Last week I thought the replacement officials were adequate. Watching football Sunday, I felt like a passenger in a car going 20 miles an hour too fast on a mountain road with hairpin turns; we weren't going to die, but it was going to be a dicey ride.
The Philadelphia-Baltimore game, in particular, careened from one wild post-whistle scrum to the next, with no ejections; from one two-minute warning to another (there were two in the fourth quarter, one with 2:05 left in the game); and from one replay reversal to another (there were three reviews and two reversals), including the strangest and most illogical three-minute delay of the day.
With two minutes left in the game and the ball at the Baltimore 1-yard line, Michael Vick went back to pass, with replacement referee Robert Frazier standing five yards behind him, looking directly at Vick. Haloti Ngata rushed, and just as Ngata wrapped up Vick, the quarterback threw a pass about five yards, incomplete, as he fell to the ground.
The CBS replay from behind, in slow-motion, showed Frazier staring at the play and ruling ... nothing. The other officials looked at one another, unsure what to do, and Frazier jogged into the area around the 2-yard line, where a Raven was laying on the ball. Three officials looked at Frazier, who said something, and then head lineman Michael Bell pointed that it was Baltimore's ball, and a first down. "They're ruling Baltimore football!'' an incredulous Greg Gumbel said on TV. Frazier walked away, fiddling with the microphone on his belt, as if he wanted to say something to the disbelieving crowd, then saying nothing, then, a few seconds later, saying the play was under review.
I should hope so.
Three minutes and three seconds later, Frazier emerged from under the hood to say the play was reversed, and it was an incomplete pass.
Frazier was staring at Vick as he was contacted by Ngata, began to fall, and clearly threw the ball five yards down the field. Maybe it's intentional grounding. Maybe it's a simple incompletion. But to miss that call, or, worse, to be too indecisive to not make the call and simply hope someone else had a better view of it and could rescue you from making a game-turning call, illustrates how ill-suited this crew was for a game of this intensity, this magnitude.
At the NBC studios, where I watched the games Sunday, I sat for much of the day with former NFL official Jim Daopoulos, hired by the network as an officiating consultant. Daopoulos thought the replacements did a passable job in Week 1, as most impartial observers would have. But he thought there was something troubling about the Week 2 performances.
"Now the players are taking advantage of the lack of experience and the lack of game-control by the replacement officials,'' Daopoulos said during the second half of the Sunday night game. "They're just too inconsistent. The players are pushing them. And the inconsistency is natural, because this is not something you can learn as quickly as they have to learn it. They don't know what illegal contact is; it's a rule that was put in to allow receivers to be able to run free after five yards, and these crews do not know the rule, or they're not calling it correctly.''
During the day, I saw Daopoulos texting a few times. He was communicating with officials he knew from his years on the field and as an NFL officiating supervisor, a job he left last spring. "The officials want to talk. They want to be back on the field. To a man, they want to come back,'' he said.
Roger Goodell added $1 million to the league's offer to the officials 16 days ago, the last day of substantive talks between the regular officials and the league. Now each side has gone underground; the NFL has dug in, believing it's made its final offer, and the officials have stopped returning phone calls (mine, at least) and emails, clearly figuring they have nothing to say except at the bargaining table. One officiating source told me Sunday there will be pressure this week from the rank-and-file to make one last push to try to get something else from the league, and then settle.
What do I think will happen? Roger Goodell, who thinks he's given enough already (raises of about $50,000 per official over the life of a new contract, while converting to less lucrative pensions, which the league has done with the majority of its full-time employees), will stay dug in. If union leaders Scott Green and Jeff Triplette hear the siren song of their men, I think either this week or next there will be renewed talks, and the deal will get done. But that's if Green and Triplette give in, and I don't know if they will. I sense Green is the hard-liner here. If he's not willing to give in on the pension, the situation could last a while.
Whatever, Joe Flacco said the thing that made the most sense Sunday, and the only thing that's regrettable is he was the losing quarterback in Philadelphia, so what he says can be seen as sour grapes. Flacco said of the NFL: "They talk about the integrity of the game, and I think this is along those lines. The fact that we don't have the normal guys out there is pretty crazy.''
The game in Philadelphia showed that.
Now on with the rest of Week 2.
Five takeaways from Sunday:
1. Handshake, shmandshake. I knew the Georgetown and Michigan coaches (Schwartz, Harbaugh) were too smart, and their PR staffs too worldly wise, to allow the handshake thing to simmer Sunday night. So they shook hands before the game, looking friendly, and spent a good three seconds together post-game in a fraternal shake.
2. Coughlin's right. Schiano's wrong. I agree with playing to the final gun. No problem. But when one team is holding up the white flag, with a quarterback in full kneel-down mode, it's a mistake to pig-pile on him. There's a 1-in-1,000 chance the defense can jar the ball loose before the quarterback kneels and the whistle blows, but more likely what results is the risk of injury, on both sides of the ball. No question in my mind that if Schiano keeps trying to wreck victory formations, his own players will pay for it -- and maybe in the form of retribution from vengeful players in the future.
3. Kudos, Reggie Bush. I have to admit I never thought I'd see the day when Bush carried it 26 times for 172 yards against a front like Oakland's. More about Bush in Tuesday's column, but he did tell me after the game, "This doesn't surprise me. I always knew whatever my role was, and however they want to use me, I can do it.''
4. And kudos to you, Andrew Luck. RGIII last week, Luck this week, with a 20-of-31, 224-yard, two-touchdown, zero-turnover day. "I'm getting more comfortable every day,'' he said from Indianapolis. Luck made a beautiful touchdown throw to Reggie Wayne, a 30-yarder as time ticked down in the first half, looking off the safety -- actually, throwing it over the safety -- and making sure he didn't get too greedy too early in the throw against the Vikings' Cover-2. I asked him what he'd remember most about the day when he thinks back on his first NFL victory. "Adam's kick,'' he said, referring to Adam Vinatieri's 53-yard game-winner in the 23-20 win. "And I'll remember looking like a fool when the refs didn't run the clock when I thought they should. I bet that looked really nice on TV. I'm sure I looked like a fool -- but I'll take it.''
5. Nice run by Tebow. So far the Timmycat has yielded 11 snaps at quarterback and one run -- for 23 yards Sunday at Pittsburgh. We're still waiting for the fun, Rex.
6. A bad, bad injury for Washington. Or two. Defensive end Adam Carriker is likely to have knee surgery -- how serious, we won't know until an MRI today -- and linebacker Brian Orakpo re-injured the pectoral muscle he hurt in 2011. Very bad news for the Redskins.
And in Atlanta tonight, Dunta Robinson steps in for Brent Grimes, one of the best young corners in the league, and he'll bring experience to the Georgia Dome with him. Grimes is gone for the year with an Achilles tear, and if the Falcons are going to have a chance to be great this year, Robinson will be better than adequate in his place. The fact that Robinson didn't play great over the past two years was one of the reasons Atlanta went out and spent $7 million a year on Asante Samuel. Now Robinson's back, with lots of Peyton Manning memories from the 12 times he faced him while a Houston Texan.
"I see a guy who's just knocked the rust off and is still one of the all-time greats,'' said Robinson. I asked him about the NBC video that showed two out patterns, one before neck surgery and one after, showing Manning throwing 2 mph slower today. "I saw that,'' said Robinson. "But to me, that's like Roger Clemens going from 100 miles an hour to 98. He's still got a fastball to strike you out. I've watched Peyton make all the throws, and his balls still drop right into the receivers' chests.
"Our biggest job in this game,'' Robinson told me, "is to make sure we communicate every play, and everyone knows exactly what the other guys are going to do on the play. We can't have one guy hung out to dry, because Peyton will find him if we've got one guy who doesn't know what the others are doing."
Has the balance of power shifted West?
After tonight, when the 1-0 Broncos and 1-0 Falcons meet, there will be a nice symmetrical breakdown in the NFL standings, barring a tie in the Georgia Dome:
Teams with 2-0 records: 6.
Teams with 1-1 records: 20.
Teams with 0-2 records: 6. There's only one 0-2 team in the NFC -- New Orleans.
The NFC West went 4-0 Sunday. The San Francisco win over Detroit was expected, but the other three outcomes -- Arizona 20, New England 18; St. Louis 31, Washington 28; Seattle 27, Dallas 7 -- were not. Add San Diego's 38-10 annihilation of Tennessee and the possible ascension of Denver with Peyton Manning, and you see how the rise of good teams in the two western divisions could turn out to be one of the story lines of the season.
For the record, there have been only two of 46 Super Bowls featuring both teams from the Mountain and Pacific time zones: San Francisco over Denver in 1990, San Francisco over San Diego in 1995.
If it's a California Super Bowl rematch from the Niners-Chargers of 18 years ago, I doubt it will be the same kind of game as it was then, when Steve Young set the Super Bowl record with six touchdown passes. San Francisco has the NFC's best defense, and San Diego has played great defense through the first two weeks. A quick look at the three teams in the West that have started 2-0:
Arizona. What a game the Cardinals' D played in Foxboro Sunday, in their upset of the Patriots that no one saw coming. Arizona now has a premier pass rusher, Calais Campbell (two sacks of Tom Brady), a great and versatile defensive tackle in Darnell Dockett, speedy linebackers in Sam Acho and Daryl Washington and an excellent secondary with strong safety play from Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes, and the man who personally stopped an important New England drive in the fourth quarter. Cornerback Patrick Peterson overpowered his blocker to stop Stevan Ridley for a four-yard loss, forcing the Patriots, down 11, to punt. He could have been an outside linebacker or safety on the play, watching him shed the block so easily.
"Well,'' he said by phone later, "I have the size for both of those positions. That was a huge, huge play.''
Playing 96 snaps -- all 82 on defense, 12 on special teams and two on offense -- Peterson and the Cardinals showed remarkable staying power, and obviously got lucky at the end when Stephen Gostkowski shanked what would have been the winning field goal. "Fifty-three men expected this,'' he said. "No one else. This is the kind of win we can use to build something solid here."
SanDiego. The Chargers have held Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson, two threats to win the rushing title, to 49 yards in 23 carries. Rookie 3-4 defensive end Kendall Reyes has solidified a weak position, and the Chargers finally seem to have found some help for a defense that too long relied on underachieving high draft picks. Offensively, Philip Rivers is a 74-percent passer with a bunch of targets he's still getting used to, but the best news is he's not taking the kind of risks that got him in so much trouble last year, when he threw 20 interceptions. Through two games, he's thrown one.
San Francisco. The 49ers and Houston have distanced themselves from the pack in the first two weeks. They're the best teams in football. Sunday night against Detroit, Alex Smith continued to show he's more than just a complementary piece to the puzzle. He makes winning plays, winning throws, and he is the perfect pilot for Jim Harbaugh's methodical, exacting ways. In the second half Sunday, with Detroit hanging around, Smith engineered drives of 10, 10 and 13 plays in succession. The results: field goal, field goal, touchdown. Smith's 115.9 rating after two games is best in the league for quarterbacks who have played two games. And on Sunday night, Smith got cut on the bridge of his nose when he was hit while sliding. "He's as tough as a two-dollar steak,'' Harbaugh said. More valuable too.
Alfred Morris is following in some good footsteps.
Mike Shanahan, of course, likes the late-round, unknown running backs. He's always felt, with much justification, that you can find a back late in the draft who can help you win, and he's been doing it now for most of two decades in Denver and Washington. The latest: Florida Atlantic's Alfred Morris, who has taken over the starting job with the 'Skins and doesn't seem inclined to let it go anytime soon. To the right, charting Morris versus a former Bronco back who was one of Shanahan's best late-round finds.
Chris Johnson Abomination of the Week.
After two weeks, the would-be rushing champion is 71st in the league on the ground. His line: 19 attempts, 21 yards, 1.1 yards per carry, with a long gain of seven yards.
Don't forget one of the plays of the week, just because it's four days old.
The fake field goal attempt that was turned into a touchdown pass from Green Bay punter Tim Masthay to backup tight end Tom Crabtree Thursday night at Lambeau Field was remarkable for three reasons:
1. It was 4th-and-26. Green Bay was in field goal range. The chances of getting a touchdown on a 4th-and-26 fake field goal would be what? Ten percent? Five?
2. Dave Toub coaches the Chicago special teams and is far and away one of the smartest and most opportunistic special teams coaches in the league. His special teams have blocked more kicks and punts (22) in the nine years since he's been in Chicago than any other team in the league. If you're a good fan, you know Dave Toub. But before Thursday night, when the NFL Network's Mike Mayock and Brad Nessler started talking up Shawn (son of R.C.) Slocum, be honest: You had no idea who the Packers special teams coordinator was. You do now. That was one well-coached play.
3. It required such good coordination on the offensive line, and if any of six Packers up front had made an error, the play would have failed. No doubt about it.
I've watched the play now maybe 30 times, on the TV and all-22 video the NFL has made available this season. And I've spoken with the touchdown man, Crabtree. Here's how it happened.
The play was installed early in training camp this year, though as Mike McCarthy said Friday, the Packers had a similar play in the kicking game playbook for the last couple of years. The play has a chance to work when the defense overloads one side, as Chicago did on this play with seven men to the Packers' left. But here's what's amazing to me: Green Bay has to rely on three linemen blocking five Bears. If those Packer linemen don't do the job right, the play collapses. And if Slocum hadn't changed kicker Mason Crosby's assignment a couple of weeks ago, I say the play would have failed also.
Everything had to go right for the Packers, struggling on offense for the first 28 minutes, to score here. And just barely, it did.
The Green Bay line had Crabtree on the left flank and right tackle Bryan Bulaga on the right flank. The long-snapper, Brett Goode, had three men between him and Crabtree, and two were playing their second NFL games. To Goode's immediate left were the seventh and last offensive lineman on the roster, Don Barclay (an undrafted rookie free agent from West Virginia), regular left tackle Marshall Newhouse and rookie defensive tackle Jerel Worthy.
Across from the left side of the Green Bay line were five Bears -- three on the line, including Julius Peppers, and two behind them to act as pushers (linebackers Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach). "That is very standard when you're going for a field goal block,'' one veteran NFL special teams coach told me Saturday. "But what was different -- first time I've ever seen it, actually -- is the Packers putting a guard in motion to act as a lead blocker.''
That, the coach said, is amazing because of the pure mass of man the Packers were going to have to block to make the play work. Five men were charging or pushing through three Packers -- Goode, Barclay and Newhouse (Worthy was to the left of the scrum) -- and the Packers were willing to take a huge risk and send Barclay pulling right at the snap of the ball to clear the hole for the pitch-receiver, Crabtree, to run through. Blocking five with two. How does that make sense?
Goode and Newhouse, combined, weigh 574 pounds. The five Bears trying to knock the door down across from them (Urlacher and Roach pushing, with Julius Peppers, Henry Melton and Corey Wootton), combined, weigh 1,347. What a risk to think Goode and Newhouse could road-block five men for the time it would take Crabtree to go into motion, catch the pitch and turn upfield to try to score.
But at the snap of the ball, they did. Goode snapped, then leaned to the left to block, and right guard Josh Sitton came over to help, through the hole before it got filled by Crabtree. Newhouse did the best job; he blocked down to his right, and his big body created something like a huge log rolled into a pile. If you were going to get over it or through it, you have to be either very strong or jump very high. At the snap, Barclay sprinted into the hole, and Crabtree was a few steps behind him, taking the pitch-pass and turning the corner. Just as he turned, Peppers got a big hand on him, barely. "Never felt it,'' Crabtree told me. "Must have been the adrenaline."
Now for the role of Crosby. "That's where a little bit of luck comes into play,'' Crabtree said. "Mason rolls left, and holds their wing guy [Charles Tillman] from coming after me, and coach Slocum just put that in a couple of weeks ago.'' At the snap, Crosby took a step forward, as if he were going to kick it, then immediately wheeled to run very wide around left end. That froze Tillman. If Crosby doesn't run left, Tillman could have chased his man, Crabtree, and easily caught him from behind. "That,'' said Crabtree, "is a wrinkle that really paid off. We needed it.''
Sitton sealing the left side, and Bulaga cutting off the other wing man, Eric Weems, on the right, really helped, as did Evan Dietrich-Smith cutting off safety Chris Conte. When Barclay entered the hole, he helped eliminate Conte, but the real impressive thing was how quickly the 305-pound Barclay got out of the scrum, turned, and ran upfield. Really, he was the insurance agent here -- if any Bear clogged the lane, it was Barclay's job to eliminate him.
The next thing Green Bay knew, Crabtree was leaping into the south stands at Lambeau with the touchdown that kick-started the Packer offense -- and eliminated the play from being called for at least the rest of this season. Now, every special teams coach in the league will be wary of it. No more pulling 305-pound guards, no more shock-the-world 4th-and-26 calls, for a long time.
"That play's pretty much dead for a while,'' Crabtree said, laughing. "But I'd say the one time we ran it was worth it."
1. San Francisco (2-0). Alex Smith, year eight. And aren't you Niner fans very happy this morning he wasn't thrown out with the trash on any of about 68 autumn Monday mornings in the previous seven years?
2. Houston (2-0). Umm, I think I picked the wrong Texan as my 2012 Defensive Player of the Year in our magazine's NFL preview. I picked outside linebacker Brooks Reed, who's a fine player. But through two weeks, 3-4 defensive end J.J. Watt is one of the three or four best defenders in football: three sacks, five passes deflected ... and this is out of a position that's supposed to clear traffic for the linebackers to make big plays. The Texans have allowed 17 points in eight quarters thus far, and Watt's the biggest reason.
3. Green Bay (1-1). Offense is still a little shaky for my taste, but at least Mike McCarthy gets 11 days between games (with four full days off for the players Friday through today) before beginning prep work for the Monday nighter at Seattle.
4. Denver (1-0). Peyton Manning likes domes. Tonight is Manning's only dome game of the year. For that and several other reasons, I think the Falcons are in trouble.
5. San Diego (2-0). Jettisoned by the Panthers and Broncos, tight end Dante Rosario got signed as insurance for Antonio Gates and Randy McMichael by Norv Turner. In five previous seasons, he'd scored five touchdowns. On one afternoon in San Diego, he scored three.
6. Philadelphia (2-0). Nine turnovers in two games (but 942 total yards), and the Eagles are 2-0. Somebody's living right.
7. Baltimore (1-1). Ravens 67, Foes 37, after two weeks. I don't think there's a lot of shame in losing the kind of blood feud they lost to the Eagles on Sunday.
8. Atlanta (1-0). Brent Grimes missing the final 15 games will ultimately doom this team, unless Matt Ryan channels his inner Peyton. Weekly.
9. Arizona (2-0). Allowed 34 points in two games and won both, with a favorable schedule on the horizon. Three of the next four come at home (Philly, Miami, at St. Louis on a short week, Buffalo). By the way, Ryan Williams, you are a very lucky man, having been taken out of the doghouse by the missed Pats field goal attempt with a second to go.
10. New England (1-1). Waaaaaay too much leakage from the offensive line, and now it looks like half of the tight end luxury package (Aaron Hernandez) is gone for at least a month. I don't know how Tom Brady lasts 16 games if he's under the kind of pressure he was on Sunday, and if he's without Hernandez until Halloween.
11. Seattle (1-1). I've got the feeling that, by November, we'll be talking about the Seahawks as a legit contender with a top-five defense. If they stay this stingy (13.5 points allowed per game), it'll be more than a feeling.
12. Pittsburgh (1-1). The Steelers weren't supposed to be as good on defense without their two most famous defenders, Troy Polamalu and James Harrison. Then they went out and held the Jets to three points and 129 yards in the last 49 minutes of a 27-10 victory.
13. Washington (1-1). Good chance Washington would be 2-0 if Josh Morgan didn't have a momentary lapse of sanity in St. Louis. But all penalties and all points count.
14. Dallas (1-1). Bad sign for the Cowboys: They got physically handled by Seattle. Bad sign II: Sean Lee got his clock cleaned by an injury-prone wide receiver.
15. New York Giants (1-1). There was a nine-way tie for 15th. I don't know; I suppose 25 fourth-quarter points by the Giants does it for me. Or Eli Manning following three first-half picks with a 510-yard passing day.
Offensive Players of the Week
Reggie Bush, RB, Miami. I remember chortling in the preseason when Bush said his goal was to lead the league in rushing. Who's chortling now? Bush's 26-carry, 172-yard afternoon in the South Florida boiler led the Dolphins to their first win of Joe Philbin's head-coaching career.
Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, WR, New York Giants. Eli Manning targeted Gotham's dynamic duo 32 times at the Meadowlands. The final numbers, combined: 21 catches, 378 yards, 18.0 yards per catch, two touchdowns. Cruz, in particular, deserves a hand for playing with a heavy heart after burying the grandmother who helped raise him in nearby Paterson, N.J.
Dr. Z Unsung Man in the Trenches of the Week
The award for the offensive lineman who was the biggest factor for his team in the weekend's games, named for my friend Paul Zimmerman, the longtime SI football writer struggling in New Jersey to recover from three strokes in November 2008. Zim, a former collegiate offensive lineman himself, loved watching offensive line play.
Cordy Glenn, T, Buffalo. C.J. Spiller followed up a 169-yard performance last week with a 123-yarder Sunday against Kansas City, becoming the first back since Jim Brown in 1963 to have an average of more than 10 yards per rush after two weeks of a season. Against K.C., Glenn had a key block on the opening touchdown, a short pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Scott Chandler, and a few minutes later sprung Spiller on his first touchdown run of the day, a five-yarder, with a crushing block. And on the third scoring drive by the Bills, Glenn made a block to help spring Spiller for 27. Not bad for the 41st pick in the draft, starting as a rookie at the toughest spot on the line.
Defensive Players of the Week
Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona. The Cardinals defense is very good. Physically, the Cards took it to the Patriots Sunday, and the key play of the game, for my money, came with New England down 20-9 and 12 minutes to play, with the Pats having a 3rd-and-1 at the Arizona 39. The momentum was turning, and it seemed a matter of time before Brady would find a way to finish this drive and put one more together, and the Patriots would win a game that was far too hard. So Stevan Ridley ran around right end, and Paterson busted through the protection to blow up the play, tackling Ridley for a four-yard loss. He also intercepted Brady and had three tackles and a pass defensed.
Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay. He had six sacks in 2011. Took him five days to get that many this year. After a 2.5-sack day in the opener, he had 3.5 sacks of Jay Cutler Thursday -- and it actually should have been four, because he was falling with Cutler in his grasp when Erik Walden jumped in for a free half-sack. Hey, why not share a sack among friends? Defensive coordinator Dom Capers, by the way, has been looking for a bookend defender to take some of the pressure off Matthews, and he may have found him in linebacker D.J. Smith.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Matthew Mulligan, TE, St. Louis. On a day with two jillionaire quarterbacks dueling at the Bob Jones Dome, a backup tight end born in Bangor, Maine, and raised in Enfield, Maine, and high-schooled in Howland, Maine (and should I mention he went to the University of Maine, in Orono, Maine?) was the late star of the show. Mulligan blocked a Sav Rocca punt near the end of the third quarter of a tight game, and St. Louis recovered at the Washington 24. Four plays later, Mulligan worked his way through the line at the Washington one and caught the game-winning touchdown pass in a 31-28 Rams victory.
Adam Jones, PR/CB, Cincinnati. Two minutes into Bengals-Browns, Jones took a punt at the Bengals 19 and sprinted through the Cleveland punt team like the old Pacman. After the 81-yard touchdown return, Cincinnati never trailed.
Coaches of the Week
Norv Turner, head coach, San Diego. This is Turner's 15th season as a head coach. It is also his first 2-0 start. Anyone else find that amazing? Turner has gotten Philip Rivers to play relaxed, and without feeling he has to do everything by himself. With Turner's defense now in the hands of new coordinator John Pagano, the Chargers have held their first two foes to 24 points. That's what I call a terrific hire.
Shawn Slocum, special teams coordinator, Green Bay. See opus on Green Bay's surprise touchdown above.
Goats of the Week
Josh Morgan, WR, Washington. For his absurd unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (he threw the ball in anger at St. Louis cornerback Cortland Finnegan) that turned what would have been a game-tying 47-yard field-goal attempt into a 62-yard impossibility for Billy Cundiff. The latter had made only one of his previous 10 attempts from 50 yards and beyond -- but trailing by three points and facing fourth down with no timeouts remaining, the Redskins felt they had no other choice but to try the kick. Dumb play on Morgan's part. Simply no excuse for it.
Stephen Gostkowski, K, New England. After hitting four field goals to keep the Patriots in the game, Gostkowski shankapotamused an easy (for him) 42-yard attempt far left with one second left in the game. Arizona 20, New England 18.
Peyton Hillis, RB, Kansas City. What's the one thing a big back never does on the goal line, particularly with his team's season teetering on the brink of disaster? Hillis did it -- fumbling with the Bills up 21-0 and 40 seconds left in the first half, trying to score to get the Chiefs back in a game they desperately needed. Why so desperate? Because K.C. has Drew Brees up next.
"I don't know if that's not something that's done in the National Football League, but what I do with our football team is we fight until they tell us the game is over. There's nothing dirty about it. There's nothing illegal about it. We crowd the ball. It's like a sneak defense and we try to knock it loose. If they watch Rutgers, they would know, that's what we do at the end of the game. We're not going to quit. That's just the way I coach and teach our players. Some people were upset about it. I don't have any hesitation. That's the way we play: clean, hard football until they tell us the game is over."
-- Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano, on coaching his player to smash into the Giants' victory formation at the end of the game Sunday. Giants coach Tom Coughlin was enraged by it.
"I don't know. He must like the cougs."
-- Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews, on the relationship between 25-year-old Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and 37-year-old actress Eva Longoria, on "The Dan Patrick Show."
"I bought a pair of Uggs, to be just like him."
-- Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, on Tom Brady, who is an ad man for the Australian furry footwear company.
One of the reasons there's such a stalemate between the NFL and the regular officials is the pension. Many of you have asked what that means. According to attorney Mike Arnold, who represents the officials, the NFL contributed $5.3 million to the officials' pension system in 2011, and planned to reduce that number to $2 million in 2012 under the current league bargaining proposal.
Under those numbers, the NFL contributed $44,167 per man to the 120 officials' pensions in 2011, and would contribute $16,667 per man in 2012. That's a difference of $27,500 per man.
"When we were hired,'' said referee Scott Green, a member of the officials' negotiating team, "we were told, 'Here's what the compensation is, and here's what the pension is.' We don't think it's fair to have such a major give-back without being able to negotiate that at all.''
That's the biggest under-the-radar reason we're entering day 16 of no substantive talks between the officials and the league.
Each week, thanks to play-by-play game dissection by ProFootballFocus.com, I'll look at one important matchup or individual performance metric from one of the Sunday games. One week removed from an inglorious debut at Cleveland, Michael Vick matched up against the chameleon fronts and odd rushes of the Baltimore Ravens, so I asked PFF czar Neil Hornsby to dissect how Vick fared in his 75 snaps against the Ravens, and how much punishment the embattled Vick took in the 24-23 Philadelphia victory.
Running. Ten rushes for 34 yards, broken down into two kneel-downs, three quarterbacks draws (including the winning one-yard run with two minutes left), four scrambles, and one muffed handoff to Bryce Brown. Other than the kneel-downs, he was hit on every run as he either dove head-first for extra yardage (twice) or ran out of bounds -- when, on one play, he sent the CBS sound man with the parabolic mike to the ground in a collision.
Passing. The numbers: 23 of 32, 371 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, two sacks, 12 quarterback hits, five additional hurries. On the 12 plays in which he was hit, Vick's average time holding the ball before being contacted was 3.3 seconds; to put this in context, Matt Hasselbeck's average time to throw last year was a league-low 2.4 seconds, meaning he takes an extra second when he's under duress to try to find a receiver. Vick's longest pass of the day -- a 49-yarder (47 in the air) to DeSean Jackson late in the third quarter -- was his best throw of the day. But his decision-making, and his judgment when there was traffic in the short middle of the field, was suspect. Three times, including his one interception, he didn't seem to see linebackers or defensive backs lurking in plain sight. His stats when clean, as expected, were far different than when he was pressured.
• When hit or hurried: 9 of 15, 181 yards, no touchdowns, one interception.
• When not pressured: 14 of 17 for 190 yards, one touchdown, one interception.
Summary. Vick continues to be a man who has no regard for his body and he did whatever it took to win; hanging in until the last second to make throws, or diving head-first for first downs, for example. As much as we say the Eagles have to change him, it's obvious Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg aren't going to be able to. But his game-winning drive, 80 yards in 10 plays, was a thing of brilliance. He didn't make a bad throw and had to convert only two third downs.
He made nearly every throw in this game. He can look superb, but then he seems to lose concentration and throws something back across his body or into the middle of the field; two or three times he took chances that a veteran quarterback shouldn't take. Nearly all his interceptions last week and the ones this week (together with those that were dropped) came from linebackers not being where he expected. His weakness in these two games has been short underneath. You wonder how much longer he'll be able to take the physical pounding he takes.
Career interceptions for great current defensive backs: Ed Reed 59, Charles Woodson 55, Champ Bailey 50.
Career interceptions for the Pittsburgh defensive coordinator: Dick LeBeau 62.
Now batting first for the Natick Knights of the Boston Men's Senior Baseball League, playing second base, No. 22, Doug Flutie.
(And you thought he'd be some other number?)
The shortstop is younger brother Darren Flutie. The third baseman is older brother Bill Flutie.
So last week, Flutie drove home from his NBC college football broadcast duties at NBC in New York on Saturday night to Natick, a three-and-a-half-hour drive up I-95 into the Boston suburbs. He drove past the high school field where the Knights were scheduled to play Cambridge Sunday at 10 a.m. He noticed a steady rain had left big puddles near third base and home plate. Flutie got out of the car, just before 4, took out a cup, and began ladling the puddles away.
Flutie went home, still worried about the field. He drove back to the field around 6:30 a.m., raked the Speedy Dry on the wet areas, then went home for a while to wait for the game.
(Flutie was telling me this story in the NBC Sports Network room where we prepare for our Friday shows, in Stamford, Conn. At that point, Hines Ward, who works with us on the Friday shows and the weekend shows at NBC in New York, piped up in amazement: "The Heisman Trophy winner raking the field! Crazy! I want this to be video-cammed!'')
This is a 30-and-over league. Doug Flutie is 49. I asked him why he stopped by the field at 4, and then went back a couple of hours later with the drying agent, to make sure the 10 a.m. game would be played.
"I enjoy playing,'' he said. "And I don't want the game to be canceled."
Flutie went 1 for 4 for the Knights. That evening, his 40-and-over team, the Waltham Braves, had a game. Flutie went 0 for 2. But on Wednesday, Flutie pitched the Knights to a 14-1 victory in the third and deciding game in the best-of-three series against Cambridge. "Pitched nine innings,'' he said Friday, "and I feel fine. My arm's great."
Check out the batting race in the 30-and-over league.
Check out the stolen base leaders in the league.
Two games of amateur baseball on a Sunday in September.
"That's me in a nutshell,'' he said. "Not trying to prove anything to anybody. Just out there having fun."
"#CBS. Can't Beat Stanford!!"
-- @TigerWoods, after the Cardinal beat USC for the fourth straight season.
"Namath says that Tebow can't play QB for the Jets. With 220 career picks, and a 65.5 career QB rating, there were times Joe couldn't either."
-- @JetsWhispers, 16-year-vet Jets beat man Dan Leberfeld, on Joe Namath's view that Tim Tebow should not be groomed as the team's quarterback.
"NYC's new sugary drink policy is the single biggest step any gov't has taken to curb obesity. It will help save lives."
-- @MikeBloomberg, the mayor of New York City, after the city's Board of Health passed an ordinance banning the sale of soft drinks containing sugar larger than 16 ounces at restaurants and movie theaters, and by street vendors.
The health department, which voted 8-0 to approve Bloomberg's proposal, estimated that 5,000 city residents die each year from obesity-related causes, and said the explosion of giant soft drinks containing sugar had became a major contributor to children getting fat. One board member, Joel Forman, told the New York Times, "I can't imagine the board not acting on another problem that is killing 5,000 people per year.''
Neither can I.
1. I think Bill Belichick paid proper homage to Larry Fitzgerald the other day, saying he might go down as the best ever before he's finished playing. Not saying he will or he won't, but I'll make the point I talked with Fitzgerald about on my first podcast of the season a couple of weeks ago: Fitzgerald is 29. He's been very healthy. He wants to play a long time. On Sunday in Foxboro, he was held to one catch for four yards, giving him 698 for his career -- 851 behind Jerry Rice's 1,549. If anything holds Fitzgerald back, it will probably be the quarterbacking inconsistency a player like Rice never had to deal with in his prime.
2. I think the Chicago offensive line -- and the Bears trotting out many of the same characters on it week after week, year after year -- defines the great Albert Einstein quote: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Football fans who watched the Bears the other night had to wonder, "When are these idiots going to do major surgery on that offensive line?"
The Bears felt they had three priorities in the offseason: get a big receiver or two, get a young pass rusher to take some of the heat off Julius Peppers and get a building block (or two) for the offensive line. Those were new GM Phil Emery's goals and here is what I wrote about what they did in May in this column, about the significance of fixing the line on the heels of the work the team did getting Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey at wideout and Boise State rusher Shea McClellin:
" ... Just as important, I believe (and maybe more) is the state of the offensive line. Emery, when he took the job, did a needs analysis of the team. He felt he needed to get weapons for Cutler. He felt he needed a pass rusher opposite Julius Peppers. He felt he needed offensive line help. 'We just didn't feel, at the time we picked, that the list of players on the offensive line was as good as the players elsewhere,' he said. You can't solve every problem in the same offseason, and Emery has certainly addressed two need areas with good prospects and one good (if his head stays on right) veteran wideout. But the success or failure of the Bears could come down to how well they run -- assuming Forte is that runner -- and how well Cutler is protected, so he can be the premier quarterback he's shown signs of in Chicago. Emery has done well so far, but a lot of teams look good in May. His report card will come when we see how the offense produces.''
There is no question in my mind that Emery felt Jeffrey was the kind of jewel he couldn't pass up, especially in comparison to the second level of the tackle class -- guys like Mike Adams and Bobby Massie. That doesn't make what you're feeling any better this morning, however, Bear fans.
3. I think David Shaw of Stanford is the leader in the clubhouse for the hottest NFL coaching candidate from college football come January.
4. I think, however, I wouldn't be taking Matt Barkley out of your 2013 draft top five just yet. Or your top one. I know nothing, and watched most of the second half of the USC debacle Saturday night during which I questioned some of Barkley's decisions. But his offense line is hapless. Absolutely terrible. The left tackle shouldn't be playing at a Juco.
An NFL coach or scout will ask Barkley at the Scouting Combine next February, "Why couldn't you beat Stanford in four tries?'' Guarantee it. And when he does, if I were Barkley, I'd say all the right things. "Yup, it's something that really bothers me,'' and "I needed to make more plays,'' and "The responsibility falls on me." But somehow, I'd find a way to let the coach or scout know that in those four straight losses, USC's defense gave up 42 points a game. There's only so much one man can do.
Having said that, Barkley didn't play well Saturday night, and though he was pretty consistently under pressure, that's a game he needs to do better than 20 of 41.
5. I think this is what I liked about Week 2:
a. Mike Mayock's right. That Tim Jennings, the small corner for the Bears, is a heck of a player.
b. Good camera work by NFL Network, capturing Jay Cutler reaming out J'Marcus Webb (smiling stupidly) on the sidelines in the second quarter Thursday night.
c. Green Bay fullback John Kuhn's picture-perfect, put-it-in-a-time-capsule tackle of Devin Hester on a third-quarter punt return.
d. Fantastic punch out by Charles Tillman, forcing the Jermichael Finley fumble.
e. How smart, the play by Jordy Nelson to dive down at the 45 while the Pack was trying to run the clock out with 5:40 left in the fourth quarter instead of getting two or three extra yards and bolting out of bounds. Nelson knew time was more valuable than yards at that point.
f. The headline and lead from ProFootballTalk.com's Michael David Smith after former Bucs offensive lineman Ian Beckles was busted Friday night for improper touching of a police horse (apparently while intoxicated). The headline: "Ex-NFL player Ian Beckles arrested in altercation with police horse." The lead: "In what is believed to be the first case of ex-NFL lineman-on-horse crime since Alex Karras in Blazing Saddles,' touching a police horse got former NFL player and current sports talk radio host Ian Beckles arrested." Fine work, Mr. Smith.
g. Good job by the Patriots, inducting Troy Brown in the team's Hall of Fame. He was Wes Welker before New England dealt for Wes Welker -- Brown in 2000-02: 281 receptions -- and he went on to be a legitimate nickel corner for Bill Belichick. One of Belichick's favorite players ever, and that is saying something.
h. Jacoby Jones, with a perfect move on Nnamdi Asomugha, and a well-lofted throw by Flacco. That's the way to throw a touchdown pass right there.
i. Steve Smith shuts out traffic and makes tough catches as well as anyone in football.
j. Doug Martin is a big-league running back. What a great move on his touchdown end sweep against the Giants.
k. Houston's running back depth. Ben Tate gave the Texans six yards per touch Sunday at Jacksonville, and Arian Foster ran for 110 yards. And so it goes for a team that should be playing deep into January.
l. Seattle's special teams. Michael Robinson forced a Dallas fumble on one kickoff, and Malcolm Smith blocked a Cowboy punt.
m. Russell Wilson's efficient 75 percent passing day, on the heels of a shaky opener.
n. Frank Omiyale. Remember him, Bear fans? Now a backup Seattle tackle, he helped hold down DeMarcus Ware with regular left tackle Russell Okung out with a bone bruise in his left knee.
o. A good comeback day for Brandon Weeden, the worst of the rookie QB starters last week. In Cincinnati, he was an efficient 26 of 37 for 322 yards, with no turnovers. Pat Shurmur will take that game every week.
p. Good to see Trent Richardson (19 carries, 109 yards) run well for the first time in his NFL career.
q. Nice ceremony by the Chargers, honoring the late Junior Seau by retiring his number.
r. Good scoop, Chris Mortensen, with the story of the NFL yanking the side judge off the Saints-Panthers game Sunday because he was a Saints fan. As I said on NBC Sunday night, NFL VP Ray Anderson told me official Brian Strapolo "will still be an official for us. He just won't be assigned to a Saints game from now on."
6. I think this is what I didn't like about Week 2:
a. The Bears not targeting Brandon Marshall for the first 35 minutes Thursday night. Not acceptable. Not smart.
b. Jay Cutler bumping J'Marcus Webb. Not smart.
c. Awful pick by Drew Brees early at Carolina. That's something you never see, a pressured Brees taking way too big of a chance. Whatever he had with Sean Payton, it's missing now.
d. You're not going to get many more chances to catch touchdown passes when you miss one like that, Will Beatty.
e. Absurd lack of control in the Eagles-Ravens game by the officials, particularly after an obvious shove-down by Anquan Boldin, then what appeared to be taunting by Vonta Leach, then an offsetting penalty call for what was more than a shoving match between DeSean Jackson and Ravens cornerback Cary Williams. Jackson threw a punch. At some point, you've got to throw someone out -- and this crew should have done that.
f. Leaving Michael Coe without safety help against Vincent Jackson. That's a losing game plan, Giants.
g. "There is no love lost between these teams." Keep hearing that. Stop the cliché madness, announcers.
h. The phantom pass interference call late in Jets-Steelers on Ike Taylor. I mean, there were so many shaky calls Sunday. This one was one of the worst.
i. An inglorious start to the Steve Spagnuolo's reign in New Orleans. The Saints D has allowed 68 points so far (not including the interception return, of course).
j. Kansas City at New Orleans next Sunday. Someone's going to be 0-3 after that one -- someone whose season will be over in September.
7. I think we're seeing an early emphasis on offensive tight ends, and how to cover them, in the season's first two weeks. Dennis Pitta of the Ravens could be the latest tight end to emerge as a star. And teams will continue to value safeties who can cover far more than they valued the same safeties five or seven years ago. "I think that's where the game has been going, and is going even more,'' said Tampa Bay coach Schiano. "With the tight ends being so athletic, who do you cover them with?''
8. I think if football is going to have a long life from here on out, youth coaches are going to have to be better, and more conscious of the latest intelligence on safe teaching techniques. That's why it's good that USA Football has come up with an app for youth coaches, parents and players on concussion awareness, proper coaching methods and the right equipment. Find it here.
With an estimated 3 million kids playing organized tackle football before high school, and 420,000 coaches teaching it, the standards should be raised across the board. "Youth football is fragmented and chaotic, and we're trying to get our arms around it,'' said USA Football executive director Scott Hallenbeck. "We have to make sure it's a safer game, and we have to make sure parents know that. We can do that by implementing safer practices.''
9. I think, as you know, I'm not much of a fight fan, and I'm totally in the woods on Mixed Martial Arts. But there's a good story this weekend, when Jon Jones fights at UFC 152 in Toronto. The story: There are three Jones brothers. Arthur, 26, is a defensive end with the Ravens. Jon, 25, is the fighter. Chandler, 22, was the Patriots' first-round draft choice last April, and is starting at defensive end.
Jon will fight sometime after 11 Saturday night on pay-per-view and, win or lose, will get on a plane Sunday morning for Baltimore. That night, Jon will watch Arthur and Chandler play each other in Baltimore. Jon told me the other day he didn't play much football "because I stunk ... I was 6-4 and about 170 in high school, and I had the frame to be a wide receiver, but I couldn't catch.''
Imagine telling your mom you're not getting into the football business, but the cage-fighting business instead.
"Yeah, my mom and dad were totally against it. My mom said she thought she'd have to take care of me the rest of my life,'' Jon Jones said.
I asked which sport was more dangerous. "Football's a lot more dangerous,'' he said.
I don't know about that. If you're kicked in the head in football, there's a helmet. Anyway, interesting family story in Toronto and Baltimore in a 24-hour period this weekend.
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. I want to be Chris Matthews when I grow up.
b. The Big Least ought to disband.
c. If you grew up in Connecticut, which I did, you understand the affection for Jim Calhoun, even though he had a good bit of horse's ass in him. Nobody in Connecticut ever won anything big in sports. I mean, there never was anything big in sports until Calhoun copped national titles at UConn. So Godspeed into retirement, Jim Calhoun.
d. Schedule Oddity of 2013: Yankees play at the Red Sox nine times in 58 days next year, and never until after the All-Star break.
e. Having spent five baseball seasons in Cincinnati, a hotbed of National League tradition, I think it sure will be strange to see an American League team, the Angels, open the season in Cincinnati on the first day of the season next April.
f. Watched a good bit of the O's-A's Saturday night while writing, and I know baseball wants a new stadium in northern California, maybe in Santa Clara, for the A's. But the spirit and drums and cowbells and the chants ... not sure any of those will follow with the same volume and intensity to a more expensive venue down the coast.
g. Derek Jeter, 38, has more hits than Willie Mays, more singles than Honus Wagner, more doubles than Babe Ruth, more triples than Kirby Puckett, more home runs than Joe Torre.
h. Saddest thing about the baseball playoffs, however: Say Oakland wins 95 games and wins the first Wild Card spot in the American League. Say the A's beat out the Angels by six games. So the one-game AL Wild Card playoff would be in Oakland. By my very imprecise calculations, Jered Weaver could be in line to start that one game. This year, Weaver has allowed one run and 14 hits in 29.2 innings against Oakland, probably the best individual performance by a pitcher against one team in three or more starts this year.
If Oakland has a typical day against Weaver, the A's are out. Poof! Just like that. That's why I detest the one-game Wild Card playoff. Always have, always will. It's cheap and patently unfair to consign your entire season to three hours after playing 162 games and rightfully earning a playoff berth with the second- or third- or fourth-best record in baseball.
i. Anybody see the Ben Zobrist-to-Ryan Roberts-to-Carlos Pena double play Saturday? Wow. Roberts bare-handed the backhand toss from Zobrist, just as he was pirouetting to avoid the breakup slide of Alex Rodriguez. Just an incredible play.
j. Buster Posey, in two months since the All-Star Break, is batting .390 with 50 RBI. How's he not the MVP?
k. Ohio Bobcats, 3-0. Tyler Tettleton, 7-0 TD-to-pick differential.
l. Two two-point conversion backward-pass/forward-pass by Western Kentucky ... classic.
m. Did Erin Andrews really say, at 8:15 Pacific Time on a Saturday night, after Stanford stunned USC at Stanford, that the overjoyed and partying-hard Cardinal students wouldn't be attending classes tomorrow? I should hope not, unless class was held in the chapel.
n. Coffeenerdness: I know I'm way too partial to Starbucks Italian Roast, but trust me on this one. Without two huge cups this morning between 3 and 7:30, this column would be 1,000 words shorter and much less brilliant.
o. Beernerdness: A trip up to South Windsor, Conn., to see my niece Laila run cross-country for the South Windsor Bobcats (go Laila!) allowed me to try a Hartford beer, which I believe is a first: City Steam Blonde on Blonde Pale Ale. And may I say, wow, that is one bitter beer -- but in a good way. A very good pale ale, brewed about 18 miles from my boyhood home. Good job, City Steam.
p. Mark Twain once said the best thing about writing is having written. I believe the best thing about running is having run. That comes after an eight-mile training run Saturday for the Hamptons (N.Y.) Half Marathon on Long Island Sept. 29. I'm running to help ALS victim Steve Gleason, the former Saints' special-teamer, raise money to build an ALS Residence in New Orleans, and if you'd like to contribute to help me reach my goal of $50,000, here's the site.
q. I'm going to get emotional if I start thinking about all of you who have contributed to the cause thus far. We're 54 percent there, at just under $27,000, but there are only 12 days left to get to 50 grand, so there's still work to do. I'm humbled that so many have helped. I'll try not to break an ankle on the 13.1-mile run, and if I do, I'll crawl to the finish line. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
r. Amazed at the reach of my SI NFL podcast. In the past week, I've heard from people in six countries (that I know of) saying they were listening to Greg Schiano, Mike Mayock and Dan Pompei in the last week. Got a direct message on Twitter from a Llyr Gravell in Wales Sunday, saying he'd listened while walking his dog on a beach in Wales. What a world.
s. Bruce at the Meadowlands Wednesday. Tempting. Very tempting.
Each week, I'll credit a media member for a job well done, then pick the game of the night.
At first, it seems to be a dumb idea,the Packers trading Greg Jennings in the next month, by the trading deadline. Think about it: He's been hurt, the Pack likely won't re-sign him because of the huge money involved, and there are a few teams (Miami, Seattle, San Diego, most notably) that might give a second-round 2013 pick to get Jennings in the fold this year and start building the offense of the future. The story is worth your time.
Denver 33, Atlanta 24. I think back to the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine, in Indianapolis, on a Saturday night around 11, and Matt Ryan shows up for an interview with me in a gray suit, light blue Oxford shirt and dress shoes, and I think: Never seen anyone who reminded me so much of Peyton Manning.
Ryan approached the talk with me, and with a bunch of NFL teams earlier in the evening, as a business interview. I reminded Mike Mayock of NBC and NFL Network of that this week, and Mayock knew what I was saying. He's know Ryan since he was a Philly-area high schooler.
"When he came out in the draft, the reason I had him so high is that I felt like he was the closest guy from a mental aspect, from a mental toughness, from a Type A, control perspective, [as] Peyton Manning,'' Mayock said. "That's his makeup. His makeup is, You can't outwork me. Give me more and more responsibility because I'll embrace it. You can talk to his teammates back at Penn Charter High School, at Boston College, the Atlanta Falcons, they will all say he's the toughest guy they've ever met and the hardest working guy they've ever met.''
That'll help tonight, but unless he can cover too, and defend against Peyton Manning, I don't think he can do enough, even at home, to beat the great Manning.
It's gone far enough,games with replacement zebras.Please: Don't make us beg.