Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
That we had two events in Sunday’s NFL games—a player being removed because an injury spotter thought he saw him wobbly/shaky after a hit, and a hugely ticky-tack roughing-the-passer call—that really weren’t connected but seem connected by the jittery approach to concussions and player safety that has exploded in the last two weeks.
Could the spotter and the ref who made the phantom roughing call both have been erring on the side of extreme caution? That’s sure how it looked to me.
“I thought of it too,” former NFL VP of officiating Dean Blandino said Sunday night. “Are we being overly sensitive because of the Tua Tagovailoa situation?”
The line of the night came from a longtime NFL executive. “What’s that thing you guys in the media do every week after the games?” he said. “Overreaction Monday? As a league, I think today was Overreaction Sunday.”
I still don’t know the real story of Miami quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s removal from the Dolphins’ game at the Jets after one offensive snap. In the irony of ironies, Bridgewater, Tagovailoa’s backup, was tackled hard on Miami’s first play and left the game for the locker room. He never returned. We were told the injury spotter in the press box saw in Bridgewater some ataxia; the QB was somehow unstable, per the spotter. In accord with the 20-hour-old NFL rule about motor instability—the rule that came into effect at 5 p.m. ET Saturday—Bridgewater was ruled out for the game. Maybe Bridgewater did stumble, but we never saw it. The Dolphins never saw it. CBS replays never showed it. ESPN reported he passed all concussion tests, but it didn’t matter. Bridgewater, after one snap, was finished.
And then, with three minutes left in a 21-15 game in Tampa, on a simple sack by Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett of Tom Brady, referee Jerome Boger called roughing on Jarrett. The video of Atlanta coach Arthur Smith was perfect—eyes wide open in horror, mouth agape, hands to his head. All I could think was, The league is headed for flag football if that’s a penalty. “If you can’t tackle the quarterback,” Tony Dungy said on NBC Sunday night, “it’s going to be impossible to play defense.”
I've seen a lot of #NFL football in my life, but someone is going to have to explain this roughing the passer call in the @AtlantaFalcons / @Buccaneers game. I'm not sure I've seen anything quite like this pic.twitter.com/YvmekNYxG2
— Scott Pioli (@scottpioli51) October 9, 2022
Another former official told me Sunday night: “Officials aren’t immune from what’s going on in public, and of course they’re following the Tua story. But I can’t imagine making a call, or not making one, because of a situation like [the Tagovailoa story] hanging over the game.”
The roughing call was stunning because Boger’s a good official, and because officials are told to have situational awareness. Don’t decide the game on a ticky-tack call. The Tagovailoa mistake—allowing him back in a game after he struggled to stand twice and had to be helped off the field—shouldn’t be over-corrected by either of the calls that happened Sunday. If Bridgewater really was woozy, then let’s see some evidence from the spotter or from a CBS replay. The NFL has to be transparent here. And we need to hear from the league on the Boger call, because it was huge in the Falcons losing a game that could have given them first place in the NFC South.
Saturday’s agreement by the league and union making it law that players will be removed from games if they demonstrate wooziness or unsteadiness is a positive step. It should be applauded. But there’s a physicality to the game that must be allowed to happen. You can’t officiate scared, or make rulings from on high based on something you might have seen. Sunday was a weird day. The league can’t afford many more of them.
Top-of-mind observations of Week 5, which I’ll get into more below:
- In the first month of the season, the Giants have beaten the 2021 top seeds in the AFC (Tennessee) and NFC (Green Bay), both on the road.
- Cooper Rush, the undrafted Central Michigan Chippewa, won his fifth game of five career starts at the Rams Sunday. Another undrafted Midwesterner, Kurt Warner, also started 5-0 in the NFL with the Rams.
- The NFC East is no longer the NFC Least. The NFC East is 14-6, the best division in football, and contains three of the five teams in the NFL with at least four wins: Eagles (5-0), Cowboys (4-1) and Giants (4-1). Remember when the AFC West was going to be the king of all divisions? It’s 9-9 entering the last game of week five (Raiders-KC), and so will exit the first month of the season with its members being exactly .500.
- How perfect is Justin Tucker? The most efficient field-goal kicker ever beat the Bengals Sunday night with his fourth field goal, a 43-yarder, as time expired. Next Gen Stats, with sensors in the balls and all over the field, noted that Tucker’s winning kick was so perfectly down the middle that it would have split the uprights if the uprights were 18 inches apart.
— NFL (@NFL) October 10, 2022
- Bailey Zappe threw 62 touchdown passes last year at Western Kentucky. That’s 60 more than he has as an NFL quarterback. Last week, Zappe – who was supposed to redshirt for New England this year – and the Patriots took one Super Bowl QB, Aaron Rodgers, to overtime before losing. Yesterday, in his first NFL start, Zappe beat another Super Bowl QB, Jared Goff, 29-0 in Foxboro.
Not the greatest day of games, but some pretty interesting subplots.
Coaches don’t win without players. Players don’t win without coaches. But of all the teams through the first month of the season, the New York Giants are the best example of a team that has gotten every drop out of its players through good teaching and coaching. Take Sunday in London. The Packers were six yards from tying the game with 66 seconds left. Aaron Rodgers dropped to pass, and here came from his right blitzing safety Xavier McKinney.
Last year, playing for Joe Judge and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, McKinney was not asked to blitz. I mean, he told me he was never called on to blitz. McKinney came from Alabama and Nick Saban loved blitzing the safeties. McKinney missed it. So when defensive coordinator Wink Martindale took over this year, he immediately made a connection with McKinney when he told him he’d be calling lots of blitzes for him this year.
“My whole thought process on the play was to try to get to Rodgers, obviously,” he said from the Giants’ locker room in London. “I saw him look to my side, the single-receiver side, before I came, and I figured that’s where he was going. He was gonna get the ball out fast. I wanted to make a play so bad, so I timed my jump and got my hands on the ball.”
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) October 9, 2022
That was the decisive play in the 27-22 stunner by the 4-1 Giants. Martindale told McKinney after the game, “Hell of a play!”
“I told him, ‘Great play call,’” McKinney said. “We’ve got a real bond with our coaches. From the jump, they’ve given us the freedom to just go out there and play—don’t worry about mistakes. After losing here for a long time, we’re having so much fun.”
The Giants, because of injuries, are playing five new defenders in prominent roles—like former Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith—and all played at least 20 snaps Sunday. On offense, without injured wideouts Kenny Golladay, Wan’Dale Robinson and Kadarius Toney, offensive coordinator Mike Kafka has had to be imaginative. With Daniel Jones and Tyrod Taylor both injured last week, Kafka put Saquon Barkley in the Wildcat formation and he continued that in London against Green Bay. The Giants are improvising as well as any team in the league, and they may improvise all the way to the playoffs.
Baltimore’s had two of the worst losses of the year—bad home collapses to Miami and Buffalo—and here they were, in danger of blowing another double-digit lead to Cincinnati at home Sunday night. Down 17-16 with 1:55 left, Lamar Jackson led the Ravens to the Cincinnati 25- with three seconds left. How depressing it must be for other teams to have the Ravens a point or two behind at the end, and to see Justin Tucker jog out to the field to measure his kick. In this case, it would be a 43-yarder. In 11 NFL seasons, he’d missed 11 of 112 field goals in the forties. Go home. It’s all over. And it was, with the kick so perfectly straight down the middle—as I wrote above—the field goal would have been good if the goalposts were a foot-and-a-half apart.
“I didn’t know that,” Tucker told me after the game. “That’s something. Well, it’s a cool thing for our group, that’s for sure.” His snap/hold duo has changed in the last two years, with Nick Moore replacing Morgan Cox as snapper and rookie punter Jordan Stout taking over for Sam Koch.
“Holding is one of the most under-appreciated jobs in football,” Tucker said. “Jordan hadn’t held a lot at Penn State. For him, the biggest challenge was getting our timing right. Get the laces right—straight ahead. Get the lean of the ball just so. I like the ball straight up and down, leaning just slightly toward the holder. Their work — Nick’s and Jordan’s — came to fruition tonight in a big way. The only thing that matters is the 1.3 seconds and all the things that have to be done right to make the ball go straight.”
Ravens 19, Bengals 17. Tucker was four-for-four on the night. He’s now missed 32 field goal tries in 11 years. To put that into perspective, consider that the great Adam Vinatieri missed 116 in 24 years – Tucker is on track to miss fewer than 70 over that same span. He’s the most precise to ever do it, and that precision put the Ravens in first place in the AFC North Sunday night.
Someone’s got to make a movie about Taysom Hill. The most explosive player in the NFL Sunday was Hill, a part special-teamer, part backup-QB, part running back. He scored four touchdowns, three rushing and a beautiful 22-yard TD pass to tight end Adam Trautman. His 228 rushing yards is more than Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Alvin Kamara, and his 10.9-yard rushing average leads the NFL. His 60-yard rushing TD was the winning score in a 39-32 victory over Seattle.
You might know Hill’s origin story. Sean Payton spotted the 6-2, 225-pound block of granite in the 2017 preseason when Hill was about to get cut by the Packers, and he signed Hill to the Saints’ practice squad. Payton hired Mike Westhoff to coach special teams for the Saints in midseason that year. As Westhoff told me: “I just get there, and I’m walking through the locker room and I see this young man coming out of the shower wrapped in a towel. And he looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger. I met him, and he says he’s a quarterback. I went immediately to Sean Payton’s office. I said I had a lot of luck with quarterbacks in special teams. I had a long talk with him. I loved him. He’s explosive but more than that he’s tough. He can hit. Runs in the 4.4s. He’s athletic. All of a sudden he became a special teams star for us.”
On Sunday night, Hill told me he realizes his good fortune to have found his way to a place that believed in him. “There are guys much more talented than I am who never got a chance to do what I’m doing,” Hill said. “As I reflect on it, I owe so much to Mike [Westhoff] and to Sean and so many others here who gave me a chance—who continue to give me a chance.”
Like offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael now. At halftime Sunday, Carmichael told Hill he had something planned for the second half—the first pass Hill would throw this season. He’s had a few cups of coffee at quarterback for the Saints, but he wasn’t consistent enough to get the regular gig. After Hill ran for two scores in the first half, when he came in late in the third quarter, the Seahawks assumed he’d be running it again. The linebacker sucked up toward the line and let Trautman leak past, and Hill’s lofted TD throw hit Trautman in stride. “I was expecting single-high [safety] coverage,” he said, “and I’m sure Adam was too. But they were obviously thinking run, and he was wide open.”
Taysom Hill does it ALL
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) October 9, 2022
The Saints, 2-3, will need more explosive plays from Hill because of injuries to key receivers and a defense that hasn’t been nearly as good as expected. Hill played only 23 snaps Sunday but scored 24 points. That’s a pretty good return on investment for New Orleans.
Surprising score of the day: New England 29, Detroit 0—especially after the Lions scored 45 last week in a loss to Seattle. I remember on my trip to Patriots camp seeing Bill Belichick spend a good half of a practice one-on-one with Zappe. Reminded me of the times early in Tom Brady’s career when Belichick spent big chunks of time coaching him. On Sunday, Zappe had an efficient showing (17-of-21, 188 yards, 100.0 rating) and threw a 24-yard TD to Jakobi Meyers. “When I heard about his college stats and all those touchdowns, I figured you don’t throw for that many touchdowns (62 last year at Western Kentucky) without being able to play the game,” Meyers said post-game. “You saw Bill with him so much in training camp, preparing for days like this.”
Next week could be a huge TV-ratings weekend. Sunday early window: The 3-2 Jets at Green Bay, the Ravens at the 4-1 Giants. Doubleheader window: Buffalo at Kansas City. Sunday night: Dallas at Philadelphia … Micah Parsons is the rising pass-rusher who lifts all boats. The Cowboys, for the first time in 50 years, have allowed less than 20 points in each of their first five games.
Speaking of teams that haven’t allowed 20 points in a game yet, consider the 49ers and their rising defensive coordinator, DeMeco Ryans. Niners have allowed 19, 7, 11, 9 and 15 points and Ryans has been catapulted into contention for head-coaching jobs. Ryans and the Niners crushed Carolina, dropping Matt Rhule to 1-4 this year and 11-27 in two-plus years, putting him in the very-hot-seat category. Remember 33 months ago, when Panthers owner David Tepper camped out in Waco waiting for the Baylor coach to come off a family vacation, then signed him to a seven-year, $62 million contract to keep him away from the Giants? Seems like a long time ago now. Tepper doesn’t strike me as the type of guy who will be too worried about eating a big contract.
Wide receiver KJ Hamler is in his third year in the NFL. He has 37 catches and has battled injuries. On a good day, he’s the Broncos’ third receiver, which made what happened at the end of Denver’s embarrassing 12-9 loss to the Colts Thursday night so notable. This is how open Hamler was on the last play of the game:
KJ Hamler was slamming his helmet after the game. For good reason… pic.twitter.com/l5BbcyEeGt
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) October 7, 2022
Russell Wilson’s pass to Courtland Sutton was knocked away by Colts cornerback Stephon Gilmore. Now, it’s possible that throw was intended for Hamler, who was five yards behind Sutton near the end line at that moment. But it was right in Sutton’s gut—and if Wilson was intending to throw for Hamler, he was way late. At the end of the play, Hamler took off his helmet, fired it to the ground and seethed. When NFL Network’s James Palmer saw Hamler after the game, he was still seething. “I could have walked in,” Hamler told Palmer, meaning he could have scored easily on the play if only Wilson had seen him at the right time, when he was totally uncovered.
Imagine, in Buffalo, Josh Allen missing a wide open Isaiah McKenzie in the end zone, or KC’s Patrick Mahomes missing a wide open JuJu Smith-Schuster in the end zone, or the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers ignoring a free Romeo Doubs in the end zone. Can you envision McKenzie or Smith-Schuster or Doubs firing his helmet to the ground in full view of all the cameras and then grousing openly about it to a national reporter?
What level of respect must an unproven young receiver have for Russell Wilson to do that? Which is one of the major takeaways for me one month into the new era of the Denver Broncos: Wilson, by his awful play through five games, appears week after week to be eroding the trust the rest of his team has in him and causing teammates to think: This is the great Russell Wilson?
Thursday was the capper to a month when Wilson plummeted to his career rock-bottom. He’s apace to throw for 14 touchdowns this year; career average in his 10 Seattle seasons: 29. NFL Network reported Saturday Wilson had an injection to relieve pain near his throwing shoulder Friday in Los Angeles, and that he is expected to play week six at the Chargers. Has the shoulder been a factor in his play? That’d be conjecture, but Wilson has been throwing the ball with adequate velocity.
Whatever it is, there’s some reason why Wilson is struggling mightily for the first time in his career. The biggest play the Broncos made Thursday was a fluky one influenced by back judge Greg Steed. For some reason, Denver receivers Sutton and Montrell Washington were in the same place down the right seam for a deep Wilson pass, covered in a crowd by three Indy defensive backs. The Colt in the best position to make the play, safety Rodney Thomas, got taken out by Steed, who inexplicably was dead-center in the middle of this six-person traffic jam downfield. As Thomas went to break up the ball, he collided with Steed and was knocked off the play. Sutton came down with the 51-yard catch, which was a piece of luck and oh so indicative of the Denver season. The biggest play of the night came because the back judge should have flagged himself for pass interference.
The issues with Wilson and the Broncos one month into the season:
- What happened to the mobile Wilson, the let-Russ-cook Wilson? Wilson is in different shape than in his younger Seattle years, and he may not be the same running threat he was early in his career. In his first six seasons, he averaged six rushing attempts per game. This year he’s run 14 times in five games (plus three kneel-downs), which basically means he’s running only when forced from the pocket. Significantly, he took his legs out of mothballs on the winning drive in the 11-10 win against San Francisco, running on two straight series, including a key third-and-six rush of 12 yards during the decisive TD drive. Nathaniel Hackett needs to put more designed runs, or option runs, in his gameplans, at least until Wilson shows competency playing from the pocket.
- Wilson and Hackett might be oil-and-water. “That offense was not tailored for Russell Wilson,” said one NFC coach who has watched three of Denver’s games. “Hackett’s a guy who wants his quarterback to go all the way through his progressions.” Wilson, this coach says, won’t give each of his four reads a legitimate look before making a decision. Can middle ground be found? The other day, former Saints coach Sean Payton had an interesting comment to Colin Cowherd when asked about how to get the most out of Wilson. He said he’d research Wilson’s Seattle tape. “What I’d ask for,” Payton said, “is some of his greatest hits in Seattle, and to make sure we’ve got those song lyrics available and if not, let’s put ‘em in.” One example Payton cited is a Seahawks play he said he adopted for the Saints’ playbook—Wilson rolling right, stopping, and throwing a bomb back across the field to a receiver leaking away from where it looked like the play was headed.
- Wilson’s been strangely inaccurate. Wilson’s completion percentage in his last four Seattle years: 66, 66, 69, 65. His percentage this year: 59. It’s weird how far off he is on some of his throws—two or three feet over receivers’ heads. Maybe it’s what Hackett told me two weeks ago, that Wilson was in one place for 10 years, and now he’s learning a new offense with new receivers in a totally different environment. Maybe. Maybe it’s got something to do with shoulder pain. But the efficiency regression has been stark.
- Don’t exonerate Hackett. Good coaches can see what’s working and what isn’t and they can adjust. Let’s see if Hackett can figure ways to make his offense work after huge season-ending injuries in successive weeks to two cornerstone offensive players: running back Javonte Williams and left tackle Garett Bolles. Hackett might be regretting hiring such an inexperienced coaching staff. If he was getting trusted and consistent input on plays and clock management, he wouldn’t have had to make the emergency week-three hire of retired Ravens special-teams coach Jerry Rosburg to help him with game management. The one oddity, I thought, in the construction of his coaching staff was not keeping ego-less offensive line coach Mike Munchak, one of the best line coaches in football. Munchak has family in Denver and wanted to stay with the Broncos after they fired coach Vic Fangio last year. But Hackett instead hired Butch Barry, who’d never been a lead offensive line coach in the NFL. Could be because Hackett likes to run a wide-zone run game, while Munchak has coached more of a traditional gap running game. Either way, Munchak’s a highly respected coach and leader who could have had value far beyond the X’s and O’s.
The Broncos are a four-alarm fire right now, but I can’t see neophyte owners making a knee-jerk move and replacing Hackett during the season. Rob Walton didn’t get to be worth $70 billion—richest owner in NFL history—by making panic decisions. Right now, Hackett should do four things:
- Bench Melvin Gordon, who has fumble-itis, for backup Mike Boone.
- Put a few designed runs on the play sheet for Wilson, starting Monday night at the Chargers, and stress to Wilson that he’s got to start using his legs to keep the defense from laying back and simply playing the pass.
- Do what Payton said—have quality-control coaches research the best of Wilson from Seattle and see what could work now
- Be completely open-minded about what’s not working and be willing to make changes you’d never dreamed of making a month ago, and tell Wilson everything’s on the table.
(It wouldn’t be a bad idea to de-brief local resident Peyton Manning on his thoughts either.)
I refuse to believe Wilson’s at or near the end. He’s too dedicated to his craft and to the sport to have his career fall off a cliff the way it has in the past month. I don’t know if he’ll be great again, but I do believe he’ll be a good NFL quarterback again.
For now, I don’t know if the Broncos can be fixed. But I do know that when there’s a stream of hundreds of Broncos fans leaving an overtime game, and it’s shown from inside and outside the stadium on a national broadcast, that’s not good. The Broncos are fortunate to have two wins. They won’t get many more, even with a top defense, if Wilson and Hackett can’t turn it around.
FMIA has partnered with Next Gen Stats, the league’s new generation of advanced metrics and statistics, with data collected from 250 tracking devices per game on players, officials, pylons and footballs. I use NGS to help tell a deeper story about the game.
Today: Seattle’s decision to trade Russell Wilson and start Geno Smith.
The Seahawks took a chance last spring in trading the 33-year-old Wilson—who has said he hopes to play into his forties—in a package to Denver that included two first-round and two second-round picks coming back to Seattle. Of course it’s too early to draw long-term conclusions, but the Seahawks’ decision looks prescient. Not only because Wilson has looked bad through five games, but because Geno Smith has been a revelation, exactly what Seattle coach Pete Carroll kept saying through the offseason that he’d be.
Smith-as-revelation surfaced again Sunday in New Orleans, just before halftime. Down 17-13 at the New Orleans’ 35-yard line with 14 seconds left, Smith waited, waited, waited as Tyler Lockett streaked downfield on a skinny post from the right. Smith’s pass flew 44 yards in the air, to midway into the end zone—to a wide-open Lockett, in stride. The patience was very good, the throw superb.
Lockett Rocket's first TD this season! 🚀
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) October 9, 2022
When I met Smith in late August at the Seahawks’ facility, he was as grateful as a person could be for his first chance to be a regular starter since 2014. Smith told me that day that whatever happened – and he was confident he could have success – he thought he was in the perfect spot with an offense like the one he ran at West Virginia a decade ago. “As a person who entrenched his life into this game, I mean really put my life into this game, it’s an incredible story,” Smith told me. “Hero gets knocked down, nobody thinks he’ll get back up, and he gets up and gets another shot.”
Boy, has he run with it. The metrics of Wilson versus Smith so far:
Smith is shining in every metric, including the new Next Gen quarterback measuring stick called Passing Score. Next Gen Stats invented a metric called Passing Score, which grades every quarterback with a numerical grade between 50 and 99 based on seven factors: completion probability, expected yards after catch, expected points, win probability, interception probability, predicted expected points added and expected value of a pass attempt. A quarterback’s Passing Score isolates the factors that he can control. Through the Sunday night game, the NFL has played 29 percent of its regular-season schedule, and here’s the top five:
1. Geno Smith, 95
2. Patrick Mahomes, 94
3. Josh Allen, 90
4. Tua Tagovailoa, 88
T5. Jalen Hurts, 86
T5. Justin Herbert, 86
Wilson is 16th, with a score of 80.
Other metrics favor Smith early. The most glaring is completion percentage. Smith is first in the league at 75.2, while Wilson, in Denver, is 28th at 59.4.
Let’s compare the 2021 Seattle numbers with Wilson versus the 2022 Seattle numbers with Smith, per Next Gen:
Time to throw: Wilson 2.80 seconds last year, Smith 2.86 seconds this year. Virtually the same.
Sack rate: Wilson 7.6 percent, Smith 5.4 percent. Significant in sack-avoidance, because Smith is being pressured more this year (31.9 percent of his passing snaps) than Wilson’s 25.6 percent last year.
Tight-window throws (less than one yard of separation from the covering defensive player): Wilson 15.5 percent, Smith 10.8 percent. Also significant, because it shows Smith has been efficient in not forcing balls the way Wilson did at times last year.
Wilson’s deep throws don’t look the same. Wilson’s efficiency on deep passing has cratered. This is the fourth straight season his completion percentage on balls thrown 20 yards past the line of scrimmage are down, per Next Gen. It’s also one of the things the Seahawks had to measure in their long-term evaluation of Wilson:
- 2018: 31-63, 49.2 percent, first in NFL
- 2019: 35-82, 42.7 percent, fourth in NFL
- 2020: 26-68, 38.2 percent, 16th in NFL
- 2021: 26-71, 36.6 percent, 18th in NFL
- 2022 (Denver): 8-27, 29.6 percent, 21st in NFL
Overall, Smith has shown he’s no one-game wonder. The most telling part of his early success is that he’s stayed very cool under some significant pressure. Being pressured on 32 percent of his drops (a lot) and leading the league in completion rate with a big-league 8.3 yards per attempt shows that the faith of Carroll and GM John Schneider in Smith was well-placed.
Only Chuck Bednarik has played more seasons for the Eagles than defensive end Brandon Graham, in his 13th year in Philadelphia. If there’s somebody in the league who has more fun playing the game than Graham, I don’t know who it is. That includes talking nonsense to countless foes. He once said to then-Cowboy La’el Collins, “Hey 71! Too many cupcakes!” Which made his linemates guffaw out loud.
Brandon Graham on the art of trash-taking:
“Well, you know, I trash-talk because I know some people can’t handle it. If I see some people can’t, I keep going. If I feel like some people can and they still out there playing at a high level too, I kinda stop chirping a little bit unless we winning. You’re right about what I said to La’el Collins. I know Collins doesn’t like when I’m talking stuff so I go a little extra mile. And he was on the Cowboys so it just made it even more of a trash-talk for me to get under his skin. Yeah, I know that he doesn’t like it and when I smell blood in the water, I’m definitely going for the kill.
“As soon as they say something back, I got ‘em. Now they ain’t thinking about the play. Now they trying to come get me. Fletch [Fletcher Cox] always be like, ‘Man, be quiet! You talking to my guard like you gotta go against him!’ I’m like, ‘Man, stop being scared! It’s alright! You Fletcher Cox!’”
Offensive players of the week
Gabe Davis, wide receiver, Buffalo. I easily could have cited Josh Allen for his 424-yard, four-TD day against the suddenly awful Steelers. But there was something about Davis’ 98-yarder on the third play of the game, after a muffed kickoff return made the Bills start at their own two-yard line. That was maybe 1:05 p.m. Sunday in Buffalo, and who knew the Steelers were going to be so powerless to stop anything for the first two quarters? But on third-and-10, with a nervous crowd fearing a short-formation punt if the Bills couldn’t get some breathing room, Davis got two steps behind the Steeler secondary and Allen made a perfect deep dart the starting point of a 98-yard touchdown. Davis had three catches for 171 yards. If anyone was wondering whether Buffalo has a top second option to Stefon Diggs, wonder no more. Since the playoffs last January, Davis has been as good as any number two receiver in football. In Davis’ last six games, dating back to the playoffs, his numbers: 21 catches, 551 yards, seven TDs. Quite a pace for a number two receiver.
GABE DAVIS. 98 YARDS. 🔥
— NFL (@NFL) October 9, 2022
Taysom Hill, versatile player, New Orleans. “I’d have to say yes,” Hill said when I asked him an hour after his four-TD game (three rushing TDs, 112 rushing yards, and a 22-yard TD pass to Adam Trautman) if it was the best game of his NFL life. What a strange, unique, fun life it’s been, turning into an all-around offensive and special-teams weapon. Hill was the Saints’ MVP in a rollicking 39-32 win over Seattle.
Daniel Jones, quarterback, N.Y. Giants. After the 27-22 stunner over the Packers in London, coach Brian Daboll said: “Quarterback had an excellent game. He’s had a few of those.” The numbers were good—21 of 27, 217 yards, no TDs or picks, and a surprising 37 yards rushing on 10 carries—in Jones’ first 200-yard passing game of the season. But this was about more than that. Jones was iffy all week with a bad ankle sprain, and somehow on the turf at Tottenham, he made enough plays to keep the Giants close. What stood out to me was 10 rushes for 37 yards on the bum ankle.
Defensive players of the week
Micah Parsons, edge rusher, Dallas. Eleven teams passed on Parsons in the 2021 draft. As of today, there’s not a bust among the first 11. But just seeing Parsons playing hurt Sunday in the Dallas win over the Rams and still getting nine pressures, prompting two penalties, and making the game-clinching strip-sack of Matthew Stafford late in the fourth quarter, I’d bet every one of those teams, even the three that picked quarterbacks, have to be having second thoughts. Daily.
— NFL (@NFL) October 9, 2022
Sauce Gardner, cornerback, N.Y. Jets. He started a great day for the Jets with a near-sack of Miami quarterback Teddy Bridgewater that forced intentional grounding in the end zone—and forced Bridgewater from the game. The Jets certainly benefited from third-string QB Skylar Thompson having to play, but Gardner was part of a secondary that held Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle to seven catches for 70 yards and no touchdowns, and Gardner had his first NFL interception in the first half off Thompson.
Stephon Gilmore, cornerback, Indianapolis. We can debate the intelligence of the decision of Russell Wilson to throw either one of the passes that made Gilmore a Thursday night hero. But Wilson threw them and Gilmore, three years removed from his Defensive Player of the Year season, made plays on both. With 2:13 left in the fourth quarter and the Broncos up 9-6, Gilmore had a step on backup WR Tyrie Cleveland and Wilson threw a ball that made Gilmore seem like the intended receiver. Gilmore picked it off and the Colts drove for the tying field goal. In OT, with Indy up 12-9, Wilson had a fourth-and-one at the Colts’ five-yard line, and instead of just aiming to get the first down, Wilson threw for Courtland Sutton in tight coverage in the end zone and Gilmore batted it away. Gilmore, as much as any Colt, was responsible for the season-saving and extraordinarily ugly 12-9 win.
Cameron Dantzler, cornerback, Minnesota. Fair to say the Vikings were nursing a 29-22 lead over Chicago in the last 70 seconds. Probably more accurate to say they were hanging on for dear life. Justin Fields hit wideout Ihmir Smith-Marsette for 16 yards to the Minnesota 39-yard line, and Dantzler was single-minded as he attacked the ball in Smith-Marsette’s grasp. Dantzler pried it free, recovered it, and ran it back 16 yards. The Vikings are 4-1 this morning, of course because of a passing game with multiple weapons and a good quarterback, but also because of opportunistic defensive plays like this.
Special teams players of the week
Riley Dixon, punter, L.A. Rams. It was a day of big plays in the kicking game Sunday, and the Rams punter made the biggest one. With 2:29 left in the first half and the Rams trailing 16-10, the call came in for a fake punt from the L.A. 25—risky, to say the least. With two Dallas rushers streaming through with their arms raised, Dixon threw a pass—like he was throwing through a picket fence—and hit safety/linebacker Jake Gervase for 12 yards and a first down. It was the first time in his four-year career that Gervase had touched the ball. Gutsy and smart move by the Rams, well-executed by Dixon.
Chase McLaughlin, kicker, Indianapolis. It wasn’t just the made field goals—from 52, 51, 31 and 48, the last one the game-winner—in the ugly 12-9 win over Denver Thursday night. It was the way each went through the uprights. Straight, perfect, absolutely down the middle. Pretty good for a guy who’s already been on six NFL teams at 26, and who started the year on the Colts’ practice squad.
Coach of the week
Brian Daboll, head coach, N.Y. Giants. Let’s go back to those thrilling days of yesteryear. 2021. The Giants, 4-13, averaged 9.9 points a game in the last eight games, and coach Joe Judge found reasons for everything that was going wrong. One of the reasons why the Giants matched their 2021 win total Sunday, before the first leaf has changed in New Jersey, is because Daboll has the Bill Parcells attitude about obstacles put in a team’s way: Nobody gives a s—. The cap is screwed up, we’re playing five guys on defense who weren’t even on the team on Labor Day, we’ve got only one legit weapon (Saquon Barkley), but hey, find a way. That’s what Daboll and his underrated coaching staff continued to do in the 27-22 upset win over the Packers in London.
COACH DABOLL FIRED UP!!! pic.twitter.com/ykWOv9PEIR
— New York Giants (@Giants) October 9, 2022
Goats of the week
Jerome Boger, referee, Atlanta-Tampa Bay game. Boger called the shakiest roughing-the-passer penalty with three minutes left and Tampa Bay nursing a one-score lead. Let me reword that. The call wasn’t shaky. It was awful. Grady Jarrett tackled Tom Brady fairly hard but it was not in any way a dirty tackle. Is the NFL trying too hard to make pro football flag football? “If you can’t tackle the quarterback,” Tony Dungy said on NBC Sunday night, “it’s going to be impossible to play defense.”
Carson Wentz, quarterback, Washington. With the Commanders down 21-17, holding the ball first-and-goal at the Tennessee two-yard line, with 19 seconds and no timeouts left, Wentz had three or four shots to get the winning touchdown. He threw a rainbow that could have been intercepted on first down, tried to force a throw at the goal line on second down, and threw his third try right to linebacker David Long of the Titans on third down. The Commanders are 1-4 and already out of it in the top-heavy NFC East.
Russell Wilson, quarterback, Denver. He’s just lost at sea. We all see it. No amount of post-game press-conference gibberish can put deodorant on his first month in Denver. It’s ugly. And two bad throws at the end of the 12-9 loss to the Colts Thursday night put an exclamation point on the misery.
Hidden person of the week
Romeo Doubs, wide receiver, Green Bay. Blocking fundamentals—things receivers get zero credit for externally but lots of praise for internally—are vital in a burgeoning offense with young receivers. In London Sunday, Doubs showed it twice. (Twice, very notably, that I saw.) On the Packers’ first-quarter TD pass to Allen Lazard, Doubs waited till Lazard caught the ball, then erased Giants cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, paving the way for the four-yard TD. On the Green Bay drive to the team’s second TD, Doubs did the same thing to Giants DB Darnay Holmes on a Randall Cobb catch near the goal line. It’s unclear on the replay, but it looked like Aaron Rodgers was pointing to Doubs and praising him for the blocking. If Rodgers wasn’t crediting Doubs then, I bet he will be when the offense watches the tape this week back in Green Bay.
The Jason Jenkins Award
Joe Burrow, quarterback, Cincinnati. For his new foundation, the aptly named Joe Burrow Foundation, Burrow will address hunger and mental health needs for children in Ohio and Louisiana. “I believe that everyone has a responsibility to do good,” Burrow said. He’s most interested in hunger near his family’s home in Appalachian Ohio, but his mother Robin, a teacher and principal in rural Meigs County, Ohio, has impressed on him the importance of mental health in school children. “My mom, a lifetime educator, experiences firsthand the effect of mental health issues on children and their families.” Good luck to Burrow and his parents—who will be top officers of the foundation—in raising money and awareness.
I just can’t be denied. I’m gonna push through anything.
–Dallas pass-rusher Micah Parsons, to Tom Rinaldi of Fox, after wrecking the Rams with a two-sack, one-forced-fumble performance Sunday at SoFi Stadium, despite playing with a strained groin muscle.
Many players can pass this test even if they’re concussed.
–Uzma Samadani, a neurosurgeon who worked Minnesota Vikings game for four years as one of the league’s unaffiliated neurotrauma consultants on the sidelines of games, speaking to The New York Times for an enlightening story about the UNC position.
What he did to Poole is a black eye that threatens to be a birthmark.
–Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic, on Draymond Green after he punched out a Golden State Warrior teammate, Jordan Poole, in practice.
Ultimately, the reason I retired after 12 years was because I felt that I had worked hard to develop some level of credibility and respect within this game. And I felt like that was being jeopardized by decisions that were being made beyond my control within the organization, and I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore.
—Troy Aikman, in an Aikman doc for a series on NFL Icons, which plays Saturday at 10 p.m. on EPIX.
I never knew that.
—Tyreek Hill, asked why he chose the Dolphins over the Jets in trade from Kansas City. Florida does not have a personal income tax. New Jersey, home of the Jets, does.
That may be, although every report I’ve ever read on Hill choosing between the Dolphins and Jets (Kansas City was willing to trade him to either team last spring) said Hill wanted to play in Florida for family reasons.
It’s gonna be first and goal, words I never thought I’d speak tonight.
–Amazon’s Al Michaels, in the second half of an awful football game Thursday in Denver.
Al had a good game Thursday. When Michael Pittman and company continued to drop passes for the Colts, he said, “Some of Ryan’s receivers tonight, with the hands of a sturgeon.”
Is it truly possible for two teams not in the same division to play each four times in one stadium in 21 months? Yes. Yes it is.
Bills at KC, divisional playoffs, Jan. 24, 2021 … Bills at KC, regular season, Oct. 10, 2021 … Bills at KC, divisional playoffs, Jan. 23, 2022 … and now, Bills at KC, this week (Oct. 16, 2022).
Which gives us two Arrowhead Stadium factoids:
- Between Jan. 1, 2021 and Oct. 16, 2022, Buffalo played four road games against its three AFC East foes, and four road games against Kansas City.
- We know a few things about the 2023 NFL schedule right now. One of them: Buffalo is playing at Kansas City.
In regular-season games since Christmas Day 2019, Houston is 5-0 against Jacksonville and 4-28-1 against the rest of the NFL.
Arizona last won at home 50 weeks ago. The Cards are 0-8 in Glendale since.
Two observations from Pads-Mets, National League Wild Card game two, Citi Field, Saturday night:
- Guy and significant other, two rows in front of me, both wore Mets jerseys with BUCKNER 86 on the back. If you’re a person of a certain age, you get that.
- The Met fan is intense. They’re serious, serious people. This game dragged on. Really dragged. Played in 4 hours, 13 minutes. After four innings, I got up to get some food. Guy next to me gives me a look like, You’re not leaving. Tell me you’re not leaving. “Just going to get a sausage,” I said.
— cordarrelle patterson (@ceeflashpee84) October 9, 2022
Atlanta running back Cordarrelle Patterson, after an overly ticky-tack roughing-the-passer call on the Falcons (and that’s putting it mildly) gave Tampa Bay a fresh set of downs instead of fourth-and-long with three minutes left. Atlanta never touched the ball again and lost 21-15. True tweet right there.
— NFL (@NFL) October 9, 2022
Nice honor for Brian Robinson, who was shot twice in an attempted D.C. carjacking just six weeks ago.
Right now Pete Carroll and John Schneider look like absolute geniuses
— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) October 7, 2022
In the fourth quarter of the fifth straight game of Russell Wilson struggling mightily, the ESPN analyst states the obvious.
Does Amazon allow for the return of a defective NFL game?
— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) October 7, 2022
The Yahoo Sports columnist asking what we were all thinking in the debacle of a Thursday night game.
— Matt Barrows (@mattbarrows) October 7, 2022
Barrows covers the Niners for The Athletic and is very clever in his spare time.
Two questions, the first about my Aaron Donald-Lawrence Taylor as equals atop my defensive players. From Clay Parker: “Did you forget about Reggie White? Do you consider Bonds or Maris the real home-run king?”
I didn’t forget Reggie White. He was fantastic. I thought Taylor was a tick more impactful as a defensive dominator. Bonds is the home run king. Whatever you think about clean or not clean, what matters is the record book has Bonds with 73 as the single-season home run record-holder.
I’ve got some personal knowledge about this. From Lou Catalano, of North Las Vegas, Nev.: “Re the thousands of Russian men who are crossing borders to escape the draft—Does anyone else see the irony where we applaud these men, while back in the sixties and seventies young U.S. men were vilified for turning to Canada to escape the draft and what they also believed was an immoral war?”
Interesting point, Lou. I always felt it was wrong to criticize those who opposed the Vietnam War, in part because my brother was one of them. He graduated from William & Mary in 1971 and didn’t wear a cap and gown to the ceremony; he donated the $35 to an anti-war fund and walked in the ceremony with a large group of seniors in a white shirt and black armband. It was a tense time in my house when he told my father, a war vet himself, that he was going to be a conscientious objector to the war. If drafted (he wasn’t), he wouldn’t serve, and if necessary, he’d go to Canada. Anyway, it’s fantastic that some 200,000 Russian men have fled the country rather than serve in an immoral war. Best estimates have it that 20,000 to 30,000 men fled our country rather than serve in Vietnam.
Disagrees with me on the John Harbaugh decision. From Matt Lundgren: “I was surprised on your Harbaugh decision breakdown. I was blown away by his decision to not take the field goal. The Baltimore defense had just played a great series on the previous Bills possession. The scoring of three points puts pressure on the opposing team. If and when the Bills would cross the 40-, they would be thinking field goal no matter what. They would be guarded in the play-calling.”
Many people agree with you, Matt. I don’t. The situation: Baltimore had fourth-and-goal from the Buffalo two-yard line with 4:15 left in a 20-20 game. If the Ravens kick the field goal, it’s 23-20 Baltimore, with Buffalo likely taking the ensuing kickoff somewhere around the 25-yard line with 4:10 left in the game. So the Bills would have four minutes of time, with all three timeouts plus the two-minute warning—four clock stoppages, in other words—to travel maybe 45 yards to attempt a field goal, or 75 yards for the touchdown. They could call any play, take their time, have zero worries about the clock. In their previous four drives, Buffalo went:
- 11 plays, 76 yards, touchdown in 1 minute 38 seconds.
- 10 plays, 51 yards, field goal in 4:07.
- Nine plays, 80 yards, touchdown in 3:27.
- Three plays, minus-11 yards, punt in 1:16.
In addition, in theory, there’s probably a 7-in-10 chance that if the Ravens don’t make it on fourth-and-goal from the two-, Buffalo has to start at the two-yard line and has a longer trek (65 to 70 yards) to a field goal to win. I feel like if you’ve got Lamar Jackson’s pass/run threat, you’ve got the idea that if he attempts the kind of desperation pass he might have to throw, that it would be able to be caught by one of his players only. The fact that he basically threw it up for grabs made it a 50-50 ball. Overall, I’d have gone for the touchdown here, and with Jackson as dangerous a player as he is, would have told him to run if he found his initial reads covered.
I believe many of the same people who now say, “He should have gone for the field goal,” would be killing Harbaugh if he kicked the field goal and the Bills took their time and drove for the winning touchdown in the last four minutes.
1. I think there are many crazy things about the NFL this morning, but this is the craziest: The two Super Bowl teams eight months ago are a combined 4-6; the Giants and Jets are 7-3.
2. I think Micah Parsons is must-see TV in nearly the same way Patrick Mahomes is.
3. I think Brandon Staley is the luckiest person in the NFL this morning. I mean, I’m in favor of a good fourth-down risk, but Staley’s call in the fourth quarter was a bad call—at least from my view. L.A. up on Cleveland 30-28, 1:14 left, fourth-and-one at the Charger 46-. Next Gen Stats said, very narrowly, that the Chargers should have punted. Two other analytics models said Staley should go for it. Staley went for it. A short slant route, well covered, fell incomplete. Cleveland, in five plays, gained only 10 yards and kicker Cade York missed a 54-yard field goal … so the Chargers waltzed out of Cleveland with a win that easily could have been a loss. My problems with the Chargers going for it on that fourth down:
- It was called “fourth-and-one,” but Next Gen had the distance as 1.7 yards. TV had it fourth-and-two. It was closer to fourth-and-two, for sure. That’s not a gimme.
- The Chargers, despite having rushed for 238 yards and 7.0 yards per carry, lined up in shotgun. Why? Why on earth eliminate the defense, which had been shredded on the ground all day, from thinking you might run the ball? Going under center with the possibility of play-action makes the defense think there are two legitimate options.
- Players, who had been solid in backing Staley through some of his controversial fourth-down go-for-it calls, seem to have a problem with it. Keenan Allen, who didn’t play and thus could be active on social media if he chose, tweeted, “WTF are we doing?”
- Consider this scenerio if the Chargers had punted: The punt leaves the Browns with first down at the Cleveland 15-yard line with 67 seconds and no timeouts left. Think Jacoby Brissett is driving the Browns 55 yards to try the winning field goal? I’d rather take my chances on my defense holding Cleveland without a field goal there than take my chances on converting four-and-1.7 yards from shotgun.
Anyway, I’ve been mostly supportive of Staley and his unconventional fourth-down approach. I just didn’t get this one, and he got lucky that the Browns couldn’t get more than 10 yards in a minute.
4. I think there is a difference between saying London can support one or two teams, and the realistic expectation that they will get one or two teams. Roger Goodell said while in London: “There’s no question that London could support not just one franchise—I think two franchises.” He’s right. Goodell raised the possibility of a European division of teams, which is smart in many ways. But the issues would start with whether the 32 owners want to expand by four teams, thus making the NFL pie divisible by 36 instead of 32. Goodell holds a lot of sway in terms of being able to convince owners of what’s best for all. But as of today, I don’t sense any momentum for a permanent franchise or franchises overseas. There used to be momentum, but now I think the logistics (for instance, would a team in Europe need cap advantages to lure players to sign there?) are too daunting. It’s a better idea, at least for now, to play more than four of the league’s 272 regular-season games in different places in Europe.
5. I think I’m not in the habit of reviewing officiating consultants for the various networks, but I’ve got to praise Terry McAulay of Amazon Prime (and NBC) for his quick, concise and precise call of a review on whether Indianapolis wide receiver Alec Pierce gained enough for a first down late in the first half at Denver Thursday. Colts coach Frank Reich threw the challenge flag. McAulay, in exactly 10 seconds, answered everything about the play perfectly: “It’s absolutely a first down. The foremost point of the ball is clearly beyond the line to gain. This will get reversed. He’ll win the challenge.” Reich did. Well done.
6. I think Amazon is getting the feel of what bad Thursday Night Football (at least occasionally) is like, the same way past Thursday night rightsholders have. Did you hear the way the production teased next week’s worst game in the NFL? “The Commanders! The Bears! A no-nonsense NFC battle!” Awesome.
7. I think I have just one thing to say about the fan who ran on the field last Monday night and got flattened by Bobby Wagner, and then filed charges against Bobby Wagner: Go fly a kite, buddy.
8. I think I don’t say, “Hey, cool,” when I see that Le’Veon Bell knocked out Adrian Peterson, and I certainly don’t say it when I see Bell slated to meet an MMA fighter noted for his knockouts, Uriah Hall. My reaction is more of what Rob Ninkovich, the retired Patriot, said in this column last week re: Tua Tagovailoa going back in a game after being knocked woozy: “I think if 54-year-old Tua could talk to 24-year-old Tua, he would ask him, ‘What were you thinking?’”
9. I think I don’t understand when people who’ve gotten hit in the head a lot for 10 to 15 years in high school, college and pro football choose to take the helmet off and get hit in the head some more. It’s not smart.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. RIP, Loretta Lynn. Such a meaningful singer, person and role model for so many.
b. One of my favorite memories: One year, covering the Titans, I brought my wife to Nashville—one of my favorite cities. We did the touristy stuff, Andrew Jackson’s place and a few other things, then went to the Ryman Auditorium for a concert featuring seven or eight of the great country artists. Alan Jackson, Randy Houser, a few more, and Loretta Lynn. If you’ve never been to Ryman, you must go. Opened in downtown Nashville in 1892, steep seating area with classic old floorboards. Churchlike, with pews for seating areas. You just feel like everybody who was anybody in country had played there 100 times.
c. And here came Loretta Lynn, maybe 75 at the time, in a purple velvet dress, to sing “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Just beautiful. The crowd was reverential. It’s one of the coolest music events I’ve experienced.
d. Kudos, Aaron Judge, for the 62nd homer, breaking Roger Maris’ 61-year-old record. As much as I look at Judge differently than I look at Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, I don’t erase their home run totals. Bonds, with 73, is the MLB record-holder, tarnished though it may be by performance-enhancers. Judge, with 62, is the American League king. It’s been fashionable to erase the PED guys, but I don’t know how you can erase what happened before all of our eyes.
e. Factoid of the Week Having Nothing to Do with Football: From Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated on the humility of Aaron Judge: “When he attended Fresno State, the Bulldogs’ baseball team enforced a rule: Anyone who used I or me boastfully had to pay a fine. In three years there before the Yankees took him in the first round of the 2013 draft, Judge never slipped up.”
f. Great reporters are great because of tidbits like that. Good job by Apstein.
g. Chess Cheating Story of the Week: Des Bieler of the Washington Post, updating recent news about the biggest cheating scandal in sports.
h. The allegations that 19-year-old American chess grandmaster Hans Niemann cheated in a high-profile match against the best player in the world, Magnus Carlsen, are well-known by now. But now there’s news from Chess.com with charges than Niemann “likely cheated” in 100 other matches.
i. Per Bieler:
Cheating by a chess player, particularly in an online game, probably would involve connecting to a chess computer, or engine, capable of playing at a higher level than any human has been able to attain.
“Most chess engines use neural nets which have been trained on millions of top level chess games to capture the deepest of chess strategic understanding,” Chess.com noted. “They also have nearly infallible tactical calculation, as they can look more than 40+ moves deep into the position and calculate potential outcomes.”
j. Fitness Story of the Week: Rachel Fairbank of The New York Times with some advice for all of us—if you think any type of walking is good for you (and of course it’s all good), picking up the pace is really good.
k. Wrote Fairbank:
Many of us regularly wear an activity tracker, which counts the number of steps we take in a day. Based on these numbers, it can be hard to make sense of what they might mean for our overall health. Is it just the overall number of steps in a day that matter, or does exercise intensity, such as going for a brisk walk or jog, make a difference?
In a new study, which looks at activity tracker data from 78,500 people, walking at a brisk pace for about 30 minutes a day led to a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, dementia and death, compared with walking a similar number of steps but at a slower pace.
… Researchers found that every 2,000 additional steps a day lowered the risk of premature death, heart disease and cancer by about 10 percent, up to about 10,000 steps per day. When it came to developing dementia, 9,800 steps per day was associated with a 50 percent reduced risk.
l. Kudos to Jennifer Karson-Strauss for “Truth Be Told: The Fight for Women’s Professional Soccer,” the 90-minute documentary that peeled back the scandalous behavior in the NWSL. And good story by Kevin Draper of The New York Times, summing up the independent report led by former U.S. deputy attorney general Sally Q. Yates this way:
One coach called in a player to review game film and showed her pornography instead. Another was notorious at the highest levels of women’s soccer for alternately berating his players and then quizzing them about their sex lives.
A third coach coerced multiple players into sexual relationships, behavior that one top team found so disturbing that it fired him. But when he was hired by a rival team only a few months later, the original club, which had documented his behavior in an internal investigation, said nothing. Instead, it publicly wished him well in his new post.
Those details and others fill a highly anticipated investigative report into abuse in women’s soccer that found sexual misconduct, verbal abuse and emotional abuse by coaches in the game’s top tier, the National Women’s Soccer League, and issued warnings that girls face abuse in youth soccer as well.
m. First thought after this story broke on the abusive behavior by male coaches and team officials in the women’s pro league: Why aren’t more women coaching women in the NWSL?
n. Bizarre But Environmentally Conscious Story of the Week: Carolyn Said of the San Francisco Chronicle on something that’s hard to imagine: “Human composting” is coming to California. It could revolutionize how we get buried.
o. Wrote Said:
Ruth Gottstein, who died in late August, just days after her 100th birthday, had her body go through a process known as natural organic reduction, terramation or, more colloquially, “human composting.”
… The procedure involves placing the body in an aerated metal container along with organic material such as woodchips, straw and mulch, to trigger the natural process of decomposition over about a month. “Terramation is an idea whose time has come,” her son, Adam Gottstein, said.
Now that idea is coming to California, thanks to AB351, passed by the Legislature this year and signed in late September by Gov. Gavin Newsom. It will make human composting legal here starting in 2027.
“This is an alternative method of final disposition that won’t contribute emissions into our atmosphere and will actually capture CO₂ in our soil and trees,” bill sponsor Assembly Member Christina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens(Los Angeles County), said in a statement. “For each individual who chooses (natural organic reduction) over conventional burial or cremation, the process saves the equivalent of one metric ton of carbon from entering the environment.”
p. I mean, it’s a little creepy. Then again, what makes more sense for the future of the planet: keeping a dead body intact and invisible in a cemented buried crypt, or giving the body to the earth and not taking up all the space and resources?
q. Happy trails, Dennis Eckersley. The end of his half-century baseball career chronicled well here by Chad Finn of The Boston Globe.
r. Think of the 50-year baseball life of this 68-year-old dude. Drafted by Cleveland in 1972 out of high school in California at age 17 … No-hit the Angels on Memorial Day 1977, striking out Bobby Bonds twice in a game played in a tidy 2 hours, 1 minute at the dank Cleveland Stadium … Went on to play for the Red Sox, Cubs, A’s, Cardinals and Red Sox again, in his 24th and final season in 1998 … Won the American League MVP and the Cy Young Award in 1992 with a 7-win, 51-save season … First-ballot Hall of Famer who won 197 games and saved 390 … Went on to finish his baseball career in the Red Sox TV booth with NESN. His last game was Wednesday … Some of the greatest fun and silly phrases ever spoken by a baseball analyst came from Eckersley. Like: “You’ll never punch this guy out with salad. You need to throw some cheese, with hair on it.” In other words, You won’t strike this guy out with offspeed stuff. You better throw fastballs, with some heat on them. Eckersley on Boston, almost weepy, on his second-to-last night in the booth: “This place is in my heart. I will keep it in my heart forever.”
s. Can’t imagine his 53rd birthday will be the happiest for Brett Favre today, but here we are.
t. Let the record show that Jeff McNeil and Luis Arraez are the 2022 National and American League batting champions. They join the grand tradition of “Who?!!!” batting champs of recent seasons, including Bill Mueller, Derrek Lee, Freddy Sanchez, Michael Cuddyer and Yuli Gurriel.
u. See how much you learn from this column that you’d never have known otherwise?
v. I cannot believe that not only is Herschel Walker a legitimate candidate for one of the country’s 100 Senate seats, but no matter the scandal, no matter the nonsensical words that flow from his mouth, no matter the chilling charges from family members and people from his past, the thing that’s more incredible is that he actually might win.
w. Americana Story of the Week: It’s about nachos, from Mark Dent of The Hustle, and included this great subhead: “Anytime you order nachos at a sporting event, there’s a good chance they came from a molten-cheese empire in San Antonio, Texas.”
x. Amazing note from the story: Popcorn is sold in ballparks at approximately 12 times the cost of making and boxing it.
y. For the nachos, Frank Liberto, a peanut entrepreneur by trade, found the jalapenos on a car trip into Mexico, and found someone to make sturdy chips near San Antonio. But the cheese, that was an issue. Writes Dent:
The cheese was the most important component. Liberto knew restaurants were using cheese sauce in recipes, but he needed it to be served alone—and on a large scale. He contacted the Midwest dairy company Dean Foods.
Liberto and Dean Foods tested recipes for a year, coming up with an exclusive condensed product that required added water and jalapeño juice for the ideal viscosity. (It was not real cheese; nacho cheese sauce never is.)
z. Inventions take weird imagination sometimes.
Kansas City 30, Las Vegas 24. The Raiders lost to KC by 39 and 27 last year. This one’s closer because of quiet desperation (Vegas is 1-3 and in danger of falling out of realistic contention), and the re-acquaintance of Derek Carr to Davante Adams. Still don’t think it will be enough to out-do Patrick Mahomes.
San Francisco at Atlanta, Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX. This is the fourth straight year that Kyle Shanahan has elected to stay back east between back-to-back Eastern Time Zone games in the first six weeks of the season. The Niners won at Carolina Sunday by 22, then flew Sunday evening to the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., for practice this week in advance of the game in Georgia next Sunday.
Let’s see how his planning has worked thus far:
- 2019: weeks one and two. Beat Tampa Bay by 14, stayed and practiced in Youngstown, Ohio, then beat Cincinnati by 24.
- 2020: weeks two and three. Beat the Jets by 18, stayed and practiced at the Greenbrier, then beat the Giants by 25.
- 2021: weeks one and two. Beat the Lions by eight, stayed and practiced at the Greenbrier, then beat the Eagles by six.
So, 7-0 so far. That is an insanely good road record, particularly three time zones away from home.
Buffalo at Kansas City, Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS. Is it my imagination, or has the NFL become the MFL, the Mahomes Football League? Let’s examine Kansas City’s fourth through 13th games this season: at Tampa (Sunday Night Football, NBC), Las Vegas (Monday Night Football, ESPN), Buffalo (CBS doubleheader game), at San Francisco (Fox doubleheader game), Tennessee (Sunday Night Football, NBC), Jacksonville (not a national game), at Chargers (CBS doubleheader game), Rams (Fox doubleheader game), at Cincinnati (CBS doubleheader game), at Denver (Sunday Night Football, NBC). Nine of 10 games on national TV. KC has its bye in week eight, the weekend of Oct. 31, and I don’t know how the TV nets will carry on that weekend.
Dallas at Philadelphia, Sunday, 8:20 p.m., NBC. Quite a few subplots, and only one is named Dak Prescott. Will he play? Or will Cooper Rush, super-sub, get one more shot to do the unlikely? I love the Micah Parsons-chasing-Jalen Hurts angle myself.
Denver at L.A. Chargers, Monday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN. Russell Wilson, in 11 NFL seasons, has never entered a game with such a white hot spotlight on him. Let’s ride.
Hmmm. Just wondering.
The Bailey Zappe Fan Club …
Has it been founded?