I know what I’d be thinking if I were either Mike Tomlin or John Harbaugh today.
The Bengals were competitive with Andy Dalton, but did the power teams of the AFC North ever really fear the Bengals of the past decade? No. How do you fear a team that never got out of the wild-card round of the playoffs? But 17 games into the Joe Burrow Era, you’d better have a healthy respect for the Bengals. They’re coming. They’re crashing a party a year or two before anyone thought they’d be joining it.
It’s because of one draft pick, one man. In the last month, Joe Burrow has walked into Heinz Field in Pittsburgh and walked out with a 24-10 win, and he has gone into M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore and emerged with a 41-17 pantsing of the Ravens.
There’s something about Burrow, something more than his ability to be this accurate at the highest level of the game this early in his career. I actually think it’s two things beyond his football IQ and ability that set him apart today, and will in the future—assuming he doesn’t get hit so much that it’ll impact his ability to be great for a long time. To explain, I want you to read two things Burrow said to me after the game in Baltimore.
I asked him if the very loud crowd early in Baltimore affected him, and whether playing in the deafeaning stadia of the SEC got him ready for this.
Burrow: “We knew that they were gonna be jacked up for us to come in, and expecting to beat our ass. But we were ready for it. Playing in the SEC definitely, definitely helped. Gets way louder in the SEC than in any of these NFL stadiums.”
Translation: You’re nuts if you think the noise bugged me even a bit today. You’re nuts if you think it bothers me any day.
I asked him if the Ravens surprised him much on defense. This, after Justin Herbert said he’d never seen much of the stuff the Ravens D did to him after Baltimore whacked the Chargers last week.
Burrow: “No. I knew exactly what to expect from the game. You gotta play physical against them, you gotta play intense against them. Otherwise they’re gonna drown you.”
Translation: I respect ‘em, but nobody’s ever gonna shock me on defense. I might get Apollo Creeded out there for four or five series, but I’ll always find a way.
As someone who knows Burrow better than I told me Sunday night, he’s a gym-rat savant. Nobody intimidates him, no defense surprises him. In the competitive world of the NFL, those are good traits to have. And those traits in the quarterback translate to a 5-2 record and first place in the AFC North. At 24, Burrow is going to be around for awhile, and as long as he’s around, the Steelers and the Ravens (and the Browns, now) can’t treat the Bengals like a Homecoming game anymore.
On the topic of the weirdness of the first seven weeks of this season, I called my old friend Brent Musburger, now the host and managing editor of Vegas Sports and Information Network. He’s got his finger on the pulse of the lines.
“If both teams were healthy, and the game was played on a neutral field, who’d be favored—Cincinnati or Kansas City?” I asked.
Pause. “If both teams were completely healthy, Cincinnati would be favored.”
That’s a wow, considering where we were on Labor Day, with KC favored to win the AFC and Cincinnati favored to be the AFC North’s bottom-feeder. “I’m not sure what surprises me more,” Musburger said. “The rise of the Bengals or the fall of the Chiefs.”
I’d vote for the fall of Kansas City, because I didn’t see KC’s offensive zits and defensive generosity. Plus, I knew the Bengals would have some great moments this year. If half of their free-agents on defense were even good (and the haul has turned out great so far), and if Burrow could stay healthy, I thought they’d be okay. Still fourth in the North, but I thought Burrow would be the modern-day Dan Fouts, and a fearless and explosive quarterback is always going to win some big games. Now, after seven weeks, it’s clear I underestimated them. The Bengals might not beat Tampa or Arizona right now, but they’d be competitive with them.
Sunday was the perfect game to show how far the Bengals have come since they drafted Burrow. They were okay last year before Burrow tore his ACL in the 10th game of the season. This year, with Burrow healthy and off to a strong start, explosive rookie wideout Ja’Marr Chase taking the league by storm and six free-agents starting on defense, the trip to Baltimore was the acid test. Were the Bengals ready for prime time? (Not that it mattered; Cincinnati wasn’t scheduled for a prime-time game in the last 14 weeks of the season.)
In the first four series, Cincinnati went punt-FG-punt-punt, and Burrow was getting whomped. He likes to take his chances with empty backfields, figuring he can find a receiver before he gets hit. “What Baltimore does on defense,” he said from the Cincinnati locker room, “is they put you in one-on-one situations. They say their guys are better than our guys. At the beginning, they were winning those matchups and playing really well. We just kept putting our guys in positions we knew they could win, and we started making those plays. When we started making a few those plays, they got out of that zero blitz, blitzing every snap. Eventually, we got back into the normal flow of our offense.”
There was a play just before halftime that said so much. The Bengals were driving in the final seconds, and Chase was one-on-one on Marlon Humphrey. That’s a battle the Ravens need Humphrey to win—their best against the Bengals’ best. But Chase, running a medium in-cut from the left, left Humphrey in the dust, his cut sharp and perfect. The pass was spot-on, and Chase gained 26. Just as important was Humphrey’s body language. He stopped and stared at the sky, as if to say, How can I stop these guys? A field goal gave the Bengals a 13-10 lead at the half. That play was an omen—a bad one for Baltimore.
Midway through the third quarter Cincinnati led 20-17. The Bengals were backed up at their 18, third-and-two. On the right of the formation, Chase was singled, again, with Humphrey. “I mean, he’s the best corner in the league,” Burrow said. “They can play zero blitz with him and be comfortable because he’s so good one-on-one.”
On this play, the decisive one in the game, the precocious greatness of Burrow and Chase shone through. Burrow told NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala post-game that his chemistry with his former LSU teammate wasn’t complicated. “It takes reps and reps and reps,” Burrow said. As Chase left the line, he ran right away into a joust with Humphrey, at the 20-yard line. But even as he quick-twitched to try to get off Humphrey’s jam, Burrow cocked his arm and prepared to throw.
Burrow just knew, on a vital third-and-two in crunch time, that Chase would win.
Burrow, in his 17th NFL game. Chase, in his seventh. Humphrey, in his 68th.
Chase got inside the jam of Humphrey, put his right foot in the ground and burst toward his left, right where he knew Burrow would throw it. From the 10, Burrow zipped one a foot behind Chase, who now had a step on Humphrey, at the 24. Problem: Four Ravens were in a box around Chase. He had the first down, which was great. But could he get more? Safety DeShon Elliott lunged at Chase, had an arm around this legs but couldn’t finish the job at the 28; two yards later, Humphrey turned Chase around and it looked like he’d fall, but somehow he stayed upright and headed downfield, and safety Chuck Clark and linebacker Justin Houston were in hot pursuit and . . .
“AND THERE HE GOES!” Kevin Harlan yelled on CBS. “HE HAD ‘EM IN A BLENDER AND HE’S OFF TO THE RACES! THIS WILL BE SIX!!”
One move and Ja’Marr Chase was GONE 💨
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 24, 2021
Think of the hours and the routes Burrow threw with Chase to make that 82-yard touchdown happen. I’m reminded of the slick comeback routes to Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell that Tom Brady threw in the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history—the routes where the receiver would sprint 18 yards downfield, suddenly put his foot in the ground and turn back three yards. Brady would throw to the 15-yard spot, even though he’d release the ball long before the receiver got there. There was a trust between Brady and the receivers. “That’s because of 111 practices we had,” Brady said. “Practices, films, meetings. Like clockwork.” Same thing here, just not quite as dramatic. Burrow threw to the spot he trusted Chase would be. It’s just part of the whole for Burrow—feeling out the opponent early, making sure you don’t make the big error early so you’ll still be in the game late, and then, when it matters, finding your most trusted receiver in the big moment.
“I knew exactly what was gonna happen coming in, where I was gonna take hits and I was gonna have to keep coming back. That’s exactly what we did. That’s exactly what I did, just stay patient and hang in. And that’s why we won the game,” Burrow told me.
Burrow and Chase live three houses apart in Cincinnati, and they’ve stayed close since being teammates at LSU in 2019. Burrow said he never felt a need to talk to Chase about his spate of drops this summer. When I asked about it, Burrow gave a derisive chuckle. “No, I never said anything to him,” Burrow said. “I knew exactly what would happen come Sunday. He’d show up and do exactly what he does. And he’s done that.” Has he ever. Chase has more yards after seven games, 754, than any receiver in NFL history.
In his own sort of aloof way, Burrow was excited an hour after the biggest win of his young career. But nothing is forever in football. He knew the wins over Pittsburgh and Baltimore, on the road, were huge building blocks. But that’s what they are. They’re points of progress on the road to being great. These Bengals have miles to go before they sleep. But at least they know they’ve got the guy to get them there.
“We know exactly what the future holds,” Burrow said. “We’re gonna have to come back and beat both these guys again, play them on our home turf. They’ll be excited to come in and try to end our season early. We’re gonna have to keep getting better each week. I know it sounds cliché but we really just gotta keep getting better.
“The one thing I know about the NFL is how good these teams are. Baltimore’s a really, really good team. They’ll come back with vengeance the next time we play them. Today was very exciting for us. It’s exciting that the preparation that we put in all offseason and this week showed up on the field. Five and two’s good, but it’s 5-2.”
Better than 2-5. Too often in Bengaldom—Boomer Esiason’s word for the wacky world of this franchise’s history—things go wrong when the pressure gets heavy. It got heavy in the first half in Baltimore, and Burrow will wake up sore because of those first four mostly fruitless and punishing drives this morning. But great players walk into loud stadiums and have hardships against very good teams, and great players find a way to beat those odds and survive and win. Burrow’s steely mentality and his right arm are putting him on the path to greatness. I wouldn’t bet against him.
I’ve come to this startling conclusion: Derrick Henry does not like to blow his own horn. So after Tennessee finished its seven-day sweep of the 2020 AFC title teams (34-31 over Buffalo last Monday, 27-3 over KC Sunday), he wasn’t interested in talking about how great his Tebowesque TD throw that started the scoring against the Chiefs was. “Kinda similar to the pass I had in the playoffs against the Ravens in 2019,” he said from the Tennessee locker room. “Try to get the defense to suck up and do whatever . . . and it ended up in a touchdown.”
DERRICK HENRY THROWS A TD 🔥
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 24, 2021
First score of the game and, in fact, the winning score as it turned out. Henry did the old Tebow jump-pass to tight end MyCole Pruitt for a five-yard TD. It was a wobbler, but accurate and effective. On a day when Henry’s streak of five straight 100-yard rushing games ended (he rushed 29 times for 86 yards against a KC front determined to stop him), he still was integral because of the touchdown pass.
Henry is the offensive Aaron Donald, on his way to the Hall of Fame even though he’s still very much in mid-career. At 27, he is on his way to being the fifth player to lead the NFL in rushing three straight years. That has two asterisks: Jim Brown actually did it twice, and Brown actually did it five straight years at one point. Will Henry make it three straight this year? Obviously health is the biggest factor, but consider that Henry has a 290-yard lead for the title over the Colts’ Jonathan Taylor, 869 yards to 579. Plenty of season left, but you’ve got to think Henry’s got a pretty good chance at his third straight rushing title.
The amazing thing about Henry’s run is how he’s been in his average yards per game during the streak. Comparing Henry’s three-year run to those who have led the NFL in rushing for at least three straight years:
“As a running back,” he said, “I just gotta go out and do my job and hit the holes my teammates make for me. They’ve been fantastic. I give all my credit to them.”
Henry seemed honored to hear about the yards-per-game number, particular because of the Jim Brown connection. “I’ve seen clips of him growing up,” Henry said. “I think Jim Brown’s the heights. For my name to be mentioned with his, it’s an honor. A dream come true. Jim Brown was kind of like a superhero. So this is special, something you dream of as a kid.”
It’s within reach that Henry could be the most dominant rusher over a three-year span that there ever was—and what makes that all the more notable is the fact that we’re in an age of reduced rushing. Vastly reduced rushing. Good for the Titans that they recognize the value of traditional football and put it in the offensive game plan of a 5-2, division-leading team.
• Lots of buzz about Deshaun Watson to the Dolphins, and the lukewarm “Tua is our quarterback” from Brian Flores wasn’t enough to put a lid on the speculation. (Then again, Flores neither justifies nor debunks reports or rumors involving his players, so his lukewarm response to renewed Watson trade reports was par for the course.) But a collection of bad games by needy QB teams could crowd the field—making it very good for the Texans to get more than one team bidding for Watson. I do hear that Miami owner Stephen Ross is not pushing his football people to deal for Watson right now. Which is smart. It makes zero sense for a team to deal huge assets for a player when the team doesn’t know when the player will be able to play.
• Carolina benched Sam Darnold on Sunday in New Jersey. Flores got a suspect performance from Tagolovailoa. Philadelphia will likely be in the market for a quarterback in 2022, and Jalen Hurts has been underwhelming in his big chance. So there’s a market for a quarterback in several franchises.
• “I am trying to understand something,” said one executive of a team that you would think will have at least marginal interest in a quarterback of the future. “We’re not even sure if Watson would be able to play on opening day next year because of all these cases against him right now, and Houston thinks it’ll get someone to pay three ones and two twos for him by the trading deadline this year? It’s crazy to think anyone would do that. It’s crazy for Houston to not wait till the offseason.” He’s right: Once it’s resolved whether Aaron Rodgers stays in Green Bay or goes (by next February, presumably), and once there is clarity on when Watson can play, the losers in the Rodgers derby could make the bidding for Watson intense.
• The NFL, I hear, won’t tell any franchise what it intends to do if a team trades for Watson and tries to activate him. That falls in line with the Goodellian mantra of Don’t make decisions till you have to. Ian Rapoport reported Sunday it’s expected that Watson, if traded, would be allowed to play while his case is adjudicated. All that adds up to clouds—plus the fact that the fan base for a team that acquires Watson might protest the acquisition of a player with such legal and moral issues hanging over his head.
• Trade deadline is a week from tomorrow. Big deals, I doubt. Just not enough teams with enough cap room to absorb big players dreaming of big deals. The player who could be had at a need position, though his star is tarnished: cornerback Kyle Fuller, who’s been benched in Denver but who could be a good stretch-run get, cheap, for a contender.
• Very back-burner right now, but at some point soon, there’s going to be a resolution to who will own the Denver Broncos. If the seven children of Pat Bowlen cannot agree on a succession plan, the franchise trustees are likely to sell the team. Now I’ve heard that at least four individuals of means have been actively digging around to discover if said purchase will be smart. When I say “of means,” I mean those in private business who have billions to spend. As for all of those (Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones, among others) who’d love to see Jeff Bezos get involved in ownership of an NFL franchise, I hear he’s not interested. At least now he’s not.
• League meetings this week in New York, notable for this reason: It’s the first time owners have met en masse in person since December 2019. Not a lot of substance on the agenda. You can be sure there will be some discussion of the Washington Football Team and the Congressional inquiry into the league’s investigation into the multiple sexual-harassment cases with the franchises, and the league’s sanction. Smart money is on the WFT discussions in the open sessions being pretty vanilla, because the league knows it’s full of leaks right now. Hearing it’ll be Tonya Snyder, the team’s co-CEO, representing the team, with husband Dan still on double-secret probation and not fully involved in team functions.
• I’ll be interested to see when Daniel Snyder gets his full authority back. If it keeps getting put off (and no one is certain when commissioner Roger Goodell will fully reinstate him), suspicions will rise that he’s being kept in the doghouse because the league may think he or his reps are behind the leaking of information that got Jon Gruden dismissed, and tarnished former club president Bruce Allen and league legal counsel Jeff Pash.
• Interesting to see CBS send potential game of the day Cincinnati-Baltimore to only 16 percent of the country on Sunday. But understandable. CBS wallpapered America with Kansas City-Tennessee, and it’s hard to second-guess the network putting on Patrick Mahomes in 70 percent of the country—CBS will not have another Mahomes game till December. Next five KC weeks: Giants on Monday night (ESPN), Packers on FOX, Las Vegas on NBC, Dallas on Fox, bye. Next CBS/Mahomes game: Dec. 5, home, early, against Denver.
One former player is more exercised about the Gruden Affair than many current players. Ray Schoenke, a retired businessman, played in the NFL from 1963-1975 and was always an activist. He is writing a book, Blood and Ink, with former Washington Post sports editor George Solomon. Schoenke submitted this short piece about Gruden and current players, and I thought it was worthy of your attention.
By Ray Schoenke
Forty-five years after I retired from the National Football League, I found myself jolted by a coach’s racist and homophobic language. Jon Gruden’s forced resignation as coach of the Las Vegas Raiders was appropriate. But the response from the NFL is not nearly enough to assuage the flood of difficult memories, outrage, and real pain that Gruden’s words have caused.
When working for ESPN, Gruden made his crude comments in emails to then-Washington Football Team president Bruce Allen. The one that disgusts me the most is Gruden’s comparison of DeMaurice Smith’s lips to Michelin tires. Disparaging African Americans is not new in the NFL, but I was deeply disheartened to realize that, after all these years, this junk is still going on. That the number of African American players in the NFL is now about 70 percent did not seem to register with Gruden or decision-makers in the league. And then this: the executive director of the players’ union, a highly regarded lawyer whom players look up to for guidance, is belittled—by a coach.
I ask myself: Where are the players? Why aren’t they supporting their own executive director? Are these guys afraid of the consequences? Has the example of the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick—a talented quarterback who stood up (or rather took a knee) against racial injustice and was then blackballed—had a chilling effect? Only one thing is appropriate in this moment: Players should pick a day and, en masse, refuse to leave the bench, in solidarity with Smith and in outrage over persistent racism in the NFL.
I am Native Hawaiian. I spent a brief time in 1966 in the training camp of the Cleveland Browns before I joined the Washington team. My first day at lunch, I was heading toward a table of black players. One of the white players, Monte Clark, took me by the arm and said, “You don’t sit there. You sit with us.” There was a complicated backstory to this: The legendary Jim Brown was actually the one who established this odd racial détente.
I played for Vince Lombardi in Green Bay’s training camp (1966) and in Washington (1969). Lombardi didn’t care if you were white or black. Guard Jerry Kramer had it right—Lombardi treated everyone the same, like dogs. All coaches must be fair. But the great coaches are more than that. Like great generals, they are asking men to go into battles that are perilous to their bodies, their minds, and sometimes their spirits. All great generals care deeply about their troops.
It’s not enough to fire Gruden for his bigotry. Racism still permeates the NFL. Players, fans, and leaders in the league must demand that all coaches and owners be models of moral authority. We must demand change, now. Profit cannot come at this price.
Offensive Players of the Week
Joe Burrow, quarterback, Cincinnati. Talk about the right man for a desperate franchise. Burrow has statement games against the longtime power players in the AFC North, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, winning at Heinz Field and at M&T Bank Stadium in the first seven weeks of the Bengals’ resurgent season. On Sunday, he riddled the Ravens for 416 yards, including an 82-yard TD to the hottest rookie on the planet, Ja’Marr Chase. Boy, is Burrow going to be fun to watch over the next few years.
Kyle Pitts, tight end, Atlanta. It was just his second straight big-impact game. The fourth pick in the 2021 draft, who gets covered by corners as well as safeties and linebackers, had seven catches for 163 yards, including an eye-popping one-handed catch in heavy coverage on the sideline. Pitts is becoming the target Matt Ryan cannot live without.
D’Ernest Johnson, running back, Cleveland. First start in the NFL Thursday night versus Denver. His carries, by yards, on the first drive of the game: 20, 10, and 4 (touchdown). His carries on the last drive of the game, to bleed the clock and end the 17-14 Cleveland victory: 6, 3, 7, 3, 5 and 8. Johnson, from the football hotbed of Immokalee, Fla., understands he may not get many chances in the NFL as an undrafted, unloved college free agent. He made the most of his first one: 22 carries, 146 yards, one TD in the 17-14 win over Denver that lifted the Browns to 4-3 and set up a very interesting game with Pittsburgh next week. All of a sudden, the losses of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt do not seem fatal for Cleveland.
Tom Brady, quarterback, Tampa Bay. The first quarterback in history to throw 600 touchdown passes (he had four more Sunday in the 38-3 rout of the Bears) saved his best touchdown for last. A boy in the end zone held up a sign that read: “TOM BRADY HELPED ME BEAT BRAIN CANCER.” Late in the game, Brady went to the boy, gave him his gloves and his hat, and the boy broke down in tears. In other news, Brady is 44. In the 1.5 years he’s been in Tampa, he has 61 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
Tom Brady just walked over to this little boy with :33 left in the game, handed him his hat and shook his hand… and the boy broke down in tears. Man, that one got me. pic.twitter.com/UC7qA7MRkT
— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) October 24, 2021
Defensive Players of the Week
Rashan Gary, linebacker, Green Bay. That was a marauding band of defensive Packers in the 24-10 win over Washington (maybe they just loved the uniforms), made more special by the fact that Green Bay was playing without three of its most important defensive pieces (Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, Jaire Alexander, all injured). Gary, the Pack’s first-round pick in 2019, sacked Taylor Heinicke twice, hit him four more times, forced a fumble and had seven tackles.
Yannick Ngakoue, edge rusher, Las Vegas. A consistent disruptive force for the (now) AFC West-leading Raiders, Ngakoue has toiled in Maxx Crosby’s ample shadow for the first six weeks, until Sunday. Ngakoue sacked the mobile Jalen Hurts twice, had two more tackles for loss, and broke up two passes in his best performance since leaving Jacksonville 14 months ago.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Jack Fox, punter, Detroit. The former high school quarterback was part of the Lions using every trick in Dan Campbell’s bag early at SoFi. A minute after a successful onside kick early against the Rams, Detroit’s drive stalled and Fox entered on fourth-and-seven at midfield. Fox faked the punt and threw a perfect spiral to safety/gunner Bobby Price on the left side, gain of 17. First down, and soon the Lions had a field goal and a 10-0 lead midway through the first quarter. Now, about the offense . . . The Lions needed more than four field goals in the last 50 minutes of the game to beat the Rams.
C.J. Moore, safety, Detroit. The Lions tried three trickeration plays on special teams, and all worked, and the last was a punt-snap to up-back Moore on fourth-and-eight from the Lions 35-yard line in the third quarter. (Very smart work by special teams coordinator Dave Fipp, getting these plays to all work with great kicking-team cohesion.) Moore took the snap and sprinted around left end for 28 yards to the Rams’ 37-yard line.
Coach of the Week
Kevin Stefanski, head coach, Cleveland. A smart head coach told me on my training camp tour this summer: “A good coach should be able to figure out a way to win one game when he’s got a bunch of injuries. More than one, it’s tough. But one game, you gotta be able to figure it out.” Denver-Cleveland, Thursday night. The Browns are missing the quarterback, two starting tackles, two “starting” backs, rising star linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, emerging star receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones—and the best cover corner, Denzel Ward, is lost in the second half with an injury. The Broncos are struggling and beat up too, and with 5:17 left in the game, Denver scores to get within 17-14. The Broncos have all three timeouts plus the two-minute-warning stoppage ahead. Surely they’ll get one more crack at the ball. Watching the game, I was certain (and I am sure Denver was too) Stefanski would call for a run between the tackles, just to keep the clock moving. But Stefanski called for an eight-man front, including a tight triangle of receivers bunched next to the left tackle. The formation cried out run. Instead, QB Case Keenum ran play-action, slipped out to the left as traffic piled up in the middle of the line, and flipped an easy toss left to tight end Austin Hooper, who broke one tackle and gained eight on the play. That made it second-and-two. Time between the snap of that play to the snap of the second play of the drive: 48 seconds. Tick, tick, tick. Who’d have thought, with those four stoppages, that the last play of the drive would be a Keenum kneeldown as time expired, Denver unable to stop the clock anymore? On that last drive, Stefanski showed that a coach can win a game with his head as much as with his players.
Goat of the Week
Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Kansas City. Two more Mahomes turnovers in his own territory—man, this is getting to be an epidemic, uncharacteristically—in the second quarter in Nashville led to 10 Tennessee points and turned a 17-0 game into 27-0 by halftime. Mahomes picks in 2019: five. Mahomes picks in 2020: six. Mahomes picks in seven games this year: nine. He added a third turnover in the second half, a fumble. KC now leads the NFL with 17 turnovers through seven weeks. That is so unlike an Andy Reid team.
“I’m seeing things I haven’t seen before.”
—Coach Andy Reid of stunningly 3-4 Kansas City, after his team was routed in Nashville on Sunday.
“I hear it. I do hear it. I just don’t listen to it.”
—Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa, on the rampant rumors that the Dolphins want to trade for Deshaun Watson before the Nov. 2 trade deadline.
“Watch out! Here come the Bears!”
—Jim Nantz on CBS, after the Bucs missed a second-quarter field goal to keep the Chicago deficit at 21-0.
Trolling, Nantz was.
“I believe Dan Snyder leaked those emails … trying to place all the blame for all the bad culture on Bruce [Allen], which just isn’t true.”
—Former Washington Football Team cheerleader Melanie Coburn, to FOX News, claiming that WFT owner Dan Snyder is trying to pin the franchise’s problems on Allen, the former team president.
“There was a 243-page report on Tom Brady deflating footballs, a 144-page report on Richie Incognito‘s harassing his teammate, then teammate Jonathan Martin, and a 96-page report on Ray Rice’s domestic violence case. Those are all against players.”
—Andrea Kremer, on HBO Real Sports, pointing out the reality of the NFL coming down harder and more thoroughly on players than it did on WFT owner Snyder.
—Julian Edelman, on “Inside the NFL.”
“I think it’d be miserable to play in a place like Jacksonville, where nobody cares.”
—Philadelphia center Jason Kelce.
Where have all the touchdowns gone?
Odell Beckham Jr.’s last touchdown catch came 55 weeks ago on the road against the Cowboys. Since then: eight games, 360 snaps, zero touchdowns.
First three years in the NFL (Giants): 45 games, 35 touchdown receptions.
Last three years in the NFL (Browns, with a half-season left this year): 28 games, 7 touchdown receptions.
With the trading deadline next Tuesday, it’s logical to wonder if Beckham can be had. I’m sure he could—but would you want a player who has been hurt a lot, turns 29 in two weeks, isn’t the explosive player for whatever reason he once was, and is owed $36 million between now and the end of the 2023 season, when his contract expires? Would you even want to adjust that contract significantly?
Receiving yards, game-by-game, first seven NFL games:
Jerry Rice, San Francisco, 1985: 67, 35, 94, 0, 42, 37, 3.
Rice seven-game total to start his career: 16 catches, 278 yards.
Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati, 2021: 101, 54, 65, 77, 159, 97, 201
Chase seven-game total to start his career: 35 catches, 754 yards.
Patrick Mahomes in the regular season in 2019-20: 25-4.
Patrick Mahomes in the regular season in 2021: 3-4.
600 TDs for Brady. I don’t think Brees is going to catch him
— Gregg Rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) October 24, 2021
Rosenthal covers the NFL, with a tad of snark on the side, for NFL.com.
I still cant believe the Panthers gave up what they did for Darnold and picked up that option year
— Jason_OTC (@Jason_OTC) October 24, 2021
Jason Fitzgerald founded and runs the NFL contract site Over The Cap.
Well folks, looks like the Tua era is over.
— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) October 24, 2021
Longtime Dolphins beat writer Kelly, after the terrible Tua Tagovailoa interception gave the Falcons a short field that led to a vital fourth-quarter touchdown.
If u stand in a line 50 deep for a Cinnabon at 6 am in the morning. You need to reevaluate a lot of things in life
— Booger (@ESPNBooger) October 23, 2021
Booger McFarland, used to airports early in the morning, is a football analyst for ESPN.
I cannot believe an NFL owner, in this current climate especially, would bring in Deshaun Watson and face his fan base with the lawsuits circling that player.
No matter how "good" a trade deal they could get.
— Andrew Brandt (@AndrewBrandt) October 20, 2021
Brandt covers the business of football for Sports Illustrated.
Impossible to wonder otherwise.
#Raiders DT Solomon Thomas is donating $8,000 per sack to his nonprofit The Defensive Line, which works to stop suicide, particularly among youths. My story from earlier this year on the foundation: https://t.co/KvJR6R2vU7
— Tashan Reed (@tashanreed) October 21, 2021
Reed, of The Athletic, on the good deed done by the Las Vegas defensive tackle.
Redact, Redact, Redact. From Marc Garber, of Marietta, Ga.: “I’m a lawyer by trade. My specialty is employment discrimination and harassment cases. When emails involve sensitive information, like the name of another victim, the simplest approach is to redact it. Just black it out. Same with the names of the WFT’s victims. Just have someone under Lisa Friel’s direction redact all the names and identifying info of the victims in the emails. Of course, the NFL will never go for this. And if I’m advising Roger Goodell, my advice is ride out the storm because there’s always another [storm] around the next corner to distract the media and fans.”
I think you’re right, Marc. I wouldn’t want all the names redacted, because—for example—if the names of the main characters are redacted and just called pseudonyms throughout, would the league or any independent body be able to judge the entirety of the offenses, and offenders? If redaction can help, I’m good with it, but I fear some of the anonymity would provide cover for some offenders.
Hear Her Roar. From Erin Moor, of Indianapolis. “It is getting harder and harder to be a woman and support the NFL in any capacity. Reading your section about Dan Snyder and Jon Gruden . . . What is the bar for actually punishing league owners in some sort of meaningful way because right now, I don’t even see a bar? Condemning these actions are meaningless words. The league’s owners have ample evidence to kick Snyder out for good and three-quarters of the league’s executive committee (one representative from all 32 teams) need to actually have personal conviction and stand-up to their one-time business partner and say ‘enough.’ Because every woman in this country is screaming ‘enough’ and we are begging to be heard.”
Excellent sentiment, Erin, and I know you are not alone.
Let Gruden Be A Leader. From Jason Kurtz: “What Jon Gruden wrote was indefensible. However, I believe he should not have been fired and he should have been asked not to resign. Instead, he should have been asked to be the leader he was hired to be. He should have been encouraged to admit his faults and to meet with the team—everyone, players and staff. He should have sat with them and let them explain to him how his emails made them feel. He should have listened for as long as it takes. Then, he should have spent the time to try to right his wrongs and win the team over. We tend to take the easy way out. We cancel the offender and move on, satisfied. With Gruden’s emails, the NFL, the Raiders, and all of us who enjoy football missed that opportunity.”
Possibly, Jason. But think of a player, Carl Nassib, the only openly gay player in football. Throughout Nassib’s coming-out experience, Gruden was supportive, as was the team. Now Nassib sees that Gruden has called people the most offense slurs for gay people; he has been critical of the league’s efforts to be sure openly gay draftee Michael Sam gets a fair shot in the league; and he has sent racially tinged emails as well, and the majority of the Raiders players are Black. I think it would be hard, in the middle of a season, to have those sorts of long meetings and discussions. In this case, I bet one or more players on the team, including Nassib, might well have said, “I’m not playing for this guy. Suspend me.”
Mini Column On Friday. From Fred, of Hudson Valley, N.Y.: “As a true believer in delayed gratification, I normally don’t start reading your column until Tuesday or Wednesday. And then, I read your column in little snippets such that it takes me the whole week to finish it. I guess I enjoy your insights, viewpoints and opinions so much, I don’t really want them to end. I’m sure you are very busy doing other football-related things, and it’s obvious you treasure your personal time, but is there some way that you could do some sort of mini-column for say a Friday or Saturday release, as a sort of follow up on everything that happens during the busy week? It would make it so much easier for me as I wouldn’t have to stretch out your Monday column so much. How about it? Any possibility?”
That is so nice of you to say, Fred. Thank you. Thanks for reading. Ten years ago, I’d have done something like that … and did do something like that called “Game Plan” at my SI site, The MMQB. When I took this full-time NBC gig in 2018, I chose to write only once a week—quite long as you know—so I could take some time away from the grind during the week. Most weeks, after I finish my podcast on Tuesday, I don’t do much of anything work-wise till Thursday afternoon or sometimes even Friday. If I did a column late in the week, even a much shorter one, that would necessitate foraging for stuff Wednesday and Thursday. At this point in my life, I’d rather have the free time in midweek.
1. I think this is an interesting little nugget from Atlanta’s 30-27 win in Miami on Sunday: Falcons coach Arthur Smith had a photo of a Muhammad Ali knockout punch of Sonny Liston on his playsheet. “I put something there [on the back of the playsheet] every week,” Smith told me post-game, surprised that it had been noticed by the TV cameras. “I usually have our theme of the week. It’s an iconic shot, of course. To me, it represents the mindset you need. Every game in the NFL is a heavyweight fight. You gotta go for the knockout every week.” Give credit to Atlanta. After stumbling out of the gates 0-2, the Falcons have won three of four and could get over .500 Sunday at home against slumping Carolina. “Lots of big games in Atlanta this weekend,” Smith said. Games 3, 4, and 5 of the World Series are Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, Astros at Braves, and Panthers-Falcons is at 1 p.m. Sunday.
2. I think you don’t often get to have the kind of weekend Steve Levy’s having in Seattle, and it deserves to get a note here. Levy, for the first time in 17 years, did play-by-play of a hockey game Saturday night (he loves hockey) and tonight he’ll do play-by-play of his first love, “Monday Night Football.” It wasn’t just any hockey game; it was the Seattle Kraken, in the new and innovative arena in downtown Seattle, with that crazy fan base welcoming the newest pro sports team to the city.
IT'S A KRAKEN GOAL 🦑🏒
The first in Seattle's Climate Pledge Arena!! pic.twitter.com/w3EzYZFbkl
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 24, 2021
“How many times do you get to be at a birth of a franchise?” Levy said from Seattle on Sunday. He was onto prep for tonight’s Saints-Seahawks game. “The great thing was, the arena’s not cookie-cutter. The biggest difference is you look up and there’s nothing in the middle of it—they’ve got two big video boards on the sides. Fans were just super into it. They will be number one in merchandise sales, I can tell you that. The other cool thing: They collect the rainwater off the roof and it is funneled down into becoming the home ice.” Levy said he marveled at Joe Buck for moving so smoothly between baseball and football at this time of year on FOX. “Joe’s a machine. How he can switch sports back and forth so quickly and so well is amazing.” And this weekend, for Levy, will be one he remembers forever. “It’ll be on the back of my baseball card,” he said. “These are my two loves.”
3. I think those alternate uniforms the Packers wore Sunday—solid bright yellow helmets, forest-green jerseys, two yellow shoulder stripes, yellow numbers, matching forest-green pants with a yellow stripe down the side—are the best alternates I’ve seen in the NFL. The look was in honor of the uniforms worn by the team in the 1950s.
4. I think the Football Story of the Week comes from the talented Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post, on the quirky Green Bay offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. Jhabvala writes:
“[Hackett] majored in neurobiology, nearly became a doctor, taught hip-hop dance classes, is a wine connoisseur and has a gravitational pull to the greatest, biggest challenges he can find for himself. Hackett is, in short, a Renaissance man with a childish fervor who has a love for teaching, a love for football and a mental library few can match. Who else has sung Justin Timberlake over his headset when giving play-calls to a quarterback in the huddle? ‘It doesn’t take more than five minutes of talking to him to realize this guy’s really not like the rest of them,’ said quarterback Blake Bortles, a former first-round pick who played four years for Hackett in Jacksonville.”
Nice piece about a guy who’s been in the league for years but is still relatively unknown.
5. I think there was so much to admire about the extremely unglamorous win by the Browns on Thursday night. Two huge players in the game: running back D’Ernest Johnson, right tackle Blake Hance. I would not be surprised if either of those players was the 53rd player on the roster on cutdown weekend. But they were both huge in the Browns winning a survival game that prevented them from having a losing record with the Steelers coming to town next week. Johnson, who went hat-in-hand to get a job with the dearly departed Alliance of American Football, eventually made the Browns as roster marginalia, had a big role against Denver (and 144 rushing yards) only because Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt were hurt.
Hance’s story is better. You may remember reading in this column on Jan. 11 the incredible Covid-related story of Hance getting plucked off the Jets’ practice squad on Saturday in Week 16 last year, and Hance driving to Cleveland in time for a Covid test and team meeting Saturday night. A week later, Hance was pressed into duty because of injury and played 15 snaps in the playoff win at Pittsburgh—without allowing a sack or pressure of Baker Mayfield. Now, Hance has started three straight games at tackle (two at left, one at right) and not allowed a sack in 203 snaps. In 231 snaps total this year, Hance has allowed five pressures, one QB hit and one sack. Former New England first-round pick Isaiah Wynn, in 274 snaps, has given up eight pressures, three hits, three sacks allowed. Teams that play close attention to the bottom of the roster get rewarded when the team is crushed by injury, and GM Andrew Berry and his staff deserve credit for the care and feeding the full roster.
6. I think the Thursday night game told me one other thing: For the 11th time in 16 years next March, the Denver Broncos are likely to be in the market for a long-term quarterback. I empathize with Teddy Bridgewater, playing hurt the way he’s doing right now. But either Bridgewater or Drew Lock is going to have to show a lot more than they have in the past three months to convince GM George Paton to not pursue again the quarterback of the future in Denver. Those the Broncos have tried: Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning (a different story; they knew he’d give them three or four very good years, he did, but Manning never was the “long-term” guy), Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, Drew Lock and Bridgewater.
7. I think, still, the best idea for Denver is to hope Aaron Rodgers wants out of Green Bay next February. The Packers, if Rodgers insists on a trade, would want to send Rodgers to the AFC. Rodgers might want Pittsburgh, but my guess is Denver would offer more. Paton could put together a very good package and still likely have a good receiver group for Rodgers. Of course, Rodgers, as I’ve written, could also wait till March 2023 to be an unrestricted free-agent at 39 and choose his last home from any of the other 31 teams. The status of Rodgers could be the story of the next two offseasons.
8. I think I have a thought or two about college football today. Particularly, LSU coach/coach-about-to-be-fired/mailing-it-in-for-the-rest-of-the-year Ed Orgeron. He will not coach LSU after this season. He and the university have agreed that he is out in two months, and that he will be paid the remainder of his contract over the next four years regardless whether he works anywhere else. LSU will pay him $16.8 million to not coach. That’s not particularly outrageous in the coaching business. But here some evidence that Orgeron is luckiest man on the face of the earth because of one decision he made in 2018—admitting Joe Burrow to play at LSU. Some facts to consider:
• Orgeron went 10-25 at his first head-coaching job, Ole Miss, from 2005-07, then took a year to address some personal demons.
• After bouncing around at various jobs, he got the LSU head-coaching job in 2016 and went 15-6 in his first two seasons.
• With Burrow on board, LSU went 10-3 in 2018 and 15-0 in 2019. Burrow, Justin Jefferson and J’Marr Chase led the team to one of the great runs in college history.
• Since the national championship win led by the greatest quarterback season in college history, LSU is 9-9.
The school said last week that it will seek a new coach for 2022 after the season. Orgeron, who had not met with his coaching staff for at least the first two full days after the announcement of his departure, said he will not coach next year. He did say he will be fine financially. “I think I’m gonna have enough money to buy me a hamburger,” Orgeron said.
Joe Burrow got a lot of this partnership. Orgeron gave him a starting job in the SEC. Burrow gave LSU a championship. I doubt Burrow even thinks about it, but I know how I’d feel if I were in Burrow’s shoes, making nothing while this coach makes $17 million because his team went 15-0 in 2019 and won a title with the greatest performance by a quarterback in college history.
There are so many things about pro football that are unjust. Currently, Roger Goodell’s soft treatment of Washington owner Dan Snyder leads that category. I won’t say Orgeron getting the gift of Burrow, then presiding over the decline of a great program and collecting $16.8 million while watching it is as bad. But this Orgeron thing is crazy.
9. I think I’ve got something interesting for all you helmet nerds out there. (Are there some?) VICIS and Schutt, two of the three major helmet manufacturers (Riddell being the other), are merging and moving operations to Plainfield, Ind., just west of Indianapolis. VICIS, the new helmet maker on the block, has pushed the established helmet companies to think differently in the industry, and this year introduced the first position-specific helmet in football history—a helmet for offensive and defensive linemen designed with more protection at the forehead and hairline areas. That’s where much of the regular contact is for linemen. VICIS and Schutt will be part of Certor Sports, a big U.S. sporting-goods manufacturer, with an emphasis on safer equipment for all levels of sports. Certor CEO Jim Heidenreich said his company will seek to combine “innovation, performance and protection.” Seems like a good move for underdog VICIS, which has had issues getting traction in the business because some equipment managers in college and pro football are so used to dealing with legacy companies Riddell and Schutt.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. TV Story of the Week, Part 1 and Part 2: Andrea Mitchell of NBC News on an Afghanistan school that has graduated 350 girls with degrees in coding, and now is in trouble because the Taliban wants to quash the school and the ability of women to learn. What a great thing Code to Inspire is, as this two-part series shows.
b. “I think only a miracle can help Afghan people.”
c. The miracle may be virtual education, with all learning being done in secret. Talk about irrepressible human spirit.
d. Story of the Week: A Secretive Hedge Fund is Gutting Newsrooms, by McKay Coppins of The Atlantic.
e. Alden Capital is decidedly not a friend of the people. Well, it is a friend of some very super-rich people.
f. Coppins begins the expert piece of precipitous decline of the Chicago Tribune this way:
The Tribune Tower rises above the streets of downtown Chicago in a majestic snarl of Gothic spires and flying buttresses that were designed to exude power and prestige. When plans for the building were announced in 1922, Colonel Robert R. McCormick, the longtime owner of the Chicago Tribune, said he wanted to erect “the world’s most beautiful office building” for his beloved newspaper. The best architects of the era were invited to submit designs; lofty quotes about the Fourth Estate were selected to adorn the lobby. Prior to the building’s completion, McCormick directed his foreign correspondents to collect “fragments” of various historical sites—a brick from the Great Wall of China, an emblem from St. Peter’s Basilica—and send them back to be embedded in the tower’s facade. The final product, completed in 1925, was an architectural spectacle unlike anything the city had seen before—“romance in stone and steel,” as one writer described it. A century later, the Tribune Tower has retained its grandeur. It has not, however, retained the Chicago Tribune.
To find the paper’s current headquarters one afternoon in late June, I took a cab across town to an industrial block west of the river. After a long walk down a windowless hallway lined with cinder-block walls, I got in an elevator, which deposited me near a modest bank of desks near the printing press. The scene was somehow even grimmer than I’d imagined. Here was one of America’s most storied newspapers—a publication that had endorsed Abraham Lincoln and scooped the Treaty of Versailles, that had toppled political bosses and tangled with crooked mayors and collected dozens of Pulitzer Prizes—reduced to a newsroom the size of a Chipotle.
Spend some time around the shell-shocked journalists at the Tribune these days, and you’ll hear the same question over and over: How did it come to this?
g. Alden Capital’s model, the story goes, “is simple: gut the staff, sell the real estate, jack up subscription prices, and wring out as much cash as possible.”
h. Really enjoyed this 47-year-old review by Roger Angell of four books about Babe Ruth, a review that was part of the best reviews in the 125-year history of the New York Times Review of Books. Angell writes so floridly, and his words of almost a half-century ago still resonate today. Amazing to see four books come out at nearly the same time about a man who’d been dead for 26 years at the time of this review. Writes Angell:
He stands alone, the ultimate American sports hero, sufficient in feat and person to sustain the myth and all our boyhood memories.
. . . All through these books, one reads of enormous crowds waiting and watching, not just in big league stadiums but in little railroad stations and vaudeville theaters and back-pasture ballparks across the country, where the Babe and his fellow stars barnstormed every year in the off-season, traveling thousands of miles every year to bring a glimpse of themselves (for money, of course) to people who would talk about the moment later, for months and years to come.
Today, homers and heroes come into our lives by television, without our effort or planning. They are simply there, right in the living room, every evening and every weekend of the year, and we no longer really notice them. Hank Aaron’s record-breaking homer was watched by more people than those who saw Ruth in his entire career with the Yankees, but how many can still see it at this moment and how many of us care? The games and the All-Stars and the championships and the epochal feats roll on without cease, and vaguely and irritably we long for something else — something or somebody who can stop it all for a minute and fix an image in our memory. What we get for our prayers is Evel Knievel, but never, no, never again, a guy like Ruth.
i. That’s some good writing.
j. No segue is any good here. But why oh why would there be a need for live rounds in guns on a movie set?
k. Podcast of the Week: A Showdown in Chicago, from “The Daily,” the New York Times daily podcast.
l. Julie Bosman, the Chicago bureau chief for the paper, delves into why the mayor and police union chief are at each other’s throats, and how that seems to have everything to do with the overwhelming reluctance of so many Chicago police officers to get vaccinated. So amazing that so many people in the public-safety sphere fight so hard to not be vaccinated—even though Covid has killed 716 police officers since March 2020, per CBS News.
m. Bosman, after working this story:
“I think what Mayor Lightfoot and other mayors are finding is that police officers are extremely resistant to being vaccinated for all kinds of complicated reasons, many of which have nothing to do with the vaccine itself. They are going to need much more than a push . . . I do think it’s striking that we’ve gotten to a point now where we are fighting in this country over pretty ordinary public health measures. We’re fighting over masks. We’re fighting over vaccines. These things have gotten completely wrapped up in politics. When we look at what’s happening with police departments across the country, it’s especially striking that the people who seem to be resisting these measures the most are also the people who are tasked with keeping the public safe.”
n. You probably know my stance on this. But it continues to confound me that these things are true, yet so many people don’t want to get the vaccine: Getting a vaccine is no guarantee that you won’t get Covid, but being vaccinated means it’s significantly less likely that you will get seriously ill, and significantly less likely if you do get Covid that it will threaten your life. The Centers for Disease Control says it’s 11 times more likely that unvaccinated people will die from Covid than people who have gotten the shot.
o. I guess it’s a live-free-or-die thing. But it is so crazy that something that could help you live a long life is being demonized the way the vaccine is.
p. Here come the off-with-his-head emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. You’re welcome to write them, but we’re probably not going to change each other’s minds on this strangely polarizing thing.
q. Video Remembrance of the Week: Lakisha Jackson Wesseling, widow of the late and noted NFL writer/podcaster Chris Wesseling, with a lovely video for son Lincoln, remembering the father taken from the little boy far, far too soon.
r. Chris Wesseling died of esophageal cancer last winter at 46, and his wife Lakisha, a producer at NFL Network, went through the painstaking project of paying tribute to her late husband, just so Lincoln will have a vivid picture of the man who died so soon after Linc’s birth. It is as lovely as it is emotional.
s. “I’ve never been more proud of something I’ve worked on in my life,” Lakisha said. It shows.
t. Illinois-Penn State. Nine overtimes is gimmicky and dumb. Good for the Illini. But nine overtimes is still gimmicky and dumb.
u. Things seem to be starting well for the Lakers this season.
v. Ten years ago this weekend, Russell Wilson and 6-0 Wisconsin traveled to play 5-1 Michigan State, with Kirk Cousins handing to Le’Veon Bell. On the last play of the game, Cousins threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Keith Nichol to win the game, 37-31. Six weeks later, in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis, Wilson led two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter and Wisconsin won the title 42-39.
w. Baseball is a funny game. Or, as John Sterling would say to boothmate Suzyn Waldman, “You can’t predict baseball, Suzyn.” For two days, the Astros couldn’t get the Red Sox out. The next three games, the Red Sox couldn’t buy a hit. The Red Sox got farther than anyone though they’d get, but now, looking at the last three games, it’s a wonder that a team that weak defensively in the infield and that streaky offensively, and a team that makes so many mental errors, got within two wins of the World Series.
x. Here’s what is so admirable about the Astros (I don’t have the hatred for the team that most do): It’s not the megastars who lifted them to the World Series. Most important players in the ALCS: Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, Framber Valdez, Luis Garcia. Compare the expensive guys to the cheap ones in the six-game ALCS. Altuve/Bregman/Correa: .269 on-base percentage, five extra-base hits, six RBI. Alvarez/Tucker: .440 OBP, eight extra-base hits, 14 RBI. The depth on that roster is so good.
y. How imaginative and flexible are the Braves. No Acuna, no Ozuna. Great graphic by TBS on the Braves. Outfield on opening day: Marcel Ozuna, Cristian Pache, Ronald Acuna. Midseason outfield: Orlando Arcia, Guillermo Heredia, Almonte. Postseason outfield: Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson.
z. How about the offensive stars on the four ALCS/NLCS teams: Kiké Hernandez, Yordan Alvarez, Eddie Rosario, Chris Taylor.
New Orleans 33, Seattle 20. Few things in life are as uncharacteristically bad as the Seattle D—30th against the run, 28th against the pass entering the weekend. The last time a Pete Carroll defense was so bad, mastadons roamed the earth. After the first game this season, when I was talking with Jameis Winston after his five-TD opener, he made it clear that Sean Payton told him he had lots of touchdowns for him in the playbook that week, and the TDs manifested themselves in the surprising rout of the Packers. I see the same thing happening this week. The added benefit is it could be a big day for Alvin Kamara too.
Green Bay at Arizona, Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET, FOX/NFLN. Likely that no game for the rest of this season will have two teams playing with a better combined record/win percentage than this one: 13-1, .929. I see a game played in the thirties. I’m interested in Packers coordinator Joe Barry’s plan to chase Kyler Murray. Whatever it is, it’s not going to be enough.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX. The Saints routed the Bucs twice last year, 34-23 and 38-3, and Tampa got even in the divisional round of the playoffs. Two of Drew Brees’ last five passes in the NFL were intercepted, putting an end to his career and to the Saints’ season. Now it’s up to Jameis Winston to be more efficient—ironically—than Brees was 10 months ago.
Pittsburgh at Cleveland, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS. This is suddenly a rivalry again. In the last three years: Cleveland 3, Pittsburgh 3, with one tie. If I’m Kevin Stefanski, I’m ignoring the bleatings of Baker Mayfield. He’s so beat up I’m playing Case Keenum for the foreseeable future.
Tennessee at Indianapolis, Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS. I know Johnathan Taylor’s been hot, but no one is in Derrick Henry’s world right now. Imagine being in range of a 1,000-yard season before the kids go out trick-or-treating. A big day this week at Lucas Oil could do it. By the way, whatever Matt Eberflus has been doing recently to try to stop Henry? I’d try something else. Henry’s last four games against the Colts: 135.8 average rush yards per game.
Dallas at Minnesota, Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC. Two teams coming off byes, so theoretically the Dalvin Cooks and Dak Prescotts—both gimpy because of injury—should be closer to full health by gametime. What a fun game, potentially. Prescott and Kirk Cousins, combined, are completing 71 percent of their throws with a rating over 110 and a 29 TDs.
Burrow’s great, of course.
There’s something else about him.
He has James Bond cool.