the first quarter, the Bears had to feel desperate. That’s when Patterson interceded. Taking a kickoff two yards deep in the end zone, Patterson bisected the Saints kick-coverage team, first through the middle and then jutting to the right, never being threatened on his way to the 102-yard return that put the Bears back into the game.
Johnny Hekker, punter, L.A. Rams. (First: How, how, how, how when you’re playing the Rams and special-teams coordinator John Fassel are you totally unprepared for a fake punt in plus-territory—the Atlanta 46-yard line? That’s on Dan Quinn and his staff. They may say they were prepared, but it sure looked like they were not.) Late second quarter, fourth-and-three, Hekker took the snap and transitioned to a quarterback immediately. He threw to the right flat to safety Nick Scott, and Scott ran up the right sideline for 23 yards. That led to a late first-half field goal and a 13-3 halftime lead for the Rams. I’d love to know how many fakes Fassel has called over the years. I’d bet he’s been successful on 70 percent.
Michael Thomas, safety, New York Giants. Thanks to a boneheaded 15-yard sack taken by Kyler Murray, the Cards had to punt from their 4-yard line with 10 minutes left in the first half. Thomas beat the protection and blocked the Andy Lee punt, and it was recovered for a touchdown in the end zone by running back Elijhaa Penny.
Coach of the Week
Steve Spagnuolo, defensive coordinator, Kansas City. No medals for holding the woebegone Broncos to 205 yards and one-for-13 on third downs, but understand where the Chiefs were heading into the Thursday-nighter at Denver, which had won two in a row (somehow). But the KC defense had allowed 27 points and 190 rushing yards per game over the previous four games, and Spagnuolo tightened up the run defense, holding the Broncos to 71 yards on the ground and suffocating Joe Flacco in a 30-6 win.
Goat of the Week
Derek Carr, quarterback, Oakland. When you play a Green Bay offense that’s humming, you’d better not give the Packers extra chances. Carr fumbled one rush through the end zone, throwing away seven points. And he threw an interception from the Packers’ 15-yard line in the third quarter. Both turnovers led to Green Bay touchdowns, and in an 18-point loss, that’s pretty significant.
Melvin Gordon, running back, L.A. Chargers. Why exactly did the Chargers bring back Gordon? He continued his disappointing return to play in Nashville on Sunday. He had a wholly unimpactful 16 carries for 32 yards. And with the Chargers down 23-20 with 19 seconds left and the ball at the Tennessee two-foot line, Gordon slammed into the right side of the line and didn’t score. Not only didn’t he score, but a review of the play found he fumbled, and the Titans recovered, ending the game. I watched the replay and never saw a clear fumble, but that was the ruling—Gordon fumbling to cost the slumping Chargers the game.
“We have no rhythm, no balance.”
—Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, after the Saints routed the Bears on Sunday.
“I gotta get back to my originals because, ain’t no way, I can’t get caught by no linebackers.”
—Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, on changing his cleats multiple times while figuring out the footing on a soggy Seattle field Sunday. Jackson rushed for 116 yards, on 14 carries, in leading Baltimore to a 30-16 win. Jackson is on pace to break Michael Vick’s single-season rushing yards record (1,039) for a quarterback.
“On the field, we won it twice.”
—Chargers tight end Hunter Henry, expressing disbelief—like all of us—over how the loss to the Titans ended. Twice in the final 37 seconds, the Chargers found the end zone, only for replay reviews to overturn the touchdowns. The game ended when Melvin Gordon fumbled at the goal-line and Tennessee recovered.
“This is where Joe Flacco, he’s got to be the leader. Heck, he’s been around—Super Bowl winner, he’s in his 12th year. You know, I don’t want to be too hard on Joe, but let’s get a little life out here … Still, very lackadaisical. The whole operation.”
—FOX’s Troy Aikman, via Deadspin, early in the fourth quarter of the Denver loss to a (mostly) Mahomes-less Chiefs 30-6 Thursday night, on the putrid Broncos offense.
“This is about as bad an offense as I’ve seen.”
—Aikman, a series later.
“He worked until his last breath, because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation’s diversity was our promise, not our problem.”
—Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the widow of Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the 13-term Congressman who died at 68 on Thursday in Baltimore.
Sam Ponder • Host, ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown • Photographed in New York City
Ponder on Thursday was honored as 2019 Literacy Champion for New Jersey-based Write on Sports, which uses sports as a vehicle to improve writing and reading skills for middle-school students. She was asked what message she wanted to leave the students in attendance.
“I was so naive in terms of what it would take to do this job. I’m actually realizing now that that naivete was a gift. What I’ve discovered, now in my 15th year in this industry, is that even the people who I thought were so impressive and so high up and so successful were all insecure and scared just like me. Even at the highest level, these super-impactful and wealthy and important people that our society puts on a pedestal, those people were scared too. They were insecure. I remember when I started, I was so nervous to talk to the Nick Sabans, the Jim Harbaughs. People that were, to me, so successful and impressive. And if I could go back and talk to my younger self now, I would tell myself to press into that fear. I’ve learned the reason sometimes people at that level seem standoffish or not very personable is because they’re insecure. They don’t want to say something stupid or sound dumb. People are people. We are all broken and messy and all a little bit insecure and all trying to figure it out as we go.
“Learning that now, as a 33-year-old, has taken such a weight off of some of those impossible dreams that you all might have. I no longer think of myself as a lesser human being, the way I might have thought when I started out. I think there’s obviously so much value in humility, but I think there’s a way to be confidently humble. It’s not about arrogance. It’s not about stepping up to Nick Saban or whoever and you know, being a little arrogant in your interaction with them—but being confident in that you know you have a purpose too, and you have dreams just like that person does. I wish I would’ve grasped that at an early age.”
Denver is 14-25 over the past 2.5 seasons. That’s the worst three-year stretch for the franchise in nearly a half-century, since going 14-26-2 (in a 14-game schedule) from 1970-72. The Broncos can equal it (probably will, in fact) with a loss at Indianapolis in Week 8.
The bell may begin to toll for John Elway soon. The Broncos are 2-5, and their remaining road schedule alone would seem to make it highly likely they will finish under .500 for the third straight year.
Elway was hired by the late owner, Pat Bowlen, to restore the greatness of the Broncos last seen under Mike Shanahan. His first major move, convincing Peyton Manning to sign with the team in 2012, worked well: Denver won the AFC West in Manning’s four seasons and won the Super Bowl in his last season. But his other significant quarterback moves? Not so good.
• 2012: Brock Osweiler (second round, 57th overall). Retired last week. At least Elway didn’t give him a second contract.
• 2015: Trevor Siemian (seventh round, 250th overall). Best value of the bunch: 13-11 in two post-Manning years.
• 2016: Paxton Lynch (first round, 26th overall). Total bust.
• 2018: Case Keenum (UFA). Paid $25 million for a year, and Keenum was the NFL’s 29th-rated QB.
• 2019: Joe Flacco (acquired for a fourth-round pick, 113th overall). Looks old, unmotivated and through.
• 2019: Drew Lock (second round, 42nd overall). Incomplete. On IR. Had a shaky training camp.
Man, other than signing Manning, that is one ugly quarterback résumé. Credit where it’s due: Wrangling Manning to Denver was one of the best free-agent wins of the decade. But the QB misses and the recent draft record is at best spotty; first-rounders Garett Bolles (2017) and Noah Fant (2019) both look terrible.
If I’m Elway, I’m putting Emmanuel Sanders and Chris Harris Jr., on the block, hoping to get two picks in the first five rounds for them. Then I decide whether the best plan is to go all-in on Lock as the quarterback of the future. If so, you use the 2020 draft to build around him, particularly on the offensive line. If not, you use the top-10 pick Denver will have and supplement with the extra picks (Denver has Pittsburgh’s three from the Devin Bush trade-down last April) and move up to get in prime passer position. Another quarterback after acquiring Keenum, Flacco and Lock in the last 20 months seems almost malpractice. But if Elway and his staff don’t have the confidence in Lock, they’ve got to be aggressive to get one of the good guys in the ’20 draft.
It’s a tangled web. Elway might not have many more drafts to run to get the quarterback right.
Philip Rivers jumped from eighth to sixth on the all-time passing yards list Sunday afternoon, and he did it in less than the running time of “The Godfather: Part II.” Detailing Rivers’ rise Sunday in Nashville, where the Chargers lost to the Titans:
And yes, he did pass both Manning and Roethlisberger on the same completion: a 21-yard shot up the right side to Mike Williams, boosting his yardage to total to 56,556.
Time in the air Saturday from LaGuardia to Atlanta, with the latter being hit by a major rainstorm: 2 hours, 22 minutes. On time. Impressed. With packed airports on either end and bad weather for the approach and on the landing, I was surprised to be on time.
Time to deplane, walk through C terminal in Atlanta, board the airport train, find the skytrain to the rental car center, rent a car from Hertz, drive the 16 miles through the rain and through very heavy (Saturday afternoon?) traffic in Atlanta and check into my hotel in Buckhead: 2 hours, 2 minutes.
Except the room wasn’t ready. The room actually wasn’t ready till 5:20 p.m.
So it took 25 minutes longer to get from the Atlanta airport to check into my room than to it took to fly 852 miles.
2016: The odd career of Brock Osweiler, and how Khalil Mack landed on his first SI cover
The managing editor of Sports Illustrated, Chris Stone, asked me and the staff of our NFL microsite, The MMQB, to take over the Week 1 NFL issue of 2016. So I decided to do a day in the life of the league, with reporters fanned out across the country to various games, to do reporting on whatever happened.
This was going to be the only cover I ever picked (along with input from editors at our site) in what would turn out to be a 29-year SI career, so this was a big deal to me. We pre-planned only one thing—a story on emerging star pass-rusher Khalil Mack of the Raiders, and we got Mack to do a photo shoot wearing The MMQB T-shirt. The images were pretty cool, and at the time, the magazine was big on promoting our site. But there were other stories in the league too. Jimmy Garoppolo was leading the Patriots into the season, replacing the suspended Tom Brady, in the Sunday night game at Arizona, but he was in a tough spot, a young kid starting for Brady, and he hardly wanted to draw attention to himself by strutting for the cover. Also: Larry Fitzgerald had agreed to wear the T-shirt if the Cards beat the Patriots, so we could set up a good post-game shot in Arizona, where I’d flown after the morning in Houston. Brock Osweiler, the bonus baby signed almost sight unseen by the Texans in the offseason, was starting his first game in Houston, and I was behind the scenes at the Texans meetings Saturday night, and drove to the stadium with Bill O’Brien on Sunday morning. So I had so good stuff there, enough to justify an Osweiler cover if he did something good.
The Raiders played a wild game, winning late 35-34 at New Orleans. But Mack didn’t have a sack, and it wasn’t a big day for the D.
The Texans won, and Osweiler was okay, completing 22 of 35 with two TDs. But he completed only one pass over 25 yards. Meh.
After the game, Osweiler, apparently thinking putting on the T-shirt was hokey (who could blame him?), refused to do it. So his meh performance was followed by a meh quickie post-game photo shoot, and though we still had Osweiler in the hopper, we weren’t excited about putting him on the cover.
So now Patriots-Cards. Good game. Good job by Garoppolo, and two touchdown receptions for the ageless Fitzgerald. All the Cards needed for the Fitzgerald cover was a 47-yard field goal with 36 seconds left (no timeouts left for New England), which would have given the Cardinals a 24-23 lead and, likely, a victory over the team of the era.
In what was to be a habitual thing for Catanzaro, the kick sailed wide left. There went the Fitzgerald cover.
We went with the charismatic Mack. Now, when I look at that cover on the wall of my home office in Brooklyn, I remember the bizarre story and I’m pretty happy—to say the least—we went with the cover you see versus the Osweiler photo that could have been the cover.
I was reminded of it all when Osweiler retired last week. He was very good at making money ($41.4 million in a six-year, mostly star-crossed career), and he did manage to win five games with Peyton Manning hurt in the Broncos’ Super Bowl season of 2015, but he never became the player John Elway thought he’d be when picking him in the second round in 2012. I’ve often wondered what we’d have with the cover if Osweiler put The MMQB shirt on and looked even remotely happy about it. The answer is, I don’t know.
A couple of years ago, I saw Mack at Raiders training camp, and reminded him of the cover. He remembered. And he was thrilled with it.
“I have to sign that magazine all the time!” he said.
Gosselin is a veteran pro football writer now with Talk of Fame Network.
Mark Dalton is the veteran senior VP of media relations for the Cardinals.
Aaron Schatz runs advanced-stats site Football Outsiders.
Mitchell, from THE Ohio University, is a former NFL safety.
Layden is a writer-at-large for NBC Sports.
Last week, I asked for educators to send their experiences about the coarsening of dialog in the country in the Trump era and how it was affecting kids in schools. I got about 40 messages, and I’ve abridged a few here.
From a Kansas school superintendent. From Greg Clark, of Holyrood, Kan.: “You asked how can we as educators deal with the way our president behaves and how it relates to the students. To be honest we have not seen much of a change in the students, but the parents, why yes we have. What President Trump has done has empowered people to be rude and say things they would normally not say. It is a sad day for America … Trump has emboldened people in the country to forget political correctness and say what they never would have said before. As a school superintendent, I have been cussed out many times and treated poorly on many occasions.”
Sorry to say that’s exactly my perception of how it is in some schools today. Good luck, Greg. You’re doing a vital job.
From a government teacher in upstate New York. From Dan Young, of Baldwinsville, N.Y.: “I teach Advanced Placement Government and Politics to seniors at Baker High School in Baldwinsville, N.Y., a suburb of Syracuse. It is inevitable that students will ask me my opinion of the president and his actions. I have found that honesty is the best policy with the students, as I believe that modeling integrity to be of paramount importance. I first tell the students that I have an immense amount of respect for the office of the presidency. This is arguably the most powerful job in the world, and thus demands respect, but should also consist of a certain decorum. President Trump, to be brutally frank, embarrasses me. This is not how the President of the United States should act. I stress to the students that there is nothing wrong with having strong opinions, which the president has, however there is no other word to describe how President Trump acts than a bully … It is important to me that students leave my room at the end of the year as adults who can research an issue to make an informed decision, and then present their opinion in a clear way, without emotion clouding the issue. It is not an easy task, but in a country as divided as ours is at the moment, I feel it is my duty to show the students how to rise above the pettiness and recognize and respect that people will have different viewpoints than them.”
So many good teachers in this country, and I have heard from many of them this week. Thanks, Dan.
Enough already with the politics. From John D.: “We get it. You’re liberal and you hate the POTUS. Just shut up already about it.”
I will spend some words from time to time calling it the way I see it.
I am a coward for not addressing China last week. From Jeff Cannon Sr.: “You’re a coward, Peter. A quiet coward. Thank the ghosts that your industry is dying an accelerated death … Avoiding the subject of China while taking another needless shot at the president cost you a loyal reader. Good day.”
You mean you don’t want me to stick to sports?
No end to your love of the Patriots. From Cliff Price: “Tom Brady as the number four MVP candidate? Seriously? Over Christian McCaffrey? And you wonder why people perceive you as pro-New England? The only reason they are undefeated is an unbelievable defense and the fact they’ve had a soft schedule.”
I put Brady in the top five last week because he’s playing with what I’m pretty sure collectively is the worst set of skill players in the NFL right now. The men who played 50 or more snaps last week at TE, WR or RB for New England: Ryan Izzo (79), Julian Edelman (72), Jakobi Meyers (56), Gunner Olszewski (50). And because New England had scored more offensive points through six weeks than Green Bay, New Orleans and Indianapolis.
No end to your hatred of the Patriots. From Gary Taylor: “In both of your examples about pass interference that weren’t called [in last week’s column], it figures you would have Patriots defensive backs committing the fouls. You really hate [Bill] Belichick. Just admit it.”
The use of the Patriots DBs to make my case was a coincidence because they fit the case of a call the league felt was obvious pass interference that Al Riveron said would be called with the new rules (the Stephon Gilmore non-call on Brandin Cooks in the Super Bowl) and the more egregious pass interference this year that somehow Al Riveron did not call pass interference. But I’m guessing you won’t buy that explanation.
Thursday night truth. From Jeff Rickbrodt: “I don’t understand why the NFL does’t have two teams out of the bye week play on Thursday night vs two teams that just played 4 days prior. If the NFL was really concerned about player safety, then I would think it would be a no brainer to have the Thursday Night Football game between two teams coming out of a bye week.
Every time I discuss the Thursday night games, I get quite a few responses like this one. It’s a very good idea, of course, with one major problem: The players like a full bye week. Most coaches, with 13 days between games, will give their players six to eight days off. (The Raiders, after their win in London, got seven.) If players had a bye before the Thursday night game, they’d probably have a four or five-day break … maybe Monday or Tuesday through Friday, in advance of coming Saturday to prepare for the following game. Players count on the mini-vacation during the season, and I think many—I believe it is a majority but am not sure—would rather have that six-day break and play one short-week game.
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 7:
a. Excellent work by Andrew Beaton and Ben Cohen of the Wall Street Journal. They reported that a one-second still shot of the 1989 China demonstrations in Tiananmen Square during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, in “an innocuous tribute to freedom” on the telecast, was shown on the Chinese telecast of the game and angered the Chinese government so much that it derailed the league’s progress toward making China a significant global market for football. Because China did not allow the iconic 1989 shot of a man standing in front of a tank and not moving to be seen in the country, leaders there were outraged that it got shown on a telecast from the United States, Beaton and Cohen reported.
b. In retrospect, the Ravens getting a fourth-round pick for Joe Flacco was a steal.
c. Matt Moore. Took over for the injured Patrick Mahomes, played 50 of 60 minutes in Denver, and the Chiefs outscored Denver 20-0 while he played. Threw a beautiful deep-strike touchdown to Tyreek Hill too.
d. Anthony Barr’s acrobatic pass-breakup in Detroit.
e. Why the Rams aren’t particularly discouraged by Greg Zuerlein missing makeable field goals (he shtoinked a 40-yarder off the left upright Sunday in Atlanta): his 55-yard field goal late in the first quarter would have been good from 68. Maybe 70. Just an amazing leg.
f. How cool it must have been for the overlooked Chase Edmonds, who played in front of sparse crowds at Fordham, to returns to greater New York and bang out two 20-yard TD runs in the first quarter for Arizona against the Giants?
g. Kudos, Matthew Stafford, getting to 40,000 passing yards faster than any quarterback in history. He’s 31. When I started in the business in 1984, Fran Tarkenton was the all-time passing leader with 47,003 yards. Eleven quarterbacks have passed Tarkenton in the last 25 years, and Aaron Rodgers and Stafford will get there soon.
h. I recall the Raiders being worried about their tight end spot before the season. Not only do they have a long-term keeper in Darren Waller, but also their rookie, Foster Moreau, has been a revelation as a pass-catcher and a willing blocker. Great touchdown stretch by Moreau for the touchdown in Green Bay. How about the value of those two? Waller was undrafted, and Moreau a fourth-round pick this year.
i. The fans dressed as clowns in Detroit wearing striped ref shirts.
j. The Brissett-Watson quarterback duel in Indy. We could see that one for years to come, and I wouldn’t mind.
k. Love coaches taking a shot on the first play of the half, especially when the quarterback taking the shot is Aaron Rodgers. On the first play of the second half, he rainbowed a beauty for 59 yards to Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
2. I think this is what I did not like about Week 7:
a. Everything about the game of Joe Flacco. In particular, on third-and-16 in the fourth quarter, throwing a pass to a well-covered receiver, DaeSean Hamilton, a yard behind the line of scrimmage, where he was met and creamed.
b. That’s as hopeless of an offense as I’ve seen this year. It’s right up there with the Jets of Luke Falk, and the Dolphins of the first two weeks.
c. The Giants’ run defense. Did anyone on the defense even touch the Fordham Flash, Chase Edmonds, on his first of two 20-yard TD runs?
d. Needless first-quarter offensive pass-interference challenge by Jon Gruden at Green Bay. Not overturned, of course. What a waste.
e. You too, Pat Shurmur. Didn’t you learn your lesson in Foxboro?
f. The roughing-the-passer call by ref Ronald Torbert in Atlanta on Falcons linebacker Foyesade Oluokun, who crashed into Jared Goff’s shoulder just as he released a pass. The hit was hard, and should have been legal. The NFL likely will say it was a body-weight sack, but Oluokun did not crunch Goff to the ground; he tackled Goff and fell with him. It’s a classic what’d-you-want-the-guy-to-do flag.
3. I think the Falcons are dreadful, which you know. Totally toothless performance against the Rams at home, allowing 37 points to a team that had been struggling mightily. I don’t see how Dan Quinn lasts much longer. Arthur Blank doesn’t seem quite ready to make a change, but as he goes through this week, his emotions could change.
4. I think the most amazing thing about this NFL season, as I look a month down the road, is this: The Niners have three of the next four at home—Carolina, at Arizona, Seattle, Arizona. They are 6-0 now. Imagine for a moment the next game, on Nov. 24 in Santa Clara. Green Bay at San Francisco. It could be the 9-1 Pack at the 10-0 Niners. Whatever it is, that game’s going to be a gem.
5. I think Kirk Cousins might have turned the corner. “He’s playing the best I’ve seen him play since he’s been here,” coach Mike Zimmer said after Cousins had his third straight 300-yard passing game and his third straight game with at least 70-percent completions (his ratings in the last three games: 138.6, 138.4, 141.4). I’d expect the success to continue Thursday night against Washington at home, but then trips to Kansas City and Dallas will be the next hurdles.
6. I think it’s easy to fine players, as the NFL did to the Rams’ Clay Matthews and Detroit’s Tracy Walker, for criticizing officiating. Walker called the officiating “awful.” The offensive Matthews tweet:
Regarding Matthews: It is the storyline; more people are writing and talking about officiating than the league celebrating pro football’s 100th season. Regarding Walker: Several calls were awful. Each got fined $12,500 for telling the truth. It’s a travesty.
7. I think the outrage continues to be that league owners voted 31-1 to allow instant-replay challenges for pass-interference calls and non-calls, and no one has explained to this day why the standard to overturn a call has changed drastically from March till now. In March, as I wrote last week, the Brandin Cooks non-call in the Super Bowl would have been flagged under the new rules this year. Yet muggings worse than that do not get overturned now. Who changed the standard? When did it change? Why did it change?
8. I think there haven’t been this many serviceable to good receivers available at the deadline in some time: Mohamed Sanu, Emmanuel Sanders, DeVante Parker, A.J. Green (Bengals will balk, but come on—he’s 31 and won’t be part of the long-term fix if there is one) and maybe even Robby Anderson if the price is right. It’s a good year for receiver-needy teams.
9. I think of all the streaks I didn’t think I’d see in 2019, these two are tied for first: San Francisco winning six in a row to start the season, and Arizona winning three in a row … anytime. Kliff Kingsbury’s got a better winning percentage in the NFL than he had in college.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Happy 80th birthday (Saturday), Mike Ditka.
b. Story of the Week: Victoria Kim of the Los Angeles Times reporting from South Korea, on the video game addiction sweeping youth in the country. This is a great lead, from Kim:
SEOUL — His video game habit started in middle school.
His bedroom door was always locked, and when his grandmother stood on the veranda and peered through his window, he was invariably engrossed in an on-screen gunfight.
He eventually began disappearing to play at internet cafes. Night after night, she would search for him, and he would try to evade her.
Now he is 21 and unemployed. In June at his grandfather’s funeral, he played games on his phone.
“There wasn’t a day he’d go without playing,” said his grandmother, who raised him and felt so ashamed by his situation that she would speak only on condition that her family not be named. “Games ruined the child.”
c. Wow: At his grandfather’s funeral, he played games on his phone.
d. Statement of the Week: Austin Danforth of the Burlington (Vermont) Free Press, on the Burlington high school girls soccer team that not only wore #EQUALPAY T-shirts under their soccer shirts and exposed the shirts at an opportune time in a game, but also sold the shirts to raise money for soccer in the area and to draw attention to the financial fight of the U.S. Women’s national team.
e. Do something for this team, Megan Rapinoe. (I feel sure the U.S. team will.)
f. So proud to live in the same country as the late Rep. Elijah Cummings, who died last week.
g. Tribute of the Week: Jamil Smith of Rolling Stone on the death and legacy of Cummings, son and grandson of sharecroppers.
h. Smith: “‘We are better than this!’ was one of his frequent exhortations, and I am not sure that we were.”
i. Smith: “Cummings signed two subpoenas driven to him in Baltimore hours before his death.”
j. One overriding thought about the NBA-China-United States-LeBron-Morey story: If Daryl Morey expresses his opinion wishing good luck to Hong Kong for its freedom fight from China, and if China gets incredibly ticked off about it, that is understandable. China is not as free as the United States. So of course China will be angry. So what? The Chinese run their country their way. We run our country our way. Why should anyone in the United States—particularly someone who has benefited from the freedoms of the United States like LeBron James—kowtow to China? Our belief is that our citizens can speak freely, which is what Daryl Morey was doing. China should understand this is who we are. Who cares if China is offended? If the Chinese don’t accept that we have a right to criticize them, well, tough. And if it costs the NBA billions, such is life.
k. I get it: It’s not my money at stake. But it’s outrageous, honestly, that China would be outraged at us. If they want to prevent their citizens from speaking freely, that’s their business. We allow our citizens to express opinions, on everything. They should understand that.
l. Congrats, Lovie Smith, on the Illinois win over Wisconsin. He’s a good man, and I know how long he’s been waiting for a moment like the one the Illini created Saturday.
m. How cool was this moment Saturday in Newark for Devils rookie Jack Hughes, the first pick in the NHL draft last summer? He scored his first NHL goal in the first period against Vancouver. It was the only goal of the game. It came in the first professional game he’d ever played against his brother, Quinn Hughes, the seventh pick in the 2018 draft. Their parents were there. Jack gave the puck from his first goal to them. You’re not going to have many better days in life than that.
n. What an ALCS. So many interesting things about it, particularly Game 6 on Saturday night. Crowd at full throat, ninth inning, a 4-2 Houston lead—and the closer, Roberto Osuna, gives up a two-run jack to one of the greatest players of this season in any uniform, D.J. LeMahieu, and it fell just inches beyond the glove of the leaping right fielder, George Springer. Bottom nine: Jose Altuve is such a great player, such a clutch player, that anytime he gets up, I almost expect something great. And he homered to win it. Two incredible moments.
o. Yanks’ big bats let them down, but it wasn’t much of a hitters’ series. I liked the chess match of the relievers’ game Saturday, and though I get no one wants a 4:09 baseball game, and I get it’s not a sustainable fan experience for games regularly to be that long, on that stage, with that drama, in an elimination game, I wasn’t bothered by it.
p. I was bothered by some of the fan behavior in the outfield at Yankee Stadium. First, regarding the treatment of Houston pitcher Zack Greinke while he warmed up before the Thursday night game, NJ Advance Media said one of its reporters spent from 7:40 p.m. until about 8 p.m. in the bleachers, “watching the chaos. Chants digging at Greinke’s battles with social anxiety disorder and depression rained down on the 35-year-old right-hander as he threw to a catcher. Fans leaned over the concrete barrier between the stands and the bullpen and shouted insults about Greinke’s mother too.”
q. Audible on FS1 in the seventh inning of Game 5 on Friday night at Yankee Stadium: “F— Altuve! F— Altuve.”
r. Curious: Are you sitting with your sons and daughters when you say those things?
s. Didn’t think so.
t. Coffeenerdness: Had my inaugural pumpkin spice latte of the season Saturday. Same as it ever was. Too sweet. Way too sweet.
u. Beernerdness: Several emails to me in the past week after I said I enjoyed drinking beer in the vessel it came in. Evidently that’s not too popular. I remember the bartender who gave me my first Heady Topper (the great Alchemist beer from Vermont) telling me he wouldn’t serve it in a glass—it’s meant to be consumed from the silver can. Plus, I love quite cold beer, and it stands to reason a beer’s going to get slightly warmer removing it from the can or bottle and pouring it into a glass.
v. Fantastic MLB ad, with Mike Trout playing catch with a kid in the stands and yelling to him, “Your arm tired yet?”
w. Been around a long time and have never seen this.
x. Enjoy your first World Series since 1933, Washington.
Today: East Rutherford, N.J. Patriots-Jets, 8:20 p.m. With the Patriots offense missing some of its weaponry, it could be a golden time for the Jets to steal one, the way they did last Sunday against Dallas. But I wonder what factor the Kelechi Osemele story will have. Plucked from Oakland in the offseason to buttress one of the worst offensive lines in football, Osemele finds himself in a war with the Jets. He says he needs surgery to repair a torn labrum, and doesn’t want to keep playing while being medicated with the strong anti-inflammatory Toradol. The Jets say the injury is not that severe and he can play through the rest of the season and have it repaired in the winter, and fined him Saturday for not practicing. Four of their five offensive linemen will either miss the game or play hurt—not good against a team with the best defense in football.
Wednesday: Santa Clara, Calif. Nick Bosa turns 22. Seems like a guy who’s had some happy birthdays.
Sunday: Foxboro, Mass. Cleveland begins a 19-day stretch that will either save or ruin the season. Browns are 2-4. Anything less than 2-2 against New England and Denver on the road and Buffalo and Pittsburgh (on a Thursday night) at home will make the final six (featuring two with Cincinnati, one each with Arizona and Miami) relatively unimportant.
Don’t read the Sun Times this week.
Or maybe ever.