EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The consolation for the Raiders after stinking up the Meadowlands on Sunday? The NFL day was filled with good teams stinking on Sunday. Buffalo not scoring a touchdown against the Jaguars. Dallas getting smoked at home by Denver. (When I say “smoked,” I mean down-by-30 smoked.) Colt McCoy slapping around the Niners in a game San Francisco had to have. Kansas City and Rodgers-less Green Bay both playing like 5-12 teams. In the span of 15 days, Cincinnati turned from a playoff lock to the Akili Smith Bengals. And the Rams looked like lost sheep in the pasture of life Sunday night, manhandled by the Titans. Who saw these things coming?
As one coach texted me Sunday night, “Every week’s a life of its own in this league.”
So before I get too far into Overreaction Monday about the Raiders, I’m going to take a deep breath. Then I might overreact.
The Raiders are still in first place in the AFC West, where every team is either 5-3 (Vegas, Chargers) or 5-4 (KC, Denver). But there’s so much simmering on and below the surface with the Raiders, and you just wonder if it’s a matter of time before the whole thing implodes. Players don’t much care if the team president, Marc Badain, disappears without explanation in July. But when the head coach and voice of the organization, Jon Gruden, becomes a non-person in October, and then the best prospect the Raiders have drafted in a few years, wideout Henry Ruggs, causes the death of a woman and her dog (allegedly) in a fiery car wreck and wrecks his career in the process, and there are rumblings another first-round pick, Damon Arnette, could be in significant disciplinary trouble. I mean, how much more can one locker room take?
Four Raider players, after they lost to the Giants 23-16 Sunday, all said some form of what wideout Hunter Renfrow said: “Things happen in y’all’s lives, and y’all still professional and do a great job. Same thing with us. We can’t let that affect us, no matter what it is.”
“It’s all about the ball,” said an exasperated-sounding quarterback Derek Carr, who did not take care of it Sunday. “That’s why we lost. Please. Just talk about me turning the ball over.”
Carr’s probably right. In the first two games after the controversial removal of Gruden, Carr completed 80 percent of his throws and the Raiders beat Denver and Philly each by double-digits. Against the Giants, Carr badly overthrew Darren Waller twice in the end zone, threw an ugly pick-six in the third quarter, and threw an uglier interception way short of its target in the fourth quarter. So we’ll give Carr the L here, as he deserves.
And because the Raiders agreed to terms with speedy DeSean Jackson after the game—theoretically to replace one of the fastest men in football, Ruggs—there was a sense Sunday night of Everything’s gonna be fine.
But this thought occurred to me after one smart official from another NFL team asked me over the weekend: “Do you think it might be Vegas? I can tell you I’m glad I’m not working with a team in Vegas.”
At first glance, it seems like a conclusion-jump. But what if the city that rarely sleeps is really a detriment for team-building, and a detriment for young players flush with cash for the first time in their lives? Are young players in Cincinnati or Minneapolis or Green Bay or Seattle driving 156 mph in the streets at 3:30 on a Tuesday morning during the season? Or being tempted in other ways in a city that is awake at all hours?
No way of knowing, of course. And it’s not nearly as important as the death of a 23-year-old woman and her Golden Retriever in the car late at night.
But if I’m the Raiders, and I’m serious about being a long-term contender in Sin City, I’m turning over every rock to make sure the franchise stops screeching from one franchise-jarring piece of news to another. Raiders GM Mike Mayock, assuming he’s now at least the medium-term caretaker of the team, has to make that priority one as he goes forward. This franchise is crying out for stability, and Mayock’s job right now is to draft and construct and manage a team that makes it happen.
More about the Raiders in a minute, but first a look at how we got here.
Ever see a week like this one? Not that I recall. The week that was, with a hopscotching of time zones:
Monday, 10:30 a.m. Mountain time
Denver: Trade of the season
Von Miller, oblivious, was in the Broncos’ training facility, getting treatment on an ailing ankle Monday morning. The place was upbeat after Denver, shaky though the win was, toppled Washington the previous day to stay in playoff contention at 4-4. Miller got word to come to GM George Paton’s office. That’s where he learned he was being traded to the Rams. “I never saw it coming,” Miller said.
L.A. traded second- and third-round picks for Miller, and Denver agreed to pay $9 million of Miller’s remaining $9.7 million salary for the year to the cap-poor Rams. Miller’s new mates rejoiced, and Miller was happy too, to have one more chance at a ring. Before he left town, Miller left a lasting memory. He recorded a 12-minute video, thanking 51 different teammates and club employees by name. Touching to listen to it. For example: “Coach Richard Smith, he discovered me, he created Von Miller.” And: “They always say you can tell God is a Broncos fan because the sky is blue and orange.”
The last Super Bowl MVP to be a defensive player (Super Bowl 50, Denver over Carolina), Miller, 33, will likely retire a Bronco one day. For now, I expect he’ll be a spot player the rest of the regular season as the Rams try to get him to full health for the playoffs. For L.A., this trade was about January and February, not November.
Tuesday, 3:39 a.m. Pacific Time
Las Vegas: A heinous tragedy
Around midnight Monday, Raiders receiver Henry Ruggs texted QB Derek Carr, asking for some golf tips. Ruggs was hitting some golf shots at TopGolf in Las Vegas . . . and apparently drinking as well. He got in his Corvette about three hours later and did something that seems almost impossible to do, police said: Ruggs accelerated the car to 156 mph on a city street, then crashed into an SUV at about 127 mph moments later. The SUV burst into flames, and the driver, 23-year-old Tina Tintor, was killed in the fiery crash, as was her Golden Retriever, also in the vehicle. Prosecutors said Ruggs’ blood alcohol tested at twice the legal limit.
The arraigning judge, Las Vegas justice of the peace Joe Bonaventure, said in 16 years on the bench he hadn’t heard of a vehicle driving so fast on city streets. The Raiders cut Ruggs, the first receiver picked in what’s acknowledged as the best receiver draft in NFL history in 2020, later in the day. Ruggs’ worry now is not his football career. It’s how long a prison term he faces for charges of DUI resulting in death, DUI resulting in substantial bodily harm, and possessing a loaded weapon under the influence. In 38 seasons covering this game, I don’t remember an auto accident involving a player as heinous as this one.
Wednesday, 10:50 a.m. Central Time
Green Bay: Aaron Rodgers tests positive for Covid
Tom Pelissero tweeted that Rogers tested positive and would be out for the Packers’ game Sunday against Kansas City, meaning that he is unvaccinated. Whoa, whoa, whoa. In August, Rodgers told the Packers press corps he was “immunized,” and hasn’t been wearing a mask at indoor press conferences since reporting to the team in the summer. Those would both be signs that he got the vaccine. But a vaccinated player could still play on Sunday if he tested positive on Wednesday; all he’d need are two negative Covid tests before the game, and if he got those, he’d be clear to play. The fact that it’s acknowledged he’s out for Sunday meant only one thing: Rodgers never got the vaccine, and he either lied or purposely misled the press when he said he was immunized 10 weeks ago.
Thursday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern time
Cleveland: Beckham and the Browns are through
All heck broke loose at midday Wednesday when writer Mike Silver (can someone explain to me, please, why Silver—and I realize I am prejudiced here because I worked with him at Sports Illustrated—does not have a major gig covering this league when he keeps breaking stories?) tweeted that Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski told his players that Odell Beckham Jr. “is essentially not on the team right now.” Okay then. A day and a half later, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported that the deal was done. Cleveland would release Beckham after a recent history of low impact. In his last nine Browns games, he had 24 catches for 315 yards and zero touchdowns. Beckham used to score touchdowns as often as Tom Brady pounded electrolytes. (Which is to say, frequently.)
Friday, 1 p.m. Eastern Time
Green Bay: Rodgers speaks
In his “Twilight Zone TED Talk,” as Pro Football Talk called it, Rodgers talked about the woke mob, sterility, fertility, Joe Rogan, Ivermectin, CNN, Fox News, Martin Luther King Jr. In other words, in defending himself for being unvaccinated, he turned a football issue into a red-versus-blue issue, even if he did it unwittingly. (More about the impact of the craziest 46-minute “interview” of this or any recent NFL season later in this column.)
“It’s all become very divided,” said Dan Kasper, host of “The Dan Kasper Show” on Sports Talk 105.1 in Eau Claire, Wis. That’s central Wisconsin. Packer Country. “It’s become political. There were a lot of people calling in who were angry with him, and thought he should stick to football. But once he used the words ‘woke mob’ and ‘cancel culture,’ a lot of people flipped to Aaron’s side.” One more thing Kasper’s noticed: “People who never argued with each other before are now attacking each other.” Great!
I didn’t even mention Michael Thomas or Adrian Peterson (both covered down in 10 Things I Think I Think).
After the Henry Ruggs catastrophe last week, the first thoughts are about the 23-year-old woman, Tina Tintor, whose SUV was rear-ended in the horrific crash, and to her dog Max, a Golden Retriever. After the death of Tintor and the dog, the family set up a GoFundMe page, with a goal of $7,000. As of 12:45 a.m. ET today, 2,039 people across the world had contributed a total of $89,536.
It’s astounding that, in a part of a city with stoplights and traffic at all hours, a human being would choose to drive 156 mph, as the police allege Ruggs did. He’s likely (if not virtually certain) to serve prison time if found guilty for driving at that speed and striking Tintor’s vehicle and being at twice the legal limit for alcohol. “It’s something he’ll have to live with for the rest of his life,” Raiders interim coach Rich Bisaccia said last week. It’s something that will ruin his football career, or at least rob him of his prime. That pales in comparison to the death of Tintor, of course. But it’s part of the sordid story.
“I don’t know the right way to handle it,” said Carr, “but I’m doing my best.”
As for the football part of it, the elimination of Ruggs from the Raiders is a ruinous piece of Mike Mayock’s three-year puzzle to remake the team with high-quality, high-character players, mostly from huge football schools like Alabama and Clemson and Ohio State. It’s a major hit for Mayock.
Ruggs’ impact in his 1.5 years as a Raider was a mixed bag. When Ruggs was drafted as the top receiver in the 2020 wideout class, owner Mark Davis saw his friend Cliff Branch in Ruggs. Was he Branch? No, not yet. Could he have been Branch? Possibly, not certainly. His 18.42 yards per catch so far was Branch-like, but his production—50 catches, 921 yards and four TDs in 20 career games—was only half of a player drafted 10 spots lower, Justin Jefferson of the Vikings. One defensive position coach on a team that played the Raiders this year told me his team’s game plan was to take Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow away while singling Ruggs. “Carr loves Waller and trusts Renfrow,” this coach said. “He doesn’t look for Ruggs all that much.”
With that in mind, I went back over the weekend and looked at 2021 NFL GamePass video of Ruggs. In his last game as a Raider, in Week 7 against Philadelphia, Ruggs was targeted four times, all intermediate or short routes. The score was 7-7 at the two-minutes warning of the first half. After that point, Carr threw 16 passes. He never targeted Ruggs, and the Raiders beat Philadelphia 33-22. Still, during the game, FOX analyst Jonathan Vilma said of Ruggs: “He’s really starting to become a phenom in this NFL.”
I didn’t see it. I saw his two big-time plays this year—TD bombs that left great safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Justin Simmons flailing (literally) in the wake of the speedy Ruggs beating the Steelers and Broncos for long scores. But he seemed more puzzle piece than franchise receiver. It’s hard for a receiver who averaged 2.5 catches per game to be a franchise receiver.
The temptation was to call Ruggs a Tyreek Hill type of receiver—blinding, game-changing speed. But early on, the comparison were faulty. Since opening day 2020, Hill was targeted 229 times by Kansas City QBs, and Ruggs 79 times by the Raiders. Really, Hill was a physical presence, an all-around receiver and Jet-sweep threat. Ruggs was a guy who could take the top off a defense but didn’t have the ball in his hands enough—yet, at least—to be a great player.
So on Sunday, I watched Ruggs’ replacement, journeyman Zay Jones. His 4.46-second speed is good, but not Ruggs’ 4.27-second time from the 2020 Scouting Combine. And that’s what I noticed—Jones doesn’t have great separation ability. “Zay’s a great deep threat,” Renfrow said. “He can take the top off a defense as well.” Maybe, but I never saw it. I never saw Jones behind the deep safety, threatening the D with speed. Carr had 46 pass attempts against the Giants, and only four to Jones. The most consequential: With 5:19 remaining in the game and the Giants up 20-16, Jones sped up the right sideline toward midfield. He was covered closely by Giants cornerback James Bradberry, with safety Xavier McKinney lurking.
Now, Jones did a double-move, and he did have a step on Bradberry, and maybe an earlier throw by Carr would have found him. But Carr didn’t account for McKinney, lurking. “Earlier in the game, the Raiders ran the same route [not with Jones], the same double-move,” McKinney told me later. “The first time, it was definitely a back-shoulder throw. I knew the play all along and I was just waiting for him to throw it.” This time, it appeared Carr just underthrew Jones, and McKinney was there to pick Carr for a second time.
So now, presumably, the Raiders will rely on a mélange of Jones and DeSean Jackson to play Ruggs’ role. Jackson turns 35 in three weeks, and it’s unrealistic to think he’ll be an every-down player. Since opening day 2018, Jackson has averaged playing 29 snaps a game. Any more than that, and the Raider risk a savior blowing a tire and being lost for the playoff run.
Lots of moving parts for the Raiders now. I trust that Carr won’t be so gobsmacked by the loss of Ruggs that he falls into a slump that wrecks the Vegas season. With two games left against mysterious Kansas City, and roadies with Dallas, Cleveland and Indianapolis, the Raiders can’t wallow. And Carr, the biggest piece of the Raiders’ playoff puzzle, has to put aside the franchise mayhem—again—and try to make a talented-enough football team succeed. With the Raiders, now tragically, it’s never easy.
On Aaron Rodgers
I purposely did not want to write 6,000 words, as a proud member of the woke mob, to inundate the football world with the Rodgers story. But there are four points on the story I’d like to make:
1. He said there was a “witch hunt” in the media, trying to find out who was vaccinated and who wasn’t. There were questions asked of players about whether they were vaccinated, if that’s what a witch hunt is. There’s a reason for it. We saw it last week. America, and Packer nation, discovered out of the blue that Rodgers was out of an important game against Kansas City, and might be out against Seattle the following week. If a player tests positive, say, on a Friday and is unvaccinated, he will miss the next 10 days of team activities, meaning he will miss at least two games. That’s news. Reporters are going to ask about that, and rightfully so.
2. He said, “If the vaccine is so great, then how come people are still getting covid and spreading covid and, unfortunately dying of covid?” What an elementary question. We’ve known since the summer of the existence of breakthrough cases, which mean that people can get Covid after getting the vaccine—but those cases of Covid will almost certainly be mild. According to the CDC, unvaccinated people are 11 times more likely to die from Covid than vaccinated people who get breakthrough cases of the virus.
3. He said he hopes to be a father one day, and said the unknown of long-term vaccine effects on fertility was a factor in not getting the shot. There’s a greater risk, however, of infertility caused by getting Covid than by taking the vaccine, per the CDC.
4. He said he has consulted with his friend Joe Rogan, podcast host and comic, about what to take to stave off Covid. Rogan has never studied medicine, dropped out of UMass-Boston, and admitted that he’s neither a doctor not an expert in the field. Taking advice from a very opinionated man on Covid seems the same as Rodgers walking into the third row of the stands at Lambeau Field before a big third-down play and saying, “You’ve been a season-ticket holder for a long time, and you love football. What should we call on third down here?”
I continue to think a starting quarterback for a football team who makes $35 million a year—or whatever the salaries of Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Carson Wentz are—should think about all the lives they’re affecting by not getting the vaccine. Is it life and death to miss one or two football games? Of course not. But is there some overwhelming evidence that you’re doing such harm to yourself by being vaccinated that you’ll risk missing two games in the middle of a season?
Finally: As Adam Schefter reported Sunday, I’ve heard from three club officials that the NFL is letting Rodgers get away with things lesser-known players couldn’t get away with—that is, not wearing a mask at things like indoor press conference, even though he is not vaxxed. NFL executives have been asked to sign a document, weekly, professing that they will follow all NFL Covid protocols in team facilities. They’re dubious that the Packers are doing so. It’s a fine line the Packers are facing, another GM said: They don’t want to alienate Rodgers, in hopes of him wanting to stay in Green Bay at least one more season. But they are risking major team fines and discipline if they look the other way on Rodgers and masks.
The league has begun an investigation into the Packers’ mask protocol, one source told me. League officials, by right, can watch 30 days of video from the team’s training facility.
Five Games, Five Thoughts
• Josh Allen squared. “Josh Allen the quarterback doesn’t like to take sacks—and he’d taken a few,” said Jacksonville defensive coordinator Joe Cullen, explaining why the Buffalo QB made a terrible decision late in the third quarter, rushed by five Jaguars, and panic-threw a pass right into the arm of Jacksonville edge player Josh Allen. For the Buffalo quarterback to win, he was going to have to make some methodical drives . . . and plays like this interception made long drives very difficult. Cullen might have found a Buffalo kryptonite.
• Love v Mahomes. So now the Packers know Jordan Love isn’t ready for prime time. In fact, he’s not ready for a noon regional game either. This was the tell to me of Love’s inaccuracy: He completed six of 14 targets to the best receiver on the team, Davante Adams. You’d have to go back to 2017 to find a game when Aaron Rodgers completed less than 50 percent of his passes to Adams. That’s a problem. For Mahomes, the inconsistency continues—10 possessions in the final three quarters Sunday, zero touchdowns. Still, the division’s there if Andy Reid can figure things out. AFC West standings this morning: L.A. Chargers 5-3, Las Vegas 5-3, Kansas City 5-4, Denver 5-4.
• How’d the Titans scored 14 points in 11 seconds? With 12:21 left in the second quarterback, Ryan Tannehill threw a short TD pass to give Tennessee a 7-3 lead at the Rams—after Matthew Stafford threw a terrible interception trying to avoid a safety. The Rams got the ball back, and on first down, Stafford gift-wrapped another pick, this time a pick-six by Kevin Byard. Oh, and the Rams had 12 penalties for 115 yards. You can chalk this up as a bad day for the Rams, not a fatal one. But say this about Tennessee: that’s a pressure-packed defense with an all-pro interior player of the future—defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons. Here’s the big point for Tennessee coming out of this: It’s going to be almost impossible for the Colts to catch the Titans in the division now. The Titans have a three-game lead and have four games left against teams with two wins: Houston, Jacksonville, Miami, at Houston.
• “DBU.” That what Xavier McKinney calls Alabama, with its tradition of training defensive backs (Marlon Humphrey, Trevon Diggs, Kareem Jackson, Pat Surtain, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Landon Collins) for the NFL. McKinney had two interceptions of Derek Carr in the 23-16 Giants upset of the Raiders Sunday. His pick-six was notable for the lack of excitement McKinney showed. “Alabama prepared us for moments like this,” McKinney said post-game. “I try not to get too excited. I’ve been there before, and I don’t want to waste energy I’ll need later in the game.” McKinney’s instincts on both picks showed what a special talent his anticipation is.
• 30-0. I can’t think of anything more stunning in all the Sunday strangeness than that score. With five minutes left in Arlington Sunday, those who were rushing to the exits looked up and saw Denver 30, Dallas 0. Two garbage scores made it 30-16. This was the most significant part of the game to me: In the first seven minutes, in Denver territory, Dallas had fourth-and-short twice, and both times went for the first downs. Both times the Cowboys failed, once on a Zeke Elliott run, one on a Dak Prescott pass. Denver played that solidly without its two defensive stars—the traded Von Miller, and the injured Bradley Chubb. Vic Fangio’s D is gold, and he might be saving his job at the same time.
Tonight’s Bears-Steelers game is the 136th of the season, the exact midpoint of the 272-game slate of games. So it’s a pretty good time to take stock of where the football season in 2021 is headed. First: This was the strangest Sunday of the season. Best to take everything into account—Dallas is more mortal than we thought, Buffalo has some offensive issues—without burying the teams that had shown a good eight-week résumé.
Looking back on predictions
It hasn’t been such a weird year, or maybe I’m just clairvoyant. Before the season, here’s how I picked the playoff seeds and the main things:
AFC: Buffalo, Kansas City, Tennessee, Cleveland, New England, L.A. Chargers, Baltimore.
NFC: Tampa Bay, Green Bay, L.A. Rams, Dallas, San Francisco, New Orleans, Seattle.
Super Bowl XLI: Rams 30, Bills 27.
MVP: Matthew Stafford, QB, Rams.
Things I’d change this morning:
• Kansas City out of the playoffs, Chargers winning the AFC West, Raiders the sixth seed in the playoffs
• Baltimore winning the AFC North and switching spots with Cleveland in the AFC seeding race
• In the NFC, Dallas replacing Green Bay as the two seed, Arizona replacing the Rams as the three seed, and Green Bay moving to the four seed. The Rams replace San Francisco as the five seed.
Things I would not change:
• Rams beating Buffalo in the Super Bowl.
• Stafford winning MVP.
Things I missed:
• KC struggling with a defense much worse than I thought, and an offense more limited than at any time in the Mahomes era.
• Arizona rising. Great D, efficient and explosive quarterback, excellent roster depth.
• The NFC seven seed possibly being an 8-9 team.
• Washington’s D allowing 28 points a game on the way to being 2-6
• The emergence of Trevon Diggs; Ja’Marr Chase being such an early star; an Andy Reid team being minus-9 in turnover margin after nine games; Seattle giving up more than 400 yards a game; Mac Jones with a better yards per attempt (7.1) than Patrick Mahomes (7.0) and Josh Allen (7.0).
• The Carolina D, behind unknown coordinator Phil Snow, being a top-three defense for the entirety of the first two months
• Maxx Crosby’s ascent to greatness in Las Vegas.
Aside from Kansas City’s regression to the mean and Arizona being better on offense and defense than anyone thought, it hasn’t been a year of big surprises on the field.
Bullish on these teams in the second half
1. Dallas. We said before the year that if the Cowboys were even decent on D, they’d be a force. At 18th in yards allowed and with young stars Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs making big plays, and with six division games left in a lousy division, the Cowboys should brush off the ugly Denver showing.
2. New England. One coach told me over the weekend he thinks the Patriots are better than the Bills. “Excellent, deep defense,” he said, “and Mac Jones is every bit as good as Joe Burrow.” Interesting. The Pats are a half-game behind Buffalo, but there’s one important standings factor to remember: Buffalo hasn’t played the Jets yet, and New England has finished with the Jets. Jones has been terrific, quickly. Bills-Pats, twice in 21 days in December, should be fun.
3. New Orleans. Even without Jameis Winston, I like the Saints to be a 12-win team. With a defense giving up less than 20 points a game, the offense has to be just above average, and a Sean Payton attack will always be that.
Second-half players to watch
1. Odell Beckham. Not sure how good he still is, and I figure it’s most logical he lands in New Orleans or Seattle this week, but he’ll be sure to be an attention-magnet wherever he is.
2. Christian McCaffrey. Before he tweaked his hammy early in Week 3, he’d been productive: 324 yards in the first two weeks. He makes Sam Darnold a lot better because he gives the Panthers offense a consistent dangerous hot receiver.
3. Jeffery Simmons. The interior defensive force for Tennessee had a career game Sunday night against the Rams’ very forgiving offensive front. The three-sack night should be a sign of things to come for the 2019 first-round pick.
5. Rashawn Slater. Pairing rookie left tackle Slater with ex-Steeler Matt Feiler at left guard has solidified that side of the Chargers’ line. Slater’s allowed only two sacks and two QB hits in the first half of his rookie season.
Offensive Players of the Week
Colt McCoy, quarterback, Arizona. No Kyler Murray, no DeAndre Hopkins, no A.J. Green. But Colt McCoy, yes. Pressed into service because an injury scratched Kyler Murray on Sunday, McCoy didn’t look like a guy who started five games in the past 6.5 years. He looked well-groomed and ready to lead one of the best teams in football. Playing a desperate 49er team in Santa Clara, McCoy completed 18 of his first 21 throws (for a 143.4 rating), airing out a 50-yarder to Christian Kirk in the first half and connecting with running back James Conner for a 45-yard TD throw early in the third quarter. The Cardinals might have thought they had a good backup, a vet ready to play competitively in the NFL. Now, after this decisive McCoy-led win, they know they have one.
Justin Herbert, quarterback, L.A. Chargers. Young quarterbacks have ups and downs in the NFL, and Herbert’s mostly had ups . . . till the last couple of games, when the Ravens and Patriots got the best of him, decisively. Herbert turned the tables Sunday in Philadelphia. Herbert led the Chargers with a 32-of-38 performance for 356 yards and three TDs—two passing, one running. The win over the Eagles left the Chargers tied for first in the tightest division race in football.
Jonathan Taylor, running back, Indianapolis. I know the Colts were playing the NFL’s Hartford Yard Goats (so what does that make the Bengals, exactly?), but it’s fairly impressive against any NFL ballclub, even the Jets, that a running back goes for 18 carries, 172 yards and two touchdown runs in 40 minutes. With Derrick Henry gone for at least two months, Taylor inherits the mantle as the best active running back in the NFL.
Defensive Players of the Week
Jeffery Simmons, defensive tackle, Tennessee. Writing about the best defensive tackle in a Rams game, and it’s NOT Aaron Donald? That’s how good Simmons was Sunday night, wrecking the Los Angeles offense on what seemed like every down. He finished the night with three sacks of Stafford. If the NFL world wasn’t aware how good Simmons and the Titans defense was before last night, they are very much clued in now.
BULLRUSH. BULLDOG. 🐶 @GrindSimmons94
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) November 8, 2021
Josh Allen, edge rusher, Jacksonville. It figures that Josh Allen would be a Defensive Player of the Week after tormenting Josh Allen, intercepting Josh Allen and sacking Josh Allen and adding eight tackles and forcing a fumble. Greatest game of Josh Allen’s young career—and I don’t mean the more famous Josh Allen.
Xavier McKinney, safety, N.Y. Giants. He picked a good time for his best game in pro football. The second-year man out of Alabama gave the Giants a 17-13 lead with a 41-yard pick-six off Derek Carr early in the third quarter. Then, with five minutes to go, he waited, waited, waited for the right time to break on a Carr throw that was shy of Zay Jones at midfield. Once the ball was in the air, McKinney grabbed it and spoiled a second Raider rally of the half. McKinney’s pretty smart for a second-year player. No coincidence he played alongside Pat Surtain and Trevon Diggs at Alabama—and under Nick Saban.
J.C. Jackson, cornerback, New England. Perhaps the most unheralded cornerback in the league should be heralded. Jackson, the NFL’s interception leader since 2018, picked off the slumping Sam Darnold twice, returning one for an 88-yard touchdown that gave New England a 21-6 lead.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Kene Nwangwu, kick returner, Minnesota. His 98-yard kick return for touchdown to start the second half in Baltimore gave the Vikings a 24-10 lead, their second 14-point lead of the day. Coming against a team with a reputation for good special-teams play, it was an especially important play for the rookie fourth-rounder from Iowa State, drafted largely to be a key special-teamer. That pick by GM Rick Spielman showed its worth with this one play.
Coaches of the Week
Joe Cullen, defensive coordinator, Jacksonville. Cullen’s D held one of football’s most explosive offenses and quarterbacks to zero touchdowns and 301 yards, with four sacks and two interceptions. Jacksonville allowed only one drive of more than 50 yards. Talked to Cullen post-game, and he said a big help for the Jags D in this game was the experience he had in Baltimore as defensive line coach in the past two years. “We played the Bills twice, and we got to them and their tendencies from studying them a lot,” Cullen said after the upset of the year—Jags 9, Bills 6. In 2019, Baltimore held Josh Allen to a 44-percent passing day in a 24-17 Ravens win. Last year, in a divisional playoff game, Buffalo won 17-3, but only 10 of those points were scored by the Buffalo offense. “We brought edge pressure, rushing four, and we brought nickel pressure at times too,” Cullen said. “[Buffalo QB] Josh Allen is a younger Ben Roethlisberger, with speed. The key to beating them is to limit explosive plays.” Good lessons and a good game plan by Cullen.
JOSH ALLEN PICKED OFF BY JOSH ALLEN 🤯
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 7, 2021
Kliff Kingsbury, coach, Arizona. Playing without their best two offensive players (Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins), Arizona had 31 points and 437 total yards. Kingsbury’s plan to use Colt McCoy optimally and to be sure he featured the emerging James Conner in the running and passing game worked perfectly, and the Cards are 8-1.
Goat of the Week
Sam Darnold, quarterback, Carolina. The Panthers’ long-term quarterback job was Darnold’s for the taking after the trade from the Jets last offseason. Darnold, entering the season, could have staved off Carolina trading for a bigger name or drafting one in 2022. He hadn’t done enough in the first eight weeks of the season to claim the job, and he’d need a great second half to win the job. That may have gone out the window for good Sunday. Darnold, down 14-6 midway through the third quarter, had driven Carolina to the New England 20, when he rolled left and threw right into the gut of New England cornerback J.C. Jackson. He picked it cleanly and ran it back 88 yards for an insurance touchdown. Darnold threw three interceptions in a disastrous—and possibly future-defining—performance as the Panthers got trounced.
“It would have been nice if he had just come to the Naval Academy and learned how to be honest. Learned not to lie. Because that’s what you did, Aaron. You lied to everyone.”
—Hall of Fame QB Terry Bradshaw, on the FOX pregame show Sunday, referring to Aaron Rodgers.
“We got thumped. This feeling sucks.”
—Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, with the understatement of Sunday after Denver’s shocking 30-16 beatdown of the previously 6-1 Cowboys in Texas.
“They thought I was a quack.”
—Aaron Rodgers, on “The Pat McAfee Show,” on how he felt the NFL looked at him when he told the league he was immunized homeopathically.
“I’m in the crosshairs of the woke mob right now, so before the final nail gets put in my cancel culture casket, I’d like to set the record straight on some of the blatant lies that are out there about me now.”
—Aaron Rodgers, to McAfee.
“The best version of yourselves is pretty damn good.”
—Jags head coach Urban Meyer, speaking to his team after the 9-6 upset of Buffalo.
“We would like to see a little bit more from those guys … Sometimes Chase [Young] starts outside and cuts inside because he’s trying to make a play, and the quarterback gets flushed to the outside. If Chase stays outside, he’s got an easy sack.”
—WFT coach Ron Rivera, on his two star pass-rushers, Chase Young and Montez Sweat, to Mike Silver, writing on the WFT website.
Young has 1.5 sacks in eight games. Among NFL edge players who have played at least 200 snaps against the pass, he’s the league’s 24th-rated edge player.
“Oh my gosh! Hi, fox.”
—Sideline reporter Stormy Buonantony, on the USC-Arizona State football game Saturday night in Tempe, as a fox, in the middle of the first quarter, sprinted from the field to the sidelines, past Buonantony and up the stairs of Sun Devil Stadium.
As of this morning:
Updating a recent note with something even more surprising:
On draft day 2018, Bradley Chubb was picked fifth overall by Denver, drafted to form the best pass-rush tandem in football with Von Miller. With Miller shipped to the Rams now, it can now be said that this Super-Pass-Rush-Combo-Platter idea was a major bomb. In the last 36 Broncos games Chubb and Miller played for Denver, between Oct. 1, 2019 and the day Miller was traded, they were on the field together for one half of one game—in Week 2 this year at Jacksonville.
My first trip to the Meadowlands to cover a football game was in 1985, working the Giants beat for Newsday. On Sunday, 36 years later, I took mass transit to a game there for the first time.
The tick-tock of it:
10:05 a.m. Leave apartment in Brooklyn. Board 3 train (the subway) for Penn Station in Manhattan.
10:54 a.m. Trailing two guys in Raider jerseys—PLUNKETT 16 and CARR 4—I board a New Jersey Transit train to Secaucus. Twelve minutes.
11:18 a.m. Transfer to another NJ Transit train for the stadium. Through the swamps we go. “Jesus!” the guy in a BAVARO 89 jersey says, looking out the window. “Somebody’s fishin’ out there!” Indeed, two guys in a small boat in more than a sliver of water have their lines out. Chatter-fest on the train. “RAI-ders!” one guy yells, trying to get a chant going. Nope.
11:31 a.m. Ahhhh, Paterson Plank Road. Missed you. Arrive at MetLife Stadium.
11:50 a.m. Back in the MetLife press box. Took a selfie with my old Newsday buddy Bob Glauber and kibbitzed with Mike Vaccaro, Mark Cannizzaro and Steve Serby of the Post. Good to be back.
— Bob Glauber (@BobGlauber) November 7, 2021
The Chiefs and 49ers are kinda sorta suffering from the same issue which is they spent a lot of time and resources on trying to solve one problem and did not notice their many other problems.
— Kevin Clark (@bykevinclark) November 7, 2021
Clark covers the NFL for The Ringer.
— Desean Jackson (@DeSeanJackson10) November 7, 2021
Jackson, the new Raider, evidently is happy about it.
6 cases across 6.8 million doses
All of whom were young women between 18-48
And the vaccine was back after a total of 11 days
Critical thinker https://t.co/YpL3TKwQWg
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) November 5, 2021
Barnwell covers the NFL for ESPN.
The NFL leading touchdown scorer is…
James Conner. pic.twitter.com/9vbB1vGSlF
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) November 7, 2021
I see that the Packers have been immunized against reaching the end zone.
— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) November 7, 2021
Marc Carig covers baseball for The Athletic.
Bottom line is Baker and the Browns are more comfortable running their offense and better statistically without OBJ. Moral of the story is don’t trade for a guy on a 5 year $90 million deal and not make the offense revolve around him.
— Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) November 5, 2021
Robert Griffin III is a former NFL quarterback and current ESPN football analyst.
Dear @BusterPosey, you are a rare bird.
You have what most of us MLB players never did, true perspective. You didn’t bow down & worship the game of baseball as if it were your God. In the eyes of @SFGiants fans, you walked on water but to you, it was just a game you loved to… pic.twitter.com/aPrmHrsPTu
— Barry Zito (@barryzitomusic) November 4, 2021
The former Giants southpaw, Barry Zito, with a lovely thread about catcher Buster Posey, who retired in his prime Thursday.
Which brings me to this cool newspaper page …
Few athletes can turn the Sporting Green to Giants Orange. pic.twitter.com/Ye9dpEczHg
— Emilio Garcia-Ruiz (@garciaruize) November 4, 2021
Garcia-Ruiz is editor in chief of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Kudos to photojournalist Scott Strazzante for the superb shot of Buster Posey, and to the design team at the paper for this tremendous page.
Many of you corrected me on the “H. AARON” jersey I saw in Atlanta. I pointed out how silly it was that an Atlanta fan had a jersey with “H. AARON” on the back. The reason was that Hank Aaron played with his brother Tommie Aaron on the same team in Milwaukee and Atlanta for parts of six seasons. So bad call by me, and my apologies. You can reach me, as always, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @peter_king.
This Packer fan has had enough of Aaron Rodgers. From Skip Roloff: “Submitted by a 78-year-old retired US Navy vet with 26 years active service/Packer season ticket holder who saw his first Packer game in 1954 in old City Stadium versus the Steelers. Given the opportunity to dine at Packer Nation’s Deli, from the following menu: Diva, narcissist, petulant, self-centered, whiner, tone-deaf, #12 Super Deluxe Combo (all of the above), my selection, in keeping with the news, would be to make mine the #12 Super Deluxe Combo. It saddens me to no end someone blessed with such immense talent can persuade himself to believe we fans would stomach his vitriol on being held to account for his deceit. I don’t have any earthly idea what forthcoming chapters of his It’s A Beautiful Mystery book might hold, but for me, I’ve read enough.”
I sense your anger, Skip. You are not alone.
Bill says Rodgers lied. From Bill Brown: “Aaron Rodgers was asked point blank if he was vaccinated. He replied, ‘Yes, I’m immunized.’ [The actual reply was, ‘Yeah, I’ve been immunized.’] People seem to be focusing on the wordplay of saying ‘immunized’ instead of ‘vaccinated.’ I’m more focused on the flat-out lie when he answered yes. Nothing clever about it.”
Rodgers clearly left people with the belief that he’d been vaccinated. If he was not going to answer the questions, he should have said no comment. But once he decides to answer the question and the first word in the answer is “yeah,” then he’s got to absolutely be clear about what he did instead of obfuscating and claiming some woke culture is trying to get him.
Rodgers and the Hall of Fame. From Robert S. Ruby: “I was curious how the current Aaron Rodgers current would affect his Hall of Fame candidacy. He is unequivocally a first ballot HOFer. However, lying about receiving the COVID vaccine, disregarding NFL protocols, and putting teammates at risk is egregious enough to me to earn a multiple-game suspension and hefty fine. If Rodgers were to be suspended for multiple games, do you think HOF voters pass on electing him on the first ballot? I think the HOF voters should send a message when he is up for election.”
When voting for players, the 49 Hall of Fame selectors are told to consider what happened on the field, and what happened on the field only. Now, that can be stretched, sometimes, to include important things like leadership. Plus, each of the 49 voters is not cross-examined on why he voted a certain way, so it’s difficult to ensure a voter follows the rules to a T. As for me, this Rodgers affair wouldn’t have much if anything to do with my vote, if I were to be on the panel then. It’s sordid and it causes Rodgers to miss an important game, but I don’t think it rises to something that would have significant legs when his career is measured in its entirety whenever he comes up for election.
The death of a ref. From Patrick Kelleher, of Charleston, S.C.: “Terrific and well-written story on the passing of Carl Madsen. I was particularly engrossed by the details of his last hours of life. The tick-tock of his last game, last meal, last human contact with the security guard all serve as reminders that this could all end at any second. Are we ready? I am sure that it is some small comfort to his family that Mr. Madsen was doing something that he loved on his last day on Earth. May we all be so lucky. Keep the human-interest stories coming.”
Someone else wrote and asked why I choose to write about a replay official instead of all the other big events of the week. I guess it’s because Carl Madsen chased his life’s dream, officiated in the NFL for 25 years, yet no one has any idea who he is. There’s something about that, to me, that is sad. Madsen’s football life is worth something. That’s why I wrote about a man who died two hours after working the last football game of his life. Thanks for the note, Patrick.
The Saints’ QB situation. From James Philion, of Ottawa, Ontario: “Why didn’t the Saints trade for Teddy Bridgewater at the deadline?”
Four reasons, James:
1. The Saints are one of two teams in the NFL with less than $1 million in cap room. To sign Bridgewater, they’d need to re-do one or more contracts to push cap money into the future. The team has already done a lot of that.
2. The Broncos, I’m sure, wouldn’t have wanted to trade Bridgewater unless the return was, say, a third-round pick. The Saints wouldn’t have given that.
3. New Orleans probably figures they have two quarterbacks on the roster that Sean Payton trusts nearly as much as, or more than, Bridgewater.
4. Denver’s tangentially in the playoff race, even though the team’s not very good. You don’t want to give away your starting quarterback without significant return if you’re on the edge of the playoffs.
“Thrifty.” From Michael Medes: “I enjoy your column every Monday and have for years. I am just curious about your trip to the World Series. You totally questioned why Thrifty rental car was ripping you off with no mention of how much the World Series ticket cost? I am guessing the price might have been higher than normal? You constantly write about fancy coffee and fancy beer. How much was a beer at the game? None of those products are overpriced? So Starbucks can over-charge but a car rental place is evil for making money?”
Thanks for reading, Michael. So the tickets to the World Series cost me $500 apiece. I assume that is about normal for the championship series of a major sport, maybe even a little less given secondary market sales. (Of course, it’s a lot less than the Super Bowl.) Since Covid hit, the cost of rental cars has more than doubled. Compared to pre-pandemic, car rentals are outrageous in cost. As for the price of beer, the 16-ounce can of Sweetwater Pale Ale was $14 at the game. That’s a lot, but probably in keeping with costs for a World Series ballpark beer.
1. I think there is a big Fox game Nov. 28, Rams at Packers. And I think I’d like, in all the hours of pre-game fare that day, to see one thing above all: Terry Bradshaw interviewing Aaron Rodgers.
2. I think Arthur Smith is getting an awful lot out of the Atlanta Falcons.
3. I think this Michael Thomas timeline would give pause to any GM pondering a mega-contract for a great player:
Dec. 29, 2019. In a rout of the Panthers, Thomas finished one of the great receiving seasons of all time, setting the NFL single-season record with 149 receptions. Jerry Rice’s career high was 108. It was Thomas’ first season in a five-year, $96-million contract.
Sept. 13, 2020. Thomas suffered a high ankle sprain in the season-opener and missed the next six games.
Oct. 10, 2020. Thomas, recuperating from the ankle injury, punched a teammate in practice and was suspended for one game.
Dec. 13, 2020. His regular season ended after seven unimpactful games with the bad ankle. He returned for one playoff game, but the ankle was never right.
July 23, 2021. Ian Rapoport reported Thomas underwent ankle surgery in June, months after the team wanted him to. Relations between team and superstar: bad.
Nov. 3, 2021. Thomas tweeted that he’d had a setback with the ankle and will need another surgery. Out for the year. For the 32 regular-season games in 2020 and ’21, Thomas will total seven games played, 40 catches, no touchdowns.
4. I think, in case you’re wondering (and I am), this is Thomas’ contract situation for 2022: If the Saints keep him, his cap number will be $24.7-million, which is about 12 percent of the team’s cap. If the Saints release him next spring, they’ll take a $22.7-million cap hit.
5. I think Cleveland cornerback Denzel Ward made a great defensive play Sunday. Cincinnati took the opening kick 75 yards to the doorstep of a touchdown to take the opening edge on AFC North rival Cleveland. Joe Burrow, from the Browns’ 3-yard line, flipped a throw to the short right to Ja’Marr Chase. Based on what we’d seen in the first two months of the season, Burrow-to-Chase was a good bet for a touchdown here. But Ward stepped in front of Chase near the pylon on the right side of the goal line, picked it off at the 1-yard line and raced 99 yards for a touchdown, faking Burrow to the ground in the process. Beautiful play. For the day, per Pro Football Focus, Ward allowed one 11-yard completion and a 0.0 passer rating when targeted.
DENZEL WARD TOOK IT 100 YARDS FOR THE PICK-SIX
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 7, 2021
6. I think you’ll scoff when I tell you what I thought was a hugely impressive win this weekend. Colts 45, Jets 30. Follow me: Colts won a tough Sunday-nighter at San Francisco in Week 7. Landed back in Indy at 6:45 a.m. Monday. Had only walk-through practices Wednesday and Thursday because of the physical state of the players. At home in Week 8, lost an emotional 66-minute division game to Tennessee, with two terrible interceptions late leading to the loss. Prepped for a Thursday night game. Scored TDs on six of first seven possessions on the way to a 42-10 lead over the Jets. How’d they have that much left in the tank?
7. I think I don’t want to say Adrian Peterson, now an active Tennessee Titan, has been playing forever or anything, but:
• The losing coach in the first NFL game Peterson played was Bobby Petrino.
• Lawyer Milloy tackled Peterson three times in that first game, in 2007.
• In his fifth game, in Chicago, Peterson rushed for 67-, 73-, and 35-yard TDs. That’s good, because Devin Hester had an 89-yard punt return and an 81-yard TD pass (from Brian Griese) that day.
• In his eighth game, against Norv Turner’s San Diego Chargers, Peterson rushed for 296 yards.
• In the Pro Bowl after his rookie year in 2007, he was the game MVP with 119 yards rushing against a starting defense that included men who today have become Tennessee’s head coach and San Francisco’s GM and defensive coordinator—Mike Vrabel, John Lynch and DeMeco Ryans.
8. I think there’s one other way to look at Peterson’s longevity: Mike Vrabel became a coach in Peterson’s fifth NFL season. Now, in Peterson’s 15th season, Vrabel has been a coach for 11 years—and is Peterson’s head coach.
9. I think I don’t want to go too deep into this, but Robert Saleh told the FOX crew (Joe Buck/Troy Aikman), that this is the “best defensive line room he’s been a part of,” per Aikman on Thursday night’s telecast. Saleh’s a good guy, with a chance to turn around a moribund franchise. But let’s examine that statement.
Jets are dead last in the NFL in team defense and points allowed per game. In 2019, Saleh was the defensive coordinator in San Francisco. The Niners’ defensive front, featuring Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Dee Ford, was doubtless the league’s best. The Jets have just surrendered 54, 31 and 45 points the last three outings, and the Colts called off the dogs with 20 minutes to go.
Maybe Saleh was referring to the character of his men when he referred to the “best defensive line room” he’s had. But I’m dubious of that. How are we to trust real praise from Saleh if he says that about the front of a defense that’s the worst in football?
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Story of the Fall: “My Father the Hitman,” by James Dolan, for “D” Magazine.
b. I mean, the title of the story itself reels you in.
c. The story does not disappoint. James Dolan, the son of gangster Doc Dolan, who might have been connected to the Kennedy assassination, is semi-tormented by the impact of his mostly absent deceased father on his life. Writes James Dolan:
“One night after a few beers, Doc told me a story about a machine he once sold to suckers. This machine, with the turn of a crank, would print perfect $100 bills. Thing was, it didn’t really print them. The machine spit out bills that had been loaded into it before its demonstration, just enough to convince the buyer. He told me the marks paid big bucks for a counterfeit counterfeiting machine.
“Did the machine actually exist? I don’t know. But his pantomime of how it worked was believable, and, what’s more, I wanted to believe it—in the same way I wanted to believe when I was a kid that Davy Crockett killed a bear with his bare hands. If he actually sold the machine, even once, that feat of grift put him in the pantheon. Telling the story, his eyes sparkled with mirth while I filled with pride and laughed along with him.
But beneath the laughter and the shame-shaded pride, I was sad. No, it was something else: pity. This brilliant, witty, handsome, charismatic man had accomplished nothing. He left his wife to raise his children on her own while he roamed the country committing murders, arson, armed robbery, and who knows what else.
d. TV Story of the Week: Lester Holt of NBC Nightly News takes a trip into the DEA’s secret vault to see the vast stash of fentanyl pills the organization has intercepted. But as Holt notes, it’s not enough.
e. Holt interviews an agent who shows how easy it is to get the pills online—faux-ordering over her phone, arranging for the order and the pickup. It’s maddeningly simple. And it takes just one pill to make a mistake you’ll never recover from.
f. Story of the Week: “Why Sesame Street is More Vital Than Ever,” by David Kamp for the Wall Street Journal magazine.
g. If you’ve watched much Sesame Street over time—I can vividly recall daughter Mary Beth, at 2-and-a-half maybe, on our couch in Lincoln Park, N.J., thumb in mouth, favorite blanket on her lap, being transfixed by Grover and Big Bird, and me cat-napping next to her—you know that the episodes are not particularly timely. They’re everlasting. But when the pandemic hit and the show was nearing the end of taping for its 51st season, things changed. Kids, stuck in the house, needed coping mechanisms. The show’s CEO, Steve Youngwood, saw quickly that the deliberate planning for the show had to be amended. Wrote Kamp:
The arrival of the pandemic afforded no such luxury of time. “I remember very vividly turning on the TV…it was still the teens of March, and seeing some of the late-night people filming from home,” Youngwood says. “You’re like, ‘Huh—if they can do it, why can’t we do it?’ I remember calling up or texting [creative director] Kay [Wilson Stallings], ‘Get the Muppets home to the puppeteers. Send them some cameras.’ ”
Within 10 days, Sesame Street had posted its first lockdown-specific content to its YouTube channel: a simple one-minute video in which Elmo offered a “virtual hug” to his viewers, the red fur of his torso filling the screen as he merrily hopped forward. Though the Workshop, in the weeks to come, would provide its puppeteers with mini sets and green screens, Ryan Dillon, who performs Elmo, made do with his own wrinkled curtains for a backdrop.
Just three weeks later, the Workshop released a new half-hour special, Sesame Street: Elmo’s Playdate, complete with a Zoom-like videoconferencing interface and scripted technical glitches. (Grover entered the meeting with his mic off and then accidentally flipped his image upside down.) Such is Sesame Street’s cultural capital that the Workshop was able to draft Tracee Ellis Ross, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Anne Hathaway to appear on short notice and describe how they were coping with sheltering in place.
h. Again, Sesame Street is there for kids, as it has been a half-century.
i. If the over in Yale-Brown had been 100, and you took the over, you’d have won.
j. Yale 63, Brown 38.
k. Six seems about right for Cincinnati, though I don’t follow the college game much.
l. Purdue beat number two Iowa by 17, beat number three Michigan State by 11. Minnesota lost to Bowling Green and Illinois. So of course Minnesota beat Purdue.
m. Congrats, Atlanta, for the World Series win. More than ever, baseball is about who gets hot in October, not who is X games above .500 in July. Atlanta, a .500 team at the season’s midpoint, won it all. This Series was so interesting because it showcased teams not hung up on starting pitching, at all. I wonder if, going forward, great bullpen arms—guys who can pitch effectively three or four times a week, an inning or more at a pop—will become as important, or more, than regular starters?
n. I missed this last week, but how cool must it have been to the hockey-mad folks of Seattle to see the Canadiens come into town to play a game—and to watch the Kraken beat Montreal 5-1?
o. Thanks, Jeff Agrest of the Chicago Sun-Times, for recognizing rising star Emily Kaplan. Cool story.
p. One of the people who has been closest to our family since our move East in 1985, Marcy Fost, surrogate grandmother to Laura and Mary Beth King/close friend to Ann and Peter King, died the other day at home in Bloomfield, N.J. May we all have someone like Marcy in our lives—someone who saw the great (not just good) in every child, someone who was unbendingly optimistic about the future, someone who showed every day of her life that giving is far more rewarding than receiving. The world will miss you, Marcy.
Pittsburgh 27, Chicago 16. Lord keep Justin Fields safe tonight. The Steelers have four top-15-rated players in Pro Football Focus metrics on their front seven, led by Cam Heyward (first among defensive interior players, ahead of Aaron Donald by one-tenth of a rating point), and T.J. Watt (fourth among all Edge players). Aside from highly rated left tackle Jason Peters, the Bears have no offensive linemen rated in the top 30 at their position, and Fields entered the weekend as the lowest-rated QB in the league, per PFF.
For the Bears to win, this is going to have to be a low-scoring affair, and I cannot see a defense—again without Khalil Mack—that has allowed 71 points the past two weeks shutting down the Steelers. There is one thing in Chicago’s favor, and that’s the likely activation of ace running back David Montgomery, who was a top-10 back in the league at the time he went down with a knee injury Oct. 3.
Seattle at Green Bay, Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS. Imagine the breath-holding in TV-ratings-land for this big game. The QB matchup will either be Russell Wilson at Aaron Rodgers, or Geno Smith at Jordan Love, or some iteration of that, and we won’t know for sure till Saturday, when Rodgers is eligible to return to the Packers if he tests negative for Covid. No one will know about Wilson’s prospects for this week till he throws in earnest at practice Wednesday. Today’s the one-month mark since his surgery to repair multiple injuries to his right middle finger.
Kansas City at Las Vegas, Sunday, 8:20 p.m., NBC. This is the 125th time the two lovebirds have met, dating back to 1960. Andy Reid’s 13-3 against the Raiders since taking the KC job in 2013, but the Raiders are catching up. Last year, the teams split, with Vegas outscoring Kansas City 71-67.
Cleveland at New England, Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS. Want to feel old? Bill Belichick last coached the Browns 26 years ago. He was 43 when whacked by Art Modell; now he’s 69, five months shy of turning 70. Apropos of nothing: I’ll tell you what I’ll never forget about that last season in Cleveland, 1995, when Modell announced in midseason he was moving the team to Baltimore after the season. I covered the first game after his announcement, 26 years ago this week at Cleveland Stadium, a 37-10 rout of the Browns by the Houston Oilers. That crowd was venomous. Fans gathered outside the Browns locker room post-game screaming: “GIVE US MODELL! BRING US MODELL!” The scene was weird, sad, angry. Afterward, I saw Jim Brown, who told me it was “like the game we had to play after Kennedy got killed.” Anyway, for the Browns, this trip to Foxboro to see their old friend Belichick is a big game 26 years later, playoff hopes in the balance.
New Orleans at Tennessee, Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS. Two very interesting six-win teams trying to overcome the loss of offensive stalwarts in Week 8. I say the challenge for the Titans will be a bigger one. Entering this weekend, here were the backs with the most carries in the NFL since opening day 2019:
Derrick Henry, 900.
Ezekiel Elliott, 663.
Dalvin Cook, 660.
Los Angeles Rams at San Francisco, Monday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN. McVay-Shanahan is always fun. Kyle leads Sean 5-3 since the good friends began meeting in 2017. Now, you don’t want to call any week 10 game a must win, but the Niners are in a division from hell, have been struggling to get over .500 for a month, and have roadies with Seattle, Cincinnati, Tennessee and the Rams in the last six weeks. In order to make the playoffs, they’ve got to win some unlikely ones. Like, right now.
Byes: Chicago, Cincinnati, Houston, N.Y. Giants. After this weekend, only 12 teams remain with byes.
Wow, wow, Mike Vrabel.
Derrick Henry in a cast,
and you whacked the Rams.