Last Thursday, the 49ers’ assistant head coach, Anthony Lynn, asked Christian McCaffrey, the Niners’ new running back: “Can you throw? Ever thrown a pass in a game?”
It had been four years, but yes, McCaffrey had done it. Late in the 2018 season, against New Orleans, he took a handoff from Cam Newton, the New Orleans defense surrounded him, and he lofted a spiral 17 yards downfield to tight end Chris Manhertz, all alone. Touchdown.
“I sent them the video of the play,” McCaffrey said.
QB22 to Chris Manhertz 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/Slb5CTFeAt
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) December 18, 2018
“I wanted to make sure they knew I could throw,” he said, laughing, over the phone from the Niners’ locker room at SoFi Stadium Sunday night. You could tell from his voice that he was pretty proud of it. “As soon as they asked, I figured it might be something for Sunday.”
Yes, it just might be something for Sunday. By the time McCaffrey got to practice Friday, a halfback-option throw was in the gameplan—a backward pass from Jimmy Garoppolo to the right side, McCaffrey taking a couple of jab-steps like he was running a wheel-route, hoping to draw in the defense, just like he had in 2018 in Carolina. Then, if it worked and the defense got sucked in, wideout Brandon Aiyuk would have a clear path to the end zone. And the career running back, they all hoped, would be able to loft it over coverage.
“We repped it a couple of times in practice, then in the [Saturday] walk-through,” McCaffrey told me.
“Was Aiyuk open when you repped it?” I said.
“He was open every time,” McCaffrey said.
“So you knew it’d be called,” I said. “What were you thinking when the play got called, and you’re there in the huddle?”
McCaffrey said: “Let it rip. Let it rip, you know? It’s there. The play’s there. You just gotta make it.”
History’s written by the winners. In sports, history is made by the winners, and for the third time in 10 months, San Francisco, with a new star, is writing football history against the Super Bowl champions.
The Lead: McCaffrey
It’s the midseason column. As we head into November and the second half of the league’s 103rd season, I’ll rank the teams 1 to 32, tell you the leaders for MVP et al and review the key stories of the first half.
We have bullet points:
- The Bills are the clear favorites to win the Super Bowl after conquering Matthew Stafford, Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers in the first half of the season. But is their biggest threat Andy Reid’s old team or the current one?
- Taking off a helmet in jubilation is the difference between first and last place in the NFC South. Seriously.
- Was the throw of the year made by P.J. Walker? For sheer audacity and shock value, yes, yes it was.
- Dallas lurks. Minnesota lurks.
- Bill Belichick passes Papa Bear Halas, thanks to Zach Wilson taking the apple in the Big Apple.
- Derrick Henry enters hallowed land. He’s better than Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith at something that’s pretty damn cool for a running back.
- The first-place Seahawks are not going away, and I certainly don’t want them to.
- Story of the Day: Terry McLaurin’s home game.
- Mensch of the Day: Robert Kraft, and his important 30-second TV ad.
- Is Bradley Chubb bound for the AFC East?
We’ve got a lot going on. Can I finish the Christian McCaffrey story first?
“I’ve got to ask,” I said to McCaffrey amid the din of the locker room, “did you know you’re only the fourth player since the 1970 merger who has thrown a TD pass, caught a TD pass and run for a TD?”
“I found out today,” he said. “It feels good. Really good. It’s a cool stat, but there’s a bigger stat.
“To be able to go into a winning locker room, with great players, on a new team with so many guys who can make plays, it’s just exciting.”
He’s another one. Shanahan thought just what any football coach would think about a great back with the ball on the flank—he’ll draw a lot of attention, and maybe a good wide receiver could leak out and assuming McCaffrey wouldn’t get tight, he’d be able to hit Aiyuk for an easy touchdown. So the halfback-option play got practiced, and the Niners warmed up before Sunday’s game at SoFi.
“I threw a little before the game,” McCaffrey said, “but I didn’t want to make it too obvious.”
Five plays into the second quarter, down 7-0, Shanahan called it. “My arm was loose,” McCaffrey said. “I just thought, if BA is open by a step, let it rip. I knew when the corner came up a little [and Aiyuk had a step on two safeties], he was gonna make the catch if I put it out there. That’s not an easy catch. He had to turn his shoulder for the ball, and he made me look really good.”
The reality is it was a very good throw, a spiral floating 34 yards in the air to Aiyuk, who caught it in stride at the two- and scored easily. That tied it. McCaffrey’s nine-yard TD catch, on a play where he was a Jimmy Garoppolo afterthought late in the third, gave San Francisco the lead for good, 17-14. And he powered into the end zone early in the fourth from one yard out, bulling into 287-pound defensive tackle Marquise Copeland, giving the Niners a 24-14 lead and essentially ending it.
The Niners, 4-4, trail surprising Seattle (5-3) by a game. The Rams, 3-4, will have an uphill fight in the division, particularly after a second division loss to the Niners. It wasn’t lost on McCaffrey when he took the field at SoFi Sunday that he very well could have been suiting up for the home Rams had the trade gone down differently. Even the son of a well-traveled former NFL receiver wasn’t altogether ready for the uncertainty of a trade.
“This has been such a weird two weeks,” he said. “I grew up in the business so I understand it’s a business but you don’t really know how to act until you experience the actual event. I didn’t think about where I’d go till I got the call from [Carolina GM] Scott Fitterer.
“It was weird. I practiced that Thursday, went to meetings that Thursday, went home, and [Fitterer] called, and the next day, early, I was on a flight and practiced with the 49ers Friday. It’s a crazy league. But I loved the 49ers run game. I knew that’s where God wanted me to go and now I’m happy to be here.”
On a couple of plays Sunday, McCaffrey stood outside the celebratory group of players while they got all happy. It’s like he wasn’t really in the club yet, and he was still learning who everyone was and making sure he didn’t overstep his bounds. But players accept great players. McCaffrey is one of those.
“I can’t even put into words how happy I am,” he said. “It’s a crazy journey in the NFL. You see this stuff happen and you never think it’ll happen to you. But it has. I’m glad it did.” Niners are too.
Midway Through 10310
As we approach the season’s midpoint—November will dawn tomorrow with 55 percent of the season’s 272 regular-season game remaining—here’s how I see the league, 1 through 32:
1. Buffalo (6-1). Played, arguably, the toughest slate so far and beat the Rams, Baltimore and Kansas City on the road. The Bills have five games remaining in a better-than-expected AFC East, but they’re the clear Super Bowl favorites as November dawns.
2. Philadelphia (7-0). There’s a pretty big line of demarcation between the Bills and everyone. I’ll take the Eagles as the biggest threat, with a defense that’s allowed 17 points or fewer in five of their last six, and a quarterback that’s pretty damn ready for the big stage.
3. Kansas City (5-2). After the Bills beat KC and frustrated Patrick Mahomes two weeks ago, I wrote: “Everything Mahomes did was a struggle. Nothing was easy.” Teams can change a lot from October to January. Andy Reid has time to turn that around and catch Buffalo, but it’ll be a chore.
Will contend to the end:
4. Dallas (6-2). This is the one team at or near the top that could win a playoff game in January 13-9 if it had to. And in a season when scoring is down, that matters. By the way, Tony Pollard is one great threat.
5. Minnesota (6-1). Five straight wins. Five straight one-score wins. Buffalo and Dallas loom back-to-back in November, but it’s hard to fathom the Vikings losing the NFC North and the second (or first, if the Eagles falter) NFC seed.
6. Tennessee (5-2). There’s a lot to like about this team. I just don’t know if the Titans can score with Kansas City, Cincinnati, Philly and Dallas, who are on the schedule in the next nine weeks.
7. San Francisco (4-4). Pressure’s on, Christian McCaffrey. Big edge for the Niners is they’ve got the bye now, then no team of the last nine foes is great. It’s a very manageable stretch run.
8. Seattle (5-3). Averaged 33 points a game in October, so scoring’s not going to be an issue. But Seahawks entered Sunday 29th in yards allowed and 28th in points allowed. That’s an issue if they want to play deep into January.
9. Baltimore (5-3). The Mark Andrews shoulder injury is concerning, but Lamar Jackson loves rookie alternative Isaiah Likely. Here’s an edge: None of Ravens’ next eight foes are over .500.
10. Cincinnati (4-3). I’d have the Bengals higher, but they’ve got Tennessee, Kansas City, Buffalo and Baltimore in the last seven weeks, with the Bills and Ravens in weeks 17 and 18.
11. Miami (5-3). Dolphins are 5-0 when Tua Tagovailoa starts and plays at least three quarters of the game. There is, however, a killer three-game trip down the stretch: at Niners, at Chargers, at Bills. Worrisome. And there is a worrisome D that allowed 40 to the Jets and 27 (and 393 yards) to the Lions. Averaging just 1.9 sacks per game, I wonder how motivated they’ll be to go chase Bradley Chubb before the trade deadline.
If everything goes right, could make a run:
12. N.Y. Giants (6-2). Craziest team in this crazy season. Maybe we should just accept that smart coaches—Brian Daboll, of course, and underrated Mike Kafka and Wink Martindale—can put players in position to win late in games. They’ve done it for much of the season so far.
13. L.A. Rams (3-4). I can feel the draft choices burning a hole in GM Les Snead’s pocket. For once, the Rams are in decent shape with draft capital, with a second- and third- next year and the draft intact in 2024. They’re in play for a pass-rusher and a speed receiver.
14. L.A. Chargers (4-3). Coming out of the bye next Sunday, we still don’t know if the Chargers can be a January threat. This five-pack of games should tell us: at Atlanta, at San Francisco, Kansas City, at Arizona, at Vegas. Pack a suitcase.
15. New England (4-4). The quarterbacking is surprisingly bad, and Pats won Sunday, in part, because of Zach Wilson’s awfulness. Plus, two of the last six games are against Buffalo. But you never know with this franchise.
16. N.Y. Jets (5-3). On Sunday a debilitating loss because of the foibles of the supposed franchise quarterback. I don’t see how the Jets compete at a high level with a quarterback playing like Zach Wilson.
17. Atlanta (4-4). I don’t love the Falcons, but I’d be encouraged by a few things: Falcons have a full complement of picks next year and are $64 million under the projected ’23 cap. And they are a feisty, competitive team with wins over the Seahawks and Niners. They might have a home playoff game in January.
18. New Orleans (3-5). My quixotic preseason prediction—Saints will be the NFC’s top seed—lies in ruins. But then they go out and bury the Raiders by 24, and Alvin Kamara comes alive, and you wonder: Can’t they win a bad division?
Just seem too flawed:
19. Green Bay (3-5). I don’t see it turning around, but I might change my mind if GM Brian Gutekunst gets a trusted receiver (Chase Claypool? Nelson Agholor?) before Tuesday’s deadline, and if Romeo Doubs becomes what he presaged in training camp.
20. Tampa Bay (3-5). I don’t see it turning around.
21. Washington (4-4). There’s something about Taylor Heinicke. Teammates love him. Next two weeks—Minnesota, at Philly—will tell everything about whether this team can chase a Wild Card, which seems highly unlikely.
22. Arizona (3-5). One road game in the next 47 days, which would seem to be an edge—until you consider the Cards are 1-4 at home in the last calendar year.
23. Indianapolis (3-4-1). I have no idea how the Colts are alive, but now their fate’s in the hands of the 218th pick in the 2021 draft, Sam Ehlinger.
24. Las Vegas (2-5). I’m stunned to have the Raiders this high, frankly. But I just can’t believe how bad they’re playing, and I think they’ve got to be better with a Jacksonville-Indianapolis-Denver stretch starting Sunday in Florida.
25. Denver (3-5). One half cannot fix a season. But the second half in London was something close to the way Nathaniel Hackett thought his offense and defense would play. Let’s see if they come back after the bye, in Nashville, and show they’re not playing out the string.
26. Pittsburgh (2-6). Last four losses have come to teams that are a combined 16 over .500. Don’t love the Steelers, but like them more than most of the teams in this nether region.
27. Chicago (3-5). The Monday night stunner in Foxboro was certainly a hopeful sign, and an indication that there should be 10 designed runs in every week’s gameplan for Justin Fields.
28. Carolina (2-6). Two players should not be traded: D.J. Moore, Brian Burns. Otherwise, augmenting a 2023 draft that’s already strong (six picks in the first four rounds) should be a high priority. Interesting how hard they’re playing for Steve Wilks, though.
Lost sheep in the pasture of life:
29. Jacksonville (2-6). Second half of this season has to be about consistency for the franchise quarterback. That has been lacking, notably, for Trevor Lawrence, capped by a ridiculous interception on first-and-goal from the Denver one-yard line Sunday in London.
30. Cleveland (2-5). “Hold the fort till Deshaun gets back” was the mantra in August. “Never planned on giving up 27 points a game” has been the reality.
31. Detroit (1-6). The highest-scoring team in football through four weeks then scored six points total in its next two games. Lions gonna lion.
32. Houston (1-5-1). Lost to Malik Willis Sunday. But look on the bright side: Astros are in the World Series. Maybe no one will notice.
My midseason awards:
MVP: 1 Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo. 2 Jalen Hurts, QB, Philadelphia. 3 Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City. 4 Geno Smith, QB, Seattle. 5 Saquon Barkley, RB, N.Y. Giants.
Allen, best player on the best team having his best season, beat the former MVP and Super Bowl winner (Mahomes) on his turf in week six (“Josh Allen feels impossible to play against,” the former Kansas City tackle, Mitchell Schwartz, tweeted Sunday night. Schwartz is right.). Hurts is terrific week in and week out and edges Mahomes for the second spot. Smith is heroic, and if the Seahawks win the NFC West with a strong record, he should be in the discussion, for sure.
Coach: 1 Brian Daboll, N.Y. Giants. 2 Nick Sirianni, Philadelphia. 3 Kevin O’Connell, Minnesota. 4 Mike Vrabel, Tennessee. 5 Robert Saleh, N.Y. Jets.
Last time the Giants were better than competent was 10 years and eight months ago, when they waltzed into Indianapolis and beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Daboll might be the modern-day Parcells. He and his coaches have schemed a team with C talent to play at a B-plus level for two months, even including the 14-point loss at Seattle Sunday.
Offensive Player: Same as MVP.
I hate this category. For those who say, “Give it to the best non-quarterback,” I say: It’s not called Offensive Player of the Year Who Is Not a Quarterback. And Saquon Barkley is not having a better year than Josh Allen or Patrick Mahomes. So there we are.
Offensive Rookie: 1 Kenneth Walker, RB, Seattle. 2 Dameon Pierce, RB, Houston. 3 Chris Olave, WR, New Orleans. 4 Drake London, WR, Atlanta. 5 Garrett Wilson, WR, N.Y. Jets.
Walker’s been sensational recently, exploding for runs of 69, 34 and 74 in consecutive October games. Looks like one of the two strong rookie backs unless Chris Olave goes big in the second half.
Defensive Player: 1 Micah Parsons, edge, Dallas. 2 Aaron Donald, DT, L.A. Rams. 3 Matt Milano, LB, Buffalo. 4 Dexter Lawrence, DT, N.Y. Giants. 5 Von Miller, edge, Buffalo.
So many candidates, and I left off some great ones—Quinnen Williams, Maxx Crosby, Patrick Surtain II, Chris Jones. Parsons strikes me as the most impactful defender of the first half, the player who does the most to keep offensive coordinators up at night, with eight sacks and at least four near-misses for more.
Defensive Rookie: 1 Sauce Gardner, CB, N.Y. Jets. 2 Jaquan Brisker, S, Chicago. 3 Aidan Hutchinson, Edge, Detroit. 4 Jack Jones, CB, New England. 5 Kyler Gordon, CB, Chicago.
Gardner’s been as good as anyone could have foreseen, allowing 43 percent completions and a 51.1 passer rating in coverage through the first seven weeks, per PFF. What’s cool about him is nothing—not facing Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, not seeing Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill against Miami—is too big.
Executive: 1 Howie Roseman, GM, Philadelphia. 2 John Schneider, GM, Seattle. 3 Joe Schoen, GM, N.Y. Giants. 4 Joe Douglas, GM, N.Y. Jets. 5 Brandon Beane, GM, Buffalo.
Roseman’s trade for A.J. Brown and draft of Jordan Davis on the same day last April made this a good year to begin with, and that’s before considering the addition of four defensive starters—linebackers Kyzir White and Haason Redick and corner James Bradberry in free-agency, and corner-turned-safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson in trade.
Hello, Next Gen!
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.
Of all the interesting that happened this weekend, the most compelling was in the Carolina-Atlanta game, a game with two supposed also-rans exchanging blow after blow in a very strange 37-34 victory for the Falcons.
So why am I featuring this game in the analytics-based section of my column with deep analysis from Next Gen Stats? It’s because the game featured the most unlikely play of this NFL season so far—by far.
It was so weird.
Atlanta led 34-28 with 23 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Carolina had the ball, first down, at its 38-yard line with no timeouts left. Quarterback P.J. Walker, not noted for his arm strength, dropped back to pass out of the shotgun and from his 35-, let fly a long bomb down the left side of the field, toward wideout D.J. Moore, who basically was in a scramble drill, the type of route a receiver runs when a quarterback just wants his targets to run to an open space. Moore was covered by a linebacker, Rashaan Evans, and cornerback Dean Marlowe as Walker let the ball fly.
The ball traveled 67.6 yards in the air, per Next Gen, ridiculously long for a quarterback not noted for a big arm.
When the ball left Walker’s hands, per Net Gen, it had a completion probability of 11.5 percent.
Marlowe was within 0.8 yards of Moore when the ball was on both of them—considered close coverage.
This was not a Hail Mary. This was a play that Walker was legitimately trying to hit Moore on.
“I am shocked he threw it that far,” Atlanta coach Arthur Smith told me. “I thought it would just die at the 10.”
“I’ve never seen a better throw than that,” Evans, one of the cover guys, said.
PJ Walker's Hail Mary TD pass to D.J. Moore traveled 67.6 yards in the air, the longest completion by air distance in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016).
🔹 Completion Probability: 11.5%#CARvsATL | Powered by @awscloud pic.twitter.com/FaXEOxkLhQ
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) October 30, 2022
Moore caught it a couple of yards deep in the end zone, with Marlowe draped on him. The 11.5 percent chance of completion was the most unlikely of any TD pass in the NFL this season, according to Next Gen.
“It’s one of the greatest backyard plays I’ve ever seen,” Smith said. “It took a year off my life. Give P.J. Walker credit—he made one of the great throws a quarterback can make.”
Moore took his helmet off to celebrate. It’s a dumb rule, but it is a rule: A player is flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct if he takes his helmet off in the field of play to celebrate. This was a no-doubter. The touchdown made it 34-34, with the PAT to come. Now, the Falcons had a choice: Enforce the 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on the extra point, making Eddy Pineiro try a 48-yard kick for the extra point, or enforce it on the ensuing kickoff, making Pineiro kick off from his 20- instead of his 35-.
Smith discussed it with special-teams coach Marquice Williams. They had about 20 seconds to decide before having to inform ref Shawn Hochuli. “Pineiro has a history of missing between 40 and 49,” Smith told me. I looked it up: At the moment of decision, Pineiro in his career was 19 of 20 from 30-to-39 yards out, and 11 of 16 from 40-to-49 yards out.
Smith told Hochuli he’d take the 15 yards on the PAT, not the kickoff. That lengthened the PAT from 33 to 48 yards. And Pineiro kicked it wide left.
Pineiro missed a cake field goal in OT too, from 32 yards out (again, wide left), and Atlanta’s Younghoe Koo won it with a 41-yarder with 1:55 left in overtime.
“So many waves of emotion in a game like that,” Smith said. “Lotta crazy things happened, and you’ve got to make a lot of decisions in a short period of time. If you don’t have a resilient team, things could go south in a hurry.”
Lotta crazy things? How about this one: A man taking his helmet off on the field is the difference between a team being in first or fourth place this morning.
Eddy Pineiro was 12 of 12 on normal-distance PATs this year. He’d missed five kicks of his 16 tries in the forties. If D.J. Moore doesn’t take his helmet off, it’s very likely Carolina sits alone in first place today with a 3-5 record, including the tiebreaker-favoring 3-0 in division games. Instead, Pineiro missed, and the Panthers, 2-6, are alone in last place.
That is the craziest thing about the 2022 NFL season.
Trade Deadline Niblets20
With the deadline Tuesday at 4 p.m., I see lots of talk and not as much action as the talk portends. “This deadline will be disappointing,” one top club official told me Saturday. “I don’t see the desperate buyers, and the sellers want way too much. And some of the teams that should be selling, at least right now, aren’t.”
Biggest name for hire: Denver pass-rusher Bradley Chubb, who could be that unique player who plays 18 games this year. Denver is on its bye Week 9, and Chubb played his eighth game Sunday. If he’s dealt to one of the 10 teams that has had a bye already, we could see him become that rare 18-game regular-season player. A team can rent Chubb—due to hit free-agency in March—for $7.1 million for the last 10 weeks of the season.
We’ll see. A few thoughts on teams with motives to deal:
Broncos. One of the league’s most disappointing teams—despite waking up in the second half in London Sunday—has heard from teams on both Chubb and wide receiver Jerry Jeudy. GM George Paton, clearly, would move Chubb, due to be a free-agent in March, having missed 24 games due to injury in his first four years, for a first-round pick, and he may get one. A well-plugged-in GM told me over the weekend the Jets and Dolphins are interested, and interested enough to consider dealing a first-rounder for Chubb. But to make that deal for a significant price, Miami or New York, or any team, would have to have a deal done with Chubb beyond this year.
Panthers. Unless GM Scott Fitterer and owner David Tepper aren’t optimistic they can sign edge-rusher Brian Burns for reasonable money, it’s a fool’s errand to trade an excellent 24-year-old rusher likely to have his third straight season of nine sacks or more. I wonder how Fitterer would react to an offer of a low one or a two plus a lesser pick for wide receiver D.J. Moore—25 years old, averaging 82 catches and 1,175 yards from 2019-’21, playing mostly with his helmet on—who has excelled with mediocre quarterbacking. I’d think hard about an offer for Moore I’d project to be in the top 25 next April.
Rams. One you-never-know thing about the Rams: I won’t be shocked if they find a speed receiver somewhere, even if it costs them the ill-fitting Allen Robinson. That speed receiver could be Brandin Cooks, but only if the Texans chip in on some of the $18 million salary Cooks is due in 2023. The Kareem Hunt talk sounds like an invention; I don’t think the Rams have much interest in him, and I hear they have zero interest in shoring up left tackle with Laremy Tunsil of the Texans; Rams certainly don’t think he’s worth the $18.5 million he’d be owed for 2023. L.A. would like a pass-rusher, and it’s likely Carolina’s Brian Burns would be number one on the Rams’ list. But this isn’t like a year ago, when the Rams thought they were on a Super Bowl run and could overpay—sort of make a short-term-rental “baseball” trade for Von Miller. I can’t see them trading two first-round picks, or maybe a first- and a second-, for Carolina’s Burns without getting a contract done for the 24-year-old first.
Raiders. You can have defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell and safety Johnathan Abram, kings of the first Mike Mayock draft, cheap. But that hasn’t changed since the summer. How cheap is cheap? We may find out by Tuesday.
Packers. No idea if they’ll do something at receiver to try to get off the 3-5 schneid, particularly with Christian Watson not being able to stay on the field. But if I’m GM Brian Gutekunst, I’m offering a second in 2023 and a fifth in 2024 for Chase Claypool, right now.
A couple of thoughts on one done deal, Kadarius Toney from the Giants to Kansas City for third- and sixth-round picks in the 2023 draft. It’s a good risk for KC to take, dealing (approximately) the 105th and 205th picks in the ’23 draft for the 20th pick in the 2021 draft. Toney is just 23; in the right offense and motivated to be a big outside threat for Patrick Mahomes, he could well come alive there. But he was an attitude problem and injury problem pretty consistently with the Giants, playing only 338 snaps and never scoring a TD for the Giants in a year-and-a-half. I think GM Joe Schoen did well in getting a second-day pick plus a late choice for such a tarnished player.
Week 8 Happenings
Belichick Passes Halas. There was something fitting about the way Bill Belichick leapfrogged George Halas on the all-time coaching wins list (regular- and post-season). The Patriots coach, with 325 wins, needs 23 to pass Don Shula for first all-time. Part of Belichick’s greatness has been his ability to rally a down team and gameplan with odds against him and his players. After the lousy performance last Monday in a loss to Chicago—the Patriots were booed by their home fans, a rarity—veteran safety Devin McCourty said Belichick “gave it to us good on Wednesday. Pretty rough. We got what we deserved. I’ve been here 13 years, so I know what to expect. At the same time that he gets on us, he includes the coaches too. It’s all of us. As the week went on, it was a different Bill, building us up. The different Bills you get in the squad meetings—it’s hard to understand and replicate what he does, but I can tell you he still relates to players well and figures out how to get us ready after a bad game.”
It would have been poetic to pass Halas by beating the Bears. But it meant a lot, certainly, for the Patriots to win number 325 in the town Belichick rose to prominence as a Giants defensive coordinator, and against the team he chose to quit “as the HC of the NYJ” 22 years ago. Now what will mean something to Belichick is figuring a way with very shaky quarterback play to get this team into the playoffs. The AFC East, of course, used to be a division of patsies for the Pats, but no more.
Fighting Anti-Semitism. You may have noticed a TV ad Sunday produced by the Foundation to Combat Antisemitism—founded by Patriots owner Robert Kraft in 2019—that aired in the Jets-Patriots game. The ad was, in part, a response to rapper Kanye West saying he was going “death con 3 on Jewish people” and, in a series of interviews, criticizing Jewish involvement in entertainment and Black suppression. Banners supporting West, now identified as Ye, hung on overpasses in Los Angeles and Jacksonville, and an electronic “Kanye is right about the Jews” flashed on the outside of the stadium in Jacksonville after Saturday’s Florida-Georgia game.
Here’s the ad:
Kraft said Saturday night that Jewish people make up only 2.2 percent of America’s population, “and we get 57 percent of the hate crimes in America. It’s rising. In the late thirties and forties, what was going on in Germany is going on now in America. The Kanye West thing has brought it to a head. Doing this ad was a way to make non-Jewish people understand what’s happening. We need all people, not just Jews, to speak out. When I saw that sign on the [Los Angeles] highway, it turned my stomach. It’s just not good for America. I hope that people who aren’t Jewish understand it’s in their interests, in all of our interests, to preserve the basic values of our country.”
Kraft said this is the first in a series of steps he plans to take to fight the issue.
Good News of the Week. Terry McLaurin was born in Indianapolis. He went to high school there. As a kid, he went to Colts games and loved Marvin Harrison and Peyton Manning. In 2013, he was Indiana’s Mr. Football. On Sunday, he returned to the shrine of his youth, Lucas Oil Stadium. “I dreamed of playing on this field one day,” he told me from Indianapolis Sunday night. “To be here, to have this happen the way it did, well, God is just so good.”
Colts up 16-10, 41 seconds left, Washington ball at the Indy 34-. Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke, flushed from the pocket, couldn’t find a receiver. Scramble drill. “I just tried to find an opening, just tried to get in his vision,” McLaurin said. “With Taylor, no play’s dead.” So McLaurin found himself one-on-one with the 2019 defensive player of the year, Stephon Gilmore, inside the five-, and Heinicke, hoping for the best, let it fly. McLaurin and Gilmore are both 6’-0”, but Gilmore’s more of a physical player. McLaurin said contested catches were a struggle for him in college, but he worked on fighting for 50-50 balls, and it showed here. McLaurin rose for the ball, and he got higher than Gilmore.
“I saw the ball the whole time, and when I went up for it, I just knew it was mine. I wanted to attack this ball, fight for it. There was no way it wasn’t mine.”
Thankful for moments like these, with the guys! https://t.co/fa4EHGWyuW
— Terry McLaurin (@TheTerry_25) October 31, 2022
McLaurin and Gilmore each had hands on it, but McLaurin fought for it and won it, and when he fell to the ground he wasn’t dropping it. He got up, emotional and screaming, “THIS IS MY CITY! THIS IS MY CITY!” Heinicke followed on the next snap with a one-yard sneak, and Washington, 4-4, came away with a season-saving win, 17-16. The Commanders, winners of three straight, are in the NFC Wild Card race midway through what looked to be a lost season three weeks ago.
“Terry’s that dude,” Heinicke said. And wouldn’t you know: Harrison was in the house Sunday, and asked McLaurin to take a photo with him. That’s what you call a big day for the local kid.
I did something over two days last week that’s really hard for me to do in-season. I read a book, a 430-page book: “The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson” by Jeff Pearlman (Mariner Books). It’s a tremendous book, impossible to put down, one of the most well-reported books I ever remember reading. Figures. Pearlman, who is great, told me he interviewed 720 people. One of them was not Bo Jackson, who told him (amiably) that he wouldn’t help him with the book, but good luck. Pearlman will be my guest on The Peter King Podcast, which drops Tuesday. I asked him to read a passage about the last night of Jackson’s life as a professional athlete in 1994. It’s so good—you’ll love it.
Jeff Pearlman on why he invested two years of his life writing about Bo Jackson:
“In many ways my motivation for writing this book is I don’t think there’s enough—I don’t think Bo Jackson has enough meaning at this point. I don’t think enough people know about Bo Jackson. Most kids don’t know who Bo Jackson is.
“I think what his legacy should be is a guy who was raised as one of 10 kids in abject poverty in a house with three rooms and no running water and an outhouse, a kid who had a severe stutter, who was pushed back a grade, who was a real bully as a kid but for reasons we can now understand, whose mom worked three jobs, two of them as a maid and never slept, who just rose to this thing and overcame every possible obstacle you would ever throw at him to not just become an athlete but to become the athlete, the personification of athletic greatness at a time when Michael Jordan walked the earth, Joe Montana walked the earth, Jerry Rice walked the earth, that he was the personification of athletic greatness. And I will argue to the death that Bo Jackson is the greatest athlete who’s ever walked the earth.
“I got really lucky, reporting-wise. The late Dick Schaap wrote Bo Jackson’s autobiography in 1990. It was called ‘Bo Knows Bo.’ I read it when I was in high school and I loved it. Before Dick Schaap’s death, he donated all his notes, all his tapes, from all the interviews he did with Bo Jackson for that book. Hours and hours and hours and hours of audio tapes all transcribed, all his notes, and they were all at the Auburn library. For about $250, they sent it all to me. I had this treasure trove of Bo Jackson material sitting with Dick Schaap at restaurants, sitting with Dick Schaap in his house. Just opening up and talking about everything. Most of that was never used in ‘Bo Knows Bo.’ Pages and pages of material. So I felt like I really got good insight into him, even though he didn’t cooperate with the book. He’s really guarded. He’s kind of brooding, and he’s moody, and he can be off-putting. He also has a big heart and all that.”
The Awards Section
Offensive players of the week
A.J. Brown, wide receiver, Philadelphia. This trade seemed too good to be true last spring when it happened: The Eagles dealt the 18th and 101st picks in the draft to Tennessee for a 24-year-old (now 25) wide receiver A.J. Brown, who’d averaged 62 catches, 998 yards and eight TDs in his first three years on a run-first team. Brown was thrilled not only to be dealt to Philadelphia to play with his good friend, quarterback Jalen Hurts, but also to get a rich new contract he couldn’t get in Tennessee. Sunday was peak Brown. In the first half alone against Pittsburgh, Hurts and Brown linked up five times for 113 yards—including touchdown receptions of 39, 27 and 29 yards in the first 25 minutes of the half. Pretty good trade, Howie Roseman.
Derrick Henry, running back, Tennessee. “This guy is unreal, special,” center Ben Jones said. “Never talks about himself. Gets in the huddle, says, let’s go, let’s go, let’s go. Not about him ever.” Okay, so we’ll talk about him about his 32-carry, 219-yard, two-TD performance in the 17-10 dogfight win over Houston, carrying Malik Willis to a win in his first NFL start. Players in the Titans huddle will now say forever, to relatives and friends, “I played with Derrick Henry. And he was amazing.” On Sunday, Henry tied the NFL record for career regular season 200-yard rushing games. The list:
6: Derrick Henry, O.J. Simpson, Adrian Peterson.
5: Tiki Barber.
4: Jim Brown, Earl Campbell, Barry Sanders, LaDainian Tomlinson.
Man, that is some great company to be in.
Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, wide receivers, Miami. Twenty catches, 294 yards, two touchdowns, two Penguin celebrations post-TD (which are the cutest TD fetes in NFL history, by the way) in the 31-27 victory at Detroit. These guys are superior beings. They are on the way to having the best year a receiving tandem has ever had, averaging 14 catches and 211 yards per game in the Dolphins’ 5-3 start.
Christian McCaffrey, running back, San Francisco. Fourth player in the last 53 seasons to throw a touchdown pass, catch a touchdown pass and run for a touchdown—and the first since LaDainian Tomlinson did it 17 years ago. He did it on his 10th day as a 49er, and on the third day since he knew he’d be throwing a pass in a game against the reigning Super Bowl champs. The kid can rise to the occasion.
Defensive players of the week
Za’Darius Smith, outside linebacker, Minnesota. A huge game for the former Raven and Packer, showing that it was a great signing by Vikes GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah to pilfer him from the Pack. Smith sacked Kyler Murray twice in the first half, stunting two Arizona drives. And with the Cards trying to get back in the game, down 34-26 with 26 seconds left at the Vikings’ 37-, Smith sacked Murray a third time (this is not easy to do, by the way, sacking Murray three times in a football game), making it desperation time, third-and-17 in the final seconds for the Cards.
Devin McCourty, safety, New England. “I’m 35 years old, so this is pretty cool,” McCourty said from the New England locker room post-game, after the 22-17 win over the Jets. McCourty had two interceptions in the game, the first time he’d done that in 10 years and one month, when he did it in 2012 against Ryan Fitzpatrick of Buffalo. To say the Patriots needed this one is an understatement. If they lost, they’d have been two games behind the field in last place in the AFC East. Figures that the elder statesman would key the win.
Tyrann Mathieu, safety, New Orleans. A great safety is opportunistic, and Mathieu has made a career of featuring that trait. Per PFF, Mathieu’s 2022 has been better than his previous two years in Kansas City, when he was a defensive captain and leader for a Super Bowl contender. In the first half against Vegas Sunday, with the Raiders trying to chip away at a 10-0 Saints’ lead, Derek Carr threw into traffic, and the ball was deflected, and there was Mathieu at the Raiders’ 45 to rescue the ball for his second interception of the year. Six plays later, the Saints scored to make it 17-0, and this game was over. Season save for the Saints, at least for now.
Lorenzo Carter, linebacker, Atlanta. There wasn’t a more athletic play by a defender in week eight than Carter’s pick-six off Carolina quarterback P.J. Walker
FALCONS PICK-6! Lorenzo Carter snags it at the line of scrimmage
📺: #CARvsATL on FOX
📱: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/fAXMgIqW9V pic.twitter.com/J6CFDcycPZ
— NFL (@NFL) October 30, 2022
Special teams players of the week
Nick Folk, kicker, New England. On a day when neither quarterback was good, Folk, the former Jet, was much, much better. In a 35-minute span of a bitterly fought game, Folk was five for five in field goals, from 31, 42, 49, 45 and 52, the final one giving the Patriots an insurmountable 22-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Leki Fotu, defensive tackle, Arizona. Important and very strange field-goal block at the end of the first half in Minnesota. With the Vikings up 14-10 and trying for three final second-quarter points, kicker Greg Joseph booted a field-goal try—and it smashed square into the face mask of the Fotu, who was stretching his arms into the air to try for the block in the middle of the line. Hey, whatever works. A vital block’s a vital block.
Coach of the week
Bill Belichick, coach, New England. Six days after a dispiriting home loss to Chicago— “dispiriting” is putting it mildly—Belichick got a significant personal victory and a more significant team victory in the Meadowlands. The 13th straight win in the Pats-Jets series—New England 22, New York 17—leaves the all-time coaching wins list in this position (including playoff games):
1. Don Shula: 1963-’95, 347 wins.
2. Bill Belichick: 1991-2022, 325 wins.
3. George Halas: 1920-’67, 324 wins.
4. Tom Landry: 1960-’88, 270 wins.
5. Andy Reid: 1999-2022, 257 wins.
One and two on the list had been held by Shula and Halas in that order since 1993, when the Miami coach passed the late Halas on the list. So after 29 years, Belichick passes another legend.
When owner Robert Kraft gave Belichick the game ball after the game, Belichick got a hand from the players and said, “It’s the truth. Players win. Players win. I’m glad we’ve got a lot of good players on this team.” Then he got doused with water by a few of his men.
Goats of the week
I bring you the top of the 2021 draft, with the two biggest goats of the day:
Trevor Lawrence, quarterback, Jacksonville. A very bad day at the London office for the first pick of the 2021 draft. With the Jags up 7-0 early in the second quarter, Lawrence had first-and-goal at the Denver one-yard line and threw a pick to Justin Simmons. That allowed Denver to get back in the game. Lawrence’s second pick allowed the Broncos to win it: With 1:43 left and Denver up 21-17, Lawrence’s first play on what could have been the game-winning drive was a throw to Denver nickel K’Waun Williams. “Poor throw,” Mike Mayock said on Westwood One. “Woefully underthrown.” Exactly.
Zach Wilson, quarterback N.Y. Jets. As bad as number one was, number two was worse. A lot worse. On three straight possessions straddling the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth, trailing 16-10 to the hated Patriots. First possession: ugly pick thrown to Devin McCourty. Second possession: really ugly pick thrown/telegraphed lazily to Devin McCourty. Third possession: incomplete, incomplete, incomplete, incomplete, ball turned over on downs, 8:49 left in the game, New England up 22-10. The reason the Jets lost a 13th straight game to the team every Jet fan loves to hate is on one person: Zach Wilson.
Hidden person of the week
Travis Kelce, tight end, Kansas City. What? You say KC was on the bye Sunday? How can Travis Kelce be the Hidden Person of the Week? Because Travis was at big brother Jason Kelce’s game in Philadelphia, attending incognito (except CBS found him) in a tan bucket hat, pulled low. Very cool. Jason, who turns 35 this week, just might be in his last season and perhaps this is the last time that Travis, 33, will get to see him play in person. Unless, of course, there’s a super Bowl date in their near future.
Quotes of the Week40
“There’s been a sense of panic at the quarterback position today for New York.”
–Ian Eagle, on the CBS telecast of Patriots-Jets, after Zach Wilson threw his third interception, a ridiculous and careless one early in the fourth quarter.
“We still have faith in Z.”
–Jets coach Robert Saleh on Zach Wilson.
Well, what else can he say?
“I apologize to Raider Nation for that performance. I own that. It starts with me. We’re gonna work hard, and we’re gonna fix it.”
–Las Vegas coach Josh McDaniels, after a 24-0 loss in New Orleans Sunday.
“Another lengthy postgame meeting between Raiders owner Mark Davis and first-year coach Josh McDaniels in McDaniels’ office.”
Paul Gutierrez covers the Raiders for ESPN.com
“Just throw that mother—— to number 11.”
–Eagles tackle Lane Johnson, on Philly’s powerful offense Sunday, led by three touchdowns and 156 receiving yards from number 11, wideout A.J. Brown.
There have been 44 Sundays in 2022. The Rams and Niners have played on four of them.
Twenty-eight days in October, and two trips to Europe, for an itinerant running back:
Oct. 2, London: Latavius Murray of the Saints, elevated off the New Orleans practice squad for the game, runs for a one-yard TD in the second half of the Saints-Vikings game in England.
Oct. 3, New Orleans: Latavius Murray lands back in the United States on the Saints’ charter.
Oct. 4, Denver: Latavius Murray is signed off the Saints’ practice squad by the Broncos.
Oct. 30, London: Latavius Murray of the Broncos, on the Denver active roster since his signing, runs for a two-yard TD in the second half of the Broncos-Jaguars game in England.
I extol the virtues of Jeff Pearlman’s excellent book about Bo Jackson higher in the column. I loved it. The breadth of off-the-field stories—more that made Jackson look bad than good—was really impressive.
Here’s one. Bo is not a trusting person. He’s found himself often feeling used, particularly when it comes to autographs and memorabilia. Pearlman wrote that Jackson and a former Raiders’ teammate, Greg Townsend, were doing an autograph show in Anaheim a few years ago, and Townsend brought a helmet, jersey and football for Bo to sign.
“I’ve gotta charge you,” Jackson said to Townsend.
Townsend was incredulous, and said no teammate had ever charged for an autograph, ever. But he paid Jackson $410 to sign the three items.
Townsend unleashed some expletives on Jackson as he left. Per Pearlman, Townsend told Jackson he was an a——. “Always have been,” Townsend said.
Journalism Factoid of the Week:
Jeff Pearlman has been driven as a reporter and writer by something he once heard the great Gary Smith say: “Always make the extra phone call.” There were a lot of extra phone calls and web searches for this book, checking on events that happened 30, 35, 40, 45 years ago.
Pearlman read that Jackson stole 90 of 91 bases in high school.
“So I had to find the guy who threw him out,” Pearlman said. He asked and asked and asked, and finally someone told him it was Sam Doss, from Jess Lanier High in Alabama. Forty years ago! Someone else told him Sam Doss was on Facebook. So Pearlman reached out and one day Sam Doss called him. Yes, Doss said. That was me. A 5-7 fire hydrant of a catcher, Doss described the play, the throw, and the thrill that will never go away. “I really caught Bo Jackson stealing!” Doss told Pearlman.
Doss said the next time up, Jackson homered, and when he crossed home plate, he winked at Doss.
J-School students: That’s why you always make the extra phone call, the extra web search, the extra Facebook reach-out.
This World Series schedule is something unique:
Tonight: World Series game three, Houston at Philadelphia
Tuesday: World Series game four, Houston at Philadelphia
Wednesday: World Series game five: Houston at Philadelphia.
Thursday: NFL Thursday night game: Philadelphia at Houston.
Friday: World Series game six (if necessary): Philadelphia at Houston.
Saturday: World Series game seven (if necessary): Philadelphia at Houston.
How ridiculously coincidental it is that the Eagles and Texans, being in opposite conferences, meet once every four years, and the first meeting since 2018 comes on the off day in the World Series between the Phillies and Astros?
Tweets of the Week
Geno Smith: "This game is for Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese. They believed in me." #Giants
— Neil Best (@sportswatch) October 31, 2022
Neil Best, who is @sportswatch, covers sports for Newsday.
Amazing, in many ways, that two personae non gratae in recent Giants lore got shouts from the rising star vet QB after the Seattle win.
Another lengthy postgame meeting between #Raiders owner Mark Davis and first-year coach Josh McDaniels in McDaniels’ office.
— Paul Gutierrez (@PGutierrezESPN) October 30, 2022
Paul Gutierrez covers the Raiders for ESPN.com.
Jets fans brought the receipts today pic.twitter.com/OOa1t1rwDZ
— The Volume (@TheVolumeSports) October 30, 2022
The Volume is a sports website.
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) October 30, 2022
Matt Miller is an NFL analyst for ESPN.
The Panthers traded their best QB and didn’t even know it pic.twitter.com/gMU74fTGij
— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) October 30, 2022
Brinson, veteran NFL reporter, tweeting after Christian McCaffrey’s 34-yard touchdown pass for the Niners.
King of the Road40
My wife and I took the train to Bridgehampton, way out on Long Island, last week. A little mid-season R+R. What a lovely area, with great splendor in the middle of fall. I remembered that Carl Yastrzemski, my favorite baseball player as a kid, was from there, or least went to high school there. So we walked over to Bridgehampton School one day. Lovely place. One of the teachers told us that, yes, there was a Yaz plaque inside, and they were proud he was an alum. The amazing thing this teacher told us: The school serves children in Bridgehampton from pre-K to grade 12. You could go to Bridgehampton School for 14 years!
Reach me at email@example.com, or on Twitter @peter_king.
Last week, I ran an email from a reader who was critical of me for not covering college football while spending a good chunk of this column each week writing about non-football things, life things. I asked for opinions, and 188 of you emailed responses. The verdict: six of you said (in some form) you wanted me to cover college football, at least a little bit; 182 of you said some form of keep the column as is. Some of the reaction:
Succinct. From Ronald Pattison: “Keep being Peter King.”
Grateful. From Janet Segell, of Charleston, S.C.: “Don’t change a thing about your column. I have read your column for years going back to MMQB, and the men in my life are impressed by my football knowledge.”
Opposed. From Garth Cooper: “On your avoidance of college football, I do think it undermines your authority a bit on being able to report on certain elements of the NFL. For example, I was telling everyone who would listen that the Lions should draft Bailey Zappe in the third or fourth round. He would have been a perfect backup for the Lions at a position of desperate need. How did I know? Because I had seen him play multiple times for Western Kentucky. Now he may not be a long-term starting QB … This would be good information for someone in your position to possess. And how in the world can you provide comprehensive insight in your mock draft without having those points of reference from having seen these players perform in college?”
Influential. From Rich Pipe: “There are hundreds of articles published online every week that focus ONLY on the NFL. I come back to FMIA every week because I enjoy discovering new topics, thoughts, and ideas outside of the NFL. A quick example is the story you ran a while back on the blood-donor shortage which inspired me to act and donate at my local blood center. I’m not so sure even you understand the impact you can have on your readership.”
To all: Thanks for the input of all kinds. I wasn’t looking to change the column, but I did want to know if the variety was as interesting to you as it is to me. So thanks for reinforcing that you want to see and read some of the offbeat topics I present. And Garth, regarding your point about Bailey Zappe: I love the fact that you invest the time to watch a quarterback at a mid-major school and develop a strong feeling about him. That’s cool. It’s also not something I would want to do, because if I’m watching Western Kentucky two or three times, how many times am I watching Alabama and Georgia and the more significant FBS schools? Point is, to be truly invested in college football takes all day Saturday and more, and it’s not an investment I’ve ever been willing to make.
A Venetian checks in on Tom Brady. From Antonio Montagna, of Venice, Italy: “Tom Brady’s performance on Thursday night had good numbers, but he lost for the third straight time, the first time in his career for that. He looked frustrated, nervous. Great champions look to retire late as Muhammad Ali and many others and not in their best shape. I’d like them to leave at the zenith of their careers, as [Roger] Federer and Pelé, before falling in mediocrity. What is your take?”
I love your city, Antonio. Only time in my life that I took a boat from my hotel to the airport! So you’re asking a question that so many Americans are asking right now: Should Tom Brady have stayed retired last spring instead of coming back, seeing the upheaval he’s had in his personal life and the struggles he and his team have had on the field. It’s a hard question to answer. I remember seeing Jerry Rice in Broncos camp in 2005 at age 43, and an undrafted cornerback half his age blanketed him the day I was there; Rice retired soon thereafter. At the time, Rice got tremendous criticism for continuing to play because people thought he was tarnishing his legacy. But today, when you think of Rice, you don’t think of a guy who stayed a year or two too long at the party—you think of him as one of the greatest players of all time. Brady may be ruing his comeback, I don’t know. So many aging players struggle late in their careers. I don’t like to project what I think on others, though—if they want to keep playing, go ahead, and in some cases it’s not going to be pretty. That’s part of it.
Antonio Brown and the Hall. From Dan Zacharias, of Needham, Mass.: “Assuming Antonio Brown’s career is over, and given the Hall of Fame selection process’s mandate to consider only on-field performance, what’s your take on Brown’s eventual candidacy? It’s hard to think of another player as toxic and distracting to his teams.”
Such a good question, Dan. Thanks for sending me down a shallow rabbit hole of thought and research. Although I’m dubious that I’ll be on the selection committee in 2027 when Brown’s case can first be considered (assuming he does not play again), I think his candidacy is pretty strong. There will be some who will factor in his divisiveness inside teams (and it spread to the field at times), so I don’t assume that will be totally overlooked. But let’s look at the statistical cases of a couple of peers, Brown and Julio Jones, as of now. Jones seems to be very near the end, but that’s based on how hurt he’s been in recent seasons. Brown and Jones have similar cases.
Brown: Twelve seasons (146 games), 2010s all-decade team, 928 catches, 13.2 yards per catch, 83 touchdowns, four first-team all-pros, seven Pro Bowls.
Jones: Twelve seasons (148 games), 2010s all-decade team, 885 catches, 15.2 yards per catch, 62 touchdowns, two first-team all-pros, seven Pro Bowls.
Brown was on one winning Super Bowl team, with the Bucs, and one Super Bowl loser in Pittsburgh. Jones played on the Falcons’ Super Bowl loser against New England.
It’s pretty close between them, Dan, and you could make the argument that Brown, on performance only, is more deserving. I think Brown was a heck of an impact player, and that’s what the Hall is about.
10 Things I Think I Think30
1. I think I don’t have much insight into the travails of Tom Brady, those that led to his divorce from Gisele Bundchen and may play a part in his—and the Bucs’—lousy 2022 season. I have barely a Polaroid moment with the two of them to reflect on. After Brady led the Patriots to the Super Bowl comeback from 28-3 against Atlanta, I interviewed him at length while he was on vacation in Montana a week later. When we were through, Bundchen came in and we talked for a while. I remember thinking how engaged she was, how interested she was in what we discussed, asking about my family and where I lived. Just some human moments. I remember thinking there are very few people who could live in this football/celeb fishbowl and still be down to earth the way they seemed to be that day—and the way people I knew with the Patriots told me they both were. A friend of Brady once told me that Brady found someone perfect for him because she was more famous and yet had no interest in the trappings of fame, the same as him. That seems odd, because they’re both mega-famous. But they don’t invite the fame away from their businesses. Of course I didn’t know anything about their real lives, so who knows what happened; we can all think his return to football led to the breakup. But we don’t know, nor should we know. It’s not our business. To me, it’s all just sad.
2. I think, as we wait to hear what league investigator Mary Jo White uncovers with her investigation into the Washington franchise culture, there’s something more to the story. That is the dissatisfaction of some owners who feel the league has been anti-transparent in all dealings with tarnished owner Dan Snyder, fined $10-million and given a cloudy, strange “suspension” by Roger Goodell last year. As Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay told Nicki Jhabvala and Mark Maske of the Washington Post Friday, “It’s not just what was handed down, the $10 million fine and this so-called suspension that I still don’t really understand, because I told Roger and spoke about it at our meeting, that: ‘Look, I’ve been in the league 52 years. I wasn’t even asked about this, not consulted one time.’” Irsay’s a member of the league’s influential Finance Committee, and he’s been the owner of his franchise for 25 years. How he hasn’t been asked his opinion of the Snyder situation and the damage done to the league is surprising. How there hasn’t been a discussion about Snyder in private owner sessions is more surprising. And Irsay is not the only owner unhappy that the whole Snyder issue has been shrouded in secrecy. That part of the story is not over either.
3. I think this is the hazard of picking quarterbacks: Of the five who have played prominent roles since being drafted in 2021—Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Mac Jones, Davis Mills—zero are sure franchise players and a year-and-a-half into their careers. That’s scary.
4. I think that last note should make Texans fans a bit sober. The Texans could have two picks in the top five (they have Cleveland’s first-rounder from the Deshaun Watson trade), yet what’s guaranteed about this, or any, quarterback crop?
5. I think I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again in the wake of his 131-yard, three-TD performance against Chicago on Sunday: Tony Pollard is the best running back on the Cowboys. Watch the replay of his 18-yard misdirection touchdown run, when safety Eddie Jackson was left on the ground trying to catch Pollard. Anyone who watches Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott closely would know this should be a job-share at least, and not one where Elliott gets twice the carries.
6. I think I don’t know what to call this other than an outrage, and I don’t know what else to call for other than the referee’s job.
Just going to let this sit here … You make the call. Wow 😯 pic.twitter.com/vA31zfotDj
— Kevin Minnick 🏈💥🏈💥 (@kminnicksports) October 28, 2022
7. I think the most incredible call I saw this week was a damaged, limited Julio Jones—who’d sat five of the previous six games and played just 18 total snaps in that span with a knee injury that won’t go away—being called on to make a crucial play for Tampa Bay in the third quarter Thursday night. Baltimore had just tied the game at 10, and the Bucs gained 20 and eight on their first two plays of the ensuing drive. Now it was second-and-two. Bucs called a jet sweep. They called a jet sweep for the hobbled Julio Jones! Jones, and not Scotty Miller, the 4.39-in-the-40 wideout. Gain of zero. Not a good decision. A Tom Brady incompletion followed. And a punt. To sum up: First two plays of the drive: gain of 20, gain of 8. Next two: gain of zero, gain of zero. Punt.
8. I think this is a great illustration of a sports league shooting itself in the foot. You saw last week that two NFL on-field officials were investigated for what appeared to be stopping Bucs receiver Mike Evans in the tunnel after a game and getting autographs. The NFL said it investigated and found the interaction “did not involve a request by the game officials” for an autograph. Well, what was it that was captured on video then? Tom Pelissero tweeted that side judge Jeff Lamberth was taking Evans’ phone number because Evans was looking for a golf pro for golf lessons; Evans and Lamberth know each other because both went to Texas A&M. First: The NFL should have just admitted what happened. Second: As innocent as this may be, officials and players shouldn’t have relationships other than on-field professional ones. There’s too much room for bad impressions to be had, particularly in an era when the NFL has gotten itself so far in bed with the gambling industry.
9. I think you might say about that ref thing, “No big deal.” But it is a big deal. When the NFL has chosen to be so beholden to gambling entities now, optics and image rise to greater prominence. The league should, in every instance when there could be questions about propriety with officials, be ultra-transparent.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. You need to meet Sophie Kloppenburg, a high-school student from Indiana. Introduce all of us, Steve Hartman, in your CBS “On the Road” segment from Friday.
b. This is how you get uncomfortable things done, America. Sophie Kloppenburg shows us.
c. Hartman reported on the 17-year-old righting a 144-year-old wrong in Posey County, Indiana:
In 1878, after a rape allegation, seven Black men were lynched and four of them were hanged directly outside the county courthouse they never got to set foot in. It was the largest lynching in state history. Yet the whole incident had been largely forgotten — until Kloppenburg heard about it.
She started at the courthouse, looking for a plaque or any mention whatsoever. She said there was no public acknowledgement of what happened. “I’m sure people don’t want to remember because it’s hard to remember tough things, but it’s unacceptable to just forget,” Kloppenburg told CBS News.
It’s also unrealistic to expect others to care as much about the issue as she did. Posey County is more than 95 percent White. Erecting a reminder to a racist past wasn’t exactly a high priority around here.
d. But Sophie Kloppenburg persisted.
e. Ridiculously Frightening Identity Theft Story of the Week: Jessica Roy of the Los Angeles Times, on losing her wallet in a San Francisco bar, and how that nearly ruined her life:
f. What is so crazy about this story is how it was nearly impossible for the writer, Jessica Roy, to fix a problem that hundreds of people have every day. She challenged every fake charge, called every 800 number to report fake stuff, and still, over and over, she couldn’t get on top of the problem. For years.
g. Wrote Roy:
I stole a Tesla. I got into a car accident — a BMW, that time. I got a new iPhone. I opened two new checking accounts and went on a bad-check-writing spree for as much as $13,000 at a time. I attempted to open dozens of new credit cards. I wrote a check for someone’s bail, which they skipped.
On paper, Jessica Roy had a wild year. In reality, that year, and what followed, has been a nightmare.
I am the victim of identity theft. And it could happen to you. I also have some bad news: It will be entirely your problem, and no one — not the police, not the government, not the financial institutions — really cares or will help you much. But with determination, you can fight back. I did.
h. I asked a friend who works in the area of consumer fraud about this on Friday. He said the best way to try to prevent all of your accounts and social security info being compromised is to follow three basic rules. One: Never give out your social security number unless it is absolutely, positively necessary. If it is, never send it by email or text. Two: Change your passwords once a month. That’s an hour of effort per month, but the peace of mind will be worth it. Three: If you lose your wallet or license or credit card or cards, don’t wait till the next day to report the losses. Step outside of the bar or wherever you are and report it that minute.
i. Beernerdness: Oyster Bay Pumpkin Ale (Oyster Bay Brewing Company, Oyster Bay, N.Y.) is a delightful, slightly pumpkin pumpkin ale, which is always the best kind. Had it on tap at Almond, a nice restaurant on the main drag of Bridgehampton, Long Island, the other night. The good pumpkin brews are subtle, not the ones that overwhelm you with the pumpkin taste and aftertaste. This one is a nice brown ale with pumpkin that hits you at the end of the swallow. Very nice, with other mild tastes of clove and nutmeg—and I don’t even know if they are in there, but the taste seemed like it.
j. He Remembered His Roots Story of the Week: Kyle Tucker of The Athletic on two good deeds by Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari:
k. Calipari took his team to the heart of Kentucky coal country for a fundraiser for the miners, and then, spurred by a photo of one of the miners, made the guy’s year.
l. Wrote Tucker:
As one might imagine, cell reception isn’t great at the bottom of a mine shaft in Eastern Kentucky, so Micheal McGuire had no idea that the Internet was buzzing about him or that a Hall of Fame coach was searching for him on Monday morning. He’d left for work at 4:45 a.m, dropped down deep into the coal mine by 6:30 and had no contact with the outside world until he got above ground again around 4 p.m. When he emerged, the second-shift crew was waiting to greet him with a round of applause.
“Shew, it caught me off guard big-time,” McGuire says. “Everybody was saying, ‘There comes the celebrity! There comes the famous guy!’ I had no clue what was going on.”
The explanation was even more disorienting: John Calipari saw a photograph that had gone viral on social media — a soot-covered McGuire, having rushed from a shift in the mines to take his 3-year-old son to Kentucky’s Blue-White scrimmage in Pikeville on Saturday — and now the coach wanted to meet him. In fact, Calipari wanted to host McGuire and his whole family as VIP guests for a basketball game at Rupp Arena this season. McGuire thought he was being pranked, right up until his supervisor handed him a sticky note saying that Fox News called and wanted an interview.
m. Bless you, John Calipari.
n. Football Story of the Week: Judy Battista of NFL.com on the first and only trade of franchises in NFL history, 50 years ago.
o. You didn’t know the owners of the Colts and Rams traded franchises a half-century ago, did you? I’d almost forgotten—until Judy Battista told such a vivid and cool story.
p. Imagine you’re Jim Irsay, 12 years old, and the phone rings in your home in Chicago, and the owner of the Colts, Carroll Rosenbloom, is on the phone and young Jim’s dad isn’t home and the stranger on the phone says, “Please tell him Carroll Rosenbloom called.”
q. Wrote Battista:
In the history of the NFL, there haven’t been too many more consequential phone calls than the one Rosenbloom placed to Jim’s father, Robert Irsay. It set off the weirdest, but most significant, trade in NFL — and maybe pro sports — history.
No players or coaches switched teams. Nobody had to move. No contracts were amended. Robert Irsay and Rosenbloom simply, monumentally, traded franchises — the players and coaches, the uniforms and playing fields, the home cities, the histories, all of it — giving Rosenbloom control of the Los Angeles Rams and Irsay control of the Baltimore Colts, the team his son Jim now runs in Indianapolis.
The 50th anniversary of this trade was this summer, but few football fans, even of the Rams and Colts, are likely to know of the intertwined history of the teams, and how an air conditioning executive joined with an owner who was angling for what he felt would be a more supportive market — and who was motivated by a desire to avoid capital gains taxes — to create a deal that had no precedent in major pro sports, and still has no equal for strangeness.
r. Watchdog Column of the Week: Mike Silver of the San Francisco Chronicle with the story of a bizarre political situation involving 49ers CEO Jed York, the mayor of Santa Clara (where the 49ers play), Miami owner and major developer Stephen Ross, in a piece describing the win-at-all-costs ethos that has enveloped the franchise and the mayoral race.
s. “It’s conduct unbecoming of a person in his position—and it’s all starting to feel a little gross,” Silver writes of York.
t. What exactly does Ben Simmons do in basketball game that is, you know, a plus? I ask because as a very marginal NBA follower, I hear the rumbling of Simmons as being off to a terrible start just up the street from me with the Nets. Then I saw this on The Big Lead.
u. Hey Ian Eagle: So deserved that you’ll be the voice of the Final Four in 2024 and beyond.
v. Words matter. Think the vile ones spoken on and around Jan. 6, 2021 had nothing to do with a breaking-and-entering at the Pelosi home in San Francisco by a crazed guy looking for House speaker Nancy Pelosi, not finding her home, and smashing her husband Paul Pelosi in the head with a hammer? You know they did.
w. Please tone down the rhetoric. Everyone. Half the campaign ads I see border on the cruel. Be civil. If you can’t be civil, at least don’t be cruel and don’t incite. While I’m at it, one wish for Elon Musk as he takes Twitter private: Preach civility. You owe that to the several hundred million on the platform.
x. Could the World Series be off to a better start? What a great game one, deep in the heart of Texas. Imagine you’re Kyle Tucker, homering twice in the first three innings and knocking in four runs, and you’re an afterthought by midnight. By the way, how amazing is it that Justin Verlander, in eight World Series starts, is 0-6 with a 6.07 ERA? And how amazing was it to see the Astros, in their first swings against red-hot Phillies pitcher Zack Wheeler, open the bottom of the first Saturday with this four-pitch sequence: double, double, foul ball, double? First team ever to start a World Series game with three extra-base hits. The drama of baseball in these situations is great.
y. RIP John Joyce, an old friend from Montclair who died recently of prostate cancer. John played inside linebacker for the New Jersey Generals of the USFL for three years, but I knew him as a softball parent and field hockey dad. My wife and I coached his daughter Molly in youth softball; Molly Joyce might be the only fielder in Montclair youth softball history to record an unassisted triple play. And we spent two or three years together on the sidelines of Montclair High field hockey games, where Mary Beth King and Katie Joyce played for the Mounties. I knew he’d played with Doug Flutie and Herschel Walker, and for Donald Trump, on the Generals, but he was never a “Glory Days” guy, never one to bring up his sack of Steve Young; John lived in the now. He was the ultimate supportive, loving dad. Never a discouraging word. I do remember a particularly physical field hockey game in the state playoffs when Mary Beth was a senior and Katie a junior. Mary Beth thought nothing of using her body to win a contested ball, and John during this one game told me he loved how Mary Beth played. Katie was the same—tough and clean. John lived his life with so much love for his family and so much interest in all things. I saw John for a beer in New York four or five years ago, and he was precisely the same guy. He’ll be missed. Dave Lapham, now a Bengals radio colorman and former Generals teammate, said this of John Joyce the other day: “Hard-nosed, physical, fantastic team player. He was never a me guy, always ‘we.’ The guy was as a high a quality person as we had on the team. Every day with John was a positive force. Huge heart. Good as gold. I’ll always remember him as a great, great teammate.” Sounds just like the John Joyce I knew.
Cleveland 24, Cincinnati 23. The Bengals are better, but the Browns are desperate. If they fall to 2-6, season over, even with Deshaun Watson returning for the last month-plus. The Ja’Marr Chase (shoulder) absence for a few games will be a big factor. I think the Browns have one clutch prime-time game in them this year, and they’d better win it—or, at 2-6 and at Miami and at Buffalo out of their week nine bye, this year’s all but cooked.
Games of Week 920
Pickings are slim.
Green Bay at Detroit, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX. Three factoids. 1: Pack is 5-5 against Detroit in the last five seasons (I know a couple of those were meaningless for the Pack, but still). 2: Green Bay, 3-5, plays likely playoff teams in the three games following this one—Dallas, Tennessee, at Philadelphia. 3: This is a big friggin’ game for the we-still-got-time-to-get-on-track Packers. Wait, you mean number three wasn’t a factoid? Well, you’re right. But it is real.
L.A. Rams at Tampa Bay, Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS. Nice cross-flex for CBS, and it would have been much nicer if each team wasn’t significantly flawed. Who’d have thought when the schedule was made in May that, at midseason, the Rams’ and Bucs’ combined record would be under .500?
Tennessee at Kansas City, Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC. The Titans have had the kryptonite for Andy Reid for the last eight years, going 5-1 against Kansas City since 2014—and 2-1 since Patrick Mahomes took over as quarterback. That includes a 27-3 embarrassment in Nashville last year, the only time in 70 regular season starts that Mahomes has been held to single digits in scoring in a game.
The Adieu Haiku
Keep your helmet on.
Dumb rule, but it is a rule.
Panthers pay dearly.