Week 11 sets up most thrilling Thanksgiving lineup of games ever
I love Thanksgiving. Always have. It's the food mostly, and seeing family I haven't seen in a while. Football's always been a part of it, but never the central part. This year might be different. This week, I'm going to politely have to say, "Uh, I need to watch 10 hours of football on Thanksgiving.''
It's not going to work, but a fellow can try. The TV's going off at some point, and it'll be off for a couple of hours at least, as it should be. But the one thing that's happened in the last month is that every game Thursday is now incredibly relevant. This is likely the best combo platter of football games the league's ever had on Thanksgiving, and certainly the best tripleheader since the league added the night game in 2006.
Detroit corners Dick LeBeau (yes, that Dick LeBeau) and Night Train Lane picked off Bart Starr on that Thanksgiving Day 49 years ago, and Detroit handed Green Bay its only loss of a 13-1 championship season.
Back to the future: Detroit scored 49 and won for the second time in six weeks Sunday, and with the Bears on their heels, the Lions will be playing this one like a playoff game. If the season ended today, Detroit's the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs and Chicago the sixth. A fourth loss puts the Lions into Falcons/Giants/Cowboys tiebreaker land.
San Francisco could be playing to tie Green Bay for the league's best record by nightfall. I haven't been much into the Harbaugh Bowl thing, but it's going to be fun. Saw a snippet of the NFL Network's feature on the Harbaugh family that will run on the network's pregame coverage Thursday, and it's interesting how much of their football-coaching Dad the two boys have taken with them to the NFL.
Jack Harbaugh, schooled under Bo Schembechler, used to say to the boys that the three most important things in football coaching are the team, the team and the team. And so Jim Harbaugh put that on the wall of the team meeting room at the 49ers. And John Harbaugh, when introduced as head coach of the Ravens, repeated his dad's mantra. This will be, by the way, the first time in the 92-year history of the NFL that two brothers head-coach against each other.
The NFL never thought last spring when making this schedule that the league would be leaving only the leftovers for the 12 Sunday games. That's what's happened. Only one of next Sunday's games (Chicago at Oakland) pairs two teams with winning records. And the three Thursday games have six teams with a combined 42-18 record. The Harbaugh Bowl looked nice as a family story, but not as a football game, not with the Niners being the latter-day Niners. We saw the Lions coming. But the Pack, flawless?
I was surprised Sunday to hear Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy talk about how much he liked playing the Thanksgiving game. "We're pretty experienced at it -- this will be our third time in six years,'' he told me. Third time in five, actually. Green Bay played at Detroit on Thanksgiving in 2007 and 2009.
"I love playing on Thanksgiving,'' McCarthy said. "I think the players really like it too. Our battle cry here has been, 'Three games in 11 days.' It's an honor to play on the holiday. And it gives the players something to look forward to -- a break in the season. It's human nature to look for the light at the end of the tunnel, and once we play this game, our guys can get a couple extra days to rest. I think they like the quick turnaround anyway.''
After we spoke, McCarthy was headed up to his office to finish game-planning for Detroit. "We get their game [on digital video] in at 9 o'clock tonight,'' he said. Today and tomorrow, and early Wednesday, the coaches will install the game plan. "It's just a one-hour flight,'' said McCarthy, "so we'll leave a little later than usual Wednesday and be ready to go.''
The six teams will have mini-bye-weeks after the games. If you can survive the quick turnaround, playing on Thanksgiving is a big edge for your last five weeks of the season.
I asked two reporters who saw Cutler after the game, and neither said he was flexing or holding his hand in any way that would make you think he was hurt. About an hour after the game, word leaked through FOX's Jay Glazer that Cutler had a broken thumb, and soon after that, the story spread like wildfire through the Chicago press, with reports that Cutler would miss six to eight weeks. This morning, on WBBM radio in Chicago, coach Lovie Smith admitted Cutler had a fracture of his right thumb, and he was injured chasing down Cason.
The sad part of this is how the Bears, with Mike Martz and Cutler figuring how to move him in and out of the pocket to avoid the pressure that had been plaguing him in his Chicago career, finally got the offense going well. In Chicago's record 5-0 run, Cutler's been the franchise quarterback Chicago traded for in 2009. He'd been sacked only five times while putting up 32 points a game. Into the lineup steps Caleb Hanie, who has never started an NFL game. If he's Curtis Painter, the Bears are in big trouble. If he's better, Chicago could hold onto the sixth and final NFC playoff spot and be a factor when -- if -- Cutler returns in January.
Luckily for the Dolphins, there's going to be a very deep pool of quarterbacks in the April draft. If Saturday night showed us anything -- with USC's Matt Barkley shredding Oregon in Eugene, and Robert Griffin III and Landry Jones playing lights out on downfield throws in Baylor's win over Oklahoma, it's that quarterback life doesn't begin and end with Luck in college football this year. What Moore has done well, after his 2010 debacle in Carolina, is keep the chains moving and make sure the Miami defense doesn't have to win every game.
He was the Pitt quarterback who won the starting job in 2004, forcing Joe Flacco to transfer to Delaware. The rest is, sort of, history. Palko faded under Dave Wannstedt at Pitt and went undrafted. Flacco ascended at Delaware and was a first-round pick of the Ravens in 2008. My favorite year on the Palko resume: 2009. Cut by the Cardinals in training camp, he went to camp in the United Football League with Denny Green's California Redwoods. But he lost the job to Shane Boyd, and Mike McMahon (the clean-shaven former Lion) and someone named Liam O'Hagan also played quarterback for the 'Woods in 2009. But not Palko. "The way I was raised,'' said Palko, "you're not too good to be brought down to earth or to be fired. I don't really look at it as a low point in my career.''
He's a braver man than I, not being able to earn one of three quarterback jobs with a United Football League team. Then it was up to Montreal, to the Canadian Football League Alouettes practice squad. Though he was eventually activated, he never threw a pass for the Alouettes either. When the Steelers had two quarterback injuries late in the season, Palko signed as a backup there. In the span of three months, he was in camp with four teams -- Cardinals, Redwoods, Alouettes, Steelers -- in three leagues ... and never threw a pass. Now, because Matt Cassel is hurt and rookie Ricky Stanzi isn't ready, Palko starts against the Patriots on national TV. Nobody, except Palko, is expecting much. But it's a heck of a story.
The cogent points you need to know about Peyton Manning's contract, and how it impacts the 2012 draft plans of the Indianapolis Colts:
1. Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, together, would count $21.2 million against the 2012 salary cap, which is not prohibitive. The 2012 cap number for each team will be approximately $121 million.
You can substitute any player for Luck if you choose, because since the new CBA came out, the first-round picks are paid sanely. Manning's number will be $17 million if the Colts exercise his contract option after the season. The first pick in the draft will have a cap number of about $4.2 million (Cam Newton's in 2011 was $4 million) in a total deal of four years and about $23 million.
This means the Colts, who have to make hard decisions on veteran producers who will be unrestricted free agents next March -- like Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis and Jeff Saturday (combined 2011 cap number: $17.94 million) -- will certainly be able to clear the money to keep Manning and draft his heir. In case you doubt the Colts' willingness to clear the decks, keep this in mind: In 2006, then-GM Bill Polian ignored the fan howlings and let Edgerrin James walk in free agency; he drafted Joseph Addai in the first round the next year, and the Colts won their only Super Bowl of the Manning Era that season.
Maybe the Colts try to get Saturday back for a year to smooth the transition, but they won't blink about losing very good veterans, such as the 33-year-old Wayne, if history is a judge.
2. The Colts can't trade Manning before his huge $28 million option bonus is due. The bonus is payable several days before the start of the 2012 league year, traditionally around March 1. Trades can't be made until the league year begins. So if Manning and his agent, Tom Condon, don't agree to extend the deadline for payment of the option, the Colts will have to let him go for nothing or exercise the option and pay him huge money ... and perhaps not know for sure if he's going to be whole with his neck injury for 2012.
3. There is some logical financial pressure on the Colts to make the Manning decision before the option is due. In terms of cash paid to Manning in 2012, if the Colts hold onto him for the 2012 season, the number is $35.4 million (the $28 million bonus and $7.4 million salary). For a franchise like Indianapolis, which is not among the leaders in revenue production, a $35.4 million cash outlay for a guy who may not last a full season is a pretty big risk.
4. It's complicated, and I won't bore you, but the Colts would save $6.6 million on the cap next year by jettisoning Manning before the option bonus is due. Cap number in 2012 if they keep Manning is $17 million. Cap number if they sever ties before the league year begins: $10.4 million.
5. Luck's a ridiculous bargain, whoever gets him. Just think: Manning will make $28 million in late February if the Colts exercise his option, with no guarantee that he'll play one play for them. Luck will make $23 million for the next four years, max. And Manning, if kept and active in 2012, will make $12 million more in 2012 than Luck makes in four years.
6. If the Colts draft Luck and cut Manning, it would be cheaper on the cap than if they keep Manning. Combined cap hit for cutting Manning and first-year cap number for Luck: $14.6 million, some $2.4 million less than keeping Manning and trading the first overall pick. Of course, that depends how far down in the draft Indianapolis goes -- and what the cap hits are of the picks they get if they make a deal.
Bottom line: The cap hit for keeping Manning and drafting Luck would be quite tolerable, but there's significant motivation for the Colts to have hard proof that Manning can play by February. It's almost inconceivable to think if he were still struggling physically come early February that the Colts would shell out $35 million to keep a 36-year-old player whose health they aren't sure about.
"Good luck the rest of the way. Stay healthy.''
A bit ironic.
"I don't even know what football is right now. I don't know what hitting is, I don't know what tackling is, and I've been in this league a long time. I can't tell what's a personal foul or what's anything anymore.''
"I don't like it because it's college football. This is the NFL. Those teams don't win."
Using that option offense, the Broncos are 4-1.
Composite score in Miami's three-game winning streak: Dolphins 86, Foes 20.
Possessions by foes in the three-game winning streak: 35.
Touchdowns by foes in the three-game winning streak: zero.
For all of you (and me, too) starting to get interested in the Packer run at perfection, keep in mind that they have a game with Chicago remaining -- on Christmas night at Lambeau Field.
Margin of victory in the last six Bear-Packer meetings: 3, 6, 7, 3, 7, 10.
Green Bay's 4-2 in those six games, but in the immortal words of Laura King: I'm just SAYING.
One of those Packer seven-point wins came late last season, when Chicago had absolutely nothing to play for, and powerful Green Bay had one drive of more than 35 yards in 13 possessions. Pack won 10-3.
Green Bay and Chicago played 12 quarters last season, including the NFC title game at Soldier Field. Discounting defensive scores, the composite score: Packers 41, Bears 37.
The Cutler injury obviously will play a role in the December matchup, but I will be surprised if the Bears go quietly into the night when they play Green Bay.
New York: the town where D-list celebrities feel so special.
In the short time I've lived in Manhattan now, I have gotten the following salutations on the busy streets or in buildings:
"Peter King!'' (A few times.)
"Hey! The ESPN guy!''
"You're that football guy! What's your name?''
"Peter! Giants going to the Super Bowl?'' (No, I answered. "You're kidding!'' the guy said.)
"Peter! Love your column!''
And my personal favorite: "Chris! ... Chris! ... HEY CHRIS!'' So I turn and say, "Hi. It's Peter.'' And he said, "You look so familiar -- just like a guy I went to college with!''
"DeSean Jackson: "People don't understand the light I bring and shine on my teammates." Whatever that means ...''
"You got to be kidding me!!! I am going to puke!!!''
a. Now this is good reporting: Mike Klis of the
b. Eric Mangini's really good on TV. Smart. He distills complicated football concepts down to understandable terms. Jet fans would be surprised to hear this, but I find him likable on ESPN.
c. Welcome to the 2011 season, Taylor Mays. The hit of the day by Mays on the Ravens' return man, Tom Zbikowski, set a tone for the Bengals that normally might be set by the absent Ray Lewis of Baltimore.
d. Miami tight end Anthony Fasano, who makes a play every week.
e. B.J. Raji. The Fridge, 26 years later.
f. Jordy Nelson gets better every time I watch him.
g. Christian Ponder, turning what should have been a sack into a 28-yard drive-saving scramble.
h. Guess who's got the AFC's best road record. It'll surprise you. Oakland (4-1). Raiders hung on at Minnesota.
i. Second-best? Surprise you even more. Cincinnati (4-2).
j. Michael Bush, 60 carries for 266 yards the last two games. How many backs in this day and age get 30 carries two weeks in a row?
a. I'm a fan of Jon Gruden's analysis most of the time, but he loses me when he says that Greg Jennings "is the most feared deep-ball receiver in the NFL.'' Most complete receiver, he's in the argument. Most feared going deep? Stop.
b. Ninety-five yards. Season on the line. That'll be on the Jets' 2011 epitaph unless they do an about-face.
c. Andy Dalton, you forgot A.J. Green wasn't playing yesterday. You sent Andre Caldwell, four inches shorter and not nearly the athlete Green is, into the end zone and threw up a jump ball -- in a serious misjudgment -- and Ed Reed picked it off. Dalton's been a smart, precocious quarterback this year, but that was a dumb, dumb decision.
d. Buyer's remorse. Ryan Fitzpatrick.
e. Fitzpatrick's 1-3 since signing his $59 million deal. Passer rating the last three weeks: 51.9, 46.6, 45.8.
f. Giants 29 rushing yards. Really? That's how you come out and play your rivals?
g. No moral victories, Tampa.
h. Bad loss for Steve Spagnuolo. Very bad.
i. Eight games for Sam Bradford. Five touchdown passes.
j. Chargers: 4-1 pre-bye, 0-5 post-bye.
k. Explain to me, Dashon Goldson, the logic of punching another man with a football helmet on his head. How exactly does that exact some sort of revenge on him?
l. NFL Network's
m. Your five minutes are up, John Skelton.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine wasn't going to let Tebow find a seam in the front four or five and dive for the first down. Pettine knew Tebow would probably run out of an empty, or near-empty backfield. That was a run blitz and it should have worked ... except for how safety Eric Smith played it.
Watch Smith on the replay. His job, as the wide rusher, was to contain Tebow and force him to run inside on a third-and-four play; presumably, the inside traffic of eight rushers against six blockers would catch Tebow. But Smith wedged himself too far inside toward the left tackle, enabling Tebow to get outside the containment process and run for the touchdown. All play calls stink when they don't work. But I blame Smith far more than Pettine on this one.
You can hear Tebow, barely, saying, "Same play. Same play on one.'' At least that's what it sounds like. And Tebow goes to the line in the same shotgun formation, takes the snap, and throws way short on exactly the same route to Thomas on the left sideline.
I was stunned. I mean, what's to stop coaches upstairs from plugging into the game telecasts, straining to listen to the play call in the huddle, and then relaying information down to the sidelines? If a quarterback, 12 to 15 seconds before he snaps the ball, says, "Same play'' in the huddle, isn't that information a defense could use, assuming the info could be transmitted to at least someone on that defense before the snap of the ball?
a. Just read that Robert Wagner is not a suspect in the drowning death of Natalie Wood a generation ago. After the events of last week, in which the boat captain the night she died directly blames Wagner, my question is: Why on earth wouldn't Wagner be a suspect, and if he isn't, why is the investigation being reopened?
b. Happy 40th, Michael Strahan. Heck of a gap-toothed cake they gave you on FOX Sunday.
c. Toledo's averaging 54.5 points per game in its last four. The football team, I'm talking about.
d. Thanks for all of your well-wishes about our 12-year-old Golden retriever, Bailey. She went in to have a large tumor removed from her liver Friday, and she's home now, resting and sleeping and snoring. Quite an adventure, getting her to take those pain pills. But I've passed along your mountain of Twitter niceties to her, and they are truly appreciated.
Shaughnessy's right. The Sox should have insisted on Matt Garza or forced Epstein to sit for the season.
f. Coffeenerdness I: I'm sure this will stun and disappoint all you coffee nerds, but I've outgrown the egg nog latte. I must have. Had one Saturday, my first and probably only one of the season, and couldn't finish it. Just too sweet.
g. Coffeenerdness II: Something I never heard at a Starbucks before Thursday: "I'll have a grande milk please."
h. Beernerdness: Yes, we've moved from Boston. But no, we didn't leave Harpoon behind. Very pleased to get reacquainted with the Harpoon Winter Warmer over the weekend. I'd forgotten how great is it. Cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon -- it's an experience, almost something you'd want to drink warm like hot cider. Then I noticed in the weekend
Watch Carter for a few snaps, and it's clear he still has the burst that made him a mainstay on the Niner line before moving to Washington in free agency -- and the strength, at 6-4 and 255, to overpower D'Brickashaw Ferguson a couple of times in the game last week. It'll be interesting to see if he can keep it up tonight against a tackle who has had his struggles this year, Branden Albert. Albert has been called for seven penalties and allowed four sacks this season. One other thing about Carter: he said he counts himself as one of the lucky veterans to have found a job after the lockout. "There's a lot of guys who just never got a chance,'' said Carter. "That's pretty tough. Like Julian Peterson. He could still help somebody. But he didn't get signed. Lots of people forget about those guys.''