Arthur Smith: Tom Brady doesn’t get enough credit for his sustained success

Kansas City Chiefs v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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The Falcons are playing the Buccaneers this week, which means there’s another opportunity for head coach Arthur Smith to coach against quarterback Tom Brady.

Tampa Bay defeated Atlanta in both matchups last year, Smith’s first with the Falcons. Brady completed 71 percent of his passes for 644 yards with nine touchdowns and one interception — the best numbers he put up against any divisional opponent in 2021.

On Wednesday, Smith was asked about Tampa Bay’s offense and weapons Brady has outside of receiver Mike Evans. But he spent the first part of his answer pivoting back to how good Brady is and has been for a long time.

“Well, I don’t think Brady gets enough credit, to sustain that level of success year after year, he’s going to make the right play,” Smith said in his press conference. “If you make a mistake or leave somebody uncovered, usually he finds them. Something as simple as a flat route, you bust a coverage or they don’t cover it, he kind of goes where you’re not.

‘He’s had a million different teammates and been successful, they’ve got a good team, they got good veteran players. Clearly, he’s got a lot of trust in Mike Evans — I would too if I were a quarterback — and they’ve got other veterans in there and they’ve mixed and matched. [Chris] Godwin seems to be getting back, you can tell he’s had a lot of trust in Godwin. Good line, they protect well, really good tackles, [Tristan] Wirfs and Donovan Smith, Tristan Wirfs is a really good player and they’ve got a lot of good players.”

It’s hard to say exactly who isn’t giving Brady enough credit for winning seven Super Bowls across his 23-year career after starting out as a sixth-round pick, but apparently, someone isn’t. Either way, the Falcons will have a significant challenge in taking on a motivated Bucs team in Week Five after Tampa Bay’s poor performance against Kansas City last Sunday night.

Marlon Humphrey: Numbers don’t lie, our pass defense is unacceptable

Buffalo Bills v Baltimore Ravens
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The Ravens defense ranked last in the league in 2021 when it came to allowing passing yards and they’ve picked up right where they left off.

They’ve give up 1,261 yards through the first four games of the season and that’s part of the reason why they’ve blown big leads in both of their losses this season. Players and coaches can sometimes say that stats don’t tell the entire story of how a team is playing, but cornerback Marlon Humphrey didn’t go that route when discussing the defense on Wednesday.

“The numbers don’t lie,” Humphrey said, via Todd Karpovich of SI.com. “So, as much as that sucks to say, it just . . . To me, it’s unacceptable. I feel like it falls on the weight of my shoulders. So, I really want to get that number down.”

This would be a good week to come up with a better plan. The Bengals torched the Ravens through the air in a pair of wins last season and they’ll likely stay focused on that approach unless the Ravens can show that it is no longer the easiest path to success.

Jon Feliciano hopes Cole Beasley unretires, joins Giants

Green Bay Packers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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In February, a Buccaneers offensive player retired to spend more time with his family before coming back. Giants center Jon Feliciano hopes there will be another one.

Via Pat Leonard of the New York Daily News, Feliciano said Wednesday that he hopes receiver Cole Beasley will change him mind, and play for the Giants. Beasley surprisingly retired from the Tampa Bay practice squad on Wednesday.

”I’ve talked to him since he retired,” Feliciano said, via Leonard. “I talk to him all the time. I don’t know. I’m holding out hope. I think if the right situation comes, I think he comes back. But from what he says, he’s retiring. So I don’t know. It might be just me holding out a little hope.”

The Giants had previously tried to sign Beasley. Feliciano said he participated in a “recruitment dinner” in early September. Head coach Brian Daboll, who coordinated the offense in Buffalo when Beasley was in it, has wanted to add Beasley to the Giants roster.

“Great guy,” Daboll said Wednesday, via Leonard. “Very productive in our system. Wish him the best of luck. Him and his family, children, great person.”

Feliciano believes that Beasley retired because he “missed his family a lot and things probably weren’t going the way he wanted.”

Beasley played in only four snaps on Sunday night, catching one pass for five yards.

If he wants to return, he’d go back to the Buccaneers practice squad — and then the Giants could simply sign him to the active roster.

“He hasn’t lost a step,” Feliciano said. “And the difference in hypotheticals of whether he came here or went back to Buffalo, in a scheme he already knows, I believe going to Tampa and learning a new offense kind of takes some time.”

Feliciano also said he thinks Beasley has some career goals he’d like to reach. “I think it was 6,000 yards and 40 touchdowns or something like that,” Feliciano said.

As noted by Leonard, Beasley has 5,726 career receiving yards and 34 receiving touchdowns. He could reach both marks with the Giants.

The Giants definitely could use him. In the end, it may come down to whether the Giants are willing to pay a fair rate for the production he can generate in Daboll’s offense.

For any new arrivals, may we interest you in Playmakers?

PublicAffairs

The book was released nearly seven months ago, and most of you have heard about it here once. Or twice. Or far more often than that.

Chances are that we’ve gotten some new members of the audience who weren’t around for the big push when the book came out in March. So for those of you who didn’t get the pitch then, here’s the pitch now.

Playmakers: How the NFL Really Works (and Doesn’t). A close and careful look at pro football during PFT’s first 20 years of existence. Ten categories, 10 or more essays in each one. Quick and easy to read, from start to finish or in any order you prefer.

You’ll learn things you didn’t know. You’ll be reminded of things you’ve forgotten. You’ll develop a deeper understanding of pro football as a game and the National Football League as a business.

It’s more of the stuff you come here to read on a regular basis. And it’s something you can put on your shelf or your coffee table or use as a doorstop or whatever, wherever, however.

Playmakers is available for a mere $18.79 at Amazon. And wherever else you buy books. If you buy books. You should buy books. Or at least this book. Beyond that, I don’t really care. Until I’ll be selling another book.

Kenny Pickett: Mitch Trubisky is one of the best teammates I’ve come across

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The Steelers are rolling with the rookie, officially making the change to first-round pick Kenny Pickett as their starting quarterback this week.

Pickett is replacing Mitch Trubisky, who was understandably disappointed after he was benched during last Sunday’s loss to the Jets.

On Wednesday, Pickett complimented Trubisky for the way he’s handled the situation.

“Mitch is one of the best teammates I’ve been able to come across. I’m extremely grateful to have him in this room,” Pickett said in his press conference. “I supported him a ton when he was in there and he’s done the same for me. That’ll continue and we’re definitely great friends on the field and off the field.

“So, he’s definitely someone I’m going to lean on throughout this whole experience and he’s been nothing but great to me.”

Not only does Trubisky have years of starting experience, but he also spent last season with the Bills. That makes Trubisky an even more invaluable resource this week, as Pickett prepares for his first start in Buffalo.

“Absolutely, yeah. I mean, to a degree,” Pickett said. “I think when guys try to get too cute with it with what they’ve run, to look for singles, to look for certain things, that can kind of get outside the frame of what I need to do in my job. So, I’m going to take some small things here and there, and at the end of the day, trust what I see, trust my reads, go out there and play fast.”

Pickett completed 10-of-13 passes for 120 yards in the second half of last week’s game, though his three incompletions were all interceptions. He also rushed six times for 15 yards with two touchdowns.

Sean McVay: Matthew Stafford “excellent” against 49ers, can build on performance

Los Angeles Rams v San Francisco 49ers
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The Rams lost to the 49ers 24-9 in Week Four and there weren’t a lot of complimentary things being said about the team’s offense when the game was over.

That’s to be expected when you’re held without a touchdown while gaining 257 yards, giving up seven sacks and turning the ball over twice. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was responsible for both of those turnovers and the passing game continues to be heavily focused on wide receiver Cooper Kupp and tight end Tyler Higbee, but his work didn’t get panned by head coach Sean McVay on Wednesday.

“If you look at some of the different things that he was dealing with, I thought he played excellent,” McVay said, via Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. “I thought he did a lot of good things. I think the margin for error was that much smaller. . . . I thought that was a performance that he could build on.”

Offensive line issues are clearly making life more difficult for Stafford, but his performance through four weeks isn’t where the Rams need it to be for them to consistently win games. While McVay might be giving an overly rosy assessment of how the quarterback has played, it’s easy to understand why he’s hoping that it can be a stepping stone to better things.

Teddy Bridgewater: I can’t be Tua, can only be myself

NFL: SEP 29 Dolphins at Bengals
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Dolphins quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has started games for four different NFL teams in a variety of circumstances, so he has a good handle on how to approach this Sunday’s game against the Jets.

Bridgewater is in the starting lineup because Tua Tagovailoa has been ruled out with the concussion he suffered last Thursday and it’s unknown how long it will be until Tagovailoa is cleared to return. On Wednesday, Bridgewater told reporters that his mindset for his time in the starting lineup will start with knowing that he can’t try to be anyone other than himself.

“Honestly, it’s just be yourself,” Bridgewater said, via Daniel Oyefusi of the Miami Herald. “I can’t be Tua. I had to learn that lesson when I was in New Orleans. I couldn’t be Drew Brees. As long as I continue to be myself . . . there’s a sense of relief [for his teammates].”

No team wants to be without their starting quarterback, but Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel said he’s “very fortunate” to have a player with Bridgewater’s experience on hand while Tagovailoa recovers and the veteran’s presence should keep confidence in place in Miami despite the change in the starting lineup.

Aaron Rodgers: Development of wideouts will be part of decision to return

New England Patriots v Green Bay Packers
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There was a lot of talk heading into this season about how much the development of the Packers’ young wide receivers will factor into the team’s success this season and that development will impact the team in 2023 as well.

Rookies Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs each caught touchdowns in last Sunday’s win over the Patriots and quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on Wednesday that there are “going to be a lot of benefits to be reaped from those guys” in the years to come. Rodgers added that those benefits will continue after he stops playing, but noted that their development will be on his mind as he considers returning in 2023.

“Look, my decision, when it comes down to it, will be, obviously, the physical part, the mental part, seeing where the team is at. . . . There’s some moving pieces that’ll factor in, for sure. But seeing the development of those guys can’t help but be a part of the decision,” Rodgers said, via Jason Wilde of Madison.com.

The Packers will benefit from Watson and Doubs growing as players regardless of who else is on the roster, but the benefits would likely be even larger if Rodgers is still the guy throwing to them in 2023.

Former Bears General Manager Jerry Vainisi dies at 80

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Former Bears General Manager Jerry Vainisi died in Oak Park, Illinois, on Tuesday, the team announced. Vainisi was 80.

He spent 15 years with the Bears and was General Manager during the team’s 1985 Super Bowl championship team.

His first job with the organization was as the controller in 1972. Vainisi then spent time as treasurer and in-house counsel before serving as G.M. from 1983-87. The Bears were 47-17 in Vainisi’s time as G.M., and they did not have another executive with the title of General Manager until Jerry Angelo in 2001.

Vainisi hired current Bears president/CEO Ted Phillips as team controller in 1983.

“I will always appreciate the few years I spent with Jerry and am forever grateful for his decision to hire me as the Bears controller in 1983, which started my 40-year career with the Bears,” Phillips said in a statement. “My thoughts and prayers are with him and his entire family.”

After his time in Chicago, Vainisi worked for the Lions and then helped create and head the football operations for the World League of American Football. Vainisi’s career continued after football when he took over Hinshaw & Culbertson’s sports and entertainment law division in Chicago. He then bought Forest Park Bank before becoming its chairman and CEO.

Trevor Lawrence: We really believe in who we are

Jacksonville Jaguars v Philadelphia Eagles
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Trevor Lawrence committed five turnovers Sunday, and the Jaguars lost an early 14-point lead in a 29-21 loss to the Eagles. Lawrence and the Jaguars, though, haven’t lost faith.

“We really believe in who we are,” Lawrence said, via John Oehser of the team website.

The Jaguars are tied with the Titans atop the AFC South at 2-2. They play the Texans (0-3-1) on Sunday, a team that swept the Jaguars last season.

“We know we’re heading in the right direction; it’s just about consistency,” Lawrence said. “It’s the way we work, our process. We trust that. It has been paying off for us.”

The Jaguars are learning how to win. It’s a process.

They haven’t won more than six games in a season since 2017 and were fourth in the division each of the past four seasons.

“There are always things you can do to be more consistent,” Lawrence said. “It’s managing all the situations. We’re a young team. I feel like we’re getting a lot of great experience. We’re just going to continue to learn.”

Lawrence, the No. 1 overall selection in 2021, threw one interception against the Eagles and lost an NFL-record four fumbles.

“We all know as players what that winning performance looks like,” Lawrence said. “For myself, that wasn’t it on Sunday. You just grow from it and you learn.”

Lawrence, though, has grown since last season when he threw 17 interceptions and 12 touchdowns. He has two interceptions and eight touchdowns this season and has shown signs he’s headed toward being a franchise quarterback.

“I obviously didn’t play well Sunday, so that’s not where I want to be,” Lawrence said. “I’m not letting that affect me at all. I know I have to play better. But if you look at the year as a whole, I know I’ve made a lot of steps in the right direction and I know I’ve improved a lot.

“The quarterback has to play well to win in this league. We all understand it. If I can stay consistent and keep taking those steps, I really believe in this team.”

Josh Gordon patiently waiting to find a role with the Titans

Tennessee Titans v Buffalo Bills
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Rookie receiver Treylon Burks missed practice Wednesday with a toe injury, so maybe that means a bigger role for Josh Gordon. Maybe.

The receiver is on the team’s practice squad.

The Titans have activated him twice this season, but he has played only 24 offensive snaps with one target and no catches.

It’s coming along. I’ve kind of just got to go at it day-by-day, step-by-step and wait for my opportunity and make sure I’m ready,” Gordon said, via Terry McCormick of titaninsider.com. “But I’m pretty comfortable right now with the plays, and I’ve got all the help I can get from the coaches and my teammates with the plays and everything like that. It’s just a matter of where they might feel the most use for me, and get the most use out of me, whether it be in the slot or outside. I’m not 100 percent sure, but we’ll find out.”

Gordon had only five catches for 32 yards and a touchdown last season. He hasn’t had a reception since Week 17 of 2021, a 5-yard catch for the Chiefs.

Now on the Titans’ practice squad, Gordon has no idea what each week might bring. Will he play? How much will be play? Will he see the ball?

It’s a long way from the 87 receptions for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns he had for the Browns in his All-Pro season of 2013.

“For me, it’s tough,” Gordon said. “I’ve got to get in where I can fit in and wait to see how things shake out, to see if I could be at least. I think my time will come. Yeah, it’s frustrating, but I think that’s just part of it, and more than anything, I’m just learning to enjoy what I have going for me right now.”

Rashaad Penny sits out practice with shoulder injury

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Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny missed practice Wednesday with a shoulder injury.

Penny played 48 snaps in the win over the Lions, rushing for 151 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries.

Center Austin Blythe was absent after his wife gave birth to the couple’s baby.

Offensive guard Gabe Jackson (knee/rest), linebacker Darryl Johnson (ankle) and defensive end Quinton Jefferson (elbow) also missed practice.

Cornerback Justin Coleman (calf), guard Damien Lewis (calf) and receiver Dareke Young (quad) were limited.

Receiver Penny Hart (illness), offensive guard Phil Haynes (ankle) and safety Joey Blount (hamstring) were full participants.

Andy Isabella will join Ravens’ practice squad

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Receiver Andy Isabella cleared waivers Wednesday, making him a free agent. It didn’t take him long to find a new job.

A day after the Cardinals cut him, Isabella reached agreement with the Ravens to join their practice squad, Tom Pelissero of NFL Media reports.

The Cardinals made Isabella a second-round selection in 2019, and he had 30 catches for 413 yards and three touchdowns in 30 games his first two seasons. He was inactive much of last season, catching only one pass for 13 yards in eight games.

Isabella had two catches for 21 yards in three games this season.

The Ravens have Rashod Bateman, Devin Duvernay, Demarcus Robinson, Tylan Wallace and James Proche on their active roster.

Sean McVay supports Bobby Wagner in incident with trespassing fan

Los Angeles Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers
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On Monday night, a fan invaded the playing field at Levi’s Stadium. Rams linebacker Bobby Wagner took matters into his own hands, by knocking the man on his ass.

The man, seeking even more publicity for his publicity stunt, has filed a police report.

“I did hear that,” coach Sean McVay told reporters on Wednesday. “I think that we all know where Bobby’s intentions were. I support Bobby Wagner, that’s where I’m at with that. I don’t think anybody would disagree.”

Nobody will, Sean. Nobody will.

Wagner doesn’t seem to mind, either way.

“I mean I was aware,” Wagner told reporters. “Everybody kind of told me, but it is what it is. I don’t know, it’s behind me. I ain’t really focused on it. I’m more concerned about the security guard that was hurt trying to chase him and the people that was. . . . We don’t know what that is, and you just got to do what you got to do.”

And Wagner did it. In the future, maybe fans inclined to violate the law will choose not to.

Wagner also was asked whether he was surprised by the viral video of the hit.

“A little bit, because most times they cut away from that part of the game, so we had every angle,” Wagner said. “So I think a lot of players wanted to do it, too.”

It sounds like Wagner would do it again, in order to protect himself and others.

“You never know what that person’s got in their pocket, their hands, whatever,” Wagner said. “Kind of like what I said after the game. So there’s consequences for your actions.”

Indeed there are. And Wagner should face no consequences at all. He helped keep the peace, but keeping the man from continuing to run around in a place where he shouldn’t have been.

Kyle Shanahan isn’t concerned about George Kittle’s lack of production

Los Angeles Rams v San Francisco 49ers
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The 49ers have plenty of great players. One of them hasn’t been playing as great as he has in the past. But coach Kyle Shanahan isn’t concerned about it.

During Shanahan’s midweek press conference a question was posed regarding Kittle’s dramatic dip in production in his last eight games. Making the slide more confounding is the fact that, in the three games preceding the decline, Kittle had tremendous numbers. So why, Shanahan was asked, has Kittle not had the same kind of production since then?

“The more Kittle is out there and healthy, the more he practices, the more he can get back in the routine,” Shanahan said. “I think that stuff will take care of itself. The plays that went to him, I thought he did a good job on in the game. Kittle affects the game in so many ways, the run and the pass. We definitely want to get him the ball more, but it’s something we’re not that concerned about. We think it’ll take care of itself as we get going.”

The numbers are surprising. On December 5, he had 181 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Seahawks. He then had 151 yards — on 13 catches — against the Bengals, followed by 93 yards against the Falcons.

Then came the dip. Twenty-one yards in the loss to the Titans. Twenty-nine in a win over the Texans. Ten in the regular-season gotta-have-it finale against the Rams.

The postseason wasn’t dramatically better. Eighteen yards paint the Cowboys. Sixty-three against the Packers. Twenty-seven against the Rams. After missing the first two games of 2022 due to a groin injury, it has been twenty-eight and twenty-four yards in two games.

That’s 425 in three games followed by 210 in eight games. Whatever the reason, it’s not what anyone is used to seeing from Kittle.

The good news is that the 49ers are 2-2 and convincingly beat the Rams without a major contribution from Kittle. If/when things get rolling for Kittle, the 49ers will be in even better shape.