Labor Day. Time to stick my neck on the line so you can throw tomatoes at it, and at my head.
I’m picking an Arctic Circle Super Bowl: Buffalo-Green Bay.
I’m picking the Packers to make their first Super Bowl in 12 years by—isn’t it ironic?—going on the road to get there. Man, wouldn’t that be sweet for Aaron Rodgers. And I’m picking the Bills to get off the 0-4, three-decades-old, wide-right schneid to win the first Super Bowl in franchise history. Portable tables of western New York, beware.
Buffalo was almost good enough to win it last year, as we all saw, marauding through the AFC playoffs with 83 points in eight quarters. Then the thud of overtime in Kansas City happened. This year, I think they eliminate all doubts, and all doubters.
The AFC is absolutely loaded. (Tell us more, Mr. Insight.) All four AFC West teams are serious contenders. Baltimore and Cincinnati are. Tennessee is. Indianapolis and Miami could be. Add Buffalo, and that’s 10 teams that wake up this morning thinking they could play into late January. When Matt Ryan might be the ninth-best quarterback in the conference, you know you’ve got a very deep pool of teams that could win on any given Sunday. Or Monday. Or Thursday.
The NFC’s not as deep, but some upstarts—Saints, Vikings, Eagles—could grow into serious threats. I see all making the playoffs.
As for the Rams, trying to become the first team in 18 years to repeat, there’s a lot to like about them. Except the schedule. Since the NFL began handing the Super Bowl champs the Thursday night home game to begin the next season, no titlist has opened with a tougher foe than the ’22 Bills. And I can’t imagine any champion has had 10 games against returning playoff teams. If the Rams win the NFC, however it’d happen, it would be one of the great accomplishments by a team in years.
Re the Packers: I think a purported weakness, the post-Davante Adams receiver room, won’t be as bad as most think. Green Bay has a cadre of young prove-it receivers who I believe will be mentally whipped into shape by Rodgers as the year progresses, and who will respond well to the patient coaching of Matt LaFleur. It’s a better roster 1 to 53 (including the kicking game, which doomed the Pack last season) with a defense that should be a top-five NFL unit by December.
There’s a rejuvenated quarterback too. Rodgers is one of those guys who loves when he’s doubted. I mean, truly loves it. No Adams now, and Rodgers figures, just watch me. We’ll be fine. That plus his three days in Peru taking psychedelics on his ayahuasca journey … The Rodgers who takes the field this year will be a slightly different guy, a guy who told me he loves football more than he ever has. “I think I just fell in love with it a little deeper,” he said. For Rodgers, there’s much to prove after the disappointments of home playoff losses as the top seed the last two years, though.
Whoever makes it out of the NFC, Buffalo is ridiculously formidable. Lots can change in five months, but Buffalo’s got the best roster in football. Including the most dangerous quarterback.
The Lead: 2022 Picks
I remember sitting in the press box in Orchard Park last January, early in the second half of Patriots-Bills. It was insanely cold, minus-5 wind chill, but the Bills were playing like it was a pleasant western New York September evening, 67 and still. How is the weather not affecting them? And how is a Bill Belichick D not affecting them? Thirty-six minutes in, it was 33-3, the most embarrassing big-stage game in Belichick’s illustrious career.
That, in itself, said a lot. How many times has Bill Belichick been embarrassed in his coaching career, really just taken to the woodshed? That’s what the Bills did that night. That’s what Josh Allen did. I was sure I was watching the Super Bowl winner.
“Guys executed at a high level that night,” Allen told me in camp. “That was a fun game, a good game, one that a lot of Bills fans are gonna talk about for a long time. But in terms of what we’re doing, it’s on to next week, and that’s how we are now, this summer.”
The 42-36 overtime loss in Kansas City eight days later didn’t scar what I thought of this team entering 2022. There was one major benefit to the heartbreak in Missouri—it forced GM Brandon Beane to buttress the pass-rush by paying huge money for a 33-year-old edge player, Von Miller. Now, Miller’s probably going to the Hall of Fame one day, and he upgrades Buffalo’s rush immeasurably. But he’s 33, and he’s got to last five months, and he’s got to be playing at his peak at the end of those five months. That’s a big question mark, but it’s also a challenge the Bills are happy to be able to manage.
Offensively, with Stefon Diggs aided by solid number two receiver Gabriel Davis (two playoff games, five touchdown catches) and shifty Isaiah McKenzie installed in the slot, Allen’s got enough firepower to be the best version of himself. He could be a different version, though. The Bills don’t talk about this openly, but the sense I got is they want Allen to throttle down on running the ball. He’s averaged 105 rushes per season in four years, with a career-high 122 last year. It’s a great way to keep the defense off balance, of course, but there’s a cost.
“What’d you do this off-season to improve your game?” I asked Allen in camp.
His answer was telling. “The first part of the off-season was very heavy in recovery,” Allen said. “Letting my body kinda heal up. I took a lot of dings last year. Understanding where I can be better in that process. Not taking hits, not taking useless hits. Getting out of bounds, sliding. In terms of just watching film and understanding when the decision is to maybe put the shoulder down or to slide or get out of bounds. I think that’s one aspect that I’ve started looking at and incorporating in my plan. The best part of ability is availability and I want to be available for this team.”
If that costs a few first downs in September and October, and if Allen’s fresher in January and February, it’s a wise change in his game.
Five compelling contenders, to me, who could up-end the playoff picture:
L.A. Chargers. Wideout Mike Williams got re-signed. The generous defensive front (2021: 4.6 yards per rush allowed) got rebuilt. Big defensive pieces J.C. Jackson and Khalil Mack got imported. And another piece of the front wall for Justin Herbert—first-round pick Zion Johnson—got drafted. A strategic off-season. A necessary off-season.
The Chargers must prove those holes not only got filled, but got filled by impact players. It’s ridiculous with the talent they have that they lost seven of 12 to end the season, that they ran roughshod over Cincinnati and won by 19—and lost to Baltimore by 28, Denver by 15 and Houston by 12. The Chargers averaged 34 points a game in December and January, and when the crushing 35-32 overtime loss in Vegas ended their season, GM Tom Telesco thought: “I cannot believe we’re not making the playoffs.” This year, I think Herbert continues his development. Hard to say he’ll be better, because his 69 TD passes and 9,350 passing yards entering year three are the most for a QB in NFL history. Doing enough to seal weaknesses, and having a worker-bee sponge with a great right arm … to me, that’s enough for this talented team to take a big step and end Kansas City’s six-year run as AFC West champs.
New Orleans. I’ve gotten smitten with the Saints this summer. I love how they turned a weak wide receiver corps in 2021 into the biggest strength on the roster with a big if—if Michael Thomas can come back to health after two injury-ruined seasons. Rookie Chris Olave and homecoming vet Jarvis Landry give the receiver group a shot of adrenaline that will help Jameis Winston be the best he can be coming off his torn ACL. The Saints were smart to add insurance in top backup Andy Dalton. It’s unsaid around the team and a bit of an elephant in the room: If Winston struggles or is gimpy, Dalton will be a good guy to bring out of the bullpen, to keep the Saints winning. One key question is how much the offense will miss Sean Payton’s imagination. He was a bit of a nutty professor in quarterback and offensive meetings. I wrote about this in 2018—Payton once practiced a quarterback-less formation, with Drew Brees and Taysom Hill both split wide, until the last few seconds on the play clock when Hill hustled behind center to take a direct snap and run with it. Will that be missed, or will offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael continue the mind-bending offensive stuff? We’ll see.
Dennis Allen knows he inherited a great situation. As he told me in the preseason: “It’s like walking into your house on Thanksgiving and the table’s set and the food’s ready. All I’ve got to do is carve the turkey.” The Saints think they’ve got a long-term star at corner opposite Marshon Lattimore in the 6-1, 195-pound Paulson Adebo, who is nursing a sore ankle entering the season that’s not thought to be serious. All in all, I like the team that’s 4-1 against the Bucs since the arrival of Tom Brady to unseat Tampa in the AFC South.
Baltimore. I’d contend that—even though no team played more players in history than Tennessee in 2021—the Ravens had worse injury luck last year. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley lost for the season in week one, the running back room ravaged by ACL tears, Lamar Jackson missing five of the last eight games, and the best corner duo (Marlon Humphrey/Marcus Peters) in football missing a total of 22 games. Brutal. Jackson and the corners are back, and there is hope for Stanley to play early in the season. But Stanley’s got much to prove after missing 26 games in the past two years with a nagging ankle injury.
I think the Ravens have a lot going for them, which is why I’m picking them to win the AFC North. First-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald has been a big change from Wink Martindale. Whereas Martindale wanted to dominate the offense every day in practice, Macdonald uses practice to experiment and try to get better. Edge player Odafe Oweh could be one of the beneficiaries, a surprise rising star in year two; how crazy is it he had zero sacks as a Penn State senior in 2020? On the other side of the ball, look for fourth-round tight end Isaiah Likely, a training-camp revelation, to be in a lot of two-tight-end formations with Mark Andrews (107 catches, 1,361 yards last year). When the offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, isn’t a bombs-away guy, that makes for loads of possibilities with the tight ends in intermediate spaces. Of course, the key will be Jackson. It sounds dubious that he’ll get a contract done before opening day, but I doubt it will affect his performance much.
L.A. Rams. Back in my Giants’ coverage days in the late eighties, I once asked Bill Parcells why the NFC East was on such a great playoff run. Teams from the division made the Super Bowl five times between 1982 and 1990, winning the big game four times. “We’re battle-tested,” he said. “Our division’s so tough, and San Francisco and Chicago are so tough in the conference. If you survive that, you’re in good shape for the playoffs.” Will that work for the Rams this year? Big question. Of their 17 regular-season games, 12 (tied for most in the league) are against teams with winning records last year. How about this five-week stretch starting in week eight: San Francisco, at Tampa Bay, Arizona, at New Orleans, at Kansas City. How about this run of QB foes starting in week 14: Derek Carr (on a short week), at Aaron Rodgers (maybe in a snow globe), Russell Wilson, at Justin Herbert (well, road team at SoFi). The .567 opposing win percentage is significantly tougher than the second-toughest slate (Arizona, .543).
I actually don’t mind getting the toughest game—Buffalo, at home—out of the way on Thursday of week one, because you’ve got a mini-bye after that and a week-two home game with Atlanta. But the reward for winning the Super Bowl is the toughest schedule in football this year. One football issue: Matthew Stafford’s staying power with his balky throwing elbow. I saw him on one of his most strenuous throwing days of the summer, in an Aug. 16 team scrimmage, when he threw fastballs and touch throws all over the field and looked great. Stafford told me that day the elbow was nothing to worry about—he said he’d managed it well all last season. If he’s right, the battled-tested Rams will be a hard out in January.
Denver. I didn’t pick the Broncos to make the playoffs, which I’ll probably live to regret. This year’s AFC West is the toughest division I remember since the NFL went to eight four-team divisions in 2002; all four teams have at least 10 games against 2021 teams with winning records. I picked the Chargers and Kansas City to make the post-season, but nothing will shock me. As one coach told me on my camp tour: “No road team winning an AFC West game this year will be an upset.” Think of that. Best line I heard on my camp tour.
The Broncos have been revived by the ownership change and the trade for Russell Wilson. Though Wilson turns 34 this year, his energy and approach screams 24—and if his body holds up, he should still be a player at 40 years, 1 month—when this contract is up. The reason Wilson and agent Mark Rodgers worked so hard with GM George Paton and cap guy Rich Hurtado to get the five-year, $245-million extension done last week is that Wilson, as he went through training camp, was positive he’d gotten to the right place to spend the rest of his career. He knew because of sessions like he had last Monday—when he and coach Nathaniel Hackett spent a couple of hours inside the Denver facility in an office together, just the two of them, watching tape, scribbling plays and formations and adjustments on a white board. Together. In Denver, Wilson feels he has a bit of authorship with someone he considers a football savant, Hackett. It’s the kind of relationship he’s wanted with his play-caller and play-author. That’s why Rodgers spent four days in Denver hashing out the deal with Hurtado, and why Wilson thinks this is the perfect place to spend the second half of his career.
How I see the playoff races:
1.Buffalo (13-4). Finishing 6-0 in the AFC East makes all the difference when so many contenders have tough division slates.
2. Baltimore (11-6). Decimated by injury in 2021, fairly healthy in 2022—including at quarterback. Important in Joe Burrow’s division.
3. LA Chargers (11-6). Accomplishment of the year: Chargers going 4-2 in the toughest division since the 2002 realignment into eight divisions.
4. Tennessee (10-7). Slight nod over the Colts, by virtue of the Titans averaging 35 a game against Indy in their last three meetings, all wins.
5. Kansas City (11-6). It’s almost pick-‘em with the Chargers, because I think the passing game will be fine post-Tyreek.
6. Cincinnati (10-7). The first-place schedule brings Cincinnati down to earth a bit, but the Bengals will be a threat still.
7. Miami (9-8)*. TuAnon, rejoice. It’s not just Tyreek Hill who’ll make over this offense. It’s Chase Edmonds rushing for 1,200 yards.
*Tiebreaker: Miami over Indianapolis (9-8) and Las Vegas (9-8).
Wild card: Baltimore over Miami, LA Chargers over Cincinnati, Kansas City over Tennessee.
Divisional: Buffalo over Kansas City, LA Chargers over Baltimore.
AFC Championship, at Buffalo: Buffalo 26, LA Chargers 20.
1. New Orleans (12-5). Note of the week: Saints have beaten Tom Brady’s Bucs in all four regular-season meetings, and none of the four has been a one-score game.
2. Green Bay (12-5). Minnesota threatens, but Aaron Rodgers figures out how to make Romeo Doubs a factor early, and off they go.
3. Philadelphia (11-6). DeVonta Smith/A.J. Brown combined to average 14.1 yards per catch last year. Now Jalen Hurts has them both.
4. LA Rams (10-7). This is still a very good team. But it’s a very good team facing a murderous schedule, starting with the Bills in three days.
5. Minnesota (11-6). Is this the year Eric Kendricks finally gets credit for being a top-five NFL ‘backer?
6. Tampa Bay (10-7). Just too much noise and too many injuries around this team. Talent, and Brady, makes the Bucs still a factor.
7. San Francisco (10-7)*. We interrupt this endless quarterback story to remind you the other 51 players on this roster are pretty good.
*Tiebreaker: San Francisco over Dallas (10-7).
Wild card: Green Bay over San Francisco, Tampa Bay over Philadelphia, LA Rams over Minnesota.
Divisional: New Orleans over Tampa Bay, Green Bay over LA Rams.
NFC Championship, at New Orleans: Green Bay 30, New Orleans 17.
Super Bowl 57, at Glendale, Ariz., Feb. 12, 2023: Buffalo 30, Green Bay 23.
Envelope, please: The 2022 postseason awards, given here, five months before they actually happen:
MVP: 1. Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo, 2. Justin Herbert, QB, LA Chargers, 3. Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore.
Quarterbacks have won the MVP nine straight years and 14 of the past 15 years. Thus QBs going 1-2-3. Recently, MVP has traditionally gone to a quarterback on a top seed. That, plus Allen’s going to have a killer year.
Offensive player: 1. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis, 2. Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo, 3. Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota.
I’m projecting Taylor to win the rushing title, and if so, he’d be the third back-to-back rushing champ in the last 20 years (Tomlinson 2006, ’07; Henry 2019, ’20). I think he’ll come very close to matching his 1,811-yard season from last year. I told Taylor in training camp that his coach, Frank Reich, told me, “He has no weaknesses in his game. None. Zero.” Asked him how that made him feel. “It makes me want to go out on Sundays and prove him right,” Taylor said.
Defensive player: 1. Aaron Donald, DT, LA Rams, 2 Odafe Oweh, edge rusher, Baltimore, 3. T.J. Watt, edge rusher, Pittsburgh.
This award, 51 years old, has had three three-time winners: Lawrence Taylor, J.J. Watt and Aaron Donald. (Two-time winners: Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Ray Lewis, Mike Singletary, Joe Greene.) No one’s won it four times. Donald, while not dwelling on history, appreciates it, and a fourth DPOY would ensure his spot on the Mount Rushmore of defensive players in modern NFL history.
Offensive rookie (Overall pick in parentheses):. 1. Chris Olave (11), WR, New Orleans, 2. Dameon Pierce (107), RB, Houston, 3. Evan Neal (7), T, N.Y. Giants.
Olave’s targets entering the season depend on the health and productivity of Michael Thomas and perhaps Jarvis Landry, but I think he’ll be right on their level by mid-October. “I come from Ohio State, and Ohio State’s a professional-ran program,” Olave told me in camp. Ohio State and LSU: Cradles of NFL receivers who hit the ground running in the pros.
Defensive rookie (Overall pick in parentheses): 1. Sauce Gardner (4), CB, N.Y. Jets, 2. Aidan Hutchinson (2), DE, Detroit, 3. Jordan Davis (13), DL, Philadelphia.
A bit of a shot in the dark, because, unfortunately, corners have to have picks to win this award. Gardner will have some high-profile matchups, with the Jets facing Stefon Diggs, Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, Tyreek Hill and whoever Aaron Rodgers is throwing to a total of seven games.
Coach: 1. John Harbaugh, Baltimore, 2. Dennis Allen, New Orleans, 3. Brandon Staley, LA Chargers.
This is an impossible category to project on Labor Day, because so many other elements than wins factor in. Last year, Mike Vrabel survived a season with the most active players in NFL history to win the top AFC seed. Something like that happens, and the voting can be messed up. Harbaugh could do it if the Ravens are the only team to go from worst (in the AFC North) to first in 2022.
Comeback Player: 1. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina, 2. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Kansas City, 3. QB Jameis Winston, QB, New Orleans.
McCaffrey’s a heavy favorite in my book, because when you’ve missed 13 and 10 games the past two years after playing your first 48 without injury, and you were a sensation in those 48, pretty much all you’ve got to do in year six is stay healthy for 17 weeks. Production will follow. That’s the big question, staying healthy. But I think McCaffery’s got a good shot to do so.
Game 272: The final game of the regular season, for all the marbles in the AFC North, will pit 10-6 Baltimore at 10-6 Cincinnati. There’s some drama. Ravens win, cop the second seed in the AFC, send Bengals on the road in the playoffs.
Surprise records: Detroit 7-10, New England 7-10, Jacksonville 7-10.
QB changes: Kenny Pickett for Mitchell Trubisky in mid-October, Drew Lock yo-yos with Geno Smith starting in late October, Jimmy Garoppolo for Trey Lance prior to facing Kansas City in week seven, Desmond Ridder for Marcus Mariota in November, Tyrod Taylor for Daniel Jones in December. A rusty Deshaun Watson goes 3-3 in his six late-season post-suspension games in Cleveland. These things happen when you haven’t played a game of football in 100 weeks.
Non-QB changes: Jalen Hurts is solid as a rock in Philadelphia, Davis Mills has a B season playing 17 games in Houston, Carson Wentz survives some struggles to play a full year in Washington.
Difference-making assistant coaches
1. Joe Cullen, defensive line, Kansas City. Remember the oddest result of 2021? Jacksonville 9, Buffalo 6, with Josh Allen being totally frustrated all day. That was the handiwork of Cullen in his one season as Jags’ defensive coordinator. Cullen should work wonders with lots of toys on the KC line, buttressed by rookie edge guy George Karlaftis.
2. Rich Bisaccia, special teams, Green Bay. After the Packers lost the divisional game to the Niners on a blocked punt last January, they made Bisaccia (reportedly) the highest-paid special-teams coach in history and gave him the authority to use players from all over the roster to resuscitate the morbid kicking game. He told the players: “The only ‘I’ I want to hear in here is, ‘What can I do to help us win?’” Results should follow.
3. Raheem Morris, defensive coordinator, LA Rams. I documented his coaching wiles two weeks ago in this space, pointing out how he picked out rookie linebacker Ernest Jones to change roles at halftime of the Super Bowl, and his pass-rush in the second half helped unnerve Joe Burrow. Morris will have a major impact on incorporating new blood on a run to repeat.
I’m on a four-year run of picking Super Bowl teams on Labor Day weekend, which is shocking in Peter King history. My forever record says I stink at this, but maybe with age comes wisdom. [Correction: When I posted the column early Monday morning, I wrote that I’d had four straight correct Super Bowl winners in this annual Labor Day column. Wrong. I picked the Rams to beat the Patriots four years ago, and though I had the teams right, I had the winner wrong. So I’ve gotten three straight Super Bowl winners correct, not four.]
Anyway, my last four preseason Super Bowl picks in Football Morning in America, followed by the result of the real game:
Super Bowl 56: Rams over Buffalo (Rams 23, Cincinnati 20).
Super Bowl 55: Tampa Bay over Baltimore (Tampa Bay 31, Kansas City 9).
Super Bowl 54: Kansas City over New Orleans (KC 31, San Francisco 20).
Super Bowl 53: Rams over New England (New England 13, Rams 3).
Angles, hidden and not-so-hidden stories entering the NFL’s 103rd season:
What to watch for Thursday night: I’ll have my eyes on two players making their debuts for the Rams and Bills, who open the season at SoFi.
New L.A. linebacker Bobby Wagner was a bit of a luxury add for defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, seeing that inside linebacker Ernest Jones had such a solid rookie year (and a starring role in the Super Bowl) for the Rams. But once some cap space opened up with the loss of Von Miller, and Wagner got whacked by the Seahawks, the Rams figured: How do you say no to the man who, per PFF, was the second- and 11th-highest-rated linebacker in football in 2020 and ’21? Wagner’s been amazingly consistent. According to Next Gen Stats, over the last six seasons, he’s played more snaps (6,047) and had more tackles (905) than any defensive player in the NFL. Will the Rams make some accommodation to his age, 32, as they try to find enough snaps for both him and Jones … and try to ensure Wagner being healthy for five months? When I was at the Rams and watched 11-on-11 snaps, Wagner looked like he was on the field at all times with the ones. So maybe he plays the vast majority of snaps and coordinator Raheem Morris plays Jones in base and some passing downs. The Rams love Jones, whose football IQ is high for a young player. Now they’ll have to figure how to maximize both players, and it could result in slightly fewer snaps for Jones if Wagner stays healthy.
New Buffalo pass-rusher Von Miller stunned the Rams and maybe even himself by choosing the Bills in free agency. This will be an emotional game for Miller, who told me early in training camp, “Every time I think about it, man, I get sad thinking about not playing with [the Rams] anymore.” At 33, Miller is unlikely to play the 75 percent of the snaps he played with the Rams (in his 12 games last season in L.A.), and his role will be interesting to watch develop. Surely he’ll want to be a big factor Thursday night at SoFi, but coach Sean McDermott very likely has a detailed plan in place for Miller’s use. “We got Von to close games for us,” GM Brandon Beane told me in camp. It’s funny. The Rams thought they’d limit Miller’s snaps last year, but when he got into a late-season groove, they hated taking him off the field because his game is so multi-faceted. I wonder if McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will be tempted to increase his snaps if his health is tip-top.
The impact of the Russell Wilson contract. This applies mostly to maverick Lamar Jackson, but it will have tentacles early next year with the Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert contract negotiations. But the five-year, $254-million extension Wilson got in Denver last week cemented two things I’ve been thinking about this mega-contract quarterbacks get:
1. Guaranteed contracts for franchise quarterbacks are overrated. They very, very seldom come into play. In this century, I can think of one medium- or high-profile starting quarterback, Alex Smith, whose career was mostly ended because of a debilitating injury—and that injury happened in the middle of his 13th year, at age 34, and Washington paid Smith $31 million to rehab and not play much in 2019 and ’20 before he retired. I think that’s the only case of a starting quarterback who retired before he probably would have wanted because of injury, and not performance. So those who criticize the 51-percent guarantee in Wilson’s contract ($124 million fully guaranteed) are playing a violin I can’t hear.
2. The Deshaun Watson contract, as of this morning, is an outlier. Watson’s five-year $230-million deal was fully guaranteed, shocking most around the league. (As I explained two weeks ago, it’s very clear why Cleveland did it. Watson told the Browns no, and my theory is they huddled and decided the only way to beat out the three southern teams closer to his home and heart would be to totally guarantee whatever contract they’d offer. Which they obviously did, and voila.) But four other top starting veteran quarterbacks have signed deals in 2022—Wilson, Derek Carr, Kyler Murray and Aaron Rodgers. (Not counting Jimmy Garoppolo’s deal.) Those four contracts added up to total guarantees of $354 million out of $747 million in new money. That’s an average guarantee of 47.4 percent. Five big contracts. One guaranteed. The other four less than half-guaranteed on average. I can’t see any good argument Baltimore would accept if Jackson insists on a fully guaranteed deal. I don’t know if he’s asking for it. I just know what I’d say if I was Baltimore.
If I’m Jackson, I’d take the exact gamble his predecessor, Joe Flacco, did. Ten years ago, Flacco gambled on himself, refusing to re-up with Baltimore, choosing to play out the last year of his rookie deal. Flacco and the Ravens, amicable throughout, played out the 2012 season, won the Super Bowl, and Flacco was rewarded with the league’s first $20-million-per-year contract in 2013. Maybe Jackson will get something done this week. Or maybe he’ll say, I trust myself, and I think we’ve got a chance to make a deep run this year, and I’ll be worth a lot more next March than I am now. Clock’s running.
A new day in Minnesota. It was shocking to see the new broom of GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah sweep so clean in building this roster this year. Seven of predecessor Rick Spielman’s 11 draft picks from 2021 are gone, including three third-round picks and presumptive strong QB prospect Kellen Mond. Mond was picked one slot ahead of Davis Mills in Houston, Mond’s history, and Mills might be the Texans’ quarterback of the future. In addition, 12 other players on Spielman’s 2021 Vikings roster were let go by the new regime this summer. But the Vikings will enter the season with quarterback Kirk Cousins, left tackle Christian Darrisaw and the top six skill players—running backs Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, receivers Adam Thielen, Justin Jefferson and K.J. Osborn, and tight end Irv Smith—imported by Spielman, so there’s something to be said for the previous regime’s acumen in building a playoff-contending offense. One GM on the Vikings’ purge to me Friday: “No team’s had more draft picks than Minnesota in recent years [46 between 2018 and 2021], and now way more than half of them are gone. They’re putting a lot of trust in Kwesi there.”
I like Brian Gutekunst’s attitude. The Packers made two very significant decisions in the off-season. They decided to accede to wideout Davante Adams’ trade request and got first- and second-round picks from the Raiders in return. And they decided to blow up their leaky special teams and turn them over to Rich Bisaccia. Time will tell if GM Brian Gutekunst was right on the first decision. He certainly was correct on the second. Gutekunst says he believes in the concept of a 69-man roster, not 53-, because he wants the flexibility of pulling players up from the 16-man practice squad perhaps more than other teams. This year, that could happen early and often. Three defensive backs made the roster primarily due to special-teams ability (Dallin Leavitt, Keisean Nixon and Rudy Ford) while a fourth, Micah Alexander, is on the practice squad for coverage ability on defense and in the kicking game. “We certainly invested a lot, not only in coach Bisaccia but in some of the guys we brought in,” Gutekunst said. The first test comes on a fast track in Minneapolis next Sunday, presumably against one of the best kick returners in the league last year, Viking Kene Nwangwu.
The Fangio defense is on the rise. Somewhere between seven and 11 teams this year will use tenets of the fired Broncos coach’s defense this year. It’s becoming popular for a couple of reasons: It’s very hard for offenses to get a pre-snap read from the defense because almost all of the 11 on defense don’t move much, if at all, before the snap; those non-predictive looks make offenses guess who’s covering who on the play. The defense employs two deep safeties instead of the one deep safety with two corners patrolling either side, and the key to it is that each safety takes one deep half of the field, theoretically forcing teams to throw into short and intermediate areas and make yards after the catch, not in the air. Vic Fangio visited Eagles camp for multiple days this summer. His disciple Brandon Staley brought the defense to the Rams for the 2020 season, took it to the Chargers, and the Rams continue to employ major tenets of it under coordinator Raheem Morris. Seattle was long the birthplace of a dominating three-deep look admired by coaches around the league, but Fangio acolyte Clint Hurtt, now Seattle’s defensive coordinator, will change the defense to employ Fangio looks. So if you don’t see the kind of pre-snap movement on defense this year that you’re used to seeing, it’s the Fangio influence. Ironic that as the scheme gains in popularity, Fangio is unemployed.
Quotes of the Week
“It was weird. It was different than any situation I’ve ever been in. I’ve been in some weird ones, so that’s saying something.”
— Jimmy Garoppolo, on his off-season, after his first practice of the summer with the 49ers last week.
“I just turned 65 years old … When Covid came, it changed a lot of dynamics and gave me time to reflect on my life, my work life. I came to the conclusion that, my gosh, almost 40 years is a long time. It’s time to hand over the baton and give myself the gift of time.”
— Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips, who told Dan Pompei of The Athletic that he would retire after the 2022 season after 39 years in the Chicago front office.
“I’m 45 years old, man. There’s a lot of s— going on.”
— Tom Brady, in describing his 11-day hiatus from the Bucs that ended last Monday.
“There weren’t a lot of people who knew who Richard Sherman was, or Kam [Chancellor] and K.J. [Wright] or Bobby [Wagner], for that matter. So these guys come out of nowhere.”
— GM John Schneider of the Seahawks, on his no-name, post-Wilson, post-Wagner 2022 team.
“There’s a good chance I’ll never do it again.”
— Joe Buck, on the prospect of ever being a baseball play-by-play announcer again, to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post, on the “Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast.”
I know he’s making $15 million a year (or whatever it is) to do football for the next five years on ESPN, but I really hope he changes his mind. Buck is so great on baseball.
Matthew Berry recently joined NBC Sports as a fantasy football analyst. Berry, after a long career at ESPN, will also report on the Football Night in America studio show prior to the Sunday night game on NBC. Berry, on leaving ESPN for a new home:
“I wanted to be part of NFL coverage and I wanted to be able to continue to do my side businesses that I had started. I was in a seven-year contract with ESPN and in my previous contract, which was negotiated by a previous regime there at ESPN, I had hard outs to start my fantasy-life business, fantasylife.com, fantasy life app, the fantasy life newsletter. A lot of different tools, all 100 percent free. These are now growing businesses. They all have full-time employees, they have CEOs, they raise money from venture capital and other investors.
“So, it was important for me to be able to continue to stay with it. ESPN offered me a new contract, a three-year extension with a raise, but they basically said we want you to keep doing exactly what you’re doing. ‘Exactly what I was doing’ was not being a part of ESPN’s NFL coverage and they wanted me to focus just on ESPN. They didn’t want me to continue to have these side businesses. I’d been there 15 years and I helped build the place, the place being ESPN Fantasy. I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears there. Loved a lot of people there. Still love; I shouldn’t use past tense. I still love a lot of the people there and loved my day-to-day.
“But at the end of the day, what I realized was, I wanted to be happy. At this stage of my career I really wanted a challenge. I wanted some different things. And so it was important to me to be a part of NFL coverage and to be able to continue to have an entrepreneurial side to me. ESPN did not want those things to happen and it just wasn’t in the cards for me. I’ll leave it at that. But at NBC, it was. And at a lot of places it was, to be candid. But for me, when NBC said, ‘We will put you on Football Night in America. Not only will we let you keep your side businesses, we will help promote them.’
“Just made total sense for me. I say this with no disrespect to anyone else, but professionally I’ve never been happier than I am right now.”
Kudos to CBS’ “60 Minutes” for the fine piece on Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker Sunday night. (The “Ave Maria” opera singing by Tucker, well, that made the piece.)
I don’t think we appreciate Tucker enough.
• He was undrafted in 2012.
• In 2012, four kickers were drafted: Randy Bullock by Houston in the fifth round, Greg Zuerlein by St. Louis and Blair Walsh by Minnesota in the sixth round, and John Potter by Buffalo in the seventh. Bullock, now with Tennessee, is on his sixth team. Zuerlein, with the Jets, is playing for his third team. Walsh, who played for two teams, has been out of football for five years, and Potter saw just a handful of games before retiring almost a decade ago.
• Tucker, undrafted from Texas, beat out Billy Cundiff in the Ravens’ 2012 training camp. In the first practice after Cundiff was cut, Tucker made field goals of 61 and 63 yards.
• Tucker is the most accurate kicker ever, with 91.1 percent field-goal accuracy.
• Tucker has made 58 consecutive field goals in the fourth quarter and overtime.
• Tucker made the longest field goal in league history, 66 yards, in Detroit last season.
• When Adam Vinatieri is eligible for the Hall of Fame in January 2025, he rightfully should be enshrined. His clutch kicks in the snow and in Super Bowls are unmatched in NFL history. But Tucker’s accuracy beats Vinatieri by 7.3 percent. Tucker is 32. When he retires—say, in 2032—he’ll deserve a gold jacket as fast as Vinatieri.
The last time Baltimore lost a preseason game was 7 years and 2 days ago.
The game was in the Georgia Dome against the Falcons, who had a rookie head coach, Dan Quinn, with Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur on the offensive staff. Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta had two years of construction remaining.
Other highlights from Sept. 3, 2015:
“Fight Song” by Rachel Platten was in its 10th week in the top 10 on the Billboard chart.
One poll, with the presidential race 14 months away, had Hillary Clinton with a 10-percentage-point lead over Donald Trump.
The Rams played in St. Louis.
Sean McVay was a 29-year-old assistant coach in Washington.
SoFi Stadium was 17 months away from groundbreaking.
Brandon Staley was the defensive coordinator at John Carroll, a Division III school in suburban Cleveland.
September 1984, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Before more than 100,000 in the Big House, Hugh Millen of underdog Washington completes 13 of 16 passes in a 20-11 defeat of top-10-ranked Michigan and quarterback Jim Harbaugh.
September 2022, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Before more than 100,000 in the Big House, Clay Millen of underdog Colorado State completes 16 of 20 passes in a 51-7 loss to top-10-ranked Michigan and coach Jim Harbaugh.
Clay, son of Hugh (former Patriots QB), made his first collegiate start Saturday afternoon at Michigan.
King of the Road
Oh, the occasional madness of air travel. I try to say, “Serenity now” a lot, but sometimes it’s just hard to do.
Delta, Seattle to JFK, Thursday afternoon. Flight of 4 hours, 49 minutes. Land at 8:03 p.m., 17 minutes early. Text message brags about another early arrival into JFK! We sit on the tarmac, then taxi for a bit. Now 8:27. Pilot says, ladies and gentlemen, our gate is open but we have some traffic in the area and can’t get to the gate.
Taxi some more. Get near the gate around 8:50. Wait, wait. In defiance of the stay-seated-we’re-on-an-active-taxiway edict by the flight attendants, three or four people just ignore them and use the bathrooms. Get to the gate at 9:03. Wait. Wait. At 9:08, the jet bridge is in place and the door opens, 65 minutes after landing 300 feet away.
Baggage arrives at carousel at 9:47.
Take a deep breath.
Tweets of the Week40
The Patriots' draft failures of the past 5 years are glaring. But is it just bad drafting, or bad player development, too?https://t.co/7hJUdcmeRC
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) September 1, 2022
Volin covers the NFL for the Boston Globe, and he asks a question that needs to be asked about the New England draft woes.
In April, Russell Wilson and Ciara bought this $25M Colorado mansion — the most-expensive single-family home sold in Denver-area history. 🏠
➖ 20,000 sq ft.
➖ 4 bedrooms, 12 bathrooms
➖ 9-car garage
➖ Game room
➖ Basketball court
➖ Indoor pool pic.twitter.com/YYEiwqzmCT
— Front Office Sports (@FOS) September 1, 2022
Front Office Sports covers the business of sports.
25 years ago tonight, I was with a group of fellow Raiders writers in a Memphis bar. We'd seen Boogie Nights together & the NFL season would open for us the next day with the Raiders at Tennessee Oilers.
"Hey," one of the guys said, "I hear Princess Diana was in an accident…"
— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) August 30, 2022
Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, Tweeting Tuesday, on the 25th anniversary of the death of Diana. Not sure if I’ve mentioned this, but Farmer is a great follow on Twitter.
The good thing is they’re obviously not doing it for the money. https://t.co/Kc9IGssVyz
— Armen Keteyian (@ArmenKeteyian) September 2, 2022
The longtime respected sports journalist on the 12-team playoff system approved by the NCAA Friday.
Texans visit Uvalde High School football team, surprise them with new uniforms, to wear helmet decals 'Uvalde Strong' for home opener against Colts @texanscare @uvaldehs @KPRC2 @KPRC2SPORTS https://t.co/dwJ4M1miRw
— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) September 2, 2022
Wilson is a Houston-based NFL reporter and columnist.
Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @peter_king. So many excellent emails this week. Sorry I didn’t get to more of them, quite honestly.
On analytics. From Kaumil Gajrawala of New Jersey: “Great opening on Brandon Staley (in last week’s column). The debate about whether analytics is good or bad will stay with us for a while. It is a useless debate. Analytics, just like the beauty and violence of nature, is indifferent. It is neither good nor bad. It just doesn’t care. The coaches that thrive in the future will know when to trust the data and when to ignore it. We are playing games, not running simulations.”
Agree in part, Kaumil. But I do think the debate is healthy. What I don’t like about it is people thinking those who try different things, as Staley does, should be judged solely on whether something works or doesn’t. Fourth-down conversions played roles in three or four Chargers victories last year, and the team converted 65 percent of them, including six of seven in the game in Vegas. He made a controversial move to go for it on fourth-and-one from his 18-, a move counter to all traditional NFL thought. I understand the criticism and those who would never make such a call. I don’t understand saying it was without logic.
On Robert Kraft and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. From Kenneth Atkinson: “Robert Kraft for the Hall of Fame? Have you forgotten? Your NFL coverage is wonderful but sometimes your hypocrisy with Robert Kraft is awful. You have repeatedly condemned Deshaun Watson for paying massage therapists for sex and commended the Bills for cutting their punter but you never mention that Robert Kraft was CAUGHT ON FILM paying for sex! At a massage parlor! Explain the difference between that and what Deshaun Watson did.”
Two points, Kenneth … First: As voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we are asked to consider only what happened in a person’s football career, not anything (good or bad) that person did away from football. So his forays to the massage place in Florida have nothing to do with my deliberations on his case for the Hall. Second: Kraft, from the reporting at the time, went to a place and paid for services, with no indication that those who provided the services did so against their will. In Watson’s case, there were apparently many massage therapists who did not want to engage in the behavior he stands accused of—the “predatory” behavior as described by Roger Goodell.
On Mike McGuire. From Todd Stuller: “Approximately 10 years ago you had connected with Army Sgt. Mike McGuire. Have you had any contact with him in recent times? Many of us connected with him and his stories and would love an update if there is one.”
Yeah, I love Mike. I haven’t been able to reach him in recent years. I tried when I left Sports Illustrated in 2018—found a confirmed address for him and wrote him a note to try to re-connect but never heard back. I don’t know if he never got the note or just wanted to recede into a reserved life. In any case, Mike’s a great man. We had some good times and I really enjoyed trying to humanize the life of an American hero.
On long hours and football coaches. From Charles L. Freeman Jr., of Los Angeles: “Your ride and conversation with Brandon Staley just reconfirms, at least to me, that football coaches’ work habits are illogical and counter-productive. All this racing to be at the facility before the sun comes up to start another 14- to 16-hour day is absolutely ridiculous. Any legitimate study would most likely show that after eight to 10 hours, they’re just wasting time and energy. But, most coaches are too afraid and paranoid of being seen working better and more efficient hours for fear of their GM and the team owner seeing them as less than all-in.”
Interesting point, Charles. The best idea along these lines came to me three years ago when Sean Payton gave me and my NBC producer and videographer a tour of the revamped Saints’ practice facility. In that facility was a sleeping room—used mostly at night for coaches who worked long hours and had too long of a drive home. But also it was occasionally used for naps. It would be very hard for me to work 14 hours in a day without a nap.
On lawns. From “B:” “Regarding Dan Zak’s Washington Post commentary about lawns: I live in Los Angeles. I have had a low-maintenance St. Augustine lawn for 30 years. It is now dead. Starting today (Sept. 1) we can only water outside one day a week. That is fine; I agree with water restrictions, as we are in a serious drought here in the West. Watering one day a week is not going to make any difference with my now-dead lawn. What’s the point, I ask myself? I will now carefully only water thirsty trees with a hand-held watering can once a week. My point is, having a lawn has not been, for me, having dominion over something. Lawns are basically ground covers, they are fairly easy to maintain, they’ve kept gardeners employed. We are in a new era now, and we will adapt. But in a way, I am heartbroken. Coming from someone who has watched helplessly as her lawn has died, I felt hurt in an odd way … It’s a loss. I adore your column; please when it comes time to retire, consider only partially retiring. I would miss your column.”
I abridged your letter, B. Sorry about that. It was a wonderful email to receive. Let me tell you a story. My father loved taking care of the yard. He was so proud of his grass, and he worked hard to make it the greenest and lushest yard he could. I grew up thinking when I got a home of my own I would want to do the same. I never took care of the yard the way he did, but there was something about the post-mowing of the yard on a bright spring day in May that really made me proud as a homeowner, seeing a bright green carpet around the house. Times change, and it’s good of you to understand water must be conserved now. I understand exactly how you feel—it’s precisely how my father would have felt. Thanks for writing and thanks for the nice sentiments.
On … gratitude. From Les Sweeney, of Denver: “I sometimes grow tired of the all-encompassing NFL, but you always make it interesting, and I love that you include your humanity in the column—coffee, beer, politics, all of it. You are first and foremost a person, a very hard-working one who has earned his place in the rat race. I appreciate hearing about Peter King the dad, uncle, nephew, friend. Next time you’re in Denver I’d be happy to treat you to an Avery White Rascal.”
Much, much appreciated, Les. So nice of you to write. And the Avery White Rascal—one of my favorite beers in the world. Hope to see you in Colorado soon.
10 Things I Think I Think50
1. I think we gloss over cutdown day in the NFL, when more than 800 players lose their jobs, or have to change jobs in a flash. I want to explain one: Nate Sudfeld. When I saw the journeyman quarterback in Niners’ training camp three weeks ago, he couldn’t have been happier. He had some rare insurance—a $2-million guaranteed contract for the season—and he was playing for his favorite team as the backup QB. “I was born here,” Sudfeld said, “at Kaiser Hospital in Santa Clara.” He seemed ensconced as number two to Trey Lance. How fast things changed:
Friday, Aug. 26: Lance praises Sudfeld, 28, and third-string rookie Brock Purdy for making a good quarterback room. He calls them, “two guys that I know have my back.”
Monday, Aug. 29: Niners re-sign Jimmy Garoppolo.
Tuesday, Aug. 30: Niners cut Sudfeld and keep Purdy as the number three quarterback. Sudfeld says “it wasn’t explicitly explained” why he was let go, but the reasons has initials: Jimmy Garoppolo.
Wednesday, Aug. 31: Sudfeld lands on a Delta redeye, San Francisco to Detroit, around 5 a.m., and takes a physical, and passes, and is signed to a Lions contract. He practices with his new team, his fourth in six years, then studies his new playbook, then goes to sleep in a hotel near the facility. “Got about nine hours,” he said.
Thursday, Sept. 1: After his second practice in Detroit, Sudfeld meets the media. “It’s been a beautiful journey,” he said. “This happened fast, but I’m super-pumped to be here. Being released is tough, but it’s important for guys to not lose their confidence. I know how this league works. I’m very confident in my game.”
So how was your week?
2. I think, with much speculation about this so-called Russell Wilson deadline to get a deal done, this is why the thing had to be done by Thursday: Wilson didn’t want to deal with the contract talk once 2022 regular-season prep began. That begins Tuesday. And coach Nathaniel Hackett had given the team a long weekend off. Wilson and his wife Ciara planned to go to New York to make some appearances (including on CNBC’s “Squawk Bob”) and to see Serena Williams Friday night at the U.S. Open. That meant the deal had to be done early Thursday morning, and that’s why Wilson Face-Timed GM George Paton with the news he was taking the offered deal just after midnight, in the early minutes of Thursday morning.
3. I think I have been critical of Bill Belichick this summer, and rightfully so, for personnel and coaching-staff problems. But Belichick is four wins from passing George Halas into second place on the all-time coaching wins list, and he should have those by mid-November at the latest. To think of someone in the modern era coaching on and off for nearly a half-century and continuing in the job till his seventies, as Halas did, is absolutely amazing. Belichick will deserve the kudos when he passes the monster of the Midway.
4. I think this is something to keep in mind if you love the Rams and think they’re being dissed: Only three teams in the last 18 years made it back to the Super Bowl after winning the big one. So you say there’s a chance? Yes. But not a great one.
5. I think this has been a dead weekend for NFL news, but good on Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic for pointing out this nugget: The Rams have kept Odell Beckham Jr.’s locker intact at the team’s Thousand Oaks, Calif.’s practice facility. That jibes with just what I heard in August—the Rams think they’ve got a great chance of re-signing Beckham when he’s ready to play late this regular season.
6. I think it is not insignificant, not at all, that one of the Rams’ six captains for the season is linebacker Bobby Wagner. For him to have shown up four months ago and had enough of an impact to be appointed a captain of a Super Bowl team is a great sign of who he is, and how he has fit in to a new and accomplished team.
7. I think I forgot to mention this in the last two columns, but oh my Lord, does Noah Eagle sound exactly like his dad doing football on TV. Caught one of his preseason games, Cowboys at Chargers, on the Chargers’ broadcast, with Dan Fouts doing color. (Isn’t it ironic?) Noah Eagle’s damn good. Won’t be long before Noah follows the old man onto some NFL broadcast team.
8. I think I do not want to be a negative Nate here. I truly do not dislike the San Francisco agreement to bring back Jimmy Garoppolo. But in the midst of all the kumbaya coming out of the oh-it’s-great-we-re-signed-Jimmy lovefest, I wonder one thing: This is a veteran team that went to battle with Jimmy Garoppolo late last season and saw him beat the Rams in week 18, then watch him be the QB in winning playoff games at Dallas and Green Bay. How will George Kittle and Fred Warner and Arik Armstead and Deebo Samuel, all good team guys, react privately if Trey Lance struggles the first month of the season? Will the Niners’ leadership council go to Kyle Shanahan and say, “Come on. We gotta win these games?”
9. I think kudos are in order for Miami owner Stephen Ross, who donated $1 million to fund the college educations and other costs for the three children of the late Dolphins senior VP for communications Jason Jenkins. Many have documented the utter selflessness that Jenkins packed into his professional and personal career, and Ross’ donation put an exclamation point on that. It’s nine days after the stunning death of Jenkins, and his loss still hurts.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. I love watching the U.S. Open—and not just the Serena matches. I watch little tennis all year, but the verve of the place, and the fact that it’s such a big deal to the players helps make it must-see TV.
b. Case in point: Rafael Nadal in his opening-round match against the unknown Rinky Hijikata. I couldn’t turn away, in part because of how valiant Hijikata was in winning the first set and competing all the way.
c. But Williams’ match against Ajla Tomljanovic was one of the great sports events of the year. Amazing. Just great competition between two lions. Williams was heroic, just heroic. And re Tomljanovic … Imagine every move you make, every shot you make, the crowd is either booing or clearly supporting the other person. For three hours! Much admiration for the winner, and Serena Williams, you have you my everlasting respect for this tournament, and this career.
d. Story of the Week: Daniel Edward Rosen of City Journal on the strangest bank robbery in New York history, the heist that led to one of the great bank-robbery movies ever, “Dog Day Afternoon.”
e. What a lede by Rosen:
The memory that sticks out to Jim Murphy from the screwiest bank robbery in New York City’s history is not the slow drive down a dark road at JFK Airport, with a shotgun leveled inches from his head, or the scrum of onlookers hooting and hollering every time hostage-taker John Wojtowicz stood toe-to-toe with negotiators. It’s not the salacious details of Wojtowicz’s backstory—man robs bank to pay for his “wife’s” sex-change operation in attempt to woo him/her back—or the pop of Murphy’s revolver as he shot Sal Naturale during a struggle for control of Naturale’s shotgun. It isn’t the kiss on the cheek from the hostage he had just saved, or the night, a few years later, that he saw Lance Henriksen play a grim-faced caricature of him in Dog Day Afternoon, the Sidney Lumet film based on the 1972 robbery, while seated in a theater packed with an audibly pro–Al Pacino (playing “Sonny Wortzik,” the fictionalized version of Wojtowicz) and anti-Henriksen audience.
What Murphy remembers most is the shot he didn’t take. It’s the feeling of the trigger as he aimed his gun at Wojtowicz, the mastermind of the robbery. At that moment, Murphy had just shot Naturale in his torso. Another FBI agent had just disarmed Wojtowicz of his rifle. But Wojtowicz also had a pistol in his waistband. His hands were slowly moving down toward his waist. Murphy knew that Wojtowicz had the pistol and commanded him to “freeze,” to get his hands back up in the air; his trigger finger maintained the tension between mercy and retribution.
Fifty years later, seated at a diner in Fresh Meadows, Queens, Murphy says that he can still feel that tension, the great control he had at that moment—and when Wojtowicz eventually complied with his orders, the sensation of the trigger’s release.
f. H/T to Don Van Natta of The Sunday Long Read, one of my favorite places to visit each week, for that story.
g. Radio Story of the Week: Scott Horsley of NPR with a story that almost made me cry, about the tough times for farmers in the western half of the United States:
h. Good for meat prices (for now), bad for farmers long-term. This drought is brutal for farmers everywhere. I feel for them.
i. Reports Horsley:
“Without enough feed to get cattle through the winter, ranchers have been forced to send some of their animals to slaughter prematurely.
‘We’ve liquidated a lot of our cows and a lot of neighbors have liquidated anywhere from 20 to 60% of their cow herds,’ cattle and hay farmer John O’Dea of Nebraska says.
That’s resulted in more steaks on supermarket shelves, and a temporary drop in prices. But the savings for consumers are likely to be short-lived. In a sign of ranchers’ desperation, many of the slaughtered animals are breeding females — cows and heifers — so the next generation of cattle will be smaller.
The USDA reported more beef cows slaughtered in July than any month since recordkeeping began in 1986.”
j. Coffeenerdness: Weirdest coffee order I’ve heard in a while, announced at the Starbucks in the A terminal at SeaTac Thursday as we made our way home from 6 days watching grandson Peter: “Anna! Grande half-caf oat milk latte with vanilla nut and apple syrup.”
k. Apple syrup in coffee? What are we doing, people?
l. Beernerdness: Had the Seapine Mosaic Pale Ale (Seapine Brewing Company, Seattle) at a bar in Columbia City on the south side of Seattle. Liked it a lot. Not at all a boring pale ale. So full of taste, hoppy with a slight citrus feel.
m. How could West Virginia and Pitt not have played for 11 years before last Thursday night’s game? That’s absurd, for two great rivals in such close proximity to be jetting all over the country for 11 years and not playing the team in its own backyard.
n. Late in praising the Sunday night baseball crew on ESPN. I’ve caught a few games this year and watched an inning or two of others … and it’s some really good TV. Last week, for instance, aspiring country singer Adam Wainwright pitched against Atlanta, and for maybe 60 seconds during his outing, the guys in the booth shut up and played tape of Wainwright warbling. Pretty cool. They do some imaginative things, which I think it important for the future of baseball on TV.
o. Podcast of the Week: Shankar Vedantam of the Hidden Brain podcast, with an educated look at choking:
p. Vedantam gets Barnard College psychologist Sian Beilock, who “has spent decades studying why many of us crumble under pressure and what we can do about it.”
q. Beilock, as you’ll hear, comes at this from a feeling of experience, having choked as an accomplished soccer goalie with a national team coach watching. How uncomfortable it is to watch an athlete choking on the big stage, and how unpredictable it is:
I’ve learned not only to feel the excruciating pain, but I look at it as a scientist, I’m really interested in what’s going to happen next. And I think that’s actually one of the reasons we love watching sports, right? We know that people come into professional games or amateur games with high skill levels, but you never quite know what’s going to happen when the stakes are highest. If you just knew how people were going to play based on their past records, why would you watch, right? But what’s so interesting is that at those highest levels, there’s a mental aspect that you just don’t know how it’s going to play out. ‘Who’s going to choke? Who’s going to thrive? Can someone recover?’ And it’s just so fascinating from a human perspective.
r. Cool event in Rhode Island in two weeks: Adam Vinatieri, an excellent marksman in something other than football too, returns to New England for a charity event (helping Wounded Warriors and other worthy things) at The Preserve Sporting Club in Richmond, R.I. on Sept. 18. Vinatieri, an avid sportsman, will be on hand to instruct and aid veteran and amateur shooters, in a picturesque environment.
s. What Charles Barkley said about Kevin Durant on the Bickley and Marotta sports talk show in Phoenix sure sounds right: “He seems like a miserable person, man. I call him Mr. Miserable. He’s never going to be happy. Everybody’s given him everything on a silver platter. He was the man in Oklahoma City, they loved him, he owned the entire state. He bolts on them and wins back-to-back championships [with Golden State], and he’s still not happy. Then he goes to Brooklyn. They give him everything he wants and he’s still miserable.”
t. You mean you can’t buy happiness?
u. I’m shocked. Just shocked.
v. Joey Votto, on Bally Sports Cincinnati, nailing why baseball is such a great game: “We’re blue skies and green grass and baseball caps. There’s something about the different ballparks, the different climates, the different fan bases that’s to me, the appeal of our game. You can sit and putter around on your phone. You can have a beer, a hot dog. You can stay locked in on the game and score it. You can stand on the concourse and banter with friends and family and catch up. You can come late, leave early, and still have a great time. I love our game for that reason.”
w. Attaway, Votto.
x. Best wishes to Hub Arkush, the longtime Chicago fixture on pro football, as he recovers from a medical emergency suffered in mid-August.
The Adieu Haiku
Three days to Rams-Bills.
Game 1. A certified gem.
Thank you, Howard Katz.