In many ways, Sunday was the biggest game of Jameis Winston’s athletic career. At 27, he has plenty of NFL life left, but only if he cuts out the turnovers that were so ruinous in his five Tampa seasons. He didn’t try to make the day too big, but three hours before the Saints played Green Bay, he boarded the first bus at the Saints’ hotel. Before going to his seat, Winston stopped at the first row and looked to his left, where Sean Payton was sitting.
“I’ve dreamed of this moment my whole life,” Winston told Payton.
When Winston was in middle school in Alabama, Payton and Drew Brees began making beautiful music together running the Saints’ offense, and the games would be on TV most weekends in his house. When the Saints won the Super Bowl, Winston was a high school sophomore, and he longed to play in such a quarterback-friendly offense. And when he bombed out of Tampa in 2019, well, if he couldn’t start somewhere (he didn’t have the chance), he wanted to go to New Orleans, even to sit.
So winning the starting quarterback job in camp this summer was a thrill for Winston, and Week 1, with Payton in his ear for four quarters, was a thrill too.
You know that Winston Rose to the first challenge. In the shocking 38-3 rout of the Packers at their Hurricane Ida-caused temp home field in Jacksonville, Winston threw five touchdown passes and ran for 37 yards. As importantly, Winston didn’t throw an interception in 59 offensive snaps, didn’t fumble in 59 offensive snaps, and wasn’t sacked in 20 passing snaps. All those who had Winston with a passer rating 94 points better than Aaron Rodgers, raise your hand. I thought so.
After the game, I asked Winston over the phone from Florida: “What’s the play you’re most proud of today? What’s the play you made that you’ll always remember?”
“Imma tell you!” Winston said excitedly. “Fake wide zone to the left, late in the first quarter. I think we were at the Green Bay 37. I threw the ball away.”
You threw five touchdown passes today, I reminded him. You just mentioned an incompletion.
“We had this same play called the other day in practice,” Winston said. “And I was trying to make a play, and I threw it, and [Saints linebacker] Kaden Elliss intercepted it. So I just said to myself, If we call that play in the game this week, and it’s not there, I’m gonna throw it so high out of bounds that Shaq can’t pick it off. And that’s what I did.”
This was the Saints’ 14th play of the game. I’ve watched it eight or 10 times now, and it’s totally unremarkable, except for one thing. Alvin Kamara does a wheel route to the left, covered right away by linebacker Jonathan Garvin. Winston looks to the left, thinks about throwing it, sees Garvin lying in wait about five yards away, shifts his gaze downfield to covered receivers, returns to the left, and throws it over Shaq’s head. Way over. The remarkable thing, and the reason Winston loved it, is he wasn’t baited into taking a dumb chance.
“One of the great things I learned from playing with Drew [Brees] last year was decisions over results,” Winston went on. “Sometimes the right decision is a play that gains nothing. Just keep making good decision after good decision, and the game’s going to go okay.”
Suddenly, a voice piped in from near Winston. I recognized it right away: Sean Payton’s.
“Hey!” Payton said, sort of irritated, sort of good-natured. “Will you stop eating the cheese already! It’s only one game! Get off the phone!”
“Gottagosorry,” is what came out of Winston’s mouth, and the line went dead.
Quite a Week 1. Good week for young quarterbacks. The four quarterbacks from the 2020 draft who started Sunday (Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts) went 4-0, including three wins on the road. The top three wideouts from the 2021 draft—Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith—all caught touchdown passes and all won in their NFL debuts.
Good week for teams we downplayed; they went 4-0 on the road. Pittsburgh went three quarters without a touchdown, then scored two in three minutes to win at Buffalo. The battle of Crimson Tide QBs went to the older one, with Miami’s Tua beating New England’s Mac by a point in Foxboro. The Eagles might matter, if their 26-point win at Atlanta is an indication. Arizona might have had the best day of any non-Bayou team, stomping Tennessee by 25 in Nashville. Wow, Kyler Murray and Chandler Jones.
As for Super Bowl faves: Kansas City used a muffed Cleveland punt-snap (are you kidding me?) to rally past the Mayfields . . . Matthew Stafford justified Ramlove in a three-TD rout of the Bears . . . The inevitability of Tom Brady lifted Tampa over Dallas, late . . . The aforementioned Packers stunk up TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville worse than the Jags stunk up the field in Houston.
NFC West 4-0, NFC North 0-4.
Of course, we’ll spend days overreacting to all of it.
And very nice tributes and memorials on the 20th anniversary weekend of 9/11. If you didn’t tear up listening to the anthem sung by Juliette Candela, who was 6 when her dad perished on 9/11, you don’t have tear ducts. “You could just feel the emotion in the stadium when she sang,” Texans quarterback Tyrod Taylor told me.
Football’s back, and stories reign. My favorite of the week: the early redemption of Jameis Winston.
Winston thinks he’s gone to QB Nirvana. You can probably tell. On Saturday night in Jacksonville, for the first time post-Brees, Payton held what he calls his Dot Meeting with Winston and the coaches. Payton goes over the playcalls for every situation in the game—about 18 of them, like play-action, screens, quarterback-movement plays, empty backfield, two-minute—and the starting quarterback tells Payton what he hopes to see called in every section. For years, Brees would give his preferences, and Payton would put a black Sharpie dot right next to the play on the playsheet he’d take onto the sideline the next day.
This weekend was the first time for Winston in a Dot Meeting. “We get to the first section of the playsheet,” Payton told me Sunday night, “and he’s telling me he likes every play. So I tell him, ‘You can’t tell me you like every play. Otherwise, there’s no sense in having a Dot Meeting!’ “
But Winston wasn’t saying that because he was trying to brown-nose the coach and tell him how great the plays he picked for the game plan were. He just figured if Payton drew ‘em up, they’d work in the game. Winston also told him he wanted to hear more from Payton in his helmet—more advice, more gut feeling about what was coming from the defense. And when he got on the bus early Sunday afternoon in Jacksonville and told Payton this day was a dream for him, it hit Payton.
“You hear that, and you want to do right by your student,” Payton said.
Payton was pleasantly surprised with how comfortable Winston was running; he hadn’t done much of it in camp. But on the first series of the game he broke the pocket for 11 and 15-yard scrambles, setting up an Aldrick Rosas field goal. From there, the game plan wasn’t about quick strikes and explosive plays. Payton wanted to keep Rodgers off the field. New Orleans won the time of possession stat by nine minutes and limited Green Bay to nine unproductive possessions. On the 10-minute drive that made it 17-0 in the second quarter, the Saints called 11 runs and four passes, and Payton went for it on fourth-and-goal from the one, Winston hitting wideout Juwan Johnson for a one-yard TD.
Six of the Saints’ first seven drives resulted in scores. With minutes left, it was 38-3 and Rodgers had given way to Jordan Love. All in all, not at all what we saw coming.
That includes Winston’s favorite play of the game, the throwaway—six feet over Kamara’s head on the left sideline.
“I love that,” Payton said. “I really love it. When people say, ‘Throw it away!’ what does that mean exactly? There’s more to it than just know when to throw it away—it’s got to fit in everything that you do. That play at the 37 that he threw away is a winning play. He knows we’ve got other plays that are going to work well and are coming.”
When I said a few paragraphs ago that we’ll spend days overreacting to what we saw Sunday, that means the really good stuff too—like Winston being risk-averse and not turning it over. Misfortune in the NFL, Payton said, “is always around the corner. But I do know this: The next time we have a quarterback who leads the league in interceptions will be the first time.”
Winston says he doesn’t approach a game with the attitude now of, I’m not going to turn it over. “You can’t play that way,” he said. “I never said that in Tampa either. I never go into a game thinking, don’t throw a pick. We’ve got such an amazing defense, with great weapons all around me, and a franchise back [Kamara], that it’s a privilege for me to just play my part in all of it.”
It’s an interesting time for the Saints. This was a home game for them, due to Hurricane Ida wreaking havoc on Louisiana. So after the game they flew back to their temporary base at a luxury hotel in Dallas-Fort Worth. This week, they’ll practice for another week in Fort Worth at Texas Christian University. They’ll fly to Charlotte on Saturday to play game two at Carolina on Sunday. If New Orleans officials deem it practical and power is restored nearly in full to the area, the Saints will fly to New Orleans after the Carolina game and practice at home in week three before playing at New England on Sept. 26. Then, if all goes well, they’d play their first game in New Orleans this year Oct. 3 against the Giants.
It’s interesting, too, that cornerback Marshon Lattimore—who played Green Bay receivers tough and had a huge pass-broken-up against against Davante Adams on Sunday—finalized a five-year extension at the pre-game team meal Sunday. Not ideal, but in this transient world the Saints inhabit, it didn’t impact them negatively in Week 1.
A complementary quarterback with a good supporting cast and a tight defense won for the Saints on Sunday. Misfortune might be around the corner, but not this week. And maybe not for a while with a quarterback who’s determined to be Payton’s long-term answer at the position.
After the game, Payton told his team, “There wasn’t a bigger statement in the NFL today than our win, right here.” Beating a 2020 Final Four team with an all-time quarterback by 35—that’s quite a statement.
What caught my eye around the league Sunday:
• Impressed by the Chargers. What hit me watching the Chargers was this: They played a team, Washington, with a top six or eight defense in the league, 3,000 miles from home, with a new offense and a new defense . . . and Justin Herbert was the perfect deodorant when he was most needed. Down three early in the fourth quarter, Herbert led the Chargers into scoring position, but threw an interception to Willie Jackson at the Washington 4-yard line with 12 minutes to go. Deflated. On the next snap, rookie Asante Samuel Jr., forced a fumble and Herbert got it back and hit Mike Williams for the winning score. That plus resolute performances by Derwin James and Joey Bosa on defense got new coach Brandon Staley off right.
“Justin makes a lot of things go right,” Staley said from Maryland after the game. “He just has such a great belief in himself. His location with the ball today was just fantastic. I know he was 31 of 47, but if we help him out a little there he’s got 36, 37 completions.”
The Chargers have Dak Prescott and the Cowboys in their home opener Sunday, then travel to Arrowhead to see Patrick Mahomes. Herbert’s played so well in his first 16 starts that neither of those foes, or quarterbacks, should frighten any Charger fan.
• So of course Tyrod outplayed Trevor Lawrence. Tyrod Taylor and Deshaun Watson are friends. “We have a mutual respect for each other,” Taylor said from Houston after the 37-21 win over the Jags. “It’s really not been awkward between us. I train with him in Atlanta in the offseason, and we get along well here now.” Taylor may not have the electric arm of Watson, and he’s not going to put up 37 points every week, but there’s something to be said for playing turnover-free and avoiding the big sack. That was Taylor on Sunday. “We know the outside perception,” he said, “but you can’t control perceptions. You can control reality. And from the time we all got here, but just put our heads down, go to work, and trust the guys we’re playing with.”
All of it sounds like such a cliché, but with a coach (David Culley) who preaches it and a quarterback who espouses it, who’s to say it can’t work? But Jacksonville is Jacksonville. Trips to Cleveland and Buffalo in the next 14 days will give a more pragmatic view of the 2021 Texans.
• Diontae Johnson. The last time Johnson, the Steelers’ wide receiver, was in Buffalo last December, he dropped two balls and was benched for most of the first half by coach Mike Tomlin. Steeler patience with Johnson got thin after his league-leading 15 drops last year. He worked with assistant equipment manager Lou Balde on a catching routine, and worked on his concentration by catching tennis balls at high speed. “I’ve worked on everything, really,” Johnson said from Buffalo. “I’ve been working before practice, after practice.”
It showed Sunday early in the fourth quarter. Ben Roethlisberger threw a corner route to Johnson, well covered by Buffalo corner Levi Wallace, who leaped to knock it away. Johnson kept his eyes on the ball even as he came within feet of the corner. Johnson caught it but had to toe-drag one foot to get possession and the touchdown. “It was really just concentration,” he said.
The Steelers need the Johnson they saw Sunday to make a strong run at the division title. His quickness and speed make him invaluable to Roethlisberger, who will keep going to him.
• Call of the day. Overtime in Cincinnati, fourth-and-one, Bengals ball at their 48-yard line, 39 seconds left in a 24-all game. If Cincinnati converts, a winning field goal starts to come into view. If the Bengals don’t convert, Kirk Cousins is 18 yards away from a reasonable chance at the winning field goal.
So what do you do here? The Bengals tried the more traditional Joe Mixon-burrowing-over-the-right-side late in the third quarter on fourth-and-one. They didn’t make it. Again on this one, two tackles including monstrous Michael Pierce, pinched the middle of the Cincinnati line, making it hard to run anywhere near up the gut. Bengals coach Zac Taylor said post-game, “All through the fourth quarter we told our guys we were going to be aggressive. And this play, we believed in. We’ve executed it a million times in practice.”
There’s more than one option, but the one that looked most promising here was tight end C.J. Uzomah lined up to the tight right and leaking out of the crowded formation to the left. In this case, traffic was the Cincinnati ally. Joe Burrow waited for Uzomah to clear the middle of the field. Uzomah had a step on his coverage, Burrow hit him in stride, and Uzomah rumbled for 32. Three plays later, kicker Evan McPherson won it with a 33-yard field goal.
Baltimore (0-0) at Las Vegas (0-0), Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas
Three storylines in an interesting matchup-turned-fascinating game.
1. I’ve never seen a spate of injuries like Baltimore’s, to significant players, before the season started.
The Ravens enter tonight’s game in Nevada with 13 players on injured-reserve, and only one other team (Dallas, 11) has more than nine. The league average is 5.8. The 13th man to go down, running back Gus Edwards, tore his ACL when he made a non-contact cut in practice Thursday a little after 2:15 p.m., coming down on the side of his foot instead of the bottom. The man counted on to replace star back J.K. Dobbins’ production the year became the third back in 13 days to suffer a season-ending injury. “OK this is crazy let me go find my cleats,” tweeted Justin Forsett, the retired 35-year-old running back, who played for the Ravens from 2014-16, on Thursday.
• By 2:42 p.m., GM Eric DeCosta and his staff were working the phones, chasing two running backs to supplement the two on the active roster, Ty’Son Williams, who’d never carried the ball in an NFL game, and speedy special-teamer (mostly) Trenton Cannon, and practice-squadder Le’Veon Bell (still sounds funny). DeCosta called the agent for Edwards, Drew Rosenhaus, to deliver the bad news . . . but also to ask if the Ravens could sign another of his clients, running back Devonta Freeman, to the practice squad. Rosenhaus was pained for Edwards, who was in position on the best rushing team in football to go from a nice number two back to a star number one guy. But the veteran agent understood. “In this business, you can’t wallow,” Rosenhaus said. “It’s life in the NFL. But this one was definitely more bitter than sweet.”
• By 3:40 p.m., Baltimore was in play for a physical back, Latavius Murray, who’d been released by the Saints on Tuesday. But the Giants and Raiders called about Murray too, and the Saints wanted to re-sign him after week one. Agent Ryan Tollner went back and forth with the cap-strangled Ravens and with Murray, and player and agent agreed that they wanted to join the team right now, thus guaranteeing his contract for the season—rather than waiting to sign after Week 1, when base salaries for veterans don’t have to be guaranteed.
• By 5:05 p.m., Freeman had agreed to join the Baltimore practice squad.
• By 5:53 p.m., the framework for a one-year deal for Murray in Baltimore was done, with the 2021 money guaranteed. Tollner told Murray, who lives in Orlando, “Get a bag packed and get to the airport. I’ll handle the contract.”
• By 8:50 p.m., six hours and change after the devastating Edwards injury, Freeman was in the air from his Atlanta home to Baltimore, and Murray was taxiing at the Orlando Airport for his flight to Baltimore. Both would be in camp early Friday for physicals, Covid tests, and playbook-cramming.
Late Saturday afternoon, all five Ravens backs under contract—Williams, Cannon, Murray, Bell and Freeman—were on the Ravens’ charter to Vegas. (The Ravens travel all practice-squad players, just in case they’re needed for injury or Covid reasons on day of game.) Coach John Harbaugh will decide on Monday the game rotation, and who’s up and who’s down. It’s expected at least this week that Williams, the undrafted back from BYU, will get the bulk of the carries.
Now we’ll see if a playoff team, with so many monumental losses before the first game of a 17-game season, can survive. The receivers have been beat up enough already; key pass-catchers Rashod Bateman and Miles Boykin will start the year on IR. Last year, the top backs on the best running team in football were Dobbins and Edwards (1,528 yards, 5.5 per rush, 15 rushing TDs), and they’re both gone. As bad as the running back injuries are, the loss of cornerback Marcus Peters (torn ACL) might be bigger. He’s the most important player on a defense that was second in the league last year in points allowed.
Harbaugh is good at managing disaster. He has another thing going for him. He has vets like Calais Campbell, Alejandro Villanueva, Justin Houston and Jimmy Smith who’ve been around disasters before and can carry his message onto the field tonight. But this is a horrible way to enter a season.
2. Big night for the locals.
This game’s huge for Jon Gruden, 10 games under .500 in his first three seasons in his second Raider iteration. The home fans aren’t going to jump on Gruden—yet—because of the honeymoon this franchise is on in Vegas, but if anything the pressure’s been ratcheted up with the Ravens being the most wounded team in the league.
Tonight’s the first time fans in America’s 36th state will be able to attend a regular-season NFL game. The shiny new stadium on the Strip will be very good for home-field advantage, I hear. I remember touring the stadium when it was under construction two summers ago, and I was told the acoustics in the place would be spectacular, with the stadium designed to be very loud. So the Ravens are likely to have a tough time hearing on offense all night. This already was going to be a tough opener for Baltimore. The injuries clearly give the edge to the Raiders. The emotion too.
3. First game of a very big five months for Baltimore, and for quarterback Lamar Jackson.
This will be overshadowed, and rightfully so, tonight. Jackson was the Ravens’ first-round pick in 2018, and won the league MVP in 2019. Last April, the Ravens exercised the fifth-year option on his contract, agreeing to pay him $23 million in 2022 if the two sides do not reach a long-term agreement before the ’22 season. They have not reached one, and do not appear in a hurry to do so. Most often, teams with accomplished young quarterbacks try to do long-term deals in the fourth year of the contract. Houston did it with Deshaun Watson in year four. Same with KC and Patrick Mahomes, same with Buffalo and Josh Allen. It’s not always brilliant (Watson, for example, and Carson Wentz with the Eagles), but teams that feel confident with their quarterbacks like to try to get the deal done in the fourth year because the cost of a franchise quarterback never goes down. Waiting a year could cost $3 million more per year over the life of a deal.
So it’s curious that the Ravens seem content to wait till after this season to get a contract done with Jackson. Curious, but I don’t think it’s wrong. I say that because of Jackson’s postseason performance. He is 1-3 in four playoff games. The Ravens have scored 17, 12, 20 and 3 points in those four games (13.0 per game). Jackson’s a 64-percent passer in the regular season, 56 percent in the playoffs. Touchdown-to-interception ratio during the season: 68-to-18; playoffs: 3-to-5. It seems ludicrous to suggest that the Ravens shouldn’t rush to re-sign the charismatic Jackson, who won the NFL MVP at age 22. But the playoffs hang over his head.
It’s easy to say it’s just four games and you can’t draw any conclusions on the small sample size. Maybe not. But can you eliminate the four most important games a player has played when you’re discussing paying him $43 million a year for the next six years? I don’t think so.
I saw Jackson in camp and asked if it would be hard for him to avoid thinking about his contract during the season. “Nah,” he said, “because I’m playing. I’m doing something I love to do, so I don’t really put that on my mind. That’s all.” There will be plenty else to occupy his mind this year, like how to be a savior for an offense deep into the depth chart before playing a single game.
Anthem of the Week
Juliette Candela. Her father John Candela worked at financial firm Cantor Fitzgerald and died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Candela was 6 at the time of her father’s death. Now with a master’s degree in music therapy from NYU, Juliette Candela was chosen to sing the anthem from the 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan. There couldn’t have been many dry eyes in many houses when the camera panned to her dad’s name inscribed at the Memorial, an American flag fluttering in the “A” in “John A. Candela,” as the girl he left behind sang “ . . . whose broad stripes and bright stars . . ” and was heard in nine stadiums. Players and coaches in the 1 o’clock ET games listened respectfully, some looking emotional. I certainly was.
Offensive Players of the Week
Tyrod Taylor, quarterback, Houston. Others had better numbers than Taylor’s 21-of-33, 291-yard, two-TD, no-pick game in his debut with the Texans, but I doubt anyone came through such unique circumstances to win a game in Week 1. Fifty-one weeks ago, Taylor’s Chargers career got Wally Pipped when an error needle punctured his lung and paved the way for Justin Herbert to have an Offensive Rookie of the Year season for the team that was supposed to Taylor’s (at least for the first few games of 2020). And Taylor landed in Houston only because of Deshaun Watson’s legal morass and sex-assault accusations. What I liked about Taylor’s performance in throttling the Jags was that he didn’t try to play like a superstar—he just made the plays that were there. Look at his lack of negative plays—sacked just once, no picks, no lost fumbles. Lots of good signs for the Texans on Sunday, none better than their itinerant quarterback.
Dak Prescott, quarterback, Dallas. After two ankle surgeries, a sore shoulder in training camp and not playing a football game for almost 11 months, Prescott strafed an excellent defense in the first game of the NFL’s 102nd season. He completed 42 of 53 throws for 403 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in an inspired performance, coming up just short 31-29 to the Bucs. Prescott all summer has been telling people he’s fine, even after his shoulder mishap a month ago. He proved it against a tough defense Thursday night.
Russell Wilson, quarterback, Seattle. Starting his 10th season piloting the Seahawks after being drafted 75th overall in 2012 (and behind a punter), Wilson showed throughout the 28-16 road win over the Colts why he’s great, again. I doubt he’s thrown five better balls in his life than the 69-yard arcing rainbow perfectly placed in stride to Tyler Lockett late in the first half, the touchdown that turned out to be the winning score. Throwing from his 23-, Wilson threw the ball skyward, and it came down exactly 50 yards later, nestling perfect in the sprinting Lockett’s hands. He had another (and tougher) TD toss from 23 yards to Lockett in the first quarter, a ball the terminally underrated Lockett caught like Willie Mays in 1954 in the World Series. Wilson finished 18 of 23 for 254 yard, four TDs and no picks. Do not take his greatness for granted, folks.
.@TDLockett12 is unstoppable.
Touchdown number ✌️ of the day! pic.twitter.com/U45O5zsgCw
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) September 12, 2021
Kyler Murray, quarterback, Arizona. Perhaps the best all-around offensive performance of Week 1 was Murray’s in Nashville. The Cardinals quarterback kicked off his third NFL season with five touchdowns (four passing, one running) in a surprisingly easy 38-13 rout of the Titans. Murray was masterful, completing 21 of 32 passes for 289 yards, including a pair of touchdowns apiece to Christian Kirk and DeAndre Hopkins. And Cardinals fans will be talking about this bananas scramble for awhile.
Defensive Player of the Week
Chandler Jones, outside linebacker, Arizona. Jones stands alone in Week 1 after arguably the best game of a starry career. Jones, often playing opposite a good tackle, Taylor Lewan, had a career-high five sacks, three in the first quarter, and forced two fumbles in the Cardinals’ rout of the Titans in Nashville. Tweeted LeBron James: “Chandler Jones is going for DPOY!!!! My goodness!” In 2019, Jones’ previous best season in the NFL, he twice had four-sack games. But he’d never had a five-sack game till terrorizing the Titans on Sunday. The day pushed Jones over 100 sacks for his career. In 125 career regular-season games, Jones has 102 sacks—36 in his four New England seasons and now 66 in five years plus one game in Arizona.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Miles Killebrew, safety, Pittsburgh. After five years buried in Detroit, the former Lions safety signed in free agency with the Steelers last spring. He paid dividends Sunday in Buffalo. With the Steelers up 13-10 and Matt Haack in his first game as the Bills’ punter, Haack had to punt from his own 23-yard line. The middle of the Buffalo punt team was overwhelmed by the Pittsburgh front, and Killebrew, rushing right up the middle, smothered the punt. Ulysees Gilbert recovered for the touchdown, giving the Steelers a 10-point fourth quarter lead
Bradley Pinion, punter, Tampa Bay. The stats were nice enough: four punts for a 49.3-yard average and a 45.8-yard net. But the reality of the performance was much better, starting with the first punt of the 2021 NFL season. The Bucs went three-and-out on their first series, and Pinion booted a 65-yard strike that dropped out of the sky inside the Dallas 5-yard line, nestling out of bounds five feet from the goal line. For the evening, Pinion dropped punts at the Dallas 2, 8, 13 and 6-yard lines in the best special-teams performance of Week 1.
Coach of the Week
David Culley, coach, Houston. I don’t care what he said in the pregame speech, or what gems of wisdom he passed down to his team. This was a tremendous performance by a team that looked very much like an expansion team to me in the offseason. And I don’t care that the Jaguars are a lousy team right now. Both teams are NFL franchises, and the Texans whipped them in all ways for a 37-21 win in the first game of Culley’s head-coaching career. Why do I say the words don’t matter? Because it’s clear that Culley and his staff got this team, against many odds and the longest shadow cast by any player in the league this year (Deshaun Watson), ready to play a very good game in the first game of his head-coaching life. Kudos to Culley.
Goat of the Week
I could have named the entire Green Bay team. Seriously. I could have singled out Aaron Rodgers for one of his worst games. And I could have picked Baker Mayfield for the late interception at KC. But I don’t, because there’s one play in week one that defines “goat,” and a call from a buddy in Ohio on Sunday night reminded me of the gaffe of gaffes. “THE PUNTER!” my buddy said. “YOU HAD ONE JOB!!!!!”
Browns punt blocking on this play was excellent. He could have got that punt off still. Jamie Gillan just panicked.pic.twitter.com/G87L5cUdjZ
— Tim x opTIMus 🎮 (@timschuerger) September 12, 2021
Jamie Gillan, punter, Cleveland. Browns up 29-27, 8:42 to play in the fourth quarter, Gillan hasn’t punted all day, crowd at Arrowhead at a fever pitch, Gillan lined up on fourth down at his own 10 to take the snap from center Charley Hughlett. The snap is perfect, and for some reason known only to the fates, Gillan botches it. It falls to the ground, and he picks it up and does the Keystone Kops version of trying to run for 12 yards and a first down against an oppressive punt rush. No chance. KC takes over and scores three plays later. That’s how it ends—Kansas City 33, Cleveland 29—in a game where the Browns led by 12 in the second quarter and nine in the fourth.
“We probably felt like we were going to go up and down the field on whoever they had out there … This is a good kick in the you-know-where to hopefully get us going in the right direction.”
—Aaron Rodgers, after the worst defeat of his NFL career, 38-3 to the Saints on Sunday.
“We got our asses kicked.”
—Colts linebacker Darius Leonard, after Seattle’s 28-16 hiney-kicking in Indy on Sunday.
“If Trevor Lawrence loses this game, it will be the first loss in the regular season in his football life. He never lost in high school in the regular season, and then lost two games as a starter for Clemson, and they were both playoff games.”
—Scott Hanson, ringmaster of NFL RedZone, presaging the first regular-season loss in eight football seasons for Lawrence.
“A quarterback who chooses not to be vaccinated also is choosing to jeopardize the livelihood of his teammates and coaches, and undermine his team’s ability to win games.”
—Jemele Hill, writing in The Atlantic.
“I will not comply.”
—The Twitter profile of Dolphins tight end Adam Shaheen.
The quote, Shaheen said, concerns his disdain for the effort to restrict gun rights (whatever that is.) But because Shaheen won’t comply with getting the vaccine, Miami was without its number two tight end, who emerged as a weapon for the Dolphins late last year, in one of its big games of the year. Shaheen refuses to be vaccinated, tested positive for Covid last week, and will be out till at least Thursday of this week. It’s the second time in five weeks that a Covid issue has sidelined Shaheen. How long before Miami GM Chris Grier releases Shaheen with this reasoning: Adam Shaheen is more trouble than a backup tight end is worth?
In one generation, the way the NFL prepares and starts quarterbacks has been revolutionized—maybe forever. Check out the opening-day starting quarterback numbers and how they’ve changed in the quarter-century from 1996 versus 2021:
1996 opening-day starting QBs under 25: 3 (of 30 teams), or 10.0 percent
2021 opening-day starting QBs under 25: 11 (of 32 teams), or 34.4 percent
With three rookies starting in Week 1—Trevor Lawrence (Jags), Zach Wilson (Jets), Mac Jones (Patriots)—and first-year passers in Chicago and San Francisco contending to play early, the youth gap is reinforced. In 1996, three players (Kerry Collins, Trent Dilfer, Gus Frerotte) in their first, second or third years started opening day. This year, nine quarterbacks in their first, second or third years started in Week 1.
No secret what’s causing the sea-change. Young quarterbacks are throwing more in high school and throwing more year-round in seven-on-seven tournaments. The college game is more similar to the pro game than it used to be.
You remember in 2018, when the Broncos passed on Josh Allen to pick Chubb fifth overall, reasoning that a great pass-rush duo for four to six years was worth it.
In the 20 games Chubb and Miller have played together, Denver is 6-14.
In the 29 games one or both have missed, Denver is 13-16.
RIP, Mick Tingelhoff. The Hall of Fame center—born on a farm in Nebraska, played two ways (center/linebacker with the Nebraska Cornhuskers), and ironman with the Vikings for 17 years—died Saturday at 81 after a long illness.
I find his career to be one of the most fascinating ones in NFL history. Three NFL players who were rookies in 1962 earned busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: the third overall pick, Merlin Olsen; the eighth pick, Lance Alworth; and then none of the other 278 draftees that year. But one undrafted player made it: Mick Tingelhoff.
Over Tingelhoff’s 17-year NFL career, through the 1978 season, the Vikings played 240 regular-season and 19 postseason games. Tingelhoff started them all. Imagine a rookie free-agent earning a starting job in camp, and then never not starting for 17 full seasons, including four trips to the Super Bowl. He was installed as the starting center for the Vikings in the second preseason game of 1962, and he started every one of the rest of the Vikings’ exhibitions, 99 in his career.
Preseason, regular season, postseason — that’s 358 straight starts at center.
On average, Mick Tingelhoff started 21 football games a year for 17 years.
And something else that his old coach, Bud Grant, once told me: “Not only did he start all those games, but I don’t remember him ever missing a practice in all the years [12) that I coached him. Plus, in those days, the starters played those exhibition games. Maybe not every snap, but they played a lot in those exhibitions.”
Bishop Sycamore has requested to schedule the Packers next week.
— Matt Schneidman (@mattschneidman) September 12, 2021
Schneidman covers the Packers for The Athletic.
Got my ass kicked today, no way around that. I let the team and the fans down. Thank you @chanjones55 for exposing me. It will only force me to get better.
— Taylor Lewan (@TaylorLewan77) September 12, 2021
The Tennessee tackle was outplayed in the Titans’ 38-13 loss to Arizona and its excellent pass-rusher Chandler Jones.
There is no difference I can see between 24-year old Tom Brady and 44-year old Tom Brady.
— Cris Collinsworth (@CollinsworthPFF) September 9, 2021
Collinsworth is the NBC “Sunday Night Football” analyst.
I was Brady’s teammate when he was 32-34. His arm looks the same at 44. Absolutely WILD to me. I need that @TB12sports cheatcode ASAP!
— Darius Butler (@DariusJButler) September 10, 2021
Butler, the nine-year NFL cornerback from UConn, played with Brady in New England in 2009 and ’10.
For Sunday's opener against the Bears, Rams QB Matthew Stafford and his wife Kelly are donating 100 tickets and t-shirts to Camp Pendleton’s 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines. The shirts will read: “Thank you for your service.”
— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) September 8, 2021
Thiry covers the Rams for ESPN.com
Panthers linebackers have changed their numbers. 7 for Shaq Thompson. 4 for Jermaine Carter.
Odd these were announced today. Would think it was for competitive advantage.
— Joe Person (@josephperson) September 12, 2021
Person, who covers the Panthers for The Athletic, tweeting 46 minutes before kickoff against the Jets on Sunday.
Not really. From @DolphinsHistory (via Twitter): “A whole article about Covid. Time for another career.”
There were 913 words that had something to do with Covid in last week’s column, out of 10,930 words total. That’s 8.4 percent of the column with some reference to Covid. By the end of this season, that will not look like over-emphasizing the virus. If anything, it wasn’t enough.
Another quibble. From Mike Friedman (via Twitter): “Your history of Super Bowl picks has been very good. But picking Super Bowl participants and so many of your other choices because they are in blue states that you believe are less likely to have Covid downtime is interesting to be polite.”
Never mentioned blue states. Said Covid was in the back of my mind but didn’t dominate my picks. Did it influence my leaving the Colts out of the playoffs? It did, but when the two most important players on the team, Carson Wentz and Darius Leonard, are unvaccinated and could disappear any day for either five days or 10 days, that’s going to be a factor in my opinion of the team. Covid had zero to do with me picking a Rams-Bills Super Bowl.
He says I’ll regret this. From Phil, of Carmel, Ind.: “You’ll regret not having the Colts in the playoffs. They’ll win the AFC South, and I’ll write back to remind you.”
Phil, I’m sure I’ll regret lots of picks. Sixty percent of them look idiotic by January every year. Interesting thing, though: When I’m right, no one writes back to say, “Hey, great pick!” So it’s a bit of a fruitless pursuit, all in all.
He’s down on the Acela. From Peter Varhol: “Regarding the Acela from New York to Boston (or the other direction, in my case). It works only if you live in exactly the right place, and even then it’s not really a time-saver . . . And in case you hadn’t noticed, the Acela is about as expensive as the Delta Shuttle. I look whenever I need to go to NYC, and it never makes sense. I simply don’t get people who continue to push the Acela in the face of these realities, and I’m tired of reading about how I should take the Acela rather than fly.”
Taking the train doesn’t save time—you’re right about that. And it’s often pricier than the cheapest flight between New York and Boston. I like the Acela for a few reasons: I don’t have a car, and I can take the subway from my home to Penn Station in New York; takes about 25 minutes. Once on the train, I can sit in the Quiet Car for 3 hours, 40 minutes and either get work done or read in roomy conditions. For my last trip, I probably got 2,500 words of my column done on the round-trip. I’d have been doing the same thing, in a slightly more comfortable setting, working at home instead of being on the train. For many people in the northeast, the train doesn’t work. For me, traveling from New York to Boston, Philadelphia or Washington, it’s spot-on.
Regarding The Athletic’s list of top 100 NFL players. From Kerry Whitaker, of Salt Lake City: “I know these lists are trivial, and subjective. But I ask you, does Ray Guy, punter for the Oakland Raiders, belong in the 100 Greatest Players? I have listened to Dan Fouts speak of having to face him twice each year, and how he constantly changed the field, and the outcome of the Game. I think of him as others speak of Don Hutson, 20 years ahead of his peers.”
Kerry, thanks a lot for the question, and it’s a valid one: Should a specialist be on the list of greatest 100 players? If so, should it be Guy? A few opinions about Guy, specialists, and the list:
• I would not have put Guy in the top 100. I am not as sure as my fellow voters that he should stand alone as the only pure punter in the Hall. A peer of his at the time, Kansas City’s Jerrel Wilson, led the league in punting five times (AFL and later NFL); Guy led the NFL three times. Wilson’s punting average was a tick better, 43.0 to 42.4. And though Guy and Shane Lechler played in different eras, has punting really changed so much that Lechler’s average, at 4.6 yards per punt longer, should be a factor in determining whether he or Guy would be the more deserving player on such a list? (Lechler was not the net-punting master that some of his fellow punters were, but Guy wasn’t singular at the net punt either.)
• Were I making such a list, and I considered specialists, I’d have found a spot for Adam Vinatieri above every special-teams player. He’s not just the leading scorer of all time. He’s also one of the great clutch players of all time, at any position.
• I liked The Athletic’s list. I thought putting Aaron Donald 24th was smart, even after only seven seasons of greatness. I appreciated Gale Sayers at 53 despite his abbreviated career, and I was happy to see The Athletic respectful to the first 45 years of football history (Jim Brown second, Otto Graham 11th, Don Hutson 13th). Now, I would have had Graham and Hutson higher, but those are arguments ardent football fans could have all day. I usually get eyerolls when I say Graham belongs in the discussion of the best player ever because he played 10 seasons of pro football, won the league title seven times and played in the championship game the other three years, and won four passing titles. But I consider 11th to be fair for Graham, all things considered.
1. I think here’s some quick hits on 11 of the most interesting players or position groups of Week 1 with analysis from Pro Football Focus:
• Jacksonville QB Trevor Lawrence. A mixed bag, but not good overall. Only 59.6 percent of throws were catchable, and he had four turnover-worthy plays.
• The Kansas City offensive line. With five new starters playing 67 snaps each, the group kept Patrick Mahomes cleaner than the Super Bowl, but that’s damning with faint praise. They’ll need to do better than 22 pressures on 45 Mahomes drops. The two best PFF grades went to rookies: right guard Trey Smith and center Creed Humphrey, in that order.
• New England QB Mac Jones. Good for a debut, for sure, with only one turnover-worthy play in 75 snaps. The yards-per-attempt, 7.9, is big time.
• The Buffalo pass rush. Looking for help to buttress the aging Jerry Hughes, the Bills are still looking. Ben Roethlisberger was pressured only nine times on 38 dropbacks. The Bills have to get better production from the young group.
• L.A. Chargers safety Derwin James. After playing only five games in the last two years due to injury, James played well in Washington: two run-game stuffs, one hurry as a rusher and three stops in the passing game. The Chargers need more of that.
• Giants T Andrew Thomas. His PFF game grade against the Broncos, 70.9, was in the meaty part of the curve, an improvement for a guy who’d been battered as a rookie. Daniel Jones was pressured on a third of his drops, which isn’t great but for the Giants is an improvement.
• Indy QB Carson Wentz. Didn’t make many big plays, but in his first game as a Colt, had zero turnover-worthy plays in 77 snaps.
• Jets QB Zach Wilson. A nice debut overall, though he didn’t get much help with six sacks taken and pressured consistently. He did hold the ball too long a few times, including a bizarre 9.22-second hold just trying to make something happen. Three big-time throws (a PFF stat), three turnover-worthy plays, five drops.
• Philadelphia T Jordan Mailata. Shortly after getting an eyebrow-raising, $16-million-a-year extension, the former Aussie rugby player lived up to the hype. He allowed one pressure and zero sacks of quarterback Jalen Hurts in 41 pass-blocking snaps.
• Arizona edge-rusher Chandler Jones. The advanced stats confirmed Jones’ great day: In 50 snaps, he had four pressures and five sacks of Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee.
• Detroit QB Jared Goff. Rallied the Lions late, but the numbers overall were just okay. Still mostly a short thrower (24th average depth of target in Week 1, with 6.8 yards per attempt). Three big-time throws, two turnover-worthy plays.
2. I think the gaudiest number of the weekend was 12.35. That’s the yards-per-attempt for Matthew Stafford in his Rams debut. Seeing that 8.0 is good to very good, 12.35 is ridiculous (26 attempts, 321 yards). I expect the Rams to have Stafford throw more than 26 times in just about every game this year.
3. I think I loved watching the Arizona defense play against Derrick Henry on Sunday. When the game was still a game, Henry ran nine times for eight yards—that was his first-half total. The best stop was a classic J.J. Watt stop near the goal line, Watt swam past his blocker, dove toward the middle of the line, batted one of Henry’s legs, and tripped him up a yard short of the goal line.
4. I think it’s pretty easy, week after week, to focus on the genius of Patrick Mahomes when you watch Kansas City play. He made another one of those ridiculous across-the-body throws while rolling right Sunday. But the biggest play of the game was made by a safety who toils in the shadow of Tyrann Mathieu, Daniel Sorensen, and a cornerback the Vikings didn’t re-sign, Mike Hughes. At midfield with just over a minute left, the Browns needed a TD to salvage a game they’d blown. Sorensen, blitzing from the left, bore in on Baker Mayfield. “I just wanted to disrupt the throw,” Sorensen said. “Sometimes it’s not pretty, but the teams that make the plays at the end usually win.” Sorensen hit Mayfield from behind, affecting his throw, and Hughes picked it at the KC 42 with 69 seconds left. Ballgame.
5. I think I look at Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert and think: Are both going to the Hall of Fame, or just one; and if one, which one? So confident at such a young age.
6. I think the most noticeable point about the Bucs’ opener was Tampa Bay’s offensive depth. Think of this: The Bucs didn’t dress explosive rookie wideout Jaelon Darden for the win over Dallas. Three passing-game mainstays last year, Cameron Brate, Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson, combined to play 29 snaps Thursday night. Tight end O.J. Howard, hurt all last year, played only six snaps against Dallas. Glass-half-empty folk might say, The Bucs are going to overuse old guys Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown. I would say, Who’s got the skill-position depth of the Bucs? Brate, Miller and Johnson averaged 57 combined snaps per game in the four playoff games last year. The fact they played only 29 against Dallas tells me they, plus Darden and Howard, will have lots left in the tank when needed.
7. I think if Cam Newton had clearly been the best Patriots quarterback in training camp, he would have been the starter entering the season. By all accounts, Mac Jones was either slightly better or clearly better than Newton in camp and so won the job—aided most likely by the fact that Jones had his best day against the Giants in a full practice when Newton was missing for five days because of Covid protocols. And so now you wonder, Newton’s a former MVP, he’s on the street, a team can probably get him cheap, why isn’t he getting picked up? Three distinct reasons that I see:
• Newton last Friday dropped a video with some comments about his release from New England. This statement by him would scare any coach or GM thinking about bringing him in: ”I was gonna be a distraction without being the starter. Just my aura. That’s my gift and my curse.” You think any team wants a backup quarterback (if that’s what Newton would be) who admits when he’s not playing that he’d be a distraction if he wasn’t playing?
• A backup QB is an insurance policy and should be an aid to the starter. Think it’s smart to bring in an unvaccinated player to fill that role? Truth is, any unvaccinated plyer could vanish for 10 days, no exceptions, if he tests positive at any point during the season.
• Newton didn’t play well last year. Whatever the reason, that is indisputable. And the recent evidence suggests he was going to be in for a battle to keep his job this summer. When he lost the job, his own words suggest that he’d be a bad backup. So unless some team has a major injury crisis at quarterback this year, I think there’s a good chance he stays unemployed through the season.
8. I think I’d like to take a moment in a frenetically busy Week 1 of the NFL season to wish Dan Marino a happy 60th birthday on Wednesday. For all the people who have played with Marino, rooted for Marino, covered Marino, or worked with Marino (I’m in the last two categories), I’m sure well wishes will be sent from around the globe to Marino this week.
9. I think I’d like someone please to wake me when the Washington franchise picks a name. The breathless coverage of the final eight candidates, which may or may not be the final eight candidates . . . sheesh.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. The only thing I truly miss about the days following 9/11: how nice people were to each other. How truly nice. I volunteered with scores of people in the two weeks following the attacks on this country, and I was assigned to work in a giant warehouse in lower Manhattan where stuff from all over the country was being divvied up—boots for workers at the site, clothing for anyone who needed it, cases of all kinds of food and bottled water.
b. Do we have some of that niceness left? Please?
c. 9/11 Story of the Week: “I was responsible for those people,” by Tim Alberta, in The Atlantic. Wrote Alberta:
On the evening of September 4, 2021, one week before the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Glenn Vogt stood at the footprint of the North Tower and gazed at the names stamped in bronze. The sun was diving below the buildings across the Hudson River in New Jersey, and though we didn’t realize it, the memorial was shut off to the public. Tourists had been herded behind a rope line some 20 feet away, but we’d walked right past them. As we looked on silently, a security guard approached. “I’m sorry, but the site is closed for tonight,” the man said.
Glenn studied the guard. Then he folded his hands as if in prayer. “Please,” he said. “I was the general manager of Windows on the World, the restaurant that was at the top of this building. These were my employees.”
The man glanced over Glenn’s shoulder. “Which ones?”
Glenn didn’t say anything. Slowly, he turned and swept his open palm across the air, demonstrating the scale of the devastation: All 79 names were grouped together. The guard closed his eyes. “Take as much time as you need,” he said softly.
e. This is what’s crazy about tennis, at least to me. In the women’s semis at the U.S. Open, with the 73rd-ranked player in the world, Leylah Fernandez of Canada, going shot-for-shot with the second-ranked player in the world, Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, the crowd in New York was going nuts pretty consistently for Fernandez. And why not? Fernandez entered the tournament as the ultimate underdog, and in the three previous matches, Fernandez had beaten the third-, 17th- and fifth-rated players in the world. Along the way, she’d been charismatic, smily, excited, and this crowd had fallen in love with her. So now the crowd was going bonkers for Fernandez as she battled Sabalenka. The ardent tennis fan would know Sabalenka, but the lesser fan wouldn’t. Sitting home (I watched it on DVR), you could feel the excitement for Fernandez. So this is what I heard on ESPN in the middle for the match:
Chris Evert: “The crowd hasn’t been that bad.”
Chris Fowler: “They’ve been fair . . . for the most part.”
Seriously? The crowd should be polite and sit on its hands and not root for the exciting underdog, or root in some prescribed fashion? Man, don’t tell fans what to do. It’s absurd. I like the ESPN tennis crew—Fowler is good at everything—but let’s let fans react the way fans want to react, shall we?
f. Football Story of the Week: Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic, with a smart and important story about the impact of two under-40 coaches, Sean McVay and Brandon Staley.
g. Rodrigue has been doing some excellent work covering the Rams and branching into broader football stories. This is terrific, about how new ideas on both sides of the ball are impacting the game:
McVay, Kyle Shanahan, Matt LaFleur and Mike McDaniel were all on the same Washington staff as young offensive assistants now approaching a decade ago, under Kyle’s father, Mike Shanahan. All were under 30, all were bright and abnormally competitive and all were hungry to find a way to add pages to the Shanahan playbook however they could.
Three of the four went on to become head coaches. McVay was hired in Los Angeles in 2017 and made international headlines as the NFL’s youngest head coach. LaFleur joined him for a season as offensive coordinator, spent a season as the offensive coordinator in Tennessee and now is the head coach of the Green Bay Packers. Kyle Shanahan was the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator in 2016 before becoming the head coach of the 49ers in 2017, just as McVay also joined the division and head-coaching ranks; McDaniel is currently Shanahan’s offensive coordinator in San Francisco. Raheem Morris, who was on the defensive side in Washington, is now back with McVay as his defensive coordinator. Another Mike Shanahan disciple (although he was not with Kyle Shanahan in Washington), Rich Scangarello, journeyed to San Francisco to coach quarterbacks under Shanahan.
Richmond Flowers, another former offensive assistant on that staff who now runs the sports agency Collective Sports Advisors, likes to tell a story about current 49ers offensive line coach Chris Foerster, from when they were all together in Washington. Foerster, Flowers said, used to look around at all of them crammed, bickering and brainstorming, in those offensive coaching rooms in Ashburn, Va., and remark, “You guys are f—ing lucky. There are very few buildings like this.’”
“That’s when you know something is right,” Flowers recalled. “What do you do when you’re a part of something that doesn’t exist anywhere else is the league?”
h. USMNT Story of the Week: Grant Wahl, the longtime soccer maestro for Sports Illustrated and elsewhere, now has his own substack site, Futbol with Gant Wahl, and he was in Honduras to see the 4-1 victory that the Americans desperately needed in the World Cup qualifier Wednesday night.
i. Grant Wahl loves the world game. He’s been everywhere for it. I was interested to read what it must have been like for a home team to lose by giving up four second-half goals in a game it too needed desperately, and Wahl delivered:
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras — You hear and read a lot about what it’s like for the USMNT to face hostile fans in Central America during World Cup qualifying. But only on rare occasions does the script get flipped, and that hostility turns inward, and you have a scene like the one in the Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano after the U.S.’s 4-1 come-from-behind victory on Thursday night.
The Honduran fans rained debris on their own team.
After the U.S. scored three goals in the final 15 minutes, the Honduran supporters revolted. They threw bottles at their players, who tried to evade the barrage by running into the stadium tunnel through a protective line of helmeted police officers holding their shields in the air. They chanted in anger at the Honduran coach, Fabián Coito, yelling ¡FUERA COITO! (COITO OUT!) They whistled and shook their fists. Honduras is a proud soccer country, and honor is a powerful thing. La H’s second-half performance, they were saying loud and clear, had not been honorable.
Hondurans in the stadium have been friendly to American visitors the four times I have been here. So it was a strange feeling to walk through that stadium concerned about your safety, but only because you might get caught in the crossfire of Hondurans vs. Hondurans.
j. Futbol with Grant Wahl might be worth a Substack follow/subscription, especially with the U.S. still not locked into a World Cup berth. Wahl will be there for all the ups and downs.
k. Radio Story of the Week: Steve Inskeep of NPR’s “Morning Edition,” with a gem on an Afghan man who became an interpreter for the U.S. Army and then a U.S. citizen and, well, his story is compelling and worth 11 minutes of your life.
l. The Said Noor story is such a great illustration of why the United States, troubled as it is, is a beacon for the world’s neediest.
m. “Tom Brady” is in this story. From Afghanistan to Houston and Wisconsin . . . building better lives in a deserving family.
n. Said’s sister: “I want to be a doctor.”
o. Said: “That’s something you will do in this country.”
p. Reality Check Story of the Week: Matthew Futterman of the New York Times on ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, who was attempting to break the five-year-old record for speediest running of the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. Problems ensued.
q. Jurek is 47. At 41, he set the record, which requires a person to run about 50 miles a day for six weeks. But an early quad strain on the rough terrain knocked him out of the running after seven days. Wrote Futterman:
Part of him does not want to subject himself to this ordeal again, but his wife, Jenny, has already mentioned that he’s likely going to want to go back to “clean up my mess,” Jurek said.
“It’s good to be humbled,” he said. “Humans need to be humbled, to have those experiences where we need to adapt to things, because that is where the magic happens. How do we adapt to a struggle? There’s beauty in the struggle. The reality is you don’t always win. You can be defeated.”
r. How do we adapt to the struggle? There’s beauty in the struggle. The reality is you don’t always win. Lots of value in that.
s. Stop with the outrage on Brian Kelly. He made a bad joke. End of story. Move on.
t. Beernerdness: Five Boroughs Summer Ale (Five Boroughs Brewing Company, Brooklyn, N.Y.). Had this on tap in Manhattan the other day, ice cold, in a goblet. Darker than most similar ales I’ve seen, and hoppier. An excellent bite, with a bit of sweetness to it. Really liked it. I see that it’s sold in cans, so I’ll be on the lookout.
u. There must be a good reason for the Baseball Hall of Fame inductions to have been on a September Wednesday afternoon, but I really can’t think of one. Hey! Let’s make a headline event as anonymous as possible!
v. It’s Sept. 13, and I guess I don’t have to look in the small print for the Bobcat scores for the rest of the season. Saturday, in Athens: Duquesne 28, Ohio 26. Where have you gone, Frank Solich?
w. Happy first birthday, Defector. You’re making a major mark.
x. The Toronto Blue Jays belong in the playoffs. The Red Sox and Yankees, that’s another matter. Speaking of the playoffs, there’s something unfair about the scenario: Giants win 106 games. Dodgers win 103. In the Wild Card game, Dodgers burn ace Walker Buhler in the one-game series Oct. 4, then fly to rested San Francisco on the ensuing off-day and begin the five-game division series Oct. 6. Dodgers pitch Buehler once, in game three. Giants pitch top two pitchers, Kevin Gausman and Logan Webb, twice each (if one can go on three days’ rest) if the series goes five. I’d be more of a fan, in terms of scheduling, of the three teams with the best records in the league getting a bye from the Wild Card game, and the two teams with the worst records playing in the Wild Card game. In this case, if things stay as they are, the Giants, Dodgers and Brewers would get a pass, and San Diego or Cincinnati would play the N.L. East winner in the Wild Card game.
y. Baseball is so fascinating to me. The Yankees very recently won 13 games in a row. They played a four-game home series against Toronto last week, lost all four, and never led once in the series. That’s the first time in 96 years that the Yankees were swept in a series of at least four games and never led once. Figure that out.
Green Bay’s play was . . . odd.
A little flippant. Just weird.
No one seemed that ticked.