The key for Patrick Mahomes to be Patrick Mahomes again? To not think the sky is falling.
“The last few weeks,” Mahomes said after playing like Mahomes again Sunday night in Kansas City’s 41-14 rout of the reeling Raiders, “motivated me more to come in and work and practice even better. I mean, whenever you’re not having the success that you’re used to having, all you can do is come to practice and have a better day than you did the day before. I think the biggest thing for me was as a whole team—offense, defense, everybody, special teams—everybody came into practice and really just executed. We shot ourselves in the foot the whole year with turnovers and penalties. We just came in and kept correcting those things.”
Ever stare at the ceiling at night? I asked. Ever wonder, man, what’s wrong with me?
“No,” he said. “I didn’t.”
Isn’t that what you want in your franchise quarterback—to not have a crisis in confidence after a few uncharacteristically bad games? Mahomes has the ability to be introspective and to work on his game and to come to practice convinced that everything’s going to be fine. Scoring 37 points in three games stinks. But after experiencing three historic seasons to start his career, Mahomes knew the slump was not permanent. As Andy Reid said Sunday night, “He lasted longer than any quarterback in the history of the game without a slump, all right, and so it’s going to happen. There’s going to be a little something that doesn’t go your way. And it’s important that you power through it, stay confident and keep firing. That’s how he’s wired.”
In Vegas, it all started with a left-handed pass on his first throw of the game, continued with a basketball pass to Tyreek Hill for a touchdown, and lasted deep into the second half with one of those don’t-throw-it-don’t-throw-it-hey-what-a-great-throw touchdown heaves to running back Darrel Williams.
Kansas City 41, Las Vegas 14. Just like the old days.
Mahomes: 70 percent passing, 406 yards, five TDs, no interceptions. Just like the old days.
“I mean,” he said, “I don’t know if there was ever doubt.”
There was. Just not in his head, which is all that matters.
The earth seems back on its axis, mostly. Dallas and Buffalo and Kansas City were their explosive selves again; the Packers got Aaron Rodgers back and joyfully found they might not be wholly dependent on him this year; the Colts got to .500 for the first time all year; and Tennessee and New England stayed hot.
But this is the NFL, so there is weirdness.
“I’m in this twilight zone,” said Dan Campbell, coach of the 0-8-1 Lions, after they tied the Steelers 16-16 in one of the ugliest games since this species began to walk upright.
“The stupidity has to go away—we’re a dumb football team,” said Bruce Arians, coach of the defending Super Bowl champion Bucs, after they lost to Taylor Heinicke and Washington 29-19.
“This time last week I was eating a bowl of cereal—you feel me?” said Cam Newton, who, after not playing in a game since January accounted for touchdowns on his first two plays of 2021. Carolina 34, Arizona 10.
And so much more is happening. Boldface names this week: Jim Mora, Sam Huff, Cassius Marsh, Tony Corrente (I will not let it die), A.J. Dillon, Jon Gruden, Russell Wilson, Mike Vrabel, Jakobi Meyers. Sit back, relax, enjoy the flight.
Players don’t think the way we do, most often. Early on in Las Vegas—on the first KC throw, in fact—it looked very much like Mahomes was back to the good old days. Flushed left, wrapped with both arms by Raiders tackle Quinton Jefferson, Mahomes was about to take a short sack. He transferred the ball to his left hand and threw/shovel-passed a floater to Jerick McKinnon. Gain of six. Not enough for a first down, but a harbinger. A harbinger of fun to come.
“It was like you guys had your mojo back,” I said to him.
“You never wanna be in third-and-long, especially with a defense like this and the pass rushers they have,” Mahomes said. “I was able to step up in the pocket and I was just trying to find a way to get the running back the football. I think we had that mojo this whole week of practice. I mean, we were ready to go. We knew how important this game was. We knew this team was playing a lot of really good football and it was a division opponent. We came in with the attitude that we were gonna go out there and be who we are. That’s what we did.”
Well, this was a sign that they’d be who they were in 2018, 2019 and 2020, and in September. It kept going, a neat eight-yard in-stride out-route to Tyreek Hill for a touchdown late in the first quarter. Then, late in the second quarter, the old Mahomes surfaced again, with sort of a push-pass over interior traffic to Hill from a yard out for a 17-7 halftime lead. The mojo … it was there.
“You can just feel it, man,” Mahomes said, talking about how it built through the game. “You can feel that energy that you have in practice. You can feel the guys going through practice. I knew that once we got to Sunday Night Football, especially like you said, the outside world talking, guys wanted to show out. Guys wanted to show that we still are the Kansas City Chiefs. We still can be a dominant team. Complete. It’s gonna take us being great every single week at practice, in the film room and then on Sundays, obviously.”
The game was still a game early in the fourth quarter. KC, 27-14. Mahomes missed Mecole Hardman on a deep route up the right sideline on second down. On third-and-11 from the Raider 38, Kelce was the focus over the middle, but he wasn’t free. Mahomes got the snap around the Raider 43-, faded back to his own 49-, left the pocket to the left and then quickly up the middle, looking, looking, looking.
Out of the corner of his left eye, he said, he saw Williams. Maybe he was the fourth option. Maybe he wasn’t an option at all.
“I’m pretty sure I was going to someone, I think Kelce, in the middle,” Mahomes said. “But it wasn’t there. So yeah, out of the corner of my eye I saw Darrel, way out of the backfield. I threw it up and I probably underthrew him a little bit. I probably could’ve thrown it, made it a little bit easier in the back corner of the end zone. He always tells me he’s a receiving back, and boy, he showed it there. Great catch.”
“Did that feel like the good old days?” I said. “It looked like it.”
“Yeah, I mean, for sure,” he said. “We haven’t had those big plays this year. Been having to drive the length of the field. I think what we showed today is you come out and you execute early, and you kinda start driving the length of the field, defenses are gonna have to come up and we still have that big-play ability. I even missed a couple shots in this game that we probably could’ve hit, and had even have more big plays.”
The buses were leaving now, and Mahomes was on the move. He was leaving Las Vegas as a first-place football player, the only team in the AFC West with six wins. Not that he needed it to know deep down he was still great at his job, but he did know it was good to get the wolves away from the door.
He said it was Andy Reid who put the game in perspective for him, and for the team. Reid told the team how important this game was. Win it, and the division is in your control. With Mahomes, Reid was the way he always is. Which is why they’ve got the kind of relationship any coach would want to have with his franchise quarterback.
“Me and him,” Mahomes said, “he just kept reiterating to me to be myself. Go out there and play. Have fun. Take the check down when it’s there but don’t lose who you are.”
Five touchdowns, no interceptions, 406 yards, a 27-point division win. That’s who Patrick Mahomes is, still.
Of the 149 games played in this NFL season, I would wager not a single one has said more, about more significant things, than Green Bay 17, Seattle 0 in a Wisconsin snow squall Sunday, the first wintry day of the season. What it said:
1) The Packers can win without vintage Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay won by 17 with Rodgers throwing a Red Zone pick, looking out of sorts after his 10-day Covid sabbatical, not throwing a touchdown pass, and playing like a game the Lombardi Packers might have played. In fact, 56 years ago Sunday, Green Bay beat the Rams 6-3 with Bart Starr having an invisible day and Jim Taylor bulling out 117 yards from scrimmage. Sound familiar? What I’m saying is Sunday’s game, with Rodgers showing the effects of being drained from his 10 days away, was a very good thing for a team that might have to win a variety of ways in January and February.
2) Brian Gutekunst is not a lummox. With the world screaming for the Packers to get a wideout in the 2020 draft, Gutekunst, the embattled Green Bay GM, bypassed trading up for a receiver in the second round and picked a 247-pound fire hydrant of a back, A.J. Dillon, with the 62nd overall pick. Dillon won this game. He carried likely Hall of Fame linebacker Bobby Wagner into the end zone on one TD to make it 10-0 early in the fourth quarter, nimbly caught-and-ran a 50-yard pass from Rodgers a few minutes later, and bulled for an insurance TD at the two-minute warning. So maybe Gutekunst should have traded up for a Van Jefferson type midway through round two, but this Dillon is a winter back who could be vital this postseason. Gutekunst’s first-round corner from Georgia, Eric Stokes, didn’t allow a completion Sunday, while one of the smartest free-agent finds of the year, linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (cap number: $1.19 million) led the team in tackles.
3) I wonder if we’re seeing the end of the Russell Wilson era in Seattle. It’s dumb to make any long-term judgments about a great player on such a rotten day, when Wilson returned after finger surgery and looked inaccurate and ineffective, getting shut out for the first time in 166 Seattle starts. His receivers didn’t help him, rarely getting free enough for him to have a chance at a long gain. But as I watched the futility of this game, I just started thinking it might be time for the Seahawks to think of alternatives to Wilson, particularly if he gets mopey again next offseason. For now, with Seattle 3-6, Arizona looming next week, and San Francisco and the Rams on the horizon after that, making the playoffs will be tough. Sabers were rattled last year by Wilson and his agent, and I just wonder if an 8-9 season might make Seattle GM John Schneider and coach Pete Carroll wonder if rewriting the script and getting three first-round picks and maybe one top player from a Carolina or Denver or Pittsburgh or Miami or Philadelphia is smarter than trying to keep Wilson happy. Schneider is a confident man. He convinced Carroll that a short quarterback would be a star back in 2012, and Wilson in the third round followed. I doubt he’d be afraid of doing it again.
4) The Green Bay defense, even without its two best players, is a top five NFL unit. In fact, the Pack should be third, surrendering 309.9 yards per game, when this week’s stats are finalized after Rams-Niners tonight. This was the masterpiece, particularly without Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander, the D’s top two players, likely not back from injuries till December.
Green Bay is the NFC’s top seed this morning. The Pack was last year too, but home-field didn’t help when Tampa Bay came to town for the championship game. Something feels different this year. That something different is Green Bay has a good defense and a war-horse running back, and maybe Rodgers doesn’t have to score in the thirties every week to win big ones. We didn’t see that coming.
Dillon heard all the chatter after he was drafted. Stupid Packers. They don’t need a back! Where’s the receiver?! “I saw it,” Dillon told me post-game. “I heard it. I just kind of put that with bulletin board material. I really always wanted to be an all-purpose back. APB. I knew I could be.”
Then he got into practice, and Aaron Rodgers treated him well—“Like a real teammate,” he said—and Aaron Jones treated him “like a brother.” Though Dillon didn’t get a lot of chances last year, he was sure he’d do well when called. In camp this summer, he was honored to be kidded by Rodgers, who he watched as a fan growing up in Connecticut. “Your legs get smaller this offseason?” Rodgers said to Dillon, an ice-breaker after the Rodgers drama of the offseason. Smaller? Dillon had the biggest legs of any back in the league. Dillon wasn’t sure if his QB was kidding, but he told him no, he put some strength and pounds on each of them.
“All of it, to me, is so cool,” Dillon said Sunday night. “The day after the draft, I watched like a three-hour documentary on the Packers and what Green Bay was. Being on this team is an indescribable feeling, really. Sometimes I still gotta like pinch myself before I get into practice. Or I’m driving over to practice and I’m like, ‘Oh wow, this is real, I’m a Packer’ when I’m pulling up and see Lambeau. I’ve walked into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame like three times now, just to see it. Now I know the history, and I’m so honored to be a part of the family here.”
But then the games get played, and it’s not time for gee-whiz stuff anymore. The fourth quarter of this game was huge for Dillon, and for the Packers. Four minutes into the fourth quarter, this was a 3-0 game, and Green Bay had a third-and-goal from the 3-yard line. The play-call was a pile-mover, Dillon up the gut trying for the three yards to give the Packers a cushion. In his way: Wagner and the surprisingly stout Seattle D. “I felt a lot of trust from the coaches when I heard the call,” Dillon said. He blasted up the middle, and Wagner got hold of him, and Dillon used his powerful calf muscles to almost back his way into the end zone, Wagner holding on for dear life.
“You’re a legend,” Dillon the fan told Wagner after the game. But fan beat legend on this play, and Green Bay went up 10-0.
On the next Packer series, Dillon took a swing pass to the left and showed his nimble side. It’s not often a 247-pound back keeps his balance athletically on the sideline, making sure he stays in while bouncing off tacklers. “I’ve been working all off-season on my receiving, all the time on the JUGS machine and running after the catch,” he said. “Good to see it’s paying off. It makes me really happy.” That set up the insurance score, a two-yard Dillon TD at the two-minute warning.
Dillon, for the game, had 23 touches for 128 yards and two TDs. Now, with Jones (MCL) expected to miss time, Dillon hopes to be as productive in two big games the next two Sundays: Vikings on the road, Rams at home.
With this win, Green Bay goes to 8-2, with a tiebreaker lead over Arizona for the top spot in the NFC with seven games left. Next week, Green Bay will be indoors at the arch-rival Vikes. The Packers have won seven of 11 in Minneapolis since 2010, and Rodgers has a 50-7 touchdown-to-interception margin against Minnesota in his career. It’s also one of the first times in a while the Packers enter a big division game knowing Rodgers doesn’t have to carry them for Green Bay to win. Newbies like Dillon are seeing to that.
The Gruden lawsuit: He learned from the master
First thought when Jon Gruden’s attorneys filed suit accusing the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell of a campaign to “publicly sabotage Gruden’s career:” This is exactly what Al Davis would have done. And Gruden, who learned about all things Davis when the Raiders owner was still in full control of the franchise and Gruden was his coach from 1998-2001, has learned well. Make it personal. Attack the top level of the game. Use words and phrases like “malicious” and “Soviet-style character assassination” to turn the focus on the commissioner. Al Davis was famous for his holy wars on the late Pete Rozelle, the NFL commissioner from 1960 to 1989. This has the makings of a latter-day Al war. The tenor of the Gruden suit hits the exact same notes of a personal campaign, Gruden versus Goodell. Gruden’s suit says, in part, “Through a malicious and orchestrated campaign, the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell sought to destroy the career and reputation of Jon Gruden.”
Background: Al Davis was the litigious thorn in the NFL’s side for years. Against the league’s (and Rozelle’s) will, Davis tried and failed to move the Raiders to Los Angeles in 1980, continuing the fight till the move to LA in 1982. He was the only owner to take the shocking stance of siding with the United States Football League in its antitrust suit against the NFL in 1986. ESPN’s 30 for 30 series documented the Davis-Rozelle/NFL feud, and in 2007, NFL Films labeled it the greatest feud in NFL history. Davis’ battle with the league was going on, still, in the four years Gruden coached the team, with commissioner Paul Tagliabue his latest foil.
There could be other issues at play here, one of them Covid-related. Gruden was furious at being fined $100,000 for, the league said, faulty face-covering in the early games of the 2020 season; later he was fined an additional $150,000 for repeated team violation of Covid protocols. Could that be part of this? We’ll see. And, as someone who knows Gruden told me over the weekend, “He’s just bitter about a lot of things, going back to how it ended for him in Tampa. My feeling is he thinks his NFL career is over, so he’s got nothing to lose now.”
The NFL is culpable in the Gruden case in at least one way: It hung onto emails someone knew had damning evidence against Gruden for homophobic and misogynistic and racist language. But it will be a stretch to prove the league leaked the documents. In the middle of a season that was going surprising well for the Raiders in their new Las Vegas home, the league would certainly argue that it made no sense to undercut the team’s success by releasing the emails in midseason, and risking the profitable business in a market hungry for the NFL. The league, I’m sure, will say it had nothing to do with Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal obtaining some of them, and calling the Raiders to say he was about to write about them.
The charges in the suit will be very hard to prove. But the process of discovery could mean shining a light on more of the emails in the WFT probe, which has been called for by the attorneys of the former WFT employees who say there was a toxic atmosphere for women inside the organization.
An 8-game sprint with Cam Newton?
That certainly was cool, Cam Newton running for a touchdown on his first snap as a second-time Panther, and passing for a touchdown on his second snap. His role, Matt Rhule told me, wasn’t established till Sunday morning at the hotel in Arizona, when coaches asked him if he felt he could execute the few plays he’s practiced late in the week. “I sure can,” Newton said. Said Rhule: “Credit to Cam. That pass play, for you football historians, is sprint right option—that’s the Dwight Clark catch from Joe Montana in the NFC Championship Game.”
P.J. Walker won his second start as a Panther, the 34-10 rout of Arizona. Maybe that gives Rhule cause to think he should keep using Newton as a relief pitcher for the time being, continuing with next week’s home game against Washington. We’ll see, but I doubt it. “Honestly,” said Rhule, “I am gonna go pass out on the plane. We’ll get Cam in on Monday, keep showing him new plays, we’ll see how much he is ready to play. I’m not to that point in my brain that I can make a decision like that.”
Rhule also said the Newton signing “is just about today—just about this year. We wanted to do what we could to win this game, then win the next one. We’ll worry about next year next year.”
OBJ the Ram: It’s not too complicated
Don’t think the injury to Robert Woods will make Odell Beckham Jr., a starter tonight in Santa Clara against the Niners. More likely, Beckham will be active but only be on the field for 10 to 20 snaps in the packages he’s practiced and feels confident in running. The Woods snaps, more likely, will go to two receivers you’ve never heard of: seventh-round rookie Ben Skowronek from Notre Dame, who has impressed Sean McVay with his physicality at 6-3 and 220, and undrafted Cal Poly wideout J.J. Koski.
Beckham is more likely to be brought up to speed after tonight with the Rams’ bye week coming up. They’ll need his experience and big-play ability in tough road games particularly at Green Bay, Arizona, Minnesota and Baltimore in the home stretch.
I’m told that when McVay was recruiting him, he was upfront with Beckham about his opportunities. McVay told him he couldn’t guarantee him X number of targets per game from Matthew Stafford. “But I can tell you if you’re open, Matthew will get you the ball,” McVay said.
Two really cool things I saw Sunday
• WFT quarterback Taylor Heinicke, living out his dream, snuffing out the Tampa Bay chances with a 10-minute, 26-second drive to clinch a victory. That fourth-quarter drive, the longest of the season in the NFL, extended the Washington lead to 10 with 29 seconds to go. It also meant in his two meetings with Tom Brady, the unknown (formerly) Heinicke had completed 68 percent of his throws and outscored Brady 52-50. What a great moment for a guy who was living in his sister’s house in Georgia last year taking virtual classes at Old Dominion, not knowing it he’d ever have a chance to play football again. “I go out and play every play like it’s my last—because it might be,” he told me post-game. “On days like this, I think about where I was a year ago, and I appreciate what’s happened to me, and I think about winning a game like this, and it’s, it’s just really great.”
• New England wide receiver Jakobi Meyers was playing in his 39th NFL game, and he’d made a nice place for himself as a puzzle piece in the New England offense. He’d caught 134 passes entering the fourth quarter against Cleveland … but never a touchdown pass until Brian Hoyer found him on an 11-yard TD pass late in the rout of the Browns. The coolest part: Meyers was swarmed by 15 to 20 teammates in the end zone, and the celebration continued in the locker room afterward. “That was the best part of scoring,” Meyers said later. “We got the chance to celebrate together. That made it all worth it.” Meyers and fellow former free-agent Gunner Olszewski fit well with what Bill Belichick wants in back-of-the-roster players: non-stop effort and unselfishness. “Me and Gunner used to make jokes like we were cockroaches,” Meyers said. “No matter who they brought in, we’d find a way to stay alive.”
Of all the headlines I never expected to see last week—as a Nutmeg Stater through and through—I was floored by this news nugget last week: Jim Mora takes the reins as UConn head football coach. He starts recruiting now at the seriously tarnished major-college independent, and will coach his first game at Utah State next August.
I caught up with Mora late Friday afternoon, just off a plane in Atlanta, on his way from his home in Idaho to see Saturday’s UConn game at Clemson. (Clemson 44, Huskies 7, UConn falling to 1-9.) The former head coach—Atlanta 2004-06, Seattle one-and-done 2009, UCLA 2012-17—was ridiculously fired-up to get his fourth shot at a head-coaching gig, even with the very down Husky program. He’s scheduled to start recruiting this week.
“This is the craziest thing,” Mora said, terminal noise in the background. “Do you realize that a week ago today, I’m on vacation in Venice, having a wonderful time in Italy, and today I’m back in it, the coach of UConn? Crazy!”
Five questions with the new football coach of one of the truly needy teams in major-college football:
FMIA: This came out of nowhere. How in the world did you get this job?
Mora: “I was hopeful that I’d get another opportunity be a head coach in college football. I really enjoy coaching college football. But I was starting to doubt if it was gonna happen as time went on, after UCLA. [Mora was fired in November 2017.] When this job came open, I reached out to them. I don’t think I was on their radar at all. I mean, at all. I haven’t been on anyone’s radar. I had a couple people reach out to the athletic director, David Benedict, and he got interested. We’d done some Zoom calls. I told him, ‘I’m going away for about two weeks.’ He goes, ‘Have a good time. Nothing’s gonna happen while you’re gone.’ So I’m in Venice last week and he calls me, says, ‘When are you coming home?’ I said, ‘Sunday.’ He goes, ‘I’ll be in Idaho waiting for you.’ I landed Sunday about 4 in the afternoon. We go out to dinner at 6:30, then we spent all day Monday at my house, and all day Tuesday and all day Wednesday at my house. Got the deal done Wednesday night. Normally, when I’ve taken a job, I’m kind of a baby. I don’t like to move. But I popped up this morning at 5 and I couldn’t wait to jump in the car, get to the airport and fly here.”
Welcome to UConn, Coach Mora! 🤝
— UConn Football (@UConnFootball) November 11, 2021
FMIA: This program is so low right now. Why’d you want the job?
Mora: “I’ve had a lot of people ask me, why would you go to Connecticut? You know, They’re not very good, you’re a West Coast guy, you’re almost 60. I’m like, besides the fact that my kids kinda gave me a clear runway, I love coaching football and I truly love coaching college football. I love the impact you can have on these young men. And I’m just blessed to be able to do it again. I’ve talked to the governor of the state. I’ve talked to business leaders. I’ve talked to all the people that support the program that are of prominence. This can be a great program.”
FMIA: The governor? Ned Lamont? What’d he say? Is he behind this?
Mora: “It was on a Zoom call. He’s standing there and he’s fired up and he’s telling me how important football is to the state. And offering support. He wasn’t the only one. Tuesday night and all day Wednesday, I had Zoom calls with 12 people. To a person, men and women and the governor and lieutenant governor and all kinds of people, and to a person, they all kind of expressed the same sentiment, which was don’t believe what you hear—UConn football is very important to this state and we support it and we want it to be respectable and competitive again and we think you’re the guy to do it. Meant the world to me. Maybe the odds are stacked against us a little bit. You know me, Peter, you’ve known me for all my professional life. I’m a dogged competitor and I also don’t know that the odds are stacked as heavily against us as it might appear on the outside.”
FMIA: How can you get competitive?
Mora: “I think number one, attacking the transfer portal. I see it a little bit like free agency in the NFL. It’s a chance to get some really good players, really quickly. You can have a great recruiting class, but there are still young players that haven’t played in college football. They haven’t really spent time away from home or been on a college campus. But you can go get some transfers that have some experience, playing experience, experience on campus. They’re more mature. You can make some quick headway that way. And I think you coach the heck out of them. I think you really do a great job of creating the culture of accountability and toughness and discipline.”
FMIA: You never recruited the Northeast. You’re a West Coast guy, as you said. How will you be able to recruit an area foreign to you?
Mora: “Something’s that gonna really help me is that I have some name recognition. I think that’ll bring credibility. Thirty players that I recruited are playing in the NFL. I’ve coached, as an assistant or head coach, 28 members of Pro Football Hall of Fame. I don’t care where you recruit. If you can tell a kid, ‘30 guys I recruited play in the NFL, I’ve coached guys in the Hall of Fame,’ then they’re like, Whoa, really?’ I think that’ll help.”
I saw something Saturday that blew me away. “The Violent World of Sam Huff,” a half-hour prime-time documentary on the life of an NFL player, Giants middle linebacker Sam Huff, was the precursor to anything NFL Films ever did. Huff was wired for a 1960 preseason game against Chicago—a rudimentary battery-pack carved into his shoulder pads, with a Sharpie-sized microphone taped into the front of his shoulder pads. Sixty-one years ago! A player miced up, saying things like, “Kill or be killed!” The juicy stuff on national TV, with one of the foremost newsmen of his day narrating this documentary.
“It’s the first time it’s been done on television,” renowned CBS newsman Walter Cronkite told the American audience, with his famous, serious baritone voice. “You’re on the receiving end, and you’re going to be closer to pro football than you’ve ever been before. This is our story: the violent world of Sam Huff.”
You can actually watch the black-and-white show:
Players resting in the locker room, pre-game, before the night game in a rickety stadium in Toronto. One New York Giant smoking a cigarette. And when the game started, a camera focused on Huff. This was no power-puff modern-day kind of preseason game. It looked altogether like a real game, with stuff like a Chicago tight end named Willard Dewveall elbowing Huff in the jaw coming off the line of scrimmage. Huff was enraged. Something got bleeped out, then Huff laid into Dewveall.
“Whatta you doing that for, 88!” Huff yelled at Dewveall. “You do that one more time, 88, I’m gonna sock you one . . . Don’t do that. Do that again, you get a broken nose. Hit me on the chin with your elbow . . . Hey 88, I’m not gonna warn you no more now.”
The yeller, Huff, died at 87 on Saturday in Virginia. The Hall of Fame middle linebacker—eight years with the Giants, five years in Washington, finishing as a player-coach in Vince Lombardi’s lone season as Washington coach, 1969—was diagnosed with dementia several years ago and had been in decline recently.
Why should you know Huff? He was the first famous defensive player in NFL history. In 1959, when the NFL was 39 years old, just starting to make hay across the country after the nationally televised overtime 1958 Championship Game, something amazing happened. Huff made the cover of Time magazine, as the photogenic, pleasant-off-the-field, menace-on-it key to the Giants’ defense, as the sport grew in popularity.
RIP to the great Sam Huff. He was one of the first “glamor stars” of the NFL, featured on TIME magazine and mic’d up for a CBS News special with Walter Kronkite. He was a pioneer + legend. pic.twitter.com/uBsvmdqmYt
— Damon Amendolara (@DAonCBS) November 14, 2021
In 1960, Pete Rozelle’s first as commissioner, CBS approached the league asking about doing a half-hour doc on the great and charismatic Huff, long before NFL Films got in the business of wiring players and coaches. The league and CBS were already discussing the prospect of a league-wide TV contract with a single network, so Rozelle enthusiastically said yes. Cronkite did the nationally televised prime-time special on Huff—which was great for Huff’s brand, and for the league too. For the NFL, trying to break the stranglehold of baseball as the national pastime, Walter Cronkite wiring Huff for sound in a game, and hearing what life on the field was really like, was the kind of publicity the league couldn’t buy, and an incredible boost to the NFL becoming a national sport.
Lots of games in the first 50 years of the sport—the ’58 title game, the Joe Namath Super Bowl III shocker among them—made the NFL the nationally worshiped game it has become. Lots of players—Johnny Unitas, Gale Sayers, Jim Brown—helped too. But in the first half-century of the game, no defensive player was as big a name as Sam Huff, and no defender had the profile of Huff. “A national star,” retired NFL GM Ernie Accorsi recalled Saturday. “He was right in the middle of the NFL becoming a huge national game.”
Huff had great battles with Jim Brown, the best running back of all time in my book. They faced off 16 times in the regular season—Brown with eight 100-yard games—and once in the playoffs. That playoff game, between the Giants and Browns in December 1958, to break an Eastern Conference tie, was the stuff of Huff legend. Giants 10, Browns 0, and Brown carried seven times for eight yards. The next week, Huff forced a fumble and blocked a field goal in the Giants’ OT loss to Baltimore in the Greatest Game. Those things iced Huff’s fame, and led to the national spotlight on him.
A couple of interesting things about Huff. He was bitter that the Giants traded him after the ’63 season, and he held a grudge about it for the rest of his career. In 1966, Washington was routing the hapless Giants 69-41 when, with seven seconds left in the game and Washington deep in New York territory, Huff signaled for a timeout and yelled for the field goal team to go on the field. Charlie Gogolak kicked a field goal as time expired, and Washington won the highest-scoring game in NFL history, 72-41. For Huff, revenge was sweet. And in 1969, a year after he retired, Huff was coaxed out of retirement by the great Lombardi. Fittingly, Huff, at 35, had a very good final season, returning an interception for a TD in Philadelphia in a November game, one of Lombardi’s last as a coach.
In his first two or three years with the Giants, Huff had a fan in attendance for five or six games in New York. “I saw him in person several times,” Bill Parcells, a high-school kid in northern New Jersey then, recalled Saturday. “In fact, I was friends with the son of (then Giants assistant coach] Vince Lombardi, and we went to several games. Sam was the leader of that defense. Oh, I remember.”
Offensive Players of the Week
Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Kansas City. Just when Kansas City had been renamed Panic City, Mahomes took matters into his own hands in Nevada. In his 56th career game, he had his fifth game of five touchdown passes or more (he’s had three with five, two games with six) with a magnificent performance against the Raiders. It was his sixth game exceeding 400 yards passing. But this game was the most surprising, perhaps, since the six-TD day against Pittsburgh in his third start ever, because no one saw this one coming.
Stefon Diggs, wide receiver, Buffalo. Entering Sunday’s redemption game at the Meadowlands, Diggs was averaging two catches and 22 yards less per game than in his all-pro season of 2020. Diggs had but one 100-yard receiving game in his first eight games. So he, Josh Allen and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll did something about that in the 45-17 rout of the Jets. He caught eight passes for 162 yards and a TD, leading the Bills to scores on seven of their 11 drives. Smart for the Bills to focus on Diggs against the weak Jets’ secondary.
Mac Jones, quarterback, New England. Week after week, Jones is showing he’s the best quarterback among this year’s rookie crop—so far. His 142.1 passer rating in the 45-7 rout of the Browns, with three TD passes and no picks, showed he executed nearly a perfect game as called by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Playing against the formidable Cleveland D, Jones quarterbacked for seven series. The result: TD, TD, TD (on an 11-play, 99-yard drive), field goal, punt, TD, TD. For the year, Jones has completed 69 percent of his throws. The man’s no fluke.
Taylor Heinicke, quarterback, Washington. Until Sunday, Heinicke’s starting career in Washington was being counted down by the weeks. And who knows what the future holds? But for the second time in this calendar year, he went head-to-head with Tom Brady and competed . . . and this time he got a 10-point win.
Defensive Players of the Week
Kyle Dugger, safety, New England. Really, any of about 10 New England defenders could be in this spot. That is a such a well-schooled, aggressive, confident defense right now. Dugger’s a perfect example of what makes it work. The 6-2, 220-pound second-year player from the football factory of Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C. (enrollment 2,600) is the kind of versatile puzzle piece valued by Bill Belichick. His nifty pick of Baker Mayfield on the second play of the second quarter, in a 7-7 game, and subsequent return to the Browns’ 5-yard line, set up the second New England TD, and the Patriots never trailed after that. He had six tackles, two special-teams tackles and the pick, and the Patriots held Cleveland to 217 total yards.
Kyle Dugger gets the pick on Baker Mayfield 😤
Pats cashed in with a TD moments later
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 14, 2021
Adrian Amos, safety, Green Bay. Really, any of about 10 Green Bay defenders could be in this spot. (You should get used to hearing that.) Amos had the biggest play of the day for the Green Bay D. With the Packers trying to close out the Seahawks, up 10-0 with eight minutes left, Russell Wilson threw deep for Tyler Lockett, bracketed by two Pack defensive backs. This was a perfect illustration of what Wilson put up with all day—terrific coverage, and never having enough time to wait for the receivers to shake free. Amos picked off this ball in the end zone, Green Bay got an insurance TD, and the Packers continued to play far better on D than anyone could have anticipated.
Special Teams Players of the Week
K’von Wallace, safety, Philadelphia. With the Eagles up 20-10 in the third quarter, Denver threatened to make it a one-score game on a chip-shot 22-yard field goal by the reliable Brandon McManus. But Wallace knifed through the Denver line and extended his 5-11 frame to the fullest and got his arm on the ball kicked by McManus. Turned out it wasn’t such a gimme, and turned out to be a huge play in a tight Philadelphia victory.
Dorance Armstrong, defensive end, Dallas. All the Falcons wanted to do was get out of the first half with the score no worse than 28-3. Set up to punt in the final minute, Atlanta’s line was crushed by Dallas’ punt rush, and from the right side Armstrong crashed through. He suffocated the punt, blocking it with his right armpit, and it skittered away into the end zone. Rookie corner Nahshon Wright recovered it for a touchdown, and Dallas had a 36-3 lead at the half.
Zaire Franklin, linebacker, Indianapolis. Ditto. I mean, Franklin did exactly what happened in the Dallas-Atlanta game. With Jags punter Logan Cooke backed up inside his 15-yard line, Franklin burst through the line and smothered the Franklin punt. E.J. Speed recovered the ball at the 12-yard line and ran it in for a touchdown. The Colts went up 10-0 on their way to a 23-17 win. They’re 5-5 now, .500 for the first time this season.
Coaches of the Week
Mike Vrabel, head coach, Tennessee. Titans laid a gigantic egg Oct. 3 at the Jets to fall to 2-2. Since then, the Titans:
- Trounced Jacksonville by 18.
- Came back from four deficits to beat Buffalo, the second seed in the 2020 AFC playoffs, by three.
- Went up 27-0 at the half and beat Kansas City, the defending AFC champ, by 24.
- Got down 14-0 early at Indianapolis, another 2020 playoff team, but came back to win a 71-minute OT game by three.
- With Derrick Henry gone for two months, beat NFC power Los Angeles on the road by 12.
- Beat another NFC power team, the Saints, at home by two on Sunday.
Vrabel sets a tone for his team and his players take no crap from anyone. To go 5-0 against five defending playoff teams is a great accomplishment, particularly playing the last two without your best player. That’s why Vrabel is coach of the week.
Josh Boyer, defensive coordinator, Miami. I’m sure Thursday’s night’s imaginative game plan in the 22-10 win over Baltimore also had Brian Flores’ fingerprints on it, but what a smart and forceful idea it was to safety-blitz more than any team in the NFL in the last six years. The Ravens couldn’t figure out a solution for Dolphins secondary players blitzing a stunning 38 times. (Lamar Jackson had 47 pass-drops in the game.) Boyer’s D held Lamar Jackson to 39 yards rushing and the Ravens to 304 yards overall. These were the Baltimore drives between a field goal in the sixth minute and a TD in the 55th: missed field goal, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, fumble, punt. Great job by the Dolphins.
Goats of the Week
Barry Anderson, umpire, Saints-Titans game. The bad calls just keep on coming—and where is New York to bail out such calls? Walt Anderson in the officiating command center in New York and the replay official on-site can do something about clearly incorrect calls like Barry Anderson’s with two minutes left in the first half of a 6-6 game. On this play, Tennessee quarterback Ryan Tannehill was intercepted by Saints safety Marcus Williams in the end zone. A millisecond after Tannehill’s release, linebacker Kaden Elliss slammed into the quarterback’s upper back. No contact with the head. Standing four or five yards away, his eyes fixed on the action, Barry Anderson threw his yellow flag and told ref Jerome Boger it was roughing-the-passer, hit to the head of the quarterback. Boger announced the foul, nullifying the interception, and suffixed the call with “Blow to the head of the quarterback.” Except there was no blow to the head. As Kevin Harlan said in the CBS booth: “He hit him in the nameplate!” With new life and a fresh set of downs, Tannehill finished off a TD drive.
Here’s the roughing call on Kaden Elliss for a “hit to the head” that negated Marcus Williams’ interception in the end zone.
— Jeff Nowak (@Jeff_Nowak) November 14, 2021
Brian Johnson, kicker, New Orleans. Titans 23, Saints 21. Johnson kicks for the team that lost by two. He missed both extra points he tried. Not too tough a call.
“I’m baaaack! I’m baaaack!”
—Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, after scoring a touchdown four minutes into his first game back with the Panthers.
“In contrast to the formalities of the Washington Football Team investigation, Defendants’ treatment of Gruden was a Soviet-style character assassination.”
—From the lawsuit filed by the lawyer for Jon Gruden against the NFL Friday.
“We have union leadership, which absolutely does the best they can based on the circumstances that they have, but it is very challenging to get 1500 players to agree.”
—Tom Brady, on his podcast with Jim Gray and Larry Fitzgerald.
I’ve said this 400 times: The reason NFLPA executive director De Smith has never played true hardball with the owners in negotiations—threatening a strike and meaning it—is because he knows his membership will not back him. It’s not because Smith doesn’t want to go on a high wire and work hard for things like fully guaranteed contracts and the abolition of the franchise tag. Too many players have careers that are too short to risk missing a full season if that’s what it takes to get the truly large concessions from owners. Not assessing blame here; simply describing the reality of the jobs of people like Smith and NFLPA president J.C. Tretter.
“[It] undercuts what we’re trying to do as a health-care system. It’s just tragic.”
—Dr. Kyle Martin, medical director of emergency services at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, Wis., on Aaron Rodgers’ anti-vax statements, to Kurt Streeter of the New York Times.
“He sullied his reputation in a big way. It’s not something that’s going to go away for some time.”
—Doug Shabelman, CEO of Burns Entertainment, a firm that matches companies and star endorsers, on the reputation of Aaron Rodgers, to Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic.
On the subject of the Carolina quarterback situation:
The Panthers have acquired three quarterbacks in the last 20 months to replace Cam Newton, and it’s likely they will seek another one in the draft or trade or free-agent market in 2022.
That’s a historic bit of quarterback-investing. The costly rundown:
March 2020: Carolina cuts Cam Newton and signs Teddy Bridgewater to a three-year contract.
April 2021: After releasing Bridgewater, Carolina trades for Sam Darnold.
November 2021: After the failure of Darnold, and Darnold breaking his shoulder, Carolina signs Newton.
Cost Paid By Carolina
The breakdown of costs, according to Over The Cap, projecting 2021 compensation for Newton and including $18.8 million in guaranteed salary owed to Darnold in 2022:
By the way, $4.5-million guaranteed for Cam Newton? Why? Where was the competition for Newton? In 2020, when Newton was a free agent and not tarnished nearly to the point he is now, New England paid him $3.75 million for a full season. Now the Panthers pay him at least $4.5 million for a half-season, and as much as $6 million.
Traded By Carolina
To acquire Darnold, Carolina traded a sixth-round pick in 2021 and second-round and fourth-round picks in 2022.
The sixth-round pick was traded by the Jets in a package to Kansas City and used to pick starting guard Trey Smith, one of the bright spots of day three of the ’21 draft.
The two 2022 picks sacrificed in the Darnold deal figure—based on today’s standings—to be around 48th and 114th overall. Those are the picks that Carolina will be missing next April.
The Future For Carolina
I think it’s great the Panthers full-circled Cam Newton back to the team he brought to the Super Bowl six years ago. The end for him and the franchise was messy, and this is the opportunity to give Newton the chance to win back the job he’ll always feel was taken from him. Good luck to him; he’s an electric player, potentially, and maybe he’ll rekindle what he once was in the next two months.
But I doubt the Panthers, deep down, view Newton as more than a stop-gap, and I doubt after what they’ve seen they view a healthy Darnold as the man they want as QB1 next August. I think it’s most likely the Panthers go to market for their next quarterback.
If the Panthers trade for Deshaun Watson next March, it will cost at least three first-round picks. If they trade for another high-profile quarterback, such as Aaron Rodgers, it would very likely involve the first-round pick in 2022. So if the Panthers do trade for an established starter, it would leave them without first-round, second-round and fourth-round picks in 2022. That would mean Carolina would have one pick in (approximately) the top 150 of next year’s draft, and that pick would be midway through the third round, about 80th overall.
Let’s say Carolina acquires Watson, and it costs three first-round picks, a second-rounder, and a proven veteran—say, defensive tackle Derrick Brown or wideout D.J. Moore. If a trade similar to that would happen, Carolina, to find its long-term quarterback, would have paid four first-round picks (Brown and Moore both were first-rounders), two second-round picks, a fourth and a sixth, plus $54.6 million that it cost for the Bridgewater and Darnold experiments. I bet in NFL history, finding a franchise quarterback never cost that much in total.
The Bottom Line
Carolina has committed $60.6 million for quarterback play in 2020 and ’21 (including money owed to Darnold, unlikely to be the starter in 2022), employed the 21st-rated passer in the league in ’20 and 29th-rated passer in ’21, and is 9-16 in those two seasons. Wrong on Bridgewater, wrong on Darnold, we’ll see on a tarnished Newton. Barring Newton turning back the clock six years, the team will likely not have the quarterback of the long-term future on the roster when the 2022 offseason begins.
Per Forbes, Panthers owner David Tepper is the 142nd-richest man in the world, with a net worth of about $15.8 billion. He doesn’t have to spend it all looking for a quarterback.
Sam Huff, the Hall of Fame linebacker who died Saturday, was famous in the hotel business for something non-football. As a Marriott Hotel executive in the early eighties, he suggested the chain build exercise rooms in all its hotels. I’m not sure when the earliest fitness rooms were built in hotels, but for the huge Marriott chain, Huff had a hand in the Fitness Center concept at those hotels nationwide.
Wednesday, JetBlue Flight 761, LaGuardia to West Palm Beach, scheduled 3:04 p.m. departure.
Delayed departure till 3:35 p.m.
Taxied from the gate around 3:57. Waited in some side area, idling. No announcement.
Around 4:35, captain came on. Said there has been “an unexpected rocket launch” off the coast of Florida. Said, “We were given a re-route, but now we don’t have the fuel to make the re-route, so we have to go back to the gate.”
Second announcement. Said it’s an unexpected Space X launch.
Turns out the rocket was not slated to launch until after our flight was to land in West Palm Beach.
I am not anti-space flight, but I do not understand catering to Elon Musk, giving him a red carpet to do whatever he wants and fly whenever he wants, at the expense of regularly scheduled air travel. We hugely inconvenience the lives of people who have everyday things to do and places to be—who bought airplane tickets with the expectation that they’d be in Florida in time for dinner. Or, in the case of the person sitting next to me, time to make it to a local hospital before visiting hours ended (8 p.m.) to see a sick friend. It was not to be.
Arrival in West Palm: 8:25 p.m.
For the record: 5 hours, 22 minutes, never getting up, wedged into seat 19F.
i'm gonna need a shower after this one
— kyle meinke (@kmeinke) November 14, 2021
Kyle Meinke, longtime Lions beat man, during the futile, incompetent overtime period between Pittsburgh and Detroit.
How about this pic.twitter.com/7BgYTk6lHP
— JP Finlay (@JPFinlayNBCS) November 14, 2021
Finlay, versatile Washington media personality, with a great snap of the Sign of the Week
Fine for repeatedly and deliberately and intentionally violating COVID protocols all year long: $14,650.
Fine to Chandler Jones for displaying a T-shirt that honored the late Freddie Joe Nunn (pictured below): $10,300.#NFLLogichttps://t.co/JIZT7yw7wY
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) November 12, 2021
— Miami Dolphins (@MiamiDolphins) November 12, 2021
— Odell Beckham Jr (@obj) November 14, 2021
Odell Beckham Jr., wrote a beautiful letter to the those left behind in Cleveland after his trade to the Rams.
I will never ever never ever understand coaches wearing camo on the sideline… you’re not deer hunting or in Fallujah, the dudes on the sideline needs to be able to see you!
— Coach Vass (@CoachVass) November 9, 2021
Chris Vasseur is a coach, podcaster and tweeter about all things inner-game-of-football.
Reach me @peter_king on Twitter, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. A large number of great emails this week, so thanks for the feedback. That’s why this section’s a little bit longer today. I’m using seven; I could have picked 20. Thanks for the interaction.
Good perspective from a lawyer and a dad. From Scott Harlow: “During my ‘invincible youth days.’ I am ashamed to admit, I drove drunk on a few occasions. That came to an abrupt and immediate stop when I observed my first DUI homicide sentencing while clerking for a judge before law school. Just like all teenagers, I quickly dismissed the monotone lessons of the dangers of drinking and driving provided by my school and the DMV. Sitting in court that day listening to the victim’s family members describe their devastating loss, and the defendant’s family pleading for mercy for their impending and inevitable loss, still haunts me 25 years later. Today, I won’t even have half a beer and get behind the wheel. My son is 10. Before he gets his license, I am going to [have him] observe a DUI homicide sentencing himself. I want him to learn the dangers of DUI through the tears shed in the courtroom.”
Powerful and important, Scott. Thanks for taking the time to share your lesson.
I’m off-base in wondering if Raider players are going astray because of the Vegas factor. From John Griffith of Las Vegas: “Your thought that Las Vegas may not be a good place for wealthy, young athletes to go was completely off base. Many of the Raiders, Golden Knights, and Aces are completely immersed in charitable community projects and don’t drive 156 mph down Rainbow Boulevard. Henry Ruggs was not at a nightclub or casino or strip joint. He was at a driving range and friend’s house.”
You’re right, John. But there is an asterisk. I believe you have to consider the money involved. The Raiders had two first-round picks in 2020, Ruggs and Damon Arnette. Ruggs signed with the Raiders at 21, and at the time of his accident, had earned $10.8-million in a year and a half in the NFL. Arnette signed at 23, and in his 1.5 NFL years earned about $8.5 million before being cut by the Raiders last week after a highly disturbing video showed Arnette threatening to kill someone. I looked up the salaries of two young prominent Golden Knights; Nicolas Ray’s average salary is $750,000, and Nicolas Hague’s is $925,000. The average WNBA salary is about $120,000. Who knows if being multi-millionaires at a young age has something to do with the behavior of Ruggs and Arnette, but it at least should be a consideration. I don’t know if the Vegas factor is part of this. We’ll see, over time.
Finished with the Packers. From Garth Cooper: “I wanted to share my frustration and utter disbelief surrounding the league’s handling of the Aaron Rodgers situation. What he did is not only offensive, uncaring and reckless, it was foremost a major violation of league protocol. How must the hundreds of other vaccine-hesitant players who went ahead and got vaccinated anyway to protect their jobs feel about the league absolutely downplaying the severity of Rodgers’ deception. I will never watch another game involving Green Bay, and that includes the Super Bowl if they get there.”
Garth, your email took a different turn than many Rodgers-related ones, but the rancor was similar to others.
Critical of me regarding Joe Rogan. From Chris Schiefen: “You had to know Joe Rogan didn’t conjure his Covid treatments, his doctors did. He then recovered in three days, so of course Aaron would be curious to inquire about his regimen. The question is, why frame it like this college dropout somehow knew six separate treatments to recommend to this professional athlete? But since you decided to paint Rogan in that way, it’d also be fair to understand Joe has built the number one ideas forum on the planet, so of course all sorts of experts in all sorts of fields discuss science et al with the man on and off the show. Couldn’t we assume Dr. Sanja Gupta, or Dr. Peter Hotez, or Dr. Michael Olsterholm gave Rogan advice which he passed onto Aaron, if we’re busy making assumptions? I’d be more careful next time framing Joe as some sort of quack single-handedly dispensing medical advice. It’s not a great look for you.”
Fair enough, Chris. But if you were fearful of getting a certain cancer because it ran in your family, would you call someone famous who’d had it and beaten it and was a public figure in the “ideas forum,” as you say, or would you call one of the foremost experts in the world on the subject if you had the capability to reach him or her? That person would almost certainly be available if Aaron Rodgers reached out, and he implied that he did speak to several people regarding Covid. The only one he mentioned by name was Rogan. To each his own, but I’d talk to the best epidemiologists in the world.
Critical of me regarding Rodgers. From Rocky Catman: “I always thought you were an independent-thinking journalist. So I was very disappointed when you proudly proclaimed yourself to be part of the woke media … Rodgers had concerns about the ingredients in both of the vaccines, but not a word was said about that. Everybody said he’d lied, but yet he did not lie to any of his teammates. As for the writers, it is none of their freaking business.”
Rodgers said he was allergic to an ingredient in two of the vaccines, and said he wouldn’t take the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of clotting issues. (Six women, out of millions, became ill when taking the J&J vaccines.) Rodgers admitted last week he misled people originally when he said he’d been “immunized.” As for it being none of the writers’ business, the availability of one of the best quarterbacks in history to play in an important game is certainly the writers’ business. The Packers would have had a far better chance to beat Kansas City with Rodgers playing than with Jordan Love.
Stop mentioning the dog. From Bill Travers, of Surprise, Ariz.: “Every time you mentioned Ms. Tinton’s death you also mentioned her dog. Most of the sane world realizes dogs are not equal to humans. You dehumanize Ms. Tinton by trying to make her dog’s death equal to hers. Compared to Ms. Tinton’s death, no sane person cares about the dog. It was like nails on a chalk board every time you mentioned the golden. Very distracting.”
Bill, you have company. Several writers this week took me to task for this. I don’t know quite how to respond. I’d be lying if I said, “I’m sorry,” or “I made a mistake,” because I don’t think I did. There is a gray area here. Because I mentioned both on several occasions in my story, it does seem like I am equating the death of a dog to the death of a person. I certainly did not mean to do so—I simply meant to include the totality of the horrific carnage.
What an interesting topic. From Bill Conway, of Eastchester, N.Y.: “The failure of the Dolphins and Raiders to capitalize on recent high draft picks seems to highlight the risks and uncertainty associated with the draft. Do you think other GMs may start questioning the wisdom of trading away quality players in their prime in order to load up on draft picks like the Dolphins and Raiders did? Similarly, do you think the Rams’ opposite approach of trading away draft picks for proven players may become more popular?”
Such a great discussion to start, Billy. Honestly, if the Rams win the Super Bowl this year, I do think some GMs will hold high-level think-tank-type of meetings next offseason to discuss roster-building. They should. The same way teams are re-thinking fourth-down offensive philosophy, I could see them making changes to their thoughts on how to build rosters. I think that teams with a need for a quarterback sometimes force the pick for one. Let’s take the Dolphins, for example. Miami really wanted Joe Burrow in the 2020 draft, but couldn’t get the Bengals to engage in any real trade discussions. I think you’re on to something. The draft’s such a crapshoot. For the Rams, Jalen Ramsey and Matthew Stafford are not.
1. I think Denver’s going to have an issue this week with Teddy Bridgewater. If you didn’t see him matadoring a tackle on a big touchdown run by Philadelphia’s Darius Slay, perhaps you should first read this tweet from former Bronco receiver Brandon Stokley, then watch the play in embedded video:
Nothing you can really say but it’s piss poor effort. If you’re worried about getting hurt then you shouldn’t be out there https://t.co/YkeJRp3MaB
— Brandon Stokley (@bstokley14) November 15, 2021
Vic Fangio’s going to address that with Bridgewater, and Bridgewater’s going to have to address it with the team. To me, it’s intolerable.
2. I think there is no better uniform in sports, especially on a sunny day, than the Chargers’ powder blues with the yellow pants. Gorgeous.
3. I think I am bothered by the pile-shoving-for-touchdown we’re seeing more and more. Seems like we see at least one a week. Sunday in Washington, it looked like forward progress by Antonio Gibson was stopped or paused at about the 1.5-yard line in a huge scrum, and then came two or three WFT horses up front to push the pile into the end zone. It’s not illegal, but maybe it should be. Look at that play—it’s a rugby scrum. Is that what football should be? This isn’t the biggest issue in the league, obviously, but for safety and aesthetics sake, it’s not what the league should want.
4. I think the placement of 32-year-old receiver Julio Jones on IR Saturday means that when he’s eligible to return on Dec. 12 against Jacksonville, Jones will have played in 15 of his teams’ previous 28 games, with 4.7 catches per game and three total touchdowns in 2020 and 2021. If Jones doesn’t rally in the last five games for Tennessee, the Titans are going to regret paying a second-round pick in 2022 for him.
5. I think the most amazing football story I heard over the weekend concerned a 17-year-old University of Wisconsin running back, Braelon Allen. He is from Fond du Lac, Wis. He turned 17 last January, played the Covid-caused 2021 spring season for his high school team, went 7-0, earned all-state recognition at running back and defensive back for the season that ended in May, got recruited and enrolled at Wisconsin, began practice in early August and emerged due to some injuries as the top running back a month ago. Last five games rushing: 108 yards, 140, 104, 129, 173. If Allen chooses, he would first be eligible for the NFL draft at age 20 years, 3 months in 2024.
6. I think this is amazing, if it comes to be that he plays only three college seasons: Braelon Allen could play his last college football game at 19.
7. I think wide receiver Isaiah Ford is an interesting story for Miami. Remember last year? Dolphins traded him to the receiver-needy Pats near the trade deadline for a seventh-round conditional pick in 2022. Ford never played in his month with the Patriots, got released, got picked up by the Dolphins and caught 10 passes in the last three Miami games. He’s a depth piece in the Miami receiving corps now, and caught four passes for 84 yards in the upset of the Ravens on Thursday night. That little one-month Foxboro vacation netted Miami the seventh-round pick from New England in the 2022 draft.
8. I think—as it should be—the MVP race is hugely muddled right now. Two weeks ago, I thought it was Matthew Stafford. Last week, Lamar Jackson or, even after missing one game, Kyler Murray. This week, after desultory recent performances by Stafford and Jackson and after Murray’s second miss, this is a wide open race.
9. I think I’ve watched the Cassius Marsh sack of Ben Roethlisberger and his subsequent celebration/”taunting” of the Steelers eight or 10 times now. I listened to Perry Fewell of the officiating department explain how it is certainly taunting, and that ref Tony Corrente made the correct call in flagging Marsh for taunting.
— NFL Officiating (@NFLOfficiating) November 10, 2021
I realize this is old news, seven days old, but my thoughts:
• Pure insanity.
• I don’t care what words are used to justify Corrente’s call, which was over-officious to put it mildly. Taunting has to be far more obvious, flagrant and more egregious than what Marsh did. Marsh was celebrating/flexing from about 50 feet away from the Steelers sideline; it did not appear he said anything. Fewell said “posturing” by Marsh was part of the call. Posturing, which apparently means adopting a confident posture and staring at the opposing sideline from 50 feet away.
• The question I asked one person with inside knowledge of the officials, the officiating department and how judgment calls are made: How many of the 17 NFL referees would have thrown the flag on Marsh for that play? He said close to half, probably not half. I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know this: One is too many.
• The definition of taunting, per Oxford: “Intended to provoke someone in an insulting or contemptuous manner.” Usually on taunting and near-taunting situations, you’ll see players from the team being taunted react or challenge the taunter. Watch the replay. Did it seem to provoke anyone on the other team? Not one Steeler walked toward Marsh or gestured toward him or challenged him. Competition Committee chair Rich McKay said of taunting in September: “Taunting is trying to entice that other player into some type of activity that is not allowed in football.” There was none of that in what Marsh did. I wish the NFL would just have the sense to say, internally or externally: “Tony Corrente went too far. He’s an excellent official, but that’s well shy of what taunting is.”
• Bruce Arians: “Now you can’t look to the other bench. That’s a new one. Pretty soon you just tape your mouth shut and play.”
• Then Marsh gets fined for it, getting docked $5,972 for the flag. This is just sinful.
• Good for Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport in reporting Sunday morning the major errors the Corrente crew made in the game, including a wrong call on a low block that cost the Bears a touchdown, and the no-call on a late hit on Justin Fields. Two major downgrades in one game will be a big factor in Corrente’s post-season prospects. And the hip-check by Corrente on Marsh? I’m guessing it was an accident. But the fact that it happened at all, on the night of one of the worst-officiated games of the year, is a lousy coincidence.
• Why, by the way, didn’t the replay official upstairs or Walt Anderson in New York correct any of the bad calls? Both men have open lines to Corrente and can tell him to pick up the flag on a bad call. Crickets.
• There’s nothing weak about admitting a mistake, or saying a well-meaning rule put on the books to improve the game is in the process of over-reaching. But all week, the NFL just compounded the mistake. Calls like the Marsh one make a farce of the game. If that’s taunting, I’m Carrot Top.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Speaking of Carrot Top, did you know he is the son of a NASA engineer?
b. See, that’s the content you come to FMIA for.
c. Veterans Day Story of the Week: Steve Hartman of CBS News with one of his most powerful stories ever.
d. Donna Parker, just a person who cares, with the ultimate mission of mercy, finding a military uniform in a dumpster in Lexington, Ky., and not resting till she finds the family of the service member, 971 miles away.
e. “I don’t think you understand what this means to all of us.”
f. Steve Hartman, gift to America.
g. Has there been a better play in sports, all of sports, this year than the Connor McDavid swerving skate through the entirety of the New York Rangers to score a backhanded goal? I’m sure there could be, but that play’s in the discussion for Play of the Year. Missed this last week.
h. “WHAT CAN YOU SAY?!!!”
i. Clever Column of the Week: Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal: “Hi. I’m a Leaf Blower. Everybody Hates Me.”
j. I never would have thought of writing a column in the voice of a leaf blower. That’s why I’m not in Jason Gay’s league. He is tremendous. Wrote the imaginative and cool Gay:
I know: I’m not exactly a Simon & Garfunkel song. I’m OK with ordinances that prohibit my use in early morning and evenings. Do you think I want to work early mornings and evenings? I like to shut my eyes, get some rest, recharge for another day of action.
Want to ban me on Sundays? Go ahead. I’ll bet on football and watch the leaves collect on your lawn.
But I ask you to consider the human role in all of this. For many years, human beings removed leaves and debris from their yards using a crude tool called the rake.
k. Medical Story of the Week: Are we seeing the death of the small-town drugstore? Markian Hawryluk of the Washington Post, on the rising number of Americans living in “pharmacy deserts.” Writes Hawryluk:
Batson’s Drug Store seems like a throwback to a simpler time. The independently owned pharmacy in Howard, Kan., still runs an old-fashioned soda counter and hand-dips ice cream. But the drugstore, the only one in the entire county, teeters on the edge between nostalgia and extinction.
Julie Perkins, pharmacist and owner of Batson’s,graduated from the local high school and returned after pharmacy school to buy the drugstore more than two decades ago. She and her husband bought the grocery store next door in 2006 to help diversify revenue and put the pharmacy on firmer footing.
But with the pandemic exacerbating the competitive pressures from large retail chains, which can operate at lower prices, and from pharmaceutical middle men, which can impose high fees retroactively, Perkins wonders how long her business can remain viable. She worries about what will happen to her customers if she can’t keep the pharmacy running. Elk County, with a population of 2,500, has no hospital and only a couple of doctors, so residents must travel more than an hour to Wichita for anything beyond primary care.
l. Soccer Story of the Week: Grant Wahl, from his Futbol With Grant Wahl Substack site, reporting from Cincinnati on the U.S. Men’s National Team’s 2-0 victory over Mexico in World Cup qualifying.
m. Never thought I’d read a piece from a writer I respect so much after a USA-Mexico soccer match with the words “Poor Mexico” in it. Amazing that has happened in this rivalry, and amazing after our World Cup qualifying debacle last time what’s happening this time. We’re at the top of the table midway through qualifying games.
n. Wahl’s Substack is great, even for drive-by soccer fans like me. Of the Friday night tussle in Cincinnati, Wahl writes:
CINCINNATI — Poor Mexico. The great soccer rival of the U.S. men’s national team came into the summer of 2021 riding a wave of success against Uncle Sam. Eight years had passed since Mexico’s last defeat in an official (non-friendly) competition against the United States. There was no doubt that El Tri had earned its place as the giant of CONCACAF. And then, in the span of five short months, the U.S. faced Mexico three times in competitive games—the Nations League final, the Gold Cup final and Friday’s World Cup qualifier—and won all three.
There’s a new colossus in CONCACAF, to say nothing of a new leader in the Octagonal: The USMNT.
But this U.S. victory, the fifth Dos a Cero win in the last six World Cup qualifiers against Mexico held in Ohio, was different from the ones in the Nations League and Gold Cup. The home team, supported by a pro-U.S. crowd at the sparkling new TQL Stadium, thoroughly controlled the game. The U.S. outshot Mexico 18-8 and enjoyed an expected-goals advantage of 2.17-0.72. A defense anchored by Walker Zimmerman, Miles Robinson and goalkeeper Zack Steffen limited Mexico to few good scoring chances and 90 minutes of otherwise punchless Mexican frustration.
o. You can feel Grant Wahl’s love of soccer in his writing.
p. Speaking of new ventures, good luck to Andrea Kremer, who’s got a very good idea: Go into the vault at NFL Films, pick out some of the great (not good, great) interviews with old NFL legends, and make a podcast series of them. “NFL Films: Tales from the Vault” begins this week. The first episode drops Wednesday: Steve Sabol with Andy Reid from 2010.
q. Two college football questions: Texas lost at home to 1-8 Kansas? And Florida gave up 42 points in the first half to Samford?
r. I’m not sure I’m on the correct planet, actually.
s. Story of the Week: Hanna Kruger of the Boston Globe on the woman who collapsed at mile eight of the Boston Marathon, and how she survived with some help from strangers.
t. Imagine, you’re veteran marathon runner Meghan Roth, you’re 34 and in pristine condition, and you’re sailing along at a six-minute-mile pace (I mean, who does that?) in the most famous marathon in the world, and the next thing you know, bang! You’re out, unconscious, on the street. Wrote Kruger:
Suddenly, Roth went into cardiac arrest, stumbled, and then collapsed midstride. Within two minutes, an ad-hoc collection of medical professionals rushed to her aid. Among them, a nursing student who lived nearby; a retired ICU nurse; a California doctor running the course despite aching legs courtesy of the London Marathon he’d completed a week prior; an emergency room physician assistant who had tended to victims of the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting; and a paramedic from Oregon who by coincidence had been introduced to Roth years earlier in Chicago.
While on the balcony of his home, located on the Marathon route, Cameron Howe — the nursing student — was the first to see Roth fall. He was hosting a viewing party and among the guests was retired ICU nurse Marie Rogers. Together the two raced to Roth as she lay prostrate on the course. Neither could detect a pulse.
“Marie noticed her earlobe had started to change to a purple color. A bad sign. So we turned her over and started CPR right there in the street with me on her airway and Marie on compressions,” said Howe. “We did that for a few minutes until a gentleman who identified himself as a paramedic said he could help out.”
… Another runner, David Pai, a kidney doctor from Sacramento, stopped seconds later. He, too, was a marathon veteran, having completed London a week earlier. Pai delivered a precordial thump to Roth, striking her sternum with the bottom of his fist in an attempt to get her heart back to its normal rhythm. Then, as [paramedic Nick] Haney continued to administer CPR, Pai lifted her legs so that the blood flowed to her core.
u. So I mentioned the death of our family friend and former Jersey neighbor Marcy Fost last week. Just the ultimate giver, supporter, shoulder to cry on, friend. We had a service for her on Tuesday in Bloomfield, N.J., a few people in person, most on Zoom from several states and her grandson from university in Belfast, Northern Ireland. What struck me listening to the 25, 30, 35 people who spoke during the service and that night at a meal was what she left in all of us. What a great life, living it to the fullest, and (I’m sure) dying while knowing her best, generous traits would live on in scores of people. It’s remarkable. It’s uplifting. Marcy Fost did not die in vain.
v. Happy trails, Steve Somers. Thanks for years and years of the schmooze.
L.A. Rams 33, San Francisco 20. Seeing “3-5” as the record next to the Niners, with either Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance (or both) healthy enough to play each week, is one of the true surprises of this season. Who knows? They could shock the West and beat the Rams, who have been known to get pushed around and underachieve this year. But it’s getting harder and harder to conjure up logical scenarios whereby the 49ers win big, important games. And that is not good for Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch in year five.
One other Niner note: They cut Jalen Hurd, the third-round wideout from Baylor in 2019, off injured reserve. He never played a game for them after looking like a bona fide big contributor in the training camp in 2019. Sad thing. Just could never get and stay healthy enough to play football. “We had to move on,” Kyle Shanahan said Saturday. I remember I came away from a training-camp visit in 2019 thinking Hurd could compete for Offensive Rookie of the Year; that’s how man-among-boys he looked.
Dallas at Kansas City, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox. I am a cross-conference schedule-grouser. I don’t like great matchups like this one (on the surface, anyway) happening once every four years. Think of this: This is the first Dak Prescott-Patrick Mahomes matchup ever, and they won’t meet again till 2025, when Prescott will be 32 and Mahomes 29. It’s sad to me that Prescott and Mahomes might meet only three times in their careers. Of course they could switch to the same division or conference one day, but franchise quarterbacks with this scheduling format are assured of meeting just once per four years, and it’s not enough. I believe the league should give the scheduling team each year the freedom to use the 17th game for a marquee-matchup pool. That doesn’t mean making, say, Dak Prescott play a mega-foe each year; Dallas could play a marquee team two of every three years and a lesser team the third. I realize there’s a chance for some unfairness, but the NFL shouldn’t settle for seeing Prescott-Mahomes or Kyler Murray-Lamar Jackson just once per four years.
Pittsburgh at L.A. Chargers, Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC. Home game for Al Michaels, home state game for Najee Harris, and it would have been a sweet home game for JuJu Smith-Schuster, who’s hurt. Game within a game is seeing whether Justin Herbert, frustrated by the heavy rushes and confusing coverages of Baltimore and New England in Weeks 7 and 8, can conquer both—and beat the Watt/Heyward/Fitzpatrick threesome making its SoFi debut.
Washington at Carolina, Sunday, 1 p.m., ET, Fox. Likely the Cam Newton starting re-debut in Charlotte, so there will be some added juice for Ron Rivera’s return to the place he led to 15-1 six years ago. I’m sure when the NFL schedule team plugged Washington-at-Carolina into Week 11 in the early Sunday window, it never thought this meh game would actually be an electric one. This could be the only big game for either team the rest of the way, but the happenstance of the Newton drama makes this the perfect placement for WFT-Panthers.
Cincinnati at Las Vegas, Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS. If you know what to make of either team, I’d love to hear it. Joe Burrow and Derek Carr are capable of throwing for 400 any week, but they’ve shown they’re also capable of throwing easy picks to lurking corners like Denzel Ward and Xavier McKinney too. I still think either of these teams is explosive enough to win a January playoff game.
New England at Atlanta, Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET, Fox/NFL Network. Six weeks ago, anyone give much of a chance for either of these teams to be playing for a playoff spot by Thanksgiving? Now each team is.
Two words describe Jon
Gruden’s legal fight with the
NFL: scorched earth.