When Dallas coach Mike McCarthy boarded the Cowboys’ charter flight at BWI Airport outside of Baltimore early on the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 9, he tried to get his mind right for the short week ahead. The COVID-related delay of the game in Baltimore pushed the game, a 34-17 beatdown from the Ravens, from Thursday to Tuesday, and now the Cowboys, arguably the biggest disappointments in football, were 3-9. “You don’t wanna be cliché,” coach Mike McCarthy told me, recalling his thoughts that night, “but I just thought, ‘Gotta keep coaching. The players are gonna go as I go, so I gotta keep working.’ “
With four games left in a disastrous season, Dallas had a 2.6 percent chance to win the NFC East, per Pro Football Focus.
When Chicago coach Matt Nagy drove away from Soldier Field after a similar debacle that same week, the Bears were on a six-game losing streak. They’d just blown a 10-point lead with five minutes left in the fourth quarter and lost to Detroit 34-30. Once 5-1, Chicago was now 5-7. “Losing to Detroit after being up 10 late was a gut punch,” Nagy told me Sunday, “That was grim.”
With four games left in a promising-turned-disastrous season, Chicago had an 8.3 percent chance to make the playoffs, per PFF.
Now, in Week 17, Dallas needs a win at the Giants and a Washington loss at Philly to not only make the playoffs but to host a Wild-Card game. Chicago is in if the Bears either beat Green Bay at home or Arizona loses at the Rams.
So you’re saying there’s a chance.
There are enough crazy things happening off the field these days, including this: Cleveland endangered its playoff life by lax mask-wearing and close-contact with a COVID-positive teammate in a therapeutic hot tub at the team facility. That kayoed four active receivers, including the vital Jarvis Landry, for Sunday’s game at the Jets, and forced coach Kevin Stefanski to have a walk-through practice with the new wideout crop Sunday morning at 8:15 in a parking lot in Jersey City. (That has to be 10 minutes in “Kevin Stefanski: A Football Life” 20 years from now.) The Browns, 10-4 and frothing at the playoff possibilities 24 hours ago, lost to the Jets and now might not make the postseason if they lose at home to the division champion Steelers on Sunday.
Oh, one other really weird thing: The Giants, 5-10 and losers of three in a row, will make the playoffs with a win over Dallas at home Sunday afternoon and a Washington loss at Philadelphia on Sunday night. How about the Wild-Card Weekend prospect of a 6-10 division winner hosting Tom Brady and the explosive Bucs, with the specter of Giants Super Bowl ghosts past hanging over Brady’s head?
Lots of luscious possibilities. Before we get to Dallas and Chicago and that weirdness, a note about game 256:
Only in this season of madness, with a 10-4 playoff contender having a walkthrough on a 35-degree morning in downtown Jersey City four hours before a game, could there be such a game 256. Washington versus Philly, with 10 wins in 30 games between them, is a true win-and-in game for WFT. The Eagles are cooked for the season, but a Washington win gives WFT the NFC East title. Not remotely sexy, but consider the storyline—Alex Smith (likely starting next week), the comeback player of the year, trying to Willis-Reed Washington into the playoffs, with two big NFL markets, Washington and either New York or Dallas-Fort Worth, into every play.
I’m sort of burying the lead, though. The NFL, with 239 games played and 17 left in the final seven days of the regular season, is close to playing the regular-season without needing extra time to finish. I have my gripes with some of the decisions made to get the league to this point, but it’s remarkable the regular year is so close to finishing on schedule.
The Lead: Improbables
There are so many interesting playoff possibilities this morning. But two stand above all:
• Dallas. The Cowboys got a quarter-season out of Dak Prescott before a grotesque injury sidelined him. They started Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert at quarterback. Andy Dalton has had to be uncharacteristically bombs-away Dan Fouts at times. They’ve given up 5.0 yards per rush and 30 points per game. They had one of the game’s most beloved assistant coaches, Markus Paul, collapse in the team’s weight room in front of players and die a day later. Just a horrible season. But football does not stop.
Today, the Cowboys are better than the Giants, and Washington is a mess. Much stranger things have happened in the NFL than a seesaw Dallas team making the postseason. The Cowboys could be a 7-9 playoff team and enter the postseason hot. “By far the biggest challenge emotionally and as a football coach that I’ve been through,” McCarthy said. “I’m a new coach here, trying to make a first impression, the pandemic hits, no offseason, the Dak injury, the bad start, just one thing after another . . . and then the reality of it, those were tiny things compared to what was coming.” He meant the death of Paul, a team strength coach, on Nov. 25, then having to play a game the next day.
• Chicago. In the midst of a fast start, fourth-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was benched for indecision and inaccuracy. Nick Foles came in and won a couple of games, and then the losing streak. Foles got yanked, and in his last four starts, Trubisky actually has stoked an ember of thought that maybe, just maybe . . . No. No. Stop right there. It’s still unlikely Trubisky, a free-agent after the season because Chicago didn’t exercise his fifth-year option, is the long-term answer in Chicago, but the future doesn’t matter now. What matters is Trubisky’s got a little mojo going (72.3 percent passing in his last four games, with seven TDs and two picks), and the odds are in Chicago’s favor: PFF has the Bears’ playoff odds at 70.2 percent, obviously counting more on the Rams beating Arizona than Chicago beating Aaron Rodgers.
“I believe in my heart of hearts that being benched [in Week 4] put him on a mission,” said Nagy. “I told him that day that what feels like the worst day of your life could turn out to be the best day.” If Trubisky makes it to Wild-Card Weekend, Nagy might be right.
Two cornerstone franchises of the NFL, two proud franchises, trying to sneak in with embattled coaches and quarterbacks out for redemption.
Dallas went to Minnesota four days before Thanksgiving and began to get on the right track with a 31-28 win. McCarthy said flying home that evening, he felt that, even though the team was 3-7, they still had time to win the division and this was the start of their move. Two mornings later, McCarthy got to work at 6, just about the time Markus Paul was pulling into the parking lot. “We walked in together,” McCarthy said. “He had a workout with the younger guys, I think at 6:30. I went back to my office and [special teams coach] John Fassel ran in and says, ‘Hey, we gotta get downstairs.’ That’s when Markus collapsed. I was there right after it happened. The tragedy is obviously unspeakable to see one of your guys go down like that, but the whole team was there. It’s five minutes after 7. Everybody was either in the weight room or outside the weight room. It was tough, really tough on the guys. They’re talking about it a little more now. It’s clearly the point of our season where I was just like, what’s gonna happen next?”
Paul was rushed to a hospital. McCarthy sent the team home Tuesday. No practice on Wednesday either—just supporting each other. Paul was pronounced dead on Wednesday. On Thursday, there was a football game against Washington.
“When I walked on the field on Thanksgiving, and I shouldn’t even admit this, as a head coach, you usually have a general idea how the game’s going to go. But that day, I had no idea. There was sort of a numb feeling that day.” Washington 41, Dallas 16. And the loss at Baltimore 12 days later. And a very short week with another road game, at Cincinnati.
What’s happened is Dalton (last three games: 117.0 passer rating) and his receivers are bonding. Dallas beat the Bengals by 23, eked by San Francisco thanks to Niner turnovers, and roasted the Jalen Hurts-sparkplugged Eagles by 20 Sunday. CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup combined for 307 receiving yards and three TDs Sunday. A win at the Meadowlands next Sunday afternoon would at least keep Dallas on the right track headed into 2021, and it might send Tampa Bay to JerryWorld for a playoff game no one saw coming.
“I’m gonna say it reminds me a little of 2013 in Green Bay,” McCarthy said. “We got in at 8-7-1. Aaron [Rodgers] broke his collarbone for the first time, and we were just scratching and clawing. We played four quarterbacks that year: Scott Tolzien, Seneca Wallace, Aaron and Matt Flynn. That’s probably the closest experience from that perspective that I could relate to this. But it’s been tough in this division this year. Three new coaches, and Doug [Pederson] had injuries and the quarterback change. Just an odd year. In the end, you gotta stay the course and just be who you are.”
Nagy said the culture in his locker room was solid, and helped withstand the six-game losing streak. Trubisky began playing better after an eminently forgettable game at Lambeau Field, a 41-25 loss that wasn’t that close. Since then, the Bears have averaged 35 points a game. It’s helped that the last four teams Chicago’s played are 31st, 30th, 27th and 32nd in the league in yards allowed per game. Green Bay is eighth. The Bears are 1-8 against the Pack in the last five seasons, and what hurts Chicago is the Packers will be motivated to win and not rest their players Sunday. A win Sunday would give the Packers a second straight 13-3 regular-season record under Matt LaFleur, and would mean Green Bay would win the lone NFC bye. What helps Chicago? Arizona is ice-cold, losers of four of six, with Kyler Murray slumping since the Hail Murray beat Buffalo in November.
This could be Trubisky’s last game as a Bear. Who will we see dueling Rodgers? Trubisky’s 1-4 in his career against Rodgers, and after seeing Rodgers’ consistent dissections of recent foes (he was masterful Sunday night in a 40-14 rout of the Titans), it seems clear Trubisky’s going to have to score in the thirties to give the Bears a good shot. “Mitchell’s always been a pleaser,” Nagy said from Chicago. “He wanted to please his teammates, his coaches, the fans. But now he’s more about organic leadership. He’s not trying to please everybody—he’s trying to lead.”
The supporting cast is solid too—with a running back, David Montgomery (1,001 yards) and number one receiver, Allen Robinson (100 catches), and two tight ends with 69 catches and 10 TDs between them, Jimmy Graham and rookie Cole Kmet. On a good day, this offense can light it up. It may have to for a 2020 playoff berth.
Updates on 1110
1. URBAN MEYER. Adam Schefter reported Sunday that two teams are fact-finding on Urban Meyer as a prospective head coach. Wise homework. Meyer’s team-building and offensive design at Bowling Green, Utah (with Alex Smith), Florida and Ohio State have been among the top in football coaching at any level. But will Meyer be able to convince a team he’s a long-term solution with his history? A few reminders about Meyer:
December 2009. At age 45, announced he would resign as Florida coach due to health reasons.
March 2010. Announced he was not resigning. Announced he would return as Florida coach.
December 2010. Announced he would resign as Florida coach.
November 2011. Announced he was taking the job as Ohio State coach.
December 2018. At age 54, announced he would resign at Ohio State for health reasons.
I hope Meyer is in fine fettle and, if he wants to coach, he does so for a long time in good health. But I know if I’m interviewing him, we’d spend quite a bit of time on his health, and dive deep into why he quit high-profile college jobs at 45, 46 and 54.
2. AMAZON PRIME. I’ve heard varying reports of the next big media deals and whether there will be a streaming service involved in the new contracts. As one smart TV person told me, “If the NFL takes a streaming deal, it’d be for twice as much money for about half the impact.” What that means: the Arizona-San Francisco game Saturday night, streamed on Amazon Prime and shown over-the-air in Bay Area and Phoenix markets, got an average per-minute audience of 3.5-million viewers. If the game had been on network TV with little competition (as was the case Saturday), a TV source estimated the audience would have been about 7 million—and at least 6 million on NFL Network. It’s likely the best shot for a streaming package would be some or all of the Thursday night games. I liked the options the streaming game presented Saturday. You could watch:
- Andrew Catalon and James Lofton on the standard broadcast
- Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer on the Prime feed
- A scouts’ feed with ex-NFL scouts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks, hosted by Joy Taylor
- Former NFLers Chris Long and Andrew Hawkins talking football over the game on Twitch.
I watched the scouts feed mostly. It’s a good option, particularly when the analysts are willing to be critical—and Jeremiah, Brooks and Taylor clearly were. They were all over Kliff Kingsbury for his late play-calling, particularly for continuing to throw to 5-foot-11 wideout Christian Kirk when isolated on 6-3 Niners cornerback Akhello Witherspoon; critical of Kyler Murray for some poor decisions; questioning of the Cardinals for their lack of urgency. The group was insightful, too. “Sam Darnold would be a star in this offense,” Jeremiah said about the offseason QB conundrum of Kyle Shanahan. Cool to hear smart, unfiltered talk on an NFL telecast. I’d be bullish on a streaming package of games with multiple analyst options. Hope it happens.
3. ALVIN KAMARA. Let’s go back to spring 2017. There’s a debate in the Saints’ draft room. Christian McCaffrey is the apple of the scouts’ eyes. But a segment of the Saints’ braintrust, including coach Sean Payton, is smitten with a running back from Tennessee who’s got a third-round grade from some teams. Payton had Alvin Kamara as early second round. And Payton tells his scouts to get off the internet, which is totally smitten with McCaffrey. “I told ‘em, ‘Kamara’s going to be a better player than McCaffrey,’ “ Payton told me Saturday. So after Kamara’s six-rushing-TD game Friday, the first in the NFL since 1929, let’s compare the eighth pick in the 2017 draft (McCaffrey) with the 67th (Kamara), with the understanding that McCaffrey has lost 12 games to injury this year:
• It’s possible that usage plays into Kamara averaging 15.3 games per year and McCaffrey 12.8. Payton has built a running game with another back (Latavius Murray now, Mark Ingram in his first two years) to job-share; McCaffrey didn’t have a backfield partner in 2018 or ’19, and has been hurt much of this year. That could be a good lesson for the Matt Rhule regime (and whoever the new GM is), because even though McCaffrey is a workout warrior, he is 205 pounds and takes big punishment.
• Kamara wants the ball, but he doesn’t politic for it, even internally. “He’s so smart,” Payton said, “and he knows his role on the team. After every game, he sticks his head into my office. Every game. He just says, ‘Everything good?’ I say yep, and he says, ‘Just checking on you.’ ‘’
4. KEVIN GREENE. Two words come to mind when I think of Greene, the Hall of Fame pass-rusher who died of undisclosed causes last week at 58: intense, playful. Strange combination, but absolutely true. Maybe a third: relentless. You don’t get 160 NFL sacks without that trait.
My best memory of Greene came in my first year at Sports Illustrated, in the ’89 playoffs. Divisional round. Rams at Giants. Media rules were different then. I stood on the sidelines of the Rams’ Saturday walkthrough at Giants Stadium, with the Rams cavorting around and strangers wandering onto the field, a fun free-for-all. Afterward, I interviewed Greene in his Sheraton Hotel room across the street from the Meadowlands. Greene, his long flowing blonde mane reaching down to his shoulders, laid on his bed and watched the Bills-Browns playoff game on TV. He talked about his love of this team, and the game. “We’re so loose,” he said, in his staccato voice. “We’ve got a playful nature as a team, and it stems from Coach [John] Robinson. He sets down one rule above all: Have fun. Have fun—as long as you get your work done, which we do—and you’ll play well.” The Rams upset the Giants the next day, with Greene playing a major role limiting the Giants Offense.
Greene’s trademark, I thought, was being a dominant player for so long. He had 16.5 sacks for the Rams at age 26; 14 sacks for the “Blitzburgh” Steelers at 32; 10.5 sacks for San Francisco at 35; and in his last stop in Carolina, had 15 sacks at 36. No one loved the game more. No one wanted to be in the Hall of Fame more, and his gratitude when he got in—after waiting for a decade—flowed to every voter he could find.
5. Josh Rosen. In the official NFL game summary of Niners-Cards, there was this one orphan on the San Francisco side:
Did Not Play: QB 2 J.Rosen.
The 10th pick in the 2018 draft, Rosen is on his fourth team in 32 months now, having been signed by the 49ers as an emergency backup when Nick Mullens (elbow) and backup Josh Johnson (COVID) were lost. You never know the future, but as coach Kyle Shanahan said, “That was so impulsive. I mean, not impulsive, but we came in and we lost Nick for the year with his elbow injury and about 30 minutes later, we got told that our other quarterback that we’d been preparing for this [Johnson] for the last month went on the COVID list. So it became, How can we get a body in here?” That’s what it’s come to for Rosen, who was filched off Tampa Bay’s practice squad. Amazing. He did nothing wrong but get drafted by Arizona the year before the Cards hired a coach who wanted Kyler Murray, and now, who knows? The 2021 season could bring team number five—in less than three calendar years.
6. Ryan Fitzpatrick. Well-worn story, and it’s only Monday. Fitzpatrick had to use the bathroom in the fourth quarter at Las Vegas, so he ducked into the tunnel at Allegiant Field, did his business, and came back to the sideline. Coach Brian Flores told him he was in, replacing Tua Tagovailoa with 10 minutes to go in a key game. “I’d like to think he had a little bit more toughness and could hold it,” joked Flores on Sunday.
This is Fitzpatrick’s 16th year in the league. He’s 38. Miami’s his eighth team. He’s played in 165 games—and zero in the post-season. But I doubt he’s played in a game this nutty. Five scores in the last five minutes, 354 yards gained in the last 10 minutes, and the craziest completion of Fitzpatrick’s life. He played three series for the sputtering Dolphins. The first two went 84 yards for a field goal and 75 for a touchdown. The third lasted 18 seconds. A lot happened in 18 seconds. The first thing was the greatest completion of Fitzpatrick’s NFL career; at least he thought it was. He threw a bomb down the left sideline for Mack Hollins, just as Raider rusher Arden Key grabbed Fitzpatrick’s facemask and started twisting it to the left. ”My facemask was getting pulled and my head was getting ripped off,” Fitzpatrick said. Vivid.
HOW did Fitzpatrick get this throw off 🤯
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 27, 2020
Anyway, the pass turned out to be on target. Hollins caught it for a gain of 34. Add the 15-yard facemask penalty and voila! Instant field goal range. “Horrible penalty,” Jon Gruden said. Jason Sanders hit a perfect 44-yarder to win it. Now Miami needs to win at Buffalo on Sunday, or get a loss from Baltimore, Cleveland or Indianapolis in Week 17, and the Dolphins are in. It would be the first playoff appearance of Fitz’s career. Not that he’s thinking of that or anything. “I am well aware that I’ve never been to the playoffs, I promise you,” he said.
7. JON GRUDEN. I’m sure the Raiders coach still has the bile taste in his mouth this morning, and not because he will finish the third season of his second run with the Raiders with a third straight non-winning record. (He’s 18-29 since Mark Davis re-hired him, which adds up to about $1.67 million per win.) But with Miami up 23-22 at the two-minute warning, a strange scenario occurred. Vegas had the ball at the Miami 15-yard line, and Josh Jacobs rushed for two yards. Timeout number two, Miami. Then a neutral-zone infraction, Miami. First and goal from the 8. Jacobs up the middle, falling just past the line. Not tackled; falling. Said Brian Flores: “They were trying not to score. We were trying to let them score.” Timeout number three, Miami, with 1:50 to go. Now Jacobs up the middle for five, falling and not tackled at the 1. Third-and-goal now. Vegas bled the clock till 1:05, then called timeout and Derek Carr kneeled to bring up fourth down.
It was about this time I wondered: Hmmm. Field goal and a two-point lead with 20 or 35 seconds left? Or a TD now and a five-, six- or seven-point lead with a minute left? I saw what Gruden was trying to do. I liked it. I’d rather have a foe need to go 50 yards in 20 seconds for a field goal to win than need to go 75 yards in a minute for a tie or a win. Sometimes, a well-planned scheme doesn’t work out, but that doesn’t mean it was the wrong idea.
8. Fred Warner. Best defensive player in football this weekend, on the feel-good story team of the weekend. The 49ers “have half their team up in a luxury box, watching the game,” said Daniel Jeremiah on the telecast, after viewing Jimmy Garoppolo and Richard Sherman in said luxury suite. But they had enough, minus Nick Bosa and Garoppolo and Sherman and nine other full-time or part-time starters out injured, to beat a team that desperately needed the game, Arizona.
Warner led all players in Week 16 with 14 tackles, and he made a great play with nine minutes left and the Niners clinging to a 14-12 lead. Arizona, on fourth-and-two from its 35, sent DeAndre Hopkins on a short cross from the left, trailed by a Niner defender. Figuring Kyler Murray would likely throw for Hopkins, Warner waited, and just as Murray’s arm came forward, Warner leaped in the air and batted the ball away. Good thing. The Niner defender (I didn’t catch his number) fell in coverage, and Hopkins could have had a huge gain there. “Yeah, when I went to the sideline, the DBs were telling me that happened,” Warner said. Just a great instinctive play in a 20-12 win.
Warner has fast become an irreplaceable piece of the Niner defense, and the kind of team leader Kyle Shanahan relies on. “Been a tough year,” Warner told me post-game from Arizona. “We’re missing guys, the pandemic makes the game so different, and now guys have been uprooted from their families because our county back home shut us down. This really felt like a big division game, even without fans. You could hear the pads thudding all over the field.” Warner has to be part of the long-term program here. The Niners need his playmaking and presence to maximize their Super Bowl window.
9. Dwayne Haskins. I’m not even sure we should be surprised that Haskins got fired by Washington Monday morning. In my opinion, it should have happened last week–or at least he should have been suspended. As I wrote before the WFT cut him Monday: It was amazing that Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins wasn’t suspended by the league or his team after going mask-less to a strip club and potentially COVID-endangering every player in his locker room. It was surprising that Haskins got the starting call from Ron Rivera, though understandable given that the game against Carolina was basically a playoff play-in game. And finally, it was ugly that he had to get yanked in the second half after throwing two picks, losing a fumble and putting up two field goals in nine drives. NFL Network analyst Brian Billick summed up Haskins well: “Shows what happens when your owner is doing the drafting.” Good line about the alleged Dan Snyder input on the pick of Haskins in April 2019. Often thought, rarely uttered, on TV.
Haskins sounded chagrined for the strip-club trip and the $40,000 team fine and the stripping of his captaincy and the lousy play—“Definitely the hardest week of my life,” he said—but Washington determined, too late, that it was too late for that. Washington will look for a quarterback in 2021.
10. THE 33RD TEAM. Interesting think tank invented by Mike Tannenbaum since he left NFL front offices for TV. In conjunction with students at UMass he has mentored and taught, Tannenbaum, the former GM of the Jets and executive with Miami, has gathered a group of former NFL coaches, executives and scouts to form The 33rd Team. (See the video Annie Koeblitz of NBC Sports produced about it here.)
Every Wednesday for an hour on Zoom, former coaches (Dan Quinn, Marc Trestman, Wade Phillips, Eric Mangini) and execs (Tannenbaum, Joe Banner, Terry Bradway, Tom Lewand, Ray Farmer) make presentations on the salary cap, trends in the game and college prospects, among other things. College students do research for the group. “If you love football and want to learn and want to contribute to a learning environment, we’re an open-source consortium,” said Tannenbaum. “It’s for people who love football and love to learn about football.” I sat in on three hour-long calls, and they were educational. Of particular use: Banner on the salary-cap implication of the Eagles trading or keeping Carson Wentz.
11. Davante Adams. So many great receivers to choose from in the league now. How do you pick two for the all-pro team, or two plus a slot receiver? It’s going to be so hard this year to pick two wideouts among Stefon Diggs, DeAndre Hopkins, Adams, Tyreek Hill and DK Metcalf. Really: pick two. How do you do that?
I do hope Adams gets his due; he still has a chance to win the triple crown for receivers and lead the league in catches and yards and touchdowns; he has 109 and 1,328 and 17, respectively, after his three-TD night in the snow in Green Bay against Tennessee. He’s two out of the receptions lead, 34 yards out of the yardage lead and leads in TDs. Here’s what I appreciate about Adams: Just as Aaron Rodgers makes quarterbacking looks easy, Adams is a smooth and precise route-runner who makes the big catches look easy. He just turned 28 on Christmas Eve, and he should be a good partner for Rodgers for as long as he’s in Green Bay. Which could be years, Jordan Love notwithstanding.
Week 16: 20 Thoughts
1. Things that make you go hmmmmmm a week after you pooh-poohed the Chiefs’ narrow recent wins because of the quality or competition: KC 17, Falcons 14, in a game saved by a 39-yard field goal going wide right by Younghoe Koo. Kansas City’s won 10 straight, the last seven by 2, 4, 3, 6, 6, 3 and 3. The road is littered with teams that have said, “We’ll turn it on when we get to the playoffs.” I’m just saying.
2. One of these 10-5 teams will not make the playoffs: Indianapolis, Cleveland, Baltimore, Miami, Tennessee. Wow. Imagine explanding the playoffs to seven teams per conference, and in the first year, a 10-win team misses out.
3. Jared Goff makes three throws a game where you say, What was that? Like the Quandre Diggs interception on a high ball to no one just before halftime in Seattle. “It doesn’t get any uglier than this,” said Troy Aikman on TV. Great graphic by FOX after the Diggs pick. Most turnovers in the NFL since opening day 2019: Goff, 38. That’s got to be driving Sean McVay nuts.
4. Memo to Sammy Watkins, neophyte QB: You don’t actually throw the pass when your target is blanketed. It’s okay to run it then.
5. Startling Sunday statement: From Jim Nantz, on comatose Pittsburgh: “For the season, only the Jets have gone three-and-out with greater frequency than the Steelers have.”
6. The scoreboard for the great Russell Wilson after Seattle clinched the NFC West:
- Nine seasons, eight playoff appearances, four division titles, two NFC championships, one Super Bowl title.
- Top six QBs in the 2012 draft, with overall draft position: 1) Andrew Luck, 2) Robert Griffin III, 8) Ryan Tannehill, 22) Brandon Weeden, 57) Brock Osweiler, 75) Russell Wilson.
- No quarterback in NFL history has been sacked more in his first nine seasons than Wilson (392). Yet . . .
- With Wilson taking all that punishment, Seattle has played 158 games (143 regular-season, 15 postseason), and Wilson has started all 158.
- Top career ratings of QBs drafted between 1995 and 2015: Aaron Rodgers 103.5, Wilson 101.8, Drew Brees 98.6, Tom Brady 97.2.
7. Good for the Steelers, winning the division. I hope offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner learned something from early in the game. First three plays: all shallow crosses, all incomplete, two worm-burners. Throw it downfield! Take advantage of your quarterback’s arm! That’s how the Steelers won this game, by getting the traffic away from the line of scrimmage and the intermediate part of the field.
8. It’s close, and I reserve the right to change my mind, but here are my top three candidates for coach of the year headed into Week 17, in order: Buffalo’s Sean McDermott, Miami’s Brian Flores, Cleveland’s Kevin Stefanski.
9. The defensive rookie award is Chase Young’s to lose, on my ballot. Offensive: Justin Herbert, narrowly, over Vikes wideout Justin Jefferson.
10. Teams need depth. Advertisers are desperate for it. Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey and Dak Prescott dominated player ads over the weekend. Shouldn’t there be backup plans? You know, in case a guy hasn’t played in three months?
11. Happy 45th birthday, Terrible Towel. (H/T Jim Nantz for that.)
12. So entering the last week of his third starting season in San Francisco, Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle) would appear to be a long shot to play in the inconsequential season finale against Seattle, especially after C.J. Beathard was impressive in the win over Arizona. If Garoppolo sits, that means since being handed the full-time starter job in 2018, he will have played 25 regular-season games and missed 23 due to injury. That’s obviously going to be a major factor—probably the major factor—in whether the Niners choose to keep Garoppolo in 2021. I’m dubious they will. Kyle Shanahan’s a pretty bottom-line guy, and the quarterback injuries have helped ruin two of the last three seasons; when the quarterback had a healthy season, the Niners had a 10-point lead in the Super Bowl with 10 minutes to play. We’ll see, but the clock is ticking on Garoppolo’s future.
13. I am not a fan of a possible NFL draft lottery. I am a fan in basketball, because there is a history of teams tanking. But I have not seen evidence, ever, of a football team trying to lose. If that happens, then I’d re-think it. But let me give you a hypothetical: A team goes 0-16 with a horrible QB situation, and the next-worst team is 3-13. You’re telling me that it would be fair to have the top pick dependent on the drop of a lottery ball? Fair to take the top pick away from a winless team and give it to a team with two or three wins? Nonsense.
14. It makes no sense to me that the Lions game wasn’t moved back one day, from Saturday to Sunday. How’d you like to be competing against the Bucs for a playoff spot, or jockeying for playoff position, and the man coaching against them Saturday has never been a position coach in the NFL, and never been an NFL coach of any kind? Evan Rothstein. Play-caller against Tom Brady and Bruce Arians. I’ve said forever that this was going to be an unfair season because some teams were going to get jobbed due to COVID reasons. Unfair is one thing. Unfair when fair is so easy to accomplish is another. And the NFL was wrong to force the Lions to play Saturday without a head coach and without most key defensive coaches, when, assuming their COVID tests were negative for five straight days, they’d have been able to coach Sunday.
15. It’d be good to see someone, anyone in the league office with the guts to say, “Commissioner, this is wrong. Just plain wrong.” Clearly, there is no one there to tell that to Roger Goodell.
16. This Haason Reddick transformation in Arizona is incredible. First 60 NFL games: 12.5 sacks, three forced fumbles. Last three NFL games: 7.5 sacks, six forced fumbles. He’ll be a free-agent, and perhaps a very rich one. Productivity leads to confidence, and this looks like such a confident player right now.
17. I can’t pick out one throw that Tua Tagovailoa made in Las Vegas that was a big-time, winning throw, and he played all but the last 10 minutes of a must-win game.
18. Every time I watch Niners running back Jeff Wilson in extended time (like Saturday, 22 rushes for 183 yards with a 21-yard weaving-through-the-defense TD reception), I think he should be an every-down back. If he can avoid the nicks that that have plagued his three-year career out of North Texas, he’ll get that chance at some point—but that’s been a big if so far.
19. America agrees with Jon Gruden on one thing, and his name is Darren Waller (four December games: 34 catches, 537 yards). “He’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen play football,” Gruden said.
20. I am quite sure of this: Will Ferrell will play Ben Roethlisberger in the Big Ben biopic.
The Award Section20
Offensive Players Of The Week
Alvin Kamara, running back, New Orleans. I am a bit of a stat nerd, so Kamara doing something that hadn’t been done in the NFL for nine decades is very cool to me. As is this stat line from the NFL official game book for Saints 52, Vikings 33:
6 Rush TD
Kamara had the first six-TD rushing game in modern football history, and he did it with scores in the third, 10th, 30th, 41st, 48th and 59th minutes, helping the Saints break a two-game losing streak. He scored on power, and around the end, and with elusiveness. What strikes me as particularly interesting about Kamara’s four seasons as a Saint: He’s been over 700 yards rushing and over 80 catches each year . . . but he’s never rushed for 1,000 yards in the NFL. With a game-16 duel at playing-out-the-string Carolina, it’ll be interesting to see if Sean Payton will give him a chance to get the 78 yards he needs to reach 1,000 for the first time.
C.J. Beathard, quarterback, San Francisco. Last Monday was the one-year anniversary of the day Beathard’s brother, Clayton, was stabbed to death outside a Nashville bar. Last Monday was also the day coach Kyle Shanahan told Beathard he’d be making his first start in more than two years against Arizona on Saturday. Beathard played a huge role in the 49ers’ 20-12 upset of the Cardinals, completing 13 of 22 passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns. “It means more than I can really put into words,” said Beathard, somber and wrung out after the emotional win. After the game, Beathard wore a jacket with his brother’s face emblazoned on it, a gift from his late brother’s pastor. Lot of players had big days in Week 16. No one had a more meaningful day than Beathard.
Defensive Players Of The Week
Fred Warner, above, gets one nod this week. The other:
Jamal Adams, safety, Seattle. With Seattle nursing a 13-6 lead midway through the third quarter, Adams made the kind of play Ray Lewis used to make. Starting from outside the right defensive end spot, Adams rushed the Rams backfield as Darrell Henderson sprinted around his own right end. In pursuit, Adams kept making up ground, and as Brown churned for the end zone, Adams dove and hit him in both lower legs. Brown went down at the 2, and Seattle stoned LA four times from there to prevent the Rams from getting any points. This is the kind of presence Adams provides. He’s rangy and violent, and his eight tackles helped hold the Rams without a touchdown. Sick of losing in New York, Adams got dealt to Seattle this fall and finally won a division.
Special Teams Players Of The Week
Clayton Fejedelem, safety, Miami. For the first 27 minutes of the vital game in Las Vegas, Miami’s offense was putrid. Three points, 45 passing yards, a 10-3 deficit. On fourth-and-one from midfield, with Fejedelem the upback between the center and punter, the 205-pound backup took the direct snap and smashed into the middle of a clogged line. For a split second, it looked like he’d be stopped cold and Brian Flores second-guessed for a fake punt in such a narrow game. But Fejedelem, looking more like a running back than a DB, bounced to his right, found a hole, and rambled for 22 important yards. Miami had to settle for a field goal and a 10-6 deficit, but Fejedelem did his part. He also forced and recovered the fumble on the kickoff that ended the Raiders’ last chance as time expired.
Jason Sanders, kicker, Miami. We think of Justin Tucker as the game’s state-of-the-art kicker. He is. But Sanders is forcing his way into Tucker’s league. He was right down the middle on four field goals Saturday night in the 26-25 win over the Raiders, including the winner from 44 yards with one second left. Through 16 weeks, Sanders is 68 of 71 this year on all kicks (including 34 of 37 on field goals), Tucker 72 of 76 (25 of 28 on field goals).
Coaches Of The Week
Robert Saleh, defensive coordinator, San Francisco. When I watch Robert Saleh coach, I think, “Leader. Guy his players love playing for. Communicator. Demanding.” I realize the Niners have had a lean year, but consider who they’ve been without for most or the vast majority of the season—including Nick Bosa and Richard Sherman, probably the most important defenders on the team—after trading an all-pro defensive tackle, DeForest Buckner last spring. That was a throttling of the Arizona offense in a game the Cardinals absolutely had to have, and in a game that meant nothing in the standings to San Francisco. “What’s so good about him,” linebacker Fred Warner told me, “is he’s got such a smart football mind, but he realizes we need to play smart and play fast and play physical, so we’re pretty black and white in our schemes.” Holding an explosive offense with Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins to 4.4 yards per play, as the Niners D did in a game Arizona needed badly, should be the résumé-enhancer Saleh needs for a head-coaching job. His enthusiasm, planning, organization and defensive philosophy, collectively, is what Detroit needs right now.
Brian Flores, coach, Miami. I’ve thought forever how silly it is that a starting quarterback is treated differently on NFL rosters. He’s allowed to be pulled. If his confidence is shattered by getting yanked when he stinks, then he shouldn’t be the man leading your team. Flores changed quarterbacks from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Tua Tagovailoa on Nov. 1. Five weeks ago, Flores yanked an ineffective Tua for Fitzpatrick at Denver, and he did it again Saturday night with the season on the line at Las Vegas. Fitzpatrick led three scoring drives in the last 10 minutes, and Miami had a ridiculous 26-25 win. I question like the rest of the free world Flores saying he’s sticking with Tagovailoa next week at Buffalo (yikes), but I also say this: In his first two months as coach, Flores had an 0-7 team that looked like the worst in football. Since then—since Nov. 1, 2019—Miami is 15-9. That’s why people sitting at laptops, like me, would be wise to say maybe this coach deserves the benefit of the doubt. In any case, this guy’s a heck of a coach.
Goat Of The Week
Niners kicker Robbie Gould, who missed a PAT and field-goal tries from 41 and 37 yards, deserves it, but his team won. So . . .
Younghoe Koo, kicker, Atlanta. Fourteen seconds left. Falcons have no business being in position to tie and force overtime at the Super Bowl champion Chiefs. Falcons down 17-14, playing valiantly. Koo, maker of 27 straight field goals, lines up for a 39-yarder. Snap good. Hold good. Kick starts out straight down the middle, fades right, fades a little more right, and is wide right by maybe six inches. Falcons 4-11.
Quotes of the Week
“This is the greatest job in the world. You get to go out and play a game. If you can’t care enough, even in Week 17, even when you’re trash, even when you’re 4-11, to give everything you got and try your hardest, that’s bulls—. We have fans who still care! And we stink! And they care! It sucks as a player to know we’re not giving them what they deserve.”
—Houston defensive end J.J. Watt, after a dispiriting, embarrassing loss to Cincinnati at home Sunday.
With that, he walked off the virtual press conference dais.
“There’s a fine line between drinking wine and squashing grapes.”
—Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, on the Pittsburgh offensive ineptitude of the first half and the explosion of the second half in the comeback win over the Colts.
“This is a bad defense, worst one I’ve ever had.”
—Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer, on the 2020 Vikings after they gave up 52 points and 583 yards to the Saints on Friday.
“I am looking at it right now. Wow. Didn’t feel great.”
—Miami quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, on NFL Network, watching a replay of his facemask-twisting completion that keyed the winning drive in Las Vegas.
“They call him Fitzmagic for a reason.”
—Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, after getting yanked against the Raiders and watching Ryan Fitzpatrick rally the Dolphins to a victory.
“You’re kidding me, right? I can’t believe what I just saw!”
—Kurt Warner, color man on Miami-Las Vegas, after watching the bizzarro end to the 26-25 Dolphins win.
So the name Ernie Nevers is back in the news. In 1929, Nevers, a running back for the Cardinals, rushed for six touchdowns in a game, a feat that remained unmatched in NFL history for 91 years—until Friday, when Alvin Kamara had six rushing touchdowns to lead New Orleans over Minnesota.
Ernie Nevers was not quite Deion before Deion, but as a mediocre right-handed pitcher for the St. Louis Browns of the American League from 1926 to ’28, Nevers pitched three games in 1927 against the New York Yankees. That, of course, is one of the best baseball teams in history. The Yankees went 110-44 in 1927, and Babe Ruth became a national sensation by hitting 60 home runs, a baseball record that stood till Roger Maris broke it in 1961.
Nevers served up Ruth’s eighth and 41st home runs, three months apart, in Ruth’s 60-homer season.
The Bears connection to the Alvin Kamara six-TD day is pretty crazy.
Four players have scored six touchdowns in a game in the 101-season history of the NFL. The first two were against the Bears: Ernie Nevers in 1929 and Cleveland running back Dub Jones in 1951. The third was by a Bear: Gale Sayers as a spectacular rookie in 1965.
George Halas, over the 37-season span of those three events, coached in each game. He was a 35-year-old head coach of the Bears in the 1929 loss to the Cardinals, the 56-year-old coach of the Bears in the 1951 loss to Cleveland, and the 70-year-old coach of the Bears in the rout of San Francisco in 1965. He retired after the ’67 season after coaching 40 seasons for Chicago over four tenures.
Now the connection to the Kamara game. In 1987, Sean Payton, the year after finishing a starry career as a quarterback at Eastern Illinois, signed to play for the Bears strike team—each NFL team signed replacement players to fill out rosters for three strike games while the regulars picketed. Payton played for Halas’ hand-picked head coach, Mike Ditka. His numbers? Not exactly Breesian: eight of 23 with no TDs and one interception (against the Saints) for a passer rating of 27.3. But think of the four historic games, 91 years apart, having Halas, Halas, Halas and a weird descendant of Halas involved as coaches.
“That is unbelievable!” Payton said when I told him Saturday.
One last unbelievable thing: The Cardinals in 1929 played three games in eight days—on Nov. 24 against Dayton, on Nov. 28 (Thanksgiving) against the Bears, and on Dec. 1 in New York against the Giants. Quite a schedule. Nevers was a running back, kicker and defensive back. Against Dayton, Nevers scored all 19 points for the Cards. Against the Bears, Nevers scored all 40 points for the Cards. Against the Giants, he scored one rushing TD, kicked one PAT, threw one TD pass, and intercepted future Hall of Fame quarterback Benny Friedman. So in eight days, Nevers scored 66 points himself and threw a touchdown pass and picked off a Hall of Fame quarterback.
Tweets of the Week
Worse non-challenge? pic.twitter.com/NJwIZOcdqm
— James Holzhauer (@James_Holzhauer) December 28, 2020
Holzhauer, Jeopardy champ and friend of FMIA, addressing two glaring mistakes by teams missing out on challenging calls.
I know I’m late but best no look pass of all time 😂😂😂
— Patrick Mahomes II (@PatrickMahomes) December 27, 2020
Mahomes on the crazy twisted-facemask completion by Ryan Fitzpatrick that led to Miami’s stunning comeback win in Vegas.
The last thing a rookie quarterback sees before he loses his job. pic.twitter.com/9d07cgj6T7
— Kevin Clark (@bykevinclark) December 27, 2020
Clark covers the NFL for The Ringer.
If I'm the Dolphins I offer Ryan Fitzpatrick a contract for 2021 tomorrow morning. Backup. Mentor. Reliever. Magician. Give him any title he'd like.
— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) December 27, 2020
Schad covers the Dolphins for the Palm Beach Post.
Good week for the Bengals pic.twitter.com/yaph1zscod
— Joey Burrow (@JoeyB) December 25, 2020
Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow, taking steady steps after his surgery to repair major knee damage from a Nov. 22 injury at Washington.
Eight current division leaders: Chiefs, Bills, Steelers, Titans, Packers, Saints, Seahawks, WFT. None drafted their starting QB first overall. None even drafted their starting QB in the Top 5. Let's not pretend tanking for the first pick is the only way to build a franchise.
— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) December 25, 2020
Smith is the managing editor of Pro Football Talk.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter.
This is interesting. From Dale Hemmila: “With a look ahead to games scheduled for next week between teams out of the playoffs, wouldn’t it make sense to just call it a year for some of those teams? Who really cares about Detroit versus Minnesota? That would reduce COVID risk to a lot of people. Couldn’t the NFL just call some of these games off in the interest of health?”
I like the way you think, Dale. It’s smart. But I see two issues. There’s no real reason not to play the game you’re referring to, seeing that neither team is dangerously exposed and seeing an outbreak ravage the roster. The game was scheduled, there’s no outbreak, you’ve played the first 15 games, so why stop now? I could see the NFL calling off a totally meaningless game, but only if one or both teams is being hit by an outbreak. Networks pay the NFL for 256 regular-season games, and I doubt they would be pleased for the ratings in the markets involved in the games if the NFL just called games because of the potential of a spread when one is not currently active.
On division alignment. From Erik Binkowski, of McLean, Va.: “Why isn’t Buffalo in a division with Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati (more aligned around the Great Lakes) and Baltimore in the division with teams on the I-95 corridor? Is there any logic behind this? When you look at a map, seems like rivalries will be pretty intense when Buffalonians can drive three hours to Cleveland or four hours to Pittsburgh, versus seven hours to NYC and eight hours to Boston and a flight to Miami? Is it purely the Baltimore-Pittsburgh rivalry?”
No. It’s long-standing rivalries, Erik. Lots of what we see in division alignment is based on what the league did around the time of the AFL-NFL merger, which took effect in 1970. The Bills, Patriots, Jets and Dolphins were in a division with Baltimore then, and it stayed that way for 32 seasons, even after the Colts moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984. It stayed that way because there wasn’t an overriding reason to change it. In 2002, the league moved from six division to eight divisions of four teams each. Would it have made more sense to separate the Dolphins then? Geographically yes. There was talk of an AFC South with Tennessee, Jacksonville, Houston and Miami, with Indianapolis staying in the East. But there was too much focus on the tradition of rivalries like Buffalo-Miami and Jets-Miami for that to happen. If geography was the deciding factor, Dallas never would have stayed in the NFC East, but there was too much regard for the Cowboys’ rivalries with the three East Coast teams to change that. The networks got to love those games, and the old vestiges of great games for the networks still exist today.
Talib fan. From Barry Spiegel, of Peoria, Ariz: “I’ve been watching football on TV since the days of Kyle Rote on CBS and Al DeRogatis on NBC, and I’d hoped (but failed) to be a play-by-play man, so I’m a bit experienced at telling the difference between ordinary and exceptional. Aqib Talib [the former corner who did Eagles-Cards on FOX] was different. I turned on the game a bit late, so I had no idea who was in the booth. Mid-first quarter, I blurt out, “Whoever this analyst is, he is very candid and refreshingly insightful.” My bride, reading in the easy chair behind me, asks me who it is. “No idea,” I said. After halftime, I note that whoever the analyst, he sounds a bit less polished, but that seems to make his comments more relevant. He speaks with ease, says what he thinks and appears to be more conversant with the game as played today. What else could fans want from an analyst? His content was stellar.”
Good points, Barry. I thought the same, except I knew who it was—even before I saw the suit. Talib always had a knack as a player of saying as much as was possible, given the constraints players have in a team setting. Now that he’s in the booth (I hope for a long time), it’ll be interesting to see how much he can push the boundaries of what’s acceptable by the networks.
10 Things I Think I Think
1. I think it’s hard to imagine—barring a ridiculous night by Josh Allen tonight against New England—that Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes will be beat for the MVP. Rodgers (12-3, 44 TDs, five picks, 119.4 rating) is in the lead for me. Mahomes has cooled off, but I could still see him winning it. MVP ballots for the 50 voters are due in nine days. The award will be announced Feb. 6.
2. I think it’ll be interesting to see how the league balances the Wild-Card Weekend TV schedule. Three games Saturday and three Sunday—roughly the same each day, with 1:05 p.m. ET, 4:30 p.m. ET and 8:15 p.m. ET starts—for the first time this year. It used to be two each day. With the NFL selling the last two Sunday slots to the highest bidders, I would expect Tom Brady and the Bucs to be playing in either the Sunday late-afternoon or evening window.
3. I think the Rams could fall off a cliff and out of the playoff this weekend if they have to play John Wolford at quarterback. And they might. NFL Network reports than Jared Goff suffered a fractured and dislocated thumb against Seattle, placing his status for the Week 17 game against Arizona in doubt. Wolford has played in the Alliance of American Football, but not in the NFL. Talk about a crazy turn of events. Imagine the Rams not making the playoffs and the Bears and Cardinals making them.
4. I think J.J. Watt might not be popular in some corners of his locker room for calling out the effort of teammates (though not by name). But he’ll be popular out in the world. I love what he said.
5. I think it seems incredible to say—because, you know, he’s had a decent career for himself—but 43-year-old Tom Brady just had the best four-quarter stretch of his football life. Over the last two quarters of the win at Atlanta and the first two quarters at the Toledo Mudhens (did I actually write that?), Brady’s line: 43 of 56, 76.8 percent accuracy, 668 yards, six touchdowns, zero picks, 151.5 rating. How can a 43-year-old person do this? I don’t know, but TB12 supplements might be flying off virtual shelves this week. Brady is getting hot at the right time, his receivers are healthy, and the Bucs will be a tough out in January.
6. I think I would ask one question to Miami coach Brian Flores’ post-game declaration of, “Tua is the starter:” Why?
7. I think after Flores watches the tape of this game, and sees not a single dynamic downfield thrown by Tua Tagovailoa (hard to do, in an era when downfield passing is so prevalent), and sees the spark of three scoring drives in the last 10 minutes from Ryan Fitzpatrick, he might rethink that—especially with Miami’s playoff hopes on the line going into Buffalo next week. Other than Tagovailoa’s elusiveness, is there an advantage right now that he gives the Dolphins over Fitzpatrick?
8. I think Todd Prukop is the luckiest man of Week 16. He was the back judge in Dolphins-Raiders, and he called a 49-yard defensive pass interference penalty for incidental contact. The play: Miami cornerback Byron Jones, as far as the replay showed, touched but did not inhibit wideout Nelson Agholor on a deep Derek Carr throw at a vital moment of a vital game—Miami up 23-22, 2:20 left in the game, Raiders ball, second-and-six, Raider 29-yard line. If the throw’s incomplete, as it should have been ruled, Las Vegas has a third-and-six, and who knows how this ends. But Prukop made a phantom call. If that’s interference, there are five uncalled interference infractions on every pass in every game.
I have railed against the idiocy of the spot foul on defensive pass interference for years. Though I doubt it, I hope the Competition Committee and the league’s football operations side see the injustice of this rule for what it is—overly generous to the offensive team—and see how heavily it weighed on the outcome of a game with playoff implications. DPI should be a 15-yard penalty with one exception: if a clearly beaten defender tackles or mugs a receiver who has gotten past him.
9. I think the DPI spot foul has taken over the move-back-the-automatic-PAT rule as my white whale of rules-changes the game desperately needs. The NFL finally moved the PAT back, so it’s now a remotely competitive play. When there is justice for DPI, the game will be better for everyone.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. I neglected to wish all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays last week. Thanks so much for being there for some or all of the 24 years I’ve written this column, first at Sports Illustrated and now at NBC Sports. You’re a great audience, and I am lucky to have you reading me. Without you, there is no FMIA. Particularly during these hard last 10 months, and particularly around the holidays, I realize how fortunate I am to live this life, with the people I love around me and supporting me. Thanks for the loyalty (and the anger and the enmity too). I feel it every week.
b. Photo Story of the Week: A gem from Ruth Fremson of the New York Times, from a Steinbeckian holiday trip across the United States in these hard times.
c. The photos might be better than the words. Together, they paint a vivid picture of America this month. What a great piece. Three chunks:
After three months on the East Coast covering the final stretch of an election turned upside down by a pandemic, it was time for the long drive home to Washington State. Leaving Pennsylvania, the campaign signs fell away, and the mood lightened. I drove through two Bethlehems (N.C. and Pa.), Antlers, Okla., and Garland, Texas, looking for signs of the season, and stopped at holiday events in Asheville, N.C., Memphis and Dallas.
Blowup snowmen boldly declared that Christmas was coming. Homes were wrapped in twinkling lights. In small towns, people cared for sick neighbors. Tourist venues, revered for their end-of-year festivities, found ways to open despite the pandemic. Living Nativities, menorah lightings and holiday music revues were held outdoors. People donned masks and came, eager to get out and participate.
Whether with help from generous donors or simply by sheer force of will, Americans across the country were closing out this tumultuous year with celebrations of joy, faith and new beginnings.
In Show Low, Ariz., Aaron Leach created a free display with 42,000 dancing lights, music and videos honoring emergency workers and veterans. “As a wildfire firefighter myself, I know what it’s like to risk my life for communities,” he said.
Farther south, in Glendale, Ariz., Rabbi Sholom Lew wheeled an eight-foot menorah into an empty parking lot for a drive-in Hanukkah celebration.
“However dark it is outside,” he said, “if we just give it some effort, each of us can create a little light and warmth in our lives.”
The 12 Days of Christmas display came to life at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden. Visitors wove through the playful carousel displays of lords-a-leaping and ladies dancing, while children searched for cats, owls and rabbits in a scavenger hunt. Many of the guests were emergency workers and their families, courtesy of a donor to the arboretum, Dan Patterson.
“People have suffered financially. Seeing long lines at food banks on the front page of The Dallas Morning News reminded me of the Great Depression, and I thought, it just can’t happen here,” he said. “I’m fortunate to be blessed with resources, and I want to make sure I share them.”
d. Such an interesting thread about the Christmas morning RV bombing in downtown Nashville, which had so many odd elements. This comes from a Tennessee attorney and former federal prosecutor named Alex Little.
The Nashville Christmas Bombing is incredibly unusual for a few reasons. The facts we think we know so far — and things may change as new information emerges — paint a picture that is different than any other attack on U.S. soil.
It raises some serious questions.
A thread 1/x
— Alex Little (@AlexLittleTN) December 25, 2020
e. Sign of the Times Story of the Week: Chris Megerian of the Los Angeles Times, on angry Americans using obituaries to pour out emotion about COVID killing their loved ones. Wrote Megerian:
Kristin Urquiza had no doubt about how she would choose to remember her father, Mark Urquiza, in his obituary.
“Far too often, leadership failure is hidden in the private grief of everyday people,” said Kristin, 39, a deputy director at an environmental activism organization in San Francisco. “I had no recourse other than to be honest.”
She wrote: “Mark, like so many others, should not have died from COVID-19. His death is due to the carelessness of the politicians who continue to jeopardize the health of brown bodies through clear lack of leadership, refusal to acknowledge the severity of this crisis, and inability and unwillingness to give clear and decisive direction on how to minimize risk.”
Kristin called it an “honest obituary,” one that reckoned not only with the loss of a loved one but also with the broader political and public health context of their death.
f. I also like this one from Jeff Pearlman, who is infuriated and rightfully so.
g. Beernerdness: Country Doctor pilsner (Original Pattern Brewing, Oakland, Calif.) is one of those new and fun 16-ounce cans of pilsner with a light, dry, vaguely citrus and oh-so-smooth taste. I’m noticing lots of similar pilsners on the market, not to imply that this is some mass-produced thing. But so many local breweries around the country are making tasty pilsners with distinctive tastes. Buy it if you can find it. Comes in four-packs. My daughter Laura is a big Original Pattern person.
h. Coffeenerdness: Thank you to the six emailers who wrote to comment on my discovery of the French Press method for brewing. Michael Guravich wrote from Canada to say: “Don’t use those glass-walled presses. Get a stainless steel, double-walled press. It won’t break, and it’ll keep it hot. Also don’t grind the coffee too fine; coarse is better.”
i. Now, where else do you get better life and coffee advice than in FMIA?
j. RIP, K.C. Jones, an underrated basketball player and coach and, from all accounts, a better human being.
The Adieu Haiku50
Perfect: “They call him
Fitzmagic for a reason.”
Great quote, Tua T.