What an outlier this week was. So many crummy, non-competitive games. Average margin of victory Sunday: 16.5 points. Just three one-score games in the early, late and night windows. Really just one outstanding game (Dallas-New England), then a bunch of interesting stories:
• Win one for Bisaccia! The Raiders, post-Gruden (still seems weird to type that), played a surprisingly complete game six days after their head coach disappeared into thin air. Vegas 34, Denver 24, snapping a two-loss streak. “There are always things going on with the Raiders,” said one of the league’s premier pass-rushers, Maxx Crosby. “But our guys are resilient.” Apparently.
• Spencer Who? Kyler Murray’s three security blankets (coach/play-caller, QB coach, Pro Bowl center) all were missing, the first two because of positive Covid tests. The unexpected star of the show was Spencer Whipple, the Cards’ 32-year-old assistant receivers coach, designated to call plays by the quarantining Kliff Kingsbury. How’d the kid do? First-half drive for the Cards: TD, TD, FG, FG, FG. You’ll meet Whipple—who’d previously called plays once in his coaching life, at UMass—in a few paragraphs. The NFL’s lone unbeaten team didn’t just survive in Cleveland. The Cardinals buried the Browns.
• Beware the Bengals. Cincinnati beat the Lions by 23 Sunday, is 4-2, each loss has been by a field goal, Joe Burrow’s on a 39-TD pace. Suddenly, the game of next week is Cincinnati at Baltimore, a regional TV tilt that maybe 12 percent of the country will be able to watch in its entirety.
• Miami stinks. Five straight losses, including a desultory one in London to the Jaguars, who broke a 20-game losing streak. We’re two weeks before Halloween, and the Dolphins, who were supposed to be competitive with Buffalo in the AFC East this year, are already four games behind them in the loss column. Nothing seems certain with this franchise, including the futures of Brian Flores (16-22 in year three) and Tua Tagovailoa.
• The NFC’s loaded. Five teams are 5-1 or better. None is a fluke. The Cards, Cowboys, Packers, Bucs and Rams went 5-0 in Week 6, by an average margin of 14 points a game.
• Gruden, Gruden, Gruden. Really, this is about Gruden and Dan Snyder, and what owners can get away with that no one else in the game can. It’s not fair, but life isn’t either.
The Lead: Cowboys
Now for the game of the weekend. Just before the Cowboys took off from Providence for Dallas on Sunday night, I asked Dak Prescott what it felt like to put up 35 points and 445 yards against Bill Belichick’s defense. Think of that number: 445 passing yards. Belichick’s head-coached 422 games in his 27 years running the Browns and Patriots. No quarterback has ever thrown for that many yards.
“Yeah, I mean it’s great,” Prescott said. “We know the coach and the Super Bowls and the standard here. When you’re able to come up here and do something that hasn’t been done on them in a long, long time, it’s great, and it gives us such confidence. Especially doing it here. What an atmosphere. The fans were so into it. It was so special. What a great, great road win.
“I think what we’ve shown now, six games in, is we can win games on offense or defense. We’re feeling pretty good about ourselves.”
They should. Who saw any team with a three-game lead in the NFC East after six weeks?
So many good quarterbacks now. In my 38 seasons covering the NFL, I’ve never seen a class of quarterbacks as good as this one. Try to make a top 10 right now, for how quarterbacks are playing right now. Not who are the best, but how they’re playing right now, this month. It’s fruitless, but here goes:
1 Kyler Murray
2 Josh Allen
3 Dak Prescott
4 Lamar Jackson
5 Tom Brady
6 Aaron Rodgers
7 Justin Herbert
8 Patrick Mahomes
9 Matthew Stafford
10 Kirk Cousins
11 Derek Carr
12 Joe Burrow
Joe Burrow, playing with such command an confidence and accuracy, 12th? That just shows the depth of these quarterbacks now. Plus, it’s so fungible. If I did this in three weeks, Mahomes could be first. Lamar Jackson could be. Anyway, my point is there’s an embarrassment of riches at quarterback right now. But Prescott, no matter how you quantify or qualify your factors for such a list, has gone in five years from the 135th player picked in the draft to someone so trustworthy, someone so indispensable, that he’ll be a fixture on talk-show lists like this for years. And no one will be remotely surprised if it’s Prescott and the Cowboys who go on a tear this year, and if it’s the Cowboys who get hot at the right time and storm into Super Bowl 56 in Los Angeles in four months.
Prescott is playing with such confidence. With Gillette Stadium at a fever pitch, he was perfect on the last drive of the game. Five of five, each ball thrown in the perfect spot, the last one against Cover Zero—which I’ll get to.
First, I want to pass along something we talked about after discussing this game. New England quarterback Mac Jones lost Sunday, and he threw what should have been a game-killing pick-six to Trevon Diggs (the ball just finds this guy) with 2:27 left in the fourth quarter. I said to Prescott how impressive it was that Jones, on the very next snap, threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to get New England back in it, and how impressive it was that Jones took three or four brutal shots on the day and just kept playing Rocky Balboa. He kept coming back for more.
Prescott didn’t wait for me to finish. “Those two things that you just said, honestly, are the two most important things to be really good at this position. You gotta be able to take a lick and not flinch and make the play when the hard hit’s coming. And when you have a bad play or an interception and the game changes right there, you gotta have the water-down-a-duck’s-back mentality. Let it go. It’s over. Mac’s got that. I really like what I see out of him. He’ll be a good quarterback for a long time.”
I prefaced the last drive with that because it’s the universal truth about being a quarterback, and it’s something Prescott shows all the time—and showed on this evening in eastern Massachusetts.
Go to the last drive now. Dallas ball, two minutes into overtime, at its 20-yard line. Next score wins. On second-and-eight, Matthew Judon flushed Prescott to the right. On the run, Prescott hit a sliding CeeDee Lamb for 14. First down. Next snap: Judon with pressure again, Prescott hit tight end Dalton Schultz for six. Same sort of sliding to the right, evading the big hit. Next snap: Patriots rushed five, Prescott in a hurry, Amari Cooper on a crosser for nine. After a seven-yard run, it was second-and-three from the Patriots’ 42-yard line. Parallel pass to Lamb for seven, and now the clock was down to four minutes left.
First down at the New England 42. Dallas wanted to score a touchdown, not settle for a field goal from the prolific but imperfect Greg Zuerlein. Prescott expected heavy pressure, because New England wasn’t getting home rushing four or five. “I love Zero Coverage,” Prescott said. That leaves receivers singled, mostly, with no safety help and a six or seven-man rush. “One hundred percent. When I see zero, I know my guys are gonna win and they’re gonna win fast.”
But what New England did wasn’t Zero Coverage in the true pressure sense. It was sort of a mush rush, with seven defenders near the line but not committing at the snap. Frankly, I don’t know what good it did, because the Patriots didn’t pressure Prescott; he was sure he was about to take a big hit. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore called a play that he thought, at minimum, could hit the tight end for 10. At max, maybe he could hit one of the two downfield wideouts in single coverage.
“It was a designed roll out,” Prescott said. “Great call by Kellen. He’s just been on fire all year long, honestly. Just for him to give a formation that we ran out of couple times, a condensed formation, and to allow me to run the naked out of it (a bootleg right). They actually brought zero. A safety [Adrian Phillips] gets ready to come off the edge and at that point I’m about to just have to throw hot to the tight end, Dalton Schultz, and the safety turns around to go cover the tight end. When he does that, I’m able to look up downfield and see CeeDee coming across. At that point it was just about making the throw.”
First he looked away from Schultz, then he did the same with another tight end, Blake Jarwin, trolling the middle but not open.
“Then here came CeeDee right across the field, deep,” Prescott said. “Wide open.”
DAK TO CEEDEE FOR THE WIN IN NEW ENGLAND. #DallasCowboys pic.twitter.com/kh34E4rPsU
— NFL (@NFL) October 17, 2021
The design of the play was good because New England’s mush-rushers had to respect Ezekiel Elliott at the left of the formation. Elliott had a convoy of blockers and could have made some yards.
But when Prescott saw Lamb with two steps on cornerback Jalen Mills, he said, “It was over.” The throw traveled 32 yards in the air, and right at Lamb.
“Playmakers win,” Prescott said. “And we’ve got the playmakers.”
They’ve also got the quarterback. In his career, playing with the game tied in the fourth quarter and overtime, Prescott is amazing: a 79-percent passer, 10.6 yards per attempt, nine TDs, no picks, and a rating of 148.3.
Prescott told me he’ll take time to get fully healthy in the Dallas bye week. He felt a twinge in his calf on that last throw, and he said he’ll spend time “getting my body right, getting healthy.”
For a guy one year removed from a grotesque ankle break and surgery, it’s amazing how well he’s playing. He’s apace to throw for 5,100 yards and 45 touchdowns. The best news Sunday for Dallas might not have been the Dak-led winning final drive. It might have been Randy Gregory. He’s finally repaying the organization for standing behind him during his substance-abuse issues. With Gregory’s help on the edge, the Cowboys are surrendering just 24 points a game, an improvement of a touchdown from last year. With a healthy quarterback and a pressure D, it’s not just Jerry Jones’ sunny-sidedness that gives Dallas legit optimism for a deep playoff run.
Cards Are 6-010
Usually after a big win, the head coach speaks in the locker room and the players cheer and someone gets a gameball. In the age of Covid, sometimes there’s a wrinkle. The 6-0 Cardinals stayed the last unbeaten team in football Sunday with a statement game—a 37-14 win at Cleveland. Afterward, the coach was in the locker room, sort of. Kliff Kingsbury was actually in the room virtually, on FaceTime, watching from his home 2,060 miles away in Arizona, quarantining with the coronavirus. Kingsbury and quarterback coach Cam Turner were missing from the joyous scene, both having tested positive last week. Without them, Arizona whomped a supposed playoff team, with Kyler Murray and J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins all playing roles. And it was odd to hear club owner Michael Bidwill speaking post-game.
“What you guys did today was extraordinary,” Bidwill said in the locker room. “Special shoutouts—Spencer did an incredible job today!”
Spencer. First name mentioned. The noise from the crowd of players, for a good five seconds, sounded like: “YAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYY!’’
Spencer? Spencer who? Would even the diehard Cardinal fans know “Spencer?”
Spencer Whipple, the assistant receivers coach, got the nod from Kingsbury on Friday to call the plays into Kyler Murray’s helmet. Seems that Whipple’s even demeanor and encyclopedic knowledge of the Kingsbury offense appealed to the head coach. Kingsbury has been the play-caller for the first 37 games of his Cardinal tenure. Now, the way Kingsbury organized play-calling in his absence was to use the game plan, already installed during the week, as the template. Run-game coordinator Sean Kugler would ID the best running plays for situations, and when a run was called for, he’d be on the headset to Whipple, telling the play, and Whipple would tell Murray. On pass plays, Whipple would make the call. Both men knew there’d be times a run or pass might be the call, and in that case, they’d basically think, WWKC? What would Kliff call?
“Kliff put me at ease,” said Whipple, the son of the former Steelers and Browns quarterback coach Mark Whipple, now the offensive coordinator at Pitt. “When he told me what was going on, he just got right into it, instead of talking about how different it would be or how hard it would be. So I never really thought of the magnitude of it.”
Plus, as special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers told Whipple: “It’s not like you’re going to be driving a minivan. You’re taking the keys to a Ferrari in this game.”
The Ferrari, of course, was Murray, off to a great start. Whipple’s not in the QB meeting room, and so he doesn’t work with Murray normally. They met for a while Saturday in Tempe, before flying to Cleveland, and Whipple wanted to get a sense of what Murray liked. Murray told him the plays in each category of the playsheet that he felt good about.
Whipple said when he got to the stadium Sunday in Cleveland, the enormity of the task hit him. “I was like, ‘Hey, we’re really doing this.’ “ He’d called plays in a UMass-South Florida game as a UMass assistant several years ago, and he remembered thinking how nervous he was that day. “I was a lot less nervous today,” he said. “Everything was set up pretty well for me.”
The play he recalled fondly after the game was the first touchdown. Arizona had a third-and-19 at the Cleveland 21 on the opening drive. Murray’s favorite play on third-and-long was a corner route to Christian Kirk; if the Cards ran it right, Kirk should have single-coverage. “I just thought, ‘Kyler loves it, so let’s call it,’ “ said Whipple. Murray drew defensive attention to him when it looked like he might scramble—but he was planning to hit Kirk in the left side of the end zone all along. The throw was perfect, Kirk was singled, and Arizona led 7-0.
The Cards had 352 yards, scored on seven of 10 possessions, and it all seemed just too good to be true. When you’ve got a good plan and good player to execute it, dream days like this can happen. But it was no dream. Whipple found that out when his boss texted him a few minutes after the game.
The text: “Congrats! Hard work pays off!”
Disgusting Mess In D.C.
The big story of the week is a tale of two famous NFL people, Dan Snyder and Jon Gruden.
Snyder is an owner. In 2009, the Washington franchise paid a female ex-employee $1.6 million after she made a sexual-misconduct complaint against Snyder, per a confidential settlement reported by the Washington Post. His franchise was accused by former team cheerleaders of making lewd videos from off-season cheerleader calendar shoots. Fifteen former employees and two reporters covering the team accused club officials of various forms of sexual harassment and, in several cases, said it was openly condoned by team executives. Former team marketing coordinator Emily Applegate told the Post she and a female co-worker cried over sexual harassment in lunchbreaks. Applegate said she was told to wear a tight dress for one meeting so male clients “would have something to look at.” One suiteholder, the Post reported, grabbed Applegate’s friend’s rear, while a reporter who covered the team, Rhiannon Walker, told the team that the director of pro personnel, Alex Santos, pinched her buttocks and told her she had “an ass like a wagon.” The Post reported another scout, Richard Mann, told a female employee to expect a hug “and don’t worry, that will be a stapler in my pocket, nothing else.” Five former employees told the paper the president of business operations advised female employees to wear suggestive and revealing clothing and to flirt with suiteholders. “It was the most miserable experience of my life,” Applegate told the Post. One former employee who described abuse from Santos said to the paper her experience with the team “has killed any dream of a career in pro sports.” A former cheerleader said she was encouraged by Snyder to join a close friend of his in a hotel room so they could “get to know each other better.” When the league investigated all of it, NFL counsel Lisa Friel concluded the “culture of the club was very toxic.” Commissioner Roger Goodell said the work environment in Washington “for many years” was “highly unprofessional.”
Gruden is a coach. He sent racist, homophobic and anti-woman emails, stunning in how naturally they appeared to flow from Gruden, to former WFT president Bruce Allen over a seven-year period.
Snyder’s franchise was fined $10 million, less than 3 percent of the team’s projected 2021 revenue. He was not suspended and not asked to liquidate the team. The league ordered him marginalized for a few months, with wife Tanya running daily team operations.
Gruden, who coached a majority Black team that employed the only openly gay player in the NFL, resigned as Raiders coach last Monday.
On opening day 2022, it is very likely that Snyder will be overseeing his franchise again. As of now, no long-term sanction will affect him in any way when he resumes full-time control of the team.
On opening day 2022, Gruden will be in exile somewhere, his career ruined, unlikely at 58 to ever coach in the NFL again.
I am not going to defend Gruden in any way—his emails are indefensible, and now that the sun has shone on them, he absolutely should not be coaching an NFL team. But I am going to ask this: What’s worse: An NFL owner running his team like a sixties frat house for at least a decade, with 40 women coming forward to decry sexist treatment by Snyder or his employees, lives and professional dreams shattered in the process; or a Neanderthal coach sending a slew of terrible emails?
Even if you say they are equally bad (I don’t see how) the fact is that Snyder goes on running his jillion-dollar business next year and Gruden hides in his man cave, unemployable.
This absurdly unfair outcome will stick to Roger Goodell for a long, long time.
And I’m not one who even thinks the NFL was behind the release of the emails. League officials might consider Gruden classless and a clown, I don’t know. But what is Goodell’s job? Protect the shield. He’s not going to authorize the release of emails in the middle of a season that would indubitably sabotage a hot franchise in a new market. And he’s certainly not going to do it knowing there are other emails in the queue, emails the New York Times and Wall Street Journal published last week that showed an overly chummy relationship between Allen and the NFL’s second-in-command, trusted Goodell confidant and legal counsel Jeff Pash. The upshot of those emails painted Pash as a Washington patsy.
I don’t know where the emails came from. Several smart people in the league think the leaks come from the Snyder camp. Maybe he feels steamrolled by the league in its July penalty, though it was certainly exactly the opposite. Maybe (probably) he’s so anti-Allen that he’d have a jihad out for him and anyone close to him, which Gruden is.
Whoever did it, this point remains, as one prominent plugged-in source told me: “The discipline against Snyder was shockingly light. You suspend Tom Brady when you never proved without a doubt he deflated the footballs, and you don’t suspend Snyder for running that kind of operation in Washington. And Gruden gets ruined. It’s not like Roger’s protecting a guy who’s good for the league anyway. Where’s the fairness?”
The league did send the offending emails to the Raiders for their examination 10 days ago, putting the onus on owner Mark Davis to do something about Gruden. Once it was clear that the emails would surface publicly, and they did, with great detail in the Times account, Davis had no choice. However it was termed, Gruden could not walk into his diverse locker room last week; he had to go. According to someone who knows Gruden’s mindset post-“resignation,” he is of two minds. One: He is miserable about the families of the 22 coaches and numerous staffers he brought to Vegas who will suffer, and perhaps lose NFL livelihoods, because of his hurtful emails. Two: He is angry (“stunned and fuming,” this person said, describing Gruden) that some investigation that had nothing to do with him resulted in the loss of his job. He does understand, I am told, that the release of these emails made it impossible for him to continue as coach.
I haven’t heard so many differing opinions from around the league on an issue in a while. But this one, from one of the smartest people in the NFL orbit, struck me: “This was a Mafia hit on Gruden.”
Often, I’m told, victims of organized crime rubouts never see them coming. Gruden never saw his coming either.
What should happen now?
Transparency. The league claims it can’t release the emails because it promised confidentiality to the women interviewed in the probe. There’s a compromise. Hire a neutral party with an impeccable reputation to run an investigation of the 650,000 emails. Release those involving women who approve the release, and those that play a part in the evidence of harassment. Among women who do not authorize the release, use the information from those emails in a report with protection for the plaintiffs. And have a report ready when the offseason begins.
What will happen now?
The league will probably stonewall, figuring the white noise of exciting games and The Next Big Story will bury this one in time. That’s how the league works.
I found myself thinking in the past few days about the Washington franchise. When I was new in the business, in the late eighties, games at RFK Stadium in the District of Columbia were mega-events. The press box would shake in big moments. The owner, Jack Kent Cooke, was nutty and intrusive, but he hired Bobby Beathard and Joe Gibbs to win, and win they did—three Super Bowl titles between 1982 and 1992.
Snyder bought the team in 1999. In the 23 years before Snyder’s reign, Washington was 50 games over .500 in the regular season and won three Super Bowls. In the 23 years of Snyder’s stewardship, Washington is 55 games under .500 in the regular season. Playoffs? Just two wild-card wins. That’s it.
One offensive man, an owner, who is rotten at his job, skates.
Another offensive man, a coach, who is okay at his job, gets buried.
Life in the NFL.
David Baker Gets a Life20
After seven-plus years as executive director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the mountainous David Baker, 68, surprisingly announced his retirement from the job Saturday and will return to his home in California. Made famous by the videos showing him knocking at doors and welcoming new Hall of Famers into the exclusive Canton club, Baker will be succeeded by the Hall’s chief marketing officer, Jim Porter. We spoke Saturday night when Baker was in Pittsburgh, on the eve of giving Hall of Fame rings to the 2021 class of Steeler Hall of Famers.
FMIA: Why retire, and why now?
Baker: “I’d like to think that the Hall and the game, frankly, and we’re the guardians of its history, have never been in a better place. I think there’s a great team in place to do that. I also think there’s other things that are important for me to do and if I don’t do them now, I might end up dying in this job. I think it’s important for somebody else to have the best job in the world for a while. We’ve got 10 grandkids and a great-grandson on the way. I have great respect for the people of Canton and I’ve come to love midwestern people. It’s been fun to see Canton change, the Hall of Fame change. But as great as Canton is, it doesn’t have grandkids, abundant sunshine, or Mexican food. It’s the right decision, but anytime you love something as much as I loved this job, it’s difficult and it’s heartbreaking.”
FMIA: You’ve probably become best-known for the knocks on the door and being the first to tell new Hall-of-Famers, “Welcome to Canton.” How’d that start?
Baker: “In my first year  we were in New York for the introduction of the class that year, and we were going to call each one of the finalists who were selected, then put them on stage at Radio City Music Hall to be introduced. My third call that year was Ray Guy. Ray had been, I think, eligible for 29 years and never been selected. I said, ‘Ray, this is Dave Baker. I’m the new president of the Hall of Fame.’ And in that slow, southern, Mississippi drawl, he said, ‘Yes sir.’ I said, ‘Ray it is my great pleasure …’ I got that far, and I could hear—this is absolutely true—I could hear his phone rattling around. His wife is talking to him, Honey, baby, sweetheart, are you okay? And it was like two minutes. Finally he got back on the phone and he said, ‘Hey I’m sorry. I’m not sure I knew until now how much this meant to me.’ My thought then was, we gotta show this to fans.
Megatron gets the MEGA visit from David Baker.
Calvin Johnson is now a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. pic.twitter.com/EpkkJr3tM0
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) February 7, 2021
“Every one, every one, has been special. Randy Moss … When I said, ‘Welcome to Canton,’ I could almost see Randy transform in front of me with that huge, brilliant smile that he has, to becoming an ambassador for the game. Morton Anderson cried on my shoulder for two minutes. Here’s a guy who came from Denmark and came back 40 years later as, at that time, the leading scorer in NFL history. So many stories.”
FMIA: On the business side, what’s been the accomplishment you’re most proud of?
Baker: “Oh gosh. There’s a lot of stuff. We went out and got a $100-million-plus donation for our Hall of Fame Village project. We got Tom Benson Hall of Fame stadium built, which Forbes magazine called one of the 12 game-changing stadiums in the NFL, and it’s not even in the NFL. I love Centennial Plaza in downtown Canton. The good people of Canton raised $12 million to build this park in downtown Canton to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the NFL. It has listed there all 25,474 members who played in the first century of the NFL. If somebody played a week, their name is there. But I’m proud of our mission statement: Honor the heroes of the game, preserve its history, promote its values and celebrate excellence everywhere. We honor football, use football as a platform, and maybe you can help a CEO understand what it takes to make a great team.”
The Award Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Jonathan Taylor, running back, Indianapolis. The 41st pick in the 2020 draft is turning out to be one of the best Colts GM Chris Ballard ever made. In a 31-3 rout of the Texans, Taylor averaged 10.4 yards per carry on 14 carries for 145 yards. That was helped by the longest non-touchdown run of the season in the NFL this year. In the middle of the third quarter, this was still a game. Indy 17, Houston 3. The Colts took over at their 12, and Taylor powered and sprinted his way 83 yards to the Texans’ 5-yard line. Amazing thing was, the Colts called his number the next three snaps—for two yards, minus-one and four, the last one for a touchdown.
Kyler Murray, quarterback, Arizona. Playing in a hostile environment without the security blanket of the only coach he’s had in the NFL who has called plays for him—Kliff Kingsbury missed Sunday’s game with Covid—Murray led scoring drives on Arizona’s first five possessions (TD, TD, FG, FG, FG) and finished 20 of 30 with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s a frenetic ball of fire on the field, but Murray is pretty damn efficient too.
Adam Thielen, wide receiver, Minnesota. A great day (11 catches, 126 yards) highlighted by an impossible catch. The five-yard TD from Kirk Cousins is one of the best catches of Thielen’s life. Minnesota stretched its third-quarter lead to 25-17 when, from the Carolina 5-yard line, with clinging coverage, Thielen caught a pass that seemed to thud on his facemask as he was falling out of bounds. Somehow he hung on, with a 200-pound body laying on him. Extraordinary catch in an overtime win that got the Vikings to .500.
ADAM THIELEN THAT’S TOUGH 🔥
(via @NFL) pic.twitter.com/k8VUtl9JOE
— Overtime (@overtime) October 17, 2021
Defensive Players of the Week
T.J. Watt, edge rusher, Pittsburgh. The Steelers are 3-3 this morning in large part because of what Watt did in overtime as the midnight hour approached in the ‘Burgh. Watt steamed into the Seattle backfield with four minutes left in overtime and sacked Geno Smith, forcing a fumble. Steelers recovered at the Seattle 16-yard line and Chris Boswell kicked a 37-yard field goal to win it, 23-20. Two sacks, seven tackles, and three passes blocked/deflected by Watt in a typically brilliant game.
Maxx Crosby, edge rusher, Las Vegas. Pro Football Focus has this metric for pass-rushers called win rate, which is what it sounds like. How often on a pass-rush does the defensive player win? Crosby, the third-year rusher from Eastern Michigan, leads the league this year with a 29 percent win rate; and his rate was 33 percent Sunday in Denver. Crosby had three sacks of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and added nine hits and hurries of the veteran QB. What a game, and it came with the Raiders, of course, teetering on the edge of having their head coach yanked from them the week of the game.
Markus Golden, linebacker, Arizona. He teamed with linebacker Jordan Hicks to wreck Baker Mayfield’s day in the Dawg Pound. Golden’s sack of Mayfield early in the second quarter led to a field goal and a surprising 17-0 lead after 17 minutes of play. The Browns had some life after the Hail Mary TD by Mayfield to close the first half, but on the first Cleveland snap of the third quarter, Golden crashed into Mayfield for his second sack, short-circuiting a drive the Browns needed badly. This was a great day for a resurgent defensive front, with J.J. Watt contributing his first sack in the third quarter, another strip-sack of Mayfield. Nothing fluky about this team, or this defense.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Matthew Wright, kicker, Jacksonville. For five games and 56 minutes, the Jaguars were 0-for-2021 in field goals. Hadn’t made a field goal yet. Wright, the former Steeler and Lion, active because of Josh Lambo’s ineffectiveness, picked a very good time to get Jacksonville off the schneid. In the last four minutes in London, Wright made fields goals from 53 and 54 yards. The first field goal tied the game at 20. The second won the game, 23-20.
Frankie Luvu, linebacker, Carolina. With the Vikings up 12-10 in the middle of the third quarter in Charlotte, Luvu, from American Samoa by way of Washington State, burst through the Viking line and blocked a punt by Jordan Berry. It skittered back toward the goal line, and safety Kenny Robinson recovered it and returned it four yards for a touchdown. One of two clutch special-teams play of the day. The other . . .
Luke Gifford, linebacker, Dallas. His block of a Jake Bailey punt at New England gave the Cowboys a golden chance they ended up squandering. Gifford recovered his own block and advanced it to the Patriots’ 17-yard line with four minutes left in the half. The Prescott goal-line fumble spoiled the chance, but that doesn’t spoil the effort and the potential game-changing play Gifford made.
Coach of the Week
Urban Meyer, head coach, Jacksonville. Interesting case of “What would you do here?” With five seconds left in the fourth quarter of a 20-20 game against Miami, the Jags had a fourth-and-eight at the Miami 44-yard line with all timeouts left. Meyer could have had his kicker, Matthew Wright, try a 62-yard field goal. (Wright hasn’t kicked a field goal that long in his life.) He could have had Trevor Lawrence throw a Hail Mary. Those seemed like the best options. But Meyer conferred with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and passing game coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and Meyer suggested they run a play called “Slider.” That’s a play where Lawrence throws a quick slant, the receiver catches it and gets down, and the Jags call a timeout as fast as they can, even while the receiver is going down. That, Meyer reasoned, was a better chance to win—maybe there was a 30 percent chance of converting the play into a first down and there still being a second left on the clock. Then, Meyer reasoned, Wright could be in position for a field goal around 52 or 53 yards. So the Jags ran it, Laviska Shenault caught a bullet from Lawrence and immediately got down, and the timeout was called. One second left. Wright jogged onto the field and booted a 53-yarder to win. With so much heat on Meyer, it was a very nice way to win the first game of his NFL coaching career, and his first coaching win in 1,018 days. (Jan. 1, 2019, Rose Bowl: Ohio State 28, Washington 23.)
Goat of the Week
Brian Flores, head coach, Miami. The Dolphins are a late fumble by Damian Harris away from being 0-6. But 1-5 is bad enough, considering the current five-game losing streak was capped by Sunday’s loss to a team on a 20-game losing streak. Flores deserves his share of blame. He needs—badly—a better aide upstairs to tell him when to throw the challenge flag. He hadn’t thrown it once in the first five-and-a-half games. In London, on Sunday, Flores threw the red flag on two consecutive plays. Amazing, and he lost both, leaving him with just one timeout late in the fourth quarter when he could have used them. The second challenge, with 6:48 left and Miami up 20-17, was particularly wasteful. Flores challenged that a Jacksonville player touched the ball on a punt before it bounded into the end zone, when the official ruled touchback. There was no evidence that it was touched watching the play on replay, and certainly not when it was examined after Flores threw the challenge flag. On Jacksonville’s last scoring drive, starting with 1:42 left, both of those timeouts would have been huge, but the Jags were able to eat the clock and kick the winning field goal on the last play of the game.
Quotes of the Week30
“ALL MY FREAKING LIFE, I OWN YOU! I STILL OWN YOU! I STILL OWN YOU!”
—Aaron Rodgers, screaming to the fans in the Soldier Field end zone after scrambling for the clinching touchdown Sunday in the 203rd Chicago-Green Bay game in history.
Does he? Let’s see:
Career record versus Bears: 22-5.
Career record at Soldier Field: 10-3.
Career TD passes and interceptions versus Bears: 57-10.
Ownership seems an apt word.
“I looked up in the stands and in the front row all I saw was a woman giving me the double bird. I’m not sure exactly what came out of my mouth next.”
—Rodgers, on why he exploded and screamed the “I OWN YOU” stuff after that touchdown.
“Don’t worry. If he misses, we’re gonna win anyway.”
—Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence to coach Urban Meyer on the sidelines in London, with one second left in the fourth quarter against Miami, as kicker Matthew Wright lined up to try a 53-yard field goal to break a 20-20 tie. The kick was good, so we’ll never know, at least for the time being, if Lawrence can really predict the future.
“This isn’t ‘Day of Our Lives,’ my man. Zach will be a friend for life. This isn’t an obituary here.”
—Eagles GM Howie Roseman, on trading veteran tight end Zach Ertz to Arizona on Friday. Roseman was asked about the strained relationship with Ertz, when he wanted a new contract and the two sides couldn’t agree to one.
There’s a reason Ertz will be a friend for life to the Eagles, and should be. Go down to number 9, of Ten Things I Think.
“I almost hung it up. I can’t even lie. I talked to Andrew [Luck]. That was probably the wrong thing to do. Me and him went out a couple of times and he came over to my house. We talked. He just wanted me to be good with [the decision].”
—Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton, who considered retirement after pre-season neck surgery, even talking to Andrew Luck about his future.
“He’s always been a fraud to me. From day one, he’s been a used car salesman, and people bought it.”
—Keyshawn Johnson, former player for Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay, on Gruden, on ESPN radio.
“Shocking. Embarrassingly bad for a person in that position to have those thoughts and then express them like that. I don’t have a lot of respect for that.”
—Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who was fired as Raiders’ coach to make way for Jon Gruden, hired in early 2018.
“He’s one of those guys who can throw a strawberry through a battleship.”
—Baltimore defensive coordinator Wink Martindale on Week 6 foe Justin Herbert of the Chargers.
I’m not sure what that means. I guess it means Herbert can throw a soft fruit that would pierce steel of a big ship, but it sure seems likes a weird allegory.
Maybe things would have changed this year, and maybe Jon Gruden would finally have justified the big money Mark Davis spent on him in 2018. But these are the facts about Gruden’s coaching career:
First five years as head coach: 55-32 in four years in Oakland and one in Tampa, including a Super Bowl win in his first year in Tampa.
Last 10 years as head coach: 67-84 in six years in Tampa and four with the Raiders.
Last playoff victory: 18-and-a-half years ago, Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl victory over Oakland.
Playoff wins in his last 10 years as head coach: 0.
Years his last 10 teams were in the top five of NFL offensive yardage: 0.
Years his last 10 teams were in the top five of NFL scoring: 0.
This isn’t meant to trash Gruden. It’s meant to be realistic about a man who was six games over .500 (122-116) in 15 years as a head coach. He’s been a good coach with a huge persona. I’ve enjoyed my relationship with him and never heard any of the untoward stuff from those emails in my conversations with him over the years.
The question is, did he live up to the hype, some of it self-produced? I would say no, of course not. But I would also say: Could anyone have lived up to it?
In 2002, the Bucs traded two first-round picks and two second-round picks to acquire him from Al Davis and the Raiders. Think of the enormity of that. In 2000, New England paid one first-round pick for Bill Belichick. History will show the Bucs wildly overpaid.
In his first season in Tampa, Gruden walked into a ready-made contender coming off three straight playoff years but couldn’t get over the top. Gruden coached the Bucs to a 12-4 record and a Lombardi Trophy in his first season. But the Bucs had losing records three of the next four years, and he was let go after the ’08 season. Highlight of his seven years in Tampa: winning a Super Bowl. Lowlight: never developing a long-term franchise quarterback, though he had a quarterback-whisperer reputation.
Kevin Clark wrote a good story in The Ringer last week about this era of football being the end of uber-powerful head coaches. I thought it was spot-on. There’s nothing wrong with a coach having a big personality and being really famous. But winning a zillion games in college football (hello, Urban Meyer) doesn’t necessarily translate into NFL success, nor, as in the case of Gruden, does being smart-alecky and glib and fun on TV, and talking the same language of college quarterbacks and doing cool longform shows with them before the draft.
Apropos of our times, and certain emails, and who should have what jobs . . .
Employed at the Miami-Jacksonville game in London Sunday:
Down judge, officiating crew: Sarah Thomas.
NFL game rep: Dawn Aponte, NFL chief administrator of football ops.
Lead Jacksonville PR person: Amy Palcic.
Lead Miami PR person: Anne Noland.
The absurdity of instant-replay reared its head Thursday night. Did you notice? How could you not?
Tampa Bay-Philadelphia, 9:17 left, second quarter. Tom Brady’s pass for tight end Cam Brate deflected into the diving grasp of Eagles cornerback Marcus Epps. It was a close call, whether it was caught or trapped by Epps, and the ruling on the field was interception. As in all cases involving a turnover, the play was reviewed in the New York officiating command center, led by Walt Anderson.
From the time the tipped pass from Brady was either caught or trapped by Eagles cornerback to the time referee Clay Martin made his in-stadium announcement, 6 minutes and 4 seconds elapsed.
The next day, Anderson, through a league spokesman, said the inordinately long delay was caused by a communications failure Anderson and Martin on the field in Philadelphia.
Six minutes, 4 seconds. This is the way America saw the debacle of Week 6:
0:00 — Epps made a diving grab of the tipped Brady throw.
0:14 — Joe Buck: “At the moment it’s called a pick.” Two replays.
0:40 — Turnovers are reviewed, so FOX/NFL Net goes to commercial (Indeed, a job site).
1:10 — Commercial (Hulu).
1:40 — Commercial (Bud Light Seltzer).
1:55 — Commercial (Kay Jewelers).
2:10 — Commercial (Pizza Hut).
2:25 — Commercial (NFL app).
2:55 — Back to the booth. Buck: “About 30 seconds ago, Clay Martin came on and said [the play] was in further review.”
3:10 — More replays. Rules analyst Mike Pereira: “It’s enough for me to reverse.”
4:31 — Buck, annoyed: “Eventually they’re gonna have to make a call.”
4:42 — Buck points out Bucs coach Bruce Arians is furious that there was no interference on the Eagles for grabbing Brate. Replays of that.
5:00 — Buck, bemused: “They are still looking at this.”
5:10 — Troy Aikman: “Doesn’t look like they’re close to a decision right now.”
5:33 — Banter, replay, Clay Martin staring at replay on the tablet.
6:04 — Martin takes headset off, faces camera and says: “After review, the pass was incomplete.”
The NFL has to put a backup communications system in place so a delay like this doesn’t happen. That’s four minutes—assuming a fairly normal replay stoppage of two minutes—fans and the audience will never get back.
I won’t be the first to note this, but time of game in baseball is beyond out of control. Compare the first two games of the American League Championship Series, Boston at Houston, with the ALCS 10 years ago, Detroit-Texas, for evidence. (I have used games 1 and 3 in the 2011 series, because game two went to extra innings.)
Time of first two regulation ALCS games:
2011: 3:07, 3:08.
2021: 4:07, 4:08.
That is not a misprint, by the way. Just a weird and painful coincidence.
You could sit down and watch the movie “Star Wars,” the movie “Frozen,” and “The Marine Biologist” episode of Seinfeld in two minutes less time than the first game of this year’s ALCS.
“Star Wars,” 2:01. “Frozen,” 1:42. “The Marine Biologist,” 22 minutes. Total running time: 4 hours, 5 minutes.
Tweets of the Week
hang it in the Louvre pic.twitter.com/THnkyS3hqQ
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) October 18, 2021
Watt’s new team, Arizona, is 6-0.
The gum in Pete Carroll's mouth doesn't stand a chance tonight. Looked like some teeth might spill out of his mouth after that third-down sack.
— Tyler Dunne (@TyDunne) October 18, 2021
Dunne is the founder and editor of substack site Go Long.
It isn't "cancel culture" when your company sees something you did or said and wants to hold you accountable for it after they find out about it.
— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) October 12, 2021
Auerbach covers college football for The Athletic.
We just beat the No. 2 out of Iowa.
— Purdue Football (@BoilerFootball) October 16, 2021
Purdue beat previously second-ranked Iowa on Saturday.
Respect to every athlete’s right – no matter their politics – to use their platform & speak their mind. Doesn’t mean we have to mindlessly applaud their every utterance. That’s patronizing and as bad as “shut up & dribble.” So in that spirit, Kyrie is absolutely wrong here. (1/2) https://t.co/2TGBkdDArR
— Dave Zirin (@EdgeofSports) October 14, 2021
Dave Zirin is sports editor of The Nation.
Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @peter_king.
Amen. From James Marshall, of Windsor, Ontario: “Words can be hurtful but actions can be devastating. Jon Gruden is deserving of what has happened for his words. But what is the punishment for the actions of owner Dan Snyder and the Washington Football team for their treatment of the cheerleaders? There were 243 pages in the Wells Report on deflated footballs. That is 243 more than the investigation into the toxic workplace culture in Washington. Silence is agreement and so we must assume that the NFL is okay with this behavior.”
Well, the NFL would say that fining an owner $10 million and forcing him into unofficial exile for most or all of a season is not a sign of approval of the behavior. But you’re right in that Gruden had his professional life and personal life ruined while Snyder and his franchise did much, much worse and will come out of it much, much better.
Michael thinks I was wrong on Gruden. From Michael Johnson: “Re your FMIA thoughts about Jon Gruden (before his resignation) it’s interesting that his racist statement about DeMaurice Smith was met with ways he could buy his way out of trouble by ‘endowing scholarships.’ The consensus around the NFL and sports world seemed to be that he would survive the controversy with little more than a slap on the wrist. Fast forward to Monday night and he’s out of a job after it’s found that he’s disparaged the LGBTQ community. No one chimed in about how old the emails were. No one opined about how people can change over time. Just immediate unemployment. It shows, subconsciously or not, racism is so ingrained in this country that we (people of color) are supposed to accept it and move on. The comfort in which you and others in the media gave Gruden the benefit of the doubt for his racism, but condemned him for his homophobia, is telling.”
Michael, my point before the trove of emails surfaced in the New York Times later on Monday was not to excuse the racism in the single email we knew about then. If the single 10-year-old email was of Gruden calling Roger Goodell a clearly homophobic term (the f—— word), I’d have suggested Gruden do penance in the LGBTQ community in some way to show how seriously he had erred. I’d have suggested, basically, the same thing: Don’t fire Gruden, but be sure he demonstrates some understanding of what he’d done wrong, and be sure he does something to show he wanted to make amends. But when the Times found he sent emails that criticized allowing women to be NFL officials, the Rams’ drafting of a gay player, and protesting players taking knees during the National Anthem, and when his emails ripped Goodell using homophobic slurs and criticized the league for rising emphasis on player safety and he sent photos of women wearing only bikini bottoms, the sheer avalanche of offensive stuff made his continued employment impossible.
ESPN’s culpability. From Lorin Cole: “I’m 66 years old and not naive but the scope of Gruden’s vitriol is still shocking. And how the heck could this guy be working at ESPN without somebody knowing what his mindset was!?”
Great question. I don’t know. But it’s not like Gruden’s going to sit in a meeting with his ESPN crew, including Black people and quite a few people on the production side of things who he probably didn’t know well and make off-color comments about gays and Black and women climbing the ladder in a male-dominated profession (officiating). It is logical to me that usually people who are going to be as offensive as Gruden was will do it only with people who they know will be empathetic.
Missouri history repeats itself. From Steve Tourek, of Phoenix: “You referred to Clyde Edwards-Helaire as a ‘B’ player and I agree. It occurred to me that the Chiefs made exactly the same mistake in the 2020 draft that their (then) cross-state counterparts made 20 years earlier. After winning the Super Bowl in the Kurt Warner season, the Rams picked RB Trung Canidate with the last pick of round one. It was a surprising, vanity pick for a team that had skill position players galore but could use reinforcements on defense and in the O-line. History seems to be repeating itself on the other side of Missouri.”
Great observation, Steve. Thanks. Trung Canidate was picked 168 slots before Tom Brady in the 2000 draft, for those of you scoring at home.
Totally with you. From Andrew Lill: “Relish your column each Monday. Intelligent observations and actual journalism. You wrote, ‘Most meaningless cliché in all of baseball announcing: ‘He hit that one right on the screws.’ I had to add this huge personal annoyance during NFL games: He put his foot in the ground. Make it stop!”
Or, Andrew, using two syllables—“fumbled”—instead of six: “put the ball on the ground.” Or replacing, “They need to stay ahead of the chains on offense” with “They need to have productive first downs.” Or my personal favorite: “The Giants have to take care of the football if they want to have any chance of winning today,” instead of “Turnovers would ruin the Giants today.”
10 Things I Think I Think
1. I think I’m not sure why Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was spitting mad about the end of the fourth quarter after Pittsburgh’s 23-20 win over Seattle. To recap, with the clock winding down and the Steelers up 20-17 in the final seconds of the fourth quarter, and Seattle having no timeouts, Seattle wideout Freddie Swain recovered a Seahawk fumble and raced to place it at the Pittsburgh 25 so they’d have a chance for a last-second field goal. As Swain put the ball down and Geno Smith went to spike it, the ball was snapped and officials blew their whistles. The announcement came that there would be a review of whether the previous catch was legit. Tomlin called it “embarrassing” later. But here’s the point: Regardless whether that play was reviewed or not, Smith was going to have the extra second he needed to spike the ball and get the field-goal unit on the field. So even if the officials were late in stopping the game for a replay of the previous play, what really mattered is Seattle would have had a chance to get that last field goal off.
2. I think the most amazing thing I learned this weekend was Matt Prater has 62 field goals of 50 yards or longer. The top-scoring kickers in NFL history are Adam Vinatieri (45 FGs of 50+ yards) and Morten Andersen (40). The best kicker in the game now, Justin Tucker, has 44. (Tucker is 31. He’ll have plenty more.) But just saying: Prater on the long ones has been amazing.
3. I think defensive end Randy Gregory is having an impact in Dallas. His last three games were capped by a powerful performance in Foxboro, in which Mac Jones felt Gregory’s presence all day. His three-game run:
Carolina: 2 sacks, 2 QB hits
N.Y. Giants: No sacks, 6 QB hurries, 3 QB hits
New England: 2 sacks, 2 QB hurries, 1 QB hit, 1 forced fumble
As many times as the Cowboys were criticized for sticking with the troubled Gregory, now that he appears to have his life in order, the combination of Gregory and rookie Micah Parsons on the front seven is gold for the Cowboys’ front. His first big play was a strip-sack of Mac Jones, leading to the Dallas field goal in the second quarter. His second forced a New England punt on the first series of the second half. Both sacks ended Patriots drives.
4. I think it would be hard to make a better, and more significant, play than Patriots linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley made just before halftime of a tight game in Dallas-New England. Dallas, down 14-10 with 1:35 left in the second quarter, had a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Dak Prescott leapt over the line and it appeared to be an easy score as he extended both arms with the football. But just as he appeared to pierce the goal-line with the ball, Prescott had the ball punched by Bentley, who similarly leapt over center Tyler Biadasz and punched it with his left fist. The ball fluttered from Prescott’s grasp, officials called it a touchdown, and the ball was recovered by New England. The replay review showed the ball out of Prescott’s grasp as he went to score. Huge, huge play. Instead of the Cowboys being up 17-14 at the half, they trailed 14-10, all thanks to Bentley.
5. I think it’s impressive to see what Leonard Fournette has become in the Tampa Bay offense—considering how he was discarded like some undrafted free agent by the Jaguars less than 14 months ago. Think of it: Fournette, behind a shaky Jags line in 2019, managed 1,674 yards from scrimmage in 15 games on a bad team. In training camp 2020, no one saw the end coming—but on Aug. 30, it came. Explained then-coach Doug Marrone: “Could we get any value? We couldn’t get anything. Fifth-, sixth-, we couldn’t get anything.” And now look at Fournette, as vital a part of the Super Bowl champions’ offense as Mike Evans. His third straight game of more than 100 yards from scrimmage was huge in the Bucs’ 28-22 win over the Eagles Thursday night. Fournette leads every Buc in yards from scrimmage with 545. “When he’s rolling, it’s tough to stop us,” Tom Brady said.
6. I think the lesson of Fournette is that if you have a culture that is so heavily influenced by Brady, meaning that if you’re really good and never act like a turd while you’re on the Bucs, you can be reborn there.
7. I think the most interesting note (in the Weird Category) in the Gruden coverage was this tangential one from ace Raider beat man Vic Tafur of The Athletic, on how ardently owner Mark Davis pursued Gruden when he was an ESPN analyst living in Tampa: “Actually, Davis said he stalked Gruden for six years. He even had a favorite laundromat in Tampa, from visiting Gruden so much.” I thought, Wait a minute. Mark Davis did NOT go to a laundromat to wash his clothes. So I contacted Tafur to ask and he said yes, it was true. Now I am left to wonder: Did Mark Davis, man of the people, actually do the laundry himself, or was this one of those drop-your-clothes-off-at-9-and-we’ll-have-them-clean-and-folded-at-5 places? Inquiring minds want to know.
8. I think this is not a good sign for Christian McCaffrey’s long-term viability:
First 49 NFL games: 49 games played.
Next 24 NFL games: 6 games played.
McCaffrey, put on IR Friday with a hamstring injury, missed Sunday’s game against Minnesota and will miss at least the next two, per NFL rules. That means of Carolina’s first eight games this year, he’ll have played three. McCaffrey played three last year too, limited with ankle, shoulder and quad injuries. The last thing the Panthers want is for McCaffrey to get the injury-prone tag. It’s probably best he sits for three weeks now and rehabs, so he can get back to some semblance of health for the second half of the season.
9. I think I don’t want to let this week go by without a tribute to Zach Ertz, traded to Arizona on Friday. Zach Ertz scored the most important touchdown in the 88-year history of the Eagles. Let’s go back to February 2018, to Super Bowl 52, and let me tell you the story. If you love the Eagles, you may not need to be reminded—it may be seared on your brain.
With 2:25 left in the fourth quarter, Philadelphia trailed New England 33-32. Eagles ball, third-and-seven, at the New England 11. Coach Doug Pederson said into quarterback Nick Foles’ helmet, “Wristband 145. Wristband 145!” For this Super Bowl, Foles had 194 plays in tiny agate type on the wristband. Pederson scanned all his third-down calls and found number 145, a triple-bunch formation clustered to the right, a speedy back in Star motion (sprintout motion), and Ertz alone at the left of the formation. In the huddle, Foles found 145 on his wrist and said, “Gun trey left, open buster star motion, 383 X follow Y slant.”
From the NFL Films wiring of the game, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said on the sidelines: “Third-down here. We’re gonna have to double 86.”
On the biggest play of the game, the Patriots planned to double Ertz. And the Patriots messed up, big-time. The Eagles thought if they put running back Corey Clement in motion to the right as the fourth option on the right, safety Duron Harmon would leave the double-team on Ertz to follow the speedy Clement. As I wrote a week later: “So the Patriots did not double 86. How does Patricia’s communication not get to the field on the biggest play of the season—or how do the Patriots not account for the real possibility of the safety vacating his space to follow a motion man? That’s something that will haunt the Patriots, the way they’ve haunted so many teams since the turn of the century.”
Pre-snap, Clement sprinted behind Foles to the right, and the lone center-fielding safety for New England, Harmon, followed. At the snap, four Patriots rushed, and linebacker Kyle Van Noy stayed in sort of no man’s land at the 12, apparently to spy Foles. Five Patriots minded the four Philly receivers—including an open Clement—to the right. Foles stared at Ertz from the start. Single coverage. A dream.
Then McCourty slipped. Ertz had a clear half-step on him, running right across the formation. Foles cocked to throw and, in what no one noticed, came down to about three-quarters delivery, seemingly in mid-motion, to evade the raised arms of Van Noy. The ball hit Ertz in stride. Ertz took one step, two, and got hit in the legs by McCourty and dove for the end zone. Touchdown. The play survived a replay review focusing on an Ertz bobble; he was a runner, ref Gene Steratore ruled, and thus only had to break the plane of the goal line with possession for the play to be a touchdown.
The Eagles won the game of course, 41-33. And it was Ertz this franchise trusted to win on the biggest play of the game. If you’re an Eagles fan, and you see Ertz in an airport or anywhere in the next 50 years, you owe it to Ertz for his role in the greatest football game of your life. You owe him this: “Thank you.”
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. TV Story of the Week: Steve Hartman of CBS News, with another gem in his Friday night “On the Road” segment, about the number-four exec in the FBI retiring, feeling unfulfilled at 63 in his rural Virginia county . . . and signing up to be a school bus driver.
b. “There are no unimportant jobs.”
c. Hartman on a man who’s happy, proud and fulfilled:
Mason had heard the Chesterfield County Public School District was short 125 drivers. It’s part of a national crisis, with more than half of school districts in the U.S. reporting “severe” driver shortages. So Mason stepped up and went all in. This guy actually waxes his school bus.
“I think this is important work, I do,” he said.
“Do you sincerely believe that the work you are doing today is as important as what you were doing at the FBI?”
“I do. I think in our society we need to get next to the idea that there are no unimportant jobs. I mean, what could be more important than the attention we pay to our education system?”
d. Mystery Story of the Week: Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Richard Fausset of the New York Times, on one of the craziest multiple-murder stories you’ll ever read. Writes Bogel-Burroughs and Fausset:
HAMPTON, S.C. — Curtis Edward Smith, a handyman and former logger, had done his share of odd jobs over the years for Alex Murdaugh, a lawyer and scion of one of the most powerful legal families in the South Carolina Lowcountry.
But Mr. Smith said he was reluctant to do the last job Mr. Murdaugh asked for when the two men met at the side of a rural road one Saturday in September.
“I want you to shoot me in the back of the head,” Mr. Smith recalled Mr. Murdaugh telling him. He said Mr. Murdaugh had a loaded gun in his hand.
e. Don’t worry. It gets stranger.
f. Explanatory Story of the Week: Kevin Kinkead of Crossing Broad, a site that covers the Philadelphia Eagles, on why one of the best players on the team isn’t playing right now.
g. Good headline: This is Why the Lane Johnson Story isn’t Being Reported. Kinkead wrote of the tackle who has been out for three games for personal reasons:
Lane Johnson is a football player. He’s not the President. He’s not the Secretary General of the United Nations. Nothing involving him is of any true pertinence to any of us. It’s not a security issue. It’s not a financial disclosure. He plays a sport, and the thing keeping him out is not related to the sport.
But aren’t fans paying customers? Don’t they deserve to know what’s going on?
Yeah, that’s true, but only to an extent. We all deserve to know if a guy is injured . . . We pay taxes that go to our kids’ teachers, but if Mrs. (last name) is out for “personal reasons,” then do we need to know what that entails? No, we don’t.”
h. Podcast of the Week: “Demented,” by Texas Public Radio. It’s a multi-episode, short-episode, poignant tale by NPR journalist Kitty Eisele, about suddenly becoming the parent of her father after he loses his ability to remember the simplest things.
i. Kitty Eisele is willing, but totally unprepared for this job. In the second episode, when the reality begins to hit her hard and she moves back to her childhood home to be the caregiver/babysitter of this once oh-so-strong man, she says this as narrator of this podcast:
I was starting to feel really overwhelmed. Like: Where is the road map for this? I wanted this problem to go away.
It was around this time that I started asking everyone I knew: How am I supposed to do this?
j. You’ve got to be in a good frame of mind to listen as her dad tries unsuccessfully to navigate his last road trip across the Midwest. It’s an emotional ride. One episode that hit me, for whatever reason: Episode 3—Not your father’s barbershop. It’s about Kitty Eisele learning how to give her dad a shave when he’s not able to anymore. It’s just a good real-life pod.
k. WNYC, the public radio station in New York City, is the soundtrack of our apartment life in Brooklyn, and sometimes I hear things just because the radio’s on and I’m in the kitchen. Last Wednesday and Thursday, the host of the midday show “All of It,” Alison Stewart, had an interesting two-part interview with Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters. Grohl has a memoir out, “The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music.” Grohl sounds like a compelling person. He learned at an early age he couldn’t live without music, and so focused every bit of his energy on making music his life. Part 1 of the Grohl chat. Part 2.
l. Really cool to listen to Grohl on the influence of his schoolteacher mom on his life. And as with so many people who do great things in their chosen field, Grohl’s love for what he wanted to do shines through.
m. Don’t listen to the band a lot, but great appreciation for the talent of the Foo Fighters. My favorite Foo Fighters song.
n. If you prefer, “Times Likes These” on SNL, a beautiful live version.
o. The guy’s a magician. I do believe he did that while chewing gum.
p. If you like those, please listen to the BBC Radio 1 Stay Home Live Lounge version, recorded with lots of artists (Elle Goulding’s pretty good) during the pandemic. That one’s great. Chris Martin with the kicker.
q. Bet you didn’t think you’d hear a lot about Dave Grohl in FMIA this week, did you?
r. Max Scherzer’s 432nd major-league baseball appearance came in the ninth inning of the decisive game in the National League Division Series Thursday night in San Francisco. On TV, Ron Darling said: “Scherzer has done it all . . . but no professional saves.” Hmmmm. Sure enough, 14 seasons, zero saves. Until this night. Line to left, strikeout looking, strikeout on a lousy check-swing call by the first-base ump.
s. As for that check swing, come on.
t. Now I get it. Kyrie Irving is not getting the vaccine because no one’s going to tell him what to do.
u. The $16 million principle.
v. Holy cow, Kiké Hernandez. You are a fun baseball player to watch. You are a historic player to watch.
Buffalo 30, Tennessee 22. A few nuggets on this game:
1) If the Bills win in Nashville tonight (no easy task), they could have the AFC East pretty well locked by mid-November. Next four weeks: bye, Miami, at Jacksonville, at Jets. The logical results would put the Bills at 8-1 after 10 weeks, with the Patriots and Dolphins likely still chasing .500 by then.
2) Not sure what to make of the Titans, with a loss to the Jets and a cuffing of the Jags in the last two weeks. Is there any way their so-so D can handle the Bills, who are scoring 39 a game in their four-game winning streak?
3) Not sure whether the 26-point pasting of the Bills one year ago this week means much. That was one of those crazy COVID games, postponed a couple of days with a bunch of Titans testing positive for the virus and teams not being able to practice for two weeks.
Feel like the Bills are on the rise, big-time. Maybe Mike Vrabel can figure something out like he did two years ago when the 4-4 Titans beat Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City. Clue to the best plan: Shorten the game. Give it to Derrick Henry 32 times.
Week 7 Lookahead
The most meh week of the season so far, due largely to bye weeks for deep playoff contenders Buffalo, Dallas and the Chargers. We’ll muddle through.
Cincinnati at Baltimore, Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS. Bengals have already slain one AFC North giant, the Steelers, by two touchdowns. Joe Burrow was around for only one of the 2020 Cin-Bal matchups, but it is worth noting that the composite score last year was the most one-sided in the history of this rivalry: Baltimore 65, Cincinnati 6.
Kansas City at Tennessee, Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS. Titans in midst of 21 Days From Heck: Bills home tonight, KC home next week, then roadies with Indy and the Rams.
Chicago at Tampa Bay, Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS. Gut feeling: Tom Brady won’t forget what down it is against the Bears this year.
Detroit at L.A. Rams, Sunday, 4:05 p.m., CBS. Who will be more amped in this reunion tour—Jared Goff to beat his old team and old coach, or Matthew Stafford, whose departure from Detroit was far more amiable? I’ve got to think Goff will be the more nervous one by kickoff.
Indianapolis at San Francisco, Sunday, 8:20 p.m., NBC. Logistically a very interesting game. In the 13 days before this game kicks off, the Colts will have played two games and Niners zero. Indy had the emotional OT loss on Monday night last week, and then the division joust with the Texans at home yesterday. The Niners played Sunday in Week 5, then had a bye in Week 6 and now will wait at home, rested, while the Colts make the 1,925-mile trip to San Jose for this one.
The Adieu Haiku30
Get to know him, Raiderville.
Season’s not over.