I’m trying to think of a comp for Nick Bosa seven games into an NFL life. Pass-rusher, but a bull-rusher too. Did you see Bosa push mountainous Pro Bowl tackle Andrew Whitworth of the Rams back into Jared Goff two weeks ago? Pass-rusher, but a cover guy too. Did you see him shadow Christian McCaffrey on a wheel route out of the backfield Sunday against Carolina? Pass-rusher, but an acrobatic interceptor too. Did you see the leaping pick of Kyle Allen, evading three tackles on a 46-yard return?
But the main thing’s the main thing: seven sacks in seven games (three in the first half of the Niners’ 51-13 home win Sunday), seven wins. Bosa’s been a huge part of San Francisco’s shocking 7-0 start. “He deserves rookie of the year,” Richard Sherman said Sunday, “but right now he should be in line for defensive MVP.”
So much to get to today—Belichick’s 300th, Brees’ comeback, Green Bay’s 7-1, Deshaun Watson’s play of the year, a Zebra-marred loss for the Bucs, the bizarre coaching stratagem of Matt Nagy, J.J. Watt’s sorrow, Joe Flacco is pissed, Browns keep Browning. In due time, all of it. Bosa may have thought he was coming to a good spot when the Niners picked him second overall last April, but now he knows how fortuitous it really was: He’s one of five first-round picks in the front four, and the rotation keeps the pressure up for four quarters. If any single element is most responsible for San Francisco’s stunning rise to the top of the NFC West, it’s the defensive front, which averages a sack on 12 percent of all pass plays.
I’d argue that Bosa’s been the most impactful edge player to enter the NFL since Julius Peppers in 2002. Since 2000, 18 edge players have been picked in the top five in the past 20 NFL drafts. Bosa’s seven sacks and one interception through seven games is exactly the stat line of Peppers—and only Von Miller (six sacks, no picks) is close. No other player picked in the top five had more than four sacks in his first seven games. Probably only Peppers was asked to do as much as Bosa early, playing all over the field. And Peppers or Miller weren’t the run player Bosa’s shown so far. Bosa is a complete player in a room full of defensive-line stalwarts.
“I came into a really good situation with the D-line we have,” Bosa said from California after the game. “I was a little starstruck when I first came in here; I’ve got a bunch of first-round picks I get to roll with, and you saw what we can do today when we get a lead and they’ve got to throw.”
“He’s got to be one of the best picks in the last 10 years,” said Sherman. “He plays like a 10-year vet, with such savviness and poise.”
One of Bosa’s sacks came when he was sent sprawling by a Panther tackle; he got up and dove at Kyle Allen and ankle-sacked him. The interception was the kind of play you’d see from a DeAndre Hopkins-type of athlete. Left tackle Dennis Daley lunged at Bosa’s knees, and Bosa went sprawling outside Daley to avoid it. And when he rose … well, let him tell it. “Early in the game, [Daley] cut me really bad. Obviously, I hate to get cut [have his knees dived at]. I played the cut to the outside, and I got up, and I looked in the quarterback’s eyes. I saw what he was going to do.”
Throw the quick pass in the flat to McCaffrey, Bosa meant.
“I jumped up, and the ball went right into my arms,” he said. “After that, it was just instincts.” He escaped two tackle tries by Allen over the next 46 yards, and one by D.J. Moore, before Moore leg-tackled him near the five-yard line. The speed, the escapability, the moves—Bosa could pass for Travis Kelce. Easy.
“Ever play running back in your life?” I asked.
“No,” he said.
“Wide receiver, tight end?”
“No,” he said. “Offensive guys aren’t taught to tackle. I was able to make a couple moves.”
The top of the NFC after eight weeks:
1: San Francisco, 7-0.
T-2: Green Bay and New Orleans, 7-1.
T-4: Seattle and Minnesota, 6-2.
The 49ers have four games against their pursuers in the last eight weeks of the season. Saints, Packers, two with Seattle. They play Green Bay at home Nov. 24, then at New Orleans two weeks later. We’ll know how good the Niners are by then. A three-week stretch against teams with a combined 19-4 record (Packers, Ravens, Saints) will be the toughest three-game stretch of their season, by far.
“Have you noticed how hard it looks down the road?” I asked Bosa.
“Nah,” he said. “I mean, we got a game in three days. My focus is on that.”
Arizona, Thursday night in the desert. Another quarterback to chase. Bosa versus Kyler Murray. Two cornerstone guys, born 11 weeks apart in 1997. It’s amazing. The Niners got famous starting 40 years ago with an offensive genius molding two Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Now they might be poised to go on another strong run, and this time the defensive front shall lead them. Fascinating times for a resuscitated franchise.
I thought of three things watching a lot of Raiders-Texans:
1. How sick must the Bears be, as their season goes down the tubes, watching Deshaun Watson and—soon, again—Patrick Mahomes make beautiful football happen for the Texans and Chiefs, two-and-a-half years after they passed on both in the 2017 draft?
2. This was the kind of game, Raiders-Texans, that you felt Oakland was always going to make one more play. The Raiders never trailed for the first 53 minutes, and they just kept trumping every move Houston made. I thought: If Houston’s got any chance, Watson’s going to have to win it. He’s slithery and reliable and so on-point, even when he’s being chased all over creation. And he is ridiculously determined. You cannot teach desire. Watson has Russell Wilson/Tom Brady desire, and if Houston was going to win this game they probably didn’t deserve to win, Watson was going to have to steal it.
3. Some of his plays are so improbable, so rabbit-out-of-a-hat, that he looks like another southern kid at a young age, Brett Favre. Both Watson and Mahomes have some Favre in them.
“I wear 4 for a reason,” Watson told me from Houston. “That last big play, that was definitely a Favre-type play.”
It’s an overreaction to say Watson’s nine-yard TD pass to tight end Darren Fells saved Houston’s season. The 27-24 win over the Raiders advanced them to 5-3 and kept them a half-game behind Indianapolis in the AFC South, which is deceivingly good. The division went 4-0 Sunday.
I would argue, though, that it was the play of the year. Raiders up 24-20 with 6:30 left. At the Oakland 9-yard line, Watson took the shotgun snap. Surprise! Pocket caved. Watson knew he was in trouble right away. “I was trying to buy some time, and the first guy [defensive end Arden Key] kinda grabbed me when I stepped up. I just tried to swing him out.”
Kinda grabbed me. Truth is, Key had both arms around Watson’s waist. This should have been a sack. But Watson wriggled semi-violently to escape Key at the 17-yard line, and as Key fell to the ground, the top of his right shoe found the gap between the bars on Watson facemask. “Not sure if it caught me in the eyeball, but it went through the [mask] and got me,” Watson said. “My whole left eye just shut—went blank, went blind.”
As Watson regained his balance, he pushed the helmet up almost imperceptibly so he could have a view of the field with his right eye. “That one was starting to go shut too,” he said. “I felt it. All I remember is my tight end rolling right with me, and then the second guy [defensive end Maxx Crosby] started to tackle me. I saw the tight end, and I threw, and I went down. I didn’t see anything when I was down. I just heard the crowd go crazy. Figured we scored. Then I just laid there hoping my eyeball was good.”
Almost sacked twice. Kicked in the face. Left eye reflexively closed. Vaguely sees tight end 19 yards away. Throws while looking out of one eye.
Touchdown. Texans win.
“What am I gonna say?” a crushed Jon Gruden said in the other locker room. “You see Michael Jordan, some of the great athletic plays, you gotta tip your hat to the guy.”
I asked Watson if he knew he was nearly sacked twice on the play by different guys.
“I felt even when they did grab me, I’d have the athleticism to get it out, somewhere,” he said. “I didn’t care what was behind me. I didn’t care what was in front of me. I was gonna make something happen.”
Read those last three sentences from Watson. Isn’t that what you want from your quarterback?
While I spoke to Watson, I looked down at a text that might have been sent just prior to the call, or during it, from a Texans PR staffer. He has to see the doctor again. Please be quick. Watson said the eye is fine, but to be sure, the team will have him checked out today after a night of rest. Expect him to be okay. And it’s not just the Texans who need him. If there is a Game 7 in the World Series on Wednesday night, Watson is due on the field before the game to do something to fire up the Astros crowd. My guess: It’ll be effective.
The rest of the Week 8 story:
• Wisconsin sadness. For the third time in four years, J.J. Watt will finish the year on injured-reserve. He tweeted that he tore his pectoral muscle in Sunday’s win over Oakland. Surgery’s likely Tuesday.
Watt, 30, had been Pro Football Focus’s leading 4-3 end in disrupting the passer this year, with 52 sacks/hits/significant pressures in the first half of the season. Watt missed 13 games in 2016, 11 in 2017 and he’ll miss eight this year. So over the past four years, he’ll miss exactly half of Houston’s regular-season games: 32 of 64. The injuries are all different: a herniated disc, a severe leg fracture and now a torn pectoral. As great a player as he is, the Texans can’t count on him to be the centerpiece of their defense, as he has been. He’s due $33 million over the last two years of his contract in 2020 and ’21, with no guaranteed money, so you wonder if the Texans will talk to him about either a pay cut or moving some of his cash into a guarantee to lessen the cap hit. After Watt played so well in 2018 and being so disruptive in the first half of this year, the contract’s not something anyone figured would be a Watt issue. And maybe it won’t be. But you can’t count on Watt to be an ironman anymore.
• Wisconsin gladness. The Packers are a fun team to watch. Different team. Three touchdown passes by Aaron Rodgers, all to running backs, and one, for 67 yards, to emerging star Aaron Jones, broke a tie and won the game in Kansas City 31-24. “I think the way we are winning is interesting,” Rodgers said post-game. “Jonesy had 159 receiving yards tonight. I don’t remember a [running back] running a slant and going for a 50-yard gain. We were talking on the sidelines how we want to close that game out on third and five, the consensus was to go with Jonesy. That says a lot about the kind of player he is. We are finding ways to win these games. The really good teams find a way to win when adversity hits.” Jones is one of the big reasons why Rodgers has been able to still be prolific without Davante Adams. The fifth-round pick in 2017 from UTEP is a good route-runner determined to take advantage of his chance. “This scheme has given him a lot of opportunities to do a lot more out of the backfield,” Rodgers said. “We’re splitting him out and throwing it to him.” Green Bay seems optimistic Adams will return next Sunday at the Chargers after four games to rehab a toe injury.
• Home field disadvantage. Chiefs on road: 4-0. Chiefs at Arrowhead: 1-3. Chiefs next week: home to Minnesota; Vikes are on a four-game winning streak. Uh-oh. Smart money says Patrick Mahomes will be back next week. If he is, he’d better plan to be prolific. Kansas City’s D has allowed 30 points or more in three of the past five games.
• Chicago’s in trouble. You knew that. Much more on the Bears lower in the column, particularly on the strange coaching decision by Matt Nagy in the final minute of a 17-16 loss to the Chargers. A couple of things to remember. If the officials didn’t put a second back on the clock in Denver, Chicago would be 2-5 right now. And 3-4 doesn’t look so good when the next three weeks are at Philadelphia, Detroit at home, and at the Rams.
• Does Joe Flacco deserve to be testy? Changing times in Denver. The Broncos are 2-10 in their last 12 games dating back to last year, and the cleanout began last week. Wideout Emmanuel Sanders, who’d been increasingly unhappy and was starting to demonstrate it, got shipped to San Francisco. There’s a cadre of young players, I’m told, led by Phillip Lindsay, Bradley Chubb and a couple of others chafing against the unhappiness of some vets left over from the Super Bowl team of 2015. That didn’t have anything to do with Flacco bitching about punting on fourth-and-five with 1:55 left and needing a first down to run out the clock; the Colts drove to the game-winning field goal after Denver punted. Flacco just wanted to take a shot, figuring there was little to lose. But he’s played mediocre football in his first half-season in Denver, leading most to think it makes sense for John Elway to continue to stockpile picks because Elway might want to be in the quarterback market. Again. (Denver has five picks in the first three rounds next April.) If the Broncos could get a sixth pick in the first three rounds next year for 30-year-old corner Chris Harris Jr., they should do it.
• The dream is just about dead for Cleveland. At 2-5, Cleveland like has to go 7-2 down the stretch to have a playoff prayer. Where are those seven wins coming from? One: Miami. Two: Cincinnati, at home. Three: Okay, I’ll give you Cincinnati on the road in week 17 aka The Andy Dalton Gold Watch Ceremony When the Bengals are 1-14. Then, maybe Denver on the road, maybe Arizona on the road. But Baltimore? Pittsburgh? Buffalo? If I’m Freddie Kitchens, all I want is a 60-minute game. Play one of those, and we’ll see if the season is remotely salvageable.
Belichick Has Two Mountains To Climb
Mount Halas and Mount Shula, namely. After reaching his 300th win (regular season and playoffs), two men are in his way on the all-time victories list: George Halas with 324 and Don Shula with 347. It’s easy to calculate the numbers and figure he could pass Halas in 2021 and Shula in 2023 or ‘24, but a few notes about that.
One: Belichick is 67; if he’s still coaching in 2023, he’ll be a 71-year-old man. Though he could pass for 55 today, age is age, so we’ll see.
Two: Soon, maybe starting in 2020, Belichick will have to win without Tom Brady, who will be 43 in the 2020 season. The Patriots did win 11 games in the only season Brady missed due to injury, but Belichick has basically had the best quarterback of all time—arguably—for 18 of his 20 New England seasons, and 244 of his 300 wins. Can he win without him? As competitive as Belichick is, he has to feel what many around the league wonder in whispers.
Three: Maybe the guy just wants to do something else. We just don’t know that.
Four: Lots of times people retire because of stress in the job, but those who know Belichick best say he’s done this for so long in part because nothing football-related provides his stress; he’s had such great role models (starting with his flatliner brilliant dad, the late Steve Belichick) and realizes all he can do is prepare the best he knows how and whatever happens happens.
After Sunday’s game, owner Robert Kraft presented Belichick with a game ball for reaching 300, and he mentioned his first win. The details:
• Belichick win 1: Browns at Patriots, Foxboro, Mass., Sept. 8, 1991. Belichick’s Browns 20, Patriots 0.
• Belichick win 300: Browns at Patriots, Foxboro, Mass., Oct. 27, 2019. Belichick’s Patriots 27, Browns 13.
Perhaps the biggest difference in the games:
• New England quarterback in the first Belichick win: Tom Hodson (lifetime wins: 1).
• New England quarterback in the 300th Belichick win: Tom Brady (lifetime wins: 245).
I asked some of the people who have known Belichick over the years about a trait or story they have illustrating his football mind:
NBC “Sunday Night Football” game analyst
“This week, we met with Aaron Rodgers and talked to him about how well the Green Bay offense is playing, and how his relationship with the new coach is developing. You know, good news stuff. But, in the beginning, when I did this job, I was at the bottom of the NBC NFL TV teams. I’d do a lot of games with teams under .500. Invariably, I’d be asking, ‘Why do you stink?’ With Bill in Cleveland, asking him that question in some form, you’re not going to have a lot of fun. And believe me, when Bill is mad at you, it is bad. But he is also my favorite interview when he is engaged.
“People have never appreciated what a brilliant teacher he is. One time I asked him about how well one of his defensive tackles was playing—the way he got his hands inside, the way he controlled his man—and then Bill went on a 30-minute deal about defensive tackles. Everything about the position. I was stunned about the level of minute detail he went into about defensive tackles. I said, ‘You should write a book about defensive tackles.’
“He said, ‘Cris, I could write a book about every position.’
“Bill’s ability to develop talent is what separates him. He knows he can develop and train younger players, or improve players on the back-end of their careers, which allows him to let high-priced players walk. That ability to control his salary cap allows him to build depth on his roster. When injuries are destroying other teams late in the year, he still has quality players coming off the bench for the playoffs and Super Bowl.“
Safety, Cleveland, 1993-95
“January first, 1995. Single-most memorable day of my football career—high school, college, pro.
“Stevon Moore, the regular safety, was hurt. I was ready to go. Nick Saban’s my defensive coordinator and my DB coach. Bill Belichick’s my head coach. Playing Drew Bledsoe in a playoff game. Going to the stadium, I wasn’t nervous. Nick is one of the great coaches of all time, and he had me totally prepared. We were playing a lot of single-high safety. On this one play, [safety] Eric Turner rotated down, and I was playing the deep part of the field. I remember getting good depth and seeing Drew throw it. He overthrew it. I thought, ‘This ball is coming right to me! Don’t drop it!’ I caught it. And that day I had like 10 tackles. Great day. Next day, we go into the team meeting, and I figure I’m getting a game ball. I sat down. I figure, had an interception, all these big hits. I am at the edge of my seat. Bill says, ‘This guy had so-and-so tackles, had an interception.’ Bill says, ‘The defensive player of the game is …’ I literally start getting up out of my seat, and he says, ‘Eric Turner.’ I was like [exhaling air]. I sat back in my seat. And Eric, God bless his heart, says, ‘Uh-uhn. No.’ He tosses the ball to me, and everybody is clapping.
“So we’re walking out of the team meeting room. Bill’s there. He looks at me. Just like this he says: ‘What are you gonna do next week?’ I’m thinking, ‘Man! That’s rough!’
“But this league’s about what you’re gonna do, not what you just did. Great lesson. And that is exactly how Bill Belichick is.”
Coaching assistant, New England, 2012-13
“One of the dirty secrets of the NFL is how the Patriots’ attention to detail and creativity goes way beyond other coaches I’ve seen. Their building is as on edge and in the same full grind mode on May 25th as it is on Nov. 25th. Preparing in the offseason is like preparing for a playoff game. After a while—I was there about 16 months—I started to realize that bulletin-board material doesn’t exist for the Patriots. They don’t care about anyone else. They care about internal motivation, not external.
“It was Mother’s Day weekend one time, and we’re in there on a Saturday, and we’re thinking, ‘Sunday off! Great!’ So we’re working hard on a Saturday and in a staff meeting, Bill says, ‘I’ll let you guys sleep in tomorrow. Let’s come in at 11.’ Someone says, ‘Bill, tomorrow’s Mother’s Day.’ Like, if you’re married with kids, you need to do some family things Mother’s Day. He’s like, ‘Oh that’s right.’ He gave everyone the day off, and he was fine about it. But he was oblivious to it.
“I remember watching the Super Bowl against Seattle when I was with Bleacher Report. Seattle’s down near the goal line, ready to score and win the game, and Bill’s not calling a timeout. I was sitting there, like, ‘What is he doing! Call a timeout!’ And of course it worked out, and Bill knew that by not calling the timeout he was putting pressure on the Seahawks to make a quick decision about their play-call at the goal line. In New England, nothing happens without it being thought out.”
Linebacker/tight end, New England, 2001-08
With the Patriots in cap trouble entering Belichick’s second year, 2001, New England signed 17 mostly backup or bit players in the 2001 offseason, including Pittsburgh special-teamer/backup linebacker Vrabel.
“I had kind of stalled in Pittsburgh, and you always wonder what you’d do if you ended up getting cut one year. I would probably have gone back to school. I’m not sure I’d have been as eager to get into coaching when I was that young. When the Patriots gave me the offer, I was going to have more of a chance to get on the field. I brought it back to Pittsburgh and told coach [Bill] Cowher. He said, ‘We can match the money, but not the opportunity.’ So I went to New England.
“One day that first year Bill walked up to me and said, ‘Remember in that Miami preseason game last year—how you played the power block? That’s how we want to do it here.’ There wasn’t all that much tape on me in Pittsburgh, but he found something he saw in me.”
“I used to warm up with Drew Bledsoe before games, and he’d throw me quite a few passes. Drew told [offensive coordinator] Charlie Weis, ‘This guy can play tight end if we need it.’ So eventually they started asking me to come over on Fridays and get the tight end plays, and maybe they’d use me. [Vrabel caught 12 passes for 12 touchdowns in the last nine years of his career.] What that taught me is Bill uses the whole roster. He puts more stuff on guys who can handle it.
“I’ve taken a lot from a lot of coaches in my life—Urban Meyer, Bill Cowher, Bill [Belichick], Bill O’Brien—but what sticks with from New England is that Bill held the best players the most accountable. He wants everyone on the roster to know he’s going to demand the most from the best players.”
Special-teams player, New England, 2009-present
“In our first playoff game in the 2016 season, we did not play well at all. We beat Houston, but we knew after the game it wasn’t a good game for us. Honestly, it was like we lost. I don’t know any other place in the league where you win a playoff game and it feels like that.
“Bill wasn’t emotional, he wasn’t loud. He was just matter-of-fact, straight to the point. He said, ‘If we play like that again next week, we’re gonna get beat.’ Nothing dramatic. Just the truth. Regardless of the outcome, he was going to tell us the truth.
“As people in life experience great success, and things come a little easier for them, they tend to change. It’s human nature to become a little complacent. It can be exhausting to maintain the all-in mentality in anything in life year after year, decade after decade. But he has. Bill’s most unique ability, I think, is to avoid complacency. His standard, his love of football, his preparation every week, every year, it’s never changed.
Offensive Player of the Week
Gardner Minshew, quarterback, Jacksonville. He’d cooled off a little since his wild start, losing two of his previous three entering Sunday’s game against the Jets. So it was the Jets. Gotta play the next team on the schedule. But what’s become obvious after his eight NFL games (seven starts) since being the 178th pick in the draft is what a smart player he is and what excellent pocket awareness he has. In Jacksonville’s 29-15 win over the Jets, Minshew was 22 of 34 for 279 yards with three TDs and no picks (119.6 rating), and two plays stood out. First quarter, down 7-6, heavy rush—Minshew steps up, then to the right, then up, then throws on the run to Chris Conley, who makes a 70-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Fourth quarter, nursing a 22-15 lead, driving—same kind of play, juking and jutting outside the pocket to avoid the rush, and a quick dart for an eight-yard TD pass to D.J. Chark. I’ll take this guy on my team any day.
Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard, running backs, Philadelphia. The Bills had allowed just 91 rushing yards per game this season, good for 10th in the league, and it was the Buffalo D keeping the Bills close to the Patriots in the AFC East. But the Eagles, on a windy and tough day for the offenses, ran 41 times for 218 yards. Howard had 96 yards on 23 carries, many of them gritty carries between the tackles. Sanders is rapidly becoming the best back to come out of the 2019 draft. The 53rd overall pick from Penn State had the kind of offensive game few have had against the Bills this year—on just six touches. Those six touches generated 118 yards, including a 65-yard game-breaking touchdown run in the first minute of the second half.
Matt Schaub, quarterback, Atlanta. I’m not big on giving awards to guys for gaudy stats only, so the fact that Schaub, who’s been a backup for most of the past six years, threw for 460 yards against Seattle isn’t the only reason why he’s in here today—after a 27-20 Atlanta loss. But in his first start since 2015, Schaub led the Falcons from a 24-0 halftime deficit to the brink of a stunning comeback. He led scoring drives of 75, 34, 75 and 67 yards in the second half, and Seattle needed an onside kick recovery with 1:17 left to hang on. It was the biggest passing day for Schaub since Nov. 18, 2012.
Aaron Jones, running back, Green Bay. In a surprising battle of quarterbacks—Aaron Rodgers vs. Matt Moore?—it was really Jones who stole the show. Twenty touches, 226 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning score on 67-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter. And Jones actually left this game with a second-quarter shoulder injury and was questionable to return. Nothing questionable about his performance.
Defensive Player of the Week
Nick Bosa, defensive end, San Francisco. The most impactful first overall pass-rusher in years (Myles Garrett’s excellent, but wasn’t as great out of the gate as Bosa) overwhelmed Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen with three sacks and a leaping interception—and he ran 46 yards with the pick, leaving three Panthers grasping at him with running back-type moves. He’s had six sacks in the last four Niners games, all decisive victories, which is not a coincidence.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Michael Dickson, punter, Seattle. It hasn’t been a great sophomore season for the Aussie, but he had a big day in Atlanta. His four punts netted 47.8 yards and left the Falcons starting drives at their 10, 37, 14 and 14-yard lines in a seven-point Seahawks win.
Coach of the Week
Bill Belichick, head coach, New England. Became the third coach in the 100 seasons of pro football to win 300 games, handling the Browns on a raw, rainy day in Foxboro. Seemingly, there’s more where that came from.
Robert Saleh, defensive coordinator, San Francisco. Saleh has taken the premier pieces handed him by GM John Lynch and crafted them into a fearsome defense. The Panthers came to Santa Clara on a four-game winning streak, rested off their bye, and the Niners held them to 230 yards (every one, seemingly, gained by Christian McCaffrey) and a stifling 2-of-13 on third downs. The seven-sack, three-interception performance was the latest in a string of four superb performances by the D (points allowed: 3, 7, 0, 13; yards allowed: 180, 157, 154, 230) that is Patriots-like.
Goat of the Week
David Oliver, down judge, Tampa Bay-Tennessee game. We’ve been over this quite a few times—when in doubt, officials have been told time and again to let the play go to its conclusion, even if they think the ballcarrier might have been down. On Sunday, such a play might have enabled the wrong team to win in Nashville. With 3:45 left at Tennessee, nursing a 27-23 lead, the Titans, with the ball at the Bucs’ 28, lined up for a 46-yard field goal try. Taking the snap, holder Brett Kern rose and starting running around left end. A fake. Tampa Bay’s Devin White stopped him cold with a brutal hit, and the ball popped loose as Kern fell; it was definitely out before he hit the ground. Anthony Adams of the Bucs picked up the fumble and returned it 72 yards for an apparent touchdown. But Oliver, as you see on replay, is seen waving his arms over his head, signaling the end of the play. Instead of Tampa Bay going ahead then, the Bucs took possession at the 28 but couldn’t score on their final two possessions either. Oliver is a good official, and he clearly looked to see if Kern got the two yards and when it was clear he didn’t, Oliver assumed Kern hit the ground and was down. It cost the Bucs seven points and quite possibly their third win.
“We’re now a 2-6 football team and we’re afraid to go for it in the two-minute drill. … It just feels like we’re kind of afraid to lose a game. … Why can’t we be aggressive in some of these situations?”
—Denver quarterback Joe Flacco, on the play-calling late in the 15-13 loss to Indianapolis.
With 1:55 left, Denver up 13-12 and the Broncos facing fourth-and-five at the Colts’ 43-yard line, the Broncos punted. After a 56-yard drive, Indianapolis’ Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-winning field goal.
“I know the thought would be, ‘Why don’t you just wait until after the bye? Everything seems to be going great. Why take the chance?’ But, man, I’m a football player. As soon as I could get back, I was gonna get back.”
—Drew Brees, who came back strong after missing five games (all New Orleans wins) and passing the Saints to a 31-9 win over Arizona.
“[Tom Brady] is either staying in New England, he’s retiring or he’s going to play somewhere else … Staying in New England, to me, would seem like the least likely option of the three.”
—ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter, on the morning program “Get Up!”
“I hate it. Quit being greedy. If you want to do anything, make the game safer. … You are talking about player safety, and you want to add another game?”
—Steelers player rep Maurkice Pouncey, to Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, on the prospect of the NFL adding an extra regular-season game to the current 16-game schedule.
“They’re playing Cover 2 and he split the zone right there.”
—FOX analyst John Smoltz after a blooper by Astro Michael Brantley in World Series Game 2 dropped between deep-playing second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera and right fielder Adam Eaton in Houston on Wednesday night.
“They will stretch you out vertically and stretch you out horizontally at the same time, with all their shifts, all their pre-snap motions, the Jet sweeps, the Jet motions. It’s a constant challenge for the defense. He’s throwing four, five, six, seven things at a defense, all within a matter of four seconds. Imagine having to digest the Cheesecake Factory menu in four seconds.”
—ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, to Gabe Ikard of SiruisXM Radio, on the conundrum defenses have when facing Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley.
Riley may not take an NFL job this winter, but I can tell you multiple NFL teams will reach out to gauge his interest.
“WE ARE NOT YOUR MASCOT! WE ARE NOT YOUR MASCOT!”
—A crowd of several hundred people, mostly native Americans, chanting outside the stadium where Washington and Minnesota were preparing the play Thursday night, per the Washington Post. They were there to protest the team name “Redskins.”
Devin McCourty • New England safety • Photographed in Foxboro, Mass.
The NFL interceptions leader at the season’s midpoint is a leader on the 8-0 Patriots in his 10th season as a pro. But he’s not winning everywhere. He is losing in his family’s fantasy football league, including to his twin brother Jason’s wife, Melissa McCourty. Jason is not in the league.
“First off, I would say I’m not that good at fantasy football. It’s been a little bit of a struggle. I’m under .500. She [Melissa] was lucky enough to draft the Patriots’ defense. Each week, even when the week’s not going well, she’s kind of been bailed out. I don’t know if it was her genius or [Jason] forcing her to draft them while she was in the house. It’s working out really well for her. I think she’s like, either first or second in the league overall. Dominating a bunch of college football players [in the league]. It’s not looking good for us.
“Jason’s a different type of guy. He’s always complaining about something or saying, ‘This fantasy football stinks. It’s ruining the game.’ So whenever me and his wife, whenever all four of us are together with my wife, we start talking about it and he gets all angry but no one really cares.
Have you played her yet this year?
“Yeah, she beat me pretty good. Ha ha. I was going to [pick the Patriots’ defense and special teams], but everyone told me you have to start off picking running backs. This is my first year. I’m kinda learning on the go.”
Per ESPN fantasy savant Matthew Berry, New England defense/special teams had 144 points through seven weeks, better than all but five quarterbacks, three running backs and two wide receivers … and better than every tight end.
Listen to McCourty on “The Peter King Podcast” this week, along with NBC NFL rules analyst Terry McAulay and Jim Rooney, author of a book on the life and times of his father Dan Rooney of the Steelers.
New York sports. Brutal.
Saturday, Oct. 19: Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, highest-paid reliever in MLB history, gives up a two-run walkoff homer to Jose Altuve to lose the American League Championship Series. Houston wins series, 4-2.
Sunday, Oct. 20: The Giants, needing a win to salvage their season, fall behind 17-0 and never lead at home against the Arizona Cardinals and their Fordham (!) running back, Chase Edmonds. Giants lose 27-21, falling to 2-5.
Monday, Oct. 21: The Jets, playing one of the most pathetic games in franchise history, see their franchise quarterback, Sam Darnold, turn it over five times. Jets lose to the Patriots 33-0, falling to 1-5.
Tuesday, Oct. 22: The Rangers, playing at home, lose their fifth in a row, 3-2, to Arizona. There are 31 teams in the NHL. Following this game, the Rangers are 31st in the league with five points.
Wednesday, Oct. 23: The Knicks, nursing a surprising 97-92 lead at San Antonio with 8:40 left in their season-opener, fall apart. The Spurs go on a 21-2 run in the next five minutes and win 120-111.
With grandfather Jerry Jones (an Arkansas football captain in 1964) and father Stephen Jones in the stands watching Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, 5-10 freshman quarterback John Stephen Jones of Arkansas threw the first touchdown pass of his college career against Nick Saban and top-ranked Alabama.
WASHINGTON—Cute World Series Game 3 scene Friday night outside Nationals Park: The 50ish acrobatic dancer guy dressed in Nats red and white had a huge crowd gathered outside the first World Series game in Washington for his Ray Charles set, dancing and singing. People who looked like they were quite staid by day were letting loose, dancing with Ray Charles guy to “What’d I Say.” Down the street, a guy in bagpipes played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” That’s what this place was like Friday night. Just happy. So happy to be here.
• Good ballpark, very hard to move around in a big crowd. Decided early that my only trips away from my seat (halfway between third base and left field pole) would be men’s room trips. And that was fine. All it meant was I drank Budweiser at the seat—which, again, was fine. It’s been a while since I had three Buds, but I have good memories of them. Good location to (barely) hear the Robinson Chirinos home run ping off the foul screen.
• The Washington crowd loves the Nats. The crowd loves-loves-loves Juan Soto.
• I marvel at Jose Altuve. How great is this guy? Ridiculously clutch, hits lasers. Nats shortstop Trea Turner too. Ball explodes off his bat, and I starred two of his defensive plays (out of four great plays on the night, per me) on my scorecard.
• Speaking of scoring the game, I’ve included my scorecard from the game, which I kept in my Bob Carpenter’s Baseball Scorebook. (My favorite book, because it gives me room to record my inane comments during the game.) I am the only person left on the planet who scores games, I think. I did not see another person scoring the game Friday night. In the seventh-inning stretch, a guy, maybe 50, across the aisle said, “What’s that you’re doing?” I explained, and he said he’d been going to ballgames, a couple a year, for a while and didn’t think he’d ever seen someone keeping score at a game. That shocked me. I know it’s not common now, but I didn’t know just how nerdy I was. I guess it keeps me in touch with my roots in the game.
• Great idea, having Buzz Aldrin moon-shot a first pitch. Fifty years ago, when Ted Williams’ Senators roamed the diamond in D.C., Aldrin walked on the moon.
• I like those dopey presidents, in the dopey presidents race. Older guy came down from higher in the section with Abe Lincoln cavorting with some fans. “ABE! AAAAAABE!” the 60-ish guy said, holding his iPhone up to take a photo of Abe, hoping he’d stay still for a second. The guy acted like a 12-year-old seeing Taylor Swift.
• Told Titans coach Mike Vrabel on Saturday morning I went to the Game 3 of the Series. It ended 12:10 am ET, and lasted 4 hours, 3 minutes. Vrabel put it perfectly: “Four hours is a long time for five runs.”
Each week, with the aid of Pro Football Focus research, I’ll take a big call in a game from the weekend and explain the whys, and whether it made sense from an analytical view.
Game: Los Angeles Chargers at Chicago, Sunday.
Situation: Fourth quarter, Chargers ahead 17-16. After a Mitchell Trubisky 11-yard scramble gave the Bears a first down at the Chargers’ 21-yard line, 43 seconds remained, and Chicago had one timeout left.
The decision: Instead of trying to get the ball closer to the goal line with a sideline pass to stop the clock, or a pass inbounds with plenty of time to stop the clock before a field-goal attempt, or instead of handing it to rookie back David Montgomery after he’d rushed for a career-high 135 yards on the day, Bears coach Matt Nagy called for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to kneel on first down, losing a yard. On second-and-11 at the Chargers’ 22, Nagy chose to let the clock run down to four seconds.
The thought process: Nagy, post-game, said he had “zero thought of running the ball and taking the chance of fumbling the football. They know you’re running the football so you lose three, four yards … That wasn’t even in our processes … We were in field-goal range before the scramble and then we got the scramble so that didn’t even cross my mind … Throw the football? Throw the football right then and there? What happens if you lose the ball? … Zero thought of throwing the football, zero thought of running the football.” Obviously, Nagy is not going to say he didn’t trust Trubisky to get 10 or 15 extra yards safely there, but I can name 15 coaches in the league who trust their quarterbacks enough to let him try to get the ball closer, or to score a touchdown.
The analytics: PFF analyst Eric Eager said: “An additional five yards leads to, on average, five percentage points in favor of making the kick and hence an additional five percentage points in favor of winning the football game outright. While there is always a chance of a turnover or a loss of yards, the chances the Chargers defense would either play conservatively so as not to give up a chunk play, or be willing to let the Bears score so that they could get the ball back with enough time to score themselves were probably higher. Given how close the field goal was to slipping through the left upright, every yard counted, and the Bears mistakenly decided to surrender them.”
The result: Eddy Piniero kicked the 41-yard field-goal attempt barely wide left. The Chargers won, 17-16, dropping the Bears to 3-4, three-and-a-half games out of first place in the NFC North with nine games to play.
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During pro football’s 100th season, I’ll re-visit important games, plays, players and events from NFL history.
1919: The Birth Of The Packers
Fascinating and entertaining historical tome by Mark Beech out this fall, “The People’s Team: An Illustrated History of the Green Bay Packers.” The formation of the team is quite cool.
Founder Curly Lambeau came from a pugnacious background, shall we say. His grandfather, who emigrated to Green Bay from Belgium in 1873, shot his wife in the neck on a Green Bay street corner in 1891, then turned the revolver on himself, killing himself with a shot to the temple. She survived. Curly was born in 1898. Loved sports. Enrolled at Notre Dame in 1918. Scored at least one TD for the Fighting Irish in a war-depleted 1918 season. But Lambeau came back to Green Bay in early 1919 because of illness and because of financial troubles. He got a job as a shipping clerk at the Indian Packing Company in Green Bay; the business shipped canned meat from Wisconsin to U.S. Service members. That summer, Lambeau, more than smitten with football after his brief stay at Notre Dame, got his boss at Indian Packing to donate $500 for team uniforms and equipment. (Indian Packing was bought by Acme Packing in 1920. Thus the team name “Packers.”) At the same time, per “The People’s Team,” the local paper, the Press-Gazette, became boosters for the team, urging all able-bodied men with any athletic skill to come play for the team, running 15 stories in late summer with little more than organization details printed.
“Footballers on the Indiana Packing Corporation squad will hold an important meeting in the editorial rooms of The Press-Gazette on Friday evening at 7:45. It is of utmost importance that every man be on hand as final plans for the season will be outlined.”
It was a town team, as most of the early pro teams were, with 17 of 25 players on the 1919 Packers being from Green Bay. They finished 10-1. In mid-1921, with Lambeau determined to make the Packers big outside of Wisconsin, the Packers joined the American Professional Football Association, the precursor to the NFL.
Ten years after their founding, in 1929, the Packers beat the New York Giants 20-6 on the road and went on to win their first NFL championship. “The Packers had weapons that the local outfit could not match,” the New York Times wrote the next day. For their efforts, the players all got $220 … and pocket watches.
Aaron Goldhammer, obviously chagrined after the Browns dropped to 2-5 in Foxboro, is a Cleveland talk-show host.
Joe Posnanski, Cleveland native and veteran sportswriter, was named National Sportswriter of the Year in 2012.
Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, pledged $1 million for tornado relief in the Dallas area after severe tornadoes hit, as did Jerry Jones.
Siciliano hosts the NFL DirecTV Red Zone Channel on Sundays.
Nick Stellini writes for Baseball Prospectus
Don’t overreact. From Chris Morris of Richmond, Va.: “Can we admit that Matt Nagy is just a scared coach? In his presser, he admitted that he was not aggressive because he was scared of a fumble, scared of losing yards, scared of an interception, scared of a sack. I think it is time for us Bears fans to admit he just isn’t cut out to be a head coach in the current NFL, where aggression wins and you have enough confidence to act like mistakes never happened. Also, it is more obvious than ever that Andy Reid is a masterful coach who will never get enough credit due to coaching in the Belichick era. He actually won in spite of having Nagy on staff.”
That’s not fair. Nagy is a good coach, though the results this year don’t show it. Think if you’re Nagy—and I am going to do that right here, and pretend I’m him. I’ve watched Mitchell Trubisky all day, and he’s mirrored what he’s done all year. You hold your breath when he pulls his right arm back to throw. Now there’s 43 seconds left, and Nagy has to decide what to do: let the clock run down and take the 41-yard field goal try, which seems like a 65-percent shot; or either run it once or twice, or maybe throw one only if the receiver is clearly open, or to the sideline where only the intended receiver can catch it. I’d have at least tried a run and a sideline throw. I think almost every coach in the NFL would. Nagy with a C-plus quarterback probably would have too. But—and this is me reading Nagy here—Nagy had to feel paralyzed by the worst quarterback in football (at least now), and so he played it painfully safe. And his kicker didn’t bail him out.
Fire Riveron. From John Newman: “Penalties in NFL games are up by something like 20 percent in the past 10 years, and while I believe a penalty is a penalty and if it’s seen, it should be called, it’s getting excessive and completely inconsistent. I lay the bulk of the blame at [senior VP of officiating] Al Riveron’s feet. As soon as he became the man in charge of video reviews, the ‘clear and convincing evidence’ standard for overturning calls went out the window. It’s gotten worse with time, culminating in the joke of challenging uncalled pass interference this season. Riveron lied to you, the teams and the fans about how these challenges would be handled. He’s got to go.”
John, he well might go at the end of the year. I don’t know. If he does, the biggest reason will be the inconsistency of his rulings—there is no question about it. But I do want to defend Riveron for one thing: The NFL is paying him (way too little, in my opinion) to be a shield for the Shield, to stand and take the immense heat for the things Roger Goodell and Troy Vincent don’t want to take the heat for. And we don’t know if he’s been told, essentially, to overturn no pass-interference flags or challenges. Modern technology and the wildly clearer pictures we see of close plays make his job and the job of officials much harder than 15 or 20 years ago. So if he gets fired, his replacement might have a nice six-month honeymoon, but as long as replay exists, the top ref’s job is going to be full of headaches.
Owners shouldn’t cave to the Jalen Ramseys. From William Theede: “NFL players unhappy with their current team and status are acting up like their NBA counterparts—holding out, whining and faking injuries. The NFL needs to have owners (without collusion) ‘grow a pair’ and send them home, fine them, negate their contracts, anything legal to shame them the way they’re shaming the team owner, coach and fans. It should be easy for the billionaire owners to lose a few million to stop this trend for them and their fans.”
William, in an ideal world, you’re right, and I’d love to see the line held on guys like Jalen Ramsey. But the fact is this, in his case: The Jaguars knew they weren’t going to re-sign him, they knew it was going to be a headache to have him around, and they knew if they could get two first-round picks for him, it was a deal they had to make for the future of the franchise. As for the Rams getting him, they weren’t the only team willing to given significant compensation for him; I thought he’d end up with the Eagles. There will always be a market for the top players.
Interesting question. From John Nguyen. “You’re a voter for the numerous end-of-year awards, so I’m very interested for your views on this. I was watching highlights of Devon Hester on YouTube and it got me thinking: Why is there not a Special Teams Player of the Year award? Surely, as the third phase of the game, special-teams players such as Matthew Slater or Greg Zuerlein should be recognized for their exemplary play.”
I will forward your email to the Associated Press NFL keeper of the awards, Barry Wilner, with my agreement. It’s a great idea, and I don’t know why I never thought of it before. I love it, in fact. I remember back when the Bills were winning the AFC every year, the late and great special teams coach, Bruce DeHaven, once gave me a videotape cassette with 10 special-teams plays on it. The 10 plays, he said, were huge plays made by Steve Tasker, the man I consider the best special-teams player of all time. DeHaven also said they were the biggest plays in 10 victories by the Bills during the AFC championship run. Not the 10 biggest special-teams plays, but the 10 biggest plays, period. Kick blocks, punt blocks, big returns, a punt downed inside the 5, etc. Thanks for the idea.
There is a chance Frank and I are going to get into a scrum over the word scrum. From Frank Way: “Why do sportscasters and sportswriters and even veteran play-by-play men continually misuse the word scrum? I would expect that knowledgeable sports folks should know that a rugby scrum is the most orderly thing in the world. It is eight men (or women) directing an enormous amount of force against another eight seeking to do the same thing in the opposite direction. If it is not orderly and in sync it can fail miserably and ruggers can get hurt. Necks can get broken. Yet play-by-play and sportscasters continually refer to any type of melee, be it in the corner of a hockey rink or in a locker room, as a scrum.”
Frank, I think you, and they, are using the word correctly. Merriam-Webster has four definitions: 1) A rugby play in which the forwards of each side come together in a tight formation and struggle to gain possession of the ball; 2) A usually brief and disorderly struggle or fight; 3) [British] Madhouse; 4) A usually tightly packed or disorderly crowd.
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 8:
a. The Titans cheerleader, catching the Tampa Bay punt cleanly in Nashville.
b. Max Crosby of the Raiders, with a huge tackle-for-loss of Houston’s Carlos Hyde.
c. Not often that players, even departed ones, rip their team. That’s why when Orlando Scandrick was cut by the Eagles after the embarrassing loss at Dallas it was surprising (but fun for those on the outside) to see Scandrick tell ESPN: “I still feel like they [the Eagles] are living on that Super Bowl high. It’s over. You’re living in the past.” I’m no shrink, but I bet that helped the locker room. I bet it’s a factor, even a small one, in routing the Bills by 18 on the road.
d. Cooper Kupp, coming off his 220-yard day in London to beat the Bengals, is on pace for 116 catches, 1,584 yards and 10 touchdown receptions. Stunningly, he’s become the Rams’ most valuable receiver.
e. Kirk Cousins, a 78.4 percent passer this month, with one pick and seven sacks taken in his last four games.
g. Everyone thought Kyle Shanahan would build a passing offense to break records, and he may still do that. But he wanted to be absolutely sure his team could run first and foremost, because running games can work in any weather, at any time of year. So kudos to the Niners for building a good one, and kudos to Tevin Coleman, the 26-year-old free-agent back via Atlanta, for playing the best football of his pro life right now. Sunday, he rushed 11 times for 105 yards, scoring three times on the ground, once on a short pass.
h. Murray to Kirk to Murray to Clay, 47 yards. You’ve got to see it.
i. That seeing-ghosts thing really paralyzed Sam Darnold. First possession in Jacksonville: seven of seven, 86 yards, TD pass.
j. Saquon Barkley is so gifted, and so strong. He gets so many yards after first contact.
k. Nice 51-yard save by Adam Vinatieri in Indianapolis, with the winning field goal over Denver. And good to see him rally after missing wide right with a 45-yarder and a PAT, hitting from 55 and 45 to keep Indy in it.
l. A wow for Christian McCaffrey. At 2:58 p.m. PT, he scored the first touchdown from scrimmage by a 49ers opposing running back, with a 40-yard sprint through the defense.
m. Great brotherhood move by Bucs players Jameis Winston, Donovan Smith, Lavonte David and Mike Evans, attending the Senior Night game of former teammate Gerald McCoy’s son, Marcellus Crutchfield, while McCoy and his Carolina teammates were traveling to San Francisco for a game. McCoy played nine seasons for the Bucs before moving to Carolina in free agency this off-season, and his impact, clearly, left devoted teammates wanting to stand in for an absentee dad. “My brothers stepped in for me,” McCoy said on Instagram.
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People don’t understand the type of brotherhood that sports can build. In my time in the NFL I’ve grown to earn true brothers. And this is an example of that!! Anybody who knows me knows how much I love my kids so to miss @m_crutch_ Senior night really hurt me. But my brothers stepped in for me. I truly love these kats!! Family for life!! Its bigger than football!! @jaboowins3 @lavontedavid @mikeevans @dsmith_76
o. Great effort by Pats right tackle right tackle Marcus Cannon, erasing Myles Garrett to free Brady to be able to throw the touchdown pass to Edelman. That was some great rasslin’ by Cannon.
p. Most-shown assistant coach on TV in the last three weeks: San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. It’s not close.
q. Great point by Charles Davis on Giants-Lions on FOX: Darius Slayton, rookie receiver, has good chemistry with Daniel Jones, rookie QB, because in camp backups have more experience playing with backups, and they both were backups. Seems almost too easy, but it’s true.
2. I think this is what I did not like about Week 8:
b. The Browns, turning the ball over on three straight offensive snaps.
c. For a smart veteran like Matthew Stafford to throw the interception he threw in the first quarter—trying to force it into double-coverage in the red zone, and Janoris Jenkins making the easiest pick of his life—is stupefying. How does he not see the two cover guys, with his own receiver shackled? I’ll forgive—he made some superb throws to beat the Giants, and has 16 touchdown passes in seven games.
d. I get the truly dumb play by Giants QB Daniel Jones on the ensuing series, waiting so long to throw that by the time he got rid of it he was jarred by Jarrad David into throwing a backward pass, and it was picked up and run in for a touchdown by Devon Kennard. For such a smart player, it’s taking a while for Jones to realize he can lose games by his refusal to throw the ball away or to dump it off. Think of how gigantic that mistake was for Jones: In a 0-0 game, Giants pick off Stafford near the goal line … Giants, from the 29-yard line, on a first down, have Saquon Barkley open in the flat … Jones waits, waits, gets smashed by Davis and throws the lateral fumble … Detroit gets an easy TD. Minutes later the Lions score again. It’s 14-0. Jones had some good moments in Detroit, but he has to play smarter than that. Consistently.
e. What a dumb roughing-the-passer by Denver’s Mike Purcell, giving the Colts, touchdown-less to that point in the third quarter, new life in the red zone. Marlon Mack ran it in after that for Indy’s only TD of the day.
f. Ten players on the field for Cleveland on a fourth-and-seven, causing the Browns to burn a timeout. Come on.
g. Derrick Henry, Titans back, fumbling without the ball being hit, and without being contacted hard, with Tennessee leading Tampa Bay 17-15 in the third quarter. A bizarre fumble. It could have cost Tennessee the game. Lucky for Henry it didn’t.
h. Keenan Allen, Chargers wide receiver. Chargers trailing 16-10, fourth quarter, 11 minutes left. Third-and-14 at the Chicago 24-yard line. Philip Rivers throws to the end zone, to a covered Allen. The ball is over the defender, perfectly laid into Allen’s hands. And through his hands. Allen dropped it. It could have cost L.A. the game. Lucky for Allen it didn’t.
i. Denzel Ward, dropping a Tom Brady pick in the end zone.
k. Nick Chubb has to work on not fumbling.
l. Oof, Broncos, who have now lost on a 53-yard field goal on the last play of the game (Week 2, Bears), and a 51-yard field goal with 22 seconds left (Week 8, Colts).
m. Quite a week for Sam Darnold: seven days, seven interceptions … though his line is doing him zero favors.
o. If it was remotely clean, I’d post the irrational ravings of Barstool’s Dave Portnoy about RedZone host Scott Hanson. If Portnoy bet on the Rams, he’d have said nothing. But he apparently bet on the Bengals, and was two points away from covering, and took it out on Hanson. What a jerk.
3. I think if I were the Jags, as painful as it it’d be for Nick Foles, I’d stick with Gardner Minshew when Foles is healthy enough to return from his dislocated shoulder. Just look at the scramble/presence/keeping eyes downfield of Minshew, when he found Chris Conley for a 70-yard touchdown. You’ve got to be mobile, with confidence, and a great sense of where you are to make that play. Those are the traits we’ve seen in Minshew for six weeks.
4. I think this two-play sequence from Chargers-Bears is why, regardless of the outcome Sunday, I still think—as I wrote last Monday—it would be best now for Chicago to play Chase Daniel and let Mitchell Trubisky watch for a while:
• Second quarter, 4:52 left, second-and-goal from the Chargers’ 9-yard line. Wide receiver Allen Robinson, from the left, runs a quick slant to the middle of the field and is open at the 2. The throw from Trubisky is behind Robinson, and he misses it, lunging acrobatically backward trying to catch it. An awful throw.
• Third-and-goal from the 9. Trubisky hands to Tarik Cohen, who tries to run left and finds no hole. Gain of two. Coach Matt Nagy trusts his quarterback so little right now that he calls a sweep from the nine on third-and-goal. “This offense is just painful to watch the past couple of weeks,” Thom Brennaman said on FOX.
No one wants to pile on Trubisky, but the Bears have so little confidence in him that Matt Nagy dismissed any thought of trying to get closer than a 41-yard field goal to win even though Chicago had a timeout and 43 seconds to get closer.
5. I think the Browns, who played the first half like a scared and totally unprepared team at New England, are lucky to be 2-5.
6. I think there’s a good reason why Cincinnati is 0-8 and Washington 1-7 at the season’s midpoint. The two teams are stuck. They do what they do because it’s what they’ve done. The game is changing, and they are not changing with it. The league has embraced trading much more than in the past, but not in Washington and Cincinnati. Look at what these two franchises should do, and why they probably won’t do it:
• Cincinnati should trade 31-year-old wide receiver A.J. Green, but Ian Rapoport reported Sunday on NFL Network the Bengals likely will not. Green is 31. He gets hurt a lot. He’s missed 21 games in the last four years, including all eight this season with a knee injury. He’s 31. What the Bengals should do is ask for a second-round pick this year, or a second that could rise to a first in 2021 if Green hits certain numbers or plays in X games in the 2020 season. Say the Bengals draft a quarterback high next year, one of the three studs set to come out in the draft. By the time that QB is ready for prime time, if he’s good, Green will be 32 or 33. Smart teams read the tea leaves and get value for a declining player. The Bengals have a day and a half to see the light, but I wouldn’t count on it.
• Washington should trade 31-year-old left tackle Trent Williams, but there’s no indication club czar Bruce Allen will move off the spot of hanging on to a player who despises the franchise and says he won’t report. Williams has held out all year, angry at what he feels is poor medical treatment by the team. But he is a distressed asset for not just missing eight games this year; he missed 13 games due to injury over the previous three seasons. Who would look at Williams, cross his arms, hold his breath and say, I don’t care! We’re not trading Williams! Apparently, Bruce Allen. It is so nonsensical.
7. I think the coolest byplay in my half-hour NBC Sports Network show last week of Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid and Brett Favre watching tape of the highlights of the two quarterbacks happened when a 1996 Favre play in Seattle came up. What followed:
Me: “This is the Kingdome.”
Favre to Mahomes: “Do you even know what the Kingdome is?”
Mahomes: “Uh, no.”
Mahomes seemed to get some ideas from a few of the circus plays by Favre. “These are definitely things that will come out in the future,” Mahomes said. And Reid wanted to make sure each guy know how great the coach thought they were. “You come across like the country bumpkin,” he said at one point to Favre. “But both of you are so innately smart, it comes easy. You want more and more. That creativity is what makes [each guy] so special.”
A clip from the show (unfortunately, we can’t show NFL video on our website per league rules):
8. I think there is so much about the Kelechi Osemele-versus-Jets we can’t know, and don’t know. But at its base, Osemele says he was in significant shoulder pain and was tired of taking the mega-painkiller Toradol to mask it so he could keep playing. The Jets disagreed with Osemele’s characterization of the severity of the injury. Last week, Osemele chose to have the shoulder fixed by an independent surgeon, ending his season. The Jets fired Osemele. Having admitted there is much that we don’t know, I think I would have to see overwhelming evidence in the Jets’ favor to side with them. Asking a player to mask the pain of a torn labrum with painkillers and continue playing? That should not be a part of the NFL—even though I know many players do it.
9. I think I’m bothered by the Jets making such a big deal out of the “seeing ghosts” line put on TV by ESPN last Monday. Okay, in an ideal world, do you want your quarterback confessing that the defense has him all messed up? No. But when you lose 33-0 and look hopeless and hapless in the process, then Adam Gase says the next the organization is quite upset about it, my first reaction was Gase is trying to deflect from the real story of the night—the Patriots making the Jets look unprofessional and totally unprepared. Gase’s better reaction would have been something like:
I’ve got my own opinions about what was aired on ESPN, and I’ll address those with the proper authorities. But today’s not a day to be concentrating on that. We need to take responsibility for how we played, and that starts with me. Anything else today that deflects from the work we have ahead of us on the field is not worthy of our attention.
One more thing about Gase: Jets at Miami on Sunday, and this is not just an alumni game for the New York coach. This game means nothing except to 2020 draft position and Gase’s rep. Gase is 5-15 in his last 20 games as a head coach, including 1-6 this year, and in the next six weeks he faces Miami twice, the Giants, Washington, Oakland and Cincinnati. If the Jets are anything worse than 3-3 in these games, and if Sam Darnold plays as unevenly as he has in the first half of this season (when he’s played), well, GM Joe Douglas, who didn’t hire Gase, might have some thinking to do about his coach in December.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. TV Story of the Week: Erika Edwards of NBC News on the crisis of rural healthcare in America.
b. There is no hospital in Hebron, N.D., an hour west of Bismarck. Edwards: “In fact, when someone calls 911, there isn’t even a law that requires anyone in Hebron to answer the phone. Like so many other low-income, rural communities across the country, the small town’s ambulance runs on altruism alone. And those ambulance services are closing in record numbers, putting around 60 million Americans at risk of being stranded in a medical emergency.”
c. The head of the town’s all-volunteer ambulance service is the owner of Jack & Jill Grocery in Hebron. He, like everyone in the volunteer service, is not paid. This is so, so, so wrong.
d. TV Story of the Week II: An emotional piece from David Martin of CBS News, on Jack Eaton, the 100-year-old veteran, who returned to the Arlington National Cemetery 80 years after he stood guard over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
e. “Never will I falter.” The commitment of those who guard the tomb are words to treasure.
f. Nats are 10-4 in playoff games since Bryce Harper left.
g. Impressed with Nolan Ryan who, at 72, and as an adviser to Houston ownership, sat in the front row behind home plate for 4 hours and 1 minute of a (highly painful) 12-3 loss to Washington in Game 2, and, I believe, never left his seat for 241 minutes. Seriously: I kept checking all night, and while Minute Maid Park emptied out, Ryan never left.
h. Not as impressed with ex-Astros assistant GM Brandon Taubman.
i. Journalist of the Week: Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated.
j. I am struck by a few things, a week after Apstein detailed in a story released last Monday how Taubman seemed to taunt three female reporters after the Astros won the American League title over the Yankees—which prompted the Astros to put out a statement categorically denying the story and impugning Apstein and her reporting. The team said she attempted “to fabricate a story where one does not exist.” Now we know that it was Taubman who fabricated the fabrication and was fired for it, and slunk away from the organization in disgrace.
k. Question: What would have happened last Monday, when Apstein asked the organization for comment and to interview Taubman, if he simply said this, “I am sorry for my actions in the clubhouse Saturday night. I want to apologize to Apstein and the two other journalists for making them feeling uncomfortable and for acting inappropriately,” and if he then offered a personal apology to Apstein and the two other reporters. If Taubman did all of that, aside from it being the right thing to do, I bet this would have been a minor story, all but forgotten by midday Tuesday, the first day of the World Series. Instead, the story was huge on Tuesday, simmering and still out there on Wednesday, huge when Taubman was fired Thursday, and dominant in the morning papers and websites on Friday, the day of Game 3. It’s Taubman, and the Astros, who made all of this happen.
l. Truth is always the best policy. Most often, it’s not the lie that gets you. It’s the denial. It’s the coverup.
m. Good work, of course, by Stephanie Apstein. Future generation of journalists, female and male, in and out of sports, will read about and appreciate your reporting and your ability to stand in and take the heat.
n. My favorite line connected to the Apstein story came from Friday’s New York Times: “When asked for comment on Thursday, Apstein said she wanted her reporting to speak for itself.”
o. Column of the Week: Tara Sullivan of the Boston Globe, on Yankees veteran broadcaster Suzyn Waldman refusing to watch the World Series because of the Astros’ attempt to smear Apstein.
p. If you are not a person of a certain age, the song on this TV ad might be a mystery to you.
q. “White Rabbit” might also be the song you absolutely, positively cannot get out of your head. It was released in 1967, when I was 10, by Jefferson Airplane. I listened to it over and over, wondering what in the heck it was, and whatever in the world these psychedelic drugs meant, and what they made you feel like. Go ask Alice, when she’s 10 feet tall. Whaaaaaat? Grace Slick, with the alluring vocals. Songs were short then—this was two and a half minutes—and I got the single and wore it out on the King family record player. We had a small house in Connecticut, and I don’t remember whether it was “White Rabbit” or the Monkees, or some Beatles record, but I do recall in those years my father setting a record for yelling “TURN IT DOWN!” and “SHUT THE DOOR!” Then through the years, you’d read about Grace Slick. She had a Winehouse sort of debacle on a 1978 European tour and was too drunk to perform one night, and went in and out of rehab, and went on to more pop-type hits (“Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now”), and was friends with Abbie Hoffman, and was an inspiration for lots of latter-day female vocalists, and I hadn’t heard much of her in the last 20 years—until this ad popped up. I couldn’t get “White Rabbit” out of my head. Still can’t.
r. I bring this up now because Wednesday is Grace Slick’s 80th birthday. I kinda/sorta think she won’t read these happy-birthday wishes, but man, she’s packed in a lot of life in those 80 years. Happy birthday from a fan.
s. Back to reality. Well, my reality.
t. College Football Story of the Week: Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports on Ohio State defensive end Chase Young, who might be the best player in college football (and sure looked like it Saturday with a four-sack game against Wisconsin).
u. Thamel’s so good at these. I’ll never forget his piece on Stanford QB Andrew Luck before we all really knew him, riding his bike around campus anonymously, absolutely loving the anonymous part. Chase Young, starting at 7, had to wash his own laundry and by 10 had to pack his own school lunch. The detail work in here is so good.
v. Joe Buck’s world, starting last Tuesday: World Series Game 1 (Houston), World Series Game 2 (Houston), Washington at Minnesota NFL game, World Series Game 3 (at Washington), World Series Game 4 (Washington), World Series Game 5 (Washington). Today he has a bye. Tuesday: World Series Game 6 (Houston). Wednesday, if necessary: World Series Game 7 (Houston). Thursday: San Francisco at Arizona NFL game (Glendale, Ariz.)
• Tuesday: The trading deadline. So far, 59 trades involving players in 2019 (up 51 percent over the total in 2009), with 15 Pro Bowl players having moved so far. Best guess as of this morning: Cincinnati WR A.J. Green stays, Denver CB Chris Harris Jr. goes, Jets DL Leonard Williams goes, Miami RB Kenyan Drake goes (for peanuts; he is worth more), Washington LT Trent Williams stays (stupidly).
• Thursday: Glendale, Ariz., Niners at Cards, 8:20 p.m. ET. First of two meetings between the teams in 18 days, and we’re about to find out how good San Francisco is. Not that the Cards are the biggest challenge; just a different one, with a surprisingly good run game and a quarterback who can make people miss. Niners’ next six: at Arizona, Seattle, Arizona, Green Bay, at Baltimore, at New Orleans. Man, those last two.
• Sunday: Baltimore, Patriots at Ravens, 8:20 p.m. ET. Odd that two prominent teams in the same conference would have met just one time in the regular season in the last six years: a 30-23 Patriots win in 2016 in Foxboro. Bill Belichick grew up 34 miles from the site of M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens’ home, in Annapolis, and he has deep ties to Maryland. Just odd his Patriots have played in Baltimore twice since 2007. I’d bet that Belichick has been to Baltimore more for lacrosse games than football games since 2007. Tough duty for the 8-0 Pats, with the 5-2 Ravens on such a good run and having the benefit of playing at home coming off the bye.
Cleveland. Two and five.
That August Super Bowl talk?
Cavs playing tonight?