A frenetic day in the life of the NFL, 2020:
5:45 a.m. ET, Long Island, N.Y.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter, in the bathroom near his bedroom, texts contacts or talks softly, not wanting to disturb his sleeping dogs or wife. He’s trying to find out early COVID-related news before he jumps in the shower to prep for a morning of SportsCenter hits live from the mini-studio in his home. The rest of the league wants to know the COVID news too. Is New England clean this morning? Is Tennessee? Will the Broncos get on their charter later in the morning to fly to New England for the pandemically postponed Monday night game? Will the Bills get on a flight to Nashville on Monday to play the rejiggered game against the Titans on Tuesday night? And will there be other COVID surprises that would force postponements no one foresaw when the NFL world went to bed Saturday night?
Working with fellow ESPNer Field Yates, the first story of the day is confirmed. Schefter prepares the tweet.
NFL is shutting down the Patriots’ facility this morning, marking the third shutdown there in 10 days, sources tell me and @FieldYates. Patriots are testing this morning and awaiting further direction from the NFL. But the status of Monday night’s game vs. Denver is in question.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 11, 2020
Twenty-eight minutes later, Schefter tweets the Patriots have another positive, their fourth in eight days, and an hour after that, the Titans announce they’ve had another positive test, this one for a coach, and Tennessee’s facility was closing too.
COVID-19 has the NFL in its grips, the same as it had Major League Baseball on its knees in late July. Even though the league’s had only 80 positive tests in daily testing of the league 2,460 players and far more team and league staffers in 11 weeks, it’s the omnipresence of the disease—and the COVID incubation period of four to five days that makes it possible for a team like Tennessee to have 23 positive tests spread over 12 days—that dogs every team, every day.
But this day will be extraordinary not just for the shutdowns of two strong playoff contenders. In the next 13 hours . . .
• Eight games will be rescheduled
• A coach and GM of a recent Super Bowl team will be axed
• One Super Bowl team will be embarrassed and bench its quarterback, the other will lose for the first time in 366 days
• The greatest comeback of a player in recent sports history will continue with 29 noble offensive snaps in the rain
• Dallas’ Pro Bowl centerpiece will suffer a grotesque compound ankle fracture and leave the field in tears
• The Cardinals will lose their best defensive player for the season
• The Saints’ all-world wideout will be suspended for slugging a DB in the jaw
• A Steeler rookie will have one of the great days in franchise history
• The Browns will be off to their best start in 25 years
• The Jets and Giants will be 0-10
• The Rams will complete a 4-0 tour of the NFC East
• And Russell Wilson will lead his team to the first 5-0 record with a 94-yard desperation drive a few minutes before midnight.
“I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say this NFL Sunday had more news than any NFL Sunday,” Schefter said when it was over.
No argument there.
7:30 a.m., various homes around New York
In a conference call with commissioner Roger Goodell, the 10 or so NFL senior staffers present get briefed by NFL medical director Dr. Allen Sills, who talks about the two new positives. Sills heard about the Patriots’ test late Saturday night, and the Titans’ test before dawn today. By the afternoon, the league would be cautiously optimistic that the Tennessee positive—reportedly of an assistant coach—was probably not connected directly to the organization’s string of 22 previous positives. Thus the league allowing Tennessee to hold a tightly controlled 1-hour, 45-minute practice at 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday.
Football Ops executive vice president Troy Vincent had gone over scenarios with several teams on Friday in case of positives with Tennessee and New England. The Patriots-Broncos getting moved, for instance, would set into play a major chain reaction causing six games to be moved, and causing bye weeks to be cast to the wind. Havoc, particularly, would be wreaked with the Chargers, who’d have to move four games. Vincent told GM Tom Telesco on Friday. Telesco’s reaction? Priceless. “If you are inflexible or resistant to change, the year 2020 is not for you,” Telesco said. Now the TV folks would go over changes with the networks, football ops would go over changes with all the affected teams, and all would report back in a few hours to be sure all changes were okay before the league would announce them.
7:55 a.m. (5:55 a.m. Mountain Time), Englewood, Colo.
Denver coach Vic Fangio doesn’t have a Twitter account, and doesn’t read Twitter. So on his way to work, he didn’t know what Schefter had reported. But even though the New England situation wreaked havoc with his team’s schedule—they were supposed to play Sunday, and on Friday the game got moved to Monday and he sent his players home for the day, and if it would get moved again, well, Fangio was sanguine about it. His daughter Cassie was a major reason. “My daughter works as a nurse at a military hospital in San Antonio,” Fangio said. “She’s in the military and she came down with COVID because she’s a nurse at a hospital. She’s high-risk. She was real fatigued for three, four days, lost her sense of taste and smell. I’m just thankful that she has fully recovered from that. So, you know, that’s why I don’t get worked up about this stuff.
“Plus, this virus has caused a lot of heartache and pain for our country in the amount of sicknesses, in the amount of deaths, what it’s done to our economy, and what’s it’s done to people’s livelihoods, people’s businesses. If we have a game postponed and be inconvenienced that way, it’s miniscule compared to the bigger issue.”
Fangio’s in the office at 6:30 MT, and 15 minutes later, the league calls. Game’s off. Stay tuned. Likely moved to next week. Fangio does three things: cancels the Broncos’ 7:30 a.m. special teams meeting, calls for a full-squad and organization team meeting in the middle of the team’s practice field outside for 8:15 a.m. MT, and tries to figure out what he’ll tell the team—including about how Denver’s bye week has disappeared.
9:06 a.m., Long Island
Schefter tweets Broncos-Pats has been moved to next Sunday and the Denver-Miami game scheduled for Oct. 18 would be moved. Why, you may wonder, was the New England game moved and Tennessee’s not moved? My educated guess: It’s likely because the league thinks the New England positive test could easily trace to the two positive player tests, because the ideal time for incubation is four to five days and Stephon Gilmore’s positive test was four days earlier; and because the Tennessee positive may not have had the direct connection to the long string of Titans’ positives.
10:15 a.m. (8:15 a.m. MT), Englewood, Colo.
On a pristine Colorado morning, the Rocky Mountains glistening to the west, Fangio gathers about 125 players, coaches and staff on the field, socially distanced. Fangio tells them the game is off, when the game was likely to be played, how this ruins the bye week and now players would be off Sunday, Monday and Tuesday but have to test each day and be back for a game week Wednesday. He said baseball was getting through it while playing, and basketball and hockey too, and football would make it.
“In a weird way,” Fangio told the group, “I’m really happy it’s happening for our team. It identifies the whiners—who are the whiners. Who can’t handle adversity? Who gets hijacked by inconveniences? We don’t want those guys. We want people who deal with this without the whining, who take this inconvenience as an opportunity to get better.”
The place cleared out. Even the coach left to take a free day.
“I’ll be back Monday and Tuesday,” Fangio said.
Prominent NFL team official, on the phone from his city: “It’s a bad day, because we’ll have to move a bunch of games. But people have to realize the scale of what we are. We have been testing now for 10-plus weeks, and we have 80 positives. [It’s almost 11 weeks, and 85 positives.] And in our ecosystems, we have vulnerabilities. It’s okay to discuss some of these ways to try to eliminate the positive tests. But if we take a pause for a week or two, like some people want, do you think none of the 2,400-some players in the league will get COVID while we take this pause? Or, if we create bubbles for the next three months, how many players tell their families, ‘See you in three months,’ and how many players opt out?
“This is going to get hard. People have to realize it’s very likely that not every team will play 16 games. Right now, we can be flexible to some degree with the schedule, but when we start running out of bye weeks to play with, that’s when we have to face the fact that a few teams might play 14 or 15 games. We all know that’s not ideal. But we’re playing football. Keep your mind on that.”
2:17 p.m., Landover, Md.
What a moment. At the two-minute warning of the first half of Rams-Washington, Alex Smith entered the game to play football for the first time in 23 months. His horrifying compound leg fracture was featured in an ESPN doc. He very nearly had the leg amputated. And here he was, trotting on the field to play when Kyle Allen got knocked out of the game. His wife Elizabeth in the stands with their three children on the rainy day, appearing to weep when he came into the game.
“It’s nice in that situation to not have to think about it,” Smith said later. “You just go do it.”
Third play: Aaron Donald rode on his back to a sack. I’m watching the play, thinking, “OH NO! NO!” But Smith went down pretty normally. When he got to bench after the series, Donald appeared to say that fellow’s leg is strong. Except he might not have said “that fellow.”
2:46 p.m., Pittsburgh
Steelers media boss Burt Lauten tweeted: “Today’s attendance @HeinzField for Steelers vs. Eagles: 4,708.”
Somewhere, Jack Ham weeps.
2:47 p.m., New York
All contingencies have been figured out, and the teams have reported back they can do what the league wants on the rescheduled games. Senior vice president of football communications Michael Signora tweets out the eight moved games.
— Michael Signora (@NFLfootballinfo) October 11, 2020
Look at one team, the Chargers. Jets at Chargers, moved from Oct. 18 to Nov. 22. Jags at Chargers, moved from Nov. 1 to Oct. 25. Chargers at Denver, moved from Nov. 22 to Nov. 1. Chargers at Miami, moved from Oct. 25 to Nov. 15. “We knew situations like this would arise,” Telesco texted from the bus on the way to the airport for Chargers-Saints. “We’ll adjust. We’re just glad we’re playing.”
I’m fascinated by one tributary of what’s happened with all the schedule changes. Kansas City at Buffalo was supposed to be the Thursday night game in Week 6. It was tentatively moved to Sunday after the Bills got scheduled to play Tuesday in Tennessee this week. Now it got moved to Monday night at 5 p.m. in Buffalo. Why is this interesting to me? Because it took the Thursday night game, and a very good one, off a prime-time window. Those games, roughly, are worth $60 million a game to the NFL. By moving the game to Monday at 5 p.m. and keeping it on FOX, it gave a great game to a bad time slot, but it avoided making FOX take a lesser game in the only part of the network inventory that is flexible: Saturday windows in Weeks 15 and 16.
3:23 p.m., New Orleans
Schefter tweets that Michael Thomas won’t be active Monday night against the Chargers, and adds an hour later it’s because he punched cornerback C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Hearing a lot about this, including the fact that teammates backed Gardner-Johnson in the practice dispute, and that this is a suspension more than another week off to rest an ankle injury. It’ll be interesting to see if Thomas works to get back in the good graces of the team, or if this remains an issue for whatever reason. But if it lingers, it could be a huge issue for the Saints, 2-2 entering tonight’s game. Thomas caught more balls last year than any receiver in history in one season, and his chemistry with Drew Brees is notable. The Saints need his greatness.
5:11 p.m., Pittsburgh
Incredible day for rookie wideout Chase Claypool of the Steelers in the 38-29 whipping of the Eagles: one touchdown rushing, three receiving. He’s the first Pittsburgh player since pre-dynasty days (1968) to score four touchdowns in a game. Five things you need to know about Claypool:
1. He’s from Vancouver, and he’s the first Canadian to score four TDs in an NFL game.
2. He grew up “idolizing” the Canadian Football League. “Even though I watched the NFL growing up,” he told me post-game, “the CFL was more attainable and more realistic. You see the Canadian guys in the CFL, but you don’t hear much about the Canadian guys going to the NFL and doing well.”
3. Oregon recruited him at outside linebacker, Michigan recruited him as a tight end. Notre Dame wanted him as a wide receiver. He wasn’t serious about football, really serious, till 7-on-7 competition in the summer before his senior year.
4. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly called him one of the most competitive people he’s been around.
5. His older sister Ashley died by suicide when he was 13. They were close. Before every game, he goes to an end zone alone and says a prayer for her. “I try to make her proud,” Claypool said.
At 6-4 and 238, Claypool looks neither. He looks a couple inches shorter and maybe 10 pounds lighter. When the Steelers got him with 49th pick in the second round last April, wiseguys said it was a great pick. Sunday, you could see why. He fights for 50-50 balls like they’re 100-0 his. His hands seem excellent. He seems like a humble guy. In short, the Steelers got a great pick here.
“Stay humble! Stay humble!” Mike Tomlin told him afterward.
“Ben told me to enjoy it,” he said. “He said, ‘Don’t let it live in the present; let it live in the past. Then attack next week.’ “
Beware Browns. Cleveland at Pittsburgh on Sunday.
6:33 p.m., Arlington, Texas
The leg is not meant to bend how Dak Prescott’s bent near the ankle in the second half of the Giants-Cowboys game. It weas a Theismann-like bend and break, the kind that destroys limbs. It was such an emotional moment. So many players from both teams looking crushed. The former Cowboys coach, Jason Garrett, semi-hugging the current Cowboys coach, Mike McCarthy. One of the best quarterbacks in football would be in surgery within three hours of this moment, and would have questions haunting him about his return to football.
But the faces of the coaches and players on the field. Their concern, their emotion, mirrored what we saw Sunday night, when one of the tallest buildings in Dallas had the number “4” highlighted in the night in bright lights. Prescott was in a contentious contract dispute with the Cowboys, but he never allowed it to be bitter from his end, and it resulted in him turning down every offer and taking the franchise tag this year, $31 million. Huge money, of course. But not Mahomes or Watson or Rodgers long-term money. And the sentiment everywhere Sunday night was how much people loved this fourth-round pick who rose to the occasion when Tony Romo got hurt and was lost a few months after Prescott was drafted. Pretty great, for the 135th pick in the draft in 2016. Afterward, the Giant who tackled Prescott—clean hit—when he got hurt, Logan Ryan, spoke for fans everywhere.
“I feel terrible,” Ryan said. “It was a routine football play . . . You’ve got a guy, and I am in a similar position, he is scratching and clawing at one year on his deal to try and get rewarded, try to do the right thing, try to show up to work, try to lead his team, try to get a lucrative contract. He had to come out and prove it this year, so for him to get this type of injury . . . That’s why I feel like Dak. I hope he gets $500 million when he comes back. He deserves it. He is a hell of a quarterback.”
Personal note: A couple of years ago, I was at Yankee Stadium. Prescott was in New York and, in a small group, he just sat and watched the game. I went by to say hello, and he told me to come over to sit with him. For an hour we talked about who knows what. But I remember that night, behind enemy lines in the land of the hated Giants, he signed everything. He posed with everyone. He was so happy to be there, in the big ballyard in the South Bronx. Just a guy realizing how lucky he was in life, having a great night. That’s why so many people like him. Just a guy who realizes how lucky he is. And they’ll be praying for his return to the game in 2021, whatever the contract and wherever he plays.
7:06 p.m., Nashville
Think of pandemic football. Think of what an accomplishment it would be if the 3-0 Titans (assuming they play) win Tuesday night against the 4-0 Bills.
Tennessee hasn’t had a regular football practice in 17 days. The Titans worked out twice over the weekend—a light workout Saturday, and a longer practice late Sunday afternoon—but neither could be considered normal. And now they play a game against one of the most impressive teams in football that’s been on its regular schedule, mostly, until this week and the Tuesday game. You very likely won’t hear any Titan player or coach complain about it because, after all, it’s more than 20 COVID-positive tests on the team and organization that put Tennessee in this predicament.
But I wanted to know on all those long days when the facility wasn’t open and they didn’t meet at the Nashville prep school for an unauthorized workout and the team didn’t practice in any organized way, how did the players stay strong and nimble and in shape? Two weeks away isn’t forever, but it’s certainly a factor. You don’t want to play a game that could have significance for the first playoff seed in the AFC with players who’ve not been at their peak physically. Ben Jones, the veteran center, told me he practice three to four times a week the way he’d work at the facility: in a weight room in his garage, about 20 minutes outside Nashville, and, combining cardio with arm strength, attaching battle ropes to his vehicle’s trailer hitch and getting his heart rate up on those.
“Last Sunday,” Jones said, “I sort of simulated a game in my backyard. I got a script of plays, then ran 60 plays on air, sprinting 10 to 15 yards downfield on each play. I used a stopwatch between plays to figure out the time between plays. So I felt like I got a game in right there.”
How do you think your team will play after all this time off?
“We’ll be ready to roll,” he said, sounding confident. “It’s 2020. You’ve got to figure things like this will happen. There’s nothing ideal about playing football in a pandemic. But we have passion for the game. We can’t wait to play.”
9:57 p.m., Atlanta
Two football administrations fired in the first month of the season. Last week, Houston coach-GM Bill O’Brien; this week, coach Dan Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff. Quinn’s teams never seemed to recover from the horror of blowing the 28-3 lead to the Patriots; since that night, the Falcons are 25-30, and Quinn really is fortunate he got as long as he did to try to turn this around. As for Dimitroff, he built a very good offense around Matt Ryan—his first draft choice, back in 2008—and wide receiver Julio Jones, who Dimitroff traded a bushel of picks to move up to draft in 2011. Both have been outstanding players. But they haven’t been enough, and holes elsewhere on the roster plus a bloated cap doomed him post-Super Bowl.
Where do the Falcons go now, after doing the expected? Veteran NFL GM and president Rich McKay, for now, will run the team, whoever the interim coach is (Raheem Morris or Dirk Koetter, likely), but owner Arthur Blank will want a forward-thinking GM and a coach he can work with. This organization needs new blood and tougher hand, I think. We’ll see what the winter brings.
11:24 p.m., Seattle
If there’d been a crowd, a big crowd, in Seattle on Sunday night, after Russell Wilson led the ‘Hawks to a stunning 27-26 win over Minnesota after all seemed lost, the folks would have serenaded him with “MVP! MVP! MVP!” as he jogged off the field afterward. The end was so perfectly Seahawk: Seattle stopped Minnesota two inches shy of a game-clinching first down with 1:57 to go and the Vikings up six. But Wilson drove 94 yards in less than two minutes, converting a fourth-and-10 to survive and a fourth-and-six to throw the winning TD pass with 15 seconds left. A virtuoso job.
Wilson has a knack to do and say the right things, and he did Sunday night. He wore a Sue Bird jersey to the game, to honor the four-time WNBA champ of the Seattle Storm. After the game, asked about the game-winning drive and TD throw, he said: “I felt like Sue Bird in the clutch.” The town loves Wilson, and the MVP voters just might love him this year too. Seattle’s the only 5-0 team in football.
Offensive Players of the Week
Alex Smith, quarterback, Washington. Since his last snap in an NFL game 23 months ago, Smith recovered from the most gruesome and graphic injury in an NFL most of us have ever seen and nearly had his leg amputated. But when Kyle Allen was knocked out of Sunday’s loss to the Rams and Dwayne Haskins was home ill, it was up to Smith to play in relief. With his emotional wife Elizabeth and three children watching from the wet stands at FedEx Field, Smith played 29 snaps and acquitted himself well. He also survived six sacks, one when 285-pound Aaron Donald piggyback-sacked him—literally jumping on his back and forcing him to the ground. An incredible comeback story played out in Washington, regardless of the 30-10 loss.
Chase Claypool, wide receiver, Pittsburgh. The second-round rookie from Notre Dame had one of the great days by a rookie in Steelers history. He scored a touchdown in each quarter—in order, a two-yard run and receptions of 32, five and 35 yards—as the Steelers put together their best offensive day of the season. Pittsburgh 39, Philly 28, and the Steelers are 4-0 for the first time since 1979, the last year of the great Steelers dynasty of the seventies.
Robby Anderson, wide receiver, Carolina. Every week, the Jets’ decision to let Anderson walk in free-agency looks even worse. Anderson, on average the 26th-highest-paid receiver in football after signing a hugely reasonable contract (two years, $20 million) in Carolina, has had these five Sundays so far for the Panthers: six catches for 114 yards; nine for 109; five for 55; eight for 99; eight for 112 Sunday at Atlanta—including a lovely one-hander down the left sideline in suffocating man coverage. Carolina’s on a three-game win streak, and Anderson—on pace for a 115-catch, 1,565-yard season—is a huge reason why. Miss him, Jets?
Derek Carr, quarterback, Las Vegas. Prior to Sunday, Carr was 0-6 at Arrowhead Stadium, losing the six by an average of 17 points a game. He got off the schneid in a very big way, playing great in a 40-32 upset of KC in the Super Bowl champs’ first loss in 52 weeks. (One year and two days ago, Kansas City lost 35-32 to the Titans.) Carr was 22 of 31 for 347 yards and three touchdowns, shredding a defense that had tormented him.
Defensive Players of the Week
Aaron Donald, defensive tackle, L.A. Rams. Another ridiculous day by a transcendent player. Donald sacked Washington quarterbacks four times in the 30-10 win at FedEx Field, with three additional significant pressures. Amazing to see week after week that everyone knows Donald—who has 79.5 sacks in 99 career games—has a good chance to wreck the game, and yet he keeps wrecking them.
Patrick Queen, linebacker, Baltimore. The rookie from LSU tormented the rookie from LSU (Bengals QB Joe Burrow) most of the day, with six tackles, a sack, two fumbles recovered and a fourth-quarter fumble returned for a 53-yard TD to clinch a 27-3 rout of the division rivals. The game was a wow for Baltimore’s first-round pick, and a sign to Burrow of how far his team has to go to catch one of football’s premier teams.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Isaiah Rogers, cornerback/kick-returner, Indianapolis. The sixth-round rookie from UMass kept the Colts in the game at Cleveland with the longest play in the NFL this season, a nifty 101-yard kickoff return for touchdown in the third quarter. The play followed a Philip Rivers pick-six and kept the Colts within 10 at a crucial time of game.
There's the answer. @rodgers_isaiah takes it 101 yards TO THE HOUSE.
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) October 11, 2020
Graham Gano, kicker, New York Giants. In the loss to Dallas, Gano had a career day, kicking field goals of 55, 50, 54 and 28 yards.
Coach of the Week
Kevin Stefanski, coach, Cleveland. This is all you need to know about this award this week: The Cleveland Browns are averaging 38 points a game in their recent 4-0 run. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., are throwing bombs as well as catching them, someone named D’Ernest Johnson is running as wild as the injured Nick Chubb did, and Baker Mayfield, while still not as accurate as he needs to be, is leading drives and finishing them better than any Cleveland quarterback in years. Big one next week at Pittsburgh. Doesn’t seem like the cool Stefanski will be bothered by it.
Goats of the Week
Tom Brady, quarterback, Tampa Bay. In the Quarterback Instruction Manual, this is one of the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not forget what down it is. Fourth and six, 38 seconds left, ball at the Tampa 41, Bears up 20-19. Brady’s playing it cool. Plenty of time to throw the ball in the middle of the field, get six or seven yards and spike it with 25 seconds left; Brady would then need 15 to 18 yards on three snaps to get in makeable field-goal range. Instead he took a shot downfield, and not a smart shot. Cameron Brate was blanket-covered by DeAndre Houston-Carson of the Bears, and the incompletion wobbled away. Watching the replay, there’s an 80, 85 percent chance Brady could have hit Ke’Shawn Vaughn—who did not have a Bears within six yards of him at the time of Brady’s release—for the first down. Brady turned to the ref with four fingers up, like, “It’s fourth down, right?” Nope. It was fourth down. Brady’s been a great get for the Bucs. But the end of this game will not go in his football time capsule. Now, let’s say for a moment that Brady really did know what down it was. I’d still give him the goat because he made a terrible decision with a winnable game on the line, giving up a likely first down for a play that could only succeed if Brate drew a pass-interference call.
Tom Brady seemed to think that 4th down play was 3rd down. pic.twitter.com/SHVbMrG3Ma
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) October 9, 2020
Michael Irvin’s suit. On the Thursday night post-game show on NFL Network, Irvin, making a gutsy fashion call, went with the shiny black shirt, shiny black tie, light charcoal blazer with black and pink striping. I’m no Joseph Abboud. In fact, as I write this, I’m wearing a Wake Forest T-shirt and a black gym shorts. But charcoal and black and pink on black and black . . . Love you Mike, but that doesn’t work in American society.
Jimmy Garoppolo, quarterback, San Francisco. With a quarterback line like a classic Ryan Leaf line—7 of 17 passing for 77 yards, no TDs, two interceptions, 15.7 rating—Garoppolo, the jillionaire passer, got yanked at halftime for C.J. Beathard (1-9 as a starter) in a humiliating 43-17 San Francisco loss. The 49ers may very well not be who we thought they were, and Garoppolo is proving definitively that the football world was right to have significant questions about his ability during a shaky playoff run last season.
Steven Hauschka, kicker, Jacksonville. With the Jags trailing the winless Texans by three late in the second quarter, Hauschka stepped in for a 24-yard chip shot to tie the game. Pulled it left, inexplicably. On the last play of the half, Hauschka lined up for a 49-yarder. Short. With the chance—twice—to tie the game going into halftime, Hauschka missed a pair of eminently makeable kicks.
“It sucks. It sucks to lose Dak, our leader.”
—Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott, after seeing quarterback Dak Prescott go down with a fractured ankle Sunday.
“I’ve taken a lot of sad walks up that ramp. But not today. I’m going to enjoy this one.”
—Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr, after winning his first game at Arrowhead Stadium in seven tries on Sunday.
“We consider ourself sort of the FEMA NFL crew. We kind of airlift in when there’s an emergency to deal with.”
—ESPN’s Chris Fowler, in a video he shot from his Foxboro hotel room Sunday morning.
This seems crazy: In 14 of their 16 regular-season games this year, the Ravens have played—or are scheduled to face—a quarterback picked in the first half of the first round of an NFL draft. I’d love to know if that’s ever happened before. Charting the passing foes for the Ravens, past and scheduled, in 2020:
West Coast teams have been trying to solve the problem of winning early games on the East Coast for years. Bill Walsh used to fly on Fridays for such games with the 49ers (to be fair, even if it was a late-afternoon game, the Niners would fly East on Fridays), and owner Eddie DeBartolo stocked the plane with a couple of top chefs and a 4-star menu. Anything to give the team an edge.
The Rams haven’t made a big deal of the early games. Since Sean McVay took over as Rams coach in 2017, Los Angeles has played eight of the dreaded 10 a.m. bodyclock games on the East Coast, including Sunday’s game in Washington. The Rams are 7-1 under McVay in the early Eastern games . . . the only loss coming in the controversial 35-32 Week 3 defeat to Buffalo in September. Average margin of victory in the seven wins: 19.0 points.
If the American League Championship Series, Houston versus Tampa Bay, goes the distance, the Rays will have played 12 games at Petco Park in San Diego in 13 days.
If the NLCS and the World Series both go the distance, and the Dodgers win the National League pennant, the Dodgers would play 17 games at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, over 22 days.
When I found out the league was going to make it quite hard for teams playing three time zones away in back-to-back weeks to stay on the road between games (teams doing so would have to create a secure one-week bubble in a strange hotel), I looked at the schedule to see who might be hurt by it. I focused on one team: the Rams. In 23 early-season days, they’d be making three round-trips from Los Angeles International Airport to eastern cities—Philadelphia in Week 2, Buffalo in Week 3 and Washington in Week 5. (Add to that trips to Miami in Week 8 and Tampa in Week 11, and you’ve got five Eastern Time trips in a little over two months.) I thought the Rams had a hidden trapdoor in their schedule.
A couple of interesting things regarding the Rams’ travel:
• They fly on a state-of-the-art widebody jet, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, operated by American Airlines. These jumbo planes, scheduled for long-haul international flights mostly, suddenly became available because of the severe downturn in people flying worldwide due to COVID. American has 44 Dreamliners. So the Rams procured one of the 787-9 models for their trips this year, with 285 seats. Players, by seniority, sit in the 30 flatbed first-class and 21 premium-economy seats. The 23 coaches scatter in the 36 main-cabin extra seats. The few remaining players (mostly the 16 on the practice squad) and 47 staff members on the trip scatter, socially distant, in the 198 coach seats. The flights are fast on the speedy plane; Saturday’s to Dulles Airport in Virginia was 4 hours exactly. With fewer people per team approved for travel this year because of COVID restrictions (the Rams have cut about 65 people, down to about 135 to 139 per trip), there’s more room on the spacious plane, and more space between passengers. So much goes into COVID protection, but it doesn’t hurt that people are able to space out on a comfy plane for four hours.
• They don’t go in a day early, as many teams do flying over three time zones. The Rams’ director of sports science, Tyler Williams, told coach Sean McVay it’s better for players to sleep in their own beds on Friday night and have as regular a night of sleep as possible than it is to go to a strange hotel and try to get two normal nights of sleep. On the other end, after flying home, the Rams land by about 8:30 p.m. PT Sunday, so they can be in their own beds by 10 p.m. or so, allowing them to get back in their sleep habit Sunday night.
• One benefit about getting the Philly, Buffalo and Washington roadies out of the way by Oct. 11: Other than a possible cold or rainy or cold/rainy game in Seattle Dec. 27, the Rams won’t have a cold-weather game in 2020.
When I was a kid nothing was bigger than Monday Night Football. Now it's a dumping ground for Covid games. https://t.co/t8QU2v3814
— Sam Mellinger (@mellinger) October 11, 2020
Sam Mellinger writes for the Kansas City Star.
This would be the third Monday night game in six weeks for the Chiefs.
Alex Smith you’re a beast!
— Eric Hosmer (@TheRealHos305) October 11, 2020
Eric Hosmer, the former Royal, on the brave return to play of another former Kansas Citian, Alex Smith, on Sunday.
"Ben & I have not always had a good relationship. I felt so good when this interview was over, b/c I can go to Pittsburgh and I can hug Ben. The thing is–our relationship is important, not only for the two of us, but for the Steelers family."- Terry Bradshaw on @NFLonFOX Kickoff
— Peter Schrager (@PSchrags) October 11, 2020
Peter Schrager of FOX and Good Morning Football, on the enlightening Bradshaw-Ben Roethlisberger interview that aired Sunday.
If Eric Bieniemy isn’t the coach of the Texans next year I’m starting a riot out front of NRG Stadium.
— Torrey Smith (@TorreySmithWR) October 6, 2020
Smith is a former NFL wide receiver.
There were 1,216 players taken in the 2016 draft, but not Mike Brosseau. Amazing. https://t.co/iRruS4oXPt
— Tyler Kepner (@TylerKepner) October 10, 2020
Kepner covers baseball for the New York Times. Brosseau hit the ALDS-winning home run off the most famous closer in the game, Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees, Friday night.
I GOT A LOT OF SIMILAR EMAILS. From Carl Amoscato: “I’m sure NFL players and their families wouldn’t enjoy spending Thanksgiving and Christmas apart. I didn’t like spending every Thanksgiving and Christmas in an ICBM launch-control center for four years, but that’s what it took for me and hundreds of other airmen to get the job done. There are thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, fire fighters, police officers, doctors, nurses, and emergency medical technicians who work on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Many of them spend time stationed far from home, at sea, in mandatory bubbles, because that’s what it’s going to take to get their jobs done, and for all of us to get through COVID-19. There’s no need for football on Sunday like there is for doctors in emergency rooms or sailors at sea. My hunch is most NFL players and coaches recognize this, and would accept having to live in a bubble in order to keep their league going.”
Thanks for writing, Carl, and thanks for your service. It may turn out that in order to play a full season, NFL teams will need to enter a bubble. Most players, but certainly not all, would accept that in order to make their salaries. There is one major difference between a military job and a football job. You signed up for your service knowing that there was a good chance you’d be away from your loved ones for months at a time. No football player signed up for his job thinking he’d be away from loved ones for months at a time.
I AM DEAD WRONG ABOUT THE TEXANS. From J.K., of Katy, Texas: “Big Texans fan. You wrote in your column that Jack Easterby was ‘smart and authoritative’ and implied he could run the search for a new coach. We don’t want that. What has Easterby ever done in football to deserve to run a coaching search? God help us if he’s our GM.”
Yes, I said Easterby is smart and authoritative, because he is. Does he deserve to be an NFL GM? Probably not, and by the way, I’m not even sure Easterby wants to be a GM. In any case, my gut feeling is owner Cal McNair will hire both a coach and non-Easterby GM. Does Easterby deserve to run the coaching search? I am dubious about that, except that I believe he’s quite smart, learned a lot from working under Bill Belichick, and knows the qualities a coach needs to succeed. Easterby’s problem, as I see it, is that he’s basically been a shadow exec under Bill O’Brien in Houston for a couple of years. All the fans see is someone who’s been at the right hand of O’Brien as the GM/coach made two trades, Laremy Tunsil and DeAndre Hopkins, they hate. I think the organization needs to expose Easterby to the public more so the fans can make a decision for themselves whether they think he’ll help Houston build a winner.
I SHOULD LAY OFF Sam Darnold. From CF Sports: “That was an unwarranted hit on Sam Darnold, indicating the Jets should draft Trevor Lawrence. The Jets are a bad team. Last time I checked Darnold is a QB and does not play defense. The Jets Defense has been laughable this year, one of if not the worst in the league. To write off Darnold right now is ridiculous.”
Perhaps. Question is: If you’ve got the first pick in the draft, do you pass on Lawrence even though Darnold’s been so-so in three years? (That, of course, could change based on how he plays the rest of this year.) Of the 35 quarterbacks who have thrown at least 500 passes since opening day 2018, Darnold is 34th in passer rating, ahead of only Josh Rosen. And you’re right: A good team that would acquires Darnold as a long-range quarterback (Jacksonville? Indy? Minnesota? Pittsburgh?) would be getting a steal if the Jets decide to take a quarterback next April.
I AM NOT RESPECTFUL TO THE PRESIDENT. From David Gaspar: “The President of the U.S. gets the coronavirus and you give it a very short mention in the last item of ‘Ten Things I Think I Think’ along with a crack about telling the truth? Despicable, Peter King. You shouldn’t talk about dialing down the hate when you very obviously possess so much of it in your heart. It’s the kind of partisanship you express in nearly every column that has the country where it is today.”
Sure glad to see we’re lowering the volume on all the hate.
1. I think the race for comeback player of the year is over. Congrats, Alex Smith, on coming back from the most wicked injury I’ve seen in my 37 seasons covering the NFL.
2. I think whatever Matt Rhule is drinking, I’ll have a double. Losing Christian McCaffrey and going 3-0 since? Amazing, with a total rebuilding job.
3. I think I fear for Joe Burrow. The last franchise quarterback to get hit this much this early, at least in my memory, was David Carr, who got pounded into submission in Houston and never was the player the Texans thought he’d be. No team has more work to do on a single area of the team than Cincinnati on the offensive line. (That is, unless you include everything on the Jets.)
4. I think I’m not a fan of the pigpile on Washington coach Ron Rivera for starting Kyle Allen on Sunday against the Rams and moving Dwayne Haskins to number three on the QB depth chart. With Washington a half-game out of first place after four weeks in a horrid division, life changed with this team, and the quarterback plan changed. No longer was this year as much about the development of Haskins as it was about winning games. With an advantageous stretch of six games—Rams on their third East Coast trip in four weeks, at the Giants, Dallas at home, Giants at home, at Detroit, Cincinnati at home—Rivera and his team had to be thinking, “Why not us? Why can’t we win this craptastic division?” Allen’s upside is not as high as Haskins’, but he’s a guy who played in this offense all last season in Carolina, and Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner know Allen knows it better than Haskins. Rivera is right to do what gives the team the best chance to win now. It’s likely Haskins will get more chances later this season, but that can’t be the big concern right now.
5. I think for all who love football, for all who love very good people, please send a prayer or great thoughts in the direction of Pittsburgh today. Former Steeler guard Tunch Ilkin, one heck of a radio analyst on their broadcast team, has been diagnosed with ALS. Such a good man, who gave so much to so many. I can’t tell you how many times—20 at least—Tunch took my phone call or stood with me for an hour at training camp, briefing me with total honestly on the all things good and bad with his team. Fight the good fight, Tunch Ilkin.
6. I think this, from a pro-union and league man, Jason McCourty of the Patriots, struck me about playing a football game while his team was in the COVID incubation period last week:
“The people that don’t have to walk in our building—whether it is the league office, whether it is the NFLPA—they don’t care. We’re trying to get games played and we’re trying to get the season going. For them, it’s not about our best interest, or our health and safety. It is about what we can make protocol-wise that sounds good, looks good and how can we go out there and play games.”
As we know now, Stephon Gilmore tested positive while the Patriots were still in range five days after being exposed to the positive-testing Cam Newton. (And there is no lock that Gilmore’s exposure to Newton made him COVID-positive; Gilmore could have caught it elsewhere.) The NFL and NFLPA should learn one lesson from the Gilmore story: Respect the incubation period. As infectious-disease specialist Dr. Celine Gounder said in this column last week, the average person tests positive four or five days after exposure to COVID-19. Newton was exposed to his teammates on a Wednesday and Thursday, tested positive on a Friday, and Gilmore tested positive on the fifth day after Newton practiced with the team and was around his mates as normal. And now, presumably, the league should understand that the incubation period, particularly with contact-tracing showing which players have been in close contact with a COVID-positive person for longer than 15 minutes in a day, must be respected.
7. I think, NFL Network, it’s a bit of an overreaction to suspend Ian Rapoport for two weeks for tweeting out an ad for a male groin grooming device. (What, you didn’t know there was such a thing as a male groin grooming device?)
8. I think out of an abundance of repetition, I bring you 15 examples of the most-used phrase in life over recent weeks:
• Citing “an abundance of caution,” the Jets sent their players and coaches home Friday after a player had a contested positive test of COVID-19.
• From WNDU-TV in South Bend, Ind., last week: “There will be no undefeated battle at Rice Field between Elkhart and Marian on Friday night. Marian announces this move was made out of an abundance of caution.”
• After the cancellation of the Charlotte-Georgia State football game, GSU athletic director Charlie Cobb said: “Out of an abundance of caution for the rest of our team and Charlotte, we could not in good conscience put our team on the bus and play a game.”
• Washington called off workouts of prospective free agents last week, coach Ron Rivera said, “out of an abundance of caution.”
• Because of 11 cases of COVID-19 among the University of Wyoming freshman football players, all 31 frosh will be kept apart from the other players and, “out of an abundance of caution,” the team did not practice over the weekend until learning of complete testing results on the team, a clear sign that “out of an abundance of caution” has made it to Laramie, Wyo.
• The White House said President Trump was taken to Walter Reed Medical Center “out of an abundance of caution.”
• Spokesman Eric Hawkins of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints said last week that Elder Gerrit Gong and Sister Gong tested positive for COVID-19. “Out of an abundance of caution,” he said, all church leaders were tested and came back negative.
• After two Allen (Texas) High players tested positive for COVID, the team’s game Saturday against Cedar Hill was canceled, district officials said, “out of an abundance of caution.”
• Tom Curran of NBC Sports Boston said the Patriots-Chiefs game last week should have been postponed. He wrote “the words ‘abundance of caution,’ ” should be more than window-dressing.
• Larry Brown Sports reported that the Patriots had a positive test leading to the delay of the Pats-Denver game this weekend, “which is why the abundance of caution is being taken here.”
• Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post said Pats-Denver should have been postponed longer than just one day. “New England has shut down practice and the team facility for a second consecutive day, out of an abundance of caution,” Kiszla wrote.
• Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk reported Friday the Patriots would continue to work remotely “out of an abundance of caution.”
• Holler Brewing Company of Houston is brewing a New England style IPA, golden to the eyes, with a light head and a whiff of citrus. Want to guess what it’s called? “Abundance of Caution.”
• Twisted Pine Brewing in Boulder, Colo., announced it would be closing “in an abundance of caution.”
• USA Today reported the shutdown of the Patriots facility Sunday morning after holding practice and meetings outdoors Saturday “out of an abundance of caution.”
9. I think out of an abundance of words this week, I need to start moving toward the exit with this column.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. RIP Eddie Van Halen. Van Halen was the soundtrack to so many lives. My five top Van Halen songs: 1. Dance the Night Away, 2. Jump, 3. Dancing in the Street, 4. You Really Got Me, 5. Panama. I can pretty much guarantee the top five Van Halen songs, and the order of them, would be different for every person alive because of the enormity of the Van Halen catalog.
b. Three thoughts on Eddie Van Halen: I never knew he was born in Amsterdam . . . Thought he and Valerie Bertinelli, his bride years ago, could pass for fraternal twins . . . Great line by Van Halen to Rolling Stone in 1995: “I never learned how to read music. I fooled my teacher for six years. He never knew. I’d watch his fingers, and I’d play it.” Nice career for someone who made it up as he went along!
c. How great an accomplishment for Jennifer Doudna, the Cal biochemist who won the 2020 Nobel Prize in chemistry for her work in gene editing. Not just for her contributions to science, but for being an inspiration to all young girls and women who aspire to rise in male-dominated fields. She told a Cal-Berkeley website: “Among women and girls, sometimes there’s a sense that no matter what they do, their work will not be recognized the way it would be if they were a man. I hope that this prize and this recognition changes that, at least a little bit.”
d. RIP Jim Dwyer, the superb chronicler of life in New York for Newsday, the Daily News and the New York Times (most recently), at age 63 last week. In the great tradition of Breslin and Hamill, Dwyer found so many crushing stories about 9/11. Before that, he wrote about the area, including a powerful column about drug convictions on Long Island that helped him win a 1995 Pulitzer: “A Mad Affair of Drugs, Jails.” Wrote Dwyer:
More people are in jails now than at any time in the history of the country. So much of it is a colossal waste of money and lives. Among those occupying a cell at huge expense is Nicole Richardson, age 21.
One day, back when she was 18 and a senior in high school, she took a call from a drug agent, who was looking for her boyfriend, Jeff. The boyfriend dealt LSD. He had sold nine grams of LSD to the drug agents, and now the agents wanted to pay him. Nicole Richardson had nothing to do with drug dealing, other than dating a dealer. She told the man on the phone that Jeff wasn’t home and gave out another phone number. Of course, Jeff and Nicole both were arrested. Jeff bargained his way to five years because he knew many drug dealers and could tell the police about them. But Nicole only knew one drug dealer—her boyfriend, Jeff. The judge had to give her the minimum sentence that the Congress of the United States had enacted for selling nine grams of LSD, about a quarter-ounce.
Ten years in federal prison with no possibility of parole. Nicole Richardson is now incarcerated in West Virginia for answering a phone for her boyfriend Jeff when she was 18. This is criminally insane.
e. I always loved the first line of Dwyer’s column after George Steinbrenner died: “Maybe the rule against speaking ill of the dead does not apply to rich lunatic uncles.”
f. RIP Whitey Ford, one of the greatest there ever was. First win (h/t Tyler Kepner): Ford beat the Philadelphia A’s and 87-year-old manager Connie Mack in 1950. Last win: out-dueled Tommy John and the White Sox in 1967. Imagine being this good—Ford threw 32 innings in the 1961 and ’62 World Series, against Cincinnati and San Francisco. Allowed zero runs.
g. Man, so many great athletes are dying.
h. RIP Johnny Nash, singer of “I Can See Clearly Now” and one of the key figures in bringing Bob Marley to fame.
i. I can’t stop that song running through my head, and that’s just fine with me. It was number one on the Nov. 3, 1972 Billboard Top 100 chart. The highlights from that chart:
1. I Can See Clearly Now (Johnny Nash).
4. Freddie’s Dead (Curtis Mayfield).
5. Burning Love (Elvis Presley).
11. Listen to the Music (Doobie Brothers).
12. I Am Woman (Helen Reddy).
15. Witchy Woman (Eagles).
21. Summer Breeze (Seals and Crofts).
38. Midnight Rider (Joe Cocker).
77. In Heaven There is No Beer (Clean Living).
j. News Story of the Week: Aida Chavez of The Intercept on the rising danger of QAnon, “How QAnon Conspiracy Theories Spread in My Colorado Hometown.”
k. Frightening doesn’t begin to tell the story of people who are convinced stories with no proof are true. So many people, it seems, let QAnon run their lives.
l. The other day, I was talking by videoconference to a class of Virginia high school journalism/communications students. One of the students asked me if I had any advice about dealing with the fear of becoming a journalist—fear of being threatened and physically harmed for telling the truth in society today. That’s where we are. Last Wednesday in Brooklyn, at a nighttime rally opposing the governor’s re-institution of strong anti-COVID restrictions, neighborhood citizens surrounded and attacked a journalist, there to report on the protest.
m. The answer is, you’ve got to be safe and you’ve got to take care of yourself. But you can’t let those who don’t want the truth illuminated to win. The truth has to win.
n. Baseball thoughts:
• One of the most dramatic sports moments of 2020 happened Friday night in an empty stadium in San Diego. I’m afraid that because baseball’s popularity is swooning and the Lakers-Heat game was incredible that the TV audience was small. Tampa Bay bench player Mike Brosseau, who in his last regular-season at-bat against Aroldis Chapman in September had a 101-mph fastball thrown two inches above his head, came to bat against Chapman in a 1-1 games in the bottom of the eighth. Chapman got ahead of him 0-2. Brousseau took a pitch one inch outside, then a fastball high, then fouled off an inside pitch, then fouled off a fastball, then took a 101-mph fastball two inches inside for ball three, then fouled off an offspeed pitch to left, then fouled off a fastball back to the screen.
Tenth pitch, 3-2 count, absolutely grooved, 100-mph fastball thigh-high, and it landed in the second row in left field. Revenge was sweet for Brousseau. I was amazed Aaron Boone, crestfallen, could recognize and acknowledge the moment afterward.
“That’s the beauty sometimes of sport,” Boone said. “He [Brousseau] got him—on a great at-bat.”
• I want George Springer if I’m any team with a few free-agent dollars to spend and a franchise-outfielder need.
• How laughable, this thought that Masahiro Tanaka is a great big-game pitcher. Last three playoff games: 0-2, 9.69 ERA, 1.77 WHIP.
• I love how the Rays are built. Just shows you can spend near the bottom of the pack and though it’s obviously really hard, still win. You’ve just got to be smart. Six players on the roster make $3 million or more; Randy Arozarena, the big star of the playoffs for them, made $90,335 this year. Much, much respect to them.
• Love the brown Pads uniforms.
• Gut feeling: Against a good team like Atlanta, the Dodger closer situation will really hurt.
• Pennant picks: Braves over Dodgers in seven. Rays over Astros in six.
• Why do the Rays pitchers have personal rosin bags?
• And this one, which is stunning: Gerrit Cole’s start against Tampa in Game 5 of the ALDS was the 217th start of his major-league career. It was also his first ever on three days rest. He was terrific.
o. Baseball Story of the Week: Eno Sarris of The Athletic on the brilliance of the Rays.
p. So many teachable things about the franchise, writes Sarris, including this about how Tampa Bay looks for what a player can do well, not what he can’t:
“The Element” by Ken Robinson tells the story of Mick Fleetwood’s upbringing and the welcoming, loving household he was born into that looked past some of his learning disabilities. “In the Fleetwood household, everyone understood that brilliance came in many forms and that being poor at math, or unable to recite the alphabet backward, hardly doomed one to an inconsequential life,” wrote Robinson of the eventual rock star’s family.
The Rays might have something in common with Fleetwood Mac.
“What makes us good is the mentality, how easy it is to come here to play,” said pitcher Tyler Glasnow of what distinguishes the Rays. “So many of the players here . . . are guys that have been given a chance, and everyone just comes out and plays their heart out. They can do what they do with lineups and stuff because everyone is just so on board with winning.”
q. My buddy Ed Bouchette, after the VP debate: “Next time, give the moderator a taser.”
r. I’d take a mute button, to be used freely by the moderator.
s. Congrats, Robert Klemko, on being named national criminal justice reporter by the Washington Post. So proud of you.
t. Beernerdness: The first Guest Beer Nerd in my Sober October series is David Voss of Sheboygan, Wis. He brings to the table his fall favorite: The Wolf imperial stout (3 Sheeps Brewing, Sheboygan, Wis.), which he drank at the Fork & Dagger Ale Haus—man, how great is Wisconsin? The Voss review: “The Wolf is an outstanding limited release bourbon barrel-aged imperial stout that is very smooth with notes of caramel and chocolate. At approximately 13% ABV it is the very definition of a wolf in sheep’s clothing and you need to tread carefully with it if you haven’t eaten.” Have a beer you’d like to see in Beernerdness? Send an email to email@example.com with your name, where you live, the beer, the brewing company, where you had it, and a description of less than 75 words.
u. Prep Football Story of the Week: Ryan Deal of the Mitchell (S.D.) Daily Republic, on a touchdown no one from Platte-Geddes High School (enrollment: 120) in southeastern South Dakota will ever forget.
v. All the feels right there. Brady Sprik of the Platte-Geddes High Black Panthers on the scoreboard with a two-yard touchdown.
w. My polling place has changed from a school in my Brooklyn neighborhood to Barclays Center. I’ll be voting early, and there will be nine days available to do so. I’m prepared to stand in line for as long as it takes to cast the ballot. Hours. Days. Wait time does not matter to me this election year, at all.
x. Still coming to terms with “In Heaven There is No Beer” once being on the Billboard Top 100 Chart.
Craziest roller coaster
in league history.