Now that was one crazy Sunday. But aren’t they all?
Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes lost NFL games on the same day for the first time ever. Two of the nuttiest special-teams plays of all time happened 90 minutes apart—longest field goal ever (with a shtoink included for extra drama), and a tie for the longest play ever. Chargers coach Brandon Staley, who was a Division III defensive coordinator five years ago, made two of the gutsiest calls of this or any year in the last minute at Arrowhead; both worked, and KC’s alone in the AFC West basement because of them. Aaron Rodgers can wreak vengeance, Josh Allen can play, J’Marr Chase can catch, Teddy Bridgewater can lead, the Bears can wilt, the Giants and Jets can still lose, and the Lions can still Lion. How stupefying a loss for Detroit? The Lions allowed a fourth-and-19 conversion and a 66-yard field goal 26 seconds apart.
And I can travel. Join me, in advance of Brady’s return to Foxboro, in taking the temperature of the six New England states that once loved him like Chicagoland loved Jordan. Do they still? I’m not so sure—and I’m the one who took the temperature from the lobstermen of coastal Maine to the Brainiac Pats fan club at Yale.
Oh, and Andy Reid, hospitalized after the 30-24 loss to the Chargers, was resting comfortably Sunday night after feeling ill and going to a local hospital post-game. It seems it was a scare, but he’s okay.
So it’s a daft column today. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.
We start on the phone with Sean McVay, the crazy coach with a throbbing head, after Rams 34, Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay 24 at SoFi.
“I got a killer headache,” he said an hour after the game, in his car on the way home. “Probably from acting like such a maniac on the sidelines all day.”
Did you see? McVay set a record in Head Coach 40-Yard Dash, sprinting down the sideline to greet DeSean Jackson. He got in quarterback Matthew Stafford’s face after the first Cooper Kupp touchdown reception, wide-eyed, and gleefully celebrating. He was over-the-top happy all day.
Sean McVay is bringing the energy. #RamsHouse
— NFL (@NFL) September 26, 2021
Beating the Super Bowl champs was a statement win for the Rams, obviously. But it continued a statement first month outside the walls of the Detroit State Penitentiary for Stafford, who might be in a two-man race exiting September for NFL MVP with Raiders QB Derek Carr. While piloting the Rams to a 3-0 start, he’s completed 70 percent of his throws with nine touchdowns, one pick and a 129.8 rating. Outpointing Brady with a 343-yard, four-TD, no-turnover game was his finest early hour for the Rams. His finest play may have been the concerto touchdown with Kupp midway through the third quarter that gave the Rams the winning touchdown. The play was a triple-move from 10 yards out, with Kupp deking toward the sideline, then inside, then back outside, with Stafford waiting-waiting-waiting against a formidable rush till he knew Kupp had beaten corner Carlton Davis and was ready to receive.
Up 28-14 with 22 minutes left, McVay exulted. “You’re a bad M-Fer!” McVay, grinning crazily, told Stafford when he came to the sidelines.
Great start for the Rams, but there are miles to go before they sleep. This is the sense I get with their team: There’s trust on both sides of the ball in Stafford’s ability to give them the best chance to win. The defense knows it doesn’t have to be perfect. When the offense puts up 95 points in three games, and two of the foes (Chicago and Tampa) are good on defense, Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey know they’re going to get lifted up by the offense. Not sure they knew that a year ago, when the Rams averaged 23 points per game. I got the sense in training camp that this team was euphoric to have Stafford, and the first three weeks have borne that out.
“He just brings everything to life,” McVay said. “Here’s my favorite part about what he did today. He missed some throws in that game early where we had looks that we wanted. And he just couldn’t wait for his next opportunity to respond. He expects to make all those plays, but he’s unaffected when he doesn’t and he just can’t wait for his next opportunity to compete to do it. I can be my normal basket-case self, and he’s just so calm, so resilient and poised.”
The NFC will be an interesting pennant race. It’s too early to forecast deeply, but it seems safe to project the Rams and Bucs will be big factors in late January. We knew that about Brady’s Bucs. We’re getting more sure of it each week about Stafford’s Rams.
Andy Reid made it through his health scare okay, apparently. The Kansas City franchise issued a statement at 10:30 p.m. ET Sunday, about five hours after coach Andy Reid was reported ill in the locker room after the 30-24 loss to the Chargers and transported by ambulance to a hospital. “Coach is doing well, currently resting and in stable condition,” the organization’s statement said.
A couple of points: There’s a big advantage to having a strong organization with people you’ve worked with for years. Those closest to Reid from his Philadelphia days—including Kansas City VP of Sports Performance Rick Burkholder, GM Brett Veach and assistant head coach Dave Toub—are part of the inner circle he trusts implicitly. Burkholder was part of the medical team that put the action plan into place after the game to get Reid help, and Toub was dispatched to do the head-coach duties with the media post-game. Owner Clark Hunt and president Mark Donovan have become integral parts of the Reid inner circle as well and likely were part of the organizational plan to keep the place running smoothly when this mini-crisis hit. I don’t know what happened post-game, but I do know if Burkholder told Reid, You’re going to the hospital to get checked out, Reid would not have fought him. Secondly: It’s probably very good news that Sunday’s game did not go to overtime. With Reid likely not well as the game neared its end, who knows what would have happened if the game had gone an extra period? An extra 30 minutes on the field, perhaps, on an 81-degree day with great tension down the stretch would not have been good for Reid.
Too early to tell whether Reid will have to miss some time. My guess is if there’s doubt, he’ll push to coach, to try to get the team out of one of the few holes in his nine-year coaching tenure in Kansas City. But I’d also guess his medics will have much to say about that too.
A few words about Brandon Staley. So the Chargers went looking for their Sean McVay last winter, an energetic and charismatic young coach to lift the football IQ of the team and to discover new wrinkles other teams aren’t out ahead on. They settled on the 38-year-old Staley, and Sunday’s 30-24 win made the call by the Spanos family and GM Tom Telesco look pretty good.
There’s a good chance Staley would have been severely second-guessed if his strategy in the final minute of the fourth quarter had backfired. He was first-guessed, actually, by Tony Romo on the CBS telecast for not bleeding time off the clock before scoring the go-ahead TD with 32 seconds left.
The two calls: With 48 seconds to play, the Chargers had a fourth-and-four at the KC 35-yard line, with a 20-mph crosswind buffeting the field at Arrowhead Stadium. Staley chose to go for the first down. False start. Now fourth-and-nine. Again he went for it, and the Chargers did convert . . . by a pass-interference penalty on Kansas City. Then, on first-and-goal from the 4-yard line with 36 seconds left (and with Kansas City down to one timeout), the Chargers could have slammed the ball into the line once or twice, forcing the Chiefs to use their last timeout and allowing the clock to bleed all the way down to five or six seconds left before trying the chip-shot game-winner. Instead, Justin Herbert threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams on first and goal.
Staley went aggressive on both plays, going for the first down and the touchdown. Afterward, I explained each situation to McVay; I just wanted his opinion.
“That’s more guts than I’d have had had in my first year as a head coach,” McVay said of Staley, his friend and 2020 Ram defensive coordinator.
From the Chargers’ locker room in Kansas City, Staley told me why. “When we jumped offside on fourth-and-four,” he said, “I personally needed a second to gather myself. My instinct was to go for it, but I just needed a second and so we had our timeouts and I felt like we’d send the field-goal team out there. And then I wanted Kansas City to feel a little bit of relief, you know? And then I was like, We’ll take a timeout, we’ll put the offense back out there. I felt like, to win a game like this versus that team, you have to be able to live with the people that you put the ball in their hands. Like, whose hands are you gonna put the ball in to win this game? I just really felt like Justin Herbert was gonna win us the football game. And that’s exactly what he did.”
Now, from the 4-yard line, the Chargers didn’t wait. They tried to score right away, which seemed counter-intuitive with Mahomes on the other team. “There was a really fierce cross-wind today,” Staley said. “What I told the offense was, I want to be able to finish this game with the offense on the field. I wanna score a touchdown here. I felt like from an operational standpoint, both kickers, both punters, really had a tough time kicking through the wind. And you’re unpacking a snap, hold, procedural stuff. I just felt like, we really wanted to score the ball with our offense on the field. I could live with scoring right away, because they’d need a touchdown to beat us, with one timeout left.” Plus, Staley didn’t want to waste a down just to kill some clock. What if they threw two incompletions and then had to convert the TD on fourth down in a deafening stadium? He just thought taking every shot he had was the smart way.
One last thing about Staley’s aggressiveness. It might not be the same against a different opponent, on a calmer day. “Kansas City’s a spurt team, a lot like the Golden State Warriors,” he said. You’d better be able to outscore a spurt team. That’s why you put the ball in Herbert’s hands, not on a kicker’s leg. It’s going to be fascinating to watch Staley’s coaching style—and to watch the development of his strategic decision-making.
Justin Tucker’s kick. This is some odd stuff:
• In Tucker’s first game ever at Detroit, in 2013, Baltimore trailed by a point when he lined up to try a 61-yard field goal in the last minute. The kick was good. Baltimore won by two.
• In Tucker’s second game ever at Detroit, on Sunday, Baltimore trailed by a point when he lined up to try a 66-yard field goal in the last minute. The kick was good. Baltimore won by two.
JUSTIN TUCKER 66-YARD FG FTW.
MIRACLE BOUNCE 😱
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 26, 2021
Actually, it was a little hairier on Sunday than that antiseptic picture I painted. First, the NFL record for longest field goal was 64 yards. So this was an attempt to kick the longest field goal in the 102-year history of pro football. And this was on the last play of the game. Tucker makes it, Baltimore wins. Tucker misses, and the Ravens go home 1-2.
“When you’re that far away, it’s just not a normal kick where you treat it like any other kick,” Tucker said. “You do have to kind of juice it a little bit. You gotta let adrenaline just take over. The technique may change just a little bit. It was actually more like a kickoff, where you just lay into it, like you’re a competitor in a long-drive contest. You just let it rip and you kind of hope it stays straight. And that ball stayed straight as an arrow.
“I did see it hit the crossbar, and I thought that it might have just gone straight up and then fallen short. But when I saw that it did clear the goal post, I can’t even tell you how excited I was to get that result. Everything just went perfectly. It had to—the snap, the placement, the kick, the ball went exactly how far it needed to go. Exactly.”
“I am floating,” Tucker said. “I won’t be able to sleep for days.”
So I had an idea. I thought: I was born in New England, raised in New England, didn’t leave New England till I was 18 . . . and I wonder how many people really know very much about New England. I mean, the length and breadth of it is big. New England is 615 miles long. From the tip of Maine, down the Atlantic coast to the southwestern end of Connecticut is one long trek, longer than driving from Washington, D.C. to Indianapolis. If you drive from Burlington, Vermont, straight east to the Atlantic Ocean, it’d take you 6.5 hours to get there, to Bar Harbor, Maine.
Too often, when the New England Patriots are mentioned, we think of that 53-mile Boston-to-Providence corridor. Fair enough: A vast swath of the team’s fans live there. But there are ardent Patriots fans from the Atlantic shores of Maine to the rocky outposts of northern New Hampshire to the tiny towns of Vermont, through the cities of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and into the Connecticut countryside. I wanted to take the pulse of what this region, the entire region, would be thinking this week, on the eve of Tom Brady returning to play the Patriots in Foxboro for the first time since leaving in March 2020: Would they still pay homage to their departed conquering hero, returning with his Tampa Bay all-star team? Do they love him? Hate him? Are they bitter at his departure?
Fifty hours through the heart of New England told the tale to me and my four-person NBC crew documenting the sights of the region and the sounds of the fans. The love of the Patriots is still there, undimmed. The feelings for Brady, well, they’re more complicated than that.
Tuesday: Lobstermen, brewers and a governor
Veteran lobstermen Jason Witham and Craig Simons pulled their boat, Siren, into Tenants Harbor, a finger into the Atlantic Ocean about two hours northeast of Portland, shortly before noon. They’d left the cove around 4 a.m. and now returned with their catch—about 300 pounds of lobsters thrashing around in their watery pens, soon to be at market. As the boat docked, Simons, 54, went to his bag and pulled out a hoodie. A Tampa Bay Bucs sweatshirt, with BRADY on the front in that Bucs pirate-script.
As our crew climbed aboard, Simons was insistent the Brady should get lots of love next Sunday. “He deserves a long ovation,” Simons said. “Six Super Bowls. Come on. Mixed emotions that he left, obviously. But the Patriots didn’t have the depth or the money to get anyone to help him. That final year was tough on him. It was a patchwork offensive line. If he had stayed, it would have been sad to watch. He deserved a chance to go to a stacked team.”
“So no bitterness that he left?” I said.
“Not at all,” Simons said.
“No unhappiness that he got to the Super Bowl on another team?”
“That was great, because he was able to play [Patrick] Mahomes, who we don’t like very much up here anyway, and so we got to beat Mahomes again.”
Simons and Witham will watch from their homes Sunday. “I just hope he doesn’t beat us too bad,” Simons said.
Witham: “We’re basically the same age. I’ve watched him in my twenties, my thirties and now half of my forties. I don’t hold any resentment toward him—he gave us 20 good years of football. It is kind of strange. I find myself drawn to watching the Buccaneers games more now in this last year than the Patriots. But I’m still gonna be a Patriots fan.”
We drove five hours through the middle of Maine and the top of New Hampshire (lots of moose signage along the way, but we didn’t see one) and got to Littleton, N.H., a half-hour before sunset. Littleton’s a gorgeous spot at the northern edge of the White Mountains, with the downtown on the rushing Ammonoosuc River, and a refurbished covered bridge over the Ammonoosuc. Fodor’s Travel says Littleton has one of America’s best main streets.
Three brothers, their father and a friend founded the Schilling Beer Company on the banks of the river, and it’s the modern jewel of a traditional New England downtown. On this late afternoon, a middle-aged fellow in a white Brady Patriots jersey sticks his hand out to greet me. “Chris Sununu,” he said. “Great to meet you.”
Business is brisk at the brewpub, and governor Chris Sununu has come to press the flesh—and to talk football at the invitation of the owners, the Cozzens brothers. Sununu tells me he’s glad we’re traversing the region to take the temperature of the fans, rather than just going to Boston. “It’s the New England Patriots,” Sununu said. “New Hampshire Patriots fans are just as into the team as the ones in Massachusetts.”
The governor calls himself a Brady “zealot” and said he hopes his kids emulate Brady. “Positive attitude, clean living, giving it 120 percent all the time. He’s disciplined with the immensely positive attitude,” Sununu said.
We sat down with a couple steins of pilsner. “How’d you feel the day Brady left for Tampa?” I asked.
“It hurt,” Sununu said. “When your hero says he’s going to go somewhere else . . . but you also understand it’s about gratitude. You’ve got to be grateful for 20 years. He gave us six Super Bowls. I still love the guy. At this point, the Bucs are my second-favorite team. But the moral of the story is as great a Tom Brady was for us, it doesn’t mean it’s over here. We’re just onto the next [era].”
As for the game, Sununu says, “I hope Tom throws for 450 yards, six touchdowns—and loses by three points to the Patriots.”
We stayed at Thayers Inn, a 171-year-old hotel on Main Street in Littleton. The keys are those old sixties motel keys on a plastic keychain with DROP IN ANY MAILBOX WE GUARANTEE POSTAGE on them. Per a display in the lobby, President Ulysses Grant stayed here in 1869, a couple of years before Bill Belichick began coaching the football team in these parts.
Wednesday: A blunt teacher, a pragmatic preacher, and a tatted 71-year-old nurse
Dawn brought a 40-minute drive over the state line and the Connecticut River into leafy Newbury, Vermont (pop.: 1,955). On a foggy morning with light rain, we stopped for fresh cinnamon rolls at the Newbury Village Store, so quintessentially New England, just 15 minutes out of the oven. The aroma in this place, with the six elderly townies having their daily discussion of all events near and far (“Sawx won last night!” one said), was the most perfect combination of cinnamon and roll of all time.
We met Emily Ross, a local teacher, in the wooden town gazebo because of the rain. Ross teaches fifth and sixth grades at the 81-student Newbury Elementary School. Tuesday was a pro-Brady day for Ross, but it did not start out that way. Ross seemed a gentle and patient soul, but she was not happy with Brady. A lifelong Patriots fan, she said she informed her husband she was pregnant with their first child by handing him a baby Patriots BRADY 12 jersey. Now, Ross said she was “devastated” when Brady left the Patriots.
“People here loved Tom Brady until the fateful day,” Ross said. “He decided to switch to the Buccaneers, and people are not happy with that choice. I think they felt like he betrayed the team by switching.”
Ross said she respected everything Brady’s done, and she’s grateful for all the Super Bowls, but she said: “He’s become just another athlete.” Sunday’s game, she said, “will be pretty painful.”
It seemed too perfect on day one that everyone would be in the I-love-Tommy camp. Fans are fans; when the greatest player in team history (and maybe football history) goes to a new team and wins a Super Bowl immediately, you can’t expect everyone to cheer and be euphoric for the guy.
The next stop would be telling—the inner-city Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan, a neighborhood in Boston, to see ardent Pats fan and executive minister John Matthew Borders IV. Borders played college football at Morehouse College. He loves the Patriots; he’s on their season-ticket waiting list. More than anyone we met on the trip, he saw no conflict in loving Brady, loving the Patriots, and hoping the Patriots dirty his jersey quite a bit Sunday night. That’s football.
At Morning Star, Borders said, quite a few people will wear a Patriots jersey to Sunday services in the fall. Sitting in the middle of his church, Borders could imagine the throng in the pews on Sunday. “They’re praying that whoever the preacher is that Sunday, they’re finished in time for the [Patriots] 1 o’clock kickoff. They’re like, We love God too, but let’s wrap this up. Especially if it’s a big game.”
As for Brady . . .
“I got nothing but love and respect for the brother,” said Borders. “And I wish him nothing but the best. I would love to see him play till 50. But now, to me, he’s like an ex-. Like, I used to love you. I care about you. But I’m in a different place now.
“This is the house that Tom Brady built, but he doesn’t live here anymore. When he returns, I want him to get his standing ovation. Give him his flowers. He did what? Six titles? His blood, sweat and tears are all over those. But that’s the past. You decided to move forward. And Mac Jones is our quarterback now. So let’s figure out what the next chapter of Patriot football will look like. And as soon as the ball is kicked, knock [Brady] on his back, man. Rip his jersey.”
Some of Morning Star’s congregants are not as realistically magnanimous, but Borders thinks they need to look at athletes in their jobs the same way they look at neighbors in theirs. Sometimes, people change jobs. “Some people saying I’m not going to be a Patriots fan anymore because he’s gone. I would ask them if they recognize that same level of change and or commitment in their own life. People used to work the same job for 30 years and retire. Then you saw people having 10-year stints with three different companies. And now you see in this generation, 10 different companies for three years. Look at how athletes are leveraging their platforms for what they can get, whether it be one- and two-year contracts. The power has shifted from the team and the franchise really to the players.”
Pretty mature, I thought. “This is bigger than Tom Brady,” Borders said. “One of the greatest things about life is succession. We’ve got to get behind Mac Jones. It’s a new day.”
An hour down I-93 and I-95 in Providence, we find Marianne Ryan, an ER nurse, after her shift at Rhode Island Hospital. She got into the Patriots later in life, learning the game and the team while watching with her son when he’d come home from college. Ryan carries a Patriots purse to work. And she wears her lone tattoo, inked at 69, of the Patriots’ flying Elvis logo on her right calf. She showed it to us with pride. She’s all about the team.
“There’s 11 people on the field for the offense, 11 for the defense,” Ryan said. “I really respect what he did, but he didn’t do it alone.”
“What should fans in Foxboro do when Brady walks out on the field before the game?” I said.
“What do the fans do for everyone else?” Ryan said. “They boo them. If they want to clap, I’m fine. But then it should end and we should get on with the game, right?”
Rough crowd here in Providence.
At one point, the producer for the story, Annie Koeblitz, asked a few too many Brady questions for the nurse’s liking. “You want me to say I love Tom Brady. I won’t do it!” Ryan said.
“Do all good things come to an end?” Koeblitz asked.
Ryan smiled. “Do all good things come to an end? I work in the ER. I can tell you they do.”
Thursday: At Yale, and then a G.O.A.T. farm
Now a 100-minute drive down I-95 to New Haven, to the campus of Yale University. Apparently, some people at Yale like football, and some of those formed a fan club supporting the Patriots two years ago.
We met the co-founders, Louis Sokolow and Louie Goldsmith, on campus before morning classes. Sokolow, a music major, tried to recall why his favorite player leaving his favorite team in March 2020 wasn’t devastating.
“It may have been the weird time in the year,” said Sokolow, sitting on a campus bench. “The pandemic was starting. I was thinking about baseball. We had spring break, and after that, we were told not to come back to campus. So it was a pretty tumultuous time. Hard to be focused on Tom Brady right then.”
The other co-founder took it harder. The day Brady signed in Tampa, Goldsmith said, “That was the end of my childhood in a very, very serious way.” He’s not quite over it yet, either. When I asked him how the crowd should respond when Brady runs into Gillette Stadium on Sunday night, Goldsmith said: “Give him a golf clap.” I didn’t hear the rest of his answer.
“A golf clap for six Super Bowls?!”
“We only care about the next one,” Goldsmith said.
Now, for some fun, we were off to a goat farm, the Bradley Mountain Farm, in Southington, 40 minutes north of Yale. At the farm, 40 mountain goats frolic, try to chew visitors’ pants and coats (and NBC signs) and generally have a good life on bucolic acreage overlooking a pretty lake.
John Myska, a burly, bearded man, is one of the caretakers on the farm. He is a recent Patriots devotee; he got into football, and into the Patriots, when his daughter made the cheerleading squad at her local high school and started following football. He’s not nearly as ardent as the other fans we’ve met along the way. But he answers our questions about Brady and the Patriots gamely, and even holds a sign that says TOM BRADY IS THE GOAT, and chuckles when a couple of them begin to eat the posterboard.
When that was over, I asked him how he feels about the Patriot now, post-Brady. “There’s a certain amount of New England pride in the team,” Myska said. “I kind of like this version. I like the building of things. I like starting over, making something new. It’s sort of like life.”
Yes it is.
So you want to play rookie quarterbacks. On Sunday, four rookie quarterbacks started: Trevor Lawrence (first overall pick) in Jacksonville; Zach Wilson (second) for the Jets; Justin Fields (11th) for Chicago; and Mac Jones (15th) for New England. In the case of Jones, he won the job fair and square over Cam Newton. In the case of Fields, he was playing because of injury to starter Andy Dalton. In the cases of Lawrence and Wilson, it was almost pre-ordained on draft day that they’d be starting opening day. Each did.
The results of those four games and the performances by the young passers:
- The rookie QBs went 0-4.
- They lost by 12, 15, 20 and 26 points.
- They threw four touchdown passes with seven interceptions, and were sacked 19 times.
- The combined passer rating of the four rookies: 43.1.
Every time I hear the public yammering for rookie quarterbacks to play—as has been the case since Labor Day in Chicago, with fans fist-shakingly angry at coach Matt Nagy for playing Andy Dalton over Fields—I think of three things:
One: We’re not at practice every day, and we don’t see what the coaches see to be able to make that judgment.
Two: Most of these rookies are going to teams with moribund offenses with either major protection issues or talent issues, thus the reason for being drafted so high. Why throw them to the wolves so fast?
Three: Four megastars drafted in this century—Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes—either barely played or started one game as rookies. They turned out okay.
Moral of the story: Play for the long term. If Urban Meyer decides today to give Lawrence a sanity break and start C.J. Beathard for a while or for the season, good for him. There’s such a short-term view of players drafted to be long-term saviors. It’s scary, really.
Offensive Players of the Week
Ja’Marr Chase, wide receiver, Cincinnati. So much for Mr. Dropsies. Chase continued his run to the Offensive Rookie of the Year with his third and fourth TD receptions of the three-game season. His 34-yard and 9-yard TD catches from Joe Burrow in the second and third quarters, respectively, broke open a 7-7 game and propelled the Bengals to their first win at Heinz Field since 2015.
Derek Carr, quarterback, Las Vegas. I can see Carr becoming a regular in this space. He brought the Raiders back from a sluggish start and a 14-0 first-quarter deficit with six scoring drives in the last 53 minutes. His 386-yard passing day was impressive enough but it was a tough pass that wasn’t a TD throw that was most impressive. On second-and-15 from the Vegas 20-yard line, in a 28-28 game with two minutes left in OT, Carr got pressured but had the presence to throw a beautiful 34-yard rainbow in perfect stride to wideout Bryan Edwards. That set up the winning Daniel Carlson field goal and kept the Raiders unbeaten. Carr’s writing a tremendous story that not many people saw coming.
Josh Allen, quarterback, Buffalo. Allen led an offense that scored 44 points in an easy win over Washington. He threw for 358 yards and scored five total touchdowns, a performance he dedicated to offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, who lost his grandmother last week.
Defensive Players of the Week
Myles Garrett, edge-rusher, Cleveland. With a franchise-record 4.5 sacks of Cleveland’s nine in a dominating defensive performance, Garrett led the marauding attack against the Bears in rookie Justin Fields’ first NFL start. Fields never had a chance. He was chased all day, and the Bears managed an embarrassing 47 total yards on offense. Not sure what the immediate future holds, but I doubt it matters much right now who plays quarterback for Chicago.
Logan Wilson, linebacker, Cincinnati. What a game for the Wyoming Cowboy, from the metropolis of Casper, Wyo. He had two interceptions of Ben Roethlisberger, both of which led to touchdown passes by Joe Burrow. Wilson had a game-high 14 tackles and keyed a defensive effort that had Roethlisberger’s line confused and overmatched. The Bengals have a long-term keeper in Wilson, the kind of defensive playmaker you can build around. Now Cincinnati just has to keep him.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Justin Tucker, kicker, Baltimore. First thought when Tucker’s 66-yard field goal doinked in the air, then over the crossbar, to make NFL history: Justin Tucker is going to the Hall of Fame one day. Breaking the field-goal record by two yards as the clock hit :00 in a game the Ravens would have been totally embarrassed to lose, Tucker’s field goal gave the Ravens a 19-17 win.
Jamal Agnew, return specialist, Jacksonville. There was no more perfect thing in Week 3 than Gus Johnson getting assigned to Cards-Jags. On the last play of the first half in Jacksonville, Agnew lined up in the end zone, hoping to have a chance to return a missed 68-yard field goal by Arizona’s Matt Prater. “I was surprised they were gonna kick it,” Urban Meyer said later. Point being: In the unlikely event of the field goal being short, the returner would have a chance at a long return—and it would come against the field goal team, which is mostly bulky guys designed to keep defenders out of the backfield. So Prater was short, Agnew fielded it nine yards deep in the end zone, and he weaved and sprinted and weaved some more down the left sideline, all the way for a 109-yard field-goal return. It is, of course, tied for the longest scoring play in NFL history. Just listen to Gus Johnson screaming like, well, like Gus Johnson during the return:
JAGS PULL OFF THE KICK SIX AND GUS JOHNSON HAS LOST IT 🤯
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 26, 2021
Coach of the Week
Brandon Staley, coach, L.A. Chargers. Five years ago this weekend, Staley, a Division III defensive coordinator, put the defensive game plan together for John Carroll University as the Blue Streaks defeated Heidelberg 42-14. On Sunday, Staley beat Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes, in part by gambling late and his offensive team having his back on those gambles. The best thing you can say about Staley after road wins over Washington and Kansas City and the narrow home loss to Dallas: He’s not afraid, and it’s clear he’s got players who can back up his calls and play his style of football.
Goat of the Week
Trevor Lawrence, quarterback, Jacksonville. He’s now thrown multiple interceptions in each of his first three NFL starts. His second one Sunday was an absolute dagger—and stupid. Clinging to a 19-17 lead in the final minute of the third quarter, on a second-and-six call from his 25-yard line, Lawrence threw a duck off his back foot, and the ball was picked by Arizona’s Byron Murphy—who looked like the intended receiver—and returned for a 29-yard touchdown. The first pick in the draft has had a very bad first month in the NFL. Jags lost, 31-19.
Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Kanas City. Good chance this is the first time Mahomes has been in this space (and it well could be the last). But he is deserving. With 1:55 left in the fourth quarter of a 24-24 tie against the rival Chargers, Mahomes got pressured around his own 20-yard line and launched a careless throw into coverage. It was errant. Travis Kelce couldn’t catch up to it, but Chargers safety Alohi Gilman could. The Gilman pick at the L.A. 41-yard line set up an eight-play, 59-yard drive to the winning touchdown pass by Justin Herbert. And for the first time in his five-year NFL career, Mahomes went home from the stadium with a losing (1-2) record.
“How can you not be romantic about football?”
—Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, to Michele Tafoya of NBC, after Rodgers led the Pack to the game-winning field goal as time expired in Green Bay’s 30-28 win at San Francisco.
“You almost can’t make it up. It was that bad.”
—Chicago coach Matt Nagy, after the Bears managed a grand total of one net passing yard and allowed nine sacks in the 26-6 loss to Cleveland.
“I love Detroit. I’m thinking of getting a place here.”
—Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker, who has won both career games in Detroit with field goals of more than 60 yards in the game’s final minute.
“That’s about as big a gut punch as I’ve ever been a part of. The gut punches are going to stop.”
—Detroit quarterback Jared Goff, after the bizarro-world Justin Tucker 66-yard field goal at :00 beat the Lions Sunday.
“It was God’s plan.”
—Jameis Winston, the New Orleans quarterback, to coach Sean Payton after Winston’s off-balance desperation TD throw in Foxboro in the Saints’ win Sunday.
It is early, and we must underline that. Okay, I will. It’s early. But the Sam Darnold experiment, through three weeks, both in what the eye can see and through the various analytical lenses of Pro Football Focus, is going well. September 2021 will be the second-best month of his pro career (he was 3-1 in November 2019 with the Jets, with a 107.5 rating), and with some soft defenses coming in October, Darnold just might keep this career renaissance going.
What is better for him as a Panther than as a Jet (other than, of course, everything):
• He’s taking better care of the ball. Last week, coach Matt Rhule told me to watch how they call plays late in games, putting the ball in Darnold’s hands instead of running it more (even with Christian McCaffrey out). “We trust him,” Rhule said. So far, through 12 quarters, Darnold has one interception and one lost fumble. PFF figures show his turnover-worthy plays—plays that should have resulted in turnovers—were at 4.1 percent in his three Jets’ seasons, and are at 2.5 percent so far this year.
• He’s been protected better. You don’t think of the Panthers as having a formidable front line, but Darnold has been pressured on 32.5 percent of pass-drops. In his last two years with the Jets, he was pressured 42.0 percent of the snaps.
• He’s making big plays. Another PFF metric is “big-time throws,” meaning passes that can result in big gains. Career average with Jets: 3.6 percent of his throws. Three-game average in Carolina: 5.3 percent.
• Joe Brady’s helping. Nobody talks much about the effect of play-action on quarterback success, but the Carolina offensive coordinator is a firm believer. Darnold’s rate of play-action in his three Jet seasons: 25, 24, 21 percent. This year, it’s 30 percent in Carolina.
Maybe this says nothing. I think it says something.
Excepting the 2020 season-ending loss to the Chargers when Kansas City rested several front-line players including Patrick Mahomes, KC is 8-2 in its last 10 regular-season games. Every one of those games was decided by less than a TD.
The 10 scoring margins: 6, 1, 4, 3, 3, 6, 6, 3, 4 and 2 points.
The average score in those 10 games: Kansas City 29, Foes 27.
There’s something to be said for winning the tight games, and KC’s won most of them. But that’s two straight in the loss column. Something to watch.
They train young wideouts well at LSU. Just as Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. were NFL-ready when they left Baton Rouge, check out the rookie-year numbers, collectively, of the 16 games of Justin Jefferson in 2020 and the three games so far of J’Marr Chase in 2021:
Avg. per catch: 16.4
In the past week, I toured the six New England states with my NBC crew, led by producer Annie Koeblitz. I wouldn’t be doing my journalistic responsibility if I didn’t judge a beer in each state, would I?
Ranking the beers I had in six different locales:
• New Hampshire: Alexandr Czech-Style Pilsner (Schilling Beer Company, Littleton, N.H.) was the best beer I had on the trip. A perfect, slightly bitter pilsner. As the brewer told me, all of the beers at Schilling are designed after German and central-European beers. I drank two of the Alexandrs while talking to fans at Schilling, overlooking the idyllic Ammonoosuc River and thought, “Who could make such a perfect beer?” So I got a four-pack of the pints, and I’ll save them for special occasions this fall.
• Vermont: Hello My Name is Beer (Mill River Brewing, St. Albans, Vermont). Really liked this beer. Such a delightful, and slightly odd, lager. It had a sort of a bready taste, with a heavy malt and distinct flavor. Give me a case of this and I’ll be happy for a month. I bought it because of the name. I’d keep drinking it because of the taste.
• Maine: Out of Range Blueberry Ale (Baxter Brewing Company, Lewiston, Maine). If you know my taste in fruit beers, you know they need to be notable, but mild. Like, I want to know the fruit is there, but I don’t want to be overwhelmed by it. So, on our way from Maine to New Hampshire (the backroads route, a wonderful way to go), we passed through Thomaston, Maine, and found Doug’s Seafood Restaurant on the side of the road. What else would we have for lunch other than a lobster roll? The roll was very nice, other than the fact it was on a hamburger bun. And the accompanying Out of Range Blueberry Ale was perfect. The ale was lovely, and the tinge of Maine blueberry was just right.
• Massachusetts: Harpoon IPA (Harpoon Brewery, Boston, Mass.) I was pressed for time in Massachusetts, so I had a good ol’ Harpoon IPA at Fenway Park on Wednesday night. It’s one of the original New England IPAs, and what I really like about it is it doesn’t go overboard on the hoppiness. I’m not a fan of the vast increase in hops in some IPAs, though I know many of you are. Harpoon is a great drinking beer, smooth and tasty and classic early IPA. Plus, and I know this firsthand, the company has a tremendous conscience and does a world of good with places like the Greater Boston Food Bank.
• Rhode Island: Whalers Rise American Pale Ale (Whalers Brewing Company, Wakefield, R.I.) Nicely hoppy for a pale ale. I tried it on a trip to Rhode Island in April, and savored it this week. Enjoyable.
• Connecticut: Bayern Hartford Oktoberfest Lager (Hanging Hills Brewing, Hartford, Conn.). Cool that my old ‘hood has a good lager that tastes like it’s from the old country. Ever had the kind of Munich beer that is good because it’s got some bitterness to it? That’s how this one tasted to me.
Saddest part of the trip? That New England has only six states.
The Chiefs are under .500 for the first time since Week 11 in 2015. pic.twitter.com/X2pVQjBEyo
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) September 26, 2021
That was the most Lionsish Lions loss in many years.
— Charles P. Pierce (@CharlesPPierce) September 26, 2021
Pierce writes for Esquire and is quite a sportswriter when he practices the craft.
When this mask thing ends, God willing, I’m going to be finding old crumpled masks in my coat pocket for the next 20 years.
— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) September 25, 2021
Sam Farmer covers the NFL (and the Ryder Cup) for the Los Angeles Times.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) September 25, 2021
Remembering the most famous play in franchise history, Steve Gleason’s blocked punt in the first game back in New Orleans post-Katrina in 2006.
Why did I come back? What’s the point? I’ll tell you why… We are the green and gold. Bob Melvin is our manager. Don’t make excuses and get your ass to work. If you won’t do it then we will find someone who will. This org turns you into a better person and im grateful. pic.twitter.com/QFaCZmi5Uf
— Chris Bassitt (@C_Bass419) September 23, 2021
Chris Bassitt, a pitcher for the Oakland A’s, returned to the mound last week after being hit in the face with a batted line drive and suffering facial fractures Aug. 17.
A heavy letter on life. From James Tedford (Fuller Theological Seminary), of Pasadena, Calif.: “I’m writing to share a triumph and a tragedy, in the hope that your readers will appreciate the former and avoid the latter. On Monday, we lost our fantasy football league commissioner to COVID. He had announced his diagnosis at our Zoom draft on August 28. It was the 31st draft for a league he started in 1991 at an evangelical church in the Bay Area, when many of us were high schoolers. Marvin was a good man — a Navy vet, a youth ministry volunteer with his wife, a small businessman — but he had succumbed to viral misinformation as politics radicalized so many in the Trump years. Several of us in the league tried to reason with him in 2020, but he dug in as an anti-masker, anti-vaxxer. Marvin was always so proud of our league, that our fellowship of 16-plus guys endured longer than many marriages. He was a superb commissioner, always reaching out to people behind the scenes before he made decisions about contentious trades and rules ambiguities. I hope to honor him as well as provide a cautionary tale in a way that is very relatable to white men (especially evangelicals) who are hesitant about the vaccine. Many thanks for your time and consideration. Grace and peace.”
James, I appreciate you sharing your story, and I hope your message goes far and wide. It’s clear you were very fond of Marvin, and your league was a communal place, a port in so many storms, for you and your friends over so many years. If one reticent person gets vaccinated because they read about Marvin, then you’ve done a valuable job with your words. Thank you.
Brad likes that I channeled “Aqualung” in last week’s column. From Brad Cramer: ” ‘. . . spitting out pieces of their broken luck! ‘ Any FMIA column that invokes Jethro Tull lyrics is a winner. All that was missing was the flute.”
Seventeen emails this week happy that I included Tull in the top of my column about the Ravens. And all week, that’s been the first song in my head each morning.
Well, I don’t know about “elegant.” From Jose Bravo: “Your opinions are valued to me. Some of them I happen to disagree with but that actually adds to the enjoyment of reading FMIA on Mondays. Variety is the spice of life and your ability to express your views is a privilege that should never be denied. Those who chastise you for your opinions would have us all miss the variety. Keep writing what you think please—sports, politics, current events, beer, coffee, etc. You are never offensive and always elegant.”
Thanks, Jose. You’re one of quite a few people who wrote with the same sentiment this week, and I appreciate it.
FMIA should be available to the vision-impaired and to those who just want to relax. From Wendell Mac Gibbon, of New Waterford, Cape Breton, Canada: “I believe your column will translate to even more people if they could hear it rather than read it. Get a guest to read the column from start to finish in [his/her] own voice. Sitting down with your eyes closed and listening to your column will be a relaxing way to spend some time.”
Hi Wendell. Thanks for the idea. My first year at NBC, I read more than half the column each Sunday night after writing, maybe about 5 a.m. It was not fun, doing something like that while exhausted. We would have kept doing it if there was an audience for it. But it never got a foothold—not many people listened. We’d consider doing it as an instant podcast of sorts again if there was a groundswell wanting it.
Urban Meyer deserves blame for Zach Smith’s employment lasting too long at Ohio State. From Stephen Brauer: “Regarding your item about Zach Smith, I think since your column is focused on football it was important for you to call out Urban Meyer as the person who allowed Zach Smith to stay on the staff at Ohio State. I know you referenced this in previous articles, but Meyer clearly has a history of looking past issues of his coaches if it means it could ‘help’ his team. When Meyer made the decision to bring on the strength coach from Iowa who had been accused of making racially insensitive remarks, that was just another example of his poor judgment and putting his own success ahead of making the right decision. Meyer continues to be given the benefit of the doubt, but in both instances he was the final decision-maker that allowed these men to be employed.”
Fair is fair—Chris Doyle was let go/resigned after 24 hours with Meyer’s Jaguars, but I take your point about him being hired in the first place. Yes, Meyer kept Smith way too long in Columbus. His employment should have been terminated two or three years, minimum, before it was. That is on Meyer and on the OSU athletic director then and now, Gene Smith. No excuse for their inaction.
1. I think my favorite story of Week 3 is Yosuah Nijman. You don’t know him, unless you love the Packers, or unless you were all over the Sunday night game on NBC. “Yosh” Nijman (pronounced Ny-man) is the third-string left tackle for Green Bay. Prior to Sunday, he’d played 15 snaps from scrimmage on the line, with zero starts. But with regular starter David Bakhtiari and back Elgton Jenkins both out with injuries Sunday night, the Packers were in a next-man-up situation. Problem: The next man up had never played a full NFL game, and the next man up would be opposing one of the best pass-rushers in the game, Nick Bosa of the 49ers. Now, teams can only do so much to hide liabilities. A quarterback like Aaron Rodgers certainly understood Sunday night he’d have to make quick decisions and quick throws.
So here’s what’s cool about the story. During the game, Davante Adams walked by Nijman in a break in the action. Nijman said to Adams: “Man, it’s just a blessing to play with you guys. I am really enjoying this.” How’d he do? Passable to well. Per PFF numbers, Nijman pass-blocked 34 times, allowed two pressures and no sacks, and blocked Bosa 31 times. Bosa got no sacks, one tackle for loss and seven tackles. A nice game, but not a dominant one. And Adams, for one, couldn’t stop smiling about Nijman afterward. “Great heart,” Adams said. “Proud of what he did out there.”
2. I think this is a great indicator of one of my favorite football sayings, You never pick up one year where you left off the previous year: The eight division winners in 2020 are a combined 12-12 after three weeks.
3. I think the pressure on Tua Tagovailoa to come back and play well once his fractured ribs are healed will be immense, and intense. Tagovailoa had a couple of ticky-tack injuries last year, then got pulled for performance in Week 16 at the Raiders, then played poorly in the last game of the season at Buffalo, and entered this season with pressure to prove he deserved to be the Dolphins’ long-term quarterback. He was okay in the Week 1 win at the Pats, then got the broken ribs in the first quarter of Week 2 against Buffalo. Now he’ll miss at least three games on injured-reserve before returning (Miami hopes) in Week 6 against Jacksonville. So he’ll miss, minimum, 15 of the first 20 quarters this year. Say he comes back for the Jacksonville game. Miami has five games in a 26-day span then: Jacksonville, Atlanta, Buffalo, Houston and Baltimore. That’s not a killer slate. With the impatience of owner Stephen Ross to get his long-term quarterback, and the fact that Tagovailoa hasn’t proven in any way that it’s him, that five-game, 26-day stretch has to be the runway to stake his claim for this job.
One last note on the Tua story: It’s absurd that we’re talking about a quarterback having to prove himself by midway through his second season. Totally absurd. But that’s the business the NFL is now. The impatience at quarterback is fairly overwhelming, but it exists.
4. I think I am on record, and have been since writing last March about the near-certainty of the advent of the Monday night wild-card game, that it’s a great idea for the NFL to plant the flag on a mid-January Monday night and make it a permanent wild-card time slot.
5. I think for the crowd that will say, It’s unfair for a team to have to play a wild-card game and then travel to play a rested team on a short week in the divisional round, I’ll give you these four points:
• Last season, the first with six wild-card games, there were three on Saturday and three on Sunday. The NFL this year will eliminate the 1:05 p.m. ET Saturday slot and play a game in the 8:15 p.m. ET Monday window now. Those two teams who would have played the early-afternoon Saturday game would likely (but not certainly) be coming off competitive games the previous Sunday just to get to this game. Consider Indianapolis, the road 1:05 Saturday team last year. The Colts were fighting for a division title, tied entering the last weekend with Tennessee at 10-5 for the AFC South lead. Indy played all-out to beat Jacksonville at 4:25 p.m. Sunday of Week 17 while hoping the Texans would beat Tennessee. If Tennessee lost, the Colts would have been the 4 seed and gotten a home playoff game. Tennessee won, sending Indy to the 7 seed and on the road in the first playoff game. So, ask head coaches who had to scratch and claw to make the playoffs this question: Would you rather your most important game of the season be a quick-turnaround short-week game, on the road, after a grueling regular season . . . or would you rather have two extra rest days to play your most important game of the season, with the proviso that if you win the wild-card game you’ve got to play a short-week road game in the divisional round?
• Poll 32 coaches on that question. I’m sure it wouldn’t be 32-0 either way, but I am just as sure the majority would say they’d want more rest on the front end. I asked ex-coach Jimmy Johnson this exact question. He thought for about five to eight seconds, then said: “I would think, the way coaches think, it’s a one-game season when you get to the playoffs, and what gives you the best chance to win that one game in the wild-card round? You’d like to have the rest for that first game. It’s not like you’re thinking about the next games—you’re just thinking you want to have the best chance to win that first one. Because you’re not guaranteed that second one. If you win the first one, then you worry about the second one, even if it’s on a short week.”
• A team in excellent health might be okay with playing a short-week wild-card game, with a 50-50 chance of an extra day of rest in the divisional round. But how many teams will be in excellent health after a 17-game grind? And if a team plays Monday of wild-card weekend, it’s guaranteed the extra day of rest. If that team plays Saturday of wild-card weekend, it’s no lock that it will get the extra day of rest and play Sunday in the divisional round.
• Those who object to moving to Monday and having the winner play a short-week road game—I understand the disadvantage. But you can’t speak about the unfairness of playing a short-week divisional game without noting the advantage of a long week to prepare for the wild-card game.
6. I think it is very likely that one of the 4-seed-versus-5-seed games will be the 2021 wild-card Monday nighter on Jan. 17, 2022. Why? Because the way the playoffs work, the lowest-seeded remaining teams play at the highest-seeded teams. The 1 seed will host the team with the lowest seed in the divisional round, and the next-best remaining team will host the second-worst seed. At the end of Sunday’s games, every team left in the playoffs will know its fate the following weekend. If 7 beats 2 and 3 beats 6 in the wild-card round, for instance, the divisional round will feature 7 playing at 1 and the 5/4 winner at 3. Any other way would raise the chance of not knowing one conference’s divisional matchups till 11:30 p.m. ET Monday. Interesting note: Last year, both 5 seeds won road wild-card games against the 4 seeds. (Baltimore won at Tennessee, Tampa Bay won at Washington.) Just guessing that the NFL would have put Baltimore-Tennessee on Monday night and kept Tampa Bay (and Tom Brady) as the Saturday prime-time game. But either way, look for a 5-at-4 game on Monday night.
7. I think Davis Mills has my respect for hanging in against the best defense in football in his first NFL start. The best thing I can say about him is he wasn’t afraid Thursday night, and he made some strong throws against a confusing D. I like the fact that Houston now gets to see Mills for a few starts and Tyrod Taylor for a few more. The franchise should be able to make a judgment on which quarterback will accompany/compete with one they draft/add in trade in 2022.
8. I think I want you to look at a tweet from Saturday, digest it, and then let me escort you through how the football landscape has changed in just one year.
Who covers the spread when the @49ers host @packers on Sunday night football 🤔 #InsideTheNFL streaming now on @paramountplus: https://t.co/K9uCBAWc5l @BMarshall @PhilSimmsQB @Edelman11 pic.twitter.com/Lepc9Ih4V9
— Inside the NFL (@insidetheNFL) September 25, 2021
It is notable that:
• This is the first year that “who covers the spread” has ever been promoted by an NFL TV partner.
• This is the first year that the NFL has official sports betting partners—Caesars Entertainment, DraftKings and FanDuel. The NFL also has deals with four other companies as authorized NFL gaming operators. That’s seven partners with the power to promote the NFL and to be used by partners. [For transparency, NBC uses one of them, PointsBet.]
• The is the first year that an NFL institution, “Inside the NFL,” has been streamed.
• This is the first year of Paramount Plus, which was born on March 4, 2021.
• Amazingly, even nine months ago that tweet would have been farcical.
The moral of the story is how incredibly fast the media, gambling and football landscapes are changing. It’s truly head-spinning.
9. I think I’d like to thank NFL Films, particularly Todd Schmidt and Brigitte Rodgers, for being kind, thorough and professional, and for allowing me to pay tribute to my dad in this way:
— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) September 24, 2021
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. TV Story of the Week: Steve Hartman, the CBS On The Road guy, with a gem from storm-ravaged Houma, La.
b. The power of human kindness is amazing. And the great work is led by the most apt name of the year: Angel Flood. She is cooking for the linemen who have come from all over the country to repair the power lines and power grid in her town. She is not alone. Reports Hartman:
CBS News found thousands of people helping the linemen in every parish affected by the storm. They’ve prepared meals, offered rooms and washed laundry. Flood has told the linemen to leave their dirty clothes on her front porch. She has them fluffed and folded by the morning. “It’s like checking your chickens and you got an egg,” Flood said, checking her porch to see if anyone left a bag of laundry.
Lineman Jarrad Cawley, of Winter Garden, Fla, cannot believe how well he has been treated. “They have been an absolute godsend to us,” he said. “I’ve been on a lot of storms. I’ve been doing this for quite some time. We’ve never been treated this good before.”
Flood said it’s the least she can do. The linemen put in 16-hour days, seven days a week, away from their families. Flood has learned in talking to them that it’s rarely about money and more about duty. “If you’re a lineman and you don’t take a call to go ‘on storm’ — is what they call it — it’s like being in the Army and turning down deployment,” Flood said.
c. Angel Flood, thank you.
d. Cautionary Tale About Something That Seemed So Good: Christina Caron of the New York Times says we should not overdo seltzer intake.
e. Pellegrino or Polar has been a valuable writing companion over the years. But now, after reading Caron’s take, I’ll shift at least half-time to tap water. Writes Caron:
Carbonated water is more acidic in our mouths than flat water. Bubbly water contains carbon dioxide, which is converted to carbonic acid when it mingles with saliva, lowering the pH level of your mouth. The pH scale indicates whether a solution is more acidic (lower pH) or alkaline (higher pH). Drinks with a lower pH can be erosive to teeth, making them more susceptible to cavities; however, unsweetened carbonated water is not nearly as erosive as soda or fruit juice, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association.
If you prefer drinking it alone, without food — Dr. [Brittany] Seymour [of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine] usually drinks unsweetened seltzer while cooking dinner — use a straw to help the water bypass your teeth. In general, try not to sip it for more than an hour. Drinking carbonated water over a long time period prolongs the amount of time that your teeth are exposed to acidity … Something else to keep in mind: Many people assume club soda and seltzer water are interchangeable, however club soda usually has sodium.
f. Man, even what’s good for you isn’t good for you.
g. Reporting of the Week: Kyle Dunphey of the Deseret News in Utah went to Moab, Utah, where the late Gabby Petito and her boyfriend argued and fought Aug. 12, and found the National Park Service ranger, Melissa Hulls, who calmed down Gabby. Dunphey’s story is a good example of nosing around till you find the person who can help you best tell a very big story—in this case, a story about a troubled woman in apparently an abusive relationship. Wrote Dunphey:
Melissa Hulls can still hear Gabby Petito’s voice.
On Aug. 12, the visitor and resource protection supervisor at Arches National Park, heard a call come over her radio of a possible domestic assault, stemming from an argument in Moab between Petito and her fiance, Brian Laundrie.
Hulls arrived to find the couple pulled over by a Moab police officer inside the park. Knowing that in a domestic violence situation the female usually feels more comfortable talking with another female, she focused on Petito, who at that point was sitting in the back of a police cruiser. “I can still hear her voice,” Hulls said in an exclusive interview with the Deseret News. “She wasn’t just a face on the milk carton, she was real to me.”
Hulls pictures the sobbing 22-year-old sitting in the back of the cruiser. She knows her mannerisms, just from the roughly hour-and-a half interaction.
“I was probably more candid with her than I should’ve been,” Hulls recalls, warning Petito that her and Laundrie’s relationship had the markings of a “toxic” one. “I was imploring with her to reevaluate the relationship, asking her if she was happy in the relationship with him, and basically saying this was an opportunity for her to find another path, to make a change in her life,” she said.
h. Petito died some days afterward. Her death was ruled a homicide, and authorities are looking for Laundrie in connection with it. Laundrie cannot be found.
i. TV Piece of the Week: Anne Thompson of NBC News on the nation’s oldest park ranger, Betty Reid Soskin, turning 100. Inspirational, not only about Soskin’s history, but on the erasure of some Black history as well.
j. “The history that I lived was nowhere in sight—not one minute of it.”
k. “I still love this uniform, partly because there’s a silent message for every little girl of color that I pass on the street.”
l. I mean, what is going on here? We have got to help flight attendants more than we are.
m. I’ve never run into anything like this on a plane, and I haven’t seen any of the reported physical stuff on planes in the age of Covid, either. But I support the flight crews demanding more protection on every flight, even if the bill is covered by the flying public.
n. Wait. The NHL preseason has begun? And there was a split-squad twinbill Sunday in Florida (Nashville-Panthers), 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.? Did any person stay for all six periods?
o. I have one comment: Go Kraken!
p. Great job by the Detroit Tigers, paying tribute to Miguel Cabrera on Friday night at home.
q. Congrats, Jon Lester. He won his 200th major-league game last Monday in a classic Lester game at good-hitting Milwaukee: six innings, three hits, no walks, two earned runs. Great big-game pitcher, with a 9-7, 2.51 ERA postseason life. Two huge starts to lift the Red Sox to the 2013 World Series title against St. Louis. I was at Game 5 in St. Louis, Lester’s 3-1 masterpiece, helped by a line-shot David Ross ground-rule double to score the decisive run. Memorable time for me. Flew to St. Louis that afternoon to see the game, drove halfway to Kansas City after the game, slept, then got up early to finish the drive, and to interview Alex Smith, 8-0 on Andy Reid’s first KC team, at 9:30 that Tuesday morning. Good thing I like coffee.
r. Listened to the Yankees TV crew Friday and Saturday for Yanks-Sox. Michael Kay is so good at telling stories that truly inform, including the age of Fenway and the scuttlebutt of a DiMaggio-Williams trade and the only sound you heard in Fenway on the Bucky Dent playoff homer in 1978 was from the Yankee execs next to the dugout. Just great baseball conversation with Kay and analyst David Cone, who’s a gem himself:
Kay: “This place opened up in 1912, and here we are, 2021, and the same two teams are playing. It’s kind of amazing, and it’s comforting in a way.”
David Cone: “It is. You walk through the clubhouse and it’s the same. It smells the same.”
Kay: “The day this ballpark opened up, news of the Titanic going down had reached the shores of the United States.”
s. And then, in the seventh inning, Kay and Cone talked about not pinch-running for Giancarlo Stanton after he walked, with the Yankees down 2-1. Made sense to thinking about running for him there. But they made the point that maybe Stanton would be up in a big spot later. And Stanton came up with the bases jammed in the eighth and hit the grand slam that won the game. These guys are really good.
t. People Are Good Story of the Week: Sharon Pruitt-Young of National Public Radio on the free store (inside a middle school) helping a fraction of 17 million hungry people in the country, founded by rapper Gunna and heart-of-gold entrepreneur Jasmine Crowe.
The store, called Gunna’s Drip Closet And Goodr Grocery Store, has an array of foods, household items, toiletries, and even clothes and shoes for students and their families. “The principal describes it as like a mini Walmart,” Crowe said. But the biggest difference, of course, is that everything is absolutely free. Stock is replenished weekly, and there are vegan options as well as fresh produce. Also present are plenty of easy and quick options, which were chosen for a very specific reason.
“We were really conscious of making sure that we were providing items that the kids could make themselves because the principal let us know that a lot of these kids, when they leave school, they are essentially adults that are making the meals,” Crowe explained. “They’re doing everything for their household.”
Parents can come shop after dropping off their children for school, and they even have the option of using an app, created exclusively for the school, to reserve a shopping time slot or request items.
u. Just when you get really bummed about the state of our world, you hear the Steve Hartman story about Angel Flood, and this story, about people who really care about the problem of hunger. Thanks to all trying to make the world just a little bit better.
v. Brian Kelly has won more games at Notre Dame than Knute Rockne or Ara Parseghian. For people of a certain age like me, that’s a wow.
Dallas 27, Philadelphia 20. Not sure how much this matters, but Dallas has won three straight over the Eagles in Arlington, and by 7, 27 and 20. And Dak Prescott is healthy, with healthy receivers (Amari Cooper/CeeDee Lamb: 31 catches, 348 yards) and a two-headed running game (Tony Pollard 7.7 per carry, Zeke Elliott 3.9). We haven’t seen the Dallas offense explode yet. The most interesting thing in this game, to me, is the deployment of Dallas rookie Micah Parsons.
Parsons, the 12th overall pick last April, hadn’t played football since 2019 after opting out at Penn State due to Covid last year. So there was some doubt how he’d fit in early in Dallas. Well, there are no longer any doubts. He was a rangy linebacker early in camp and in the first game, but in Week two he switched to an end-of-the-line rusher. It appears Parsons will stay there; he practiced and met with defensive linemen in the run-up to this game. So far, 49 snaps on the line, 38 at linebacker, three at cover corner. Wherever he lines up, the NFL game has not been too big for him. Through two weeks, Parsons was the NFL’s top-rated rush linebacker, per PFF numbers, and third-rated linebacker in overall defense, which encompasses all aspects of the position. He’ll be a handful for the Eagles to account for tonight. “He’s a freaking baller,” LB-mate Leighton Vander Esch says. Seems so.
The best the NFL has to offer in Week 4:
Tampa Bay at New England, Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC. It has to be unprecedented in the modern history of the Patriots to have a game of significance in the early-season (Saints at Patriots) basically ignored by the public for a game that’s a week away. But that’s what just happened in the past few days.
Arizona at Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX. The Cardinals are 3-0. The Rams are 3-0. This is going to be a heck of a game, and a heck of lucky break for FOX, which surprisingly gets a battle of unbeatens—led by exciting offenses—in early October.
Carolina at Dallas, Sunday, Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX. Second straight game in Texas for the 3-0 Panthers. Notice I didn’t say “surprising” Panthers. Nothing surprising about a 3-0 team when it has allowed 10 points a game.
Pittsburgh at Green Bay, Sunday, 4:25 p.m., FOX. Would you believe this is the first Roethlisberger-Rodgers duel ever at Lambeau Field? And considering Ben is 39 and Aaron 37, it’s pretty likely it’ll be the last one. In 2013, the last time the Steelers were in Lambeau, Matt Flynn played for an injured Rodgers in the 38-31 Pittsburgh win.
Indianapolis at Miami, Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS. Jacoby Brissett has two straight starts against old friends in Week 4 and Week 5. First up is Indy, where Brissett was the temp heir to Andrew Luck at the time of his weird 2019 retirement. (Take a guess how many starts Brissett had in Indy. I never would have guessed 30, but here we are.) Seven days later, Brissett will try to beat his old friend Tom Brady—Brissett was the 91st pick in the 2016 draft in New England, and mostly sat behind Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo—in a visit to Tampa Bay. It’ll be weird for Brissett, seeing ghosts while he tries to revive his own starter’s dreams.
Some statement win, Rams.
Stafford outplayed Brady, too.
I pray for Round Two.