It's time for the NFL to get serious after weekend of vicious hits
NEW YORK -- "This is crazy!''
Then, almost under his breath, Harrison said quietly, "Thank God I retired.''
The games we watched Sunday seemed as violent a collection as I've seen. Judging from the tweets and e-mails I got as the day went on, the public was astonished too. The
So many thoughts. One: It's time to start ejecting and suspending players for flagrant hits, which I thought the Meriweather one was, and perhaps also the shot of Harrison on Massaquoi. Two: the league had better train its officials better considering there was no penalty on the Harrison hit on Massaquoi. The league had as a point of emphasis to officials this year that launching into a defenseless receiver would be a penalty and subject to discipline. So emphasize it.
Three: Eighteen games? Are you serious? Tell the six Eagles who've suffered concussions this year -- we're six weeks into the season -- that adding two games is no big hazard to your health. Right. And four: Don't tell me this is the culture we want. It might be the culture kids are used to in video games, but the NFL has to draw a line in the sand right here, right now, and insist that the forearm shivers and leading with the helmet and launching into unprotected receivers will be dealt with severely. Six-figure fines. Suspensions. Ejections.
I will hand it to Rodney Harrison. In the year-and-a-half I've worked with him, he's become more thoughtful about the game than I remember from his playing days, when his life was a seek-and-destroy mission. And Sunday, after watching a day of the viciousness, he laid it on the line on our
"You didn't get my attention when you fined me five grand, 10 grand, 15 grand,'' Harrison said. "You got my attention when I got suspended ... You have to suspend these guys. These guys are making millions of dollars. The NFL [has to say], 'We're going to really protect our players. We're going to suspend these guys, not one game, but possibly two or more games.' ''
If the NFL's serious about its rules, and is giving more than lip service about concussions, it's essential the league acts now to reinforce the rules on the books.
• They love them some
• The Vikings are more than alive. They might be a
• There's been a
• In three hours,
• Officials don't know how to call pass interference still ... and can we end the madness and please, please, please make pass interference a 15-yard penalty and not a spot foul?
• Dallas is 1-4. San Diego is 2-4. There's a new standard for despair, and those two teams are setting it.
In the last two weeks, Kolb, kicked somewhat ruthlessly to the curb by the Eagles a month ago, has played out of his mind. That is to say, exactly how
Right. We all saw this coming.
Kolb completed 79 percent of his throws in the surprisingly easy 31-17 win over the Falcons on Sunday, throwing two touchdown passes to
With a rush beginning to get in his face, Kolb lowered his arm slot to near-sidearm and pea-shot a perfect pass to a diving Maclin in the corner of the end zone, near the pylon. "You're not gonna be able to throw the ball from the arm slot you want to all the time,'' he told me later. "You see the same kind of throws from Mike [Vick]. It's just playing football. I'll see that on film and I'll say, 'Hmmm. I didn't even know I did that. But I didn't want to get it batted down, and I knew I had to put it where only Maclin could catch it.''
He got emotional after the game when
I said this on NBC last night, but it bears repeating: Vick and Kolb like each other. When Vick hugged Kolb after the game, he said to him, "I'm proud of you.'' They're in a tough spot. Both want the starting job. Neither will submarine the other. "It helps that me and Michael are so close,'' he said. "There've been times I've had to rally myself a little bit. I won't lie. It's been tough. We've just said to each other, 'Whoever's in there, let's just keep playing our butts off.''
There's no change in the starting assignment, though. Reid said Vick's still his quarterback when healthy, which could be Sunday in Tennessee, or after the bye the following week.
But as Reid has shown, his quarterback assignment is written in pencil. Stay tuned.
He's not crazy about the "Big Ben'' handle anymore. He got emotional pulling into the stadium parking lot Sunday morning, and even more emotional during the Star Spangled Banner when he looked up into the private box his father and stepmother were in, thinking of all the stuff he'd put them through in the past year or so. "That's when I got a little teary,'' Ben Roethlisberger told me last night. "I know it's been rough for them, and they've been there for me.''
Then the game. It all set up perfectly for Roethlisberger, coming back from his four-game league suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy. The Steelers had a bye last week, so Roethlisberger had a week to get prepared after being away for a month. The game was at home, against Cleveland and first-time Browns starter
The natives forgot how ticked off they were at Roethlisberger for his off-field boorishness (and, allegedly, worse behavior) and showered him with cheers from the time he pulled into the Heinz Field parking lot at 10:30 Sunday morning. Then the game: 16 of 27, touchdowns to his three key targets (
"It sounds funny, but it was great to get hit again,'' he said. "It was great to do everything -- but just to be out there playing.''
When he stepped into the huddle for the first time, Roethlisberger said nothing memorable but will remember the looks he saw around him. "Smily,'' he said. "Excited. I could tell. Nobody had to say anything.''
I thought his touchdown throw to Wallace, with linebacker
Now it gets harder for Roethlisberger. Sunday was the dry run for him. Now it'll get nastier, on the field and in the stands. Pittsburgh goes to Miami on Sunday, then plays three straight prime-time games -- at New Orleans on Halloween night, at Cincinnati the following Monday, Nov. 8, and at home against New England the following Sunday. Roethlisberger knows the road won't be as friendly, in all ways.
Sometimes, the lure of moving should be ignored. Sometimes, the grass isn't greener on the other side. If Deion Branch were honest with himself, he'd look himself in the mirror and say, "I should never have left New England four years ago.'' And in the wake of his best game in the NFL since the day he won the Super Bowl MVP nearly six years ago, there was no way the bubbly Branch could avoid the topic of what might have been.
"I think about it a lot,'' he told me over the phone from the Patriots' locker room. "My brother and my father do too. They say, 'You'd be ready to put a gold [Hall of Fame] jacket on if you stayed.' ''
Probably not, but Branch, after catching nine balls for 98 yards and a touchdown Sunday in the Patriots' win over Baltimore, understands what he lost -- and what he may have to gain in the near future.
"It's easy to say that now versus back then, and I wish ... well ... but we can't go back on it. We could easily factor in what went wrong, but right now, but I'm very thankful and honored to be back where I belong, and I'm not looking back or anything,'' Branch said.
What a difference two weeks makes. In New England's last game, Randy Moss got one ball thrown to him and loudly protested being a very tall decoy. That helped prompt the Patriots to trade Moss to Minnesota. In his place came Branch and the speedy
Amazing, because Branch got off a redeye flight from Seattle to Boston last Tuesday at 7:30 a.m., took his physical at 10:30 and was at that afternoon's practice, re-learning the playbook that was largely similar to the one he left. With New England down 20-10 with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Branch trolled the back of the end zone while Brady tried to find other targets from the Ravens' five-yard line.
"I'm the outlet when everything else breaks down,'' Branch said. "I've just got to find a spot to be open.'' After zigging in and zagging out, Branch was open -- and Brady hit him. Then the Pats tied it later in the quarter, forcing overtime. On the last series of OT, Brady found Branch open for 23, putting them near field-goal range. One more 10-yard throw to Branch moved them closer, and the Pats finally got to the Ravens' 17, close enough for the winning field goal 13 minutes into the extra period.
After the game, Belichick found Branch on the field. "Great job!'' he said.
"Thanks for the opportunity,'' Branch said. "Thanks for bringing me back.''
Branch played four years in New England, 2002-05. By the end, he'd become Brady's go-to receiver. In his two Super Bowls -- wins over Carolina and Philadelphia -- Branch caught 21 passes for 276 yards. Four of his eight Patriot playoff games were 100-yard receiving affairs.
In 2006, Branch held out from training camp with the Patriots. He forced a trade to Seattle, which gave up a first-round 2007 draft pick to New England to get him.
In Seattle, Branch was given a six-year, $39 million contract. In New England, the last offer to Branch was approximately six years, $36 million.
Last week, Branch was traded back to New England. To make the trade happen, Branch lowered his 2011 compensation by $3.65 million. That makes his original contract from 2006 now worth six years and $35.35 million. Now, there's no guarantee the Patriots wouldn't have tried to cut Branch's salary. But I ask you this: Where would Branch have had his best chance to be productive: with the team that drafted him, quarterbacked by an all-timer who had great chemistry with him, consistently in one of the best offenses in football ... or with a team with an oft-injured quarterback, adjusting to a new offensive system, and with three head coaches in five years?
In hindsight, it was an idiotic move, holding out and forcing the Patriots to trade him. The Seahawks traded for an impact receiver, and what they got was a pedestrian one. In 54 career games in Seattle, including the playoffs, Branch had three 100-yard games. In his last 34 games in Seattle, 24 times he was held to 50 receiving yards or fewer. Branch's impact with the Seahawks, basically, was nil.
Check out his last six playoff games in New England. That's how you can tell how much the Pats and Brady were beginning to lean on him, and what a great career he could have had if not for the forced deal to Seattle:
In his last six New England playoff games, including one when he was named the MVP of the Super Bowl, Branch had more 100-yard receiving games than he had in his 54-game career in Seattle. Now Branch is 31, trying to acclimate himself to his old team in his ninth year. He's in his twilight. The big move in 2006, in essence, was for no more money. It's sad, really. But Branch wasn't sad Sunday. He was feeling the love from a crowd that treated him like he never left. The quarterback treated him that way too.
"I'm not surprised he looked for me so much,'' Branch said of Brady. "I wish every receiver had the opportunity to play with this guy. You truly see a champion when you watch Tom play, and it rubs off on everybody.''
Wrapping up the rest of the stories:
The Chargers flew to the Midwest to right their season, and late in the first half found themselves in a 17-0 hole. St. Louis had seven sacks and held San Diego to 287 yards, and now we see the
"Everyone win their rush,'' Rams defensive end
St. Louis at Tampa Bay next week. Looks winnable to me.
The Vikings rose to 2-3 with their 24-21 win over the Cowboys. They have to do some winning, obviously, and it'd help if
Minnesota travels to Green Bay and New England in the next two weeks, and the emotion the Vikings will expend -- first with the Favre investigation, then the rivalry game for Favre, then Randy Moss surely wanting to catch 37 footballs at the Patriots -- can't get in the way of two games that can define their season.
When I talked to coach
I talked with Tebow last week to ask how he was coping with not playing; since the first game of the season (two carries, two yards, no passes), the former Florida do-everything quarterback hadn't played. It was easy to see why:
"It's been a challenge,'' Tebow said, choosing his words carefully and politely. "But I'm OK with it. Kyle's been playing so well. All I can do is prepare every week for whatever my role is, continue to learn this offense, and wait for the time when the coaches think I can help the team.''
That time came against the Jets in Denver's 24-20 loss, when Tebow got under center and ran a version of the option in the first half, sometimes running, sometimes pitching. His five-yard sprint around right end with 11 minutes left in the first half tied the game at 7. Tebow still hasn't thrown a pass, and eventually, McDaniels has to let him do so, if only to show defenses he might throw so they can't load up against the run.
The Jets won fair and square in Denver. Safety
Stupid. Yes, it was interference. No, it was not worthy of a 46-yard gift. For years, this had been the dumbest rule in the NFL book. Sunday was exhibit A for making interference at most a 15-yard penalty from the line of scrimmage -- not placed at the spot of the foul.
NFL Films' 10-episodes of the "Top 100: NFL's Greatest Players'' is terrific television (Thursday night, 9 Eastern, NFL Network), but what else would you expect from Films? There are a few nits to pick. The list is offensive-heavy (63 out of the 100 are offensive players), which is the same problem Hall of Fame voters have wrestled with over the years. And the list is not as respectful of history as it should be; between 10 and 12 of the 100 made their marks in the first 30 years of the NFL's 91-year life. But that's not Films' fault. That's on the shoulders of the 85 voters (coaches, GMs, scouts, former players, media folk) who cast ballots for the top 100 last spring.
The show itself is great. Each Thursday, 10 names are counted down. Last Thursday was 40 through 31 on the list, the seventh episode of the 10. And number 34 on the list, cornerback
Oh, the indignity!
"How can you tell me with a straight face that 33 other players had a greater impact?'' Sanders said on NFL Network, where he serves as an analyst.
Sanders, properly, is regarded as the best cover cornerback in NFL history, a ball magnet when quarterbacks chose to throw at him -- which wasn't often in his prime. He was an elusive and instinctive return man. Five times he was voted a first-team Associated Press All-Pro corner, and once more as a kick returner, in his 14-year career.
No modern defensive back scored like he did. He had touchdowns on interception returns (nine), punt returns (six), kickoff returns (three), receptions (three) and fumble returns (one), and those 22 touchdowns are the most by a defensive back in the modern era. It's hard to compare today's players to those from the first 40 years of the game because so many men who threw, passed or ran with the ball then -- like
Forget the off-field showmanship, however you view that. Sanders wasn't a physical corner and too often shied away from form tackling -- or any tackling. Whereas 2008 Hall of Fame inductee
So the question is: Did Deion get jobbed? Let me know what you think. I'll run a handful of opinions in my Tuesday mailbag column. For now, consider that Sanders was the 12th-rated defensive player in history and the second-rated cornerback in history by the measure of NFL Films. He was ranked ahead of
The following 11 defenders are rated higher. I don't know the order they're in, so I've listed them by my best guess of how they'll fall.
Lest you quickly look over those 11 and say, for instance, "Deion was better than the last couple of guys listed,'' consider this: Olsen made more Pro Bowls, 14, than any other defensive player in NFL history, and Smith is the alltime leader in sacks.
My opinion? Sanders is right where he should be. He's one of the most electric and important players I've seen in my 26 years covering the league, but I'd have him higher if he played more physically. Coincidentally, in my
One more note on the Top 100 series: Each player is introduced by an admirer. Usually those admirers are from the football world, but this week's show, counting down from 30 to 21, will include a couple of baseball players. I was provided a preview of the two segments they're a part of. A couple snippets:
"When you're sitting here as a chubby head coach in the National Football League and you have two good quarterbacks, you're a happy guy.''
"I was really happy we stole a win. We just got some breaks. Look at the Saints last year. They had plenty of breaks.''
"No Moss. No problem.''
The Saints have been dying for a running back to take the heat off
Not many players had as much pressure on them entering Sunday's games as Dunlap, a seventh-round pick by the Eagles in 2008 who had been nothing but a giant (6-foot-8) roster afterthought -- but who had to block, alternately, strong pass-rushers
The two-time Canadian Football League defensive player of the year, who always knew he could play in the NFL, is finally proving it. He had three sacks Sunday in the Dolphins' overtime win at Green Bay, giving him six in five games. The combination of Wake and
In a tight game throughout, and playing for the special-teams-challenged Dolphins, Carpenter was three-for-three in field goals, from an average distance of 46 yards, in the hostile environment of Lambeau Field, complete with 11-mph winds Sunday. His 53-yarder in the second quarter tied the game at 10. His 41-yarder put the Dolphins up 13-10. And in overtime, he drilled a 44-yard strike down the middle of the plate to win it, 23-20.
The Rams, 6-42 in the past three seasons heading into this one, stunned the Chargers to get to 3-3, a half-game behind AFC West co-leaders Arizona and Seattle, after six weeks. Which is amazing enough. But more amazing is that Spagnuolo has taken a non-pressure defense and turned it into a feisty group bringing more pressure than any recent Rams D. On Sunday, the defense got to Philip Rivers seven times, two each by the famous
Weis, the former offensive coordinator of the Patriots, had a fourth-and-one from the Houston two midway through the first quarter at Houston.
McClain's smarter than the play he made in overtime that helped New England win. In a scrum after a no-gain on second-and-nine from the Baltimore 20 with 6:40 left, McClain got into a tiff with Patriot
Five strange ones, courtesy of the 2-4 San Diego (Underachieving Once Again) Chargers:
1. San Diego is 2-0 at home, 0-4 on the road ... winning by an average of 28, losing by an average of 6.3.
2. The Chargers lost twice in Missouri in the span of 34 days.
3. Philip Rivers is on pace to break Dan Marino's single-season passing-yardage record by 271 yards, whatever good that does.
4. The Chargers have outgained the opposition by 1,065 yards.
5. In six games, they've lost nine fumbles, had three punts blocked and had the opposition score touchdowns on returns of punts, kicks, interceptions and blocked punts.
It's the elephant in the room, but let's face it:
In his first two San Diego seasons, Merriman had 27 sacks in 27 games, and missed none due to injury. In that second season, he was suspended four games for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. In the third season, he was still good, with 12.5 sacks, but suffered a knee injury late in the season that plagued him into the next offseason, when he should have had surgery but went against the advice of the Chargers and tried to play the next season with no operation. He couldn't. So in the last three years, he has missed 18 games due to injury and had only four sacks.
Knee, calf, shoulder, Achilles. "He's had these muscle deals,'' coach
Fair or unfair, one of the byproducts of some performance-enhancers, obviously, is muscle and soft-tissue injuries. Merriman will be shadowed by the steroid suspension until he puts another good season together.
Not a big fan of princesses, either in the real world or the travel world. Across the aisle from me Saturday morning on the Acela was one of them. Walked onto the train in Boston. Took one look at a four-seat table with the large card saying, "Reserved for parties of 3 or more,'' threw the card on the floor, and then sat there, alone but with a invisible force field around her, for the entire trip. Despite the announcement advising passengers to please keep your feet off the seats, she put her Uggs on the leather seat in front of her. She talked too loudly on the phone, with an annoying lilt to her voice.
I'm quite glad when we got to New York, I headed for the subway uptown and she headed for parts unknown.
"Did you notice jenn sterger's name backwards spells 'regrets'?''
Evidently, Ms. Regrets, the former Jets sideline host, is having none of this NFL investigation.
a. Good for you, Houston Texans, having a week of activities celebrating your local veterans and the USO at practice and then at your game with the Chiefs Sunday. Can't do enough for them.
b. Thank you,
c. Aaron Rodgers! You found
g. Denver did enough to win. More than enough. Losing that game is going to hurt for more than a few days.
i. The combination of
k. Seattle taking the fight to the Bears, sacking
a. The wholesale jumping to conclusions when Mike Vick didn't show up with the rest of the team Sunday morning in Philadelphia. Andy Reid knew Vick was going to be the third quarterback against Atlanta. He knew Vick, in fact, was only going to play in the event of injuries knocking out Kolb and backup-for-the-day
b. California football. Yay! Niners win! Niners win! That lifts the state to 5-13 ... and 0-10 on the road.
c. The NFC North. The fact that the Vikings can be 1.5 games out of first after how shaky they've been is ... well, a tribute to Chicago losing two out of three and Green Bay dropping three out of four.
d. The interference call on
f. I like
g. I mean, just saying.
h. A lot of good seats empty in Tampa. Looked like entire rows in the upper deck at about the 10-yard line ... against the Super Bowl champs, by the way.
i. Late getting over on that second-quarterback Brees touchdown pass,
j. How does Dallas hold Minnesota to 188 yards, corral
k. Well, start with 11 more penalties, I guess. How in the world does
l. HOW DO YOU NOT CALL A HIT ON THE DEFENSELESS RECEIVER,
m. I can't think of a coach under more pressure than Houston defensive coordinator
n. Unless you start talking Wade Phillips.
o. Pittsburgh/New Orleans 69, Tampa Bay 19.
p. Cheap shot on
The 36-year-old, alltime leading receiver in Giants' history has never run a marathon. "I think I might be able to raise $20,000 if I can run the race in under four hours,'' Toomer said the other day. "I've already run 20 miles -- in about 2 hours and 40 minutes -- and I really hope I can break four hours.''
He said running a marathon is something he's always wanted to do, for many reasons. The challenge, for one, and to bust a few myths about football players. "People think football players don't translate to other sports,'' he said. "But football players can run. We can get in shape to run long distances.''
And, apparently, to run pretty fast. Running a sub-four-hour race would put Toomer on a pace of about 9:15 per mile. He's a (much) better man than I.
"I hate the timeouts designed to ice kickers. The idea is to call them at the last possible second -- late enough, in fact, that the kicker must kick the ball twice for one field goal. His first kick won't count because of the timeout but the second one will. The opposition is hoping that if a kicker has to kick the ball twice, his leg will be a tad less powerful the second time he has to swing it. If I were the commissioner, I'd incorporate a rule that the opposition cannot call a timeout on field goal attempts once the play clock winds down to five seconds.''
The players association should get in on this one. Aren't the players always saying they don't like an expansion of overtime because they don't want more plays added to the game -- plays that could result in more injuries? The field-goal block has all sorts of injury risks, with edge rushers flying around. Why just let an extra field-goal try stand? Plus, the whole concept is annoying as heck.
a. I don't know if the Yankees will win that series, because
b. Run, do not walk, to see
Watching kids fail to get one of the very few spots in proven charter schools, then having to trudge back to underperforming neighborhood public schools, is heartbreaking. The saddest part, to me, was seeing a school administrator with a solid plan to fix the Washington, D.C., academic standards,
c. Oh, and don't make this a King-hates-unions or --teachers-unions issue. It's not. It's about doing right by the children we're supposed to be training to take our jobs, and about us needing to do a much better job.
d. Rest in peace,
"From 1957 to 1963 and in decades of reruns, the glamorous June, who wore pearls and high heels at home, could be counted on to help her husband, Ward (
Perfect!!! In honor of June's death, I give you my three favorite Barbara Billingsley Quotes of Her Life:
e. June, with a worried expression, to her seething husband: "Oh Ward, you're being too hard on the Beaver.''
f. Billingsley, in the 1980 movie
g. Billingsley, to one of the inner-city passengers, telling him the flight attendant was going to get medical help: "Jus' hang loose blood -- she gonna catch up onna rebound on the med side.''
h. Imagine how many takes it must have taken for a prim 64-year-old mom to get that right. Her accent -- perfect. Do I have a reader out there who, 30 years ago, worked on the set of
i. You know, it's not easy going from a mini-review of
j. Coffeenerdness: The one flaw of the Acela is the horribly watered-down coffee. I want to like Green Mountain coffee, and I've had some good blends of it. But the stuff they serve on the train is borderline useless. I keep giving it a chance because I'm usually desperate for it on a Saturday morning, but it continually disappoints.
k. Anybody No. 1 in college football? Not to parrot
l. My thoughts are with Rutgers defensive tackle
m. Not a good day for presumptive first-round QB
n. Anyone else creeped out by the Philly crowd whistling at
Ross -- who hit two bombs off
Get ready to see a Tennessee pass-rush with a bunch of guys you've never heard of getting all over