Can the pantheon of great young quarterbacks fit another one? Wilson, Mahomes, Jackson, Prescott, Watson. Maybe Newton. In the first three weeks of this season, Josh Allen, the bucking bronco from Wyoming, is kicking down the damn door to greatness and forcing his way into that pantheon.
Through three weeks of his third NFL season, Allen has progressed from being a bright prospect with the occasional brain-freeze play to being a top-five NFL quarterback (it’s early, but he’s been that so far) atop a 3-0 team, with fewer bad plays on his résumé. Remember Allen the rookie in 2018, when so much of his identity was about throwing the fastest fastball in the league? His touch now is sublime. Allen has gone to school—with former quarterbacks Jordan Palmer and Tony Romo, and his own coaches, Brian Daboll and Ken Dorsey with the Bills—to be better, and it shows. It was evident in Buffalo’s melodramatic 35-32 win over the previously 2-0 Rams on Sunday in western New York. It’s been there on each Sunday of Buffalo’s 3-0 start.
Allen is gaining a sense of who he is and where he is, as he told me late Sunday afternoon. He knows what’s important. The wins, of course they’re important. But the zits in the wins? You’d better address those now; if you don’t, they’ll end your season in January. To me, it‘s impressive that, at 24, Allen sees the big-picture stuff like that.
My post-game point to Allen: You’ve got to be pretty happy, playing so much better than you’ve played, and with your team 3-0.
“Make no mistake, we’re happy,” Allen told me. But . . .
“Excuse my language: I’m pissed off how we allowed the 28-3 lead to dwindle there. I take that very personal.”
“That’s better than a good answer,” Romo said from Texas late Sunday night, after landing from his CBS assignment in New England. “It shows that he has a very high standard of excellence. That’s the quarterback I want. When we talked this offseason, he forcefully asked me: ‘How can I be better?’ That’s what you want out of the quarterback of your football team.”
The Lead: Josh Allen
So much great quarterback play early. Nick Foles hasn’t stepped on a field in 10 months and throws three TD passes in seven minutes Sunday in Atlanta. Russell Wilson throws for five TDs two weeks in a row. Dak Prescott’s averaging a 396-yard passing game. In 2000, five quarterbacks had a season rating of over 95. In 2010, six quarterbacks finished over 95. In 2020 (of course it’s early), 16 quarterbacks have a rating higher than 95.
No quarterback’s gotten better faster than Allen. Two plays showed that Sunday during Week 3 of the NFL.
One: Mid-third-quarter, Buffalo ball, third-and-goal from the Rams’ 4-yard line. From Allen’s left, his go-to guy, Stefon Diggs, is singled by the Rams’ best corner, Jalen Ramsey. At the snap, Ramsey appears to gamble that the throw will be a typical throw in this part of the field, a “pylon” throw, to the front or back pylon, so he clings to Diggs. I thought Ramsey would have used the sideline to help him while cutting off the front side of the throw. But Diggs turned in and Allen, under extreme pressure, flicked his wrist, the ball landing right in Diggs’ gut. Allen had a split-second to see—for whatever reason—that Ramsey would be giving up the middle of the field, and Allen, about to get creamed, took it. “An option route, and Stefon won, and I gave him a ball where he could go get it,” Allen said. Bills, 28-3.
Two: Late fourth. Rams have come all the way back to lead, 32-28. Third-and-22 at the Buffalo 31. You could feel it slipping away for the Bills, after a big Rams sack and an Allen incompletion. Next play: “Me and Cole [Beasley], we’ve talked about this route many a time,” Allen said. Beasley’s job: find a hole in the defense. Allen rolled right, chased hard by Aaron Donald. “I don’t think there were many plays today that I didn’t feel 99 [Donald],” Allen said. On the run right, Allen flipped it three-quarter-delivery 26 yards in the air, perfect touch, into the middle of five Rams in the area, into Beasley’s gut. First down. The throw was a seeing-eye job, with the kind of placement you see from Aaron Rodgers; two years ago, Allen might have tried to throw it through Beasley and maybe sailed it. Not now. Eight plays later, after a ticky-tack interference call on the Rams on a fourth down, Allen hit Tyler Kroft for the winning TD.
For the win! #LARvsBUF | 📺: FOX pic.twitter.com/1RuUkISEjF
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) September 27, 2020
So much of Allen’s off-season work showed on those throws, and it’s shown in the first 15 days of Allen’s third season. His study started at the Super Bowl, when he asked Romo what he could be doing better, and they began a back-and-forth that continued through the offseason. “I didn’t do anything,” Romo said Sunday night. “Really. Believe me. This is him.” Allen’s off-season tutor, Jordan Palmer, praised Allen for being coachable, and for working on his control, his deep-ball accuracy, and his touch. “To be make drastic changes in your mechanics, you’ve got to be coachable, and you’ve got to be all-in on the right plan,” Palmer said. “Josh worked it every day.”
“I’ve kind of been tweaking a few things in my mechanics,” Allen said, “and allowing myself to throw a better, more catchable ball. As much as I want to pat myself on the back, I had a lot of help along the way with Jordan Palmer, and with [offensive coordinator] Brian Daboll and [QB coach] Ken Dorsey and the players we brought in.”
Romo, Allen said, taught him to “feel your head is on a stake through the ground and you’re just trying to rotate it around and use [the torso] as an axis. . . . With Jordan Palmer, we worked on how to be a more rotational thrower. Then obviously, having these Zoom calls with Dorsey and Daboll and just kinda going over our offense. And I feel like I’m very in tune with what our offense is doing. I know our answers when we’re not right. I feel like I’m being put in a good situation.”
“Josh could throw a football really well,” Romo said. “I just wanted him technically to do it better.” Palmer worked with Allen daily in southern California on the technical things. In camp, he continued to be honed with Daboll and Dorsey. The results:
• Accuracy: A 56-percent passer through his first two years, Allen has completed 71.1 percent through three games this year.
• TD-to-interception differential: Through two seasons and 28 games, Allen was plus-nine. This year, he’s also plus-nine: 10 TDs, one pick.
• Passing yards per game: Up from 184.4 over his first two years to 346.0 this year.
• Yards per pass attempt: Up from 6.6 in 2018-19 to a gaudy 9.1 this season.
The explanation is wonky, but it’s worked. When you really want to be better at something, and you’re not just nodding and saying things to make the teacher happy, that’s when education happens. And the education of Josh Allen is one of the good stories of an explosive offensive season so far.
In 2018, prior to the season, Jalen Ramsey called Allen “trash.” Last year, after the Bills beat the Jaguars when Ramsey was still on the team, Allen seemed perturbed by it, signing a photo with words that included, “Am I still trash, Ramsey?” But after beating Ramsey again Sunday, Allen wasn’t stoking any fires. I asked him if there were hard feelings between him and Ramsey. “Not at all. He’s a competitor. We won the game today. That’s all that matters.”
But how, I asked, could there be no hard feelings after what Ramsey had said.
“I don’t really care about outside voices,” Allen said.
Again, good answer.
The 49ers Depth10
Best division record as of Monday morning: NFC West 9-3. Seattle is 3-0, with Arizona, L.A. and San Francisco all 2-1.
Worst: NFC East: 2-9-1.
Not-so-enticing matchups of next weekend: 0-3 Eagles at 2-1 Niners. 0-3 Giants at 2-1 Rams.
I digress. So impressed with the Niners. Without nine star-to-above-average starters for NFL Week 3, they had a bizarre week. With consecutive games at the Jets and Giants in the Meadowlands, they decided to decamp in West Virginia for the week to practice and wound-lick. Three observations after beating the Jets and Giants by a combined 67-22:
• Of the NFL’s 32 teams, the Giants are 31 and the Jets 32. Though I’d say the Jets are 32 by a lot.
• The 49ers’ depth won those two games, particularly defensive lineman Kerry Hyder, corner Jason Verrett, quarterback Nick Mullens, tight end Ross Dwelley and, in his first start as a Niner after two injury-wrecked seasons, running back Jerick McKinnon (77 yards, one TD).
• With the Eagles and Dolphins next at Levi’s Stadium, the Niners could survive for a couple of weeks, and just be getting healthy when a stretch of Rams/Patriots/Seahawks/Packers/Saints hits beginning in Week 6.
Before getting on the charter home, Kyle Shanahan gave me a stream-of-consciousness take on surviving a tough week in a unique place—The Greenbrier, a classic old resort in the mountains of southern West Virginia, a community unto itself:
“Last Sunday night, when we got to our hotel in West Virginia, even though we had the real tough game that day, we always want to enjoy a win. They had the bowling alley rented out for us, and we got to spend some time with the players. It was a little harder on Monday. That’s when you wake up the next day and it hits you a little bit more. Monday was a little bit of a depressing day. But then the quicker you get to the game plan, the better. The coaches gotta move on first. We felt good once we got a plan together. The players got to golf, or just relax at the hotel. They needed a couple days too. They were a little emotional over the injuries for a couple of days.
“Then when the players came in Wednesday, it was just nice because they were totally different than how they were Monday. It was just cool when we got to practice on Wednesday. Our guys were over it by then and then each practice they gained more confidence. You start to see some of the guys we have on our team. The depth. The attitude. I better try and figure out the right way to say this. But it almost ends where anytime you turn on the TV, everyone’s talking about injuries and how you got no chance with all the guys we’re missing. Our guys—and it was true, we did have some injuries and the guys didn’t feel great about going back to play there again—you try to put all that in perspective with the guys.
“I was like, hey, this NFL’s a tough league. If we don’t change our mindset on this, we’re gonna get embarrassed. You start that on Wednesday and you try and just address it, address the elephant in the room so you can get over it. We started talking about how many guys we lost last year. We lost a ton of guys last year too. The hard thing was, we lost two really good ones in Nick Bosa and Solly [Solomon Thomas, both to ACL injuries]. But a lot of the other guys we lost, we are gonna get back. We need to make sure that we manned up and had a great week of practice. I thought Wednesday was the best practice we’ve had all year. By the time we got back to New Jersey on Saturday night at our meetings and stuff, our team felt good.
“In the game, our team just stuck with it and we kept persevering, and it was 16-9 [late in the third quarter] and finally we just wore ‘em down took over. It was really tough in the first half because our team knew how big of a game plan we had going to Jordan Reed, and to lose him early, with George Kittle not playing, that was a big deal. But then Ross Dwelley comes in and really helps us when we need tight end help, and it was really cool to see.
“It was a good learning experience for everyone. I just learned . . . our team likes football. People kinda counted us out, and that’s how we felt a lot last year. It wasn’t till we were about 7-0 I feel like people started taking us seriously. In football, you never stay the same; you’re always a different team. You go through things together. But our depth and our love of the game—I think those things really helped us through a tough time.”
Early Game Of The Year
Ten things you should know about the (early-season) Game of the Year tonight, Kansas City (2-0) at Baltimore (2-0).
1. The Monday night part. Of course CBS wanted this for one of its eight Sunday late-window doubleheader games, and NBC for a Sunday-nighter. ESPN got it for a few reasons. One: as a thank-you back-pat for doing a great job on the NFL draft telecast during the height of the pandemic, for making the abnormal so kitschy and fun and Americana at a time the country needed it. Two: ESPN pays $1.9 billion for the Monday night games and a sweet package of highlights and programming; that’s double what NBC pays for the Sunday night games, and the Sunday package has traditionally been better than the Monday. TV negotiations are happening now. ESPN’s deal expires after the 2021 season, a year earlier than the other network deals. So why not give ESPN a better schedule than usual this year—and perhaps the game of the year in the process? One other note: CBS can’t be too upset. Its most important games are the eight doubleheader windows, and not only did they get Patrick Mahomes for four of the eight games, CBS also got three attractive cross-flex game from FOX: Giants-Dallas, San Francisco-New England, Philadelphia-Green Bay.
2. The greatness part. Since last Nov. 15, in all games, these two teams are a combined 20-1. (Tennessee 28, Baltimore 12.) The tidier stat is that these two teams are 17-0 in the regular-season since mid-November. In other words, you should watch. But in case you miss it, Kansas City at Baltimore is already booked for he 2021 season.
3. The Lamar Jackson part. Jackson’s 23, and he’s got plenty of time to make more history. But his early history versus Kansas City and Patrick Mahomes is not good. In the regular season, Jackson’s 21-3, including 0-2 in KC against Mahomes. Mahomes has out-passed Jackson in yards (751-414) and TDs (5-2), and had those two crazy-good plays in 2018 against Baltimore—the no-look pass and the desperado deep heave to Tyreek Hill across his body while being chased. I could argue that Jackson has lost four of his six biggest games in the NFL: two to KC and the two playoff games. (Two huge wins: 37-20 over previously 8-0 New England last year, 20-17 over previously 10-1 San Francisco.) Again, this is not a Lamar referendum game. But it is a big one.
4. The one thing the Ravens don’t love to discuss. This is not a good come-from-behind team, and it hasn’t been consistent at all on offense in big games. Take the four losses I just discussed. Last four series in the narrow loss at KC in 2018: punt, TD, lost Jackson fumble, downs . . . Second and third quarters at KC in 2019, down big: downs, punt, punt, TD, punt . . . First 10 drives versus Chargers in the ’18 playoffs: three points . . . First eight drives versus Titans in the ’19 playoffs: six points. This offense needs to show it can be a marauding unit in a very big game. It hasn’t done that much, other than against New England last season.
5. The top seed. With only one team in each conference getting a first-week playoff bye this year, the result of this game could be the biggest tiebreaker of them all. The winner will be the favorite to win that one seed in the AFC, and the loser will have to be two wins better than the winner in the last 13 games to be ahead in playoff seeding.
6. The coaches rivalry. Baltimore’s John Harbaugh, who coached for nine years under Andy Reid in Philadelphia, owes a lot to Reid. But he’s probably not crazy about this stat: After beating Reid in their first meeting as head coaches in 2008, Harbaugh’s Ravens are 0-4 against Reid’s teams (0-1 against the Eagles, 0-3 against the Chiefs) in the last 11 seasons. Think that doesn’t matter? Harbaugh’s one of the most competitive people I’ve met covering the NFL. It matters.
7. The road for KC. Kansas City needs it because of the way the schedule falls in the last 13 games for both teams. The road slate for Baltimore: Washington, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, New England, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati. For KC: Buffalo (on a short-week Thursday), Denver, Las Vegas, Tampa Bay, Miami, New Orleans. Making up two games on Baltimore for the top seed will be difficult if most of those teams are what we think they’ll be.
8. The biggest single edge in this game. Running back J.K. Dobbins (two games, nine carries) barely has the bubble wrap off from his Ohio State career, and Jackson, Mark Ingram, Gus Edward and Dobbins have combined to rush 65 times for 343 yards, a 5.3-yard average per carry. The Chiefs are surrendering 4.6 after an awful 4.9 in 2019. The best idea for Baltimore, clearly, is to limit Kansas City’s opportunities; in 21 possessions over the past two games, KC has seven TDs, four field goals and field-goal misses of 51 and 43 yards. Thirteen of 21 scoring chances is too many. Baltimore needs to play keepaway tonight. If the Ravens limit Kansas City to eight possessions, I like Baltimore’s chances.
9. The crowd non-factor. I remember this very well from New England at Baltimore last year. The Patriots came in 8-0, and Harbaugh was exultant that finally the Ravens could play a huge prime-time game at home. Of all the scheduling things that burn NFL teams, there are few like the Ravens feeling disrespected by league schedulers in prime time. Entering this year, Baltimore had played 16 regular-season prime-time games since Nov. 1, 2014, and only five were at home. And with only 250 home fans allowed tonight (the Maryland governor approved a plan for Ravens family members to attended the game, families separated into separate pods in the lower stadium bowl), the home-field edge is pretty much negated.
10. The decisive factor? There’s a good chance it will come down to which defense can make enough QB-affecting plays without blitzing. Both quarterbacks can evade the rush, and both can extend plays well—Mahomes a little better than Jackson. Good to see the game in NFL Week 3, in part because neither team is too beat up yet.
My pick: Crabcakemen, 26-24. Both teams have great and sufficient offensive weapons. Though I trust Mahomes a little more, I do think Jackson’s legs will make the difference when forced out of the pocket. Imagine you’re Jackson, and you keep hearing, He’s great but how about the big games, the playoff games? I think he’s sick of it, and he’s good enough to do something about it. Plus, the Ravens seem like the more desperate team. Give me Baltimore.
George Halas, the 70-year-old head coach of the Chicago Bears in 1965, stepped in front of reporters after rookie Gale Sayers scored six touchdowns in a 61-20 victory over San Francisco on Dec. 12, 1965.
“That,” Halas said, “was the most impressive game I’ve ever seen by a player in all my years in football.”
Halas had been playing or coaching pro football since 1919.
I loved Sayers, who died this week at age 77 after living with dementia. As a kid who grew up loving all sports, I remember Sayers was the first athlete who amazed me. How does he do that? Take a minute and watch this highlight reel of the six touchdowns by the 6-foot-1 comet who was a chiseled 200 pounds—80-yard screen pass and sprint, 21-yard run and dive, 7-yard run, 50-yard run, 1-yard dive landing his head in the end zone, and 85-yard punt return, with a cut left at his own 40-yard line that looked like it had to have been done on a pristine field with zero slippage, not on a muddy bog after some heavy rain at Wrigley Field.
Sayers touched the ball 16 times that day. He gained 336 total yards. The next year he had a 339-yard game, and when the NFL turned 50 in 1970, those were two of three biggest all-purpose yardage games in NFL history.
Did you see number 64 in white (or white and mud) on that highlight package? You might have seen 64 flopping around in the mud like so many of his Niners mates on the video. That’s Dave Wilcox, the Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker. He’s 77 now (78 tomorrow), and was 23 that muddy day at Wrigley. I spoke with him the other night, and his memory of the day is quite good.
“I remember that day very well,” Wilcox said from his home in Oregon. “We woke up in the hotel in Chicago that morning and we were kind of happy. ‘It’s gonna rain! It’ll slow Sayers down!’ I tell everyone if they hadn’t run out of oxygen that day, Gale might have scored six more. I remember our game plan—if they threw passes in the flat for him, they wanted us [the linebackers] to cover him. I said, ‘You want US to cover that guy? We won’t even get close to him in the tunnel before the game!’ “
On that screen pass, Sayers took it to his right, and then Wilcox flashed on the film briefly, but Sayers put his foot in the ground, sprinted left, and he was gone. No chance for any Niner. Time and again: Sayers is running pretty normally, and everyone else is slipping all over the place. His cut on that 85-yard punt return caused two Niners to go careening past comically.
“You look back,” said Wilcox, “and the first thing you say is, ‘How lucky was I to be in the same ballpark that day, on the field with such a great player?’ After a while, you knew there was no way anyone would catch him—he’d have to trip or slide. Jim Brown was bigger and stronger, but there was nothing like Sayers’ speed and quickness. I mean, to this day, I haven’t seen anything like it. Not even Barry Sanders. He’s the only one who’s close. No human being should be able to change directions with the quickness and speed Gale had.”
The next season, at the Pro Bowl, Wilcox and Sayers were in the same locker room for the first time. They hadn’t met. Wilcox approached him and stuck out his hand.
“Gale, my name’s Dave Wilcox, with the 49ers,” he said. “I just wanted to meet you and see what you looked like up close.”
Three other things about Sayers.
He’d fit in well today, in all ways. Not only would he be a Kamara-type force in a spread offense, only quicker, but he’d be right with Patrick Mahomes and Malcolm Jenkins off the field too. After being drafted by the Bears, while finishing his senior year at Kansas, the Bloody Sunday march was held in Selma, Ala. The next day, Sayers was arrested while staging a sit-in to protest discrimination at KU housing and Greek housing. “They respect me as a football star, but not as a Negro,” he told reporters.
He helped break down racial barriers. In 1967, the Bears roomed Sayers with a white backup running back, Brian Piccolo. It was the start of a three-year friendship on and off the field that ended when Piccolo died of cancer in 1970. Piccolo pushed Sayers to come back from a major knee injury in 1969, and Sayers doted on Piccolo when he was ill. In early 1970, Sayers was presented with the league’s most courageous player award for the 1969 season, and he told a New York banquet crowd that the award was his that night, but it would be in Piccolo’s hands the next day. That’s why you might have seen the Billy Dee Williams/James Caan “Brian’s Song” movie on TV last week. Seven months after scoring his final NFL touchdown, Piccolo died in New York. After the movie came out, the students in a New York City middle school were so inspired they got the city to rename the school after Piccolo.
He’s an interesting Hall of Fame argument. Over the years, people have pointed to the short career of Sayers (68 games, four full seasons, only 991 rushes) as an example of over-rewarding a meteoric career. My retort: Watch the grainy highlights. To me, Sayers was spectacular enough in his four full seasons to earn a spot in Canton, and we haven’t even mentioned the fact that his 30.56-yard average kickoff return is the best in NFL history and hasn’t been touched in the 49 years since his retirement. I’ve always thought Sayers is the classic example for Hall voters of judging what your eyes see, not what the stats say. And the stats are pretty good anyway, just shallow.
The Award Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Josh Allen, quarterback, Buffalo. The mark of a maturing quarterback verging on true greatness is getting slapped in the face, then slugged in the face, then coming back with a classic 75-yard drive with everything on the line against an undefeated team with the best defensive player in football terrorizing him. Josh Allen did that, capping a game-winning drive against the Rams with a three-yard TD pass to tight end Tyler Kroft with 15 seconds left. Bills 35, Rams 32, and the Bills are 3-0. Allen continues to prove he’s not only one of the best young quarterbacks in football, but also one of the best quarterbacks in football.
Nick Foles, quarterback, Chicago. For a guy who hadn’t played in a football game in 10 months, Foles, subbing for Mitchell Trubisky five minutes into the second half of what looked like a lost-cause game at Atlanta, started predictably: interception, punt, downs. Then Foles put on his 2017 cape. Down 26-10 with eight minutes left, Foles finished three scoring drives with TD passes to Jimmy Graham, Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller—the Bears’ money men in the receiving game—and staked his claim to the starting job with a 30-26 win.
Russell Wilson, quarterback, Seattle. Wilson threw 20 touchdown passes in 16 games in 2014, leading Seattle to an NFC championship and a Super Bowl berth. He has 14 touchdown passes in three games in 2020. (Per game: Four, five and five—the last five coming in the 38-31 heart-stopper over Dallas on Sunday.) Fourteen TD passes are the most an NFL quarterback has thrown in the first three games of any season in history.
Defensive Players of the Week
Shaq Thompson, linebacker, Carolina. The Panthers are pesky. They’ve got a playmaking quarterback and some young defenders to build around, including Thompson, the failed Red Sox minor-leaguer who rose to be a first-round Panther pick at linebacker in 2015. In the 21-16 win at the Chargers, Thompson had a game-high 13 tackles, two passes broken up, a forced fumble and a fumble recovered.
Aldon Smith, pass-rusher, Dallas. If you have watched a football game or three since 2012, you know that Russell Wilson, who entered the league that season and has started all 148 Seattle games (including postseason) since then, is hard to sack. Smith, in his third game back in football after a five-year hiatus, sacked Wilson three times in the first 40 minutes of the game. What’s interesting about Smith’s presence early for the Cowboys is how much he’s playing. Dallas isn’t pacing him—he’s leading the pack of great defensive front players.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Stephen Gostkowski, kicker, Tennessee. Kicking six field goals in six tries is good enough, but Gostkowski’s last three were simply huge, all coming in the last 25 minutes of the game. His 51-yarder with nine minutes left in the third quarter made it 17-12, Minnesota. His 54-yarder with 6:36 left in the fourth made it 30-28, Minnesota. His 55-yarder, snaking over the crossbar, with 1:48 left gave Tennessee a 31-30 win. For the game, Gostkowski was good from 39, 31 30, 51, 54 and 55, and it sure seems a long time ago that he was a liability in the Monday night opener for the Titans.
Patrick O’Connor, defensive lineman, Tampa Bay. While being manhandled on a punt rush in the first quarter at Denver, O’Connor, a second-year man from Eastern Michigan (hmmm—Maxx Crosby and O’Connor on the same MAC line at Eastern Michigan), stuck one huge paw in the air and blocked the Denver punt after the first possession of the game. Not only that, he recovered the bouncing ball at the Denver 10, leading to a Tom Brady TD throw to Chris Godwin. Great individual play, with the kind of presence that’s crucial on special teams.
Matt Haack, punter, Miami. Thursday night, third quarter, Dolphins at Jags. With a fourth-and-six at the Jag 45, Miami coach Brian Flores elected to punt, and Haack rainbowed a beauty that landed at the Jacksonville 4-yard line, bounced up in the air, landed at the 1, bounced backward to the 3 and was downed there. Just a perfect punt, with Haack knowing the ball would have enough English on it to die inside the 5. For the game, Haack punted four times and the Jags started at their 12, 3, 49 (Dolphins were backed up) and 21. A good night that gets totally ignored when the charismatic quarterback really shows up and your team wins by 18.
Coach of the Week
Matt Nagy, head coach, Chicago. The Bears are 3-0, and I feel quite sure that from Rockford to Carbondale, Bearsville is saying this morning: “How on earth are we 3-0? We were down 17 to the Lions in the fourth quarter, the awful Giants were 10 yards from beating us at the end last week, and the winless Falcons were up 16 on us in the fourth quarter this week.” (Well, I embellished the quotes from the Rockfordians.) But Nagy had a choice to make, even after watching Mitchell Trubisky on a streak of one touchdown in 11 series over the two weeks, and he made the choice to yank Trubisky five minutes into the second half in Atlanta and plug in Nick Foles. And Foles did a Foles thing, putting three touchdowns on the board and leading the Bears to another how’d-they-do-that win. And by the way, Nagy was being nice post-game when he wouldn’t say who his starting QB would be with Philip Rivers and Tom Brady coming to Soldier Field in the next two weeks. The answer’s initials are N.F.
Goat of the Week
DK Metcalf is lucky. He was going to get fricaseed in this space had the Seahawks lost for getting a sure TD punched out of his arms in the first half. But Seattle won, and Metcalf redeemed himself by catching the winning TD pass.
Dwayne Haskins, quarterback, Washington. WFT looked a lot more like WTF in the first half of an awful performance at Cleveland, led by the 15th pick in the 2019 draft and presumptive quarterback of the future. Haskins threw two picks in the last eight minutes of the second quarter, both leading to Cleveland touchdowns. The second was particularly egregious. Remember Malcolm Smith, the MVP of the Super Bowl seven seasons ago for Seattle? Well, five teams later, he’s a Brown, and Haskins threw him a pass like Smith was the intended receiver at the two-minute warning before halftime. Nick Chubb scored first, then Kareem Hunt, and Cleveland went into halftime up 17-7. Haskins got the lead back in the third quarter, but then threw his third pick of the day—again turning into a Cleveland TD—to lose the lead for good. In all, Haskins turned it over four times, and the Browns turned the gaffes into 24 points.
Quotes of the Week30
“I just wasn’t expecting this today. I felt good out there. Not perfect, but good.”
—Chicago quarterback Nick Foles, in what is the story of the second half of his career—coming off the bench and shocking the world. This time, it was for the Bears, subbing for the slumping Mitchell Trubisky, and throwing three touchdowns in the final eight minutes to stun the Falcons.
“The last two weeks and the endings of those have been nothing short of crushing.”
—Atlanta coach Dan Quinn, after losing two straight games when the win probability in the fourth quarter of each for the Falcons was 98 percent.
“The Falcons of Quinn are the biggest choke team in the history of sports.”
—Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Mark Bradley.
“The truth of the matter is how is [Haskins] going to learn? Is he going to learn while taking the [scout] team snaps? No. The only way we are going to find out where Dwayne is and what he can do is by putting him back out on the football field and let him get exposed. That is how he grows. That is what we did with Cam Newton and look where he is today. Cam Newton was a league MVP because we trusted him and we took our lumps with him. I am going to take my lumps with Dwayne right now.”
—Washington coach Ron Rivera, after the nightmare performance of Dwayne Haskins in the 34-20 loss to Cleveland.
“I feel like the luckiest guy in the world sometimes, getting to go outside and play football with my friends.”
—Miami quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, in his 16th NFL season, after the Dolphins’ 31-13 win at Jacksonville on Thursday night.
“The NFL has a huge platform. Optics is important at some level. We’re trying to set an example for our country, so I respect the fact that the league is really running a tight ship on this stuff.”
—Indianapolis coach Frank Reich, asked his reaction to the NFL fining five coaches and their teams a total of $1.75 million for either not wearing masks on the sidelines in Week 2 or for improper use of the masks (such as masking the chin).
“Trying to tackle Gale Sayers was like trying to catch a candy wrapper in a wind storm.”
—The late Steve Sabol, in a perfect way to remember Sayers the football player. Sayers, the Hall of Fame running back, died Wednesday at 77.
“I want a coach like an Urban Meyer, I need a quarterback like a Matt Leinart and I need an all-purpose guy like a Reggie Bush.”
—New Jackson State coach Deion Sanders, to FOX on Saturday, via Matt Fortuna of The Athletic.
Mike Florio made this point to me Friday on his Pro Football Talk Live program: To win the MVP, look at the quarterback for the top seed on one of the two conferences. So I checked over the past 15 years, and he’s got a good point: 73 percent of the MVPs have come from teams that were top playoff seeds that season.
Notes on the MVP:
• QBs rule. Seven quarterbacks in a row have won, and 12 of the last 13.
• Top seeds yield. Eleven of the last 15 MVPs have come from first seeds in a conference.
• Best teams produce. Ten of the last 14 MVPs have come from teams with the best record in the NFL.
• Very few “races.” Ten of the last 14 MVPs have won by a margin of at least 30 votes. The last time an MVP vote was close: 2005, when Seattle back Shaun Alexander got 19 votes, Peyton Manning 13 and Tom Brady 10.
• Sorry, Aaron Donald. Only once this century has a defensive player gotten 10 votes or more for MVP. That was J.J. Watt in 2014, when Watt had 20.5 sacks and returned a fumble and an interception for TDs.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is the first quarterback since at least 1950 (and maybe ever) to beat one franchise while piloting six different teams. The list of those six victories over the Jags with Fitzpatrick starting:
Nov. 2, 2008 — Bengals 21, Jags 19
Dec. 2, 2012 — Bills 34, Jags 18
Dec. 22, 2013 — Titans 20, Jags 16
Dec. 7, 2014 — Texans 27, Jags 13
Nov. 8, 2015 — Jets 28, Jags 13
Sept. 24, 2020 — Dolphins 31, Jags 13
Gale Sayers never played in an NFL playoff game.
You may have seen that five coaches were fined for either not wearing a mask on the sideline or wearing it haphazardly, or wearing it sometimes and not wearing it at other times. Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur has a mask monitor. His assistant chief of staff, Joe McKillip, who is on the sidelines during games, will nudge LaFleur if need be to remind him to cover his nose and mouth fully.
When teams complain about their schedules—about, say, three straight on the road, or maybe having to play their toughest opponents in succession—I would remind them of the 1969 New York Jets.
The 1968 Jets won one of the biggest games in football history, Super Bowl III, a colossal upset of the Baltimore Colts. Their reward the next season: The Jets opened with 11 straight road games—six preseason games, five regular-season games.
In those days, the Jets and Mets shared Shea Stadium in Queens. The deal between the two franchises was that the Jets would not practice or play on the baseball field till the end of the baseball season. So that meant, in 1969, that the preseason games and the first three regular-season games would be played on the road. Then the Miracle Mets of 1969, a team that won the World Series and played till Oct. 16, happened. So regular-season games four and five, scheduled at home against Boston and Cincinnati, were moved to the road, and later games against the Patriots and Bengals that season were moved to Shea Stadium.
So this was how the Jets opened the 1969 season, as defending champions of pro football:
Friday, Aug. 1, at Soldier Field, Chicago: Jets 26, College All-Stars 24.
Saturday, Aug. 9, at Busch Stadium, St. Louis: Cardinals 13, Jets 6.
Sunday, Aug. 17, at Yale Bowl, New Haven, Conn.: Jets 37, Giants 14.
Monday, Aug. 25, at Oakland Coliseum: Raiders 24, Jets 6.
Saturday, Aug. 30, at Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C.: Jets 24, Vikings 21.
Saturday, Sept. 6, at the Cotton Bowl, Dallas: Cowboys 25, Jets 9.
Sunday, Sept. 13, at War Memorial Stadium, Buffalo: Jets 33, Bills 19.
Sunday, Sept. 20, at Mile High Stadium, Denver: Broncos 21, Jets 19.
Sunday, Sept. 27, at San Diego Stadium: Chargers 34, Jets 27.
Sunday, Oct. 5, at Alumni Stadium, Boston: Jets 23, Patriots 14.
Sunday, Oct. 12, at Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati: Jets 21, Bengals 7.
Total Road Games: 11 (5 in Eastern Time, 3 in Central Time, 1 in Mountain Time, 2 in Pacific Time).
Other notes about the 1969 Jets:
• The World Series ended in Shea Stadium on Oct. 16, and the turf on most of the field was ripped up and taken as souvenirs by the marauding fans. New turf was installed, but the turf didn’t have time to root and was loose and kept coming up in huge divots for the first game on Monday night, Oct. 20.
• The first home game, against Houston on that Monday night, was not televised. At all. Imagine the home opener of the Super Bowl champs not being on TV!
• After the first five regular-season road games, the Jets played seven straight at home.
• The Jets used Shea Stadium as home base for in-season practices, but could not use Shea Stadium till after the last Mets game of the year. So the world champions, for the first six weeks of the 1969 season, practiced at . . . Rikers Island, per Frank Ramos, the retired former Jets public relations director. The team would park at Shea Stadium, dress in their locker room, and bus 10 or 15 minutes to athletic fields at Rikers Islands. Sound familiar? Rikers is the site of New York City’s infamous jail. According to Ramos, the Jets would get cat-called by prisoners while working out.
“The coaching staff and players were incredible at adapting,” said Ramos. “They didn’t complain, despite all the obstacles they had.”
The Jets finished 10-4 in the regular season and lost their first playoff game—to the eventual Super Bowl champion, Kansas City, at Shea Stadium.
Giancarlo Stanton hit 97 home runs in the 2017 and ’18 seasons.
Stanton hit seven home runs in 2019 and ’20.
King of the Road
With no travel imminent for me, I searched for a travel-related nugget over the weekend.
I asked one NFL front-office person to tell me what his weekend road trip was like, compared to a normal road trip.
“More buses than usual to the airport. We all had our own rows on the bus. On the plane, same thing—empty seats all around. We travel with more than 120 people usually; now it’s 70. The flight attendants are usually very attentive, but now they leave you alone unless you signal for them. At the hotel, you get your key and go to your room. One of the fun things about road trips in years past was that you’d scout out a good place to eat in that city on Saturday night. Now, you can’t leave the hotel. I just picked up some food downstairs for dinner and ate in my room and watched basketball on TV. In the morning, at breakfast, instead of sitting with coaches or other people in the travel party, I sat alone. There’s a Plexiglas ® partition between each seat. At the stadium, it was great. We were in a booth there, with catered food. After the game, only a few people can go down to the locker room, so most people just go to the bus after the game and wait for everybody to be showered and dressed. Then we headed to the airport and flew home.”
This person told me he has gotten used to the morning health questionnaire/nasal-swab COVID test/temperature-taking five days a week, having done it now for 10 weeks. “It’s a routine,” he said, “like brushing my teeth.” He wears a mask at all times, except, he said, when he is working alone in his office. He said that gets old.
Overall, I wondered, how is the new normal?
“Does it all affect my job? No. Does it affect my enjoyment of the job? Yes.”
Tweets of the Week50
Rodgers finishes with: "Thanks, everybody. Everybody get home safe. Actually, you probably are home safe."
PR man Tom Fanning: "Nobody's here."
— Matt Schneidman (@mattschneidman) September 28, 2020
Schneidman is the Packers beat writer for The Athletic.
Maybe the Giants and the Jets can share Trevor Lawrence.
— Steve Politi (@StevePoliti) September 27, 2020
Politi is a columnist for NJ.com.
Thank you to everyone who has reached out. Scary situation, but thankful that everybody is doing well. We appreciate respect for our privacy at this time.
— Joseph Montana (@JoeMontana) September 27, 2020
Montana and his wife, authorities in southern California said, foiled a kidnaping of their nine-month-old granddaughter over the weekend.
Howie Roseman rebuilt a roster that Chip Kelly destroyed, won a Super Bowl in Year 2 and got to the playoffs in Year 3 and Year 4. Now Eagles fans are saying he deserves to be fired two games into Year 5. Philadelphia Eagles General Manager is a thankless job. pic.twitter.com/D1TAYZIeX3
— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) September 26, 2020
Smith is managing editor of Pro Football Talk.
Out of an abundance of caution Syracuse University is temporarily delaying kick off to confirm negative COVID-19 test results.
— Syracuse Athletics (@Cuse) September 26, 2020
The Syracuse athletic feed, at the time of the expected kickoff of the Saturday football game against Georgia Tech. The game started about 30 minutes late.
There has not been a more perfectly apt sporting Tweet in 2020.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter.
Get wise on masks, coaches. From Tony. C: “I don’t understand. Coaches are smart people. They are strategists, leaders, teachers of men. How come they can’t master wearing a mask with six months of practice? Would they tolerate a player taking six months to learn how to tie their shoe?”
I don’t think coaches knew they’d have to wear masks during games till sometime in August. Certainly they didn’t know two or three months ago. But they should be good sports about it, in this totally unusual year, and get used to being billboards for the country to see.
An angry reader checks in. From Jason Hebel: “In this week’s FMIA, you chose to close with, ‘What a fraud McConnell is. What an anti-patriot he is.’ Just replace Mitch McConnell with ‘King’ and we’ve hit on the real issue. I admit when Mr. Trump gets re-elected it will bring me some measure of joy knowing how much it will bother a fraud like you. Keep up the bad work. It is only helping the side you so clearly despise.”
One day, my grandchildren will know what I did for a living. They’ll find out that I wrote a column that was 90 or 95 percent about football and 5 or 10 percent about life. And if my grandchildren ever read things in that 5 to 10 percent of my column that I wrote during this period of history, and they read nothing about my feelings about a truly dangerous administration and political world, I’d be ashamed.
Read this statement: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” Do you really feel it’s okay for Mitch McConnell to say that in 2016, some 245 days before the election, yet should not have a say 45 days before the 2020 election? If so, I feel sad for you and the 75 or so others who wrote to me with exactly this sentiment this week. Wake up. Read. Think. Think about fairness. And know this: Just as you (apparently) feel strongly about your opinions, I feel strong about mine. I could swallow them, watch as extremely serious threats to the well-being of our country get made every day, and write nothing. Just as you choose to not swallow your opinions, I will not swallow mine.
Back to football! From Sando Iaboni: “If the Jets wind up picking early in next April’s draft, should they consider a quarterback or stick with Sam Darnold?”
Great question. I don’t think you can answer that till you see how Darnold plays this year. But I do think GM Joe Douglas—who obviously did not draft Darnold—will not hesitate to take a quarterback if, come January, he has legitimate questions about Darnold and he’s faced with several excellent options. It’s still early, but the first three weeks of the season have shown us that the Jets definitely are contenders for the first pick in the 2021 draft. If Darnold plays really well and the Jets hold that pick, Douglas might have the chance to get rich with a passel of draft picks by trading down. We’ll see.
Thanks, Mike. From Mike Gerrity of Boston: “Your weekly column during football season remains an institution. I hope that the school of thought and the central themes and tidbits that you write about (football, a little but not too much politics, nice beers, traveling, and amazing little notes of your family interactions) remain intact for as long as you want to do this. The world is a crazy place, especially right now. For 10 minutes on a Monday morning, you provide a little a bit of fun and positivity when the news can be fairly jarring or it just makes you sad. Please keep offering up your column and much respect for opening yourself for critical feedback. Thank you for all of your stories and your exuberance.”
So good of you to take the time to write, Mike. What you write is what I try to do, and I’m glad it resonates for you. I really enjoy doing it after all these years.
10 Things I Think I Think40
1. I think this is what you need to know about Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell‘s positive COVID-19 experience over the weekend, in chronological order:
• Thursday: Terrell, the rookie cornerback from Clemson, tested negative for COVID-19 in the daily testing regimen that every NFL player undergoes.
• Friday: Terrell was tested when he arrived for practice. The test results are usually not known by the Falcons till the early hours of the next morning. Terrell went through his normal day of work, wearing a tracking device through the day. Every player wears a tracking device; in the event a test comes back positive, Falcons’ Infection Control Officer and director of sports medicine Marty Lauzon can check to see if any player or person in the organization should be quarantined because of close contact with the infected person for longer than 15 minutes.
• Saturday: Early in the morning, Lauzon gets a report that Terrell has tested positive. When Terrell arrivers for Saturday practice, he is not allowed out of his car. He is given the regular test all players take daily, plus a rapid test. He then is sent home, where reportedly he lives alone. Also, the testing facility will re-check the positive test from Friday. All three tests, reportedly, came back positive. Terrell is out for Sunday’s game versus Chicago. It is likely that others who were close to Terrell on Friday would have a close eye on their regular Saturday tests.
• Sunday: It is believed that only Terrell’s tests came back positive, and all other Falcons tests results from Saturday’s regular batch came back negative. So the game against Chicago will go on. It’s likely it would have been postponed only in the event of more than a few positive tests on Saturday.
Moral of the story: The system put in place by the league and the players association works. It’s unlikely this will be the only time a player tests positive this year, but the checks negotiated by the league and union worked in this case. For those wondering how Terrell contracted COVID-19, I don’t know.
2. I think a kicker has never won his team’s first three games of the season with field goals in the final two minutes of a game, but that’s not why I’m writing about Stephen Gostkowski in this space. I’m doing it because of his perspective after the worst game of his career. In his first game as a Titan on the opening Monday night of the season two weeks ago, Gostkowski missed field goals of 47, 44 and 42 yards, and missed a PAT too, before kicking a 25-yard field goal to beat Denver. And then a 49-yarder beat Jacksonville in the Titans’ home opener last week. And on Sunday in Minnesota, Gostkowski made six in six tries, including the winner from 55 yards away.
When we spoke Sunday evening, Gostkowski didn’t try to hide what happened in Week 1. “The game in Denver was a punch in the face for me. I was thinking, ‘Should I have done this? Should I have kept playing?’ But then you think when you’ve been in athletics for a long time, sometimes you’re going to get embarrassed like that. And really, when I thought about later, I was thinking there’s a lot worse things in the world than missing a couple of kicks in a football game on national TV. Look what’s going on in our country right now. I take my job very seriously, but I don’t take myself too seriously. I’ve lived my best life, and a blessed life. So I’m not going to let a kick ruin that.”
3. I think I’ve never seen better quarterback play in a season, collectively, than we’re seeing this year.
4. I think I don’t get it. Raiders owner Mark Davis won’t go to his home stadium for a game, but he will go to the road stadium for a game. Umm. Logic, please?
5. I think I’d like to send all of you scurrying to schedules of the past: Has any team ever faced an opening schedule as tough as the one Houston has had? So far, the Texans have faced 2-0 Super Bowl champ Kansas City on the road, reigning AFC top seed Baltimore at home, and 3-0 Pittsburgh on the road. After breathers in Weeks 4 (Minnesota) and 5 (Jacksonville), then comes 3-0 Tennessee and 3-0 Green Bay in Weeks 6 and 7.
6. I think the intelligence of the week comes from Kansas City special teams coach Dave Toub, asked last week what he thinks of teams icing the kicker. Now, this is one of the best special teams coaches ever, the coach of rising-star kicker Harrison Butker, widely respected in the coaching fraternity. I give his words merit. Toub:
“I think if you’re going to ice the kicker, I think you need to ice them and not let them kick the kick. When they’re still able to kick the kick, you call a timeout late and you’re able to kick the kick, they get too much information. If we’re going to ice a guy, we’re going to ice him before he even lines up to make him think about it a little more without giving away that information that Butker was able to get on that long kick [the 58-yard field goal in Los Angeles eight days ago]. That’s one thing that we would do different. Other than that, when you ice Butker, he’s just going to get more and more focused. He’s a routine guy, he’s going to go back to his routine and do the same thing every time.”
7. I think if you parse Toub’s words, you understand how the mind of a smart coach works. What he means when he says the team “gets too much information” when a timeout is called so late the kicker gets to kick the field goal and the kick doesn’t count: The kicking team can see how the defense is rushing the kick, and which gaps the rushers are attacking. The theory of calling time so late, just before the ball is snapped, is that making the kicker kick an extra time will either tire him out or hurt his concentration. Listen to Butker from last week, when he had to kick 53, 58 and 58-yard field goals in succession because a penalty and timeout nullified the first two:
“What gave me a little confidence is how we practice. In practice, I have to hit eight to 10 long field goals, like 54, 63, 65, 58. So some kickers, maybe their leg would get tired kicking three long ones in a row like that. I lined up for the 53-yarder, and I figured they might call a timeout. But I don’t hear a whistle, and I kicked. Then there’s a flag and we go back five yards. I smashed that one—knew it was good. I figured, let me make this thing and let’s get out of here. But then I saw they called time. And I just did it again.”
That’s Toub understanding that the long kicks at the end of practice simulate the precise situation Butler had to endure in Los Angeles at the end of overtime, to win a game.
8. I think I want to share a video I did for NBC the other day, for NBC’s partnership with NFL GamePass, on Russell Wilson’s ability to throw so accurately under pressure. It’s an incredible trait for a quarterback to have, and no one in the NFL is as good at it as Wilson.
9. I think this is my one journalism thought of the week, after watching the free world use Adam Schefter’s scoop (often without attribution) about the Chargers’ medic puncturing Tyrod Taylor’s lung with an injection, causing Taylor to miss Week 2 against Kansas City: Stories like this are not free to grab out of the ether without attribution. There is no shame is saying, “Wow. Hell of a scoop. Give the guy credit.” Look at the honor of the people who cover baseball. Jeff Passan and Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman and others who traffic in baseball news are constantly crediting their peers when the story merits that.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. “Father of the Bride,” a sequel to the sequel? Count me in. I remember the greatest line from the first one: “Welcome to the nineties, Mr. Bonks (Banks).”
b. Column of the Week: After the death of Gale Sayers, Tara Sullivan of the Boston Globe found the great James Caan—who played Bears running back/Sayers roommate Brian Piccolo in “Brian’s Song”—to recall so many great memories of this touching story. From the column:
“Everybody’s cries when they see it. I cry every time I see it,” said Caan, who, at 80, was gracious enough to summon memories of the project in a telephone call with the Globe, a project he could never have predicted would resonate so long, but one he is asked about almost as much as his iconic role as Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather.” “I grew up with really strong relationships, and my friends were my real friends, and still are. Friends were the only thing we had, and their relationship was pretty genuine, and pretty great.”
c. Country Story of the Week: Ellen Barry of the New York Times on what happens when a world frightened by COVID-19 decides to move to Vermont.
d. Hint: There are bears involved. And Cheez-Its. And a pernickety manager of a town dump. And a bee stuck in a townie’s ear.
e. The MLB Award Section:
MVP: Freddie Freeman (N.L.), Jose Abreu (A.L.). Abreu’s stats on a 162-game pace: 51 homers, 162 RBI.
Cy Young: Trevor Bauer (N.L.), Shane Bieber (A.L.) At his rate, Bieber’s strikeout total over a full season: 315.
Manager: Don Mattingly (N.L.), Charlie Montoya (A.L.) How are the Marlins in the postseason?
Rookie: Jake Cronenworth (N.L.), Kyle Lewis (A.L.) Never heard of either guy on the late-July night of my Rotisserie draft.
World Series: L.A. Dodgers over Cleveland, 4-2.
World Series MVP: Mookie Betts (L.A.)
f. Book of the Week: Jeff Pearlman’s new one, Three Ring Circus, on the life and times of the Kobe-Shaq-Phil Lakers is out. Great passage from the day before the 1996 NBA Draft, when new Nets coach John Calipari (who had personnel power in the organizational hierarchy) and GM John Nash were debating what would happen if high-schooler Kobe Bryant and polished collegian Kerry Kittles would be on the board when the Nets picked. Writes Pearlman, a reporter’s reporter:
John Calipari received a phone call from Kobe Bryant, who told him he wanted to get away from his parents, that New Jersey was too close to Philadelphia and he needed space. Nash received a call from Arn Tellem, Bryant’s agent, who created—in Nash’s words—“some cockamamie story about Kobe having a disagreement with his parents and wanting to head West.”
Calipari told Tellem the Nets were taking Bryant. Tellem told Calipari if the Nets took Bryant he’d hold out.
As all this was transpiring, Calipari took a call from David Falk, the agent representing Villanova’s All-American guard, Kerry Kittles. Having spent his college career playing a stone’s throw away, Kittles very much wanted to land in New Jersey. That’s why Falk, noted bulldog, told Calipari that unless the Nets picked his client, no one he represented would ever consider playing for the franchise. “So John runs into my office and tells me this,” Nash recalled. “I said, ‘John, come on. You don’t believe this bull—-, do you? It’s all bluster. The family. The agents. It’s total bull—-. Trust me.’ ”
The Nets were paying Calipari a league-high $3 million a year, and that came with final say on all basketball decisions. “We’re not winning with a high school kid,” he said.
“John,” Nash said. “You have a five-year guaranteed contract. Everyone knows this is a building process.”
Two hours before the draft was to begin, Nash agreed to see if the Nets could trade down a few slots. That way the team might gain another pick and, perhaps, take Bryant a bit later. Win-win. He called a handful of franchises, but there were no takers. At 6:30, Nash and Calipari met with the team’s full ownership group at the restaurant inside the arena. Nash was certain how the opening seven picks would go, and that New Jersey was set to grab Kobe Bryant without much drama.
Calipari stood up at the table. Everyone ceased speaking. “If Kerry Kittles is on the board,” he said, “we’re drafting him. And if he’s not there, we’re taking Kobe Bryant.”
Kerry Kittles was on the board.
g. Good luck in retirement to two pro’s pros, Hunter Pence and Alex Gordon.
h. Damn. End of the regular season. I’ll miss the box scores, even after a bizarro regular season like this one.
i. Beernerdness: Tried the Free Energy Light Pale Ale (Foam Brewers, Burlington, Vermont) in a can, and loved it. It is a light beer, as the name implies, and has a little taste of honey to it. So easy to drink, so tasty. The honey isn’t overwhelming, and the beer isn’t sweet. It’s just the right touch.
j. Coffeenerdness: So I splurged this offseason and bought a simple but great coffee machine, the Moccamaster, by a Dutch firm called Technivorm. Three things make it great: A pot can be brewed in three minutes; the coffee comes out scalding hot; and the mechanics of it are incredibly simple and fun to watch brew.
k. TV Piece of the Week: On ABC Nightly News, as the death toll for COVID-19 passed 200,000, a touching story of some of those we’ve lost.
l. To say this is heartbreaking would be the understatement of the year. The sisters of the young doctor — watch that and try to not tear up.
m. Per the COVID-19 database at Johns Hopkins: The COVID death toll in the United States over four days last week (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday) was 3,885. Per day: 921, 1,098, 914, 952. We’re immune to it, don’t seem to care about it, dismiss it. I was struck on the 19th anniversary of 9/11 by the outpouring of grief 19 years later. The headlines, the TV stories, the emotional tributes, the endless stream of people saying and writing, “Never forget.” Which is good and fitting—because we should never forget the terror of that day and the impact on our country and the death of so many innocents. But in four September days, just last week, almost 1,000 more innocents died of COVID than died in the tragedy of 9/11. And we gloss over it. We forget thousands and thousands more who have died of COVID-19. Nothing to see here, just move along. The president said of COVID in a campaign speech in Ohio: “It affects virtually nobody.” Outrageous.
n. And now we sprint breathlessly to a vaccine because many citizens simply don’t have the will to wear masks. Now we hear that because there’s mass distrust of the science and politics of COVID vaccines, less than 60 percent of Americans polled will even get a COVID vaccine. So, really, what good will it do? Will it erase COVID-19 in America? Sure doesn’t look like it.
o. I wonder about these people who decry mask-wearing as violations of their civil rights. I wonder if they’re the same people who decried not being able to smoke on airplanes anymore, or not being able to smoke in restaurants. This is the result of no one trusting anyone. It has grown like a field of weeds in the last four years.
p. Interview of the Week: Will Wright of the New York Times with Shane Reilly, an artist in Austin, Texas. Reilly has planted one flag in his yard for every life lost in Texas to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s nearly 15,000 flags. A sample:
Wright: As the nation approaches 200,000 deaths, how are you grappling with that?
Reilly: “My first emotion is anger. There was a plethora of information out there to suggest that we could have done things differently, but people in charge chose not to. They actively went in the other direction. I squarely place a lot of these deaths on them. Proper leadership could have saved tens of thousands of lives. It’s shocking and saddening and infuriating. And every day, people walk by my house still not wearing masks.”
q. Public Interest Story of the Week: Miles O’Brien of the PBS NewsHour, with a thoughtful piece on voting by mail. Listen to the Marion County, Fla., supervisor of elections in here.
O’Brien on voter fraud: “The conservative Heritage Foundation maintains an online database of documented election fraud cases in the United States. It lists 204 cases of absentee ballot fraud, with 143 criminal convictions, over the past 20 years. On average, that’s one case per state every seven years.”
r. The one question I would have liked to have seen Kentucky attorney general Daniel Cameron address after not charging any police officer in the death of Breonna Taylor (though charging one for “wanton endangerment” for bullets that flew into an adjacent apartment) is this: After having one bullet fired in the direction of the police in a dark apartment, do you believe it was justified for three officers to fire 32—doing the math from the press conference—in return?
s. Sometimes you just have to take a deep breath in this country, and even that’s not enough most days.
The Adieu Haiku
Gut feeling: Wilson
will get an MVP vote.
Or maybe 50.