Okay, so it’s an odd season. I’d argue most seasons have a chunk of bizarre after seven weeks. The Cards were 7-0 on this date a year ago. Kansas City scored three points in Week Seven last year. Things happen.
This year, the weirdness includes Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson all having losing records. The defending Super Bowl champs, the Rams, are 3-3, and probably are lucky to be 3-3. The Jets and Giants have firm grips on playoff spots.
But the story of the first two months of this season is the comeback story of all comeback stories. Geno Smith is good. He’s really good. He’s the most accurate quarterback in football, he’s the third-highest-rated quarterback in football, he’s in the top five in MVP consideration right now, and he’s got the Seattle Seahawks alone in first place in the NFC West.
He’s also totally unsurprised.
“After not playing much for eight years,” I asked Smith Sunday evening, “what’s one or two things that have surprised you so far this year?”
“Nothing,” Smith told me evenly after Seattle’s 37-23 win at the Chargers Sunday. “Nothing has surprised me. In fact, I know I can play a lot better.”
On a day when Taylor Heinicke beat Aaron Rodgers, P.J. Walker beat Tom Brady, Christian McCaffrey wore a new number for a new team, and Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes chased perfection, Smith had a pretty modest day: 20 of 27, 210 yards, two TDs. He wasn’t even his team’s biggest star. Kenneth Walker, the rookie running back, was unstoppable.
When you haven’t played much for the last eight years, you could give a flip about things like credit and headlines. You exult in the everyday joy of playing football when you thought there was a pretty good chance you’d never have the chance to be handed the reins of a team again. Geno Smith was invisible for seven years. And now we see you, Geno. Everyone sees you.
Before I get into Geno Smith, a few words about the Sunday night game. Tua Tagovailoa played for the first time since his harrowing concussion experience 24 days ago, and as both he and coach Mike McDaniel said after Miami’s 16-10 win over Pittsburgh, he looked rusty. He hadn’t played or practiced for about two weeks, and it looked like he struggled at times with the speed of the game. He had three potential interceptions dropped — by Levi Wallace, Cameron Sutton and Terrell Edmunds — and a fourth could have been picked off.
More concerning, perhaps, was his first-half collision — caused by Tagovailoa — with rugged 234-pound Steeler linebacker Devin Bush. He told Melissa Stark in a post-game interview on NBC that plays like the Bush collision “are things I shouldn’t be doing.” Well, of course. But it could take time to break habits formed over years of football, including playing for Nick Saban at Alabama. For this game, all’s well that ends in a win, breaking a three-game Miami losing streak and leaving the Dolphins 4-3.
Smith won over Pete Carroll last year by his confidence when playing three games for the injured Russell Wilson. But no one in the organization thought when they traded Wilson that Smith would be a 30-percent upgrade over what Wilson would become in Denver.
His two touchdown throws to Marquise Goodwin against the Chargers were perfect examples of what Smith has become. On the first one, toward the right side of the end zone five yards in, Smith threw about 38 yards in the air to a spot where only Goodwin could make the catch. On the second, slightly deeper on the left side, Smith threw a high ball again that only Goodwin could catch, and he made it look easy over J.C. Jackson with his great leaping ability.
Marquise up top for No. 2️⃣ today!
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) October 23, 2022
Not the greatest throws of the NFL weekend. But exactly where they should be, timed perfectly. Surprised Smith is completing 73.5 percent? You wouldn’t be if you watched those throws.
That’s where I’ll start our conversation — with Smith’s accuracy. The last time he was a regular starter, with the Jets in 2013 and ’14, he completed 57.5 percent. And yet, the 16-percent increase barely impresses him. I’m going to present his words as a stream of consciousness, because he spoke in long paragraphs and made quite a bit of sense, so I’ll let him explain this unexpected season.
”In my rookie year playing with the Jets, we went 8-8 and missed the playoffs by one game. The reality is, it’s hard to win the NFL with a young quarterback. That’s just the reality of the NFL. So much goes on that you have to know in order to be successful. Quarterbacking is a skill more than just a talent. I’m just happy I’ve just continued to develop.
“I know I might’ve struggled out the gate in pro football. That’s just the reality of the NFL. Sometimes they give up on you fast. The numbers at the beginning of my career are kind of skewed if you ask me. If you look at Peyton Manning, if you just judge his rookie season, you’d never think Peyton Manning would’ve become what he became. Steve Young too. Troy Aikman. The list goes on and on and on. Just gotta have patience with young quarterbacks. You gotta find the right young quarterbacks with the right mentality who are gonna continue to work and have a great attitude about the game and the struggle.
“Over the years, not playing was heartbreaking. I’m so competitive and I love playing so much that I really wanted to be out there every single game. But what’s that cliche? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? I know I’m better for all those years. Coming into this year, I wasn’t sure what would happen [after the trade of Wilson to Denver]. When Pete Carroll hit me up and was like, ‘Hey I’m giving you opportunity to compete for the job,’ I mean, that’s all you have to say to me. That was awesome. He’s shown faith in me. That’s just what I need.
“You ask me what am I focused on during the week. Playing hard, doing what I’m coached to do. It’s that simple. I don’t think about failure. My thought process is I need to run on the field with my linemen and play just as hard as they’re playing and do exactly what I’m coached to do and then let my talent take over after that. It’s that simple in my mind.
“Our success so far starts with the trust and belief of our head coach. Not many coaches would start two rookies on the offensive line, a rookie running back, two rookie cornerbacks. Not many coaches would be comfortable starting a quarterback who hasn’t played in many years. But Pete does it because he knows what he’s looking at. He’s played young guys before, lots of times. He’s taken chances on players, lots of time. He knows how to coach ball. You can see that this year.
“I think we’re built to last for this season and many seasons. But ultimately, it comes down to what we do, not what we say. It’s about the work we put in. it’s about the consistency. And our preparation and consistency and our togetherness. That’s all that matters. As long as we continue to build together, the sky’s the limit. It takes work. It takes hard work. We gotta embrace that part of it.”
That is one mature dude. No bitterness about being kicked to the curb for so long. Just gratitude for his place in the game, right here, right now.
Aided by FMIA’s partnership with Next Gen Stats this season, and telling a deeper story of one of the headlines of week seven, Joe Burrow’s dominance. And my interview with Burrow after Cincinnati’s most complete offensive performance of the season, a 35-17 rout of the Falcons.
Today: Joe Burrow’s best throw of the season, and how impossible it was for Atlanta to bother him Sunday.
Of the many impressive things about Burrow’s 481-yard performance Sunday, consider that Burrow had the best quick-throw game of any quarterback in the 112 games so far this season. Per Next Gen, on passes thrown in less than 2.5 seconds (notable because of the Bengals’ difficulty in protecting their QB this year), Burrow was 21 of 25 for 254 yards and two TDs with no interceptions. Completing 84 percent on quick throws. My, my.
Two other NGS nuggets that point to why the Bengals are euphoric that Burrow is their quarterback: Burrow may not have a peer when it comes to downfield throws right now. He was 15 of 20, 75 percent, for 335 yards and all three TDs on passes that traveled 10 yards or more past the line of scrimmage…Also, the Falcons blitzed on just two of 45 Burrow pass drops, and he threw for 467 yards against four or fewer rushers.
I want to isolate on two throws. The first traveled 42 yards in the air, on the first play of the second quarter in Cincinnati. Burrow threw a pass, per Next Gen, that had only a 19 percent chance of being completed, into completely tight coverage.
Cornerback Cornell Armstrong was in Chase’s grill, and a safety, Jaylinn Hawkins, was a tick late coming over from center field, but just a tick. As the ball fell to earth, Chase had to think of four things: staying inbounds, fending off Armstrong’s arms over his head, prepping for a good pop from a safety flying in from his left, and making a major contested catch.
Look at this Next Gen Tweet: This 32-year TD was the toughest completion of Chase’s career, as well as the toughest completion for Burrow this season.
Joe Burrow & Ja'Marr Chase (32-yd TD)
The touchdown pass had a 19.9% completion probability, the most improbable reception of Chase's career, and Burrow's most improbable completion this season.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 23, 2022
When I talked to Burrow postgame, I was thinking of a couple of things: One, the fact that Chase catches 125 footballs after every practice, contested catches with a defender playing him, from a Jugs machine. Two, the intimate knowledge Burrow and Chase have of each other. There is no way on this earth Burrow is attempting this throw with a rookie he’s still getting used to. Burrow trusts that if Chase can’t catch this, no one will. And that’s how I framed the question to Burrow.
“I just have total, total confidence with Ja’Marr because of our time together,” said Burrow. Two years at LSU, two years now in Cincinnati. “Obviously, he’s pretty far out there. I try to be safe with the football, but I also know I can take some chances that maybe I shouldn’t. I do that because our receivers do a great job of being defenders if it looks like they’re not going to be able to catch it. I think that’s part of the reason why I’ve only thrown one interception since Week One. On this one, the safety had been cheating to his side, so I knew I had to get a little more pace on the ball [to get the ball to the corner pylon fast].”
Later in the second quarter, with a minute left, Cincinnati had a first down at the Atlanta 41-yard line. Chase, singled by Atlanta corner Darren Hall on the left sideline, ran a classic back-shoulder fade route, stopping at the Falcons 26-yardline as Hall wizzed past. Chase then bisected four Falcons on a straight diagonal, left to right, to the goal line.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) October 23, 2022
It was the kind of throw you watch and think: That’s Tom Brady to Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell in the Super Bowl comeback over Atlanta. That play comes from one thing: practice. And knowing each other extremely well.
“Absolutely,” said Burrow. “You can’t just throw that pass in a game. You have to have reps. Over and over. You’ve got to bank 100, 200 reps to have any confidence it’s going to work. Ja’Marr and I have run that a lot.”
It showed. Burrow’s familiarity with Chase, I would argue, led to one of the best games of his NFL life, and led to the Bengals being knotted with Baltimore at 4-3 atop the AFC North.
Or, at least “co-trade of the year.” The Tyreek Hill deal was pretty significant too. But when Christian McCaffrey-to-the-49ers was on the verge of happening last Thursday afternoon at the 49ers’ offices in Santa Clara, Calif., Niners GM John Lynch said to Kyle Shanahan, “If this happens, would you play him Sunday?” and Shanahan said no. Actually, from my conversation with Shanahan late Saturday night, his words were, “No way, man.”
But then, when the deal went down, Lynch and Shanahan got on the phone with the ex-Carolina Panther. One of the first things McCaffrey said to his new head coach was: “Coach, can you give me an iPad with the gameplan on it right away so I can be ready for Sunday?”
Well then. McCaffrey won the turf war over playing. Wearing number 23 just two days and three hours after first stepping foot inside the Niners’ facility, McCaffrey gave San Francisco 21 plays (per Next Gen Stats) against Kansas City, mostly in an active first half, with 10 touches for 62 hard-fought yards. He wasn’t the player of the game or even close. But the Niners’ 21-point defeat showed just how much this team needs an offensive jolt like the one McCaffrey should provide in the season’s final 10 games.
It’s highly likely the Niners’ trade of second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-round picks (the first three come in the 2023 draft) will be the biggest in-season trade this year. The trade deadline is in eight days. How it affects the three teams involved — Panthers, Niners, and the bridesmaid Rams — and what it says about aggression in trading today:
Niners: It’s undeniably a big risk.
This is McCaffrey’s ninth season — three at Stanford, six in the NFL — as a high-traffic running back. Easy to say, “He’s just 26,” but a 5-11, 205-pound back is bound to feel the effects of 21 touches a game in 102 college/pro games over nine years. (He exited Sunday with 1,997 college/pro career touches from scrimmage and 115 kick/punt returns, for 2,112 times being hit, often by large men.)
Every player is different. McCaffrey trains exceedingly hard, yet missed 23 games to hamstring, thigh, shoulder and ankle injuries over the 2020 and ’21 seasons. When Shanahan met the press in Santa Clara Thursday, he said: “I view everything as a gamble. I view making trades as a gamble. I view not making trades as a gamble.” To me, Saturday night, he put it this way: “You can sit there and not put yourself out there and not do something like this, and then where are you?”
His 10 touches for 62 yards is close to his career average. His prior NFL history was 5.8 yards per touch. Sunday, after being in his new playbook for about 15 minutes, he was 6.2 yards per touch. Next week McCaffrey’s certain to get a bigger load. The 3-4 Niners travel to the tarnished Super Bowl champion Rams in a very important game for San Francisco.
The case for the trade being a good risk for San Francisco: The Niners have a fairly manageable cap risk here — $690,000 this season and $12 million, not guaranteed, in each of the next three years. Shanahan made it clear they intend to keep McCaffrey beyond this year. To pay McCaffrey $12.7 million for the next 28 regular-season games is money very well spent if he plays most of the games; in that event, the Niners can judge whether to keep or cut him after the ’23 season.
The case for it being a poor risk: McCaffrey’s durability, of course, tops this list…Also, the loss of three picks in the top 140 of the draft (approximately) is big, obviously. As of today, San Francisco’s first picks in the 2023 draft will be around 102 and 105; those are Compensatory Picks at the bottom of the third round for losing two minority coaches and a minority GM in the last two years. The Niners wouldn’t pick again till their own choice in the fifth round, likely around pick 165 overall. Think of the picks they’ve had from round two through five under Shanahan/Lynch: George Kittle, Fred Warner, Deebo Samuel, Dre Greenlaw, Talanoa Hufanga. “For every one of those who’ve been great,” Shanahan told me, “I can name about 10 who haven’t been great.”
True…but one of the great draft-pick aggregators of all time, Jimmy Johnson, once told me: “I don’t know that I’m smarter than anyone else in the draft. All these picks just give me a chance to make mistakes and still come away with some good players.” San Francisco’s margin for error next April will be minuscule.
Carolina: Great tanking trade.
The Panthers are gold right now. Even with the win over Tampa Bay Sunday (I bet David Tepper was very quietly perturbed), they enter the last 10 games of the season 2-5, with the third overall pick in the 2023 draft. That’s almost certain to fluctuate in the next 10 weeks. But this is a draft stocked with quarterbacks. None is perfect, though. The Panthers may well get to have their pick of Bryce Young (Alabama), C.J. Stroud (Ohio State) or Will Levis (Kentucky), wherever they pick. After trading their best player, and with a mishmash at quarterback, it’ll be a surprise if they don’t pick in the top five next April, with some draft capital to move up if need be. They already had picks near the top of the first, second and fourth rounds, and this deal adds the Niner picks in rounds two, three and four.
Young, Stroud and Levis might not be Burrow, Herbert and Allen from recent top tens, but one or two will get hot in February and March. If it happens that the Panthers need to trade up a slot or two for the passer of their dreams, five picks in the second, third and fourth rounds will be good chips to play.
Credit GM Scott Fitterer for playing poker correctly. Even though the Rams were involved, L.A. never got close to the Niners’ offer of three picks in the top 130 (estimate) of next year’s draft plus a 2025 pick in round five. Fitterer got more for a back with McCaffrey’s injury history than he had a right to hope for.
Re tanking: It shouldn’t be a dirty word. If I’m a Panthers’ fan, I want my team to tank so as to gain the highest possible pick next year. What difference does it make if Carolina is 3-14 or 6-11? Winning five or six would mean the Panthers likely wouldn’t have their pick of the litter at quarterback, and that’s all that should matter to the franchise in the next six months.
Rams: They just said no.
“The price was driven by Niners versus Rams, not by Christian McCaffrey,” said one exec who was involved in the talks over the past week. The Rams had second- and third-round picks next year, but they’d traded their 2023 first-, fourth- and fifth-rounders already. L.A. was willing to give its two, but trading the three would have been exceedingly painful; it would have left them without a pick till the end of the fourth round, when they were slated to have a Compensatory Pick. Seeing that there’s a good chance the Rams will have major needs in the draft, particularly on the offensive line, next year, not picking till about 140th overall (the fourth-round Comp area) would have been a killer even for a gambler like Rams GM Les Snead.
But the price wouldn’t have been just second- and third-round picks; Carolina wanted more either in a draft pick or picks, or a young player. So the only reason this made sense for L.A. would have been to keep McCaffrey away from a team that looks better in the division right now. This was a good decision by L.A. You can’t allow the state of a rival to determine everything about your future plans.
Trading: More proof this isn’t your dad’s NFL.
Les Snead made the F Them Picks saying an ethos with the boom-or-bust (very boom so far) trades that built a Super Bowl team with the Rams. In training camp, Snead told me, “I go to Starbucks and people say, ‘F them picks!’ LeBron Tweeted about it. When that happened, finally my kids thought I was okay.”
When I started covering the NFL, GMs stayed forever and high picks were precious china in an arch-conservative league. Jimmy Johnson started to change that around 1990, but picks became trade chips mostly in the last 10 years. Younger decision-makers weren’t married to the ways of the past. Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff was 45 when he traded five picks to move up for Julio Jones in 2011. Snead was 41 when he got hired by the Rams in 2012. Howie Roseman of the Eagles was 40 when Chip Kelly was fired late in 2015; Roseman’s roster re-shaping contributed to a Super Bowl win five years ago and the Eagles, after a bold trade for A.J. Brown last draft weekend, are unbeaten today. Minnesota’s Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Detroit’s Brad Holmes made a rare big inter-division trade before the draft this year at the ages of 40 and 42, respectively. Brett Veach was 44 when he pulled off the Tyreek Hill mega-deal. And Shanahan, who doesn’t have the GM title but does have final roster say, was 41 at the time of the trade-up for Trey Lance, and 42 now at the time the Niners got McCaffrey. “It’s been cool to watch teams make trades now,” Shanahan said. “It used to drive me crazy early in my time in the league that it was so hard to trade.”
Other reasons beyond youth: GMs are more like coaches — more in win-now mode than two generations ago…Trading Compensatory Picks, legal for the past four years, gives GMs more ammo to make deals … Tanking, though unspoken, is understandable and valuable if it helps draft position, which encourages teams that start, say, 1-6, to make pre-deadline deals for better picks in the next draft.
Beyond all that, isn’t it just more fun when Kansas City gambles that it can win without Tyreek, and when the Niners gamble McCaffrey is the missing piece in a sleepy offense? Trades help make football compelling.
On Saturday night, Shanahan was already envisioning the multiple ways he would use McCaffrey. You’ll see him as a slot receiver for sure, and, as you saw Sunday, left out in space to take a quick pass and just try to make something happen — a la Percy Harvin, or even Deebo Samuel. “We’ve got a ton of options,” Shanahan said. “We can change the parts all over our offense and put different guys in, to take pressure off everybody. But like I told the team, We just added a really good player. But we gotta play better in all phases to really make it mean something.
Shanahan could have said that after McCaffrey’s first game as a Niner too. Getting shredded by Patrick Mahomes was a cold shower after the excitement of the McCaffrey deal. But the NFC West is winnable, and I doubt a good defense looks that bad again this season.
At the NFL fall meeting last week, Jim Irsay, who is not one of the more public-facing of the 32 NFL owners, stood in front of the media for 13 minutes at the Conrad Hotel in Manhattan. The words of the Colts’ owner about the well-tarnished owner of the Washington franchise, Daniel Snyder, were well thought out.
“I believe there’s merit to remove him as owner,” Irsay said.
You’ve read much of the rest of it — Irsay saying the NFL stands for an egalitarian workplace and Snyder and his organization had consistently demeaned women, saying he hoped but didn’t know if the required 24 owners would vote to remove him, and Washington firing back with a defensive statement.
Two days later, once the folderol of the first owner to call for Snyder’s removal died down, I asked Irsay why he did it.
“Did you know,” Jim Irsay said, “that George Halas came to my wedding? Did you know that, at one of my first league meetings, Art Rooney welcomed me and gave me a cigar? I’ve learned from Pete Rozelle, from Paul Brown. How fortunate I have been. We are all fortunate to be a part of this great league! And I know, at night, when I open up the door, there’s a mirror, and that’s the person I have to answer to. How do we all want to be remembered by our great-grandchildren?”
Irsay’s dad, Robert, owned the Colts, and Jim took over as Colts GM in 1984, two years out of SMU. He took over ownership at 37 in 1997 after his father died. For 25 years as owner, he has been mostly seen and not heard at league meetings. Until Tuesday, with his savaging of the Washington owner.
“When I got in this business,” Irsay told me in an hour-long phone conversation Thursday, “some of the greatest owners in the history of the league — Wellington Mara [Giants], Dan Rooney [Pittsburgh], Lamar Hunt [Kansas City] — showed a young man learning the game how to behave under pressure, with decency, with integrity, always putting the game first. The [NFL] shield means something. You don’t take every penny. Why did the New York Giants take a revenue-sharing deal for the TV contract way back in the sixties? So all teams would have an equal chance. Because Wellington Mara was for the good of the league. It’s so important, what we stand for as a league.
“When Lamar Hunt died [in 2006], I remember being at his wake. And [former commissioner] Paul Tagliabue turned to me and said, ‘Well Jim, they’re all gone now. It’s your turn.’ And I’ve thought about that.”
There are those who would say Irsay is a flawed person, not the best one to preach the anti-Snyder sermon. He got a six-game league ban by Roger Goodell for a DUI in 2014. There are those who would say Irsay should have said these words to the owners in a closed session and not first to the media. Fair on both counts.
But the overwhelming sentiment I heard from people around the league in the days after Irsay spoke his mind was It’s about time someone spoke up. The serial degradation of women for years inside the Washington organization concerned Irsay, who one day will leave his team to his three daughters, and because the league has been more and more concerned with attracting female fans and club employees. “In the workplace today, the standard that the shield stands for, you have to stand for that and protect that,” he said at the meetings.
Snyder’s fate may be decided by a Congressional investigation, which is ongoing. His fate may be decided by a league investigation into business and harassment practices by the organization and Snyder. It sounded to me like Irsay’s mind is made up: Snyder must go. He was passionate and aggrieved over the phone, even two and a half days later.
“Two things destroy great institutions,” Irsay said. “Being emotional, and rationalization. Rationalization — that’s saying, ‘Oh, it’s not that bad, we can deal with this. You know people are always gonna love the game. They’ll always turn on the TV to watch Mahomes Sunday.’ “
The stewards of the game, and Irsay emerged as one last week, have to be ready to act to be sure Snyder doesn’t continue to chip away at the institution.
This is presented as a public-service section of the column, because you should know about the anonymous people who one day this year might rule a key player — like your starting quarterback — out of a game. It happened in the Week Five Dolphins-Jets game when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was declared out for the game under the league’s one-day-old ataxia standard, adopted in the wake of the Tua Tagovailoa wobbling after a big hit but being allowed to return to the game. Now, if a player shows any instability, also known as ataxia, he’s out for the day.
The Bridgewater case was odd because when TV cameras focused on him, no instability was seen. I asked the NFL’s medical director, Dr. Allen Sills, what happened to force Bridgewater out.
Sills said there are five independent officials upstairs watching a plethora of live and TV angles to check for players who might need to be checked out medically during the game. The five: two certified athletic trainers who act as spotters, one unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant (this is in addition to the two UNCs who work on either sideline during the game), and two video consultants who can quickly find all relevant replays when a player in question is hurt. If a player looks somehow impaired, the spotter or UNC can radio down to the sidelines to have the player examined. The booth can also communicate directly to the referee on the field and tell him to remove an impaired player.
No video angles shown publicly indicated Bridgewater was wobbly. It goes without saying that the spotters and the UNCs absolutely should err on the side of caution in these cases, but if a similar thing happens — for example — in a Kansas City playoff game as happened in the Dolphins-Jets game, there’s going to be an outcry from people wondering, “Why is Patrick Mahomes out of this game?”
Sills on the Bridgewater play: “What I can share with you in that particular case is the team in the booth, not one individual, thought they saw a stumble on one of the video views that they had, as well as the player grasping his head, or something to that effect. In their mind, with this new standard that they had literally been given the day before, they felt that that reached the level of calling down an identification [of an injured player] to the sideline.
“This is a process that will be an evolution. Are people being more cautious and conservative? Sure…In this process, we have spotters, UNCs, visiting team medical liaisons, team athletic trainers, team physicians. That’s over a thousand people that we’re trying to bring to that level of consistency…We want the standard to be what I call clear and obvious. There’s always going to be some element of medical judgment. But that’s not one person. That’s not ever happening. Our system is built around teams of professionals making those decisions.”
It’s certainly a better plan than the one that was in place — the one that allowed Tagovailoa’s head to thump hard on the turf against Buffalo, that witnessed him wobble unsteadily, then allowed him to return to the game. But I’d urge the league to be more transparent each time a player is removed from a game with no obvious sign of impairment. The league owes it to the public to explain what was seen that forced a player out for the day.
Chocolate Lab of the Week
Turf, wildlife manager, Seattle Seahawks. Turf’s a 9-year-old dog, a mainstay at the Seahawks’ training facility in Renton, on the shores of Lake Washington southeast of downtown Seattle. He patrols the grounds to keep the birds native to the area from sullying the pristine turf fields. Earlier this year, cancer was discovered in and around the front left leg of Turf. Two cancer surgeries resulted in the loss of the leg, and he’s still undergoing chemotherapy. Last week, Pete Carroll honored Turf at the Seahawks daily team meeting by telling his team: “Turf had cancer, and it came back, and he had to have a leg taken off. But he’s back. He ain’t got all of those legs, but he’s got enough of ‘em.” Then Turf hopped/jogged to the front of the meeting, to a big hand and a familiar tune.
Coming in FMIA…
NFC West-leading @Seahawks stuff:
1. Geno Smith – grateful, resolute, totally unsurprised
2. And this from the now three-legged team hero, Turf the Dog: pic.twitter.com/z80u3QvMXU
— Peter King (@peter_king) October 24, 2022
On Friday, Turf’s Twitter and Instagram accounts, @Turfthedog, showed a canine determined to be the best three-legged dog on earth. He was quoted as saying:
“Not done living my best life, not even close.”
Offensive players of the week
Kenneth Walker, running back, Seattle. Three days after the rookie from Michigan State turned 22, he had his best game as a pro: 23 carries, 168 yards, two TDs in the 37-23 win over the Chargers in Los Angeles. Walker showed excellent vision in traffic and good speed in the open field. His 12-yard run for a score gave the Seahawks a 14-0 first-quarter lead, and the longest run of his short career, 74 yards, gave Seattle a 37-16 lead over a Chargers team that bulked up on run defense this year — but allowed 214 to the Seahawks in an embarrassing effort Sunday.
KENNETH. WALKER. TO. THE. HOUSE. 🏠
— NFL (@NFL) October 23, 2022
D’Onta Foreman, Chuba Hubbard, running backs, Carolina. They heard everything. They heard the season was over after the Christian McCaffrey trade, and they knew everyone handed the game to visiting Tom Brady. That, folks, is why they play the game. Foreman and Hubbard, afterthoughts on any depth chart in football, combined to rush 24 times for 181 yards and one TD — and Foreman gashed the Bucs’ D for a 60-yard run.
Josh Jacobs, running back, Las Vegas. The Raiders improved to only 2-4 Sunday by beating Houston, so there aren’t many headlines out of Las Vegas — yet. But one is Jacobs. For the first time in the 62-year history of the franchise, a back rushed for more than 100 yards and a touchdown in three straight games. On Sunday, in the 38-20 beatdown of the Texans, Jacobs rushed 20 times for 143 yards (7.2 per rush), with three touchdowns. Crucial road trip coming up for the Raiders: at New Orleans, at Jacksonville, with a practice week in Sarasota in between. Whatever they do, the Raiders should continue feeding Jacobs.
Joe Burrow, quarterback, Cincinnati. The other day on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Cincinnati running back Joe Mixon made what seemed to be a curious statement, as the Bengals were the 14th highest-scoring team in football: “Nobody has got an offense like us and we can put up points on anybody.” Burrow did something about that Sunday against Atlanta, with the most explosive passing day of the season in the NFL: 34 of 42, 481 yards, three TD passes, one TD sneak, no picks, with scoring passes of 60, 32 and 41 — all in the first half, giving the Bengals a 28-7 lead at the half.
Taylor Heinicke, quarterback, Washington. Playing for the first time all season in relief of the injured Carson Wentz, Heinicke showed why he’s such a beloved guy in the Washington locker room. After an ugly early pick-six put his team in a 14-3 hole against the favored Packers, he threw touchdown passes to Antonio Gibson and Terry McLaurin sandwiching the half, and Washington never trailed after that. He was 20 of 33 for 201 yards, with the two TDs and the pick. Surprisingly, he was just what the struggling Commanders needed.
TERRY MCLAURIN. The @Commanders have the lead!
— NFL (@NFL) October 23, 2022
Defensive players of the week
Frank Clark, defensive end, Kansas City. Made one of the plays of the NFL weekend to clinch Kansas City’s decisive 44-23 win over San Francisco on the West Coast. On third-and-nine from the Niners’ six-yard line and trailing 35-23, this was their last gasp. Clark whipped around the edge, making all-world Trent Williams whiff on his block, and chased down Jimmy Garoppolo for a sack and a safety. All the air was taken out of Levi’s Stadium and out of the Niners, and the game was over.
Andrew Adams, safety, Tennessee. Undrafted out of UConn in 2016, Adams is on his ninth NFL stop, and Sunday was his 37th NFL stop. Took a long time to score his first touchdown. Five minutes into the second quarter against Indianapolis, the Colts were driving to take the lead when Adams picked off Matt Ryan at his 24-yard line. He zipped downfield for 76 yards and the touchdown, making it 10-0. The Colts never had the lead in Nashville in Tennessee’s 19-10 lead. The ball sat on the shelf in Adams’ Nissan Stadium locker afterward. “I might give it to my dad, or put it up in my Man Cave,” Adams said. I’d vote for the dad.
Justin Houston, pass-rusher, Baltimore. His two sacks of Jacoby Brissett gave him 106 for his career and pushed him past J.J. Watt (104.5) into a tie with Trace Armstrong on the all-time sack list. (And in a tie with Too Tall Jones on the all-time unofficial sacks list; sacks became an official stat in 1982.) Houston’s been a good mentor for the young guys on the Ravens’ front, and Sunday he was the most productive one of their group.
Special teams players of the week
Tress Way, punter, Washington. Way knew Washington had to win the field-position battle to have a chance to win a game against the Packers Sunday. He did his part, punting four times for a 48.0-yard average, putting three of them inside the 20-. His best was a 68-yarder to the Green Bay one-yard line.
Marcus Kemp, wide receiver, Kansas City. Big day in the Awards for undrafted guys. Kemp was a street free-agent after being cut by the Giants in training camp. Kansas City signed him to the practice squad, and he was promoted for Sunday’s game at the Niners. Midway through the second quarter with KC up 14-13, Kemp was on the kickoff team, sprinted downfield from the wide right side, and knifed in unblocked to drop Ray-Ray McCloud at his 14- with a perfect form tackle. Want to know how to stay on the active 53? Make more plays exactly like that.
Coach of the week
Pete Carroll, head coach, Seattle. I thought Seattle erred in jettisoning Russell Wilson in favor of a passel of draft choices and Geno Smith, but Carroll and GM John Schneider clearly knew what they were doing. Here are the Seahawks after seven weeks, alone in first place in the NFC West…and the only team with a winning record in the division. Seattle had lost 11 of 18 entering this season and without Wilson, it looked like a total rebuild. But Carroll never bought into the doom and gloom and never let his team buy into it either.
Goats of the week
Mike Evans, wide receiver, Tampa Bay. Evans could play 25 years in the NFL and he’ll never drop an easier ball to catch than the one he muffed at the dawn of Bucs-Panthers, blowing a touchdown that the Bucs would desperately need. “No one play is the sole reason you lose, but that was definitely the biggest reason. I saw the light go out of us.” Carolina 21, once-mighty Bucs 3.
Charvarius Ward, cornerback, San Francisco. This was a game, against his former team Kansas City, that Ward had to have circled on his calendar. Bummer that he ended up being a goat in it. San Francisco has just scratched back into the game early in the fourth quarter and trailed 28-23 when KC had a third-and-11 at its 19-yard line. The crowd was bonkers in Santa Clara. Ward lined up too far to the defensive left of the formation on wideout Marquez Valdez-Scantling. Within a few yards off the line, Valdez-Scantling had two steps on Ward, somehow, and Mahomes lofted a hi-arcing strike downfield for the surprisingly wide-open Valdez-Scantling. Gain of 57 to the San Francisco 24-. Three plays later, on a Mecole Hardman TD scamper, the game was over.
Andy Dalton, quarterback, and Marquez Callaway, wide receiver, New Orleans. Yes, Dalton threw two pick-sixes in the last two minutes of the half in the Saints’ must-win loss at Arizona Thursday. He had three picks overall in the first half, dooming New Orleans. But Calloway was responsible for the second interception returned 38 yards for a touchdown, because Dalton’s pass was right in his hands, and it bounced off them and into the grasp of Cardinals DB Marco Wilson, who returned it for a touchdown. I give the partial Goat to Calloway for a simple reason: If he simply catches the ball in a 14-14 game with two minutes left in the first half, the Saints likely finish the half with a field goal or touchdown and a 17-14 or 21-14 lead at the half. But the pick gave Arizona a 20-14 lead, and a second pick by Dalton gave the Cards a 28-14 lead by the half.
Hidden person of the week
Kevin White, wide receiver, New Orleans. Caught one ball in the ridiculous 42-34 loss at Arizona. But it was a 64-yard reception, the longest catch of a star-crossed career (to put it mildly). Think of the life of White, the seventh overall pick (by Chicago) in the 2015 draft. Missed all of his rookie year with a broken left tibia. Missed all but four games in 2016 with a broken left fibula. Fractured his left shoulder blade in the opening game of 2017, missing the rest of the season. Had an uneventful fourth season in Chicago, then was cut loose. Didn’t play in 2019. Made the 49ers practice squad in 2020, but had zero catches. Got COVID late in the season. Signed with the Saints for the ’21 season, and had one catch. The 64-yard reception Thursday night was his first catch since his singular one last year. In his six seasons as an NFL wideout, White has 27 catches and zero touchdowns. Kudos to him for hanging in there and, at 30, still fighting for snaps with New Orleans.
“It’s about as dark as it’s gonna be right now…We’re gonna see how many people crumble when it’s dark, see how many people step up and start playing better and start coaching better.”
— Tampa Bay coach Todd Bowles, after the lowest point of the three-year Brady Era, a 21-3 loss at lowly Carolina.
“Different … I’ve never had teammates be vocal for me.”
— Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, asked by NBC Sports’ Maria Taylor what it was like to have unquestioned support by teammates this off-season.
That’s really interesting. Even if it’s not true, and there’s no way that it is, the fact that he felt this way and said it shows how unappreciated he felt in his early years in Miami.
— Tua Tagovailoa, asked if he spoke to his first NFL head coach, Brian Flores, at Sunday night’s Steelers-Dolphins game. There’s speculation, informed speculation, that Tagovailoa didn’t love his handling by Flores, who reportedly wanted the franchise to trade for Deshaun Watson while Tagovialoa struggled. Flores now is a Steelers assistant.
“There’s no such thing as tanking when it comes to myself and the guys in that locker room.”
— Carolina coach Steve Wilks, after the Panthers commenced tankage with the trade of Christian McCaffrey to San Francisco.
“The game is not softer. The game is safer.”
— NFL executive VP Troy Vincent, refuting claims that soft roughing-the-passer calls are damaging the game.
“That last sack was my fault. Hopefully PFF can hear this and make the grade appropriate for whoever ended up getting beat on that.”
— Cincinnati center Ted Karras, in what I believe is a first in NFL history — an offensive lineman saying publicly he wanted a sack assigned to him in the Pro Football Focus grades. I kind of like the honesty.
“It’s an ideal solution. No one likes it.”
— Jacksonville owner Shad Khan, to Ben Fischer of Sports Business Journal, on the complicated solution to the knotty problem of who will pay the $791 legal settlement with St. Louis over the Rams’ move to Los Angeles. (More in Ten Things, number 9.)
In 2018, Robert Klemko, then of The MMQB and Sports Illustrated, wrote a piece about the Broncos’ desperate and seemingly eternal search for a long-term quarterback. Peyton Manning was a four-year respite from the search, but Denver hadn’t had one in two decades, since the retirement of John Elway. The 2018 candidate: Case Keenum (That experiment would last one year.) Klemko, in Denver, got Elway, in charge then of finding the heir to Elway, to talk about the importance of finding The Man.
“Everybody’s got to have hope, and the quarterback gives your team hope,” Elway said. “You have to know that if we’re all having a bad day, that guy can keep you in the game and give you an opportunity to win. I think we lost hope. And when you lose hope, you get down and you keep making mistakes.”
The Broncos had a six-year run through the quarterback wilderness post-Manning, and six exceedingly shaky games by Russell Wilson is not enough time to measure anything in finality. But the depressing thing for Denver fans—and certainly for the Broncos veterans who thought acquiring Wilson was a solution—is that Wilson, so far, has been no better than the 11 men who started and failed to play themselves into a long-term job. In some ways, he’s been inferior.
The six seasons of Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Brock Osweiler, Joe Flacco, Case Keenum, Drew Lock, Brandon Allen, Jeff Driskel, Brett Rypien, Kendall Hinton and Teddy Bridgewater compared to the first six games of Wilson:
I have always found this amazing, and it came up in my brain the other day, after the Niners traded for Christian McCaffrey, who missed 23 games over the 2020 and ’21 seasons due to injury:
Jim Brown, a physical, bruising running back, played nine seasons in the NFL, from 1957 to 1965. The Browns played 118 regular-season and four playoff games in those nine seasons, and Brown started all 122 games.
That’s the notable thing. That, plus the fact he won eight NFL rushing titles in nine years.
Since wideout Michael Thomas was rewarded with a five-year, $96-million contract in July 2020 after setting the NFL record with 149 catches in 2019, here are some relevant stats:
- Saints regular-season games: 40.
- Thomas starts: 8.
- 100-yard receiving games by Thomas: 2.
- Games with TD catches for Thomas: 2.
The Yankees were 50-51 over their last 101 games, including playoffs.
H/T Bob Costas.
Packers 2019: 13-3.
Packers 2020: 13-3.
Packers 2021: 13-4.
Packers 2022: 3-4.
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) October 23, 2022
Chris Jones with a sack and there's no flag? Is that allowed?
— Myles Simmons (@MylesASimmons) October 23, 2022
Simmons covers the NFL for Pro Football Talk and NBC Sports. Clever.
Brian Daboll said Kadarius Toney and Kenny Golladay will not practice today.
— Paul Schwartz (@NYPost_Schwartz) October 19, 2022
Beat writer Paul Schwartz with the evergreenest Tweet of the 2022 NFL season, on the invisible wide receivers of the New York Giants.
I would love to read a first-hand account of the guy who showed up to the Padres game and found out his seat was behind Bill Walton.
— Jason Gay (@jasongay) October 19, 2022
Gay is the ever-clever sports columnist for the Wall Street Journal.
The #Seahawks are signing WR Easop Winston to their practice squad. The fable of his career continues.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) October 18, 2022
Touche to Garafolo, of NFL Network.
Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @peter_king.
Hard to argue with Jesus. From Jesus Ortiz Merodio: “Although I am very excited about the arrival of Christian McCaffrey to the Niners (I have been a Niner for more than 30 years), I can’t help but remember the 1989 Vikings. That team thought that the missing piece to win it all was Herschel Walker and they gave up a lot to Dallas to get him. When the Cowboys won their third Super Bowl in four years in January 1996, it was obvious to see who was on the winning side of that deal. If the Niners win it all, there’s no complaining, but…I think Lynch is gambling instead of building thoughtfully.”
It’s a big gamble, Jesus. You’re right. And in denuding the 2023 draft, Lynch has taken a major gamble that only will look good if McCaffrey has at least two impactful seasons, in my opinion.
This is a good point. From Tim Phillips (who, unsurprisingly, is a data analyst): “In your [roughing-the-passer] comparison between Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, you used the number of games, but I think to better get an idea you should compare to the number of times the quarterback was sacked and hit. If we created a metric called OTF (opportunity to flag) and looked at the number of times the QB was sacked and knocked down since you won’t see a flag if a QB isn’t touched. Over that decade you quoted, Brady was sacked 249 times vs. 358 for Ryan. Unfortunately, I could only find knockdown stats back until 2015 (it was 554 vs 803). If you look at those numbers versus roughing the passer throws you see Brady is getting the flag a lot more often (4.5 percent of the time versus 3.5 percent). So based on the OTF metric, Brady gets the flag a lot more than Ryan.
Thanks a lot for that, Tim. And you’re right: OTF would be a better measure of the relative roughing calls between those two players. That’s my error for not thinking of that. You and about 30 others pointed out similar points. If I might have a “yeah but” point: Brady’s gotten 25 roughing calls over the past 10 years, or one per every 5.9 games. So I’m not buying the narrative of him getting all the calls.
Brady gets all the calls (forget the numbers — an avalanche of readers think like Dan Brown). From Dan Brown, of Atlanta: “The issue isn’t that he gets more roughing calls than others. It’s that questionable roughing calls go his way, and they often don’t for less-famous quarterbacks. The QBs who get roughing calls the most are also (except Josh Allen) among the QBs who get hit the most. We have the perception that Brady gets special treatment because we can remember feeling this way before, that tackling Brady gets you a penalty.”
Amazing how many readers feel the same. “We have the perception,” and “we can remember feeling this way before.” How do you think you would fare in a court of law if you said, “Judge, it’s common knowledge that the defendant is a liar and a cheat.” I appreciate the important prod from Tim Phillips and others that the number of times a quarterback gets hit should be factored in, not just the total flags. But the subjective emails…I don’t see the game that way.
What a good idea. From Jim McWilliams: “Thanks for steering us toward that Washington Post story about education in Bullhead City. Just a thought if you want a PS: Those teachers from the Philippines are precisely who we need immigrating to our country. How about offering expedited citizenship to teachers who’d like to move to the U.S.?”
Great thought, Jim. Really interesting. Hope someone in power in government reads your idea.
Tim would like me to apologize for belittling the injury suffered by the photographer shoved by Davante Adams. From Tim Loomas: “I suspect you would feel differently if you were the credentialed member of the press. Davante Adams apologized (as he should). Will you?”
No. The point was about the line in the police report after the photographer was shoved down — “The injuries are preliminarily thought to be non-life-threatening” — which was absurd at the time and remains so.
John criticizes my ignorance of college football. From John Roemer: “I have never understood the pride you have demonstrated throughout your career in stating ‘I know zero about college football,’ as you did in your column. The NFL is almost entirely stocked with former college football players. Albert Breer, your successor at MMQB, follows college football and makes knowledgeable comments about it on a weekly basis. I know you will say that you simply don’t have enough time. Yet you seem to spend countless, and I mean countless, hours following MLB, watching ‘Murder She Wrote,’ reading and sharing articles about chess cheating, women’s soccer, human composting, nachos, and dozens of other non-NFL related stories, including the treacherous world of politics…I would think you would be ashamed.”
Fair points, John. I am not ashamed. To every thing, there is a season. My season for getting to know college players is after the NFL season, before the draft, at the Combine and by interviewing NFL people. I could make the time to watch the college games, but I don’t want to spend most or all day of a second day during the week glued to a TV watching football, particularly on a day when I spend most of it writing, researching and talking to people about the NFL. I choose to spend a lot of time during the week reading things about life, and when I see something I think would be interesting for my readers, I put it in the column. At the end of the week, I write 9,000 to 10,000 words about pro football and maybe 1,500 words about other aspects of life. It’s not a point of pride to mostly ignore college football. I’m just being honest.
I would be curious if other readers agree with John, or if they like some other stuff in the column each week. Send me thoughts at email@example.com.
1. I think the greatest moment of Week Seven was this one — Charlotte native and Charlotte-raised and Charlotte-schooled Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks getting the game ball for his first win as the head coach:
A hometown win by the hometown kid. pic.twitter.com/bcmLXdecys
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) October 23, 2022
“This is for you, brother,” owner David Tepper said, handing Wilks the ball. Wilks didn’t make a speech. He just said to the mass of players, “FAMILY ON THREE!” And the who crew did 1-2-3 FAMILY! I loved it mostly because. Wilks doesn’t have a great chance to get the full-time job, but he can always say, I got a team ready to play Tom Brady, and I got a team ready to embarrass Tom Brady’s team. That is really cool.
2. I think Todd Bowles did exactly what he should have done after the Bucs were so awful in Charlotte. Football at its essence is a mano y mano game. The Bucs are pathetic, but for a moment, he told them to forget about skill and greatness and all that. His point this week will be about pride and beating the guy across from you one-on-one and fighting harder than the other team. Backed into a corner, I don’t think the Bucs will be great this year, at all. But I do think they’ll come out and play really hard and pugnaciously Thursday night against Baltimore.
3. I think there’s not a lot more hope in Green Bay than Tampa. Did you see the video of Aaron Rodgers appearing to say, apparently to rookie wideout Romeo Doubs, “What the f— are we doing?!”
“What the f–k are we doing?” – Aaron Rodgers 😳
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 23, 2022
For the first time in six years, Rodgers and Brady are on simultaneous two-game losing streaks. I honestly can’t predict which has the better chance to come out of it soon, but I can say it won’t be Green Bay this week. Pack at Bills, next Sunday night, NBC. I do love Rodgers’ positive post-game determination. Asked if he feels it’s possible for Green Bay to right the ship in 2022, he said: “You’re G—d— right it does.” This is a team that just lost three straight to teams (Giants, Jets, Washington) that went a combined 15-36 last year. “Too many detail mistakes,” Rodgers said.
4. I think, re: the growing frenzy over who will sign Odell Beckham Jr., who will be 30 in two weeks, a couple of points to remember. He tore his ACL on Oct. 25, 2020 and missed the first two games of the 2021 season before returning to play on Sept. 26, 2021. That’s 11 months after the injury. Then, he tore the same ACL in the Super Bowl last Feb. 13. ACL tears and surgeries can be different, of course, and there were reports that the first surgery was tough for Beckham to come back from. But we’re now eight months from the surgery on his second ACL tear, and there’s a growing drumbeat about what team will sign Beckham and get this great offensive jolt from him. When? What if he’s not ready before late December — 10 months after the surgery? How big of a deal will it be to get a player at 30 coming off his second ACL in two years, particularly if he goes to a new team and has to get chemistry with a new quarterback he’s never played with? No one knows when Beckham will play, and no one knows how long it’ll take him to ramp-up to being the real OBJ.
5. I think, other than the Snyder stuff, there were a few nuggets out of the league meeting the other day in New York:
- Compared to a three-year average from training camps in 2019-’21, concussions were down 52 percent in camps this year, much of that due to the wearing of the foamy Guardian Caps by players at the more physical positions for the first month of camps.
- We’ve known for some time (I reported on the coming Black Friday game at length last spring), but now we know it’ll be at 3 p.m. on the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 24, 2023, next season. It’s not going to be a one-year experiment, barring a disaster. “Black Friday is Amazon’s Super Bowl,” NFL chief media and business officer Brian Rolapp said, and this will be Amazon’s prize every year in its streaming package. Expect the NFL to give Amazon an above-average game at least in year one.
- Ben Fischer of Sports Business Journal had the guts of the final agreement over who pays the $790 million settlement the league made with St. Louis over the move of the Rams to Los Angeles. The other 31 teams have paid $7 million per team, a total of $224 million, already. Rams owner Stan Kroenke will pay the league $320 million by March 2023, and he’ll pay another $283 million to the league in five years. But he’ll get that $283 million over time by keeping ticket revenue from visiting teams that, by league rule, home teams usually have to share. So the upshot is Kroenke pays $503 million over the next five years, and the other 31 teams pay him $283 million from ticket revenue over an extended period.
- As one top club official told me re: the settlement: “The bottom line is pretty simple: To pay $7 million to have the L.A. problem settled, and to have the best stadium in the league there, and to have a championship team there overnight, is well, well worth it.”
- Kudos to Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic for ferreting out a great and potentially very big point made by the NFL’s VP of international, Peter O’Reilly, at the fall meeting. “There is an opportunity, similar to the Jaguars, for another club to raise their hand if they would like to play internationally and build a model similar to Jacksonville,” O’Reilly said. That’s big for a couple of reasons. It shows the NFL is married to football in Europe — but probably not to a franchise or franchises in Europe, at least for now. The NFL would prefer to play a series of games, as it’s doing now, in England and other venues like cities in Germany. The debut game in Germany comes Nov. 13 in Munich, Seattle versus Tampa, with Tampa Bay being the home team and losing one of its nine Florida home games this year.
6. I think I am so tired of every statement the Washington franchise makes including some chest-pumping sentence like the one it distributed Tuesday in the midst of the Snyder-must-sell mayhem at the fall league meeting: “The Commanders have made remarkable progress over the past two years.”
7. I think I would ask, even in the wake of the surprising victory over Green Bay at FedEx Field Sunday: How?
- By going 10-14 since opening day 2021, including 42- and 15-point losses at arch-rival Dallas?
- By reducing the capacity of FedEx Field to avoid showing the yawning gaps of empty seats by a fan base that long since stopped caring about the team?
- By seeing fans of the Cowboys and Eagles overrun the stadium while going 3-0 at FedEx Field over the past 1.5 seasons?
- By the parade of 13 front-office executives leaving the teams for various reasons in the last year-and-a-half, capped by COO Greg Resh in September?
- By the loud chant of “Sell the team! Sell the team!” at the stadium on Sunday in the midst of the best win of this season?
Does this franchise actually want credit for hiring decent people and going without scandals for two years? That’s what the other 31 other teams do regularly. And you want credit for being placid while running a 10-14 football team?
Defending Daniel Snyder is expected by lawyers paid to defend Daniel Snyder. But this franchise leads the league in Kevin Baconisms. In Animal House, Bacon, a student ROTC officer, tried to quell a riot in a college town by shouting, “All is well!”
“Remarkable progress” will start when there’s an owner not named Snyder running the franchise.
8. I think it’s notable that more than a few former teammates of Russell Wilson in Seattle have joined in the piling-on of Wilson in the wake of his awful start in Denver. This from former Seattle fullback Michael Robinson on NFL Network, on Wilson: “How can you stand up there, and you know the offense looks like this, and you know all these questions are out here about you and this offense, and you say, ‘Oh, we just need to execute better. Let’s ride.’ If you’re a teammate in that locker room, you’re like, Dude! Be human! Please!!! Call somebody out! Be upset about something! Don’t just act like this is business as usual. Because at the end of the day, I think this is on the horizon for this team, and I hope it’s not. But I think it’s on the horizon. Mutiny is afoot. The guys in that locker room are gonna start to turn around and say, ‘Wow. Russell got paid … The new head coach is all happy, he got his money, he’s all good. But what about us? What about the guys in the locker room?’ “
9. I think that was a wow to me: Mutiny is afoot. But look at the guts of what Robinson is saying. The defense is playing at a top-five-in-the-league level, and every week they see a hyped quarterback, rightfully so, performing at a Trubisky level as the season slips away after an offseason of enormous hope.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. I live in Brooklyn. When I walk my dog Chuck or run an errand (we don’t own a car, so there’s lots of walking) I smell weed 10 times a day. I wonder if that’s a common experience everywhere in the country. I doubt it is.
b. You Want Your Heroes to Be Good People Story of the Week: From Patrick Healy of the New York Times, on lessons learned from the life of the late Angela Lansbury — all the way up to her demise
c. Wrote Healy, who covered Broadway for the paper in 2009, when he reported a story about Lansbury:
I had heard that Ms. Lansbury, who was then 84, used an earpiece that year while on Broadway playing Madame Arcati in Noël Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” — a performance that earned her a fifth Tony Award.
I remember being nervous as I dialed her number. Nervous about whether I could persuade her to open up to me. Nervous about memorizing my own lines so I could explain the story and ask her questions.
I was most nervous about interviewing a star who meant something to me and my family — a star of my father’s favorite movie, “The Manchurian Candidate,” whom my parents and I loved to watch in “Murder, She Wrote” on Sunday nights.
Angela Lansbury was not nervous. Game to talk, quick with a laugh, candid. I’d assumed that aging and memory were vulnerabilities; she saw them as facts and addressed them confidently — first, she explained, with the “Blithe Spirit” team that offered her a special accommodation and now with me … “It’s not something you ever want to do, but if we’re going to play important roles at our age, where our names are above the title on the marquee, we’re going to ask for some support if we need it.”
d. That was one dignified woman.
e. Fun Football Story of the Week: Sam Borden of ESPN.com on the 20th anniversary of the last barefoot kick in NFL history
f. But Jeff Wilkins of the Rams says, “I was a fake barefoot kicker.”
g. Borden gets to the bottom of the mystery we never knew was a mystery, and he does it with a great bit of writing about the final time a kicker went shoeless while converting a kick in an NFL game:
Wilkins kicked this meaningless extra point wearing only one shoe. His kicking foot in that moment was unsheathed, his toes wiggling freely, gloriously naked beneath the hot Sunday lights of the Edward Jones Dome. Wilkins was kicking barefoot, and that extra point — on Oct. 20, 2002 — actually was significant: It represented the final time in NFL history that a kicker scored points while his little piggies were fully capable of going to the market.
h. Sam Borden, that was good. Really good.
i. Bizarro Vegas Story of the Week: Dawn Gilbertson of the Wall Street Journal, on people who pay $550 to watch football games at a Vegas casino
j. It’s $550, but hey — you get free drinks!
k. At the new hotel Circa, you can watch from a pool and gamble on every game. I mean, what a country.
l. Wrote Gilbertson:
A Caesars spokeswoman says the sportsbook started charging for seats several years ago when demand outpaced the supply. The bleacher seats arrived after they proved popular this spring during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, given the sportsbook’s “compressed space,” she says.
One new downtown Las Vegas hotel, Circa, was designed around the idea that people like watching live sporting events together and will pay a premium to do it in the right setting. Circa has a glittering three-story sportsbook, a sports bar it calls the world’s longest and Stadium Swim, a sprawling outdoor pool complex with a giant video screen aimed at sports fans. Chairs with five free drinks started at $275 last Sunday. Reserved couches required guests to spend a minimum of $1,000 on food and drink.
“They’re not really paying to watch football,” CEO and owner Derek Stevens says. “They’re paying for the experience.”
m. Radio Story of the Week: Kathlenn McGrory and Neil Bedi, in a ProPublica/NPR partnership, on workers who inhaled and worked around asbestos for years in western New York, breaking their silence about a silent killer
n. Asbestos is still legal in the United States? What, exactly, is wrong with us?
o. Reported McGrory and Bedi:
…In the early 1990s, the dangers of asbestos were already irrefutable. The United States had prohibited its use in pipe insulation and branded it so risky that remediators had to wear hazmat suits to remove it. But unlike dozens of other countries that banned the potent carcinogen outright, the United States never did.
Now … the Environmental Protection Agency appears poised to finally outlaw asbestos in a test case with huge implications. If the agency fails to ban a substance so widely established as harmful, scientists and public health experts argue, it would raise serious doubts about the EPA’s ability to protect the public from any toxic chemicals.
To fight the proposed ban, the chemical companies have returned to a well-worn strategy and marshaled political heavyweights, including the attorneys general of 12 Republican-led states who say it would place a “heavy and unreasonable burden” on industry.
Lost in the battle is the story of what happened in the decades during which the U.S. failed to act. It’s not just a tale of workers in hardscrabble company towns who were sacrificed to the bottom line of industry, but one of federal agencies cowed again and again by the well-financed lawyers and lobbyists of the companies they are supposed to oversee.
“It sounds like something that maybe would happen in the 1940s or the 1950s,” said Celeste Monforton, a lecturer in public health at Texas State University who studies occupational health and safety practices.
p. How shameful is it that this carcinogen that everyone for decades has known is a killer is still used in this country?
q. RIP, Charley Trippi, the College Football Hall of Famer and Pro Football Hall of Famer, who died last week at 100
r. Trippi, the running back, quarterback, punter, defensive back and returner for the Chicago Cardinals, was a rookie and the big star on the 1947 NFL championship team. He opened the scoring with a 44-yard TD run against Philadelphia on a frozen field at Comiskey Park, then added a 75-yard punt return in the second half.
s. Just think: Dec. 28, 1947, 75 years ago. The Cardinals moved to St. Louis in 1960, and then to Arizona in 1988. But that championship three-quarters of a century ago was the franchise’s last title. That’s how important Charley Trippi is to franchise lore.
t. Happy 60th, Jay Novacek.
u. And happy 73rd, Chzeslaw Marcol. (Chester Marcol, to you Packer fans of a certain age.) Marcol, the most distinctive-looking player in history, with a single-bar facemask and big glasses, had one of the craziest moments in Packer history. In 1980, Marcol had a field goal blocked against Chicago, recovered it, and ran it in for a touchdown to win the game — and later admitted he was high on cocaine when it happened.
v. I’ll need a little help here. Taylor Swift, teasing her new album “Midnights” by putting a trailer for it in the middle of the third quarter of the Saints-Cards game Thursday on Amazon Prime, and introduced by Al Michaels. Uhhhh, what? So I called a Swiftologist, Nora Princiotti of The Ringer, who has her dream job with her two first loves — football and music. She is a host on two podcasts for The Ringer — the Ringer NFL Show, and the Every Single Album music pod. She did have one beef: Michaels telling booth partner Kirk Herbstreit, who is the father of sons, “If you had a daughter she’d be over the moon.” As Princiotti said, boys and young men idolize her too.
w. Anyway, Princiotti, Saturday afternoon, after binge-listening to the album 20 times already, on this odd way of getting hype for a new album: “In music today, it’s not enough anymore to drop an album,” Princiotti said Saturday afternoon. “Being a pop star now requires visual elements, music videos, YouTube shorts, asking people to make short videos of the songs, using different markets to get your music out. She could have done [the trailer] on Instagram or YouTube — I would go anywhere to find it. But a football game was a different demographic. What Tay-Tay did [yes, Nora Princiotti called her ‘Tay-Tay’) by doing something different like going on Amazon was she eventized the album.”
“What?” I said.
“Eventize,” Princiotti said. “Made it a big event. She released it at midnight, then added seven more songs at 3 a.m., and released a music video Friday morning. She has a confounding habit of dropping clues, too. When she gave the commencement address at NYU this spring, some of the lines from that graduation speech appear as lyrics in the Midnights album. That’s an important part of her relationship with fans. Those clues help people get excited about the album.”
Princiotti made Swift sound like Sean McVay. “There’s a beautiful-mind thing going on in Tay-Tay’s head, a labyrinth of chaos,” she said.
x. That’s exactly what goes on in my head at 3:12 a.m. every Monday, trying to finish this column. It’s a labyrinth of chaos.
y. Kudos, Bryce Harper, for being tremendous when tremendous was demanded. What a clutch, clutch series Harper and Kyle Schwarber and about 10 other Phillies had in erasing the Pads. No shame in that series, San Diego. This was a classic case of a team getting broiling hot at the perfect time and hitting some tape-measure bombs.
z. You too, Houston. The Astros are 7-0 in the playoffs, and very deservedly so. I love this World Series. A week from tonight in game three in Philadelphia, I have a feeling the Kansas City and Seattle football decibel records will be in serious jeopardy.
New England 30, Chicago 12. Bill Belichick — who will pass Papa Bear Halas into second place all-time with a home win — spent seven minutes the other day talking up the Bears, which was very nice of him. That’s what coaches of good teams do when they’re playing an inferior team. There actually is one way Chicago could make a game of this: The Bears are running it very well, at 5.2 yards per rush, and the Pats have allowed 4.7. So there’s that. But at some point, Justin Fields is going to have to throw the ball, and that’s where things have gone haywire for the Bears this year.
Byes: Kansas City, L.A. Chargers.
Baltimore at Tampa Bay, Thursday, 8:15 p.m., Amazon Prime. I keep thinking Baltimore’s going to go on a run, and the Ravens certainly have the schedule to do so. Just think: After six weeks (before the Ravens played Cleveland Sunday), if you looked at the 11 games Baltimore had left, every team was .500 or worse. And now the Bucs are a four-alarm fire. Strange days indeed.
New England at N.Y. Jets, Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS. How wonderful is it for the league, and the AFC East, and for Fireman Ed, that this rivalry might actually become a rivalry? The Jets are entering a game against the Patriots actually being over .500 in late October. Nice change. How lopsided Pats-Jets has been:
- New England’s 12-0 against New York since opening day 2016.
- Pats won by a composite 79-19 last year.
- Since 2010, Pats have won games in the series by 42, 30, 38, 35, 33 and 41.
- At New England’s 54-13 win in Foxboro last year, ex-Pat Richard Seymour, in the house, said, “I wanted to come to our homecoming game against the Jets.”
Green Bay at Buffalo, Sunday, 8:20 p.m., NBC. Rough one for the Packers anyway, but they get the best team in football coming off the bye, in Buffalo, and with a voracious fandom seeing the home team for only the third time in the first eight weeks of the season, and with Green Bay looking as toothless as any time in the Aaron Rodgers Era. Yikes.
Cincinnati at Cleveland, Monday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN. Halloween night on Lake Erie, and the Bengals better come dressed as a win. Since Mike Brown drafted Burrow first overall in 2020, Cleveland’s 4-0 against the Bengals.
and Giants have six wins. Same
as Bucs/Pack combined.