It’s crazy to top this column with this #%&@#$ virus again, but I promise it will be brief.
Nobody is clicking on this column to read about this pervasive, crazy, very mild variant of Covid-19. “I swear to you I’m not sick, at all,” said one of those players who has tested positive, and who is still out because he continues to test positive, daily. This person is vaccinated and said he got the booster in late November. “That’s what’s pissing me off. Same thing for so many guys on our team.”
Think of the wildfire-like spread of the virus this way. In a 99-day stretch beginning Sept. 3, Rams players had zero positive Covid tests; in the week starting Dec. 11, they had 32 players test positive. Washington had one positive test in the four months between Aug. 2 and Dec. 7. Since then, WFT has 25 positives. In December, the Browns have 26 positives. (All numbers per veteran NFL writer Howard Balzer of All Cardinals.)
Jacksonville and San Francisco: zero December positives. Las Vegas and Tampa Bay: one.
Twenty days ago, the first case of Omicron was reported in the United States. A week ago, NFL cognoscenti, just beginning to see the Covid testing rate increasing, were still adamant no games would be moved or postponed. Four days after that, three games were moved, culminating a week in which 160 positive tests happened. “I don’t think we could have foreseen the magnitude of that increase and how rapidly Omicron would really take over and essentially change the entire game plan,” the NFL’s medical director, Allen Sills, told me Saturday night. “There was some anticipation, but it’s a bit like preparing for a hurricane. You take all the preparations you think you can and then you wait, and then you see how it actually is … Out of the first batch that we’ve been able to test, almost all of the positives were Omicron.”
Sills is pragmatic and studious, and he’s spoken confidently about the virus in the 21 months that it’s plagued the NFL. But I could hear in his voice Saturday night that this one’s got him stumped a bit. “It’s almost like dealing with a different disease,” he said. “I think it’s going to require us to toss out our old game plan and bring a new game plan to bear because we’re dealing with a very different opponent. The most striking thing is the transmissibility and just how quickly it has spread—coming from basically being an unknown entity to now reflecting almost all the cases we’re seeing in a week’s time. It’s unprecedented.”
The league and players agreed to do something counterintuitive this week. They’re going to stop regular testing of players, and begin a “targeted” testing program, focused on players and staff who exhibit symptoms or self-report them. At first glance—and second, too—it seems the league doesn’t want to catch people who test positive for Omicron, which purportedly has been milder in nature than other variants. One club executive, defending the league’s move to cut down regular testing, said if testing was done this week, with the wildfire-type growth of the variant across the country, “250 players would test positive and would be out.”
“If they are positive,” I asked the executive, “shouldn’t they be out?”
“Maybe it will turn out that vaccinated players with Omicron will transmit the virus in practice or in games,” the exec said. “If so, the NFL’s got to change, fast. But so far, there’s zero indication the virus is transmitted on the field. And the vast majority of players aren’t sick at all. I still think players who aren’t feeling well will self-report. They don’t want to get their teammates sick.”
Sills said on a league conference call Saturday that what the league will do starting this week is what practicing doctors (which he is) do now. They don’t routinely test asymptomatic, well-feeling people. He said all but two of the WFT positive-testing players felt fine and had no symptoms.
But there’s so much we don’t know yet about the Omicron variant. If the transmissibility goes wild and sickens people worse than it appears this variant will, the NFL will look like a greedy business that put jamming through the schedule over potential impact on public health. Now that the lack of testing is a done deal, the NFL has to be sure it pivots the moment Omicron gets more dire than it appears now.
For now, I believe the league did the right thing Friday in pushing Raiders-Browns to Monday, and WFT-Philadelphia and Seattle-Rams to Tuesday. At the time the games were moved, the Rams, WFT and Cleveland had 83 player positives, combined, and there was (still is) no guarantee things wouldn’t get worse. Anyone angry about how “unfair” this is to football balance … take a breath. Life intrudes sometimes, the same way it did in the weird start-and-stop-and-start 2020 season. “This is what our planet, country, league, other leagues, schools, everyone, has been dealing with for a while,” Rams GM Les Snead texted to me Sunday afternoon. “This is science, in a nutshell.”
WFT coach Ron Rivera said Sunday he spent lots more time on roster-fortification than coaching during the week. “We spent hours scanning everyone’s practice squad and on the players we’d worked out since training camp,” Rivera told me. “Because we potentially had our top two quarterbacks out with Covid, it was important to find out who fit us. And Garrett Gilbert was on New England’s practice squad. He’d played for Dallas last year and we liked what we saw, and we thought he could fit our offense well. He might have to play in the ballgame Tuesday night in Philadelphia.”
“The last two years, this has gotten wearisome,” Rivera admitted. “Sometimes you get a ‘Now what?’ feeling. But let’s face it. It’s doesn’t look like this is going away anytime soon. We might have to take a booster every year to stay ahead of it.”
The NFL will be on trial here, now that it’s not going to test regularly. All that’s at stake is the completion of the 2021 season.
My favorite stories coming out of Week 15:
• Tom Brady has lost four straight regular-season games to New Orleans, and none have been one-score games. He’s lost by 11, 35, 9 and 9 points to the Saints. The Bucs’ last three games are against teams with 5-9, 3-11 and 5-9 records, but they were so injury-riddled after the 9-0 loss to New Orleans that the NFC top seed looks like it’s out the window.
• Mark down this date and time: The NFL’s first of 14 playoff spots in 2021 was clinched on Dec. 19, at 7:31 p.m. That is ridiculously late.
• Buffalo at New England next Sunday at 1 ET is the virtual AFC East championship game. If the Bills win, they’d have to lose one of their last two (Falcons, Jets) at home to even have a chance to lose the division.
• The AFC North is separated by a half-game from top to bottom: Cincinnati 8-6, Baltimore 8-6, Cleveland 7-6, Pittsburgh 7-6-1. This morning, the Browns are the conference’s ninth seed. A win over the Raiders at home tonight vaults Cleveland from nine to four, from out of the playoffs to first place in the division and a miniscule lead for the division title and wild-card home game.
• I’m no gambler, but I might put a buck down on a running back winning the MVP for the first time in nine years. With three weeks to go in the regular season for the MVP contenders, it looks like Jonathan Taylor, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, so close you have to separate them by dental floss.
• Urban Meyer, in the end, was so reviled in Jacksonville that it didn’t matter exactly what he was guilty of anymore.
• No 2-11 coach will ever contend for coach of the year, but there’s a lot to like in Detroit’s rookie boss, Dan Campbell.
• How the Steelers are still hanging around is beyond me, but that was one tremendous defensive effort to beat Tennessee.
On with the show.
Football is great because …
Saints 9, Bucs 0. New Orleans had lost five of the last six, the only win a tooth-puller against the Jets, and they were going into the den of the best offense in football. Then Cam Jordan sacked Tom Brady twice, forced a Brady fumble on the Bucs’ best drive when it was still a one-score game, and in general played the game of his NFL life. “No way!” Jordan said over the phone as the clock struck midnight (exactly) in Tampa. “I had a three-sack night against Michael Vick, and that’s forever gonna be my highlight. I had a four-sack night against Matt Ryan. But this is Tom Brady we’re talking about. I’ll take it. I get it. I’d just counter with those two games.”
The Saints are 2021’s weirdest team. They’re 4-0 against Tampa Bay, Green Bay and New England—by an average of 17 points a game. They lost to the Panthers, Giants and Falcons. They’ve had three starting quarterbacks, and it’s possible none will be the opening-day starter in 2022. But they’re 7-7, and they don’t play a team above .500 the rest of the way, and they could sneak into the playoffs and be a dangerous defensive wild-card road team because, really, what do they have to lose?
“Brady hadn’t been shut out in 15 years,” I told Jordan, “and you guys did it tonight.”
“We should have done it last year!” he shot back. “They put up three points at the end of the game on us. [Correct: The Bucs kicked a 48-yard field goal down 38-0 in the fourth quarter, or this would have been two shutouts of Brady in two seasons.] Today, we showed up and showed out.”
The Bucs did shock the Saints at home in the playoffs last year, but I can tell you this: If Tampa wins the NFC South, which is still highly likely, they won’t want to see New Orleans walk into Tampa on Wild Card Weekend.
The MVP Race
Quarterbacks have won eight straight and 13 of the last 14 Most Valuable Player awards, as voted by 50 media members chosen by the Associated Press. Until this weekend, I wasn’t sure a running back was seriously in the running for it, simply because of the dominance of quarterbacks in the current game, and the fact that a few of them are having typical strong QB seasons. Then Colts 27, Patriots 17 happened. Jonathan Taylor’s performance, along with how the game unfolded, and how the rest of Week 15 has gone, left me thinking Taylor has a legitimate shot to be the first back since Adrian Peterson in 2012 to win the MVP.
Taylor, with 1,518 yards, leads the NFL rushing race by 424 yards over Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon with three weeks to go. (The back-to-back reigning rushing champ, Tennessee’s Derrick Henry, has missed six games with an injury.) Taylor’s a virtual lock to be the first Colts back since Edgerrin James in 2000 to win the rushing title. More than that, he’s been the keystone to the Colts comeback since they entered November with a 3-5 record. They’re 5-1 since, and in those five wins—over the Jets, Jags, Bills, Texans and Patriots—Taylor has averaged 157 rushing yards a game. The one game they lost in the second half of the season, against Tampa, contained a telling scene, as told on the “Hard Knocks” show. With the Colts trailing 31-24 in the fourth quarter, and the Colts employing a pass-heavy plan, guard Quenton Nelson asked coach Frank Reich if he’d please call a few power runs on the next series. Reich called eight runs by Taylor on the subsequent drive, gaining 58 yards, and the last call was a Taylor TD run tying the game. The Colts lost 38-31, but the message was sent. The offense revolved around Taylor.
On Saturday night, the Patriots had cut a 20-0 deficit to 20-10 with nine minutes to play, thanks to a brainlock interception thrown by Carson Wentz into a covey of three Patriots. Reich didn’t call a pass on the next series, not scoring but burning five minutes off the clock. After New England scored again to make it 20-17, the Lucas Oil crowd was in full nail-biting mode. On second-and-eight from the Indy 33, Taylor took a handoff from Wentz, found a hole through the left guard/tackle hole, and left Devin McCourty and Dont’a Hightower in the dust with a quick pivot to the right. The 67-yard run clinched the game. At the end, Reich put the ball into Taylor’s hands, not Wentz’s, to win the game. The weekend ended with the Colts slotted fifth in the AFC playoffs.
JONATHAN TAYLOR PUT THE NAIL IN THE ⚰️ pic.twitter.com/hdj9jdr5ny
— PFF (@PFF) December 19, 2021
Meanwhile, the quarterbacks who’ve been in the MVP discussion had a mostly lousy weekend. Tom Brady was shut out by the Saints; Kyler Murray no-showed at Detroit; Lamar Jackson didn’t play due to an ankle injury. On the flip side, Aaron Rodgers was his impressive self in the win at Baltimore, and Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen played well in important wins. Matthew Stafford is not out of it. But no quarterback with 21 days left in the regular season is a no-doubter, and Taylor keeps rolling with huge games for a rising team. I don’t know if he’ll win it, but he’s making it a heck of a race.
On Urban Meyer
Seldom in NFL history has a coach entered a market with so much buzz, and seldom has a coach exited less than a year later with so much scorn. The firing of Urban Meyer should be a cautionary tale, yet again, for owners who put vaunted college coaches on a pedestal just because they won a lot of games at places like Florida and Ohio State. Before the final indignity of the accusation by former kicker Josh Lambo that Meyer kicked him during pre-practice warmups last summer (Meyer denied it), the coach had shown enough of the know-it-all ethos that he’d turned off virtually everyone in the building and the locker room.
Memo to owners: Stop thinking Steve Spurrier, Bobby Petrino, Dennis Erickson, Chip Kelly, Lane Kiffin and Urban Meyer walk on water. Very occasionally, you’ll get a Jimmy Johnson out of college football to be a miracle man. But time after time the big names don’t work. So stop looking for the magic wand, the easy fix. That’s what Jacksonville’s Shad Khan thought he had when he handed the keys to the Duval empire to Meyer. It’s better to stay in the NFL, with imaginative young coaches or older ones with pedigrees who know the ropes. And, above all, fix the quarterback. Your staff could be Paul Brown (head coach), Bill Belichick (defensive coordinator), Bill Walsh (offensive coordinator), and you’re not winning without the quarterback.
Back to Meyer. I thought before the Lambo story surfaced that Khan should give Meyer till the end of the year, then take some time to judge his lousy first year rationally. Here’s my take, in the end: By the time the Jaguars got to the Urban Controversy of the Week last Wednesday—Lambo claiming Meyer kicked him—it almost didn’t matter whether Meyer had kicked him or not. The prevailing feeling after Meyer tried to hire a strength coach with a racially checkered past, after he didn’t go home with the team after a road loss at Cincinnati, after images of him being too close to a much younger woman at a Columbus bar surfaced, after he demeaned coaches on his staff, and then after the Lambo incident, it was all too much. Enough defending this guy, was the attitude. What’s next week’s controversy? Time to go.
Khan’s task now: Make sure you salvage the franchise quarterback, get a coach you can truly trust who either can fix the quarterback or has a staff that can, and be sure the coach is not a TMZ magnet.
Fourth down is the new third down
Two weeks ago I micro-analyzed Brandon Staley’s penchant for going against football tradition by consistently going for it on fourth downs when the math told him it advantaged him. On Thursday night, in the 34-28 loss to Kansas City that likely will determine the winner of the AFC West, Staley went for it five times on fourth down—and three times failed.
I asked Champion Gaming chief innovation officer Frank Frigo, a veteran numbers-cruncher at EdjSports, how he felt about each of the five Staley fourth-down calls. He liked four. He didn’t hate the fifth—fourth-and-one at the goal line at the end of the first half—but he would have kicked the field goal there and taken the easy three points. “They probably have a 55 percent chance to convert that into a touchdown,” Frigo said, “but all the benefit of leaving Kansas City with the ball at the 1 if you fail is taken away because it’s at end of the half.”
Frigo said he hopes Staley sticks to his guns, because the math is behind him. “Human beings love to play results,” Frigo said. “If they fail twice on fourth down, the tendency is not to want to go for it on the third try. I hope Staley stays the course. He’s right.”
Play of the Day
With Pittsburgh’s playoff lives on the line and nursing a 19-13 lead over Tennessee with 46 seconds left, Joe Haden dropped Titans wideout Nick Westbrook-Ikhine a half-yard from the first down at the Steelers’ 10. “I knew exactly where I was,” Haden told me. “I had my feet on the line [to gain], so I knew I couldn’t let him get past that spot. As long as I could keep him from falling forward, and I did, no way he could get the first down.
JOE HADEN WITH THE CLUTCH TACKLE
BALLGAME 🙌 pic.twitter.com/fj8slQUHTK
— PFF PIT Steelers (@PFF_Steelers) December 19, 2021
“It was big. Big, man. Coach T [Mike Tomlin] says those are the weighty plays, fourth and short, third and short, with the game on the line. Money plays. We know we can’t control what other teams do, but we can control us.”
The Steelers will be in good shape if they win out, but winning out means beating KC on the road, Cleveland at home and Baltimore on the road.
Antonio Brown survived Vax Card Gate
The Bucs decided before Sunday’s loss to the Saints that they were bringing back Antonio Brown and safety Mike Edwards to the team despite them allegedly faking vaccine cards last summer. It is, of course, a case of talented people in life getting the edge over the less talented. Now that the Bucs have injury issues at wide receiver—Mike Evans (hamstring) and Chris Godwin (knee) left the game Sunday night, their statuses unknown—it’s clear they’ll need Brown as soon as Sunday against Carolina.
Coach Bruce Arians had said Brown was one mistake away from being cut when the team signed him 14 months ago. Now? Said Arians Sunday night: “It’s in the best interest of our football team. Both of those guys have served their time and we’ll welcome them back.” Now that Brown has gotten away with this, he might say he’s learned his lesson. But it’s naïve to think he really has. How many lessons has Antonio Brown been taught in his professional life, only to revert back to anti-team behavior?
“American Underdog,” a movie about the life of Kurt Warner, starring Zachary Levi as Warner and Anna Paquin as his wife Brenda, debuts on Christmas Day in theaters. I screened the movie, and talked to Warner and Levi about the film. (Our full conversation will be on The Peter King Podcast, dropping Wednesday afternoon.)
What interested me about the film, directed by Andrew and Jon Erwin, is that I thought it would be a lot hokier than it was. Warner’s story—undrafted out of Northern Iowa, stocked grocery shelves to make ends meet, bounced around the bottom of NFL rosters till fortune smiled on him, quarterbacked the Rams to a Super Bowl win, made the Pro Football Hall of Fame—would be almost impossible to believe if you didn’t know the tale. There will be people who watch Levi playing Warner, throwing a perfect spiral with a roll of toilet paper in the Iowa HyVee and an hour later winning the Super Bowl, and think this cannot have happened. But we saw it. The movie, of course, is a feel-great story of overcoming adversity, and what I like about it is the Erwins didn’t go overboard doing it. It’s got a film noir feel, and Levi gives it some legitimacy with the fact that he can throw a football. The first throw in the film, a rollout at Northern Iowa, thrown on the button in the dark of night, is a good sign that the football segments won’t look phony.
I liked the movie, particularly because it’s the kind of impossible dream we need, especially today.
Here are a few snippets from my conversation with Levi and Warner:
Warner, on being portrayed by an actor
“Zach came to the house, shortly after he signed to be a part of the movie. Spent a few days with us. It didn’t take me long to go, OK, I know he’s a great actor. I think part of it when they’re doing your life story is you go, I don’t want Zach to have to act so much to try to figure out who I am … The challenge when you’re doing a movie like this is I’m as worried—can Anna get my wife right? The challenge of who she was, some of the walls that she had up. A former Marine. That toughness that she had to bring as a single mom and a Marine. But there’s also a softness to her. There’s an unbelievable heart in Brenda. That was to me, going to be the challenge for Anna. Can you be tough and soft at the same time? Can you be all those things that Brenda brings to the table? I thought Anna – I think you said it – when you get to know Anna, she’s very much like that, too. She’s very outspoken. She’s very bold. She’s very strong. But she’s also soft. And she’s a mom. I thought they hit the nail on the head with both Zach and Anna.”
Levi, on learning how to be a quarterback
“Kurt was on set a lot. Even when I visited him in Phoenix prior to that, we threw the ball around. He gave me some ideas and some tips and tricks on the mechanics. I had this really great quarterback coach named Clint Dolezal who ironically played in Arena at the same time as Kurt. They played against each other. Clint was great because I live in Austin, Texas and he lived in Texas. We were able to get together during the pandemic. We were at my ranch just going over all kinds of stuff. Not just the mechanics of how to throw a dime but also like what it means to be in the quarterback’s mind. Leading a team in the huddle, under center, all that jazz. It was a crash course. I feel like between all the incredible tutelage that I got from these guys, and I took some hits. I took some hits—”
Warner interrupts and says, “You didn’t take any hits.”
Levi responds, “I absolutely took some hits! I did! I literally did. Even though the movie’s mostly the family dynamic and how he and Brenda and the kids all came together, there’s still so much solid football in there.”
Levi and Warner, on movies as a reflection of real life
Levi: “I think the movie matters because we all need to be reminded of possibility. We all need to be inspired. We all need to be reminded that hope and faith actually have a significance and a power in our lives, in the lives of other people, and how we are all connected and put together in all this. Today, people are feeling like, what’s going on? Is there anything? Can I still hold onto some hope or some dream? I think that we can say unequivocally, yes. I think a movie like this helps to remind people of that.
Warner: “Being involved with this project I think made us all—my family, and my wife and I—kind of step back. Wow, do you believe that this all really played out? I think that’s the beauty of the movie. You know? It kinda seems like that fairy tale, but this really happened. This is what real life is all about. When people go see the movie, they can say, ‘Why can’t it be real life for me?’”
Offensive Players of the Week
Tyler Huntley, quarterback, Baltimore. This is not just a good, young backup quarterback we’re watching. This 2020 undrafted QB from Utah has proven that if he takes care of the ball, he’s a good candidate to be a starter at some point in his life. On Sunday, Huntley went head-to-head with the great Aaron Rodgers, put up 30 points, came back from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to nearly win this game, losing only on a failed two-point play in the final minute. For the day, the 23-year-old Huntley produced four touchdowns and didn’t turn the ball over. He threw two first-half touchdowns, then ran for another two in the final minutes of a frenetic comeback. Huntley completed 70 percent of his passes in a game the Ravens really needed. Final stat line: 28 of 40 for 215 yards, and 13 carries for 73 yards. Not bad at all.
Travis Kelce, tight end, Kansas City. I watched the Thursday night game and said three things when it was over: One, that was the biggest game of Kelce’s very impressive career. Two, I will be surprised if he doesn’t wear a gold jacket one day. Three, what a time to be a tight end in the NFL today—what a deep group of excellent and influential tight ends in the league. With 1:16 left in regulation at the Chargers, Patrick Mahomes found Kelce for a seven-yard TD to tie the game and send it to overtime. And just 1:15 into overtime, Mahomes found Kelce again for a short-gainer—except Kelce turned it into a walkoff 34-yard TD. With the AFC West on the line, Kelce was Mahomes’ go-to guy in the big moments. His 10-catch, 191-yard, two-TD performance was the most productive game of Kelce’s career.
Jonathan Taylor, running back, Indianapolis. In a crucial game for the Colts, on a night when his quarterback looked poor (Carson Wentz: 5 of 12, 57 yards), Taylor rushed 29 times for 170 yards, looking precisely like the warhorse he was at Wisconsin. His 67-yard touchdown run with 2:01 left in the fourth quarter extinguished the Patriots’ chances in a 27-17 Indy win.
Defensive Players of the Week
Cameron Jordan, defensive end, New Orleans. A few Saints were worthy of this award after the hugely impressive 9-0 shutout of the league’s leading offense at Tampa Bay. Jordan had two sacks of Tom Brady and made the game’s biggest play with a minute left in the third quarter. With the Saints hanging onto a 6-0 lead and Tampa Bay driving to the Saints’ 24, Brady took off on a scramble up the middle. Jordan pursued, caught Brady from behind and punched the ball out. That was Tampa’s last best chance, and Jordan ruined it. A great night for a great player was made even more memorable by Jordan recording his 100th career sack.
Trevon Diggs, cornerback, Dallas. “Got to set new goals now,” Diggs said after his 10th interception of the year in the Cowboys’ 21-6 win over the Giants in New Jersey on Sunday. I’ve got one for you, Trevon: Forty years ago this season, Everson Walls of your Dallas Cowboys had 11 interceptions in a 16-game season. No player has had more than 10 since. Your job, now, is to get two in the next two weeks, so you don’t have a 17-game season asterisk on the “12.”
Special Teams Players of the Week
Matthew Adams, linebacker, Indianapolis. Bill Belichick has always taken particular pride in his special teams, having long ago coached them. So in a very big game for the Patriots, it was surprising to see a play on the punt team absolutely cripple their chances Saturday night. With 21 seconds left in the first quarter and the Colts up 7-0, Adams, the Colts’ seventh-round pick in 2018 from Houston, burst through the right guard/tackle gap and was on New England punter Jake Bailey in an instant. Adams smothered the punt, and it bounded back 25 yards into the end zone. Linebacker E.J. Speed recovered it (Speed’s second such TD this season), and Indy led 14-0 after one quarter.
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) December 19, 2021
Tremon Smith, kick-returner, Houston. On his fifth team since being Kansas City’s sixth-round pick in 2018, Smith, a cornerback from Central Arkansas, recorded Houston’s first kick return for touchdown since 2009. Smith’s 98-yard return gave the Texans a 14-3 lead late in the first quarter against the Jags, in the battle of 2-11 cellar-dwellers in the AFC South. Thanks in large part to Smith, the Texans no longer dwell in the division cellar.
Blake Gillikin, punter, New Orleans. In a classic field-position game, Gillikin did his part, and then some. Four times he forced the Bucs to start drives inside their 20-yard line, including at the 3 and 9 in the fourth quarter. A beautiful, important performance by Gillikin on a night when the Saints’ offense wasn’t going to contribute much.
Coach of the Week
Dennis Allen, defensive coordinator, New Orleans. As Mike Garafolo of NFL Network quipped after the unlikely 9-0 Saints’ shutout of the Bucs on Sunday night: “Most coaches walk into head-coaching interviews with a binder. Dennis Allen should just bring a DVD copy of tonight’s game.” Allen, coaching the game after Sean Payton tested positive for Covid, put together a smothering game plan against Tom Brady. It was the first time Brady had been blanked in 15 years. Not only did Brady not have peace in the pocket, but also the Saints’ cover players were superb and didn’t allow the Bucs to breathe. It’s amazing that in 13 drives, Brady never got to the red zone. Think of that. Tip of the cap to you, Dennis Allen.
Dan Campbell, head coach, Detroit. Look at the Lions for a moment … 0-8 starting November, and in the six games since, a tie with Pittsburgh, narrow losses to Cleveland and Chicago, win over Minnesota, blown out at Denver, a rout of formerly 10-3 Arizona. Reminded of what safety Jalen Elliott told me a couple of weeks ago: “We’re definitely still a family, a tight-knit group, lots of respect for our coach keeping us on track.” Campbell knew this was a long-haul job, and he never was woe-is-me when the agonizing losses hit. Good for him, and good for this needy franchise.
Goat of the Week
Ryan Tannehill, quarterback, Tennessee. The Titans could have taken over the one seed in the AFC with a win at sinking Pittsburgh on Sunday. But they fumbled five times (losing three), one by Tannehill, and Tannehill threw a big fourth-quarter pick, and Tennessee lost. This was a game when a Derrick Henry-less Tennessee needed Tannehill to come up big, but all he gave them was 153 passing yards, no TDs, two turnovers, a 68.9 rating, zero second-half points, and one touchdown in 11 possessions.
“I think the majority of the calls in this game were complete BS.”
—Tennessee safety Kevin Byard, after a contentious 19-13 loss in Pittsburgh. Get ready to write a check, payable to “National Football League,” this week.
“If you don’t come prepared, you don’t give respect to who you’re playing, you get beat. Hats off to them.”
—Arizona QB Kyler Murray, after the previously one-win Lions beat the Cards by 18 on Sunday in Detroit.
“He didn’t listen. I knew he wouldn’t listen. He told me about recruiting. I said, ‘Recruiting? That’s a picnic.’ I knew he’d get outcoached … Go back to college, where you belong.”
—Former NFL coach Rex Ryan, on ESPN’s Sunday pregame show, on a conversation he had with Urban Meyer when he took the Jaguars job last winter.
“After the misery of last season, I think, ‘Oh my God, this is almost too good to believe.’ How the gods of football smiled on us. We got not only the first pick in the draft. We got the first pick of coaches.”
—Jacksonville owner Shad Khan, to me, on April 29, 2021, the day after choosing Trevor Lawrence with the first pick in the draft.
“After deliberation over many weeks and a thorough analysis of the entirety of Urban’s tenure with our team, I am bitterly disappointed to arrive at the conclusion that an immediate change is imperative for everyone. I informed Urban of the change this evening.”
—Jacksonville owner Shad Khan, at 12:35 a.m. Thursday.
Less than eight months between those last two quotes.
“I had a better coaching staff at Bowling Green. You guys are f—ing terrible.”
—Urban Meyer to his Jaguars coaching staff at one point this season, per NFL writer Aaron Wilson.
Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, three college coaches migrated to the NFL and had disastrous 13-game NFL coaching careers, coincidentally. The lucky trio:
Highlight: Holtz, fresh off the N.C. State campus, brought a fight song with him to the Jets, and handed out the lyrics to players after a preseason win. Imagine Joe Namath signing The New York Jets Fight Song. They included these inspirational lyrics:
When behind, don’t despair.
Because we will win if you care.
Highlight: Six months after a signing a 10-year contract at Louisville, Petrino bolted for a five-year contract with the Falcons. When they fell to 3-10, he left for the University of Arkansas without telling his staff or players—other than leaving a note on every locker saying “out of my respect for you,” he was leaving. “That’s how a coward acts,” QB Joey Harrington said.
Highlight: You know them. Overall, Meyer came in with the imperiousness of a coach who expected instant respect because of his résumé, and demonstrated horrible communication skills and a lack of respect for the men he hired to coach under him.
Vikings rookie Justin Jefferson, Minnesota’s 2020 first-round pick, is off to one of the best-ever starts of a receiver. Barring injury, Jefferson is on his way to averaging 95 catches and 1,450 yards in his first two seasons.
Look at Jefferson versus the most productive receiver of all time, Jerry Rice, through 30 games. (It’s updated after Jefferson’s 30th game Monday night, at Chicago.) Rice’s numbers are from his first 30 games with the Niners in 1985 and ‘86:
Jefferson: 30 games, 177 receptions, 2,735 yards, 15.45 yards per catch, 16 touchdowns
Rice: 30 games, 128 receptions, 2,391 yards, 18.68 yards per catch, 17 touchdowns
I’d add that Jefferson’s average per catch, which pales compared to Rice’s, is that way not because he isn’t a deep threat of the highest order. He is. The Vikings also use Jefferson to troll the middle of the field and also on short out routes, which is a commonality of most great receivers today.
It is five days before Christmas, and none of the seven AFC playoff spots has been clinched.
The anatomy of a betting line, Houston at Jacksonville, Week 15, with Vegas Insider documenting the timeline of the Texans-Jags odds set by DraftKings:
Thursday, Dec. 16
12:30 a.m.: Jags by 3.5
12:35 a.m.: Jags announce the firing of coach Urban Meyer.
12:50 a.m.: Jags by 4.
10:39 a.m.: Jags by 4.5.
10:51 a.m.: Jags by 5
11:28 a.m.: Jags by 3.5. Rush of Texans money comes in when the line is five, I am told.
(Lord, who would bet this game in the first place?)
Friday, Dec. 17
3:31 p.m.: Jags by 5.
11:09 p.m.: Jags by 5.5.
Saturday, Dec. 18
3:31 p.m.: Jags by 4.5.
Sunday, Dec. 19
10:09 a.m.: Jags by 5.
11:49 a.m.: Jags by 5.5.
12:17 p.m.: Jags by 6.
Moral of the story: Wiseguys thought the subtraction of Urban Meyer was worth a point or two in Jacksonville’s favor.
Reality of the story: Don’t gamble. Houston cleaned Jacksonville’s clocks, 30-16.
SEATTLE — It’s been a glorious week in the King family. My daughter Mary Beth and husband Nick Burek welcomed their first child, Peter Leo Burek, into the world on Tuesday.
What an honor. I am—relatively—speechless about it. It’s very nice, something I never thought much about. I think Mary Beth was concerned I might not want the baby named after me, or I might be self-conscious about it. Are you kidding me? I’m thrilled about it.
Peter experienced his first football game, for 15 or 20 minutes, Thursday night. I am happy to say his first one was a thrill-a-minute tilt, Chiefs 34, Chargers 28, in overtime. But the coolest thing, as you parents of very little ones will know, is when he opens his eyes and sees the light coming through the window from the Seattle morning, or is transfixed by the shiny ornaments on the Christmas tree, as he was Sunday morning, sitting with his grandmother Ann.
One of the things that blows me away in babydom today is the technology. The parents have an app on their phones connected to his bassinet, the SNOO Smart Sleeper, that tracks his sleep by body movement. From 7:27 p.m. to 10:50 p.m. Saturday, a solid blue line indicated 3.5 hours of straight sleep for the lad. Then a white block indicated wakefulness, from 10:50 to 11:35 p.m., then a solid blue block from 11:35 to 2:33 a.m., then more wakey-wakey, then sleep from 4:16 a.m. to 7. Very cool. And they track his bowel movements through something called Hatch Baby—simply telling Alexa, “Alexa, record a bowel movement for Peter.” Which she dutifully does. Amazing, all of it.
Many of you veterans of this Monday column will remember Mary Beth from a couple of decades ago, as the hard-throwing softball pitcher and field-hockey player for Montclair (N.J.) High. That was a fun chapter in her life, and a prideful one in the lives of her parents. Now there’s another chapter, a far more important one. It’s cool too.
Ann and I are so lucky to have three healthy grandchildren, and such great parents to them, as Laura, Kim, Mary Beth and Nick are. At 64, I don’t deserve this endless stream of good fortune in my life, but I’m certainly thankful for it.
Spent a while explaining to my sons why:
— The Ravens made the right call going for 2, even if a PAT ties the score.
— Just because the Ravens lost, doesn’t mean their choice was wrong. #parenting https://t.co/ubugTuZJgz
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 20, 2021
Ian Rapoport covers the NFL for NFL Network.
As far as The Fat Lady singing for the Division Title…She hasn’t cleared her throat yet…she’ll have to wait!🏈💪🏼👌 Believe!!🏈👍🏽. 19-13 Steelers!
— Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) December 19, 2021
The Colts owner, after an Indy win and Tennessee loss this weekend left the Titans up by one game on the Colts with three games to play.
Football has caught up to baseball, where every single failure of process, execution, or just plain dumb luck is attributed to “analytics.”
— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) December 19, 2021
Sheehan is a veteran baseball scribe.
How many QBs are making this throw? Legit
— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) December 15, 2021
Orlovsky, an NFL analyst for ESPN, dissecting one of the best throws a quarterback can make, a deep incut into a tiny window from Matthew Stafford to Odell Beckham Jr.
Urban Meyer has lost his last two jobs for covering up for an abuser and physically abusing an employee, all in the name of winning football games. Get the dinosaurs out of sports.
— Julie DiCaro wrote a book (@JulieDiCaro) December 16, 2021
DiCaro is a Deadspin senior writer and editor.
Overtime possession equality. From Steve, of South Windsor, Conn.: “Here’s hoping we hear more about how it wasn’t fair that Justin Hebert didn’t have a chance to answer the KC touchdown in overtime Thursday night. This was a massive game that had seeding, division winner, and conference tiebreakers at stake. If the national media thought Patrick Mahomes should have gotten the ball in the AFC Championship Game vs the Patriots, shouldn’t Hebert have had a chance as well?
Love your thought, Steve. I have said for years that it’s the height of stupidity for there to be a rule that places a huge emphasis on winning the coin flip to start overtime. Not saying it was a gimme that either team would have scored a TD on the first drive of overtime, but I certainly think it was likely.
Ignoring the kneeldown to end the fourth quarter, here are KC’s last two drives of regulation: five plays, 75 yards, touchdown; eight plays, 75 yards, touchdown. Chargers’ second-to-last drive of the fourth quarter: 11 plays, 75 yards, touchdown. The defenses were tired.
Now, I understand that a minority of overtime games end with a touchdown on the first possession; in fact, only one of 10 OT games in 2020 ended with the team that won the toss in overtime driving for a touchdown on the opening series. But if it’s not an important factor, why has virtually every coin-flip winner in the history of overtime chosen to receive?
My proposal: Regardless of outcome on the first series, each team gets at least one possession in a 10-minute OT, unless the first team runs out the clock.
He says I blew it on Urban Meyer. From Travis, of Orlando, Fla.: “The section of your column sticking up for Urban Meyer [last week] was terrible. What would possess you, as someone who has covered the league for a long time, to carry Meyer’s water like that?”
Well, Travis, in retrospect my point—get through the season, then judge Meyer in toto—looks awful, without question. But when I wrote that eight days ago, we didn’t know two things: Meyer stood accused of kicking kicker Josh Lambo, who reacted angrily. According to Lambo, Meyer told him. “I’ll kick you whenever I want.” We discovered that accusation on Wednesday. Also on Wednesday, we learned that the NFL was going to open a window in late December, for teams that had interim coaches, allowing them to interview candidates for the permanent head-coaching job. Not knowing those things, I thought Shad Khan should wait till the end of the year, avoid the noise and the emotion for now, and make a more reasoned decision in mid-January. Obviously, things changed, and keeping Meyer was not tenable.
Good question about Jacksonville. From Bruce Lang, of Chico, Calif.: “I have good and bad news. The good news is you’re the new coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The bad news is you’re the new coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Why would anyone want to coach the Jacksonville Jaguars, and if someone did, what would it say about that coach?”
Most coaches, deep down, are optimists. Most coaches, looking at Jacksonville, would think: Potential franchise quarterback, pick in the top five of the 2022 draft, $71 million in cap space this offseason; maybe I can get Davante Adams to come. Think of Sean Payton going to New Orleans, the worst job in football post-Katrina, in 2006, or Bruce Arians going to the Bucs in 2019. Who knows what the possibilities are? I do agree that turning around this franchise is a longshot, but there’s good money in it for trying, and potentially great prestige for succeeding.
I agree it’s too loud … and I’m not even in the stands for the games. From Ellis Acklin, of Berlin, Germany: “The NFL stadium experience has devolved to the level of a wrestling tournament with all the noise, music, and calls between plays designed to hype fans. The most off-putting is the call of “It’s thiiiird doooowwwwwn” over the PA at virtually every stadium on every opponent’s third down. This one is even annoyingly distracting watching from home! The stadium atmosphere used to be electric. Now it just feels like what you’d get if you put Friday Night Smack Down and a circus into a blender. Is there any way to make ourselves heard by the NFL on this matter?”
I would suggest writing to Roger Goodell, NFL, 345 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10154. He needs to hear about the stadium experience from fans. Not saying one letter will influence him, but 100 might.
Sobering, excellent point about football and head injuries. From Robert Kent, of Woodstock, Ontario: “I believe the diagnosis of Phillip Adams’ CTE is the final severing stroke in my relationship with football. Morally, I can no longer sit here with chip dip and an IPA whilst watching these gifted young people destroy their brains and bodies for a precious few years of glory and the enrichment of others. Nothing about the sport is worth the decades of agony—physical and mental—incurred by great numbers of its participants. As someone who treasures life I can no longer, in good conscience, watch football.”
Very fair. It’s a question many of us, including me, find ourselves asking right now. I have a few thoughts in 10 Things, below.
1. I think if you want to get some sense of the job ahead of the next head coach of the Jaguars, consider these five things:
a. The Jags lost to 3-11 Houston by 16 and 14 points this season.
b. The Texans averaged scoring 33.5 points against Jacksonville this year. They’ve averaged 11.7 points per game in their other 12.
c. The Jaguars have employed three head coaches (Marrone, Meyer, Bevell) in its last 30 games. They’re a combined 3-27.
d. With rookie franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence starting every game, Jacksonville hasn’t scored 24 points or more in a game this year.
e. Lawrence has nine TD passes in 504 throws. The man drafted 66 slots after Lawrence, Davis Mills, has 10 TD passes in 302 attempts.
2. I think Marvin Lewis, who last coached in the NFL in 2018 and wants a shot at being a head coach again, had some interesting comments to me about the process. Lewis coached the Bengals for 16 seasons. He was derided, understandably, for never winning a playoff game, but he did have a 19-13 record against Baltimore and was 49-47 in the formidable AFC North. He has had interviews in the last two years, but is hoping is this year’s muddled field—there is no true leading, must-have coaching candidate for the January opening to come—he can get another chance.
“When I talk to teams,” Lewis told me, “they’re usually apologetic. You know, ‘Well, you had to work in Cincinnati.’ But I never get any credit for that. I’ve always considered my time there to be a blessing, really, because of all the aspects of football I was able to learn.”
I asked Lewis if he thought things would get better for minority coaches—he is Black—in this hiring cycle, after owners doing such a poor job in recent years with hiring Black head coaches. “I don’t know that you can tell these owners who to hire,” Lewis said. “Hopefully they take deeper dives. But it is an embarrassment for the league when [newly hired Grambling coach] Hue Jackson—nothing against Grambling—can’t get any coaching job in the NFL after being a head coach and coaching running backs, quarterbacks, defensive backs and being a coordinator. That tells me we haven’t made the kind of progress we need.”
Lewis has been on Herman Edwards’ staff at Arizona State for three years, and this season has taken on a mentoring role for defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce, the former NFL linebacker. “It’s really given me a chance to study football and made me a better coach,” Lewis said of his college experience.
3. I think this is this week’s sign that 2021 is the weirdest season in many years: Cards, 7-0 on the road, go to Detroit, 1-10-1 entering the day. Cards never in the game. Lose by 18. Arizona started the season 7-0. Arizona is 3-4 since, including 1-2 since Kyler Murray returned from injury.
4. I think this compelling story by Ken Belson of the New York Times about former wide receiver Vincent Jackson should be read by everyone in the football business—players, team people, media, fans. Vincent Jackson had a mild case of CTE, and his life spiraled downward. This was the second story of last week about CTE diagnoses of former players. The first was about former defensive back Phillip Adams, who murdered six people and then killed himself—no one is sure of his motive—last April. Thoughts:
• Work on position-specific helmets should be fast-tracked so every player can have the option to wear a helmet most suited to absorb the head strikes his position gets most often. It’s disconcerting to me that only a handful of linemen are wearing the first position-specific helmet this year. I hear the number is six. Why would a player choose to not wear the helmet that would protect him the most?
• The 17-game season should be reduced to 16. The NFL claims it’s doing everything it can for the health and safety of its players. Does everything include exposing starting players to 6 percent more full-speed snaps in a season?
• Stop complaining about the game getting soft. This isn’t James Harrison’s NFL, nor should it be. Quarterbacks shouldn’t be getting earholed anymore—thank goodness that’s almost vanished from the game. Give officials leeway on the helmet-to-helmet calls that look like they were missed on replay. They’re trying to get it right, trying to rid the game of head hits. That’s a good thing. (I did criticize the umpire in the Saints-Titans game for calling a late hit with helmet contact on Ryan Tannehill—but the official was so close, with no visible evidence Tannehill got a helmet-to-helmet hit, and I’ll continue to question those.) The bang-bang calls, either made or not made, are most often so close that you can’t dwell on them. It’s life in the NFL today.
5. I think we’re in a golden age of tight ends. Think of the impact of tight ends in the last few weeks:
• Travis Kelce has the most productive game of his 137-game NFL career—10 catches, 191 yards, two TDs, including a walkoff in overtime—as Kansas City beat the Chargers on Thursday night.
• George Kittle owned two straight San Francisco foes, Seattle and Cincinnati, with 22 catches for 332 yards and three TDs in Weeks 13 and 14. Kittle added another six catches and 93 yards in Sunday’s win over Atlanta.
• Mark Andrews followed up an 11-target, 11-catch performance in Week 14 with another gem on Sunday. Andrews caught 10 balls for 136 yards and two touchdowns in the close loss to the Packers. He’s now 15 catches shy of 100 for the season, even with the QB yo-yoing in Baltimore.
• Gronk. With 34 targets in Weeks 11 through 14, Rob Gronkowski is giving Tom Brady the kind of consistent target he gave him in his Patriots prime, Sunday’s collective stinker aside.
6. I think I am laughing about Eagles fans complaining they have to play Mike Glennon’s Giants on a short week because of Washington’s Covid exposure. Oh, the horror! What people have to complain about in life would be sad and pathetic if it wasn’t so funny.
7. I think when you own a team, you’re the steward of the franchise. The steward of a franchise should not hire a coach to tremendous fanfare, soaking in all the praise and accolades for doing so, and then, when it all falls apart, and the coach is fired, the steward of the franchise should not become invisible after announcing the firing in an eight-sentence press release at 12:35 a.m. Shad Khan owes it to his fans to stand up and level with them about this disastrous Urban Meyer era.
8. I think that Khan’s words explaining why he’ll have no comment till after the season—“in the spirit of closure and recharging our players, staff and fan base”—are a lousy, word-salad excuse to say nothing. I hope Khan is paying Darrell Bevell nicely to take the shrapnel of another failed Jags season for the next three weeks. Khan has had one winning season in 10 years of ownership (42-118 overall record). His fans should hear why they should have faith in the direction of this consistently losing franchise, which has won one of every four games in the decade Khan has owned the team. Khan’s a good man. I just think he owes his public an explanation in the horrible times, even if it’s not a satisfying explanation.
9. I think making the Pro Bowl now is on the verge of being devoid of meaning. Teams and players are now tweeting out appeals to fans for retweets, with each RT counting for either one or two Pro Bowl votes. (Fan votes, on aggregate, count for one-third of the vote for the Pro Bowl.) The Pro Bowl has lost most of its meaning in term of judging modern players because so many players skip the game and so many players who weren’t voted in originally now can call themselves Pro Bowl players. (For instance, 18 receivers could call themselves Pro Bowlers in 2019, but eight made it after eight of those voted in chose not to play.) It’s just so devalued now. And how pathetic is it that San Francisco’s Trent Williams, the best tackle in football (by a huge margin, per 2021 Pro Football Focus rankings), was eighth in fan voting? I want to know the genius who said, “Hey, let’s let fans vote for guards and tackles and centers for the Pro Bowl! They watch a lot of coaches’ tape!”
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Steve Hartman-Does-It-Again Story of the Week: The do-gooder CBS Evening News “On the Road” storyteller checks in from Nashville, with the story of how much good a mom whose son died 10 years ago has done in a decade … all in the late Liam’s name.
b. “Liam Changed The World.” Perfect name for this unselfish group, and this unselfish woman, Mattie Mitchell.
c. “How many good deeds has your group done?” Hartman asked Liam’s mom.
d. “Hundreds,” said Mattie Mitchell. “I feel my son, because I would say that’s him doing that from heaven. He’s still working his purpose.”
e. Time Capsule Story of the Week: Workers in Richmond may have found a 134-year-old time capsule, full of things from 1887 Virginia, in a copper box. Wrote Gregory Schneider and Antonio Olivo of the Washington Post:
“The time capsule is thought to store some 60 items related to the Confederacy — most tantalizingly, a possible image of President Abraham Lincoln in his casket, as suggested in cryptic news accounts at the time. Those reports said a 14-by-14-by-8-inch copper box was placed at the site — in what was then a tobacco field — three years before the equestrian figure of Robert E. Lee was unveiled in 1890.”
f. Imagine if the contents are in decent shape. That would be so fun to see.
g. Interesting Profile of the Week: Jewel Wicker of Men’s Health, on Shaquille O’Neal, who turns 50 in March and wants to be a healthier Shaq. I’ve never met the man, but Shaq sure seems interesting. Wrote Wicker:
“For me, [in] 15 summers, I’ll be 65,” Shaq says. “I’ll be an old f—ing man.” … Of course, it’s absolutely possible to still have a “vibrant, energized” life after 65, although Shaq’s definitions of vibrant and energized might be more intense than yours.
Speaking of energy, Shaq’s been burning serious calories lately in his home gym. During the pandemic, his weight crept up to around 415 pounds. (His playing weight was 325.) He typically trains four days a week now for about an hour, blasting through 20 minutes of cardio and banging out 40 minutes of strength work. He wants to slim down to 350 pounds and be ripped enough to “go topless” and post an Instagram thirst trap for his 50th birthday in March. His fitness goal, he elaborates, is to make sure his stomach doesn’t hang over his belt. He doesn’t want to develop the dreaded “OTBB,” or “over-the-belt Barkley,” as he puts it. (This, of course, is a reference to his friend and Inside the NBA colleague Charles Barkley. The two regularly riff with each other on many topics, including their weight.)
h. Wow. 415 pounds, and now falling. Take care of yourself, Shaq.
i. TV Story of the Week: Richard Deitsch of The Athletic on the John Madden documentary that will air on FOX at 2 p.m. ET on Christmas Day.
j. The show is 90 minutes long (72 minutes of program) and the team of FOX NFL producer Richie Zyontz and co-producers Joel Santos and Tom Rinaldi interviewed 38 people in or around Madden’s life. (They were pretty darned thorough—Rinaldi interviewed me about my trip with Madden across America on his bus for Sports Illustrated 30 years ago.) Madden has lived such a full life that I’m sure it was tough to cram everything they wanted to use into 72 minutes. Wrote Deitsch:
One question early on was whether they could get Madden to do an on-camera interview.
“Initially there was uncertainty as to how far John would participate,” Zyontz said. “He hadn’t been on camera in eight or nine years, and while that mind remains a steel trap, he has hearing issues and his voice understandably isn’t as strong as the voice we all remember.”
“We knew John would cooperate, but would he participate?” Rinaldi said. “It was a huge question for us. Would he sit for an interview, the first lengthy on-camera interview of any kind in well more than a decade, essentially since he left the stage? When you’re fixed in the public’s mind for so long looking and sounding a certain way, you’re almost not permitted to age and only because you’re fixed in this one image.”
Zyontz, [FOX’s Eric] Shanks and Rinaldi visited with Madden last March in Pleasanton, Calif., and laid out the project. Zyontz said most of the time was spent teeing Madden up to reminisce and tell stories. At that point, the group came away feeling very good about how he looked and sounded.
k. And so Madden will be in it. Good update from Deitsch, who is always insightful on these TV stories.
l. Science Story of the Week: “We know enough about Omicron to know we’re in trouble,” by Sarah Zhang of The Atlantic. Wrote Zhang:
What seemed likely earlier this month is now quite certain: A big Omicron wave is coming, on top of an already substantial Delta wave. There are still some unknowns about the variant, such as exactly how severe these cases will be. But we know enough about Omicron to understand that the time to act is now. “If we wait until our hospitals look like they’re starting to fill,” says Lauren Ancel Meyers, the director of the [University of Texas] COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, “then it will be too late.”
The most intriguing unknown—the one in which we might like to place our hopes—is whether Omicron could be milder than Delta. But a milder, more transmissible virus can easily sicken so many people that it ends up increasing hospitalizations and deaths on the whole. Here is some simple math to explain the danger: Suppose we have two viruses, one that is twice as transmissible as the other. (For the record, Omicron is currently three to five times as transmissible as Delta in the U.K.—though that number is likely to fall over time.) And suppose it takes five days between a person’s getting infected and their infecting others. After 30 days, the more transmissible virus is now causing 26, or 64, times as many new cases as the less transmissible one … If we are banking on the idea that Omicron is more mild to get us through winter, then we had better hope that it’s really, really mild.”
m. No editorializing here. Just the facts. The scary facts. Protect yourselves, folks.
n. Remembering the great Reggie White, who would have turned 60 Sunday.
o. Remembering the great Bobby Layne, who would have turned 95 Sunday.
p. And happy 56th to Rich Gannon, the 2002 MVP, and the last quarterback to make consistent beautiful music with Jon Gruden.
q. Coffeenerdness: Mary Beth and Nick, being coffee fans, invested in a nice Breville espresso machine, and I am quite pleased now that I’ve learned how to use it. They use Portofino beans, a dark roast from Fonté Coffee Roasters of Seattle. I make a mean macchiato—double espresso with a little whole-milk foamed cap. (Man, I am such a nerd about coffee.)
r. Beernerdness: Dawn Patrol Pacific Ale (Aslan Brewing Company, Bellingham, Wash.) has been my beer of choice before a couple of meals in Seattle. When I went grocery-shopping for the family Thursday, I sought a Washington state beer I hadn’t had, with some character. “Pacific Ale” won. Didn’t know there was such a thing. But I like Dawn Patrol a lot. Hoppy, with a strong and different aroma of citrus and pine/wildflowers. Just very different, and tasty.
s. Last-Minute Gift of the Season: I’m hosting an online fundraiser with Chris “Mad Dog” Russo Jan. 11 to benefit New Jersey-based Write on Sports, a youth-literacy cause that aids inner-city kids in writing and life skills through the lens of sports journalism. The first hour will feature a virtual beer-and-cheese tasting with City Brew Tours. Prior to the event, you’ll receive three craft beers, three gourmet cheeses, artisanal chocolates and some smoked meats to enjoy. If you upgrade to the second hour, you’ll receive an additional beer and cheese pairing, plus an exclusive invitation to join me and my friend Mad Dog Russo. We’ll answer your questions and talk about the football playoffs. Tickets are on sale through Dec 27. Buy tickets here.
Las Vegas 22, Cleveland 20. In game one of this sudden Monday night doubleheader (5 p.m. ET, NFL Network), the healthier, and angrier, team prevails. Bad thing for Cleveland here, at least in terms of trying to make the playoffs, is that not only are the Browns at a disadvantage with Covid sidelining or weakening as many as 10 starters in this game, but also they have to follow a Monday twilight game five days later with a Saturday afternoon game in Green Bay.
Minnesota 20, Chicago 6. This game screams, Finish your holiday shopping tonight.
With Christmas falling on a Saturday, the NFL scheduled two games (Browns-Packers late afternoon, Colts-Cards night) for the holiday.
Buffalo at New England, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS. So with a win here, Buffalo would get a huge edge for the AFC East title. To win the division, the Bills would have to sweep Atlanta and the Jets in Orchard Park; the Pats would need to beat the mighty Jags at home and win at Miami in Week 18, and hope for a Buffalo loss, somehow. That Week 1 home loss to Miami is coming back to haunt New England.
Indianapolis at Arizona, Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, NFL Network. Cool matchup that, at least on one side of the ball, has a very throwback vibe. Colts are first in football with a 5.21-yards-per-carry average. Cards entered the weekend 28th in football, allowing 4.66-yards-per-rush. Jonathan Taylor has been over 140 rushing yards in three of his past four games. With his second straight standalone Saturday night prime-time game, Taylor could further make his MVP case in the desert.
Baltimore at Cincinnati, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS. I’m not saying there’s a revolution going on in the AFC North or anything like that. But this year, against the big, bad Steelers and Ravens, Burrow and the Bengals are 3-0, have outscored BalPit 106-37, and Burrow’s completing 71.2 percent of his throws.
San Francisco at Tennessee, Thursday, 8:20 p.m., NFL Network. The Niners have to hope no one reports to Santa Clara this morning with any unforeseen ailment—because the Niners have the poor luck of their mandatory Thursday night game this year (every team must play at least one short-week Thursday night game) coming in Week 16 against one of the most physical foes in the league.
Washington at Philadelphia, Tuesday, 7 p.m., FOX. The depleted WFT has a tough enough road to the playoffs, with three of the last four games on the road. But moving this game from Sunday to Tuesday night means the team will get back home at 1 a.m. Wednesday and have a very short week to prepare for their toughest test of the home stretch—at Dallas five days later.
Been one big winner
in NFL Week 15.
Omicron’s the name.