You can learn so much about a team, and about its quarterback, when the fire alarms are blaring.
Those fire alarms, in this case, sounded in Nashville as the clock ticked down on the Titans’ perfect season . . . :14, :13, :12 . . . with the Titans Offense down seven and jogging to the line at the Houston 7-yard line after a short completion in the middle of the field. No panic. No timeouts left either.
“Gotta clock it!” Rich Gannon said stridently from the CBS booth. Gannon knows something about quarterbacking, having won the NFL MVP 18 years ago. “Gotta clock it!”
:11, :10 . . .
Conventional wisdom, here on second-and-one, said the quarterback-spike (“clocking it”) by Ryan Tannehill was the play. That’d give the Titans the ball on third down with five or four seconds left. Maybe two plays from there. Maybe one. But the offensive coordinator, Arthur Smith, knew what he wanted to do as Tannehill—listening for the play-call in his helmet from Smith as he jogged to the line—looked pretty calm getting to the line.
:09 . . .
Tannehill got in the shotgun. Quarterbacks do not clock it from the shotgun. Tennessee was going to run a play. “Arthur was talking to me in my helmet,” Tannehill said from the Tennessee locker room afterward, “and we wanted to take a shot right there in the end zone.” Immediately I thought of something crazy. Seattle-New England Super Bowl, Seattle ball at the Patriots 1-yard line, 62 seconds to play, Pats up by four with two timeouts left. America yelled at Bill Belichick: Call a timeout! That way, if Seattle scored here, New England would have maybe 53 seconds to drive for a field goal and OT. Belichick let the clock run. And run. And run. Maybe the Seahawks felt the pressure. Maybe not. But Russell Wilson got picked at the goal line, and the rest is Super Bowl history.
This was Arthur Smith putting the pressure on the Houston defense, prepping for its ninth play of this drive in less than two minutes, the 64th defensive snap of the game, after jogging back to get into position. Smith knew his quarterback wouldn’t spit the bit here.
:08 . . .
Tannehill called out the verbal signal for the play, with a 2-by-2 formation (two receivers left, two right); Houston played two safeties a yard deep in the end zone, and the Titans’ best target, A.J. Brown, was singled wide left on Houston corner Bradley Roby.
:07 . . .
There is an NFL story we’re all ignoring, maybe because of the pandemic and the willy-nilly weekly COVID headlines, maybe because once we form an opinion about a quarterback, we don’t like to change it. It is time to change the narrative about Ryan Tannehill. He is not an injury-prone quarterback of middling ability who you keep around while you search for the franchise guy. Tannehill’s a top 10 quarterback in the NFL, period. After his 15th start in Tennessee on Sunday against Houston, he’s 12-3 as the Titans starter and has proven he’s not just a chains-moving, play-action-crutch game manager. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in football, an excellent downfield thrower, a strong leader, a player who hangs in against the strongest rushes and still makes plays.
Comparing Tannehill to all quarterbacks since opening day 2019 (minimum 10 starts) proves his efficiency and his downfield production.
Who knew? Tannehill, since taking over as Titans quarterback one year ago this week, is the missing piece for a team that can grind it out and be explosive in the passing game too. There are many amazing things to his story, but this one might pop the most: To acquire Tannehill, the price was the 135th pick in the 2020 draft, a fourth-round pick. Such is the craziness of quarterback-mining in the NFL. Tennessee spent the second pick in 2015 to pick what the franchise thought was its franchise quarterback, Marcus Mariota. But a year ago tomorrow, coach Mike Vrabel benched Mariota and started a guy the Titans paid peanuts for. That changed the course of current Titans history and gave the best teams of the AFC an unexpected major rival.
Sunday was a perfect example of why Tennessee is so dangerous. On the surface, we think of Tennessee as a classic power-running team with the best big back in football, Derrick Henry. He had one of the best games of his life Sunday, with 264 yards from scrimmage—a personal best—and two incredible plays, a 94-yard touchdown run and 53-yard reception. Well, there was a third, which we’ll get to. Vrabel made the call that changed his franchise, Mariota to Tannehill. Arthur Smith is the daring choreographer who never met a calculated risk he didn’t like, the kind of ethos that will have him high on the list of head-coaching candidates come January. Henry is the 2019 rushing champ who might be on the way to two straight. And that’s all supplemented by the egoless Tannehill, who only cares about the stats I just mentioned because they mean the offense is really good, not that he is really good.
Back to this running clock.
Tannehill took the shotgun snap. The first option was Brown, to the far left, and Tannehill saw right away that the nearest safety would not be able to come over to help in time.
:06 . . .
He launched a rainbow toward the left boundary, five yards deep in the end zone. Tannehill loved his chances. Brown is 6-1, but plays like he’s 6-3, and he had 30 pounds on the 5-11 Roby. The Titans love Brown in the red zone because the 50-50 balls are usually 65-35, Brown.
:05 . . .
Reaching over Roby, Brown high-point snagged the perfectly thrown pass with Roby draped on him, and fell out of bounds, his right big toe looking like it barely scratched the grass before his torso landed on the sideline.
:04 . . .
Touchdown. It survived replay, a very close call.
AJ BROWN CRAZY TD WITH 4 SECONDS LEFT 🤯
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 18, 2020
Good thing about it? If the Titans needed another play, they’d have had four seconds to run it.
(I do not get why the Texans didn’t call time once they saw Tannehill in the shotgun, with the two-by-two set. That’s like a Kodak play: The Titans were giving Houston a snapshot of their plans. The defense, on its heels, could surely have benefited from a breather there. Two Houston timeouts died on the vine, and you’ll never convince me the Texans’ defense wouldn’t have benefited from using one right there.)
Overtime. Tennessee won the toss. Ballgame.
On the second snap of OT, Tannehill flipped a throw to the right for Henry, who galloped for 53 yards. In the definition of Man Among Boys in any dictionary you’ll find, there’s a picture of the unassuming, unemotional Henry with that unique cone-shaped ponytail. He’s just bigger and better than everyone else.
Sixth play of OT. Third-and-goal from the Houston 5-yard line. Huddle breaks. Tannehill jogs left, wide left. The quarterback: Derrick Henry.
“That’s Arthur, man,” Tannehill said, with a nod to his coordinator. “I didn’t know when he’d call it, but we had it ready, and he picked the right time to call it.”
Suddenly, Tannehill waves his right hand. You think, He’s signaling Henry, “I’m open over here!”
No. “I wanted to get one of their [defensive] guys out there on me,” Tannehill said. To take a body that could help stuff Henry out of the middle of the field. Tannehill was trying to get the attention of the Texans, like, Hey, I’m open! Cover me! And safety Justin Reid came over. “If nobody walked out on me?” Tannehill said. “Maybe Derrick rips me a pass and we win that way. How incredible would that have been?”
That is a smart football play right there.
Henry took the Wildcat snap—that’s exactly what this play was, a Wildcat run—and did a classic Le’Veon Bell thing. He waited for the play to develop, got a great block from backup left tackle Ty Sambrailo to seal the Houston end, Carlos Watkins, and powered in just outside the left end. Reid hustled to try to stop Henry, but he was too late.
DERRICK HENRY GAME-WINNING TD IN OT 😤
This man is special.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 18, 2020
Henry capped his incredible game with that overtime game-winner. Great for him. But with really good teams, it’s the little things that mean a lot. In this case, the backup left tackle Sambrailo’s seal block, and Ryan Tannehill’s look-at-me wave that delayed the safety getting into the pig-pile.
Last point: I watched some tape of Tannehill over the weekend. I remember being in Titans camp in August, talking to people about Tannehill, and I was told the difference in the Titans started the week he took the job, a year ago this weekend. His communication, his quiet leadership, his ability to take over the team while not trampling on the demoted Marcus Mariota. Before he started his first game against the Chargers, Tannehill saw the game plan, and he saw one of the first passes. It happened to be a throw to tight end Jonnu Smith, starting from tight left of the formation, running diagonally upfield toward the right pylon.
Tannehill anticipated Cover-3. That’s what the Chargers played. Tannehill anticipated linebacker Thomas Davis Sr. covering Smith. That happened too. Tannehill anticipated Davis cutting off Smith’s upfield shoulder so Tannehill wouldn’t be able to lead him. That happened too. Before the game, knowing that pass was coming, Tannehill told Smith to expect a back-shoulder throw, behind him. On the first snap of his first Titans start, Tannehill got the call of that play from offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. With an old-style power formation (a fullback and large tailback Derrick Henry), Tannehill took the snap, dropped, and throw a soft liner up the right seam, 26 yards in the air, right where he said it’d be, behind Smith, right in his hands. Gain of 24.
The trust, then, started on the first play of his first start. Fifteen starts and 12 wins later, Tannehill is the trusted quarterback Vrabel sought when he pulled the bonus baby one year ago. He’s more than trusted. Tannehill’s a star.
“It’s a wild story,” Tannehill told me Sunday. “It’s been a fun ride. A ton of fun, really. What’s great for us is we’re not only having fun on Sundays. We’re having fun every day. This is a team where the players really like each other, and that shows up on Sunday.”
Oh. Almost forgot. The Rescheduling Gods are giving us a great one Sunday: Pittsburgh (5-0) at Tennessee (5-0). High noon. Downtown Nashville. You’ve got to put an asterisk on every game this year because of the COVID threat, but Tannehill-Roethlisberger, suddenly, is Week 7’s heavyweight attraction.
People in the football world I noticed in the past few days:
Jamel Dean, cornerback, Tampa Bay
If you’d told me that one quarter into the game of the day (Brady-Rodgers/Bucs-Pack in Tampa), the score would end up 38-10, I’d have said, “Sure. I can see it. The Packers are going to kill ‘em.” Green Bay’s first two drives went field goal-touchdown, and the Bucs started punt-punt-Brady-pissed-face.
Then Jamel Dean, a second-year corner from Auburn, who grew up on the east coast of Florida loving college football and not the pros, changed the game, and maybe the balance of power in the NFC. Aaron Rodgers hadn’t thrown an interception all season, and in the next two minutes of gametime here, he’d throw two. Dean told me in meetings last week, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles “basically told us that he’s the best quarterback that he’s seen. Everything revolves around him. He is the guy. When I heard that, I’m like, I gotta prepare like I never prepared before.”
So this is what Dean saw on tape: When Davante Adams went in motion to the wide left of the formation, Rodgers would throw him a sideline route. “The minute he motioned over,” Dean said, “I automatically knew the route was coming. I did a whole lot of film study this week, and I just kept seeing that same thing over and over. You play Aaron Rodgers, and you know you can’t half-step a guy like him.”
The play developed, Dean lurked.
“What are you thinking when you see Rodgers throw?” I asked.
”I’m gonna jump it,” Dean said.
“Did you think you’d pick it off?” I said.
“Oh, I knew I was gonna get it,” he said.
“Then what’d you think?”
Jamel Dean pick-six on Rodgers 😱
It’s Aaron’s first INT of the season
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 18, 2020
Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said the play “changed the whole momentum in the whole stadium.” Linebacker Devin White said Dean “set the tempo for the whole defense.” What it did, I thought, was slow down Green Bay—if the Packers scored there, it was pretty much game over. But the thing got turned around and Tampa Bay went on a 38-0 run. Football is weird sometimes.
But all along, since March, this season has been about getting aboard the Brady-Gronk train. This is the first time in a while I’ve seen Rodgers so befuddled. Rodgers’ last nine drives before being mercifully yanked midway through the fourth quarter: interception, interception, punt, punt, end of half, punt, punt, punt, punt. Yikes. In Rodgers’ 197 career starts, this was one of his three worst: 35.4 rating, 46 percent completions. There was a bit of the bad old days too, with former Lion rival Ndamukong Suh frustrating him to the point where Rodgers yapped at him angrily.
For once, the Tampa defense was the headline act. That was fine with Dean. “We beat the odds,” Dean said. “All anyone’s been doing is talking about the offense. We’re just in the shadows. Today, we basically brought light to the defense.”
Aditi Kinkhabwala, reporter, NFL Media
Kinkhabwala covers the league from her home in Pittsburgh, and, like so many working moms in the country, balances raising 5-year-old son Nico (while being his virtual kindergarten teacher) and 1-year-old daughter Kaya with her husband. The other day, Kaya interrupted a group videoconference interview with Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski with some yelling (not the first time Kaya has been heard in a media session); only this time, a part of the interview went public and a Browns fan (@clevelandfanj) responded on Twitter with: “Congratulations on being the only media person without a babysitter during your work hours. Strange hill to die on.”
Kinkhabwala has ignored Twitter noise about a woman covering football, and some noise about being a mom and football writer/reporter. But this lit a fuse. “I was caught in a moment,” she told me Saturday, driving away from Heinz Field after previewing Browns-Steelers in Pittsburgh. “It’s so hard to find reliable child-care. And for so long I have been told, ‘Ignore the haters, ignore the trolls, take the high road.’ At some point in the last few months, I’ve felt more strongly about speaking up. I think about the brave women who spoke up [about Washington franchise abuses] in the Washington Post story, and I think about setting an example for my daughter. I responded because this should not be the cost of doing business.”
Her tweet read almost like a cry for support:
I am for sure drowning. And I have absolutely begged forgiveness and compassion from my supervisors, as I am the only on-air woman on my network w/ small children. But hey… I guess this is why the pandemic is short-circuiting mothers’ careers. Because of Jasons! https://t.co/F4bXLK3eTE
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) October 16, 2020
I am for sure drowning.
That really hit me. I know Kinkhabwala. She’s a true professional. Imagine what she must be feeling, as her personal and professional lives collide daily, to tweet something so intensely personal. Can we have just a little empathy? Please? What is so damn sacrosanct about an interview with a football coach that a crying child interrupts for 10 seconds and someone thinks it’s some egregious professional misstep? It’s an unusual time in America. Families in small spaces. Children interrupt. Remember last draft day, when I was allowed to spy on Tampa Bay GM Jason Licht as he navigated the first round of the draft, and a shrieking child screamed “Mommy!!!” as he tried to make a trade? That’s life, in 2020.
“We’re all doing our best,” Kinkhabwala said, with a tinge of pleading in her voice. “Mothers, fathers, stressed . . . We’re all in this together. We need to be kinder to each other.”
Dak Prescott, injured quarterback, Dallas
As pleasant a guy as Dak Prescott, and as much as he’s been showered with love and respect and kindness since his ankle was grotesquely broken eight days ago, I kept thinking reality has to be setting in. The Dallas Cowboys have played 72 games since day three of the 2016 draft, when Prescott was a fourth-round afterthought. Prescott has started all 72. He became the heartbeat of the Cowboys. Now, till next spring at least, he’s a spectator. I asked one of the most insightful ex-quarterbacks I’ve met, Dan Orlovsky, what Dak Prescott feels like right now:
“There’s two kind of players in the NFL really: guys that love football, and guys that love what football brings them. I think Dak Prescott’s a guy that just loves football. I’m the quarterback. That’s my huddle. That’s my football team. This is my stadium. Dallas Cowboys stadium is mine. It’s a very prideful, intimate, territorial role. Quarterbacks take immense pride in that stuff, man. They take immense pride when they know they walk into that huddle, those 10 other guys are all locked in on me. Now it’s the first time Dak doesn’t get to do that. He doesn’t get to be their guy. On Sundays, he doesn’t get to be the guy to break down the team and walk out to start that game. It’s this almost alpha male type of feeling a [starting] quarterback gets every day. Every day! All of a sudden it’s gone.
“The other thing is, and this is also the ugly part but it’s the truth: The NFL is the next-man-up, move-on type of mindset. Dak knows those guys are thinking now, ‘All right, Andy Dalton. Let’s go.’ They’re thinking Andy Dalton’s our quarterback now. I’m not saying they’re never gonna think of Dak Prescott, but that’s Andy Dalton’s team on Sunday afternoon. That’s not a fun feeling, man. That’s not a fun feeling to know that somebody else is taking care of your family.”
Matt Rhule, coach, Carolina
The Panthers hired Rhule in January. Then, Luke Kuechly retired (and four other defensive starters were jettisoned), Cam Newton was released, and Greg Olsen was traded. Season started. Christian McCaffrey has missed four games with a high ankle sprain. Defensive tackle Kawann Short is gone for the year (shoulder); left tackle Russell Okung missed two games with a groin injury.
Carolina, 0-2 with McCaffrey and 3-1 without him, was typically competitive Sunday in a seven-point loss to 5-1 Chicago.
In a recent conversation with Rhule, he left no question about why the Panthers’ season didn’t go down the drain with the early adversity. His message: If you’re on my team, you’re a starting player in the NFL. That’s how they’re coached.
“You want to have a team that the players know you trust them,” Rhule said. “I want our guys—I want [backup running backs] Mike Davis and Reggie Bonnafon, I want [backup tackle] Greg Little, I want [backup defensive tackle] Zach Kerr—I want them to know that, like, we trust them and we believe in them and they’re here for a reason. At the same time, there’s also a standard in our organization for how a starter plays. If you go in there to be a starter, we expect you to do your job and play really hard and play to our standard. The more you do that, the more I think it becomes contagious. I think a part of it is, we practice like a college team. Our twos [second-teamers], we expect our twos to get reps. When practice is over, the two offense stays out and runs through the script one more time. I expect our coaches to coach our twos and our threes.
“I believe in that because at the college level, you’re trying to develop freshman and sophomores. You want them to stay engaged. I look at this level and I say, ‘What’s the difference?’ There isn’t one, really. It’s football. If we can be a place that develops young players, if we can take undrafted free agents and rookie players and develop them, then when they’re called upon, they’ll be ready. I’m sure other teams do that. I’m not saying we’re revolutionary. But it’s what I know from being the son of a high school coach and a college coach. We’ve come here and done this. So our twos, when they’ve been called upon, have gone in and they’ve really done a nice job for us.”
In his first three games as the McCaffrey heir, Davis, a waiver pickup from the Bears last year, rushed 45 times for a 4.9-yard average. In the two games without Okung at left tackle, the Panthers allowed just two sacks and Teddy Bridgewater completed 73 percent of his throws. That doesn’t just happen. Matt Rhule can coach, and his players, up and down the roster, can play.
Peyton Manning, football impresario
Season deux of “Peyton’s Places,” the quirky and fun Peyton Manning/NFL Films history project that started last year (he wore Joe Namath’s famous fur coat, and recreated a publicity stunt of the old Giants by throwing a pass to Cris Carter from the top of a Manhattan skyscraper, among other shows), continues with 15 new episodes on ESPN+, running from late November to February. The pandemic scotched a few of the shows Manning would have liked to do, but he was able to safely travel enough to get some good new shows. “It’s a history project that became a passion project,” Manning told me. “There’s so many fascinating things about football history that people just don’t know.”
Such as these, from season two:
• There used to be cars on stadium fields; the Steelers had them at Three Rivers Stadium back in the glory days. Sponsors would pay to have their cars shown on the field. Manning interviews Lynn Swann with the same model car he won for being Super Bowl MVP—an AMC Pacer. If you’re not of a certain age, you don’t know what that is. But it’s not luxurious.
• Manning went to West Point with former president Bill Clinton to discuss the birth of the forward pass in 1913. “Teddy Roosevelt actually fought to legalize the forward pass,” Manning said. ”President Clinton talked about Roosevelt and his impact on football. He really studied the football aspect going into our meeting.”
• At Oakland Tech High in California, hometown hero Marshawn Lynch taught Manning how to drive the injury cart, which Lynch did at Cal late in a 2006 victory. That ride became known as “Ghost-riding the whip.” Lynch, reclusive except on commercials, also went deep with Manning on a few things—the geometry of running, why he dissed the press, the Beastquake run, how growing up in Oakland made him who he is.
• At Thomas Edison’s Lab in West Orange, N.J., Manning got to see the first football game film ever shot, the 1903 Princeton-Yale game. Edison invented the camera used to shoot the game. Ron Jaworski watched with Manning in the same room Edison watched that film 117 years ago, and Jaworski, a film nerd of the highest degree, talked about the history of film study.
• Manning played Madden with the first victim of the Madden Curse, running back Garrison Hearst.
“None of it’s possible without NFL Films,” Manning said. “They’ve got film of everything. They’ve got Teddy Roosevelt and footage of the early forward pass. Amazing. I love football. You love football. NFL Films really loves football.”
We spend a lot of time in our business figuring out when Manning will take a job running a franchise, or being some network’s jillion-dollar lead game analyst. But think of the life he has now: He gets to do a fun series like this, he gets to be at most every one of his kids’ events (school and sports) he wants to see at home in Colorado, he gets to live as normal a life as he wants, and he’s only 44. Plenty of time to do whatever he wants.
This was some bad news in a year of it, learning Sunday afternoon that Hartman, after 76 years a desk man, sportswriter and columnist at Minneapolis newspapers—mostly the Minneapolis Star Tribune—died peacefully at his Minnesota home Sunday. As if that career wasn’t enough, he hosted shows on WCCO radio in Minneapolis for 65 years.
I think it’s not right, though, to cry over Hartman’s death. He should be celebrated. His ethos, his drive, was singular in this business. Aided by two home health assistants (he was slowed by a broken hip and hearing loss in recent years) and his assistant of the last 15 years, Star Tribune copy editor Jeff Day, Hartman finished his last column, with an interview of Vikings receiver Adam Thielen, late Thursday night, and it ran on page two of the sports section Sunday, hours before his death.
It was his 199th column of the year.
“What a life,” Kirk Cousins, one of Sid’s recent go-to guys. “What a legacy he left.”
The legacy was work. As his best friend Bud Grant, the former Vikings coach, told me last March on the occasion of Hartman’s 100th birthday: “How many people do you know who write three days a week and do a radio show—at 100! He has stuff in those columns from every team in town! He knows everybody!”
Recent columns became a collaboration between Hartman and Day, who began working with him inside the Star Tribune’s newsroom 15 years ago. Day became his confidant, and when Hartman’s hearing largely failed in recent months, Day would work with Hartman on what questions he’d want to ask that day’s subject—Thielen, for instance, was interviewed on Thursday for the final Sunday column—and then Day would ask them and record and transcribe the interview. He and Hartman would then collaborate on the copy. His last column was finished Thursday night around 9.
The column often reads like a church bulletin, full of nuggets from the pros and colleges and high schools around the state. It was cheery, most often, and mostly supportive of the locals. This note from his last column, for instance: “Coach P.J. Fleck and the Gophers will have a huge challenge opening the season with Michigan at TCF Bank Stadium next week, but Las Vegas oddsmakers have the Gophers as 2½-point favorites.” Minnesotans loved his writing; his columns consistently got the most traffic at the paper.
“Sid had this drive that is hard to describe,” Day told me Sunday evening. “He would write a column, a great column, and walk away and say, ‘I just can’t do this!’ He had such great respect for the business—he wanted every column to be great.”
Hartman knew he wasn’t a wordsmith. Reporting was his thing. For years he carried around an old cassette tape recorder with a microphone and would invade anyone’s space, respectfully, and just start firing away. Randy Moss disliked many of the locals, but he loved Hartman—who, in turn, loved Moss for his great talent and giving him scoops. In the last couple of years, he learned to record with an iPhone, but in the age of COVID, he couldn’t go out to do interviews anymore. Everything was done by phone. He had a good relationship with Fleck, the Gophers’ football coach, and last May, Fleck met Hartman and talked to him through a door, just to be safe.
Hartman told me last spring there was nothing else he wanted to do in life than be a reporter and write and talk sports. Once, he got a winter place in Fort Lauderdale, but he tired of just watching sports on TV. He wanted to be in the middle of things, back in his home. So he stayed in the Twin Cities full time. He wasn’t a drinker or carouser. “I live a healthy life,” he said last March. “I don’t break any rules.” Hartman thought if he quit what he loved, he’d die. And good for him—he died doing what he loved.
“He really was wonderful to me,” Day said. I couldn’t tell for sure, but I thought he was choking up a bit over the phone. “We were exchanging video messages by phone during the Vikings game in Seattle [last Sunday]. His last one said, ‘I love you. I hope I can see you tomorrow.’ “
Offensive Players of the Week
Jimmy Garoppolo, quarterback, San Francisco. For a slumping and gimpy Garoppolo, Sunday night’s triumph over the Rams was vital. In the first half, he connected with the three pass-catchers who are supposed to be the Niners’ long-term cornerstones for a premier offense: a six-yard scoring play to fleet Deebo Samuel, a 44-yard TD to franchise tight end George Kittle, and a two-yard score to the star of the future, Brandon Aiyuk. Garoppolo finished 23 of 33 for 268, with the three TDs and no picks, a comforting 124.3 rating.
Trey Burton, tight end, Indianapolis. Played a vital role in three touchdowns for the Colts as they came back from a 21-0 deficit to beat Cincinnati. This is the versatile player Frank Reich knew in Philadelphia (remember his “Philly Special” TD pass?), coming to life when the Colts needed him most. He took a direct snap to run in a 1-yard TD early in the second quarter, then caught a 10-yard TD from Philip Rivers before halftime. You’d have to look hard to see his next contribution: On the winning TD pass in the fourth quarter, Rivers to tight end Jack Doyle, Burton freed space with a legal pick on Bengal defenders, making linebacker Logan Wilson late to cover Doyle. Lots of players had more than Burton’s 59 yards on Sunday. Not many had the impact.
Derrick Henry, running back, Tennessee. Had the most productive day of his 72-game (including playoffs) NFL career, rushing for 212 yards on 22 carries, and catching two balls for 52 yards. Two TDs, too, including the game-winner in Tennessee’s 42-36 overtime win over Houston. Henry was the 2019 rushing champion, with 1,540 yards. He’s got a 99-yard lead on the field this year, with 588 rushing yards in five games.
Defensive Players of the Week
Malik Reed, linebacker, Denver. The Broncos had a lot of big defensive plays in snuffing out the New England offense, but none bigger than Reed’s sack with 69 seconds left in the game. Denver was hanging on to an 18-12 lead for dear life as the Patriots marched downfield. The Pats had gone from their 28 to the Denver 24, had two timeouts left, and the momentum had shifted in a big way. On second-and-10, Cam Newton took the snap and surveyed the defense—but almost before he had time to think, Reed, rushing from the right outside linebacker spot, pushed off-balance left tackle Isaiah Wynn into Newton’s space. Reed leveled Newton for a six-yard loss, making it third-and-16. The Patriots couldn’t convert, and Denver had the unlikely win. Reed had another sack with 5:15 left in the game. Two interesting things: Linebacker injuries—to Bradley Chubb last year and Von Miller this year—have given Reed more of a chance than he’d have had as an undrafted college free-agent from Nevada. And it’s pretty notable that the UDFA beat the first-round pick from Georgia to tip the scales in this game.
Jamel Dean, cornerback, Tampa Bay. Dean changed the game against Green Bay, picking off Aaron Rodgers when the Bucs were down 10-0 early and returning it 32 yards for a touchdown. That sparked a run of 38 straight points for Tampa Bay. The 4-2 Bucs now have a half-game lead on New Orleans atop the NFC South.
Coach of the Week
Todd Bowles, defensive coordinator, Tampa Bay. Bowles told his defenders during the week that, yes, Aaron Rodgers was the best they’d face, by far, and motivated his players to work hard away from the facility to learn Packer tendencies. That, Jamel Dean said, was one of the keys to him knowing exactly what Rodgers would do in certain formations. The resulting 32-yard Dean pick-six got the Bucs back in the game early. For the game, Tampa held Green Bay to 201 total yards (what is this, the ’88 Packers?) and a putrid 3.3 yards per play. Great design by Bowles.
Arthur Smith, offensive coordinator, Tennessee. In training camp, Titans GM Jon Robinson told me Smith was good because he zigs while the defense zags. That surfaced again Sunday. Think of what the Titans just did: They followed up a 42-point Tuesday explosion against Buffalo with a 42-point day Sunday against Houston. Against the Texans, Smith zigged by rushing the tying play in regulation into play with a TD pass to A.J. Brown, and then he lined up Derrick Henry in the Wildcat in OT. Henry won the game with a precision five-yard TD run.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Brandon McManus, kicker, Denver. McManus is such an efficient kicker. We don’t appreciate him enough. Maybe we will now, after he was the entire scoring output in beating the Patriots on Sunday. In Foxborough, McManus kicked 45- and 44-yard field goals in the first quarter, and 27 and 52-yard field goals in the second quarter, giving Denver a surprising 12-3 halftime lead. That wasn’t enough, though. McManus kicked 20- and 54-yarders in the third quarter. Six field goals in three quarters should have been plenty. It almost wasn’t, because Drew Lock threw two picks in the final six minutes to nearly blow it. But Broncos 18, Pats 12 is what goes in the books, all because of McManus.
Mitch Wishnowsky, punter, San Francisco. With the Niners clinging to a 12-point fourth-quarter lead and the offense on a four-punt streak, Wishowsky stepped up and kicked a precision 43-yard punt to the Rams’ 1-yard line. The Rams didn’t have enough offense in them to rally from there, and the Niners won, 24-16.
Goats of the Week
Baker Mayfield, quarterback, Cleveland. With a real chance to make Browns-Steelers a rivalry again, and a real chance to break Cleveland’s 16-game losing streak in Pittsburgh, Mayfield came up tiny. He responded to that pressure by throwing a pick-six to Minkah Fitzpatrick midway through the first quarter. The decision was awful; Fitzpatrick was clearly lurking right in Mayfield’s line of sight when he released the throw. Midway through the second quarter, Mayfield got picked by Steeler corner Cameron Sutton at midfield. Ben Roethlisberger drove for the touchdown in two minutes, and 25 minutes into the game, the Browns were down 24-0. By the time he got yanked late in the third quarter, Mayfield (who came in with bruised ribs) had a 54.9 rating in a same-old-Browns loss at Heinz Field.
MINKAH TO THE 🏠
— PFF (@PFF) October 18, 2020
Kirk Cousins, quarterback, Minnesota. Threw three first-half interceptions, allowing an Atlanta team that came to Minnesota with an 0-5 record and a newly installed interim coach to rout the Vikings, 40-23 (and it wasn’t that close). This is not what the Vikings had in mind when they paid Cousins a gazillion dollars to lead them to the promised land.
“The only way to learn to win is to play to win.”
—Washington coach Ron Rivera, after the 20-19 loss to the Giants, on going for a two-point conversion and a 21-20 victory instead of the extra point to tie the game at 20 and send the game to overtime.
“Everybody’s got these cards in their back pocket—when to go for two, when to kick the extra point. You gotta kick the extra point and make it eight!”
—CBS analyst Rich Gannon, the color man on Houston-Tennessee, going on a rant after this situation happened:
With 1:50 left in the fourth quarter, Houston scored a touchdown to take a 36-29 lead. Texans coach Romeo Crennel, for the conversion, chose to eschew the PAT and an eight-point lead, instead going for the two-point conversion to make it a two-score game. The pass for two failed. Tennessee went the length of the field to tie the game to send it to overtime, won the toss to start OT, and the Texans never touched the ball. Tennessee 42, Houston 36.
“Sid was a great man, a great sportswriter, a great friend of us. It’s a sad day. We’re definitely going to miss him. I always looked forward to him sitting down in my office, talking about all different things. Very caring, very generous, very smart man.”
—Vikings coach Mike Zimmer on the death, Sunday, of 100-year-old Minneapolis media mogul Sid Hartman.
“We spotted them 21 points. So what? Let’s go.”
—Colts quarterback Philip Rivers, after the Colts fell behind 21-0 to Cincinnati and rebounded to win 31-27.
“Looks like you’ve got a Lucy and Charlie Brown thing going on with the Browns and the Steelers. Just when Cleveland’s looking good, best start in 26 years, Pittsburgh’s beating the brakes off ‘em.”
—Scott Hanson, host of NFL RedZone.
“The pandemic is isolating. It can feel very solitary.”
—NFL Network reporter Aditi Kinkhabwala.
“You’ve got to love this team. Well, some people hate this team. But I mean you’ve at least got to respect this team.”
—Dusty Baker, manager of the Astros, after Houston won its third straight to force Game 7 in the ALCS.
The sugar-high of NFL free agency rarely lasts. That’s why you see smart teams like New England and Seattle rarely burst out of the gate to make big-ticket purchases. The stars seldom are worth the money. Which brings us to the 2019 New York Jets crop of free agents. The abject failure of this group—exception: wide receiver Jamison Crowder—is one reason why the GM who engineered the signings, Mike Maccagnan, is gone, and the coach who coached them, Adam Gase, is soon to follow.
The nine players who comprised the 2019 Jets class will cost the franchise $112.2 million through the 2020 season, and the impact, well, suffice to say that only Crowder (15 starts as a Jet, 100 receptions) is a top 20 player at his position in 2020. The breakdown, with the money earned from the Jets in 2019 and ‘20:
LB C.J. Mosley: $29.3 million. Started two games last year, got hurt, opted out due to COVID concerns in 2020. Hard to know what the Jets have, but the leadership the Jets thought they bought with the former Raven hasn’t materialized, nor, obviously, has production.
RB Le’Veon Bell: $28.7 million. A disaster of the highest order. Rushed for 863 yards in his 17 New York starts, a 3.3-yards-per-carry average, before tweeting his way out of town and into the camp of the Super Bowl champs last week. The disrespect he consistently showed Gase speaks ill of Bell, but also of Gase. What kind of hold does a coach have on his team when the biggest star jabs at him on social media? Moral of the Story II: If you pay running backs rich second contracts, you’d better have the line to block for them. The Jets never did.
WR Jamison Crowder: $18 million. Starter. Hard worker, solid producer. The kind of guy, at 27, the Jets should make a cornerstone of the rebuild. I don’t know why he’d want to stay after his three-year deal expires in 15 months, though.
DL Henry Anderson: $17.5 million. Starter. After a good pass-rush season in 2018, Anderson has one sack over the past year-and-a-third.
CB Brian Poole: $8.5 million. Sometime starter. PFF’s 95th-rated cornerback through five weeks of 2020.
DT Steve McLendon: $5.25 million. Traded to Tampa Bay Sunday night. Good year last year, but PFF’s 71st-rated interior defensive lineman in 2020.
WR Josh Bellamy: $2.75 million. Had all of two catches for the Jets in 2019, then was cut in September, after being arrested and charged for his role in a scheme to file fraudulent loan applications to obtain $24 million in the government’s coronavirus loan programs.
QB Trevor Siemian: $1.8 million. Started one game in 2019, got hurt, got released.
K Chandler Catanzaro: $500,000. Fitting. Cost the Jets half a mill, and “retired” in August 2019 in the midst of a rough camp.
And that, folks, is how you burn through $112.2 million and come out the other side the worst team in football.
Dan Marino and John Elway were two of the best quarterbacks of the last two decades of the 20th century.
Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are two of the best quarterbacks of the first two decades of the 21st century.
In the 14 seasons between 1985 and 1998, Marino and Elway faced each other only three times.
In the 13 seasons between 2008 and 2020, Brady and Rodgers faced each other only three times.
Marino two wins, Elway one.
Brady two wins, Rodgers one.
On Friday night, in the Dodgers-Braves NLCS game, there was a huge home run by LA catcher Will Smith, off Atlanta reliever Will Smith, which led to these few minutes on the FOX telecast of the game:
Will Smith homered off Will Smith, and a Will Smith song played when the game went to commercial break.
I have a great affinity for local bookstores; I’ve written a couple of times of a beauty in Westerly, R.I., called the Savoy Bookshop and Café, and I noticed the other day it was on the list of New England bookstores that would be hosting a book signing by Jeff Benedict, author of “The Dynasty,” an insider’s history of the Patriots franchise over the past quarter-century of greatness. Book signings—those are happening? As we increasingly move away from public events with the rise of COVID numbers?
Benedict had an idea. Hold the signings outside the stores, wearing a mask and gloves, and ask those who come to buy the book wear masks. He set up 11 of them, in five New England states. He started in Manchester, N.H., at the Bookery Manchester on Saturday. The Savoy is on deck, next Sunday, and you can see his schedule here, if you’re interested.
“Independent local bookstores have taken a beating during the pandemic,” Benedict told me in a text. “For obvious health and safety reasons, there have not been in-store book signings since March. I reached out to bookstores throughout New England and offered to do signings outside the stores. The response has been overwhelming. It will be cold. There will surely be inclement weather. But I am a New Englander. Traveling the region in the fall and winter to be in-person at these stores is one thing I can do to pitch in and help an important part of the local business community.”
Pretty cool, for Benedict and the shops. I’m all for anything to increase foot traffic at some great local bookstores.
Tua Tagovailoa went back to the field and he’s sitting around the 15-yard-line in full uniform. It looks like he’s soaking this moment in.
On November 16, 2019, Tua suffered a potentially career-ending injury. On October 18, 2020, he threw his first NFL passes. pic.twitter.com/q5OHSNQe2c
— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) October 18, 2020
When Kyler Murray visits AT&T Stadium next Monday night, he will be very familiar with his surroundings. Murray is 6-0 lifetime in the stadium — 5-0 at Allen High, including three Texas state championships, and 1-0 at Oklahoma when he won the Big 12 title in 2018. pic.twitter.com/XoVrf1pRsT
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) October 14, 2020
Brandt, the former Dallas personnel director, is a Texas football authority and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The maiden name of Eddie Van Halen's mom was Van Beers.
God has a sense of humor.
— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) October 15, 2020
Farmer coves the NFL for the Los Angeles Times.
Zack Greinke: “For me, it’s nice not having fans in the stands. Because there’s no one trying to talk to you and ask for autographs and wanting to take pictures and all that stuff. I don’t like any of that stuff.”
— Pedro Gomez (@pedrogomezESPN) October 13, 2020
Gomez covers baseball for ESPN.
I have a strong feeling Greinke, in the midst of playing out a six-year, $206-million contract, would not be making $35 million a year if he played in front of empty stands every year.
— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) October 18, 2020
Dick Vitale, who loves the Rays, was dancing Saturday night.
Fantastic idea. From Anthony Abrahams, of Vancouver: “Don’t you think Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif should be the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year for showing true heroism by choosing to practice medicine this year on the front lines of a pandemic in a hard-hit area of our country? What an example when the other option was to be paid millions to play football and be kept relatively safe.”
Never thought of it, Anthony, and now that I do, I believe it’s a big winner. Will forward your idea to the proper authorities at the NFL.
If they don’t regret it, they’ve not very smart. From Joe Joseph, of Lakeland, Ga.: “Wonder if the Jets are regretting not hiring Matt Ruhle. He has Carolina playing terrific football. As a football fan it is great to see an NFL team so together in its fifth game with a new coach.”
At the NFL Scouting Combine in 2019 (seems like years ago, not 20 months), I had lunch with Pete Thamel and then-Baylor coach Rhule. I’m not positive he would have taken the Jets job if offered, but he was pretty far down the road with them. Christopher Johnson and Mike Maccagnan, then the braintrust, spent a few hours in Rhule’s house in Waco and talked business. Johnson even talked New York restaurants with Rhule’s wife. But for whatever reason, they chose Adam Gase. Twenty-two games into the Gase regime, Johnson has to know it was a colossal mistake to chose Gase over Rhule.
Thanks for educating me. From Craig Abbott: “I’m always a fan of your column but was disappointed to see you write that Chase Claypool‘s sister ‘committed suicide.’ That is problematic language as it stigmatizes his sister and implies she committed a crime. There is safer language to use such as ‘died by suicide.’ Here is a link with more information about the importance of the language we use around suicide.”
I did not know, Craig. Now I do. It’s fixed, and thank you.
Good question. From Mike Rucker: “One impact I haven’t heard discussed about football without fans is the ability for the position coaches to communicate to their players from the time they break the huddle to the snap. We have all seen how the visiting QB has gone from a silent count, to drawing the home-team defense offsides with a hard count, and impacted games in a way that is new this year. Something else that is new is the position coaches are calling out plays and repositioning their players during the pre-snap alignments. In the Panthers-Chargers game, a Carolina position coach started yelling ‘reverse’ based on the Chargers’ alignment and motion, the defense adjusted right before the snap, and sure enough, the Chargers ran a reverse. I am curious about your take on how prevalent and impactful this is. Does it really change the game?”
Absolutely it does, and good on you for noticing. Did you hear Ben Roethlisberger say last week he has the huddle back a couple of yards this season because he fears defenders might be able to hear what he’s calling? That’s a bit of a game-changer. Tonight, Kansas City will play at Buffalo, and the first reaction is to think, Man, Buffalo would have a huge advantage if its crazy crowd were in the building tonight—and not having that advantage gives KC a huge edge. That’s true, but it’s probably just as true, or moreso, that the spy-versus-spy games are truly impacting games with no noise in the buildings.
Me too. From Dave: “I’m surprised by how much vehemence comes in your mail. Why do people have to hate you, the writer, because they disagree with your writing? Or why do they have such a visceral, sustained unhappiness from seeing something that differs from their political views? Why can’t people tolerate different ideas without becoming incensed by them? It seems like reading something and thinking, ‘I don’t agree with that, but to each their own,’ has gone the way of the dodo bird.”
I find it pretty sad that someone can write to me—like the total stranger last week—and tell me I shouldn’t talk about dialing down the hate in the country “when you very obviously possess so much of it in your heart.” I bet I get 10 emails with similar vituperative themes every week. I wonder who raises children with this ethos: When people disagree with you, attack them personally, vigorously. Who? We have to start being nicer to each other, whatever the outcome of the election is in two weeks.
Wow. From Mark M.: “Probably not your typical email but stick with me for a moment. I have been a fan and loyal reader for roughly 20 years. However I have spent the past 10 years as an inmate at a Massachusetts prison (Norfolk) in the shadow of Gillette Stadium. Currently and prior to my incarceration I was a resident of Seattle. I was in prison for breaking and entering. Long story. During my entire stay my wife would send me your column every week. At first she would print it out and mail it to me (in multiple envelopes since they limit the number of pages in each to five) then as an email (again in multiple emails since the number of characters was also limited). Every week she would add her own comments at some point in the article, such as, ‘Wow, Peter is quite verbose this week.’ I am close to your age (60) and have shared many of the same things—The Sopranos, Red Sox, beer, coffee, daughters playing softball. I followed your moves from (not sure the order) Montclair, South End (Boston), Manhattan and Brooklyn. To someone starved for information it was a weekly escape if only for a few minutes. I can say you helped me preserve my sanity and provided a little escape each week. Thank you and I will remain a loyal fan and reader.”
I am truly emotionally touched by that, sir. Thank you from deep inside my heart. Let’s be in touch. If you want, I’d love for you to be one of my guest columnists next summer. I’d love to have your take on everything in this space.
1. I think the 49ers still aren’t fixed—they’re averaging 20.3 points a game in the three games since returning from the two-game JV trip to the Meadowlands—but that was a quality win and strong performance Sunday night, holding off the Rams. Four encouraging points:
• Three TD passes and no turnovers by Jimmy Garoppolo.
• No sacks allowed. When you’re facing Aaron Donald (two tackles, one significant QB pressure), and you shut him out, that’s a big win.
• Bill Parcells used to say the running game is not about rushing yards or yards per carry, but rather about number of rushes. The Niners ran it 37 times, chewing up clock, and had a 38-to-22-minute time-of-possession edge.
• Kyle Shanahan knows what ails his team, and knows how to game plan when he has some disadvantages. Great coaches knows there’s a way to win every game, despite the zits your own team might have due to injuries or whatever. Shanahan and his staff coached a smart game.
2. I think at some point we’re not going to be able to say yeah-but about the Bears, a 5-1 team with the second-best NFC record after six weeks. Most surprising thing about the NFL standings this morning? That the Bears are a half-game up on the Packers for first place in the NFC North, and a game ahead of the Bucs for the NFC’s second seed. Lot of season left, of course, but Nick Foles and this defense don’t beat themselves, and they physically handled the previously surprising and tough Panthers in Charlotte on Sunday. Brutal three-game stretch coming up, though, against teams with a combined 13-3 record: at the Rams, Saints at Soldier Field, and at the Titans.
3. I think this is why I’d understand if you call Cleveland the same old Browns this morning:
Average score in wins over Cincinnati, Washington, Dallas and Indy: Browns 38, Foes 28.
Average score in losses at Baltimore and Pittsburgh: Foes 38, Browns 7.
They’re better than the same old Browns, obviously; the talent level throughout the roster is ahead of two or three years ago. But I watched a lot of this game. Not a good day for Baker Mayfield, at all. He’s now 1-5 against the premier teams (when Lamar Jackson and Ben Roethlisberger play) in his division, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and the average margin of defeats in those five losses is a non-competitive 19.2 points. I give him credit for trying to play hurt Sunday—he had badly bruised ribs—but if you’re on the field, you’re expected to play at a high level. If he wasn’t able, then backup Case Keenum should have started instead of relieving in a lost cause in the second half.
At 4-2, the Browns are still serious wild-card contenders in the AFC, but they must start playing to the level of top competition (Mayfield particularly) to be any sort of January threat.
4. I think it’s going to be positively painful for the Jets to put their fans/players through 11 more weeks of what we’re seeing, and hearing. (At least one of those weeks is a bye, so the pain won’t extend to the three hours on Sunday.) The CBS crew doing the Jets’ sixth loss Sunday—they’re 0-6—reported that coach Adam Gase responded to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ claim during the week that the Jets Defense wasn’t solely responsible for their poor numbers this year by saying, “That’s not what we need. Everyone needs to shut up and play.” Yikes.
Three questions: How can Williams stay on after blame-shifting on a bad team? How can Gase stay—particularly when two teams have already whacked their head coaches to get a head start on the search process, and when the Jets know they’ll be firing Gase anyway, and after seeing the same old nonsense (the third-down snap with the offense in field-goal range with Joe Flacco not looking and the ball bouncing away, forcing them to punt)? And who would be put in position to be interim coach, if Richie Kotite would not come out of retirement?
5. I think this poll, from the Marist (N.Y.) Center for Sports Communications/Marist Poll, really surprised me: Of 1,560 random Americans at the end of September, 46 percent say they are watching fewer live sports events on TV. That goes against anything we’d normally think. In a pandemic, when people are forced indoors and forced in many instances to be isolated, wouldn’t you figure people would be watching more sports, not less? There wasn’t one dominant reason for the decline, said Jane McManus, longtime sportswriter and director of the Marist Center for Sports Communication—though 35 percent of those polled said concern about gathering with friends to watch sports was a prime reason; “athletes speaking out on political issue” was 32 percent, with the interest in the flood of news/election coverage making respondents 20 percent less likely to watch live sports. “We live in complicated times,” McManus told me. “Viewership traditions have been upended. Say you might have a tradition of watching the football game with your elderly father. Maybe now you’re staying away from your elderly father because you’re being careful about COVID-19.”
6. I think the one other striking point of comparison was the decline of those who consider themselves fans of football. A 2017 Marist poll found that 67 percent of respondents were football fans. The 2020 poll found that only 52 percent were. (Baseball was down, from 51 to 37 percent; basketball down from 44 to 37 percent—odd considering the poll was taken this time in the midst of exciting playoffs.) McManus said: “I don’t think you can isolate on any one thing right now, except that it seems people just have less bandwidth to deal with sports. For instance, I don’t think 67 to 52 for football is forever. Maybe you lost your job, you’re dealing with unemployment, your life is totally different than it was. I just think people’s focus is fractured, and the erosion is happening for every reason.”
7. I think, continuing my public-service “abundance of caution” situations across the United States, we’ve got another week of them:
• Monday: Worker in a St. Louis bagel shop at Pius Library on the St. Louis University campus gets COVID. Spokesman: “Out of an abundance of caution, the Einstein’s Bagels café has been closed for deep cleaning. Food that was on site has been discarded.”
• Tuesday: Drug-maker Eli Lilly says it is pausing its COVID-19 antibody trial “out of an abundance of caution” without saying why . . . The Falcons announced a positive COVID test, and NFL medical director Allen Sills, said of the Falcons: “It’s an abundance of caution we’re using.”
• Wednesday: Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said, after a local outbreak: “Out of an abundance of caution, team activities are paused.” . . . On Staten Island in New York, a school principal wrote to parents to say: “Today we are writing to inform you, out of an abundance of caution, of a potential case of COVID-19 at Bridge Prep Charter School.”
• Thursday: The Democratic campaign for president announced about VP nominee Kamala Harris: “Out of an abundance of caution, the campaign is canceling Harris’s travel through Sunday, October 18.” . . . The Falcons Twitter account announced after multiple positive tests: “Out of an abundance of caution following one new positive test, we have made the decision to stop all in-person work at IBM Performance Field Thursday and will conduct all operations virtually.” . . . Allen Sills: “It’s really just an abundance of caution that we’re using in these situations.”
• Friday: Browns beat person Mary Kay Cabot writes: “The Browns sent Odell Beckham Jr. home with an illness out of an abundance of caution.” . . . After a positive COVID test from a player, Fansided reports that Patriots coach Bill Belichick canceled practice “due to an abundance of caution.”
• Saturday: Alabama team physician Jimmy Robinson, announcing that Nick Saban could coach against Georgia if his COVID test was negative for a third straight day: “Out of an abundance of caution, two additional PCR tests were administered at the same time on Thursday and Friday and were tested by a separate lab. Those tests were also negative.”
• Sunday: After hosting 260 straight “NFL Sunday Ticket Red Zone” shows, Andrew Siciliano sat out Sunday due to COVID concerns. “After testing negative twice during the week, I tested positive this morning,” Siciliano tweeted in a video to his followers. “We re-tested, and it came back negative, but out of the super-abundance of caution and to be respectful to my great teammates, I’m sitting this one out. I’m going to be a fan.” Dan Hellie hosted instead.
8. I think I like when a beat guy telegraphs what’s about to happen. Brian Costello, who covers the Jets for the New York Post, did that last week. At 7:32 a.m., Tuesday, he tweeted a link to a column saying the Jets should cut Le’Veon Bell after some insubordinate re-tweets. At 8:51 p.m. Tuesday, the Jets announced they were cutting Bell.
9. I think this is the latest episode of The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree show: Kurt Warner’s son, Kade Warner, went to Nebraska as a walk-on wide receiver in 2017. After redshirting in 2017, he caught 25 balls over 2018 and ’19, and worker-beed himself up the receiver depth chart. This season, he earned a scholarship and was named one of four Nebraska captains for the delayed fall season. Anyone who knows Kurt Warner will not be surprised to read any of this.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Football Story of the Week: Conor Orr of Sports Illustrated, with an intriguing piece entitled “The Remote Coach: How one man became an assistant coach for a small Alaskan high school without ever leaving his California home.”
b. Homer (Alaska) High head coach Justin Zank hired a defensive assistant, Brad Dal Bon, a retired head coach from Grass Valley, Calif., with the understanding that Dal Bon would coach virtually. A school manager took a tablet into defensive huddles, defensive meetings and to the sidelines, so Dal Bon could teach and coach the linebackers. Wrote Orr:
So began the kind of fever dream we all conjured up at some point while quarantined during the pandemic. What if we could use this time to do something truly strange and bold? What if we flipped the modern banalities of constant web conference calls into something that satisfied a hunger inside of us? What if you could coach a football team every day in Alaska without leaving your home in California, softly scolding your kids for turning up the volume on the TV so loud that you couldn’t hear the defensive call made at a practice? What if there was an eager student manager on the other end of a spartan internet connection willing to be your avatar for the year?
Welcome to the story of Zank, Dal Bon and the upstart Homer Mariners. Capping a year of virtual happy hours, virtual masses, virtual funerals, virtual birthday parties and virtual road races, they may have unintentionally presented the nation with its first Zoom football team. And they finished the season as conference champions.
c. Fantastic job by Orr, one of our former MMQBers, who always finds the intriguing story.
d. Column of the Week: Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times with a plea to save the real Los Angeles. Writes Lopez:
I’m beginning to worry about what the Greater Los Angeles landscape is going to look like after the pandemic.
The Pacific Dining Car near downtown Los Angeles, with its late-night breakfast and tuxedoed staff, may not be taking on any more passengers, having sold off its fixtures and gone to selling steaks online. Stan’s Donuts in Westwood is finished after 55 years, and Chinatown’s Plum Tree Inn has checked out after more than 40 years.
I was talking to L.A. Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who told me a lot of the businesses in his district are struggling, and then he mentioned that Musso & Frank Grill in Hollywood was suffering because it wasn’t set up for outdoor dining or takeout service. My heart flipped. L.A. without Musso & Frank — which just turned 100 — is not L.A.
e. Baseball Story of the Week: James Wagner of the New York Times on the amazing Randy Arozarena, the star of the playoffs I hadn’t heard of a month ago, from Cuba via Mexico. Did a soul think of Arozarena as a big star when he was one of four players in a St. Louis-Tampa Bay trade last offseason? No, but he did have flashes of power for the Cards. The key to trade was a minor-league left-hander for the Rays, Matthew Liberatore, who, of course, didn’t play in 2020 because of no minor-league baseball. St. Louis thinks he’s a potential top-of-rotation starter. But for now, Cardinals fans have to be having deep angst watching Arozarena take over the postseason.
f. Arozarena won the American League pennant for the Rays, homering three times in the five-game series against New York and four times in the seven-game series against Houston. His two-run homer in Game 7 Saturday was the biggest hit of the game. Amazing thing shown on the Game 7 telecast by FOX: Arozarena has hit seven homers this postseason, and he’s hit them on every kind of pitch (3 fastballs, two sinkers, one curveball, one slider), and he’s hit them to straight-away left (two), straight-away center (one), just to the right of center (three) and straight-away right (one). The guy’s happy to hit anything anywhere.
g. Imagine how many great players in Cuba never get out to do what Arozarena is doing. Maybe I think it’s more than it really is, but his story of risking it all by taking an eight-hour boat trip to Mexico in harrowing conditions got me to wonder about that.
h. My World Series pick: Dodgers over Rays in seven. Pitching is close, and too many hitters on LA who can wreck games.
i. Patriot of the Week: Jose A. Del Rio of the Washington Post, on a dying Michigan man’s fervent last wish—to vote. Writes Del Rio:
For months, Williams, 77, had watched the calendar from his home in Birmingham, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, increasingly worried that he would not live long enough to vote. As his health deteriorated with each passing week, he and his family knew it was becoming less and less likely that he would make it to Election Day. They set their sights instead on the first day of early voting, Sept. 24. At times, even that had felt unlikely.
Now, with his son and daughter-in-law at his side like guardrails, he took the final steps to the official ballot drop box, intent on placing it in himself. He moved slowly, his face straining from the effort. His son, David, hovered close, in that tentative way sons of elderly parents do—to keep him from falling.
Williams flashed a smile after the ballot fell in. A triumph.
j. There is a Part Two to the story. Please read.
k. The Nick Saban AFLAC commercial has me thinking, you know, if he really devoted time to the craft, he could be the second coming of Flo.
l. The editor of this column, Dom Bonvissuto, is a big Dodgers fan. After they fell behind 3-1 in the Atlanta series, he texted me with: “I love baseball. I hate baseball.” So when it was over Sunday night, at 11:58 p.m. ET, he texted: “I’m back to loving baseball!”
m. Beernerdness: Guesting for me while am going beer-free this month is Luke Nelson of Indianapolis. His choice sounds like an autumnal delight. “Cinnamon Girl Autumn Ale (Fountain Square Brew Co., Indianapolis). I had this one at the brewery located in Indy just about a mile east of Lucas Oil Stadium in the historic Fountain Square neighborhood. It’s a golden ale spiced with whole Ceylon Cinnamon sticks and vanilla beans from Madagascar. Light in body, with aromas of cinnamon, you get that fall spice, with a nice creamy vanilla finish. At 5.4 percent alcohol, it’s the perfect companion for an autumn day.” Now that’s a top beer review, Luke. Thanks.
n. Coffeenerdness: There must be some reason why I’m drinking more coffee while drinking zero beer this month. Anyone have a theory? I still jones for coffee after my 15-ounce morning thermal cup-full of Italian Roast.
o. Fifteen days till election day. From the sounds and looks of things, voting early is the best plan. It’s my plan.
p. RIP, Vaughn McClure. The ESPN Falcons reporter died last week in Atlanta at 48. I was not close to McClure, but I knew him. My last memory of him: Last year, I covered Seahawks-Falcons in Atlanta, and before the game, I saw him in the press box. He stopped. I stopped. We talked for maybe three minutes—not sure what about, but it was a perfectly typical encounter with Vaughn. He wasn’t one of those “hey”-and-keep-walking guys. Nope. Even though I didn’t know him well, our encounters were always conversations. There’s a moral to that story right there. When he died, I thought, I’ll really miss that.
q. Happy trails, Doc Emrick. The long-time NHL play-by-play man, the best hockey announcer I’ve ever heard, said today he is retiring. What a rich hockey life he has led. Five things I always appreciated about Emrick: He let the game breathe while bringing you into it … He was mellifluous, with a beautiful lilt to the ups and downs and the flow of the game … His love of hockey, his absolute devotion to the game and the people in it, shone through in every telecast, whether it be Blues-Flames in December or game seven of the Stanley Cup Final … Away from the game, he was a great teammate, friendly and accommodating. He did my podcast a year and a half ago, waiting patiently at a function for me to finish, and then chatting up my brother-in-law, a Penguins fan, for 10 minutes with stories about his times in Pittsburgh … I love people who appreciate where they are in life, and have gratitude for their good fortune. That was Doc Emrick, who will be sorely missed.
This is one of the most interesting nights of football this season, in my opinion. Four teams with a combined 13-7 record play between 5 p.m. ET and 11:30 p.m. ET. First up:
Kansas City 30, Buffalo 27, 5 p.m. ET on FOX, in a stadium in western New York that cries out for Bills Mafia but instead will be empty.
Arizona 34, Dallas 27, 8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN, with Kyler Murray playing an NFL game in the stadium 14 miles from his birthplace and a Texas-bred coach (Kliff Kingsbury) coaching an NFL game in Texas for the first time.
Nuggeting on each game:
• Big game for the Bills and Josh Allen, who looked like the 2018 Josh Allen in a misfiring loss at Tennessee on Tuesday.
• Sean McDermott’s Bills, since getting good last year, don’t stay down long. They followed a home loss to New England last year with a road win at Tennessee; a home loss to Philly with a 15-point rout of Washington; and a dispiriting loss at Cleveland with three straight double-digit wins.
• No Le’Veon Bell tonight for KC. He’s in COVID-testing protocol and will be eligible to play next Sunday at Denver.
• Fun fact: New England and Las Vegas blitzed Patrick Mahomes on just eight of 81 pass-drops in the last two weeks, and both defenses were effective in minimizing his plays out of the pocket for major portions of those games. McDermott has to have learned from that.
• Dallas is allowing 36 points per game. I understand the concern about losing Dak Prescott, but it’s not Andy Dalton’s play that will determine the outcome tonight—it’s whether the Cowboys can be better than allowing 4.7 yards against the run and a 107.9 rating against the pass.
• Amazing that Dallas has scored 40 and 37 in its two wins, but had to win both on walk-off field goals.
• “Sometimes I awe myself,” DeAndre Hopkins said the other day, regarding some of his acrobatic catches. “I’m not going to lie.” Hopkins against a porous secondary is another reason why this game is intriguing.
• Kyler Murray playing a home game—that’s intriguing point number one in this matchup.
Sid Hartman is gone.
Close personal friend to all.