Remember last spring, in Franchise Receiver Lotto, when Buffalo made the big trade for Stefon Diggs and Arizona paid far less to deal for DeAndre Hopkins? Referendum time Sunday in the desert. When Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen made a spot-on throw and Diggs laid out for an end-zone catch with 34 seconds left, the Bills took a 30-26 lead. Biggest moment of the game, and Diggs rose to meet it. The Bills exulted. This precise play is why Buffalo paid a Maserati price for Diggs, and you could see it on their sideline. Whooping, screaming, unadulterated joy.
On the other sideline, Kyler Murray, on the bench, stared at the ground. All he could think of was the same kind of devastating loss last week to Miami, blowing a fourth-quarter lead then too. “That same kind of feeling creeps in,” Murray said later. “Bummed out. Let another one get away.”
But . . . 34 seconds is 34 seconds.
“Thirty-four seconds, 75 yards,” said one of the Arizona trainers on the sidelines. “We got this.”
Short chunks. To Andy Isabella for 14, Hopkins for nine, Larry Fitzgerald for nine.
Eleven seconds left. No timeouts. Ball at the Buffalo 43. Bills up four. Field goal does Arizona no good. Maybe a sideline throw here, then a shot to the end zone? Or maybe a rollout, let some traffic gather in the end zone, and try a Hail Mary? When the play from Kliff Kingsbury got called into his helmet, it was for the latter, a rollout left and then try to make something happen.
But the formation . . . a tad mysterious. The play-call was for a 1-by-3 formation, with Hopkins the lone receiver left and Murray rolling left, trying to find Hopkins deep. The Cardinals, hoping the three receivers to the right (Larry Fitzgerald, Andy Isabella, Christian Kirk, none going to the end zone) would take some of the traffic off Hopkins. But did that really make sense? What defense in its right schematic mind would not blanket Hopkins with two guys and a safety eying him and with the quarterback rolling left? Whatever the call, the ESPN win probability for Buffalo as Arizona huddled with 11 seconds to go was 96.8 percent.
Murray wasn’t feeling too confident as he lined up in the ‘gun. He was just going to have to make something happen.
“I mean, the play was kind of in shambles,” the 23-year-old quarterback said 75 minutes later.
Well, nothing to do now but run the play.
“BLUE HUT!” Murray barked. Back came the snap from center Mason Cole.
The Lead: Hail Murray
A race in the AFC East, the first 9-0 start for the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger apparently does not need practice, the AFC North is over, the Raiders are legit, the Eagles are not, here come the Giants (?!), the Pack survives, kickers are amazing, a three-way tie in the NFC West, the Bucs are absurd, a monsoon assists the plucky Patriots, and, gulp, End Times for Brees?
This day wasn’t supposed to have drama like this. Anytime the Game of the Week is Bills-Cards, drama might be in short supply. But let’s get back to Glendale, Ariz., to the Cardinals Radio Network, with Dave Pasch and Ron Wolfley setting the scene as the clock shows :11.
Pasch, calm voice: “Hopkins to the left. Three receivers to the right. Cardinals trail by four. They’re out of timeouts, 11 seconds left in the game. First down at the Buffalo 43. Now the Bills drop two men back, 25 yards downfield. Murray back to throw.”
:11, :10 . . . “When I got ready to take the snap, I’m trying to diagnose the defense, see if there’s any holes. Anything easy. I still figured I probably had two plays, two shots at it. The play was designed to roll out left, like I said, and they did a good job of containing,” Murray said. Per Peter Schrager of Good Morning Football this morning, the first option here was a drag route to Isabella (maybe 20 yards downfield, then an incut all the way across the field), or if there looked to be a hole to drop one into Hopkins, fine. I’m assuming the problem with that, and Murray’s reference to the play being “in shambles,” came from this reality: With no timeouts left, and Murray likely to throw the ball with six or five seconds left, what guarantee was there for Isabella to get out of bounds at maybe the 20-yards line with a second or two left on the clock? There was no guarantee, which, watching Murray’s head movement on the play and seeing him focused on Hopkins, led me to think he never seriously considered the risk of gaining 20 yards and hoping there’d still be a couple of seconds left on the clock. Imagine what must have been going through Murray’s head with the play-call, announcing it in the huddle, then looking over the defense and knowing, Hopkins. All the way.
Murray was sitting in a room just outside the Cards’ locker room, talking to me, watching the highlights of the game on TV. This helped. Now he could see what he’d just felt over an hour ago.
Pasch, voice elevating: “Flushed out, rolling left, in trouble. Slips a tackle”.
:09 . . . Buffalo defensive end Mario Addison, quick but not Kyler-quick, drew a bead on Murray as he gamboled left.
“The game’s on the line,” Murray said. “I can’t get tackled here. There was no chance he was tackling me. No chance.”
:08 . . . “The angle he took at me, I’m fortunate he took that angle,” Murray said. Addison touched Murray but didn’t have a good shot at him really, and flew past. Murray took another step, then turned upfield, maybe eight yards from the Cardinal sideline at about the Arizona 48-yard line.
Meanwhile, it looked like the three receivers to the right of the formation were occupying four defenders. Hopkins, who streaked down the left flank, took two DBs with him. As Murray suspected, there was a safety lurking in midfield, clearly waiting for the ball to be launched to Hopkins. It was three Bills defenders on one great receiver. It was a game of chance.
Pasch, voice another octave higher: “Gotta launch it.”
:07 . . . Murray, sounding surprised: “I looked downfield, I locked in on Hop. And what was weird was, he was the only player on our team in the end zone.” Hail Marys count on traffic, and the benefits of crowds. Why? The more people in red jerseys in the end zone, the better chance for a fluky pop-up touchdown.
One red guy in the end zone? Not good.
But that one red guy? Good.
Hopkins caught 115 balls in 2018 for Houston, with zero drops. Since PFF has been keeping stats on drops in 2006, no wide receiver ever had a season with 110 receptions or more with zero drops. So, in training camp last year, I asked Hopkins about the secret of his hands.
“My brother and I used to watch a lot of Jet Li movies, so we used to always do quick things like kickboxing or catching things with our hands,” Hopkins said. “One thing I remember we always used to do—we always used to catch flies with our hands. I was the only one that could catch them. I actually studied it, and I grew with it. I was like, ‘How do I catch flies?’ Flies always fly up. I would always just hit over it. And I thought: If I can catch flies, I know I can catch anything.”
Flies always fly up. I would just hit over it.
:06 . . . So now, Hopkins began to nestle himself two yards deep in the end zone. Murray, after running left and turning slightly upfield, had to turn his body forward, so he’d be able to maximize his arm strength and get the ball to the end zone. He cocked his arm to throw, right at midfield, as Buffalo defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson sped toward him. Murray threw a rainbow-ball, falling out of bounds, hoping not to get leveled by the 290-pound Jefferson.
Think of the throw.
“I’ve never done a Hail Mary before,” Murray told me.
Running to his left, evading one rusher, turning slightly upfield and getting ready to let the ball go, knowing he had to throw it almost exactly 50 yards in the air, arced high so that his 6-1 wide receiver would have a shot at it. “Obviously in that situation you can’t overthrow it,” Murray said. The throw had to have air under it, and it had to be in the 10-yard space of the end zone or, very possibly, it would be game over. It’s a throw that’s best made from the pocket, with some time to rev up the arm and figure how much arc to use. Throwing to a target 51 yards away while falling out of bounds? Challenging.
“I felt really good about it when it left my hand,” Murray said. “I knew it would get to the end zone.”
Pasch, getting excited: “Left side – into the end zone – jump ball – annnnd it is … “
:05, :04 . . . Down it came, aimed about two yards deep in the end zone. Three Bills were in a triangle around Hopkins: safety Jordan Poyer in front, his right hand gloved in white reaching high as the ball fell to earth; cornerback Tre’Davious White to the left, grasping two hands up near Hopkins’ hands but not quite as high, looking like he was trying to compete with Hopkins to high-point the ball; and then, in back and slightly to the right, safety Micah Hyde, with his right hand trying to knock the ball away when it landed.
Pasch: “Is it caught? Is it caught?”
:03 . . . As he tumbled out of bounds, Murray looked downfield and saw two black gloved hands rising. “We were joking about it in the locker room,” Murray said. “Like, there were all these white gloves, and everybody just saw two black gloves come out from that pile. They were above everybody else’s hands. Hop wears like 5X’s so yeah. Crazy.”
Hopkins’ black Nike gloves (with the Jumpman logo), size 5XL, were highest of the four men jumping for the Murray fly ball. Hopkins got a hand on either side of the ball, and vice-gripped it for the catch, then pinned the ball to his torso, and the three men fell to earth.
Pasch, yelling: “OH MY GOODNESS It’s caught! DeAndre Hopkins caught it! He caught it! Touchdown! With one second left! I can’t believe it! You’ve gotta be joking me! Hopkins reaches up with three defenders around him! And pulls it in! And the Cardinals lead it! 32-30! With a second left!
:02 . . . The side judge, Dave Hankshaw, signaled TD. The back judge, Keith Ferguson, soon followed with his signal. Touchdown.
“They [the Buffalo defenders] were in position,” Hopkins said later. “It was just a better catch by I.”
By I. That’s what he said.
“I never panic when the ball is in the air,” Hopkins said.
As Hopkins fell, Hyde, the safety, still tried to poke it away. Hopkins firmly pressed the ball to his legs with his right hand; it wouldn’t move.
Analyst Ron Wolfley, screaming: “You can’t cover Nuke! You’re not gonna be able to cover him! Throw the ball long! That’s what Kyler Murray did! He extended the play with his legs! And just chucked that thing up into the air! Into the desert sky, baby! And D-Hop brought it down – touchdownnnnnn!”
Murray never saw the end of the play till well after the game. When we spoke, he was on a landline just off the locker room, watching the highlights of the game.
DEANDRE HOPKINS CATCHES THE HAIL MARY FOR THE WIN! 🚨
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 16, 2020
“That’s my first one [Hail Mary],” he said.
“Never had one in high school, even?” I said.
“No. Never,” he said.
“Have you had a moment like this?” I said. “You’ve played at a very high level of high school in Texas, and college at Oklahoma.”
“Well,” he said with a chuckle, “in high school we had a lot of moments. Never like this one, though. Last-second, I mean, this is the highest level. Hail Mary, last play of the game. [There was an inconsequential kickoff left.] I really have had a lot of moments in my life . . . but this one, none can compare.”
What was surprising, observers said, about the Arizona locker room afterward, was that the players and staff were unabashedly happy but not crazy. Hopkins, I’m told, was almost tranquil. “Like he expects to do that,” one person in the locker room said, “and it didn’t surprise him.” Afterward, Kingsbury gave game balls to Hopkins and to running back James Saxon—whose brother recently died. That 24-hour rule, Kingsbury told his players? The one that allows player to celebrate a win for 24 hours and then turn the page to the next opponent? “Twelve-hour rule this week,” Kingsbury said. The Cards play Thursday night, and so today is a big day of preparation.
Three-team tie atop the West: Arizona 6-3, L.A. Rams 6-3, Seattle 6-3. Cards at Seattle on Thursday, Rams at Tampa Bay on Monday night.
Seattle plays the Cards and Rams down the stretch.
Arizona plays the Rams twice and Seattle once.
The Rams are at Arizona in Week 13 and finish at Seattle and then Arizona at home.
If there’s an eight-team playoff field, justice would have it that all three will make the playoff. If the field is seven playoff teams, because the Saints and Bucs look like playoff teams in the South, the odds would be against it, though it’s certainly possible the second AFC South team and two teams in the West could be the wild cards. As of this morning, Arizona holds the tiebreaker for the division lead, but that doesn’t matter much in Week 10.
It’s very hard to not like Arizona right now. Murray gets wiser every week; he knows to not take the big hits, and his pistons for legs are just faster than any defender’s. Hopkins leads a receiving corps that’s trustworthy and healthy through 10 weeks. The Cards have the league’s top offense, the Rams the NFL’s second-ranked defense. Seattle’s hit a speed bump over the past eight days, with losses at Buffalo and the Rams, and with Russell Wilson turning it over seven times in eight quarters. That’s got to stop, or Seattle will be home for the New Year.
Of course, the common rival for all is COVID-19. But for one Sunday, and one day in the desert, Hail Murray—for a few golden moments—allowed everyone to get lost in a great sporting moment. We needed it.
More Week 10 Notes10
Look at the Giants. Last five games for the G-men: Beat Washington at home, blew a late-10 point lead to lose in Philly, handed a Monday-nighter to Tampa, won at Washington, beat the Eagles by 10 Sunday in New Jersey. The Giants are a game behind the Eagles entering New York’s bye week, but by all accounts this is a better team right now with a defense playing better every week, and a quarterback finally—the franchise hopes—cutting down on the turnovers. The 27-17 win over the Eagles was Jones’ 22nd start in the NFL, and the first in which he had neither a fumble nor an interception.
“Protecting the ball is an important part of the game, and something I need to do better,” Jones told me post-game. “I’m continuing to focus on that and working to improve that week in and week out. There’s drills we’ve worked on and protecting the ball in the pocket. Keep two hands on the ball in the pocket. Simulating a rush, simulating stepping up in the pocket and keeping it protected. And I think it goes into decision-making, when to take risks, when not to take risks.”
That killed Jones and the Giants against Tampa, with two awful interceptions. If Sunday wasn’t an outlier and Jones can fix the giveaways, that Giants can be the best team in this bad division. Imagine a January NFC wild card rematch with Tom Brady in New Jersey.
“We wish we could have played Thursday.” Craziest team in the NFL: The Bucs lose to New Orleans by 35, crush Carolina by 23 . . . within seven days. “Against the Saints,” offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich told me post-game Sunday, “we did everything wrong. I mean everything. Looking at it, watching the tape, we’re lucky the score wasn’t worse.” He said when the team came in to the training facility Monday, instead of showing the offensive players the entire game against the Saints on tape, he picked out eight or 10 plays. He said he didn’t want to bludgeon them.
I wondered how Tom Brady took the awful performance, and what he was like in practice during the week. “The night after the game, I didn’t sleep at all,” Leftwich said. “I don’t think he slept at all. We were up there early the next day. We just looked at each other with these looks like ‘Holy s—.’ Nothing to really say. He’s that type player that’s gonna easily bounce back from these things. He won’t let things linger. He’s been through everything so much that he could pull the young guys along with his leadership, guys who’ve never been part of a game like that.”
Leftwich and coach Bruce Arians got Antonio Brown more involved Sunday (he has 10 catches in two weeks) and seems to have settled on Ronald Jones over Leonard Fournette in the running back rotation. Jones’ 98-yard TD scamper helps the average, obviously, but he’s rushed 143 times for a 5.1-yard average now, and he’ll get more of the load as the games get bigger.
Bullet points. A few more quick takeaways from Week 10:
• The Panthers are way too good to be on a five-game losing streak. With the knee injury to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater apparent not serious, I expect Carolina to rebound and win three or four games down the stretch.
• You want to see how valuable Drew Brees is? The Saints might have to, with Brees unable to play in the second half of the win over outmanned San Francisco with a rib injury. Lucky for New Orleans, the next three games are against Atlanta, Denver and Atlanta again—they’re both 3-6. Now the question may be whether Sean Payton uses Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill as the primary QB if Brees, as expected, has to miss three or four weeks.
• You can see what an emotional game football is just from Jags-Packers in Green Bay on Sunday. The Packers threw their helmets on the field and thought they’d win, and Jacksonville played with the vigor of a winner and almost pulled it out.
• Field goal kickers are astoundingly good right now. Through 10 weeks (with one game left), the NFL has had 71 field goals of 50 yards or longer, the most ever through 10 weeks of an NFL season.
• Remember the raised eyebrows accompanying Tua Tagovailoa replacing Ryan Fitzpatrick? Fins are 3-0 with Tua playing, and he hasn’t thrown an interception, and his passer rating is 10 points higher than Fitzpatrick’s.
• Miami’s 6-3, a half-game behind Buffalo (7-3), and the Dolphins play at Denver, at the Jets and Cincinnati at home in the next three weeks. Sunday’s loss could really hurt Buffalo’s division title chances.
• Joe Burrow was correct after Pittsburgh’s 36-10 win over the Bengals, in which Cincinnati had one second-half drive longer than 22 yards. He said: “We’re in that game if I don’t suck in the second half.”
• Credit to Jalen Ramsey for more than earning his huge contract Sunday in the 23-16 win over Seattle, helping hold DK Metcalf to two catches for 28 yards. “I told him after the game I look forward to these matchups for years to come,” Ramsey told Steve Wyche of NFL Network. As should we all.
Tomlin The Beacon
Ten lessons Mike Tomlin can teach the NFL about fixing the head-coach hiring process, which includes increasing the inclusiveness for people of color:
1. Survey the entire field, not just the candidates you know. When 34-year-old Tomlin walked into the Steelers offices in Pittsburgh in January 2007, he shook hands with club czars Dan Rooney and Art Rooney II for the first time. They’d never met. The leading candidates for the job, Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm, were on the Steeler staff; the Steelers had already satisfied the Rooney Rule—mandating at least one minority be interviewed for every head-coach opening—by interviewing Ron Rivera, of Hispanic descent. “He came in cold,” Art Rooney II, son of Dan, told me about Tomlin last week. “[GM] Kevin Colbert put him on the list for us to look at.”
2. Open your eyes. After the first meeting with Tomlin, who’d just finished his rookie year as a coordinator (in Minnesota), Dan Rooney looked at Art and said: “He’s a real candidate.” The Rooneys had high regard for Whisenhunt and Grimm, but there was something commanding about Tomlin, though he was so young. That hadn’t bugged the Rooney family when they’d hired the unknown Chuck Noll at 37, or the better-known Bill Cowher at 34. They wanted to be careful to not be insular, a great lesson for teams today.
3. Listen to the people you truly trust. It’s possible that of anyone in the football business the Rooneys would trust about Tomlin, Tony Dungy was at the top of the list. Dungy had played for Chuck Noll, coached under Noll, and was tight with the Rooneys—and Dungy had hired Tomlin as his secondary coach in Tampa in 2001. The week the Steelers interviewed Tomlin, Dungy was preparing to coach the Colts in a divisional playoff game against higher-seeded Baltimore. Dan Rooney called him, mindful of his schedule but needing his counsel. “Dan told me, ‘He’s really impressed us. Tell me about him,’ “ Dungy recalled. “There was a twinkle in his voice. I could tell even though he’d just met Mike, he was intrigued.”
Dungy shared with Dan Rooney that Tomlin would be a great match for the Steeler ethos. “He had the Steeler philosophy. We’re going to do it our way, and not worry about anyone else. He was young, he was tough, and he was a great communicator with young players,” Dungy said. Art Rooney told me that without a strong recommendation from someone he and his father knew well and trusted, they might not have hired Tomlin.
4. Don’t care about winning the press conference. The Rooneys didn’t care in 1969 when they were openly questioned for hiring Noll, a little-known assistant for the Colts. They didn’t care when locals thought Grimm should have been the call in 2007, and the choice of Tomlin would unintentionally shake up the coaching staff. “We hired Mike because he was the best candidate for the job,” Art Rooney said, “and really, nothing else mattered.”
5. Hire a coach who is a leader of people, and a good teacher. So often, the top-candidate lists for head-coaching jobs are lists of the best coordinators in the NFL. It’s good, of course, to find coaches who are great on one side of the ball, or to hire coaches from a great tree. But Tomlin wasn’t hired because he worked under Dungy for one season, or because in his lone season as a coordinator he bossed the 14th-best scoring defense in the NFL. It was his presence, his knowledge of the game, and his ability to coach and deal with the modern player. That goes, too, for the coaches on the staff. Though he was a coordinator in Minnesota, Tomlin gave the defense to incumbent defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau when he arrived. LeBeau’s defenses were second and first in scoring defense in the league in 2007 and ’08.
6. Hire a coach who is comfortable dishing out discipline. When Antonio Brown live-streamed Tomlin’s post-game talk to his team after a playoff win in January 2017, Tomlin called it “foolish, selfish and inconsiderate. We will punish him.” Part of the job. Tomlin didn’t shy away from confrontation. “A good coach has to be good at confrontation,” Bill Parcells says, and if you were around the Giants in the eighties (I was), you saw it often, and sometimes on national TV.
7. Hire a coach who can build an unbreakable bond with the players. In a playoff game in the 2010 season, Pittsburgh trailed Baltimore at halftime 21-7. All week, Tomlin told his team it would face some adversity. At halftime, he told his players they were built for this, they trained for this. On the way back to the field for the second half, he put an arm around safety Ryan Clark’s shoulders and said, “Wait till they see this comeback! The stories you guys will have—you’ll never forget this day!” Clark played the half of his life, forcing a fumble that led to a TD; Baltimore, 21-14. He intercepted Joe Flacco, leading to another TD; Tie, 21-21. Steelers won, 31-24. “If coach T doesn’t talk to me like that,” Clark told me last week, “I don’t think that happens. I honestly don’t think it happens. He had that effect on us.”
8. Hire a coach who’s okay with throwing players overboard. When Le’Veon Bell’s contract demands weren’t met after the 2017 season, he sat out the ’18 season and Tomlin didn’t seem too bothered by it. When Antonio Brown went AWOL before the final game of 2018, Tomlin told his agent he didn’t want Brown back for the game, and Brown never played for the Steelers again; Tomlin was okay with that too. Since Bell played his last game for the Steelers, Pittsburgh is 26-14-1. Since Brown went AWOL, Pittsburgh is 18-8. And keep in mind that 14 of those games for both players were played without Ben Roethlisberger. Bell and Brown would have been headaches if they’d stayed—so just move on. The Steelers now have very good and fairly ego-less receiver and running back groups, and, at midseason, are sixth in the league in scoring with Bell and Brown long gone.
9. Hire a coach who doesn’t care how famous he is. Ryan Clark told me he wondered why Tomlin didn’t share more with the press, “why he didn’t expound on decisions he made or why he game-planned a certain way or why he didn’t share how he good of a motivator he is.” So he asked Tomlin once. “He told me, ‘Those things are personal. I want you guys to get a glimpse of me, but I don’t need to share my soul with the rest of the world,’ “ Clark said. “I respected that. The players respected that. It made me feel like what we did in the building and the locker room and the stadium was sacred to him.” It’s reminiscent of Noll.
10. Have a good quarterback in-house. It helps to take over a team with a 25-year-old franchise quarterback just entering his prime. Writing the Tomlin story in Pittsburgh without mentioning Ben Roethlisberger’s importance to winning would be naïve. As with Belichick/Brady in New England, a coach looks a lot better when he’s got a Hall of Fame quarterback playing for him.
• Among coaches who have coached at least 10 NFL seasons, Tomlin’s regular-season win percentage (.657) is 10th all-time.
• He has passed Dungy as the winningest Black coach of all-time, with 142 wins to Dungy’s 139.
• Steeler coaches winning percentage, in the regular season: Tomlin (14 seasons) .657, Cowher (15 seasons) .623, Noll (23 seasons) .566. Tomlin trails Cowher by seven wins and Noll by 51.
Tomlin won’t be 50 for 16 more months. “Coaching takes its toll on everyone who does it, but I don’t see any signs that he’s ready to retire,” Art Rooney said.
Last year, there were five coaching openings. There were three Black coaches (Eric Bieniemy, Marvin Lewis, Kris Richard) and two other minority coaches (Ron Rivera, Robert Saleh) interviewed. There were 16 white coaches interviewed. Of the Black coaches, NFL EVP Troy Vincent said, “Eric was the only one who had multiple teams [interviewing him].” The ratio of white-to-minority interviews, Vincent said, “is not what’s best for the game.” The most significant rules tweak this offseason, likely, will be the second minority candidate getting an interview for each opening.
But it’s significant only if teams survey the full field, and not just the regular candidates. It was impossible for the Steelers to know in 2007 what a good job Tomlin would be doing well into his second decade as coach. But the Rooneys opened their minds, opened their eyes and got one of the best coaches in recent NFL history. Open minds can lead to great decisions.
The Award Section20
Offensive Players of the Week
DeAndre Hopkins, wide receiver, Arizona. Catch of the year. Hail Mary of the Year. That catch, those hands, in that moment. Now you know why the Cardinals leaped at the chance to trade for the undervalued receiver. Hopkins’ 43-yard grab out of the sky in the midst of three Bills in the end zone catapulted the Cardinals into a three-way first-place tie in the NFC West. And the miracle play will live in the hearts of the Red Sea forever.
Nick Chubb, running back, Cleveland. Chubb returned after four weeks down with a knee injury and was the dominant figure in Cleveland’s 10-7 squeaker over Houston. His stat line—19 rushes, 126 yards, one TD—would have been 19-127-2 if he’d stepped into the end zone down the stretch instead of stepping out of bounds at the 1-yard line, which allowed the Browns to run out the clock without Houston touching the ball again. “That’s a great football-awareness thing by him, one of a kind, to know to step out of bounds,” said Baker Mayfield of Chubb. And that’s a big reason why he’s in this space.
Ronald Jones, running back, Tampa Bay. Hey, you break a tackle at your own 11-yard line and outrun a faster guy (Jeremy Chinn) around the 50, and finish off a 98-yard touchdown sprint unchallenged for the last 25 yards, and you’re going to be player of the week. The explosive third-quarter TD broke open a three-point game and started the Bucs on the way to a surprising rout, 46-23, in Charlotte.
RONALD JONES TOOK IT 98 YARDS TO THE HOUSE. OMG 🔥
(via @NFL) pic.twitter.com/sYnQ67cDav
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 15, 2020
Defensive Player of the Week
Darious Williams, cornerback, L.A. Rams. Great game, too, by Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who played strong, roadblock coverage against DK Metcalf for much of the Rams’ 23-13 win over the Seahawks. But Williams was the most valuable defensive player for the Rams, in the game that propelled them into a tie for the tip of the NFC West. Williams, a third-year cornerback from Alabama-Birmingham, came to the Rams via waivers after being released by the Ravens as a rookie in 2018. In L.A. on Sunday, he had one interception negated by penalty late in the first quarter. He picked off Wilson in the end zone in the second quarter, and then, midway through the fourth, with Seattle trailing by 10, Williams picked off Wilson at the Rams’ 36, all but ending it.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Tyler Bass, kicker, Buffalo. I think it’s pretty safe to say Bass had the best quarter by a kicker in NFL history in the second quarter at Arizona. He kicked 54, 55 and 58-yard field goals in the second period, sending the Bills into halftime with a 16-9 lead.
Keelan Cole, wide receiver/returner, Jacksonville. Career day for the underappreciated Cole. His 91-yard punt return for a touchdown gave the Jags a 10-7 lead in the second quarter at Green Bay, and his 12-yard TD reception from Jake Luton tied the Packers 17-all in the third quarter. For the day, Cole had five catches for 47 yards, and kept the Jags in a game that was much tighter than it should have been.
Andrew Van Ginkel, linebacker, Miami. Does this guy make a huge play every week? On the first series of the game for the Chargers, Van Ginkel broke through the middle of the Chargers’ punt team, smothered a Ty Long punt, and it was recovered at the Miami 1. That blocked punt handed the Dolphins a 7-0 lead.
Andrew Van Ginkel keeps making big plays 😤 @AndrewVanGinkel @MiamiDolphins
📺 #LACvsMIA on CBS pic.twitter.com/cEQBtD9R5X
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) November 15, 2020
Justin Watson, wide receiver, Tampa Bay. For the second straight week, the Panthers tried a pass off a fake punt. Last week it worked; Joseph Charlton threw complete and it contributed to keeping the game in Kansas City close. This time—what? Tampa doesn’t scout special-teams plays?—the Bucs killed it. Charlton looked to throw, his gunner was covered on the right, Charlton tried to run up the middle, and Watson, the third-year receiver from Penn, made the kind of play a player from Penn should make—a smart one. He smothered Charlton for a loss, leading to a Bucs field goal and a 32-17 lead.
E.J. Speed, linebacker, Indianapolis. Titans up 17-13, late third quarter, Thursday night. In the span of 20 seconds, the game for supremacy of the AFC South changed. Nyheim Hines ran for a short TD, and then the Titans went three-and-out, and Tennessee punted . . . only Tennessee didn’t really punt. Speed, rushing from right defensive end slot in the punt-block unit, smothered the Trevor Daniel punt; Speed actually blocked it with his sternum. T.J. Carrie picked it up and ran it in from the 6-yard line for a touchdown. In 20 seconds, it went from 17-13 Titans to 27-17 Colts.
Coach of the Week
Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England. How he’s scotch-taping a grim set of skills players together to be able to beat a team like Baltimore is a pretty good accomplishment. With the Patriots floundering and trailing the winless Jets by 10 in the fourth quarter Monday night, New England put three scoring drives together to win that one at :00. Then they used a weird Jakobi Meyers-to-Rex Burkhead TD pass (which traveled 53 yards in the air) to stun the Ravens in the first half Sunday night, and, realizing that the Calais Campbell-less Ravens front was softer against the run, McDaniels dialed up 22 clock-eating rushes for Damian Harris for 121 yards. New England is a surprising 4-5, and McDaniels is doing one of his best coaching jobs by figuring out odd things and logical things his players can do that foes have not seen. That’s good coaching.
Frank Reich, head coach, Indianapolis. One of Reich’s strengths as a coach is his willingness to be a good teammate of the personnel side of the building. GM Chris Ballard drafts ’em, Reich plays ’em. Take the 34-17 win over Tennessee. Look at how the depth players performed. Running back Nyheim Hines (fourth round, 2018) was more impactful on the game than Derrick Henry. Special-teamer E.J. Speed (fifth round, 2019) blocked a Tennessee punt for a touchdown. Defensive lineman Denico Autry (UFA, 2018) had a game-changing sack of Ryan Tannehill (forcing a punt, and the Colts took the lead for good on the next series). Plus, Reich showed his pragmatic side by going for it on fourth down five times. Nice win. Short week, road, huge rival, coming off a bad loss to Baltimore. Reich’s smart, and he’s good.
Goat of the Week
Chase Young, pass-rusher, Washington. With 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter at Ford Field, Detroit and Washington were tied at 27. Lions ball at their 35-yard line. Matthew Stafford throws deep for rookie wideout Quintez Cephus, but it’s incomplete. Needlessly, stupidly, Young shoves Stafford from behind and sends him sprawling. Roughing the passer. Lions ball at midfield. Stafford quick pass to Marvin Jones for nine, Matt Prather 59-yard field goal to win—thanks to Chase Young.
Analyst of the Week
Brock Huard, FOX, Jacksonville at Green Bay. When Green Bay tackle David Bakhtiari tried to throw Jags linebacker Myles Jack off a Packers’ ballcarrier in the first quarter Sunday, Jack exagerratedly flopped backward and began writhing in pain. Huard immediately said Jack was pulling a “Vlade.”
In the moment, that’s some great recall by Huard.
Quotes of the Week
“We can all feel the wave coming. Now the question is: ‘Can you keep the one positive to one? Or maybe two? Or will the one become 10?’ If the one becomes 10 on a few teams, we’re all in trouble.”
—A longtime NFL franchise executive, expressing his concern about isolating a COVID-positive player on his team last week as the virus skyrocketed around the country.
“I think Myles took the approach of, you know, real G’s move in silence like lasagna.”
—Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield, on Myles Garrett, who had six tackles, half a sack and two more pressures as Cleveland suffocated Houston.
“I think that was the scary part, how normal it felt. It’s a little bit of ‘I’ve got to pinch myself’ for how lucky I am to feel that way.”
—Washington quarterback Alex Smith, who led all NFL passers in Week 10 (so far) with 390 passing yards, as Washington got nipped by Detroit on a last-play field goal. Pretty impressive, seeing that Smith has come back from a devastating injury that nearly resulted in a leg being amputated in 2018.
“I just came from my other job. Foot Locker.”
—Teddy Bridgewater, asked why he wearing a football officials shirt during a press conference last week.
“It’s really whatever.”
—Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, asked for his reaction to his boyhood idol Brett Favre’s opinion that Philadelphia should have kept Nick Foles over Wentz after Foles won the Super Bowl three season ago.
I can translate Wentz’s quote: Thanks for piling on at the toughest time of my career, Brett.
One nerdy college-football question for you Saturday football buffs:
In 2017 and ‘18, Ole Miss was 11-13. Alabama beat the Rebels in those two seasons by a combined score of 128-10. I realize that one position doesn’t make a great team, but it is pretty damn weird to check out the numbers of A.J. Brown and DK Metcalf and realize their college greatness led to nothing much for the Rebels.
Brown and Metcalf, together, at Ole Miss:
• 2017: 12 games, 114 receptions, 1,898 yards, 16.6 yards per catch, 18 touchdowns
• 2018: 12 games, 111 receptions, 1,889 yards, 17.0 yards per catch, 11 touchdowns
How about this: In 2017, Ole Miss went 6-6, the 10th-best record in the 14-team SEC. The top three receivers were Brown, Metcalf and Van Jefferson—who transferred after the season to Florida.
Brown went 51st and Metcalf 64th in the 2019 NFL Draft, to Tennessee and Seattle. Jefferson went 57th in the 2020 NFL Draft, to the Rams. That group, in tandem, would almost certainly comprise the best wideout depth chart of any team in the NFL. And Mississippi was a .500 team when they played together!
There is something of legend about Paul Hornung, who died last week at 84, that goes beyond his carousing and his gambling.
I would argue that he had one of the best offensive seasons a player has ever had in the 101-year history of the NFL. In the Packers’ 12-game season of 1960, Hornung accounted for 188 points—which no player in a 16-game season has ever done.
Rushing touchdowns: 13
Receiving touchdowns: 2
Passing touchdowns: 2
Field goals: 15 of 28
Extra points: 41 of 41
That’s 90 points on touchdowns scored, 86 from kicks, 12 from passes thrown.
Interesting MVP winner in 1960. It was not Hornung. It was Philadelphia QB Norm Van Brocklin, who did not lead the NFL in passing touchdowns or passing yards or passer rating.
I would understand if you wanted to rail at me for a stupid MVP vote in 1960, but I did not have a ballot that season. I was 3.
Eric Bieniemy is two-and-a-half-years older than Mike Tomlin.
Bieniemy, 51, was born Aug. 15, 1969. Tomlin, 48, was born March 15, 1972.
Bieniemy, the KC offensive coordinator, will be a candidate for his first head-coaching job in January. Tomlin, the Steelers’ head coach, is halfway through his 14th season as a head coach.
Tweets of the Week40
A preview of Monday morning's Arizona Republic sports page. pic.twitter.com/pHzWs7tm49
— azcentral sports (@azcsports) November 16, 2020
Incredible shot of Seahawks Jamal Adams, Russell Wilson and Duane Brown coming over to shake Whitworth’s hand as he was carted off. Few players – maybe Frank Gore – carry as much league-wide respect as Whitworth
— Steve Wyche (@wyche89) November 15, 2020
Wyche, watching Andrew Whitworth of the Rams being carted off with a knee injury, works for NFL Network.
I was going to type some emotional tweet about how I’m thankful to be back on NFL coverage this week and I am but most of you don’t care and that’s fine.
I’m 33 and healthy and I got COVID and it sucked. It sucked feeling like a truck hit me and having no life in my body.
— Adam Amin (@adamamin) November 13, 2020
Amin, of FOX Sports, with a thread on having COVID-19.
It included this: “Save your ‘survival rate’ and ‘infection rate’ screenshots. I’ve seen them. They won’t matter to you if you, the individual, go to bed honestly wondering if your body will stop working overnight.”
Phenomenal nugget from ESPN Stats & Information: Bryson DeChambeau averaged 334.6 yards off the tee in the first round of the Masters; 62-year-old Larry Mize averaged 247.4 yards. They both shot 70. https://t.co/14kA6qfcSm
— Nick Pietruszkiewicz (@npiet_ESPN) November 12, 2020
Pietruszkiewicz, who covers golf for ESPN, writing after Thursday at the Masters.
Contact me at email@example.com, or on Twitter.
Expand the Rooney Rule. From C.E. Petit: “I’m fully in favor of diversifying NFL coaching and business staffs. When is the league going to impose the Rooney Rule on ownership groups? When an existing franchise becomes available, at least one majority-minority potential ownership group (along with a fan-majority ownership group similar to the Green Bay structure) must be presented to the league for approval. When is the league going to impose the Rooney Rule on EVP and above positions at the league office, and particularly commissioner?”
Those who do the hiring are those with the most money. I doubt sincerely that the NFL would ever not award a franchise to the highest bidder. As for the other questions, the NFL has EVPs who are Black and who are women. The commissioner is another issue. I think it’s a great idea for league owners to mandate two minority candidate interviews for the commish job, the way the league is beginning this year for head-coaching openings. But the owners are going to hire the man they believe will help them make the most money.
Change the MVP vote. From Frank, of Philadelphia: “Your column made me love football and appreciate the minute details of the game. I hope to pass the love of football down to my 2-year-old son, who is more preoccupied with singing Old McDonald. Anyway, for the MVP award, I feel that having a separate end of season MVP for quarterbacks, for running backs, etc., would highlight standout seasons from other players. Then those winners could be voted on to be named the MVP. Maybe a crazy idea, but I think it can put the spotlight on other players in a QB-dominated league.”
Thanks, Frank, and good luck with your son. This is interesting. In other words, name an outstanding player at every position, and then vote on that pool for the MVP? What’s interesting about that is that in most years I doubt it would lead to much suspense about the MVP—the quarterback would probably win nine years out of 10. But it would be interest at the NFL Honors show to see the MVWR, say, Davante Adams, show up on the red carpet, followed by the MVRB, Dalvin Cook, and the MVDL, Aaron Donald. It’d be cool. Nice idea.
On 7-on-7 football. From Peter Gegick: “I wanted to push back on your 7-v-7 conclusion you drew in your Week 9 column, saying receivers should play competitively nearly year round. Terry McLaurin, DK Metcalf, and Cooper Kupp all ran track in the spring. Chase Claypool and Chris Godwin both played basketball. It seems like you can draw the opposite conclusion based on dominating multiple sports and leading to better skill sets. My point: It makes more sense for athletes to play multiple sports and pull out 7-v-7 in the summer as a type of competitive training. Our high school recently had a conference championship wrestler try his hand as a football defensive end as a senior. He finished with 10 sacks, and won both all-conference and all-district honors.”
I didn’t make that point; it was Andy Dalton’s. I am a big fan of exactly what you say—letting players play multiple sports so they don’t burn out on one of them. But the fact is, lots of receivers are playing competitively in the spring and summer in football hotbeds like Florida and Texas, and it’s surely leading to more mature receivers by the time they’re NFL rookies.
10 Things I Think I Think50
1. I think I was pleased to see the Miami Marlins hiring Kim Ng as the first female and East Asian-American GM in the history of the major American sports, and you might be surprised at my first thought: I know two women who could do the job with an NFL team right now. One: Dawn Aponte. Two: Amy Trask.
You all know Trask, who worked for the Raiders for 25 years, was molded by Al Davis, and rose to the job of chief executive with the team. Since leaving football for the media and covering football, you see the well-rounded and smart Trask. With the Raiders, she was tough and an unyielding disciple of Davis, working in every aspect of the organization. Some teams might steer clear of her because she’s been out of the game full-time for seven years, but she’s a worthy consideration.
Aponte is largely unknown to the public, but her résumé is strong. Salary cap analyst and manager of football administration, Jets; vice president of labor finance, NFL; vice president of football administration, Browns; senior VP (and later EVP) of football operations, Dolphins; and, currently, chief administrator of football operations, NFL.
Over the weekend, I asked three veteran NFL people working in the league now if there was a woman who could be an NFL GM today. All three said Aponte. Two mentioned Trask.
2. I think if I worked for Houston or Atlanta—two teams that will be in the GM market—I’d interview Aponte or Trask. The football side of each business is going to have a clean slate. Why not look at all candidates and not just the traditional pool? One former NFL exec, Scott Pioli, who has worked to advance the careers of women as assistant coaches and scouts, told me: “I don’t know how many years away we are from having [a female NFL GM],” Pioli said, “but based on the backgrounds of some of the GMs working in the league today, there are already women qualified to do the job. The convenient excuses like, ‘Well, she never played football,’ get eliminated when you look at the backgrounds of some coaches and GMs working in the league in recent years.”
More than that is this realization, particularly when it comes to someone like Aponte: Her 26-year career in the NFL has been bookended by working for Bill Parcells and Roger Goodell, with experience on three teams and the league office; talk to those who’ve worked with her. Not a soul would use the word “lightweight.” There are things she hasn’t done—play at a high level, set a draft board—but there are things she’s done that traditional GMs haven’t. She’s the NFL’s COVID-regulations point of contact for teams this year, runs many aspects of game operations and on-field operations, and is the day-to-day football operations chief inside the league office. Good people person too. Most GMs in the NFL are essentially player personnel experts who farm out other parts of the job to experts in things like the cap, analytics and day-to-day running of the franchise. There’s no reason why you can’t hire an expert in the business and cap and technical parts of the job, while importing two or three top scouts.
I’m not saying, “Definitely hire Aponte or Trask.” I’m saying, “Why not consider one, or both?”
3. I think this opened my eyes on “The Peter King Podcast” this week, in the wake of the NFL opening the door for eight playoff teams per conference this season:
Me to NFL EVP Troy Vincent: “On wild-card weekend, could you see one of more of those eight games being playing on Monday night?”
Vincent to me: “I think all things are possible. Very possible.”
A few things: If on wild-card weekend (currently scheduled for Jan. 9-10), the college football national championship game is played on Monday night, it’s unlikely the NFL would move a game or games to Monday. The college title game is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 11, but it’s uncertain because of COVID that the game gets played that day. The NFL would not want to antagonize college football powers by taking some of the edge from the college game with a Monday wild-card game. If the college game is played on Jan. 11, and the NFL is forced to play a Week 18 of makeup games from COVID postponements, a Monday wild-card game or two games would be in play. If the NFL does add the eighth playoff team per conference, and the games are played on Saturday and Sunday, the best likelihood is a quadruple-header each day—perhaps at noon, 3 p.m., 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. ET. The key is the existence of the college championship. The NFL won’t want to compete against it.
As for the fairness of asking a team to play on Monday with the winner playing a short-week game the following week: There’s not really much difference—two teams playing a divisional game six games after a wild-card game, compared to six or eight teams potentially playing a wild-card game on Saturday, six days after playing their final regular-season game.
4. I think if Amy Palcic is not “a cultural fit” with the Houston Texans—which Adam Schefter reported was the reason why club president Jamey Rootes fired her Wednesday—then a thinking, intelligent person who cares about doing things the right way and takes pride in his or her work should not want to work in the culture of the Texans, at least as long as Rootes is in charge.
5. I think the media’s job in 2020 requires a level of trust in the media-relations staffs. It always does, but this year in particular because we can’t have personal contact with players and coaches. We can’t work locker rooms, or sidle up to guys after a practice or in team facilities. The only contact is virtual, or by phone. One of the things I’ve tried to do—when possible—is take you behind the curtain to tell you real stories of how football works in 2020. Covering the first round of the Bucs’ draft virtually, for instance, with GM Jason Licht allowing me to spy on his videoconference and phone calls. I’ve done a couple more, but my favorite because of the detail involved was a Day in the Life of Houston Texans Training Camp on Aug. 10. You might remember it. It was a tick-tock of a real training-camp day in an unusual season. How it began:
Geoff Kaplan, the Infection Control Officer of the Houston Texans, wakes up—no alarm needed—in the guest room of his Houston home. Guest room, in his own home? Kaplan is married with 17- and 15-year-old sons, but for the last two weeks, while he tries to keep COVID-19 out of his own house and tries to avoid carrying it into an NFL practice facility, the guest room has been his bedroom. “I can’t ask my sons and my wife to not live their lives,” Kaplan said. “This is a way to protect them, and to protect me.”
Kaplan set the alarm for 4:45 just for insurance, but didn’t need it. Because when Kaplan begins to stir on training camp mornings this year, he finds himself a little jittery, thinking, What type of curveball will I be thrown today? He’s the point of the spear for the Texans on COVID-19, and if any of the 180 Texans’ players/coaches/staff test positive for the coronavirus, there will be an overnight email from the NFL’s testing lab, BioReference Labs, in his Texans inbox informing him. Thus the reason for reaching for his phone when he wakes up, first thing. Every morning.
Good news this morning: no email from BioReference. For the eighth straight day, the Texans have zero positive tests for COVID-19.
I remind you of that story because it never would have happened without Amy Palcic. When I went looking for a team to open up everything for a day so I could see by FaceTime (surreptitiously and in-plain-sight) and cell phones and Zoom, I had conversations with seven different PR people or coaches I thought might be open to it. I told the teams they had to trust me. I needed access to everyone in the organization I thought could help me tell the story—including the head coach, the GM, the infection control officer, four or five vets, and a rookie who could riff on the weirdness of entering the NFL in this way, plus any other people important to the function of the team during camp. I thought I would not find a team willing to do it, because the ask was just too big.
But I knew Palcic pretty well, I knew coach Bill O’Brien, and I figured because they had such a nightmarish off-season, they’d be more willing to open their lives to me for a day . . . if and only if they actually trusted what was happening inside their team. It took Palcic a couple of days to think about it, but I remember the day she was going in to pitch the story to O’Brien and EVP Jack Easterby. She said she was confident about letting me do the story because they set camp up so diligently. Palcic’s attitude was, I’ve got faith in what we’re doing because I see it every day—and we’re doing it the right way. She got the approval.
For that one day, I Zoomed and talked on the phone and saw meetings and got videos and photos from around the facility. When I looked back at my phone the day I finished the column, I counted 37 contacts between me and Palcic and her staff and O’Brien and Easterby and Kaplan. She promised I could see a day in the life. I’m not naïve enough to think if there was some ugly incident that day that she’d have welcomed me to see it. But you read the story. You judge whether it passes the sniff test.
6. I think I know enough about the inner workings of the Texans—and the significant dissatisfaction of the players in the locker room about Palcic’s firing and the shock to those particularly in the national press who work with her regularly—to know that this was a patently stupid move. Stupid if for only one reason: The franchise is headed into a vital offseason. The Texans will miss the playoffs for only the second time in the last six years, and they will be looking for a head coach for the first time since 2014 and also a general manager. Let’s say the coach they settle on is Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. Let’s say Bieniemy has more than one choice, and the other choice is the New York Jets, and his agent looks into all aspects of the two jobs. Normally, you’d probably say, The Toledo Mud Hens is a better job than the New York Jets. But then you think Texans versus Jets. You think the Jets have five picks in the first three rounds in 2021 and two first-round picks in 2022, and a stable GM in Joe Douglas. (You may have the first overall pick, of course, in 2021.) And you think:
• Houston has Deshaun Watson, but by signing for only four years this year he signaled that he’s not so sure about the future of the franchise.
• Houston has massive personnel holes but won’t pick till the third round of the 2021 draft because of past trades, which included trading DeAndre Hopkins for next to nothing.
• Houston (entering Week 10) is 21st in scoring even with the great Watson, 29th in points allowed and 30th in yards allowed—even with J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus (32 and 31 years old, respectively, next season) on defense.
• Look at the salary cap. Houston’s top eight 2021 cap numbers will cost the team a combined $109 million. That leaves $66 million for the last 45 players on the roster, before re-doing contracts or cutting players. Not good.
• Houston just let go one of the best PR people in the NFL because she wasn’t “a cultural fit.” Is this some good ol’ boys club with an owner reticent to be involved and some unknown club president? Look at the reaction of players, who rarely if ever care about who the PR person is. Some are angry.
If Bieniemy has more than one choice, even with Watson on the pro-Houston side of the balance sheet, does the idiotic Palcic move just add more fuel to fire of avoiding the Texans at all costs?
7. I think I saw Ian Rapoport’s report on the Texans possibly hiring the current interim coach, Romeo Crennel, as coach for 2021, in part because of the complications of conducting a coaching search in COVID times. Good story by Rapoport. But, really? My skepticism isn’t because Crennel could not do the job—though he will be 74 at the start of the 2021 season. If the Texans conduct a search and Crennel’s the best man for the job, fine. But the NFL conducted free agency in the early days of the pandemic and got it done. The NFL conducted the draft in the heart of the pandemic; got that done too. The NFL has played 147 football games during the pandemic; through 10 weeks, there is not one game that has not either been played or rescheduled. And using Zoom and private planes, with potential coaches and interviewers who are tested every day, you can’t conduct a coaching search? That might be the dumbest thing I’ve heard all season. It sounds much more like a team that knows it might not be able to get a good candidate to come to Houston because of all the strikes against it. Imagine America has a vaccine for all by next July 1. Imagine stadiums can be open again. Imagine telling your fan base that the best idea going forward, when season-ticket holders get their invoices for the 2021 season, is for a stop-gap season. Great idea.
8. I think sometimes a head coach makes a call to try to either show his players he trusts them even though he shouldn’t, or because he’s trying to shake them out of their skid. Whatever, Doug Pederson going for two with 20 minutes left in the game and down to the Giants by four points was an absurd strategic decision Sunday. (It failed.) Why’d he do it? My guess: to light a spark under one of the worst quarterbacks in football right now, Carson Wentz. From his 2018 to 2020 numbers, Wentz is down 11 completion-percentage points and 29 passer-rating points; he was plus-14 in TD-to-INT margin in 2018, and this year he’s thrown 12 TDs and 12 picks. His line’s not helping, but Wentz is giving the Eagles significant reason to question his huge contract.
9. I think whoever got the shot with a FOX camera of Tennessee wide receiver Corey Davis, with a tear rolling down his left cheek, should be immensely proud. It aired during the Titans-Colts game on Thursday night. Davis’ brother died of cancer on Wednesday, and he was emotional about playing a day after his death.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. RIP, Paul Hornung, one of the most colorful characters in NFL history. He died of dementia. Late in life Hornung sued the helmet maker Riddell over all the concussive blows he took on a football player. Hard to figure what about “The Golden Boy” is real and what is legend. Did he really smoke five packs of cigarettes a day in his prime? Is it even possible for a person to smoke five packs of cigarettes in a day? His dating, his smoking, his drinking, his gambling . . . all part of the bio. Amazing he lived to 84. My favorite part of the story, though, happened in 1961. Let me tell you the story.
b. Hornung was the NFL’s MVP that season, but he missed lots of practice time during the season because he was in the Army Reserve, and that fall President Kennedy called up reservists and National Guard troops to active duty because of Soviet advances in Germany. The Packers advanced to the 1961 NFL Championship Game against the New York Giants on Sunday, Dec. 31. By late December, Hornung’s unit was not allowing any leaves for its troops. Coach Vince Lombardi was a big Kennedy supporter, and he appealed to the president to allow Hornung a weekend pass so he could play in the title game, per David Maraniss’ book, “When Pride Still Mattered.” Kennedy freed Hornung for the weekend, saying, “Paul Hornung isn’t going to win the war on Sunday, but the football fans of this country deserve to see the two best teams on the field that day.”
c. Hornung scored 19 points—a touchdown, three field goals, four extra points. Green Bay 37, New York 0. First championship of the Packer dynasty.
d. Baseball Story of the Week: Lindsay Adler of The Athletic on what Kim Ng’s hire as GM of the Marlins means for women in baseball. Good stuff by Adler, who covers the Yankees:
“Last season, a Yankees coach who is a real Baseball Guy — the gruff, big-on-fundamentals type — noticed that some random man on Twitter was questioning the fact that I am a woman who covers baseball. When I walked into the clubhouse the next day, he pulled me aside and went on a tirade about how furious it made him to see that, how I was in the clubhouse talking to people ‘every f—ing day’ and what the hell gives him the right to think he knows more than you? This is all women in baseball want. To be seen for Doing The Work. We know we have to work harder. Mostly, that’s OK. Kim Ng has done the work. Long after she became deserving of an opportunity to lead a major-league organization, the work has paid off.”
e. Man, college football is hurting. The country’s hurting. How about when UCLA and Cal had their opponents cancel games during the week last week because of COVID, and so UCLA and Cal athletic directors got together and said, Hey, feel like playing a game Sunday? Say, Sunday morning at 9? Let’s put it on TV. At midday Friday, the Make It Up As You Go Along Bowl was finalized. Cal at UCLA, in the Rose Bowl, on FS1, as the appetizer for the early NFL games Sunday.
f. That is the craziest thing. Along with this: This was Cal’s fifth scheduled opening game. The previous four were all cancelled due to COVID.
g. Football Story of the Week: John Feinstein of the Washington Post on Saturday’s 50-year anniversary of the plane crash that took the lives of the Marshall University football team. Well-told by Feinstein. He writes:
Jack Lengyel became the football coach at Marshall University four months after the Nov. 14, 1970, plane crash that killed all 75 members of the football team’s traveling party. Lengyel is 85 years old, but his memory is still sharp, especially when it comes to the events of that first season and what it still means to the community in Huntington, W.Va.
Lengyel took the job to rebuild the program almost from scratch four months later.
He quickly realized the job he had taken went beyond rebuilding a football program. “Remember, there were 75 people on the plane, 37 of them players. There were coaches, administrators, boosters. There were 17 children who lost a parent, eight who lost both. The entire community was devastated — still in shock.
“There were those who thought we shouldn’t play that season, that it was disrespectful to those who died. My thought was there was no better way to honor them than to play — even though we knew how difficult it was going to be to compete.”
Marshall is 7-0. So hard not to root for the Thundering Herd this fall.
h. Congrats, Freddie Freeman. You’ve not only been a stalwart for the Montclair Pedroias (my rotisserie baseball team), which is your real baseball reward. But now you’ve gone and won an MVP. Wonderful and justified.
i. Coolest thing about the National League MVP voting: Giants outfielder Mike Yastrzemski finished eighth. His grandfather (and my favorite athlete growing up in northern Connecticut), Carl Yastrzemski, finished in the top eight of American League MVP voting three times in his Hall of Fame career.
j. I’ve written lots of nice things about Ben Reiter’s six-part podcast on the Astros scandal, “The Edge.” Spending six hours listening to anything is a huge time investment, obviously. But this is so worth it, so educational, so smart. And episode six—split into two parts—had so many gems.
k. Reiter does a great job equating the ruthlessness of Astros owner Jim Crane with the ethos of new Mets owner Steve Cohen, who founded a hedge fund that pleaded guilty to insider trading and was fined $1.8 billion—that’s billion with a “B”—and admitted to four charges of securities fraud. (Worth noting: Cohen is worth $14 billion.) Crane escaped personal culpability in the Astros cheating scandal, though he did have to pay a $5-million fine for it, which was rendered laughable when he fired GM Jeff Luhnow for cause, erasing $22 million of what remained on Luhnow’s contract.
l. Luhnow comes across as a sympathetic figure in the pod. No one ever proved he knew anything about the scandal while it happened, and no player or member of the baseball ops department of the team (which oversaw the cheating) ever got sanctioned. Only Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, among Astros employees, were singled out for punishment. It’s amazing, really. Hinch deserved his year off, because he knew something bad was happening on his watch.
m. But Hinch got a nice managing job a year after his firing. Luhnow wears a scarlet letter to this day. He was singled out to take the fall despite there being no proof he was anything but a bad overseer. Good get by Reiter, to record former commissioner Fay Vincent saying, “Every once in a while in business you need to have a public execution.” How pathetic of Crane, to take zero responsibility for the scandal and to whack Luhnow—while his franchise has risen in value almost four-fold in nine years.
n. I just wish there was more. One of the best podcast series ever.
o. Column of the Week: Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer, on life of the son that former Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth tried to kill, Chancellor Lee Adams, who turns 21 years old today. A hitman killed Carruth’s pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams, and the boy survived, though with brain damage and cerebral palsy attributed to the trauma associated with Adams’ murder. Rae Carruth was released from prison in 2018, the hitman is in prison till 2041, and the hitman, Van Brett Watkins, says he wants Carruth dead. It is, as you might imagine, a sordid tale.
p. Cherica Adams’ mom, Saundra Adams, has raised Chancellor Lee in Charlotte for 21 years, in the kind of selfless act she felt obliged to do after the murder-for-hire plot. She has forgiven Carruth, who is not a part of his son’s life. And her life is her grandson’s life. “He is my miracle young man,” she told Fowler. What a story. It’s one Fowler has documented well over the years.
q. Bless you, Scott Fowler, for never forgetting Chancellor Lee Adams.
r. Radio Story of the Week: Camila Domonoske of NPR, “A pandemic sticker shock: Used-car prices are through the roof.” From Domonoske:
This spring, when the coronavirus pandemic started to spread, auto plants temporarily shut down operations for safety. That has created a shortage of new-car inventory, pushing more people onto the used-car market. Meanwhile, plenty of people are looking for cars. Partly that’s because of concerns over the safety of carpooling or riding public transit (although transit systems are taking steps to promote safety). There was a policy-based boost in demand as well, as buyers put their coronavirus relief checks toward new vehicles.
s. Great quote from Dr. Celine Gounder, recently appointed to the president-elect’s coronavirus task force, on CBS the other day: “Masks have become politicized. It’s like politicizing toilet paper.”
t. Story of the Week: Michael Wilson of the New York Times, on the day a fast-thinking New York City cop, Al Howard, calmly saved the life of Martin Luther King Jr., 62 years ago, and how that cop (turned bar owner) just died of COVID-19. Wonderful tale by Wilson. It felt like a story you’d hear from a friend, sitting by the fire one night. He writes:
It was a warm and cloudless Saturday afternoon. Officer Howard, 31 years old and on the job three years, was driving a patrol car with a rookie he’d just met that day, Officer Philip Romano. A call came over the radio: There was a disturbance at Blumstein’s department store in Harlem.
They arrived to find chaos on the second floor. At its center, in a dark suit and tie and sitting still as stone in a chair, was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., then 29. There was a letter opener jutting out of his chest. He had been signing copies of his book “Stride Toward Freedom,” about the Montgomery bus boycott, when a young woman approached and stabbed him.
An advertising executive for The Amsterdam News, a prominent Black newspaper, grabbed the woman and restrained her until a security officer took over. Stunned local leaders and politicians looked on as another woman, fearing for Dr. King’s life, reached to pull the blade out. “She was hysterical,” Officer Romano said later. The officers, knowing that the blade might have been saving Dr. King from bleeding to death, stopped her in time.
They needed help.
“In those days we didn’t have walkie-talkies,” Officer Howard said years later in an interview for the internal N.Y.P.D. magazine, Spring 3100. “The only radio we had was the one in the patrol car. Once we left that, our communication was cut off. We were entirely on our own, and believe me, it was some predicament.”
u. Beernerdness: I realize it’s time to discover some of the warmer, heavier beers as the temperature drops. But on Thursday, pre-dinner, it was wonderful to sit for a while, have a pair of Peronis (Rome, Italy) and watch the news. We’ve gotten used to the PBS News Hour most nights. Quaffing the Birra Superiore is a wonderful accompaniment to Judy Woodruff.
v. RIP, Tom Heinsohn, the Hall of Fame basketball player for the Celtics who became a lovable fan-like broadcaster for the team. I hope people will remember what a great player he was. How about this: In Heinsohn’s rookie season, 1956-57, the Celtics and St. Louis Hawks played in the best-of-seven NBA championship series. It was 3-3 heading into the decisive game on April 13, 1957 at old Boston Garden. Heinsohn and Bill Russell were rookies that season. And in the game, Boston won 125-123, in double OT. It was 103-103 after regulation, 113-113 after the first overtime. Thirty-eight lead-changes, 28 ties. Man, that must have been one heck of a game.
w. Heinsohn: 37 points, 23 rebounds. Russell: 19 points, 32 rebounds.
x. Two rookies, in the championship game of the NBA Finals, combined for 56 points and 55 rebounds.
The Adieu Haiku
Catch for the ages.
Long, long, long may it replay:
Kyler to Hopkins.