Posted On 04 Nov 2019
BALTIMORE — So, in two hours and 59 minutes Sunday night, the NFL landscape changed. No longer is there one team on Mount Olympus and then eight or 10 teams clawing to get in New England’s league. Lamar Jackson saw to that on a revelatory night of football in downtown Baltimore.
Revelatory is not an exaggerated word. The Ravens ran out of a Pistol formation twice. They surrounded Jackson with sidecar tight ends at least seven times. They complete a Jet Sweep toss-pass for 26 yards. They ran three run-pass options, with Jackson keeping each time. They ran standard power runs with Mark Ingram, and they ran designed runs for Jackson, and he ran a read-option for a touchdown that left Jamie Collins in the dust. And Jackson scrambled when pressured several times using great peripheral vision—most notably on a late-third-quarter, 11-yard run when he juked Pats linebacker Kyle Van Noy into Delaware, setting up an insurance touchdown. That one caused Charles Woodson, future Hall of Famer, to tweet: “Lamar Jackson vision once he tucks to run is second to none.”
New England entered Sunday night 8-0, allowing a league-low 7.6 points and 12.9 first downs per game. They exited 8-1, allowing 37 points and 26 first downs. The Baltimore victory wasn’t a shock. The Baltimore offensive explosion, and drives of 11, 11, 14 and 14 plays against the Patriots—now that was a shock felt all over the league. The Ravens showed you could run on the Patriots and pass on the Patriots and not get flummoxed by the Patriots.
Baltimore 37, New England 20. But what would you say if I told you there was a time midway through the third quarter, the Ravens hanging onto a four-point lead, backed up on third-and-five, when the rocking stadium had become Sistine Chapel-quiet, awaiting the inevitable New England onslaught? Tension on the Ravens’ bench, tension in the stands.
But apparently no tension in the huddle.
Nine weeks down, eight weeks to go in pro football’s 100th season. One unbeaten team remains: San Francisco is 8-0. Two one-loss teams are left: 8-1 New England, 7-1 New Orleans. And seven other teams with six or seven wins. The league is careening toward a fascinating playoff season that could see Brady-Jackson or Brady-Mahomes, and, maybe Brady-Garoppolo or Brady-Brees or Brady-Rodgers even. But Sunday night showed that so many other matchups ultimately could make the postseason almost as fun as Brady going for his seventh (and maybe last) Super Bowl in New England. How about a final four of youth-shall-be-served Baltimore-Kansas City and San Francisco-Seattle, featuring Jackson, Mahomes, Garoppolo and Wilson. Also: Deshaun Watson would like a word. Don’t forget AFC South-leading Houston, still in the fight for a first-round bye.
Point is: Any of these matchups would be great. The forecast for January is sunny, with 100 percent chance of fun, with or without the almighty Patriots. And at this just-past-midseason point on the calendar, we’ll hit on some second-half themes later in the column. But let’s start here in Baltimore.
The Ravens, with consecutive wins over Seattle (by 14) and New England (by 17), have wedged their way into the discussion of teams that can play deep into January. You had to respect what Baltimore did in Seattle. But starting this game with drives of 72, 54 and 72 yards, and going up 17-0 on New England? I mean, no team had scored 17 on the Patriots this year. Baltimore did it in 16 minutes.
But all the way through the second quarter, and halfway into the third, you got the feeling that the Patriots coming back was inevitable. They’re not as new and shiny, but they’ve been here, overcome that. A muffed Baltimore punt turned into one touchdown, a lost Mark Ingram fumble turned into a field goal, an aborted Baltimore drive turned into another field goal, and it was 17-13 at halftime. If not for Marlon Humphrey running 70 yards with a Julian Edelman fumble on the first series of the third quarter, New England would have gone ahead then. But the euphoria from that TD was short-lived, because the Patriots rammed it down the Ravens’ throats with a 75-yard drive to make it Baltimore 24, New England 20 midway through the third.
Now for the third-and-five in the Sistine Chapel. New England didn’t live by the blitz in this game—by Pro Football Focus’ count, the Patriots blitzed eight times on 27 Jackson dropbacks—but they were coming here. “You could see they were going to play zero,” Andrews told me. That’s the defense playing man on each receiver, one on one, with no safety help for anyone. Jackson saw it too: “We’ve been seeing it all week, and coach [offensive coordinator Greg Roman] has been drilling it in my head.” The Patriots sent six, covering four receivers one on one, with a cornerback, Jonathan Jones, lurking around the middle-linebacker slot to spy Jackson in case he took off. From wide left, Andrews ran a corner route, and got a step on backup safety Terrence Brooks. Andrews, 6-5, has six inches on Brooks. “I just had to deliver the ball,” Jackson threw high, but Andrew went up and got it, maybe six inches out of Brooks reach.
Gain of 18. First down. Then it went Ravens touchdown, Brady interception, Ravens touchdown, ballgame.
“That play really kind of gave us a spark,” Andrews said in the back of the Ravens’ locker room. The adulation was elsewhere—with Jackson, Ingram, Earl Thomas, and other heroes of the night. Rightfully so. But this play, Jackson to Andrews, was the play of the night for Baltimore. It kept the chains moving toward an insurance touchdown, and New England was done.
“He [Andrews] should have the game ball for that,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I forgot.”
Andrews will have other chances. This is an equal-opportunity offense. Four rushers gained yards on the ground; 10 receivers were targeted. This offense is just so multi-dimensional, so different from the NFL standard, even in this day of filling the air with footballs. It’s fun. You sit there and think: What’s coming next?
“All starts with Lamar. Lamar runs the show,” said Earl Thomas. “you better be in great shape when you play us, because Lamar’s gonna wear you down, mentally and physically.”
“Lamar the dude,” Ingram said, with the kind of deep respect you hear only from an admiring locker-room peer.
A while after the game, I found Jackson in the back of the locker room. As those who know him tell it, he’s just a happy kid, respectful, with a strong work ethic, and he doesn’t get cowed by the spotlight. He respects Tom Brady, but said adamantly that he didn’t think, Man, I’m playing Brady tonight. We chatted a bit, and as I prepared to leave, I said to him, “You’re fun to watch.”
“Appreciate that, Mr. Peter,” Jackson said.
So where are the Ravens now? Built to last, I think.
A little history: The 2018 Ravens won six of their last seven to take the AFC North, then moved on from Super Bowl quarterback Joe Flacco and standout GM Ozzie Newsome. They let four integral defensive pieces from the league’s top-rated defense walk. They changed on the fly, and now stand 6-2 in the North with a two-game lead and eight to play. The Ravens are progressive in management and coaching. Harbaugh has embraced analytics, GM Eric DeCosta for years has studied how roster-building can benefit from advanced statistical study—and neither allows temporary failures to deter them from non-traditional thinking. Harbaugh was defiant about trying to score as much as he could in Kansas City in the 33-28 loss. Four times he went for it on fourth down, twice in Baltimore territory. Three times he went for two after touchdowns. Harbaugh might trust his defense, but no D is shutting down Mahomes. Thus the advanced risk-taking.
No team has used Compensatory Picks, and the draft, better than Baltimore recently. In the last 10 drafts, Baltimore has a league-high 83 picks in rounds one through six. (For this exercise, I’ve excluded seventh-round picks, which are nearly equal to college free-agents. Minnesota, for instance, has had 24 seventh-round picks in the last 10 drafts, and only one has been a regular contributor.) Baltimore’s been consistently cool about letting big-money free-agents leave when it’s their time and using Compensatory Picks for replenishment. In the last 10 drafts, seven Ravens Compensatory Picks in rounds four, five and six have become regular starters, including guard Bradley Bozeman, tight end Nick Boyle and pass-rusher Pernell McPhee (before being hurt in October) on the current team.
The collection of picks has allowed Baltimore to spend a fifth-round pick for 10 games on Marcus Peters and consider it a bargain; Peters will be a free-agent after the season, and has fortified a need position at corner; in his first game with Baltimore, Peters had a pick-six off Russell Wilson. So the addition of Jackson, and DeCosta’s emphasis on the team being built to last, should make Baltimore a contender for a while. As for this season, the Ravens have played well vs. both New England and Kansas City. No one in the locker room was ready to anoint Baltimore as the team to beat, and lots can happen in two months. But this is a strong offensive team that should be able to make up for some defensive blips.
As for New England, I wouldn’t worry too much about a 17-point loss to an ascending team in early November. This will allow Bill Belichick to acerbically refocus his team, as he does every year. History should be your judge if you’re either a Patriots fan and totally bummed out this morning, or a Patriots hater, dancing on their grave. And history says in each of their six Super Bowl years, they had bad days. Look at their pratfalls in the six Super seasons:
2001: Lost to Miami 30-10 in Week 4.
2003: Lost to Buffalo 31-0 in Week 1.
2004: Lost to Pittsburgh 34-20 in Week 7.
2014: Lost to Kansas City 41-14 in Week 4 (followed by the famous, “We’re on to Cincinnati” presser).
2016: Lost to Buffalo 16-0 in Week 4.
2018: Lost to Tennessee 34-10 in Week 10.
The last thing Jackson said to a small circle of us stuck with me. It’s almost Belichickian, and it’s going to hold Jackson in good form for a while if he remembers it.
“I don’t really care about the person I’m playing against,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s a primetime game, or playing at 1 o’clock. I’m just trying to win, at the end of the day.”
Then he congratulated a few mates. He put on a pink knit cap and went out into the night, king of the city.
What’s on the line in the second half of the season:
1. The health of Patrick Mahomes. With him at 100 percent, the Chiefs could (could, I wrote, not would) have the kind of explosive offense to win in Foxboro and beat back the strong contenders in the NFC in the Super Bowl. With him at 88 percent-ish because of the after-effects of the dislocated kneecap, his quick-twitch movements in and out of the pocket disappear, and the Chiefs would have to be significantly better on defense than they are today to win Super Bowl 54. This is the reason I fully back Any Reid sitting Mahomes on Sunday against Minnesota, though Mahomes was probably healthy enough to play hobbled: As of this morning, only one of KC’s seven foes down the stretch has a record over .500. Get Mahomes to max health, even if it costs the Chiefs the two seed.
2. Why 8-0 San Francisco might not win NFC home-field—and might not get a first-round bye. Five NFC teams have seven or more wins through nine weeks, which is amazing. The Niners are terrific on both sides of the ball, particularly on defense, but it’s possible 7-2 Green Bay and 7-1 New Orleans could pass them for the top two seeds. San Francisco’s second-half schedule is a killer: Seattle twice, the Rams once, and Baltimore and New Orleans on the road.
3. The end of the line for the Brady/Belichick marriage? No one knows for sure. I would not predict—with the Patriots sitting atop the AFC, Tom Brady playing well at 42, and there being no clear successor in-house after the jettisoning of Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo in 2017 trades—that Brady will retire, or be quarterbacking the Bears or Titans or Broncos or Raiders in 2020. (Lord! Gruden and Brady on the Las Vegas Strip 10 months from now. Only in America.) But when Adam Schefter, as plugged into Belichickland as any reporter ever has been, says Brady leaving the team in 2020 is a real possibility, sit up. Pay attention. To me, Brady getting his contract to void after this season is a sign he would like to choose his fate in 2020, not have it chosen for him. And doesn’t he deserve that after 20 mega-productive years with the Patriots?
4. Whither pass interference? The new pass-interference challenge “rule” has been more of a “laughably rarely enforced suggestion” in the first half of this year. Senior VP of Officiating Al Riveron seldom overrules a call on the field (2 of 31 coaches’ challenges between Week 3 and Week 8 were denied, ESPN reported) and seemingly at will. Maybe we’ll all be happy if it saves a horrible call in a playoff game. Maybe. But I don’t see this debacle of a rules change getting 24 of 32 votes next March to continue in the 2020 season.
5. The scramble for the top draft picks(s). As of this morning, the race for the first pick seems to be a five-team race: Cincinnati (0-8), Washington (1-8), Atlanta (1-7), Jets (1-7) and Miami (1-7). As of today, there is no must-have overall first pick. Ohio State pass rusher Chase Young is likely the surest draft thing. Two quarterbacks are likely to go in the top five, at least. The most compelling draft storyline, of course, will be Miami, which also owns the first-round picks of Pittsburgh and Houston. Let’s just guess the Dolphins end up with the second, 10th (from Pittsburgh, for Minkah Fitzpatrick) and 22nd (from Houston, for Laremy Tunsil) picks in round one. Miami also has two firsts and two seconds in 2021. They could be frothing over Young at a major need position, and know they need a quarterback too. No team would be in better position to trade up than Miami. The Dolphins, in this scenario, might be able to trade the 10th overall pick this year plus a first and a second next year to move from 10 to three with a franchise not desperate for a quarterback. Amazing, that would still leave Miami with another first-rounder this year, and picks in the first and second rounds next year. Theoretically, that’s how they could end up with Young and one of the three quarterbacks with soft question marks—Tua Tagovailoa (nagging injuries), Justin Herbert (not an alpha-male leader type), Joe Burrow (one-year wonder).
6. The Hall of Fame’s questionable call on the Hall of Fame class of 2020. This is going to reverberate. Pro Football Talk reported that the Pro Football Hall of Fame has decided its 2020 Centennial Class—a total of 15 players, coaches and contributors—will be enshrined without being voted on by the 48-member Hall of Fame selection committee. In the 56 years of Hall of Fame history, 326 football legends in 56 classes have been enshrined by a vote of the selection committee. But not this year. Fifteen men will enter the Hall through a different gate, likely to be viewed by history with an asterisk. Much more to come on this in 10 Things I Think I Think.
7. The disappearing commissioner. Other than a press availability for a few minutes at the NFL fall meetings in Florida last month, has anyone seen Roger Goodell? Anywhere? Odd, considering this is a year when I thought the league would be celebrating its 100th. That, too, has been mostly invisible. It should not be much of a career change for Goodell when, as most people around the league believe, he walks away into private life after the negotiation of the next CBA (talking now, but not likely done till 2021) and the next TV/streaming rights deal (2022).
8. The fate of the 2015 quarterbacks. The Titans, frustrated that Marcus Mariota never became the decisive playmaker they thought they drafted number two overall in 2015, have planted him on the bench behind another failed starter, Ryan Tannehill. Mariota will likely back up another quarterback in 2020. Maybe Chicago, where his former coach, Mark Helfrich, is offensive coordinator—though the Bears might want a player with a better résumé to challenge Mitchell Trubisky in 2020. In Tampa, Jameis Winston has gone from an 80-percent sure bet for a second contract with the Bucs to who knows. In his last two games prior to Week 9, Winston turned it over 10 times—and he’s lucky it wasn’t 12, because two of his fumbles were not lost. But then he throws for 335 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in nearly upsetting Seattle on the road. So like I said, who knows. Coach Bruce Arians has been fiercely defensive of Winston, but that’s what happens when a coach is trying to save a quarterback whose middle name is Potential. I won’t be surprised, barring an efficient second half of the season, if GM Jason Licht pushes the QB decision down the road and offers Winston a bridge deal of a couple of years.
Two golden weeks remain: Week 12 (Packers-Niners, Colts-Texans, Cowboys-Patriots, Ravens-Rams) and Week 14 (Chiefs-Patriots, Niners-Saints, Seahawks-Rams). And aside from thin slates in Weeks 10 and 17, the NFL should have a bevy of good games with meaning down the stretch. The biggest five:
Nov. 21 (Thursday): Indianapolis at Houston, 8:20 p.m. ET. Bad news for both teams as they, quite possibly, vie for the AFC South pole position: Texans with a short-week game, coming off a physical beating at Baltimore four days earlier … Colts with a short-week game, traveling. But the Colts have this edge: In three Indy starts against the Texans, quarterback Jacoby Brissett is 3-0 with seven touchdowns, no picks and a 114.2 rating.
Nov. 24 (Sunday): Green Bay at San Francisco, Time TBD. These two teams are a combined 15-2 this morning, and I don’t care how optimistic you are in either fan base, you’d never have called that prior to the season. Heck, in May, I picked the Niners as the league’s seventh-best team and Green Bay to win the NFC North, and I’m surprised to see them 8-0 and 7-2 on Election Day.
Dec. 8 (Sunday): San Francisco at New Orleans, 1 p.m. ET. If San Francisco’s pass-rush is healthy, it’s a race on the indoor carpet for Nick Bosa and DeForest Buckner to nail Drew Brees. And Michael Thomas versus Richard Sherman, when it happens … NFL Films needs to have extra cameras (and mics) in the ‘Dome for this one.
Dec. 8 (Sunday): Kansas City at New England, 4:25 p.m. ET. Best rivalry in football right now. I wish they played four times a year. Composite score, last four meetings: Pats 134, Chiefs 133. New England’s won three of the four, including the two Patrick Mahomes starts last year—by three and six points. Mahomes couldn’t dig out of 15 and 14-point holes he’d helped excavate for the Chiefs on those two Sundays, and, as he told me in August, those two experiences taught him this: “You can’t make mistakes against Tom Brady and Coach Belichick and the Patriots the way we did in both games, early in the game. They’re gonna keep executing, so we better too.” Andy Reid said: “Astute observation by a smart player. It’s always a short feel-out process against a championship team.” This could be a game the Chiefs need for a January bye.
Dec. 22 (Sunday): Cincinnati at Miami, 1 p.m. ET. A Finley-Rosen duel, quite possibly, for their successors, for the first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. (I passed on two games that could have great significance on this weekend: Packers-Vikings in Minneapolis, Rams-Niners in Santa Clara. The prospect of two teams with a potential combined 1-27 record gnawing denture-less on each other for three hours is simply more appealing.)
There will be a game of playoff significance in Week 17; there almost always is. I just can’t see it right now.
Steering clear of quarterbacks, because they’re always going to be high on valuable-player lists, here are the five players most crucial to the playoff chase in the second half:
Aaron Jones, Green Bay running back. What I like about the Packers this year is their malleability, and their ability to adjust while being slammed with injuries at receiver, and to do it all without bitching. Part of that is having Jones, who’s becoming a Le’Veon Bell-sort of versatile back. A fifth-round pick from UTEP in 2017, Jones has morphed into a back coach Matt LaFleur is comfortable splitting out. In the Week 8 win at Kansas City, per Pro Football Focus, Jones played 15 of 42 snaps at receiver—six in the slot, nine lined up wide. In a brilliant example of design and execution, Jones lined up wide left on one snap, went into motion, stopped behind tight end Jimmy Graham, took a quick pass from Aaron Rodgers, and weaved/sprinted 67 yards for the touchdown. That was part of a seven-catch, 159-receiving-yard performance, the best by a back in the Rodgers era. “In this offense,” Jones told me in a conversation for “The Peter King Podcast” this week, “backs are asked to be used in different ways and you gotta be versatile. I’m glad I can bring that aspect.”
Jones had to grow up fast. His mom and dad, both career Army veterans, were deployed to Iraq in 2003 and Jones, at age 8, and two siblings lived with an aunt and uncle for six months. “At the time,” Jones said, “you’re not understanding really what war is. You hear ‘war’ when you’re younger and you just think of people being killed. So you’re not knowing if you’re gonna see them or anything.” The lesson he learned from those long days and nights, his parents on the other side of the world in harm’s way? “Never take a second with them for granted because they’re 29, 27 years in the Army. Any day could’ve been the day. I don’t know what went on over there, but who knows. One step to the right, one step to the left, things could’ve been different.”
Back to football … In Rodgers’ 12 starting seasons, a back has never been higher than third in receptions on the team. Jones, through nine weeks, has 34 catches, nine more than any Packer. “The offense that Coach LaFleur runs, I think it fits me very well,” Jones said. “He likes to use backs everywhere, all over the field and so the better you can catch, the more you’ll play.” Even as Davante Adams returns from a foot injury, look for Jones to use his versatility to be a hard-to-defend weapon for Rodgers.
Emmanuel Ogbah, defensive end, Kansas City. With the touted Frank Clark (neck) playing hurt and playing unproductively (three sacks in 405 snaps), the Chiefs are counting on another defensive end to fulfill his promise. The 32nd pick in the 2016 draft, Ogbah never panned out for Cleveland and was sent to the Chiefs in April for safety Eric Murray. The Chiefs have gotten the better of the deal. Ogbah has a team-high 4.5 sacks and 17 pressures/hits. If the Chiefs are going to going to be good enough defensively, Ogbah’s got to pick up the Clark slack.
Fred Warner, middle linebacker, San Francisco. With the loss of playmaking outside ‘backer Kwon Alexander to a torn pectoral muscle, the weight falls on Warner to be a sideline-to-sideline insurance policy behind the strong Niners’ defensive front. Warner’s missed some stops, but he’s the team leader in tackles, and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s put a lot on his plate: Warner has played every snap in six of San Francisco’s eight wins.
Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein, left and right tackle, L.A. Rams. Last year, Havenstein was PFF’s fourth-rated offensive tackle, and Whitworth eighth. This year, through midseason, Whitworth is 22nd and Havenstein has plummeted to 73rd. It likely has to do with the chaotic interior line; the two guards and center are all in the bottom five of PFF’s rankings at their positions. “Teaching the puppies,” Whitworth told me a couple of weeks ago, about the difference in the 2019 Rams. They’d better learn fast.
Most compelling coaches to watch in the next two months, for many reasons:
Matt Eberflus, defensive coordinator, Indianapolis. A few months before the Rams hired Sean McVay at 30 in 2017, one of our writers at The MMQB, Andy Benoit, wrote that McVay was far and away, despite his age, the best head-coaching candidate in the NFL. Rams COO Kevin Demoff read the piece, got interested in McVay, interviewed him, and the rest is Rams history. “I’m probably as high on Eberflus as anyone since Sean McVay,” Benoit said on my podcast this week. Eberflus has integrated scads of young players into his defense and gotten them to play fast quickly. Very highly regarded about the league. Should get a head-coaching job.
Jason Garrett, head coach, Dallas. It’s a myth that Dallas needs to win X number of games, or get to X point in the playoffs for Garrett to stay. Now that Sean Payton has re-signed in New Orleans and likely won’t be going anywhere, Jerry Jones would prefer to keep Garrett, but he won’t if the Cowboys have a clunker finish.
Freddie Kitchens, head coach, Cleveland. Two big issues with the Browns that must improve for Kitchens to be sure to return in 2020: Baker Mayfield and Kitchens made beautiful music post-Hue Jackson last year, and Mayfield stinks through half a season now. In eight games with Kitchens as play-caller last year, Mayfield was plus-11 in TD-to-pick ratio. In his first eight this year, he’s minus-five. Mayfield is Kitchens’ baby, and the baby’s been colicky for two months. (And Kitchens has to get Mayfield to stop making mountains out of piss-ant, nothing issues. It’s always something with the guy.) And the Browns’ discipline has been awful: 12.6 penalties called on the Browns per game, through Week 8, far and away the most in the league. The wins will come in the soft eight-game end to the season; I see Cleveland rallying to 7-9 or 8-8. But the sloppiness and quarterback crappiness/moodiness has to end. If not, I could see John Dorsey having a head-coaching decision (Eric Bienemy? Lincoln Riley?) to make after one season.
Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England. Packers got turned off (at least some in the organization did) by McDaniels’ about-face with the Colts in February 2018, which is understandable. McDaniels gets the who-couldn’t-win-with-Brady treatment too. But some team with a malleable quarterback (or one to draft) would be smart to overlook that in the face of McDaniels’ inarguable production. He entered this year with seven straight years with a top-five offense as coordinator, is totally trusted and nearly revered by Brady, was given money far beyond coordinator money to stay in New England, has been given assurance that he’ll get first crack at being Belichick’s heir, has never had a franchise receiver, and has made due with overall average offensive talent at best. I know this: If I ran a team with a coaching opening, and if I got satisfactory answers about why McDaniels jilted the Colts, and if I had a struggling quarterback, or I were about to draft a quarterback of the future, McDaniels would be my slam-dunk choice.
Robert Saleh, defensive coordinator, San Francisco. He’d better get his best suit pressed, and his polish his head-coach presentation. Saleh will be sought for interviews after the regular season, and rightfully so. Players in San Francisco played hard for him when they had a talent deficit, and now that they’re significantly better, Saleh’s schemes and play-calling are showing them off.
Eric Bienemy, offensive coordinator, Kansas City. A natural in front of a room of players. Imaginative. Patrick Mahomes swears by him. If I were running the Washington search, Bienemy, McDaniels and Shaw would be high on my list
Lincoln Riley, head coach, Oklahoma. I don’t see it, though he might have to have a conversation if Jerry Jones calls. I keep hearing he may leave Oklahoma one day for the NFL, just not now.
Other college guys. Ohio State’s Ryan Day is intriguing, and almost went with Mike Vrabel as offensive coordinator a couple of years ago. A riser … One of these days, an NFL team will think Brian Kelly is the right fit and go after him hard … I still think, despite the shine being off Stanford a bit, that David Shaw would be a perfect NFL coach. I’m not sure I’d leave Stanford for the NFL pressure, but that doesn’t mean an NFL president shouldn’t go knocking on his door.
Adam Gase, head coach, Jets. He’s 5-15 in his last 20 games as a head coach, and Sam Darnold has been regressing. No indication Gase could be one-and-done, but the Jets play teams with a combine 6-25 record in the next five weeks. With an impatient owner. Would be smart to win three of those.
I love little stories like these three TV things to watch in the second half.
1. Look at the Week 12 schedule. The Sunday night game is due to be Seattle (now 7-2) at Philadelphia (5-4). Cool game, with two teams desperate to improve playoff position. It’s a FOX doubleheader week. Most of the country, for a late game, will get Dallas at New England, one of the sexiest matchups of the year. Ratings gold. The other late FOX game that day—maybe 15 or 20 percent of the country would get it—is Green Bay at San Francisco. That also might be the most important game, with playoff implications out the wazoo (what is a wazoo, anyway?), of the second half of the season. Imagine, 13 days before the game, the NFL having to make a choice of games here. Imagine passing on Russell Wilson and Carson Wentz at one of the craziest (and great for TV) venues in football. But when the NFL has to make this call on Nov. 11, San Francisco and Green Bay, combined, could have one loss. How does the league not move to Packers-Niners?
2. Now look at Week 16. ‘Twas the week before Christmas. You probably don’t recall the schedule weirdness from last April. The NFL scheduled a Saturday tripleheader, to be televised by NFL Network. The league put five games from Week 16 in a pool, with three to be chosen by next Monday, Nov. 11. The five games: Detroit-Denver, Oakland-L.A. Chargers, Buffalo-New England, L.A. Rams-San Francisco, Houston-Tampa Bay. The games are likely to be played at 1:05 p.m. ET, 4:30 p.m. ET and 8:15 p.m. ET. Spitballing here. I think it’s possible the league puts Texans-Bucs in the early window, Raiders-Chargers in the second window, and Bills-Patriots in prime time. But wait, you say. What about Rams-Niners? That’s the best game of the five! Why not put that in prime time Saturday? Look at the game slated for Sunday night football that week. Kansas City-Chicago. Normally you’d say, No way we’re flexing out of a Mahomes game. And it’s altogether possible the NFL won’t. But the Bears could be 5-9 at kickoff in Week 16, long since out of it. I’m just saying don’t be shocked if the best game of the five up for grabs right now gets moved twice—once from Saturday to Sunday, and again from Sunday day to prime time.
3. That Saturday lineup in Week 16 could be a dry run for wild-card weekend 2021. The NFL and the players are haggling about possible adding a 17th game to the schedule in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, and also adding an extra playoff team in each conference. If the latter happens, it’s likely to create an extra wild card in both the AFC and NFC, with only the top seed in each conference getting a bye. So the first weekend of the playoffs in the ’21 season could look like this:
- Six games, with 1:05, 4:30 and 8:15 p.m. ET starts Saturday and Sunday of wild-card weekend.
- Or six games, with 4:30 and 8:15 p.m. ET starts Saturday; 1:05, 4:30 and 8:15 p.m. ET games Sunday; and one 8:15 p.m. ET game Monday.
There will be howls of protest from the teams playing Monday night, but I’m sure the league will ensure the Monday night survivor will not play until Sunday on divisional weekend. And the league will point out that in 2012, the Ravens won a wild-card game on Sunday, a divisional game the following Saturday 1,664 miles away in Denver, and went on to win the Super Bowl. The wild-card-Sunday-to-divisional-Saturday turnaround has happened six times in the last 10 years.
Offensive Players of the Week
Russell Wilson, quarterback, Seattle. Wilson has my MVP vote after nine weeks. You pay him a jillion dollars in the offseason because he’s capable of lifting a good team to great heights the way he did Sunday in Seattle. The Seahawks trailed Tampa Bay 7-0, 14-7, 21-7, 24-21, and got tied late 34-34, and every time Wilson brought Seattle back. Look what he did in the last nine minutes of the game:
• Drove Seattle 75 minutes in three plays for the go-ahead TD, putting Seattle up 34-27.
• Drove Seattle 53 yards to a 40-yard field-goal try by Jason Myers as time expired in regulation (missed, wide right).
• And, on the first possession of overtime, drove Seattle 75 yards in 10 plays, finishing it with a 10-yard scoring pass to tight end Jacob Hollister to win.
For the game, Wilson was 29 of 43 for 378 yards, with five touchdowns and no interceptions. Seattle’s 7-2, and so much of that record is on the shoulders of the 5-11 quarterback.
Carlos Hyde, running back, Houston. The Texans got bad news before the game when left tackle Laremy Tunsil was declared out due to injury. So Houston had to account for a scotch-tape job at left tackle against a good Jags defensive front. Throwing quick and staying mostly clean, Deshaun Watson was sacked only once in 29 pass drops. Houston ran it 34 times, including 19 for 160 yards by Hyde. What I loved is how Hyde dominated the second half: 10 carries, 122 yards.
Defensive Player of the Week
T.J. Watt, defensive end, Pittsburgh. Five years ago, at Wisconsin, Watt was a tight end. Four years ago, he switched to defense. The Steelers are glad he did. He made a huge play with five minutes left. With the Colts trailing 26-24, backup Brian Hoyer had a second-and-16 at his 36-yard line. Boom! Watt beat Braden Smith around the Colts’ right side and crushed Hoyer for a nine-yard loss. Indy wouldn’t score again. Watt’s 1.5 sacks gave him a team-high 7.5 for the year, and he’s apace to catch his 13.0 total from last season.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Harrison Butker, kicker, Kansas City. Third quarter, 30 seconds left. Chiefs up 17-16. Butker kicks a 45-yard field goal to make it 20-16. Vikings score a touchdown to go up 23-20. Now 2:30 left, fourth quarter. Butker kicks a 54-yard field goal. Tie game. Now four seconds left. Butker kicks a 44-yarder straight through. Chiefs win 26-23. Wouldn’t have happened without the solid Butker.
Colin Jones, safety, Carolina. Risky play. Big reward. With Carolina leading Tennessee 17-7 midway through the third quarter, Carolina had a fourth-and-four at its 36-yard line. Jones, the upback on the Panthers punt team, took the snap and barreled around right end, making the last two yards on his own. First down. Four minutes later, Carolina scored to start the rout and make it 24-7.
Coach of the Week
Andy Reid, head coach, Kansas City. Beating a top-10 team with Matt Moore at quarterback, with three scoring drives of at least 67 yards, with your MVP quarterback and your left tackle and your most important defensive piece missing with injuries, with 377 yards of total offense against a strong defensive team. That’s a heck of a win over the 6-3 Vikings, and it’s the 213th win of Reid’s career.
Shane Steichen, offensive coordinator, Los Angeles Chargers. On Thursday, Steichen preached simplicity to his team, and to the media. “We’ll do whatever we can do to make guys play faster and not think as much,” the new Chargers offensive coordinator said. Taking over for the fired Ken Whisenhunt, Steichen called a strong game against the heretofore 7-1 Packers in L.A.’s 26-11 upset in California. (Kudos to defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, too, for designing a nightmare afternoon for Aaron Rodgers.) I could see Anthony Lynn’s hand in the game plan too: Lynn loves a hard-running, physically imposing offense team. Steichen called 38 runs and 30 passes, and the 38 runs produced an uncharacteristic 159 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Last interesting note, in keeping with the baby boom of so many of these new offensive coaches on the scene: Steichen, 34, is 3.5 years younger than his quarterback. Now it’ll be interesting to see if the Chargers (formerly 2-5, now 4-5, with a quick-turnaround game at Oakland on Thursday) can make this one game more than an outlier.
Goats of the Week
Adam Vinatieri, kicker, Indianapolis. Sad to see a likely walk-in Hall of Famer becoming a liability, but Vinatieri is bordering on that. He missed his fifth extra point of the year—in eight games—early. Then, with 1:14 to play, he lined up for a straightway 43-yard field goal that would have put the Colts ahead 27-26. The announcers made a big deal about holder Rigoberto Sanchez not twisting the ball so that the laces weren’t facing backward, but I’m sorry. The position of the laces doesn’t account for Vinatieri pulling the ball so far left it missed the net behind the goal posts. (Check out the ball when it left Vinatieri’s foot—it was already careening wide left after his foot scuffed the ground a foot behind the ball.) Four crucial missed points by Vinatieri wounded the Colts in the 26-24 loss.
Anyone having anything to do with the Washington offense. Points scored, last six games: 3, 7, 17, 0, 9, 9. Consecutive quarters without a touchdown: 13.5. Yards in the second half at Buffalo on Sunday: 78. This is an organization that has to be torn down, top to bottom.
“We have a lot of ball left, but that was pretty cool.”
—Christian McCaffrey of the Panthers, on hearing chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” during his 166-yard, three-TD performance in Carolina’s 30-20 win over the Titans.
“This is like losing to the Washington Generals.”
—New York TV/radio personality and former Jet Bart Scott, on the Jets losing to the previously winless Dolphins, 26-18.
“It hits you right in between your numbers. Sometimes, a lot of times, the ball catches itself. You just gotta put your hands out. That’s the easiest way for me to describe it. Yeah, the ball catches itself. If you put your hands out, nine times out of 10 the ball’s going to fall right in your hands.”
—Green Bay running back Aaron Jones, to me, on what it’s like to catch a football from Aaron Rodgers.
There’s something about that statement—so simple, so pure, so different—that’s so telling about the accuracy of Rodgers.
“The Jets need to regroup. They have a game just seven days from now versus the Giants.”
—Jets radio analyst Marty Lyons.
Well, yes. That is how it generally works, playing NFL games seven days apart.
“I’M STILL HERE BUDDA!!!!”
Sean McVay • Los Angeles Rams coach • Photographed in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
“I love reading books. My dad is a huge mentor of mine. Obviously my fiancee is a huge influence. Those two specifically have really talked about balance in life and how they’ve noticed I’m less irritable or more pleasant when I do get my rest. You can still be so focused but you’re not selling yourself short if you’re able to unwind. I’ll tell you who has helped: Dick Vermeil. I’ve always texted with him and then we actually connected this offseason, and he has been a great mentor of mine. We had a chance to sit down, have breakfast for a few hours and talk. He does a great job going around and speaking on leadership. I think a lot of the same principles, traits, values, characteristics that we now believe in organizationally are very much in alignment with what made Coach Vermeil such a special coach. He had a similar situation to me—young guy gets his opportunity as a college head coach then goes to the Eagles. So driven. You can’t ever really turn off. And his advice was: Find the balance. If he had that balance earlier on, it probably would’ve enabled him not to feel like he had to take that break. [Vermeil, citing burnout, quit the Eagles after seven seasons following the 1982 season.] We’re in alignment with the things that we try to preach and believe in: It’s all foundationally driven relationships. But if it starts to get to that [burnout] point, let’s pull back and not let the love and passion become potentially a negative that pushes you away from the thing that you love so much.
How have you improved as a head coach?
“I can have a quieted mind going into games and be confident knowing that hey, all you can do is compete to the best of your ability, coach to the best of your ability, and with that, I think there comes a peace. Would I be able to say that two years ago? Even maybe last year? Probably not. I think I’ve gained a perspective on what enables me to be able to be happy and content with myself day in and day out.”
The Cleveland Browns now have a good baseline to judge their progress, or lack thereof, compared to 2018, after the surprising 24-19 loss to the Broncos on Sunday.
Freddie Kitchens was promoted to offensive coordinator and play-caller with eight games left in 2018. Then he was promoted to head coach in January, and now he has coached and called plays for eight games in 2019.
The results: not good. The honeymoon with franchise quarterback: short-lived. Comparing the production of the Kitchens brain and the Mayfield arm in the two segmented seasons:
New Orleans defensive end Cam Jordan dressed as an NFL official for Halloween.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson, through nine games, has 22 touchdown passes and one interception. He is on pace to throw for 39 touchdowns and two interceptions, a plus-37 TD-to-interception differential.
In 19 seasons, Tom Brady has had one season better than plus-37.
In 17 seasons, Peyton Manning had two seasons better than plus-37.
In 19 seasons, Brett Favre had no seasons better than plus-37.
In 18 seasons, Drew Brees has had no seasons better than plus-37.
Sunday, 11:43 a.m., Penn Station, Manhattan. (That’s the big train station adjacent to Madison Square Garden.) Strong smell of marijuana. Now, walking around the city, I smell pot three or four times, nearly every day. I’d never smelled it inside a transportation hub, with Amtrak trains arriving and departing all day long, in the world’s largest city. Just … a little weird.
@realXFLfootball is a fan account, not the league’s official account.
Bayless is a talking head at FOX, and a bit of a dope.
DimEyeGuitarGuy, presumably a Jaguars fan, after Gardner Minshew’s awful play in the 26-3 loss to Houston.
Brandt, a superb troller at 84, is a former Dallas player personnel executive and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Purdue football Twitter handle, with a pre-game pep talk video from alum Drew Brees before two-win Purdue faced Nebraska. Suitably pumped, Purdue came from behind to win 31-27.
1. I think I have some follow-up thoughts on the decision of the Pro Football Hall of Fame to alter the selection process for the class of 2020. The Hall will have a specially appointed committee of 25 people—13 regular Hall of Fame selectors, 12 mostly high-profile NFL names (Bill Belichick, John Madden, Ozzie Newsome, Ron Wolf among them)—choosing the class of 15. This appointed committee will winnow a list of more than 200 down to 10 contributors, two coaches and three contributors … and they’re into Canton. (I am a Hall of Fame voter. I am not on the 25-member special voting committee for the Centennial Class.) Three thoughts:
• The Hall originally planned to have the regular, 48-person selection committee vote on the 15-man Centennial Class as a bloc. I don’t know this, but I am reasonably sure the Hall changed course since August because it realized that it was conceivable that the class could be voted down, and there would be no Centennial Class. As a selector, I’d have voted no if there was one person on the list of 15 whose candidacy I firmly opposed. The class would have required an 80 percent yes vote to pass. So if 10 or more of the 48 selectors voted no, all 15 would have been out. I proposed, as did some of my peers on the committee, that the 48 selectors be allowed to vote on the 15 one-by-one, but the Hall said no, thinking it unwieldy. The meeting would have been a marathon session, or broken into two meetings because there would be 15 Centennial Class candidates to consider, plus the normal 15 modern-era candidate to whittle to five. So the Hall chose a different selection process, to ensure there’d be a Centennial Class.
• Originally, the plan for the class was to enshrine most if not all of the 15 from the early years of pro football—say, the first 35 years, pre-1958 Colts-Giants title game. “With 100 years of history behind us,” Hall president David Baker said in August, “there’s a belief … that there are so many deserving seniors that might have fallen between the cracks.” I hope, fervently, that overlooked founders and players are those who get most of the slots, and the group of 15 comes from 1920-60. What I fear, with the intense lobbying for players and coaches and contributors from the modern era, is the committee will be bombarded with pleas for those newer candidates, and swayed. It’s altogether wrong to open the door wider for men who have played and worked in the game in the last 50 years, whose cases get considered every year. This class should be for the forgotten cornerstones of the game from, particularly, the first quarter-century of the pro game. How will this process ensure that the early years of the league get the attention the Centennial Class was designed to address?
• The process may favor some markets and franchises. The Cardinals (Chicago/St. Louis/Arizona), playing since the birth of the league in 1920, do not have a voter with ties to the franchise. Nor does the franchise birthed in Boston in 1932 and moved to Washington in 1937 by owner George Preston Marshall. Oakland, by comparison, has three voters with ties to the team: a former beat writer (Frank Cooney), a Hall of Fame coach (John Madden) and 12-year scout from the glory years (Ron Wolf). Is it fair for one franchise in its 60th year to have three representatives, and a franchise in its 100th to have none?
We can all have different opinions on this. I’m sure many of you disagree with my take. I truly hope the committee of 25 selects the 15 Hall of Famers in the spirit in which the Centennial Class was drawn up: to pay tribute to the those who played in Canton and Pottsville and Frankford, who founded the league in an auto showroom in Ohio, and who coached and managed teams that were largely town teams in places like Green Bay and Canton. Men most have never heard of, or know next-to-nothing about, they’re the ones who deserve to live forever, in bronze. If they are not honored now, at the time of the 100th anniversary of pro football in 2020, they’ll be forgotten forever.
2. I think the logical question is: Okay, who? Who deserves to be in? Who should this Centennial Class recognize?
• Ralph Hay, who, as an auto dealer and owner of the Canton Bulldogs in 1920, signed Jim Thorpe, then organized a meeting to form the first pro football league ever in 1920; that league morphed into the NFL in 1922. Hay’s Bulldogs won the first NFL title in 1922, then won it again in 1923.
• Al Wistert, all-decade player of the ‘40s, eight-time all-pro two-way lineman for the Eagles, and key to their championship teams of 1948 and ’49. He was the best blocker in Steve Van Buren’s four seasons winning the rushing title.
• Lavvie Dilweg, all-decade player of the ‘20s for Green Bay, and considered the best all-around end in the game prior to Don Hutson.
• Buddy Parker, a key running back as a rookie in 1935 helping the Lions win their first NFL title. Later he coached Detroit to two straight NFL titles, beating the mighty Browns (with coach Paul Brown and quarterback Otto Graham) in 1952 and 1953.
Forgotten, all of them.
3. I think many of you will skip over that stuff, and I get it. You don’t know them. I never knew them either. But think how huge this game is today, with 17 million people watching the average game, and then think how many people had to work for years and years to make it happen, and then ask: Shouldn’t we recognize the greatest players and coaches and contributors who allowed all of this to happen? We’ll figure out the modern guys, and maybe two or four who deserve to be in will be snubbed for a few years, or forever. I just don’t want the tens of viable candidates to disappear forever. That’s why the work of this committee of 25 must be done with the gravitas of respecting the relatively ancient history of pro football.
4. I think this is what I liked about Week 9:
b. Throw of the Week: Russell Wilson’s perfect 19-yard drop-into-a-bucket TD to Tyler Lockett, a throw so good Lockett barely had to try to catch it.
c. Interception of the Week: Oakland’s Daryl Worley, hand-to-hand fighting all the way, finding a way to pick off Matthew Stafford in the end zone while falling hard to the ground.
d. Block of the Week: You’ve got to see the burial block of Arizona tight end Maxx Williams on 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt, leading to the first touchdown of the Thursday night game. Kenyan Drake, the new Cardinal, scored on a four-yard run over right end, and it would never have been possible without Williams erasing Tartt.
e. Jacob “Will Dissly” Hollister of the Seahawks with a TD catch.
f. Arizona safety Budda Baker with the perfect pass breakup on a first-half third-and-two conversion pass from Jimmy Garoppolo to George Kittle … and then punching out a conversion pass-play to Kittle a few minutes later.
g. Then the equalizer, with Kittle shaking off a pressing Baker at the line of scrimmage, followed by Kittle steaming in with a touchdown reception, and stiff-arming Baker off his path along the way. That’s football right there.
h. “One of the truly great players in our game,” Troy Aikman said of Kittle, and he’s right.
i. Ian Rapoport, with a good nugget Sunday morning: The Jets asked Dallas for guard Zack Martin, then tackle Tyron Smith, when Dallas called to try to pry safety Jamal Adams from GM Joe Douglas last Tuesday. No and no, said the Cowboys.
j. Deshaun Watson makes one play a game that causes me to yelp in wonder.
k. Shaq Thompson, with a crushing sack of Ryan Tannehill, is a better football player than baseball player.
m. Joe Haden with some big hits for Pittsburgh at important times.
n. Ryan Fitzpatrick with his usual Fitzmagic in the unlikely win for the Dolphins. Say what you want about The Itinerant One, but he still hangs in and throws a pretty football.
5. I think this is what I did not like about Week 9:
a. Throw a deep ball, Dwayne Haskins. Please. Just one.
b. The worst example of non-tackling this season: the Browns, on Noah Fant’s 75-yard catch-and-run TD.
c. You won’t say this often about the efficient Colts. But the Steelers scored 17 points off Indianapolis turnovers, keeping them in the game all afternoon.
d. So much for the Gardner Minshew-over-Nick Foles narrative in Jacksonville.
e. I admit: I was one of those conducting that train. Minshew had to make something good happen in London on Sunday against the Watt-less Texans, but what he did was throw two picks, put up three points, and give Jacksonville zero chance to win.
f. Deebo Samuel dropping a perfect TD throw from Jimmy Garoppolo, the kind of drop in the middle of the end zone that Samuel will see in his nightmares for weeks.
g. Three-play sequence for the very much still-learning Kyler Murray on Thursday night against the Niners: wandering 19-yard sacks that should have been a throwaway on first down; too slow to prepare for second down, and so a blown timeout; and a pass thrown right into the arms of 49ers linebacker Fred Warner.
h. Mitchell Trubisky, nine yards passing in the first 23 minutes at Philadelphia.
i. Hate to pick on Trubisky every Monday, but wow.
j. You can see the immense frustration in the Chicago defense now.
k. What kind of defensive scheme is it exactly, Tennessee defensive coordinator Dean Pees, that leaves Christian McCaffrey uncovered in the flat ON FOURTH DOWN WITH THE PANTHERS GOING FOR IT for the easiest touchdown of his NFL life?
l. Mecole Hardman, coughing up the second-half kickoff in a tie game.
m. Chester Rogers, Chester Rogers. Just when the Colts needed him, trying to get the momentum back trailing 20-18 at Pittsburgh, Rogers fumbled the free kick after Justin Houston stripped Mason Rudolph for a safety. (Good thing he made up for it with a TD catch in the back of the end zone later in the half.)
n. All these missed extra points. Inexcusable. Stop with the excuses for missing straightaway 33-yard field goals, in effect. Ka’imi Fairbairn hits from 52 and 42 yards, and gets a 33-yard kick blocked. Dan Bailey misses a 33-yarder wide left for Minnesota. Jake Elliott pushes a 33-yarder wide right for Philly. Jason Myers with a shanked 33-yarder. And the aforementioned Vinatieri misses his fifth 33-yarder of the year. And Baltimore’s Justin Tucker, called the best kicker in history by Bill Belichick last week, pushed a 33-yarder wide left in the fourth quarter Sunday night. It’s madness.
o. Whoever told Frank Reich to challenge the defensive pass interference call on the Colts’ Marvell Tell on the Steelers’ go-ahead fourth-quarter drive made a mistake. I mean, are you guys watching NFL games this year? Losing a timeout down the stretch of a one-score game with a backup quarterback playing? Just not a smart decision.
p. Horrible call in the Steelers-Colts game at a crucial time, an unnecessary-roughness call on rookie linebacker Bobby Okereke for a crushing hit on Steeler punt-returner Ryan Switzer. A good clean hit, no helmet-to-helmet … just a bizarre ruling that handed the Steelers 15 yards of field position at a crucial time of the game.
6. I think I don’t fault Jets GM Joe Douglas for taking phone calls on any player, including Sam Darnold. When you’re as talent-deficient as the Jets, every option must be considered. So I do think Jamal Adams is overreacting with his how-could-they-consider-trading-me snit. Douglas last week listened to offers for Adams, the seventh overall pick in the 2017 draft. Adams, upset, even told Ryan Clark of ESPN he wanted to play for his hometown team, the Cowboys. Adams wasn’t traded, but wise men on the Jets beat think it’s only a matter of time before he is. And why would anyone expect anything different from this organization? Consider:
• Between 2010 and 2017, all nine first-round picks by the Jets were defensive players. Adams is the last one left on the team.
• Quinton Coples, Dee Milliner, Calvin Pryor, Darron Lee: Duds. Kyle Wilson, Leonard Williams: Meh. Muhammad Wilkerson: Got the money, changed. Sheldon Richardson: Productive, too much of a handful off the field.
• Wins since opening day 2014: New England 82, Jets 29.
Joe Douglas was lured from a top job in Philadelphia—I hear for a six-year contract—last winter to bring stability to the Jets. He’s an excellent scout and evaluator. But that’s only part of this new job. He’s got to find a way to make peace with Adams. He’s got to be a rock-solid north-star type for an organization that time and again over the last decade has undergone makeovers, gotten fans excited, then just driven them right off the cliff again. Now Douglas needs to put the genie back in the bottle.
7. I think I get a kick out of the legitimate wonder of people that only one team claimed wide receiver Josh Gordon after the Patriots released him off injured reserve last week. Seriously you question why teams wouldn’t be flocking to claim this highly problematic player? Suspended five times in an eight-year career for substance abuse … cut by the Browns for “violating the team’s trust” … released by a six-time championship team desperate for wide-receiver help … put on the street by Bill Belichick. Common sense, people. Please.
8. I think, following Russell Wilson, my top two MVP contenders at the midpoint of the season are Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson, in that order.
9. I think too many defensive players approach a ballcarrier and think strip first and tackle second. That’s not how football should be played. Hard tackles, form tackles, should be first first.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Story of the Week: Dr. Daniela J. Lamas, writing in the New York Times, on the efficacy of letting family members stay in the ER at times of life-or-death crisis. Great and thoughtful piece by a doctor who is experimenting with it.
b. Lamas, a Boston doctor, allowed a woman in to see the ER team try to save her husband’s life while the care team performed CPR over and over on him. Dr. Lamas feared the efforts would be futile, but felt she should give the wife the option whether to see it or not. The man died.
e. Write Lamas: “From outside the room on the little chair I had set up for her, my patient’s wife began to sob. Her breaths came ragged and gasping, the tears leaving splotches on that pink sweatshirt. I had never seen grief so naked, and I wondered whether I had made the wrong choice. Perhaps I shouldn’t have given her the chance to see this. Perhaps I should have made her leave earlier. Then she looked at me. And said, ‘Thank you.’ “
f. One of the things I love about dissecting newspapers is you find such great and important writing like this one.
g. Review of the Week: The fierce takedown of Peter Luger’s Steakhouse by New York Times reviewer Pete Wells.
h. Wells reviewed Peter Luger the way Paul Zimmerman reviewed the reign of Paul Tagliabue. Which is to say, distastefully.
“Was the Caesar salad always so drippy, the croutons always straight out of a bag, the grated cheese always so white and rubbery? I know there was a time the German fried potatoes were brown and crunchy, because I eagerly ate them each time I went. Now they are mushy, dingy, gray and sometimes cold. I look forward to them the way I look forward to finding a new, irregularly shaped mole.”
i. Zim would be proud.
j. Not much of a college football guy, but how is Ohio State fourth in the college poll?
k. It’s like if you play in the SEC, and you win most Saturdays, you’re automatically better than anyone, anywhere.
l. Pete Thamel reports that the buyout for fired Florida State coach Willie Taggart is $17 million.
m. Did Florida State fire Bill Belichick or Willie Taggart?
n. Next Saturday at Yankee Stadium: Dartmouth (7-0) versus Princeton (7-0) for Ivy League supremacy. Man, nice foresight.
o. Starting lineup for Golden State in its sixth game of the season Saturday: Ky Bowman, Jordan Poole, Glenn Robinson III, Eric Paschall, Willie Cauley-Stein.
p. Interesting podcast dropping Wednesday: Conversations with Aaron Jones and writer Joe Posnanski on “The Peter King Podcast.” Posnanski, author of the new book (which I loved) “The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini.” Loved the talk with Posnanski, a superb writer, not only on the great and mystifying magician but on writing and on what motivated a sportswriter to pen a book on Harry Houdini.
q. One of the cool things Posnanski does in the book is write about the presence of Houdini in our society today, 93 years after his death, with examples of Houdini this and Houdini that. Then, as if on cue, on the NFL Network telecast of Jags-Texans Sunday from London …
“Has to be so frustrating,” Michael Irvin said while watching Deshaun Watson evade tacklers like magic. “You have him, and you don’t have him. It’s Houdini, what he’s doing out there.”
r. Congrats to the Nationals. I mean, wow. What a treat that World Series was, even when the games weren’t scintillating. The drama was. Howie Kendrick kept delivering, Juan Soto is going to be great to watch for the next 15 years, and Anthony Rendon—just a superb hitter and fielder. So happy for a class team and for a city that was so hungry for it … especially after they played three dud games in a row in the losses in Washington.
s. Now, I’ve got one major question about the strategy in Game 7. It’s a question I’m sure will either haunt or endlessly bother A.J. Hinch for a long time. If I’d made this series of decisions as manager, I know it’d haunt me. The background first. Houston’s bullpen on fumes. Will Harris, the trusty middle reliever, with eight outings in the previous 16 days. Gave up a home run the previous night in Houston. Pitched 68 times in the regular season. Meanwhile, it’s the last game of the season. The best pitcher in baseball in 2019 (the majority of analysts believe), Gerrit Cole, will be in the bullpen on two days rest. Hinch’s plan (which I do not understand at all): He’ll pitch Cole only to start an inning, and only with a lead, late. Well, okay. I have no idea why, but that’s the plan. If a guy is afforded the same number of warmup tosses whether he starts an inning or comes in in the middle of one, and if getting outs is precious in Game 7 of the World Series, why make these artificial rules heading into the biggest game of this year, and maybe the biggest game of some participants’ careers? Okay.
t. Top seven. One out. Astros, with Zack Greinke pitching brilliantly, up 2-0. Nine outs to go. Adam Eaton of the Nats grounds out. Eight outs to go. Rendon homers to left, 374 feet. Astros, 2-1. Soto, with Greinke getting squeezed on a vital 2-1 count pitch that was shown on replay to be a clear strike, walks. Greinke’s second walk and fourth baserunner with one out in the seventh. Hinch marches out. Relieves Greinke. Whoa. For Harris. Running-on-fumes Harris. There’s Cole, sitting in the bullpen, stone-faced. Second pitch from Harris: Kendrick hits an inside strike off the right-field foul pole. Nats, 3-2. Asdrubal Cabrera singles sharply. Hinch marches out. Relieves harris with Roberto Osuna, the embattled closer. Cole, on TV again, stone-faced. Osuna walks Ryan Zimmerman on five pitches, then retires Yan Gomes and Victor Robles. Astros don’t score. Osuna out for the top of the eighth. Cole, stone-faced in the bullpen. With one out, Nats go walk-stolen base-fly out-single-single, and it’s 4-2. Astros don’t score. Top nine, last chance to hold the Nats. Last chance to pitch Cole, looming free-agent zillionaire, to give the Astros a scoreless inning and make a comeback possible. Nope. Here comes Joe Smith. Nats get two. Astros go out quietly in the ninth. Ballgame. Nats, 6-2. Series is theirs.
u. I would have let Greinke continue. One more baserunner after the flawed walk, and I’d have summoned Cole. I’d have pitched Cole as long as he could go. Maybe that’s why I’m on a couch in Brooklyn and Hinch has been in the World Series in two of the past three years, but I don’t like how he handled his staff in the last three innings. At all.
v. Congrats on your second straight Gold Glove, Nick Ahmed. Well deserved.
w. Sad for the death of my beloved aunt, Bertha Crombie, at 103. But so happy for the life she led and for the wonderful funeral and tribute to her life in Enfield, Conn., on Friday. We should all have an Aunt Bert. Once, as the lunch lady in my middle school cafeteria, she saw a boy who didn’t have his lunch money. She put her arm around him, quietly and unobtrusively handed him the 60 cents, and he went through the line and got his lunch. No one knew. No one needed to know. We’re the better for having known her.
Thursday: Oakland. Chargers-Raiders at the Coliseum. This will be the 59th and final time for the Chargers to play in Oakland against their fierce rivals. Assuming the Las Vegas stadium gets done, next year the Raiders’ home game in this series will be a very uncharacteristic Los Angeles at Las Vegas. The clock is ticking on football in Oakland, and it’s damn sad.
Sunday: East Rutherford, N.J. Giants-Jets at the Meadowlands. With a Giant loss to Dallas tonight, Giants-Jets will feature two moribund teams, a combined 3-14, playing for next year long before Thanksgiving. The last time they played, in 2015, Brandon Marshall and Odell Beckham each had 100-yard receiving games.
Sunday: Pittsburgh. Aaron Donald’s return to his hometown. The 5-3 Rams play the 4-4 Steelers in a very important game; who could see this coming when Ben Roethlisberger was lost in September, one game separating these teams in November? Donald hasn’t played a game in Pittsburgh since a 31-21 loss to Miami at Heinz Field six Novembers ago. He’s a proud Pittsburgh native, and this game will mean a ton to him.
They are real, and they just might