BALTIMORE — “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” That was the thunderous chant from a good chunk of the 70,731 cheering the Ravens’ startling 41-7 rout of the Texans on Sunday, the love of a city pouring over Lamar Jackson. The chant might have been parochially biased a couple of weeks ago, but no more. It’s no lock, but Jackson might have surged ahead of Russell Wilson in the MVP race with more highlights to make Deion screech, including his first-ever Kent Tekulve submarine completion. Every week it’s something with this guy. Something fun. Something exhilarating.
Football changes so fast.
One draft can change a team for 15 years; the 2018 draft probably did for the Ravens, and it only did because their personnel leadership pushed the envelope before most front offices would have. One month can change a season; the Ravens were 4-2 without a signature win a month ago, and they’ve beaten Seattle, New England and Houston (by a combined 108-43) since. The Patriots were the AFC home-field locks a month ago, and they still could win it. But Baltimore’s the better team today, particularly after the defensive suffocation of Deshaun Watson on Sunday.
Football changes fast in other ways too. For Jackson, certainly.
Ten months ago in this stadium, there was another chant from the fans. They wanted Joe Flacco in and Jackson out. Remember? In the first 50 minutes of the wild-card playoff loss to the Chargers, Jackson completed three passes. Think of that today. Incomprehensible! His passer rating through 50 minutes? Jackson was pitching a Blutarski. Zero-point-zero. His late-season bubble was bursting. I was there 45 Sundays ago. I was stunned John Harbaugh didn’t summon Flacco, just to give a break to the kid who looked like he was melting down.
In a quiet moment Sunday, an hour after the crowd finished serenading Jackson, I found him at his locker. It seemed a little cruel, dredging up the worst day of his short professional life. But I’d heard that game had crushed him, and I’d heard the hatred of it motivated him to make sure it never happened again. How much motivation did that game provide? I wondered.
“Oh man, a lot,” Jackson said right away. “A lot of motivation. I watched … that game a lot. I critiqued myself, watching myself, and studying myself. I didn’t look like I was in it at all. That’s not fair to my teammates. I gotta build from that. Be a better player. Be a better teammate. I gotta keep it going. That one playoff game is in the past.”
But maybe not.
“It haunts me. I wanna get my team back there, and further.”
Man, what a week of news. Myles Garrett’s few seconds of violence, Colin Kaepernick’s faceoff with the league ending ugly, Chicago’s season (and erstwhile long-term quarterback) dissolving on a terrible night in Los Angeles … and the Ravens looking very much like the new team atop Mount NFL with six weeks to play.
For a minute, just for fun, let’s focus on sports-talk candy. The MVP. I’d give it to Jackson today, by a whisker. Wilson, with a lesser offensive supporting cast, did hand the Niners their first loss on the road and has won six of seven while most often running for his life. Jackson’s apace to rush for 1,261 yards and to obliterate Michael Vick’s quarterback-rushing record by 222 yards. He is a weekly highlight factory. “He’s just freaky, and we’re on the ship with him,” said Seth Roberts, the itinerant wideout who caught the first of four Jackson TDs on Sunday. “Never, never, never seen anything like Freaky L.” Well, yes he is. But he’s not the MVP for being a highlight machine. In head-to-head matches with his midseason MVP competition, Wilson and Watson:
- Jackson is 2-0.
- His passer rating is 116.2.
- He’s rushed for 202 yards.
- He has zero turnovers.
Leading in the MVP race (if he is) after 11 weeks … that and six bucks will buy you a grande pumpkin spice latte. Means nothing yet, but if Jackson has a few more days like Sunday, he would be the youngest MVP winner since Jim Brown won in 1957 and 1958 just shy of his 22nd and 23rd birthdays. More recently, Dan Marino and Patrick Mahomes were 23 years and several months old when they won in 1984 and 2018, respectively. Jackson turns 23 on Jan. 7; the award will be handed out 29 days later.
It’s easy to watch Baltimore now and get seduced by the quarterback and think that’s why the team is so good. Surely it’s the biggest reason. But I’ll give you two other reasons. One: They’re smart on draft day. Two: They’ve got stones on draft day.
On day one of the 2018 draft, the Ravens had one pick—16th overall. They had gone three straight playoff-less seasons. They had a 33-year-old quarterback they’d started to fall out of love with, though Flacco was five years removed from winning a Super Bowl. Their offensive core needed replenishment. It was GM Ozzie Newsome’s last draft before retirement. This was a big quarterback draft, with Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Jackson all projected to go in the first round. There were scouts in the building who loved Jackson. Secretly, both Newsome and assistant GM DeCosta (Newsome’s heir) loved Jackson. And owner Steve Bisciotti was jazzed about the electric Jackson too, because he wanted to inject some life into a competitive but uninteresting franchise. The disinterest in vanilla football was showing at the gate too.
“We wanted quantity that day,” said DeCosta, the rookie GM, after Sunday’s game. “With the way the draft fell that year, we saw a way to really improve our offense. We were hoping the phone was gonna ring, starting at 16.”
Baltimore used the 16th pick to deal to Buffalo for 22 and 65. “We get to 22, and all of the players we liked are still there,” DeCosta said. “So we traded again.” Baltimore used 22 and moved it to Tennessee for 25 and 125. Newsome and DeCosta hadn’t shared with the scouts or coaches that they loved Jackson, so it wasn’t a stunner when, at 25, they decided to pick a player. It wasn’t Jackson.
Hayden Hurst, tight end, South Carolina. The failed baseball pitcher. Got the yips pitching in the Pirates’ minor-league system and moved to football. “We loved him,” DeCosta said.
But, I wondered, you loved a quarterback. Every pick goes by, and there’s a chance you lose him. Cincinnati’s at 21 and might pick him. Maybe Denver or Miami, early in the second round, moves up to pick him. Mobile guy. Great arm. Winner.
There was some cynicism about Jackson, too, which helped the Ravens. He’d been asked to work out as a receiver at the combine and refused. “I’m a quarterback,” he said. Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian said he might project as a receiver. There were rumors that the Bengals didn’t like him. As in most drafts, the Ravens used a best-guessing strategy, and a network of people in and around the game and in the media to sniff out information.
“You kinda have to use a strategy,” DeCosta said. “We felt like there was a pretty good chance that Lamar might be there later in the first round, early part of the second round. We were willing, if we could, to trade back, trade back, accumulate capital and then possibly either try to trade back again or in a second round, make a play and get Lamar at that point. But, you know, it was a risk.”
“Were you nervous about losing him?” I asked.
“We were. We were. But I think you’ve got to stay as clinical in the moment as you can, and really just go with all your best information and the plan. So yeah, you’re always nervous. You accept that you’ll lose some players working this way. But I think we try to stay as measured as possible and not get caught up in the moment.”
Two picks before Philly at 32, the Ravens called Philadelphia GM Howie Roseman. He wanted out of 32. He’d move down to 52, but it would cost Baltimore’s second-round pick in 2019. So two twos for Jackson? Newsome and Jackson were good with that. “We didn’t share what we were going to try and do with anybody,” said DeCosta. “Drafts are strange like that. It’s just Ozzie and me at the end of the table, the only ones who really know. When you’re trying to make a decision as important as that, you try and keep it as quiet as you can. Because it’s not that you don’t want to share it with people, but the downside—which would be losing the player—is much greater than the upside of sharing the information with somebody that you care about.
“We didn’t even interview Lamar at the combine because we didn’t want to be associated with him. We didn’t want rumors about us and him to start. They didn’t. We were proud of that. So we pick him, and to hear him talk, and to hear his emotion and to see Lamar on TV with Deion Sanders, so happy, and to see his conviction, and to see his competitiveness. That’s a powerful thing. So, after the pick was announced, we hadn’t even had the chance to tell the scouts and coaches.
“And I think it’s probably the first time in my 24 years that you could hear cheering outside the draft room. You could hear the coaches and you could hear the scouts. That was a powerful moment for us.”
Postscript: Remember that 65th pick, acquired from Buffalo? Baltimore dealt 65 to Oakland for 75, 152 and 212. Baltimore dealt 75 to Kansas City for 86 and 122. Baltimore traded 152 to Tennessee for 162 and 215.
The 65th pick, yielded five players. Two (Jordan Lasley and Greg Senat) are gone. Third-round tight end Mark Andrews is the fifth-leading tight end in receptions in the NFL. Sixth-round guard Bradley Bozeman is starting. Fourth-round linebacker Kenny Young was traded to the Rams this year (with a fifth-round pick) for Marcus Peters, who has two pick-six TDs in his first four games with the Ravens.
Not a bad draft. Baltimore turned the 16th pick in the draft and two twos, basically, into its long-term quarterback and tight end, a starting guard and a major one-year upgrade at corner.
The Ravens got gutty. Six trades, and the ability to take a deep breath and be willing to lose a player you’re sure will be a franchise quarterback. What if they lost Jackson? What if someone jumped them to take Jackson? Wouldn’t look like such a smart strategy now.
They didn’t lose Jackson. No one jumped them. You take your best shot. You use your best information. What happened here is exactly why the Ravens have been a competitive franchise, and better, since they moved to Baltimore in 1996.
In April, the Ravens asked Jackson to make an appearance at a draft party on day three of draft weekend. Sure, he said. He was going to be in New York to see a concert with some teammates Friday night, and he’d get up Saturday and drive back to Maryland for the event. He went to the concert, and got up Saturday for the drive home. One problem: He couldn’t locate one of his teammates. He called and texted, but to no avail. So he got in his car and drove back for the draft event.
Then he drove back to New York, three-plus hours, to pick up the teammate. And turned right around with him and drove to Baltimore.
He really didn’t have to do that. The teammate could have gotten on the train to come home. No, Jackson said; we came together, and I’ll get him home.
With Jackson, the football’s great. But you need to have the other stuff too—the leadership, your teammates having your back, a good locker room. Jackson brings that too.
Plus, they’ve got a guy convinced he’ll never have a 0.0 rating again. Ever. A loss like last January’s playoff loss won’t happen again, if Jackson has anything to do with it.
“I watched that game plenty enough times,” said Jackson. “I watched it with my brother. We talked about it. I hate that game. I really hated it on film because that’s not me. I’m not playing up to my ability at all. That’s not fair, like I said, to my teammates, my coaching staff. So each and every week I’m trying to get better. And it starts in practice.” When he arrived as a rookie, “I was like, ‘I want to be a better practice player because everywhere I went I sucked in practice but in a game I could show up. So I want to be a better practice player and a game player.”
We all can, and do, have opinions about the Colin Kaepernick workout story. Mine: Here’s a guy who asked for teams to work him out for the past two years, and though the arrangements Saturday weren’t to his exact liking, the NFL arranged to have 20 or so teams at the Atlanta Falcons training facility for his first workout in front of NFL scouts (low-level ones, mostly), with the agreement that a video of the workout would be available for every GM and coach and staff in the league to see. That wasn’t good enough, in the end. Kaepernick had a problem with the waiver he’d have to sign. (I’m told this waiver is essentially the same one a tryout wide receiver, say, would have to sign to work out for a team during the season.) He didn’t trust the NFL to send the complete videotape to the teams. He didn’t trust that the NFL motives were pure—inviting scouts to see him work out when the league never does it for anyone else. One … excuse … after … another. Does someone dying for a tryout place all these obstacles in front of him at age 32, and then cancel the NFL workout and move the workout to a high-school field 60 miles away, while his last chances to play in the NFL fade away more and more by the day? If that were me, and I were dying to get back into the NFL, I’d show up and show those NFL scouts how wrong they and their organizations have been—whether this was a real tryout or something that allowed the NFL to say it tried.
But my opinion is meaningless. I don’t make NFL decisions. It’s more important to find out what the decision-makers think. I called a couple of veteran and smart NFL people (no names, positions or teams, to ensure frankness) in the 24 hours after the workout blew up.
I am going to paraphrase three points that I learned.
1. Is a backup quarterback worth this? Maybe he won’t be a backup for long; and maybe if he signed with a team like Cincinnati he’d have a good shot to win the starting job in 2020. But lay the cards out on the table. Nobody had worked him out in more than two years. The NFL said some teams were interested in working him out, but I don’t know if that’s true. I hadn’t heard a single bit of buzz about him as a football player this year. Not a syllable. One person kept wondering why he wouldn’t approach this workout this weekend, regardless of his disgust for the NFL, with the seriousness of a player longing to play pro football.
2. You may be surprised at this, but I believe there is some (slight) NFL interest. I told one of the two NFL people: Remember Kaepernick’s last year for the 49ers, 2016? Worked very hard, was cooperative with the press, gave social-justice opinion, kneeled before games, but he was dead-serious about winning and practice and being a team leader. I think it will take Kaepernick saying he’ll come in as a football player for the six or seven months of the preseason and season, leaving his political and social-justice pursuits for the offseason. I don’t know about the kneeling part. It’s obviously going to be a sore spot in some markets and with some teams. Gut feeling: I bet sometime in the next six months (we probably will not find out about it) Kaepernick meets very quietly with a team.
3. One person I spoke with said he thinks three coaches would fit with Kaepernick: Frank Reich of the Colts (nothing bothers him, and he’s a good teacher), the Chiefs’ Andy Reid (signed Michael Vick out of Leavenworth, doesn’t care about fires outside his door), and Bruce Arians/Byron Leftwich in Tampa (good teachers, tough-love guys). This person stressed to me how important it was that Kaepernick go to a place that would allow him to focus on football and learn football and get back into a football regimen after three or so years away. The most interesting thing in this regard is the person wondering how long it had been since Kaepernick was hit. By the time he signs, if he does, would it be 40 months since he played the game of football?
It’s easy, of course, for me to say, Just suck it up and play, dude. But Kaepernick is wired differently. I thought something I read Sunday night, from Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic, was smart and relevant.
“It has been clear for years the league doesn’t want him in it,” Thompson wrote. “And suddenly, the league is extending an olive branch days before Week 11? That reeks of a setup in the works.Yet I’d do it anyway. Because I’m just a guy. I wouldn’t feel big enough, strong enough, to take on a multibillion corporation. I would know I was being hustled but just take the chance I was wrong. Because, in the end, what other option would I have? Some forces feel too great. Some defeats seem too inevitable. This is how most people feel. You take what you can get. Often, you settle for what is less than you deserve. You put up with what you know is wrong because it is not as bad as it could be. I’d tell myself this is the best I can hope for. I’d talk myself into being grateful for the chance. I’d likely call it a blessing, the whole time knowing I’m probably getting played. Who am I not to not take an olive branch if the NFL, holder of dreams, offers one?
“But this is why Colin Kaepernick is different, and so beloved. This is why I find him inspiring. He just refuses to bend, to compromise his beliefs.”
Something smart to consider, whatever you think of Kaepernick’s decision on Saturday.
Other than the fact that I don’t recall anything quite so egregious in the last 20 years watching the sport, my takeaways:
• The NFL I believe got this mostly right. I’d have given Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey two games instead of three, because he’d just seen his quarterback take the most violent attack most of us have witnessed, and a center/leader like Pouncey is the mother hen to his inexperienced quarterback. He’s going to lash out, and violently, at the attacker. I’m quibbling about the length of suspension, but he certainly deserves it.
• I would fine Mason Rudolph but not suspend him for his role. I agree that he went overboard trying to get Garrett off him, and whether he was trying to just get Garrett off him by using his foot on his midsection/groin, that’s excessive to me. But it’s not a suspendable offense, in my opinion. And if that prompted Garrett to spin out of control, that’s 90 percent on Garrett, who’s got to have more self-control.
• As for Garrett, I certainly hope he doesn’t win his appeal. My experience in two short interviews has been that he’s a thoughtful person and serious about being great at football. It appears he simply snapped. He should serve his time, be repentant, and return to be the great player he is and being the defensive cornerstone Cleveland drafted him to be. Though he’s shown signs of being over-aggressive, this act crosses the rubicon, and the Browns need to find out whether some counseling is in order. If he shows proper remorse and works to make this right with Rudolph and the Cleveland fan base over time, I’d lean toward allowing him back on the field for Week 1 next year.
It’s hard to not feel for Mitchell Trubisky. He seemed emotional from the TV shot, after being removed late in the Bears’ feeble 17-7 loss to the Rams Sunday night. The Bears said he’d suffered a hip injury and couldn’t continue to play; but whether the injury was an injury or was severe enough for him to be removed, it was an injury of convenience, because the more Trubisky plays, the bigger the problem the Bears have on their hands.
Trubisky might be a good quarterback one day, but it’s appearing more and more than he won’t. And with the constant and intimidating and oppressive shadows of Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson cast over him, it’s another bit of pressure he just can’t escape. The daily emphasis of the Bears trading up to draft Trubisky over Mahomes, who has already won an MVP, and Watson, who well may win one soon, must be hard to escape.
The best thing for Matt Nagy to do is give Chase Daniel the job for the next two or three weeks, minimum, and give Trubisky a mental-health break, even if his hip is fine. His arm isn’t, and I’m guessing his head isn’t either.
Offensive Players of the Week
Jimmy Garoppolo, quarterback, San Francisco. He figured out exactly how to combat a mediocre Monday nighter against Seattle. Garoppolo’s play in the 30-26 win against Arizona—coming back from 16-0 down early—was what a big-time quarterback does. He completed 34 of 45 for 424 yards, with four touchdowns and two picks. He drove the Niners 65 yards in eight plays in the last 2:15, finishing it with a 25-yard TD pass to total unknown running back Jeff Wilson. Niners 36, very tough Cards 26.
Dak Prescott, quarterback, Dallas. Great day for Dak in Detroit, just when Dallas needed it. His 274 first-half passing yards, a career-best for a first half, staked the Cowboys to a 24-14 lead, and he exited the day as the fourth player in NFL history to exceed 3,000 yards and 20 touchdown passes in each of his first four NFL seasons. For the day, he completed 29 of 46 for 444 yards, three TDs and no picks. (How is that only a 116.6 passer rating? Unjust.) Prescott has thrown for 841 yards in consecutive games, more than Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman or Tony Romo—or, for that matter, any Dallas quarterback ever—has compiled. Pay the man, Jerry.
Defensive Players of the Week
Maxx Crosby, defensive end, Oakland. How crazy is it that the Mid-American Conference alum with the most sacks in the league is not Khalil Mack (Buffalo) of Chicago, but rather Crosby (Eastern Michigan) of the Raiders? Crosby, a late bloomer taken by the Raiders in the fourth round last April, sacked Ryan Finley of the Bengals four times, giving him 6.5 sacks for the season. (Mack has 5.5.)
Matthew Judon, linebacker, Baltimore. The Ravens keep churning out the underrated, odd-sized (6-5, 265, in Judon’s case) playmaking linebackers. (Sunday’s starters against Houston: Judon and Jaylen Ferguson, both in the 265-pound range as outside ‘backers, and lightish inside ‘backers Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor, both in the 232 range.) They were a ferocious group in the surprising rout of Houston, led by the stout fourth-year former Grand Valley State Laker. Judon’s like a John Randle type of rusher; he just keeps coming and coming. His 21 sacks since opening day 2017 leads all Ravens, and his seven tackles and two sacks on this day led all voracious Ravens in their defensive game of the year.
Jamal Adams, safety, New York Jets. Evidently, there’s no such thing as The FMIA Defensive Player of the Week Curse. After winning it last week for the win over the Giants, Adams might have played his best game as a pro Sunday in Washington. Lining up both in the box and deep, Adams was unsolvable by Washington. He had three sacks, another tackle for loss and four tackles in the Jets’ 34-17 win over a very bad football team. “I just want to keep elevating,” Adams said. And to think the Jets came within a slightly better offer of trading him three weeks ago.
Joe Schobert, linebacker, Cleveland. Lost in the mayhem of the ending of Cleveland’s 21-7 win over the Steelers was some excellent defense by the Browns, led by the under-appreciated 99th pick of the 2016 draft, Wisconsin linebacker Schobert. Schobert led all defenders Thursday night with 10 tackles; he had two interceptions; he had one of four Cleveland sacks of Mason Rudolph; he broke up two more Pittsburgh passes; and he continued to be the kind of physical sideline-to-sideline presence the Browns have needed to keep an inconsistent offense in games this year.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Jake Bailey, punter, New England. In a field-position game, Bailey was the Patriots’ MVP, punting eight times for a 47.6-yard average, and dropping six inside the Eagles’ 20. He saved his best punt for last: Late in the fourth quarter of a 17-10 game, he launched his final punt 54 yards to the Philadelphia 12-yard line. Ballgame.
Jakeem Grant, kick-returner, Miami. With the Dolphins in dire straits and about to head to halftime trailing Buffalo 23-7, Grant took a kickoff a yard deep in the end zone, maneuvered his way through the first wave of Bills tacklers, got to the right sideline, and sprinted the rest of the way for a touchdown. Great sense of when and how to evade the first line of Buffalo guys and get to the sideline.
A.J. Moore, cornerback, Houston. A tremendous heads-up play by Moore against a very good Baltimore special-teams unit. The situation: First quarter in Baltimore, scoreless, fourth-and-four, Ravens line up at Houston’s 37-yard line for a 55-yard field goal try by Justin Tucker. At the snap, holder Sam Koch shovel-passes to tight end Mark Andrews in the middle of the formation, and Andrews begins to steamroll around right end. But Moore, a 23-year-old undrafted 5-11 cornerback from Ole Miss, bust through the block of Baltimore offensive lineman Matt Skura and chops down Andrews for a two-yard loss.
Coaches of the Week
Wink Martindale, defensive coordinator, Baltimore. The Texans entered Sunday’s showdown of 7-2 (Ravens) and 6-3 (Texans) in Baltimore with the 10th-highest-scoring team in the league. Baltimore shut them out for the first 52 minutes, holding Deshaun Watson scoreless in his first eight drives, and had a season-high seven sacks. Martindale always had a swarm of defenders around Watson, who played one of the worst games of his career—and it wasn’t his fault; he was simply overwhelmed by a rush that made the Houston line look feeble. It was amazing to see the Texans wave the white flag in the last few minutes, down 41-7 in a game that looked to be the AFC matchup of the day and turned into a rout. Martindale’s crew made Houston just bleed the clock in the last few minutes to get away from this sudden offensive and defensive powerhouse.
Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England. For hanging in there when nothing was going right, ending with the Tom Brady backward pass to Julian Edelman, who threw a gorgeous spiral to Phillip Dorsett for the winning TD. Beautiful play design and execution. McDaniels knows with the talent gap on offense he’s going to have to pull some stuff out of his hat while new offensive pieces develop (he and Brady hope). The Patriots whittled their way back from a 10-0 deficit with four scoring drives, including the only score of the second half, the 15-yard perfecto from Edelman to Dorsett.
Goat of the Week
Myles Garrett, defensive end, Cleveland. Do you really have to ask?
A unique first quote of the week, from the waning moments of Pittsburgh-Cleveland on Thursday night, and the byplay of FOX’s Joe Buck and Troy Aikman as the Myles Garrett-Mason Rudolph brawl escalated. Some lines have been edited out, and Mike Pereira’s role has been eliminated for brevity. I wanted to do the quote this way because I thought the reaction by Buck and Aikman in real time was very good. They neither over-dramatized the incident nor underplayed it, and when they had 10 or 15 seconds to digest the replay, they used the words America used in the following three days to describe what had been seen. Barbaric. Horrible.
Buck: “There’s a flag.”
Aikman: “Whoa! Hello! Whoa!”
Buck: “That’s … What in the world! Can you believe Myles Garrett? Swinging a helmet?!”
Aikman: “There’ll be some ejections coming out of this.”
Buck: “May be some suspensions.”
Aikman: “Right, suspensions.”
Buck: “It was Garrett, and it was well after the play.”
Aikman: “Well, he tackled Rudolph. Rudolph didn’t like the way he was tackled.”
Watching the replay.
Buck: “Ohhhh! Gosh!”
Aikman: “Oh man!”
Buck: “Uhhh-oh! Oh my goodness … rips the helmet off Rudolph’s head and then eventually swings it and hits him with it in the head.”
Aikman: “Beyond words, Joe.”
Buck: “Ahhh, gosh! That’s one of the worst things I’ve seen on a professional sports field.”
Aikman: “This is multiple-game suspension right here. It’s just–, I mean, I-I-I hate that anyone even has to watch this. This is barbaric, is what this is.”
Buck: “Eight seconds left in this game, and that’s what everybody’s walking away from this Thursday night game with? It’s horrible. Horrible.”
“Some people call it boring. I call it being smart, being the CEO, and just staying the course.”
—Kirk Cousins, the Minnesota quarterback who led the Vikings back from a 20-0 deficit with some slow and steady drives to beat Denver, 27-23.
“The prestige and status of the Washington Redskins within the D.C. area reached their absolute bottom—the lowest point in the existence of the franchise in this city since 1937—on Sunday at FedEx Field.”
—Thomas Boswell, the respected Washington Post sports columnist, after Washington lost to the woeful Jets 34-17 before a crowd of a few dozen at the FedEx mausoleum.
“It feels like we lost.”
—Baker Mayfield, Thursday night, after the Browns’ season-saving 21-7 win over the Steelers—and after the Myles Garrett incident.
“It does feel like we lost.”
—Odell Beckham Jr., Thursday night.
“Only 22 years old! You gotta just think the people the people down in Miami are dumber than a box of rocks to let this kid go.”
—Steelers Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, on FOX, on the Dolphins’ September trade of second-year safety Minkah Fitzpatrick to Pittsburgh.
“He don’t want to play. He wants to be a martyr.”
—ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, on Colin Kaepernick, after Kaepernick canceled his league-arranged workout and worked out for far fewer teams at a high school field in suburban Atlanta.
Mitchell Schwartz • Kansas City offensive tackle • Photographed in Kansas City, Mo.
Schwartz’s streak of 7,894 consecutive snaps played—the longest active streak among NFL players—ended after eight seasons and 121 games last week. He tweaked his left knee when quarterback Patrick Mahomes was sacked late in the second quarter at Tennessee. Schwartz missed three snaps, then returned to start a new streak in the third quarter. Entering tonight’s game in Mexico City against the Chargers, Schwartz has played 37 consecutive plays.
“I knew, at the moment of the play, that it was over. It’s the worst single instance of pain I’ve had in the NFL, and I couldn’t stay out there just to keep the streak alive. We’ve got to keep our quarterback safe, and when I walked around and tested a little bit, I knew I had to come out.
“A little weird, to see football being played and it was going on without me, and I’m watching from the sidelines. I haven’t done that. It was sort of like practice. But it’s a good reminder than one person is not so important that the game can’t go on without you.
“It’s funny—there’s only one time I was close to missing time, one time I was really hurt in a game—and it would have ended the streak. Week 17, rookie year, 2012, I got hurt that game. I hurt my knee. I would have had to miss a few weeks. What’s incredible is [all-time record-holder for consecutive snaps] Joe Thomas, believe it or not, had the exact same thing happen that game. If there’d been a Week 18, neither of us would have played. You keep going till you can’t. Woke up the next morning and it hurt. It was my MCL.
“Joe Thomas reached out to congratulate me this week. That was cool. I am not at his level—he’s a top five tackle all-time. But I’m glad I got to play with him early in my career in Cleveland. We’re similar people, with similar attitudes.
“I wish it didn’t end. But my feeling is mostly pride for how long it lasted. There’s a huge amount of luck involved. You could break a shoelace or something like that. My brother [retired veteran offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz] and I have the same genetics, but he had a career filled with injuries. Who knows why? I have been fortunate that it hasn’t happened to me. Of course I have pride in it. An offensive lineman doesn’t have stats, doesn’t score touchdowns. So your stats, basically, are things like durability. I’ve always been there.
As for tonight …
“I’ve felt better than I expected this week. My intention is to play. It’s what I do.”
The Jets placed center Ryan Kalil, 34, on injured reserve Saturday, likely ending his career. He came out of retirement in August to play center for the Jets, but he was plagued by knee, shoulder and elbow injuries, and fought through seven mediocre starts. Pro Football Focus rated him the 32nd of 36 NFL centers in 2019.
It was a costly gambit by the Jets. For his seven starts this year, Kalil earned $958,929 per game—or more per game than PFF’s second-rated center, Washington’s Chase Roullier, makes for the season ($645,000).
I always wondered how many times TV networks show coaches on game telecasts. Sometimes, as with 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh last week in the Seahawks-Niners game, it seems excessive. So I fired up NFL Game Rewind and went back and counted all dedicated coaching shots for head coaches and coordinators in the game last Monday night.
The coaches-on-camera scoreboard from the five-quarter game, the 27-24 overtime win for Seattle:
San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan: 59.
Seattle head coach Pete Carroll: 53.
San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh: 21.
Seattle offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer: 14.
Seattle defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr.: 4.
• Saleh was shown 10 times in the fourth quarter and zero times in overtime. Incredibly odd, unless ESPN heard the plaintive wails of those sick of seeing Saleh on the screen from his 16 second-half appearances. Very strange that he never showed up on TV in overtime for his reaction to Seattle generating 109 total yards and the winning field goal—not to mention his reaction to the sensational interception by rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw in the red zone that almost cost Seattle the game.
• Norton losing the coordinator battle 21-4 by Saleh is somewhat understandable because Carroll is a defensive coach. Somewhat. Still seems out of whack.
• Carroll is fun on camera and Shanahan can have the impassive glare of a hitman. Seems like overload, 112 shots of them, but they’re camera-friendly.
• Shanahan is the de facto offensive coordinator—the 49ers have a passing game coordinator (Mike LaFleur) and run game coordinator (Mike McDaniel), and unless I missed them, I don’t think either was shown on TV Monday night.
In 1999, Tom Brady set the University of Michigan school record for passing yards in a game against Michigan State. On the Michigan State coach staff that season: graduate assistant coach Josh McDaniels.
On Saturday, Shea Patterson broke Brady’s record for career passing yards against Michigan State. On the Michigan coaching staff now: quarterbacks coach Ben McDaniels.
You are sick of me extolling the virtues of football-writing East Coast living. But here is the latest example:
8:11 a.m. Leave apartment in Brooklyn for New York Penn Station in Manhattan.
8:48 a.m. Board 9 a.m. Amtrak Acela train for Baltimore. Write some of this column as the gray day in Jersey, Philly, southeastern Pennsylvania, Wilmington and bucolic Maryland passes by the window.
11:19 a.m. Arrive Baltimore Penn Station.
11:24 a.m. Get in cab for M&T Bank Stadium.
11:46 a.m. Arrive at press box.
1:02 p.m. Texans at Ravens.
4:26 p.m. Work locker rooms. Linger un-annoyingly (I think) till I can get a few minutes with Lamar Jackson.
5:45 p.m. Cab to Baltimore Penn Station, through post-game stadium traffic.
6:35 p.m. Board 6:38 p.m. Amtrak Acela train for New York. Write column stuff on train.
8:55 p.m. Arrive New York.
9:06 p.m. Take subway to Brooklyn. Walk last seven minutes home.
9:46 p.m. Arrive home.
9:50 p.m. Write like a bandit with second half of NBC’s Bears-Rams.
During pro football’s 100th season, I’ll re-visit important games, plays, players and events from pro football history.
1945: On Nov. 18, the immortal Don Hutson scores his final NFL touchdown—in Fenway Park
On this day 74 years ago, Hutson scored his 99th career touchdown, a 10-yard pass from Green Bay quarterback Irv Comp, in a 28-0 victory over a combined team (wartime rules allowed for combined teams) of the Boston Yanks and Brooklyn Tigers. Hutson played safety that day. Hutson kicked four extra points that day. Hutson kicked off that day. The Packers played two more games in 1945, and Hutson kicked field goals in each, but it was in Boston, 11 weeks after the end of World War II, in front of 31,000 in a ballpark made for baseball, where Hutson reached the end zone for the last time. After this season, his 11th, Hutson retired.
What made his career so special: At the time of his retirement, his 99 touchdown receptions were triple the number of touchdown catches by any player in the first quarter-century of pro football. (The Cleveland Rams’ Jim Benton had 33 through the end of 1945.) Talk about dominating a sport … I went back and looked up Babe Ruth’s best 11 consecutive seasons for home runs, and it turns out he hit 496 from 1919 to ’29; in the same 11 seasons, Rogers Hornsby had more than half of that, 258. To me, there’s little doubt that in the first quarter of the NFL’s history, Hutson was the greatest player. In his final season, he may have saved his best for last: He scored 29 points in one quarter of a game against Detroit: four touchdown receptions, five extra points, all in the second quarter. That record’s never been broken, and it’s hard to imagine it ever will be. A player would have to score five touchdowns in a quarter, most likely, for the record to fall.
Hutson’s one of the best players ever, with his immense air production at a time when football was still a running game, and because he was a very good safety (once led the league in interceptions) and a serviceable placekicker. I do understand the level-of-competition argument, seeing that it was a wartime-weakened NFL at the time, and seeing that there were no black players in pro football when he played. It’s an interesting debate. But I believe you should be judged by how you compare to players in your era. And Hutson, under those conditions, should be in the argument for the best receiver, ever.
In 1988, ESPN’s Chris Berman, who reveres football history, dropped by Hutson’s home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Hutson was 75 then. At the time, Steve Largent was creeping up on his record for touchdowns receptions; Largent broke the mark in 1989. Jerry Rice was in his fourth season then, and he’d yet to have even a 90-catch season. Hutson saw something in the lithe 26-year-old kid from Mississippi, playing a half-century after his own prime. Berman asked him about Largent breaking his 99-touchdown record.
“Chris,” said Hutson, “I believe there is a young man up the road in San Francisco that will have all the records by the time he retires.”
Ben Volin covers the NFL for the Boston Globe.
Bobby Belt is a sports field producer for ESPN.
Banner, tweeting about Colin Kaepernick, is a former NFL executive.
Kyle Juszczyk is a fullback for the 49ers.
Lang is a former NFL guard for the Packers and Lions.
Jamison Hansley covers the Ravens for ESPN.
Field Yates is an NFL analyst for ESPN.
I asked parents of young people—and potential football players—on Twitter for reaction to the Myles Garrett incident, and 311 emails landed in my inbox by 11 a.m. Sunday. They ran the gamut. My biggest takeaway: Far more emailers—maybe by 5 to 1—were more concerned by the two concussions suffered by Steelers receivers Thursday night than by Garrett clubbing Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph in the head with his own helmet. Most concerning: the massive cheap hit by Damarious Randall of the Browns on Pittsburgh’s Diontae Johnson, causing Johnson to be KO’d and Randall to be ejected. I chose 11 voices across America, edited in almost every case for space, to represent what I read from you.
From Somerville, N.J. Ryan Engelstad writes: “I’m a parent and have thought a lot about whether I’d want my kid to play football at any level. While the Garrett incident was definitely jarring, that’s not the incident I’d point to that makes me want to avoid football at all costs. By FAR it was seeing blood coming from the ear of Diontae Johnson after the helmet-to-helmet hit. The Garrett play happens once a decade. The Johnson hit happens at least a couple of times a season if not every week.”
From Hastings, Neb. Abigail Lauters writes: “My son was watching the Browns-Steelers game, but went to bed before the fight. He’s 6. This fall, he’s absolutely fallen in love with football and wants to watch it all: high school, college, NFL. My husband won two state championships as a high school quarterback, and still coaches football. I’ve been a football fan since I was a little girl, so we are both thrilled at our son’s interest in the sport. This morning when I saw the replay, I thought, ‘Oh, I’m so glad Jude wasn’t watching!’ And then I thought, ‘What is football coming to that I am glad my 6-year-old wasn’t watching?’ He wants to play football so badly, but by the time he’s ready for contact football in middle school, what will the sport look like? Is this violence going to trickle down? My heart wants to let my son play … and if his love for the game continues, I will let him play … praying for his safety.”
From Portland, Maine. Dennis Welch writes: “A sport should not be condemned by the actions of one fool.”
From Shoreview, Minn. Greg Herman writes: “My first thought was how disturbing it was—on a totally different level than an unnecessarily rough hit. My second? I’m so glad my 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter weren’t watching. How would I have even attempted to explain that? I don’t want either of my kids to play tackle football (or hockey for that matter). The violence of this game doesn’t change that. What it does change is my interest in even exposing my kids to the NFL as a fan.”
From Halls, Tenn. Curtis Berkley writes: “I currently serve as the coach of the Halls 11U football team in a suburb of Knoxville, and just completed my ninth season of youth football coach or league commissioner. I have two sons who have participated in youth football—flag, tackle and now high school. Even in a football-crazy place like Knoxville, we are keenly aware and increasingly concerned with the overall decline in the number of kids who are playing tackle football, and which has recently been as precipitous as it is shocking. I sat in a meeting with the Knox County Parks Director just a little over two years ago, and heard him say that Knox County has 75 fewer tackle football teams than it had just five years prior … I’ve seen the play in question and find it abhorrent. If they can’t prevent the big egregious stuff like this, they’re hopeless to stop the smaller stuff, which also requires immediate correction for the survival of the game … Do I think that kids will now start bashing other kids over the head with helmets now? No I don’t. Do I think that it’s now at least been introduced into the minds of several million kids who saw it, and who will now consider it, but wouldn’t have before? Almost certainly yes.”
From Cleveland. Eric Crow writes: “I have a 2-year-old son. My wife often jokes about him not being allowed to play football when he gets older. She has bought him toy golf clubs, soccer balls, and a Little Tikes hoop for him to play basketball. The concern [over football] is very real in our house. However if my son decides to play tackle football and I had to show him one play from this game to convey the consequences of his decision, the Myles Garrett play is CLEARLY behind Damarious Randall’s hit on Diontae Johnson. Don’t you think a player bleeding out of his ear is a way worse visual when it comes to deciding about letting your child play football? It was for me.”
From Portland, Ore. Ashlee Yuille writes: “I’m 40, a licensed clinical social worker in an emergency room. I’m the mother of a 13-year old son who was watching the game with me, and he plays football. I’m in no manner condoning the incident. However, what I actually find most disturbing about it is the collective outrage from professional media, twitter, players, fans, and the NFL. When a domestic violence incident occurs and a player assaults a woman, there is never this amount of collective outrage. It’s crickets. The penalties are inconsistent or nonexistent. The stark contrast in this is really disturbing honestly.”
From Wisconsin. Richard McClure writes: “My son is 10 and just finished fifth-grade tackle football season. I am the parent people look at and say, ‘Why would you let your kid play football? It’s so dangerous!’ My son loves football. All parts—the mental aspect, the physicality, the camaraderie, the team. Seeing a play like this just reminds me how important it is to teach our youth the challenge of the sport and the respect you should give to the opposing players and teams. Be respectful. Shake the hands of your opponents.”
From St. Louis. Thomas B. writes: “The hit on Diontae Johnson is why I don’t want my son playing football, not the Garrett nonsense.”
From San Diego. Connor Sorohan writes: “I am a high school football coach who is still reeling after the incident with Garrett. Though [my wife’s and my] decision is still years away, whether we will let our child play football is something we have debated hotly over the course of our relationship. I am obviously biased in that I am around the game daily and see what it can do for young men and women, but last night certainly forced me to pause and consider the ramifications of what happened. As far little Vincent (who is due in January) I hope he has an opportunity to play the game I love so much. But as with so much in today’s society we will have to wait and see. Shame on Garrett for making the case that much harder for parents who want their kids to experience the myriad benefits of this wonderful sport.”
From Los Gatos, Calif. Jesse Kimbrel writes: “My son is 5-and-a-half and plays baseball, basketball and soccer. He’s an active kid and really enjoys anything sports-related, and he bikes and skateboards. The reason football isn’t listed in those sports and activities is because my wife and I decided not to allow him to play football beyond playing catch with us or friends at the park or beach. While we know there’s always a risk of getting injured playing any sport, football puts kids at an unnecessary amount of risk of injury. … My wife and I couldn’t believe what happened. Our first comment back to each other was: ‘That’s why our kids aren’t playing football.’ “
1. I think I like what DeAndre Hopkins said on Twitter after the Texans got blown out at Baltimore. Loved it, in fact. Backstory: Scoreless game, fourth-and-two for Houston at the Baltimore 33-yard line. Deshaun Watson threw deep to the right goal line, and Baltimore cornerback Marlon Humphrey hooked and mugged Hopkins before the ball arrived. No flag. Houston coach Bill O’Brien threw the challenge flag, and the non-call was upheld. “We need someone new in New York deciding calls,” Hopkins said. Couldn’t have said it better myself. If NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron isn’t going to overturn that call, he should not be sitting in judgement of any calls, period.
2. I think the maddening part is Riveron and everyone else in NFL offices in New York sitting there and not addressing the elephant in the league: The owners voted 31-1 to give coaches a chance to challenge pass-interference calls, to allow reviews on plays that were not called pass interference but coaches believed a flag should have been thrown. Entering the weekend, according to ESPN, 32 of the last 33 coaches challenges were not overturned. Yet Riveron and the NFL sit there, sphinx-like, saying nothing, not acknowledging that the rule that was passed in March is being ignored in November. It’s outrageous. Absolutely outrageous. Someone changed the rules without telling the coaches and without telling the public. Say something, Al Riveron. Say something, Troy Vincent. Say something, Roger Goodell. Jobs are at stake here, and all of you sit there like Kevin Bacon in “Animal House.” “ALL IS WELL! ALL IS WELL!” It’s not. Not at all.
3. I think the most stunning thing about the National Football League on Nov. 18, 2019 is this: The Oakland Raiders are a Chiefs loss to the Chargers tonight in Mexico away from owning a half-game lead in the AFC West after 11 weeks.
4. I think, scraping away the emotional hammer that came down late in the Thursday night game, the harsh reality is Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph just misses too many throws. It’s getting late early in his effort to be the heir to Ben Roethlisberger long-term.
5. I think the chances have to be at least 75 percent that LSU quarterback Joe Burrow is the first pick in the April draft.
6. I think there’s one asterisk: Cincinnati or Miami would have to have the first pick in the draft. If that pick belongs to the Jets, Giants, Washington or Atlanta, I could see them taking Ohio State pass-rusher Chase Young, or trading down to a team desperate for Burrow. With the unfortunate Tua Tagovailoa hip injury, which could sideline him well into 2020 or longer, and with another command performance by Burrow (16 straight non-dink-and-dunk completions at one point Saturday night, for 242 yards), Burrow is clearly the top quarterback prospect. There could be four teams in the top 10, within striking distance to get the pick if they don’t finish this regular season in the pole position: Miami, Cincinnati, Denver and Tampa Bay (if Jameis Winston finishes the regular season shaky).
7. I think I erred in rounding up the usual suspects for my head-coaching-candidates note two weeks ago. Five points:
• We (I, certainly) get too caught up in Flavor of the Month guys. Not saying, for instance, that Robert Saleh of the 49ers is not a strong candidate for the 2020 coaching market—he is—but I am saying that it’s just not smart to isolate the best teams in a given season and pick the top assistants on those teams and say, “There’s the list.”
• The smartest thing to do would be for the NFL to ban coaching interviews and coaching hires till after the Super Bowl. That’s in part to alleviate the frenetic pace of coaching interviews the week after the regular season, when prime assistants should be most focused on their playoff assignments. But it also would level the playing field for all teams seeking coaches. As for those people who would say it disadvantages the non-playoff teams, making them wait five weeks before they get on with the business of restocking their franchise with new coaching minds, I say that coaches get hired by NFL teams to work toward winning the Super Bowl. And if on New Year’s Day, the dawn of the playoff season, you’ve got a couple of coaches on your staff spending two or three days in the month prepping for interviews and executing those interviews, then they’re not totally present for the job they’ve been hired to do. Not blaming them—I’m blaming the system that allows it to happen. I get it that these interviews happen in bye weeks. But it’s still a division of attention toward the reason these coaches got hired in the first place.
• But it’s important that downtrodden teams get to build their coaching staffs—you don’t want to give them a five-week penalty by delaying the process. In early 2018, Frank Reich was hired as the Colts head coach 37 days after the Raiders hired Jon Gruden. Reich’s got one of the best coaching staffs in football. (Though two of the coaches were already under contract because of the ill-fated Josh McDaniels hire.) The Colts had the field to choose from when Reich was retained a week after the Super Bowl, and he hired wisely.
• The Jets might be ruing the day they passed on Baylor coach Matt Rhule last winter. (The Jets wanted Rhule to hire either Adam Gase or Todd Monken as offensive coordinator, and while Rhule was open to interviewing both, he didn’t know them and wouldn’t sign off on them without meeting and interviewing them; the Jets then turned to Gase.)
• Great example of excellent coaches being taken for granted: the New Orleans coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen has choreographed a once-moribund unit into a top-five defense, offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael—always overshadowed by Sean Payton—deserves to have his case heard by an offensively needy team, and assistant head coach/tight ends coach Dan Campbell is a commanding presence with an excellent football mind. These guys should be in front of teams in coach-hiring season.
8. I think the NFL steamrolling toward a 17-game schedule is so predictably greedy, and so health-and-safety sad for the players. On Thursday night (which could be any night or day in the NFL by the time Week 11 rolls around), the Steelers were already playing with their franchise quarterback lost for the season with an injury. They lost both starting receivers in a crucial division game with concussions; Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster played a composite 40 percent of the snaps. Starting running back James Conner logged only 13 snaps with a bum shoulder. The Browns lost their best safety, Morgan Burnett, for the season with a torn Achilles. On the other side of Pennsylvania, the Eagles faced a crucial Sunday game against the Patriots without their best rusher (Jordan Howard), their two best receivers (Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson) and their most versatile offensive-and-return weapon (Darren Sproles). Oh, and their veteran left tackle, Jason Peters, returned to the field, but has to be considered week-to-week with his spate of injuries. But by all means, let’s schedule more regular-season games.
9. I think I want to tailgate with the Kurds in Nashville. So Americana. So perfect.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Story of the Week: Steve Politi, excellent columnist for NJ Advance Media, on one of the strangest trials in recent New Jersey history. “He told a kid to slide. Then he got sued.”
b. Imagine being sued because, as a third-base coach, one of your kids was steaming toward third, and there was going to be a close play at the base, and you yelled, “Slide!” Welcome to the seven-year legal fight of a man named John Suk, superbly told in painstaking detail by Politi, watching it all unfold in a jury trial in a New Jersey courthouse. Politi:
“If Suk is found liable for an injury that took place because of that slide — and if a seven-figure check is written because of his actions — what will happen to high school sports? Who will sign up for these coaching jobs knowing their reputation and livelihood might be in jeopardy? And how long before school districts drop sports entirely rather than pay skyrocketing insurance premiums? So, yes, I have found the intersection of our overly litigious society and our out-of-control youth sports culture. As Suk sits there, scribbling away, I am consumed with a sickening thought: If this JV baseball coach is found liable for telling a player to slide, there’s nothing to stop the dominoes from falling everywhere around us. In short: We’re all f—ed.”
c. Star Profile of the Week: On Tom Hanks playing Mister Rogers, and who exactly Tom Hanks is, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner of New York Times. So interesting that Brodesser-Akner put herself smack dab in the middle of this story, and how well it worked. She writes:
“It isn’t easy being a parent, not for any of us, he said. ‘Somewhere along the line, I figured out, the only thing really, I think, eventually a parent can do is say I love you, there’s nothing you can do wrong, you cannot hurt my feelings, I hope you will forgive me on occasion, and what do you need me to do? You offer up that to them. I will do anything I can possibly do in order to keep you safe. That’s it. Offer that up and then just love them.’ ”
d. I cannot wait to see Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers. I might camp out the night before it debuts.
e. Football Story of the Week: Dan Wiederer and Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune on the backstory of the Bears choosing Mitchell Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in the 2017 NFL Draft.
f. Cool graphic element, too—the front sports pages in Chicago, Kansas City and Houston the day after Trubisky went to the Bears, Mahomes to the Chiefs and Watson to the Texans.
g. Kaepernick Story of the Week: Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times on the one-time semi-muse for Colin Kaepernick, and how Nate Boyer thinks the story and the person have been co-opted a bit over time to fit specific narratives.
h. Please read the story. Please understand that most every story has shades of gray.
i. Regarding the Astros alleged cheating scandal: Let me tell you a story.
j. Back a decade or so, when I lived in Montclair, N.J., I coached a girls’ travel softball team, 10-and-under, with my wife and two good friends. We didn’t have kids on the team (which made it a lot more fun). We coached the Montclair Bears for seven years. I tried to be fairly big league. I taught the girls signals, which they loved, because it was a game within a game. For instance, the outfielders played shallow because the girls didn’t hit the ball very far. Baserunners were allowed to lead off first base. We had a play to try to pick off the girl at first base. If I used any city word beginning with “B” (Boston, Boise, Birmingham, for example) in a sentence, the right fielder would run to the base as the pitch was being thrown, and the catcher would throw down to first to try to pick her off. We had hand signals for sacrifice bunts and bunts for hits, with an indicator preceding them, as most baseball and softball teams have. I also had a signal to a batter if I thought the opposing team wasn’t alert. If I called out an even number (“16!” “52!”), that was the signal for our batter to not stop at first base on a hit, but rather automatically to run to second. For the girls, it was like a puzzle. “Like they were in a joke that no one else knew,” my assistant, Jack Bowers, said. The kids loved it. It made the game more fun.
k. There was one other favorite signal I had. We had one pitcher, 9, who could throw a changeup passably well. (“Passably” means sometimes it didn’t go way over the catch’s head.) My signal to her and the catcher: If I use the name of a girl not on our team, she should throw the change. Like: “Don’t let the ball get past you out in center, Kate.” We didn’t have a “Kate.”
l. One evening, we had a game in Dumont, a town in Bergen County. I coached third base and gave all the signals. Dumont was a competitive team. (Nothing wrong with that.) I thought I’d seen one of their coaches at a game of ours a week or so earlier, but I couldn’t swear to it. So right away, first inning, I gave the sign to bunt for a hit. The coach told his third baseman to play way in. Then he knew the “B” signal, I thought, in the bottom of the inning. So before we went to bat in the second inning, I told the players we were changing signals, totally. I gave them a new indicator word—but it wasn’t just one word. It was any word beginning with the letter “C.”
m. They didn’t miss a sign the rest of the game. I gave a bunch of fake signals that the coach picked up and positioned his players as if he knew what we were doing. Smart by him. But the signals didn’t matter anymore. We won, but that doesn’t matter. The point is: Stealing signals are as old as the sun, and it’s pretty common to change them so they can’t be stolen. Which leads us to …
n. Baseball Story of the Week: Following The Athletic’s excellent piece about the Astros using technology to steal signs in 2017 (and who knows—perhaps longer), Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post documented how the Nationals prevented any chance at sign-stealing in the World Series this year. Terrific story about the intrigue.
o. Svrluga detailed the byzantine plans of the Nats (you have to read it) and then wrote this:
“Next came the way the Nats employed their signs, which was nontraditional. Rather than just use, say, the second sign the catcher put down, the Nats might ‘chase the two.’ That meant the pitcher would watch for the catcher to put two fingers down, and then throw the pitch that corresponded to the following sign. Or they could play ‘outs plus one.’ So if there was one out, the pitch would be the second sign the catcher put down. If there were no outs, it would be the first sign. ‘Strikes plus one’ worked the same way. That’s a lot of thought, right? But it’s a small cost in preparation if it frees the mind of the pitcher in competition.”
p. That is some great reporting by Svrluga.
q. Beernerdness: Don’t tell NBC that I had a beer while waiting for my train Sunday night. It’s a new one, from an area teeming with cool breweries. Good Company Pale Ale (Calvert Brewing Company, Upper Marlboro, Md.) is very pale, and satisfyingly tasty. I’d never heard of it before.
r. Speaking of Beernerdness, the Acela’s got Allagash White aboard now. Be still, my liver.
s. Congrats to my fleeting friend James Holzhauer, who won the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions last week. What a treat, watching a beautiful mind like that work.
t. RIP, Bill Lyon, superb columnist of the Philadelphia Inquirer. One of the great truth-tellers in our business.
u. RIP, Vera Clemente. A noble woman, dedicated to the causes important to her late husband and her family.
v. The saddest thing about the early impeachment hearings: the degradation and lampooning and lambasting of clear-eyed American government servants like Marie Yovanovitch, Bill Taylor and George Kent. It’s pathetic to impugn their dignity and honor. The only good thing about it? There will be a historical record for those in the hearings and in the media who do the impugning, on the internet forever for future generations (and impugners’ family members) to see.
Today: Mexico City. The important football note about Chargers-Chiefs tonight in football-mad Mexico: The field at Estadio Azteca has been switched from a grass-artificial hybrid (too beat up last year to play on, forcing a switch of Chiefs-Rams to L.A.) to natural grass, and I’m told it’s in very good condition for the game tonight. Cool personal note: Anthony Lynn becomes the first NFLer to play and coach in Mexico City. As a Denver running back, he played in a 1997 Broncos preseason game in Mexico, and 22 years later he head-coaches in one.
Tuesday. Cool TV event coming up on NFL Network. “NFL 360 With Melissa Stark” has the latest installment on the impact of the life and times of Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals safety turned Army Ranger, killed in Afghanistan by friendly fire in 2004. Amazing that it’s been more than 15 years since Tillman’s death. But so much about his life was the stuff of inspiration, and filmmaker Trent Cooper found how military vets and the 635 Tillman Scholars—young people whose lives have been changed by financial and inspirational aid from Tillman’s foundation—are keeping him alive. The half-hour show is called “The Legacy of Pat Tillman” and you need to see it.
Wednesday: Manhattan. Day four. Colin Kaepernick sitting by the phone. Waiting.
Thursday: Houston. Jacoby Brissett has started 26 NFL games in his brief career, four against Houston. He’s 4-0 against the Texans, with one win apiece over Brock Osweiler, Tom Savage, T.J. Yates (now there’s a QB Murderer’s Row) and Deshaun Watson.
Sunday: Santa Clara, Calif. Beginning on this evening in California, the Niners will start the toughest 15-day stretch any team in the NFL will have all season: home with Green Bay, then at Baltimore and at New Orleans. Combined Pack/Raven/Saint records: 25-6.
Might be a pipe dream.
But I would like Andy Reid
to coach Kaepernick.