12’s the Magic Number
Thirty years of covering the NFL demands you have perspective after a night like last night. After all, it’s Week 2. Arizona won in Foxboro in Week 2 last year. Peyton Manning threw three interceptions in the first nine minutes in Week 2 last year. Strange things happen in September, before true patterns develop.
But it’s hard not to wonder this about the NFC playoff race: If Seattle wins home-field advantage, what team is going into that cauldron of sound and fury, CenturyLink Field, and winning a football game? I mean, the 49ers are really good, the best team on a given day in football. In their last two games in Seattle, they’ve lost by a combined 71-16, scoring one touchdown. Their backs have rushed for 2.8 yards a carry. They’ve been penalized 179 yards. San Francisco has been a hot mess in only one place since 2012 dawned—Seattle—and no one can tell me it doesn’t have a lot to do with the crowd.
It was so loud, Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor told me, that the Seattle defense, which normally has an edge when the crowd is going nuts, had trouble hearing middle linebacker Bobby Wagner call the plays in the defensive huddle. The defense had to use hand signals for those who didn’t hear what Wagner was saying, even in a tight huddle. But it was still a huge edge for Seattle, because obviously it was impossible for Colin Kaepernick to communicate in any way but a non-verbal one. On the Niners’ third futile series of the game, they had a false start and a delay of game in a three-play stretch, and the delay whipped the crowd into a more feverish pitch. Probably the most amazing thing is the place was louder after the 60-minute weather delay, and after halftime: It got to 136.6 decibels in the third quarter, 16.6 decibels louder than the sound generated by a jet engine on an open runway.
You could cut the energy in the stadium with a knife. It was different from a regular game—so loud I could feel it in my chest, and it gave me energy.
“What an amazing night for the 12th Man,’’ Seattle coach Pete Carroll said after his team embarrassed San Francisco 29-3 in a strange affair featuring a one-hour lightning delay. “I’ve been coaching a long time ... I’ve never heard a crowd like that. What a frickin’ night for those fans. Our guys felt it. They played to it.”
“It was electric,’’ cornerback Richard Sherman, the star of the show, told me from Seattle. “You could cut the energy in the stadium with a knife. It was different from a regular game—so loud I could feel it in my chest, and it gave me energy.’’
Seattle hasn’t lost at home since Christmas Eve 2011. Nine straight wins. Average score of the last four of those wins: 37-8. That’s why the Seahawks know how important home-field advantage in the playoffs is. Last year, as the fifth playoff seed, Seattle traveled to Washington in the wild-card round and won, then to Atlanta in the divisional round and lost on a long field goal in the final seconds. Had they won that game, they’d have had to play the NFC title game at San Francisco.
The same scenario could play out this year: the Niners or Seahawks winning the top seed in the NFC, and the second-place team in the division earning a wild-card spot and needing three road wins in 15 or 16 days to make the Super Bowl. Which is why Pete Carroll had his team trained well in the wee hours of this morning. “This wasn’t the Super Bowl tonight,’’ said Sherman. “We haven’t won anything yet. We have to act like we’ve been here before. This was just another game, to tell you the truth.’’
No one believes that. And Sherman certainly didn’t act like that in the days before the game. On Thursday, when it looked like fellow starting corner Brandon Browner wasn’t going to play because of a strained hamstring, Sherman went to his coaches to ask if he could shadow Anquan Boldin in certain schemes. Normally, Sherman is the left corner. Period. He moved around to shadow Buffalo’s Stevie Johnson some last season, but mostly he stays left. “The coaches said it was fine,’’ said Sherman. “Sunday night football, everybody is watching, so watch this. I had him when he was split out, when he was in the left slot, right slot. Didn’t matter.’’ Sherman covered Boldin on about 75 percent of the snaps. Last week the Niners receiver caught 12 balls for 208 yards. This week: one for seven yards. And that one catch wasn't when Sherman was in coverage.
“It makes me feel good—like I can execute a game plan the way it’s called,’’ Sherman said. “But no, I’m not surprised.”
The Seattle secondary played with anvils in the their shoulder pads, and the pass rush (minus the suspended Bruce Irvin and rehabbing Chris Clemons, who accounted for 19.5 combined sacks last year) buzzed around Kaepernick all game. The Seahawks' front never let Frank Gore breathe. San Francisco backs ran 11 times and gained 13 yards. They’d better figure a way to run it by the time of the rematch Dec. 8 in Candlestick.
The Seahawks were on their best behavior early this morning. No bulletin board stuff from them. They know the truth, and the 49ers do too: If the road to the Super Bowl goes through Seattle, it’s going to be the biggest disadvantage in recent football history for the road team.
Now for the other stories of Week 2
The specter of Johnny Manziel. One scout at Manziel’s absolutely ridiculous game against Nick Saban’s Alabama defense Saturday told me Sunday: “It’s like [wrestler] Ric Flair once said: ‘You may not like this, but you better learn to love it.’ ‘’ Manziel put up 562 yards of total offense, treating the ‘Bama secondary like it was Montclair State’s (464 yards passing, 98 rushing). Manziel, in his third year of eligibility at Texas A&M, could declare for the 2014 draft if he wants to come out, which seems likely. (He can also stay in and play the 2014 college season, and 2015 as well.) But Manziel, to many teams right now, would be undraftable because they’re scared of his mood swings and off-field questions. But it only takes one team out of 32 to fall for him. And some team will, unless he self-destructs between today and draft day.
The MMQB’s Greg A. Bedard was in College Station Saturday, and he’ll report the Manziel story for us tomorrow. I can’t wait to read what he thinks of the kid, and what the pro football men in his rolodex think. As I said on NBC Sunday night, Browns assistant GM Ray Farmer scouted the game. Hmmmmmm. Johnny Dawg Pound!
The AFC rocks. The NFC East does not. Most of us think the NFC’s a better conference, right? It’s not acting like it. The AFC was 4-0 in cross-conference games Sunday. The NFC East went 0-4, three of the losses coming to the supposedly weak AFC West: Denver over the Giants, San Diego over the Eagles, and Kansas City over Dallas.
My surprise team of the first eighth of the season? Miami (2-0). All the attention in the offseason went to the big-money free agents Miami signed, and rightfully so. In the 24-20 win over the Colts and Andrew Luck Sunday, inside ‘backers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler combined for 26 tackles, and Wheeler had a key sack of Luck; wideout Mike Wallace, the formerly unhappy one, had nine catches for 115 yards and a touchdown. But remember the pass-rush stars of Week 1—which we covered in The MMQB Friday. Cameron Wake and Jared Odrick have been Mr. Outside and Mr. Inside so far, and they’ll be a tough afternoon for anyone to block. And did you notice Ryan Tannehill bested Luck Sunday? Miami has a schedule edge now, having played its first two on the road. Now we’ll see if the Dolphins are ready for prime time. They host Atlanta Sunday, go to New Orleans for a Week 4 Monday-nighter, and return home to face Baltimore. We’ll know by Sunday night of Week 5 if Miami will contend to steal the division from a weakened New England.
Andy Reid is 2-0 too ... and he returns to the scene of his prime Thursday night. “Listen, you know me,’’ he said over the phone from Arrowhead Sunday after the 17-16 win over Dallas. “I haven’t thought about that stuff. I don’t get caught up in it. All I know is it’s a short week and we’ve got to get ready to play on the road in a hurry.” Uh, come on. You’re returning to the place you coached 14 years. Thursday night. Prime time. E-A-G-L-E-S! EAGLES! Sound familiar? When we spoke, Reid didn’t know the result of the Chargers-Eagles game, and when I told him San Diego won, he said, “Chargers won? Wow!’’ Reid might have an ideal team to coach. In the two wins, Kansas City hasn’t turned the ball over, and quarterback Alex Smith has been the efficient West Coast guy Reid thought he was buying for two second-round picks last spring. “I love Alex,’’ Reid said. “He’s a competitor. The best. He’s doing so well in this offense so fast it’s amazing. Today, I gave him a handful—actually more than a handful—of plays to call. I said, ‘Hey, you take it. You call it.’ ‘’ We’ll see how the honeymoon looks Thursday night in the sweet-and-sour city Reid coached for so long.
Good for Mike McCoy, who thinks before he snaps. So the Chargers had a 21-point lead with 21 minutes to play Monday night and blew it, losing 31-28 to Houston. Same old Norvy Chargers, right? “I went back and watched the tape,’’ McCoy said Sunday from Philadelphia. “I tortured myself. I went back and forth over the plays we called, wondering what we should have done. In this business, you know every time a play doesn’t work, you say, ‘I should have called something else.’ And after I examined all those plays down the stretch, you know what? I wouldn’t change a single one. I have faith in my coaches and what we called. We just had to play better, and that’s what I told my team.” On Sunday, reclamation project Eddie Royal scored his third, fourth and fifth touchdowns of the season (Eddie Royal—he still plays?), Philip Rivers threw for 419 yards, and San Diego, on a short week, stunned the Eagles 33-30. Heck of a job preparing his team by McCoy.
The anatomy of a win. In Buffalo, coach Doug Marrone told E.J. Manuel at the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter, with Carolina up three and driving for an insurance field goal, that he was going to burn all three timeouts. “You’ll get the ball back, down six, with about 1:40 to go, and you’ll have to go the length of the field with no timeouts, okay?’’ Marrone told Manuel. His rookie quarterback was fine with that. There was 1:38 left, actually, when the quarterback got the ball at his 20. Manuel dinked and dunked five of seven passes, got lucky when Luke Kuechly was called for pass interference on a Carolina interception, scrambled for nine yards to the Carolina 2-yard line … and then, with two seconds left at the Carolina 2, Marrone told Manuel he was either going to get a heavy blitz or heavy coverage and had to be ready for either. “He was telling me to calm down,’’ Marrone said. Here came the heavy rush. Two Carolina defenders messed up the coverage on Stevie Johnson, leaving him wide open. Touchdown. Buffalo wins, 24-23.
You need to read these books.
Two books come out this week that will be well worth your while.
The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football (Doubleday), by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian. “It’s the best work I’ve ever done,’’ noted reporter Keteyian said Sunday. The reporting on the Nick Saban-to-Alabama move after the 2006 NFL season is terrific. Alabama athletic director Mal Moore, Benedict and Keteyian report, first offered Steve Spurrier the head-coaching job, but he said Spurrier said he was “too dug in’’ at South Carolina. Spurrier told Moore to go after Saban. (Wonder if Spurrier regrets that now?) Saban, then with the Dolphins, was ripe for the taking, which he denied vehemently then. But coaches often deny truths vehemently until the bitter end. The authors say Saban got to dread the Dolphins job. “Saban told a friend in Miami he felt as if he were going to work in a factory every day; he missed the camaraderie of college coaching.” It was clear to Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga that Saban wanted to take the Alabama job, and he said to Saban finally, “Nick, if that’s what you want, I want you to do it.” The best chapter in the book, I thought, was Chapter 9, “The Janitor,” about the “Unseen, unsung heroes of college football,’’ the directors of football operations who have to clean up every mess in some messy programs. As well as do all the minutiae that make college programs go. It’s a very good read.
Slow Getting Up: A Story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile (Harper), by Nate Jackson. Who, by the way, is one hell of a writer. Jackson and Chris Kluwe could both win big awards, and probably will, with their books this year. Jackson, who played tight end in the NFL for six years, skewers the pomp of the NFL (and Eric Mangini, big time), says the NFL would be smart to make marijuana legal (for pain-relieving reasons), and writes of his own experimentation with HGH to recover from the end of a pain-scarred Denver tenure. He wrote about that in an excerpt we ran on The MMQB Friday.
Re his HGH experience, Jackson writes how he injected himself to get ready for a trial with the San Diego Chargers after being released by Denver: “I reach out to a connection I made a year earlier and acquire a supply of human growth hormone, HGH. The drugs come in the mail in a package stuffed with dry ice. I half expect to see the feds storm out of the bushes, guns blazing, as I pull the box off my front porch. But no feds. Just me and another needle. It comes with very little guidance as to the quantity and regularity of the shot. I have a conversation with my supplier and he tells me how to do it. Other than that I’m on my own. I will tell no one what I’m doing. I go to the store and buy syringes and start injecting it in my stomach immediately. I am paranoid about every aspect of this decision. I’ve never used performance-enhancing drugs. Haven’t ever even seen them. I take pride in my natural ability and I don’t want to taint it. I don’t want to test the karmic winds. But I also don’t want to taste the death of my football dreams, not like this. I pack up my Denali and head over the Rocky Mountains, the vials of HGH stuffed in an ice-filled cooler.’’ Rarely have we ever gotten such a real view of life on the edge of an NFL roster. Rarely? Never.
The Fine Fifteen
1. Denver (2-0). Two games, two routs of playoff contenders, 90 points. When Von Miller was lost for the first six weeks, the Broncos couldn’t have asked for a start any better than this.
2. Seattle (2-0). Thought I’d never see a division rivalry as physical as Baltimore-Pittsburgh over the last five to seven years. Seahawks and Niners: close.
3. San Francisco (1-1). Three of the next four at home. Noise shouldn’t be an issue the way it was Sunday night in the Thunderdome.
4. New Orleans (2-0). Unimpressive win at Tampa Bay, but the Saints are 2-0 in the division, no NFC South foe has a division win yet, and, more importantly, New Orleans has discovered a defense. Saints allowed 440 yards a game last year, worst in league history. This year: 320.
5. Miami (2-0). Excellent start for the Dolphins, with two road wins. Miami has had the best defense in football over the first two weeks, with nine sacks and foes completing just 53 percent of their passes. And Ryan Tannehill’s been efficient, completing 65 percent of his throws and keeping the chains moving.
6. Houston (2-0). The Texans, who got very fortunate Sunday in beating Tennessee in OT, have probably the most daunting 15-day stretch in the league this year starting next Sunday: at Baltimore, Seattle at home, at San Francisco.
7. Chicago (2-0). Jay Cutler hung in after a bad interception. Matt Forte hung in after an ugly strip-fumble by the Vikes. This is an imperfect team, but the Bears play in an imperfect division.
8. San Diego (1-1). Anyone who had Eddie Royal as the league’s touchdown leader after two weeks, you’re a smarter person than I. And 539 offensive yards, on a short week, going from west coast to east? The Chargers are better than we thought.
9. Atlanta (1-1). But the Falcons may have lost Steven Jackson, the cornerstone of their running game. He left in the first quarter of the win over St. Louis with a bruised thigh.
10. Kansas City (2-0). Alex Smith is just what Andy Reid ordered. Two games, two wins, zero turnovers.
11. Cincinnati (0-1). To prove the times they have a-changed in Bengal Land, Cincinnati must beat Pittsburgh at home when it’s expected. Tonight.
12. Green Bay (1-1). Amazing Aaron Dept.: Rodgers is averaging a 406-yard, 3.5-touchdown-pass day through two weeks. And he did his part of it Sunday after undergoing a massage/neck-maneuvering from club medics before the game.
13. New England (2-0). Most advantageous opening schedule in recent league history: Two rookie quarterbacks to start—including Geno Smith having to go on the road in a short week—followed by a mini-bye (the Pats had the three-day weekend off) and a team with some civil war issues (Tampa Bay) coming up Sunday. In Foxboro.
14. Baltimore (1-1). The Ravens’ offense and New England’s have much in common. Baltimore’s first-half possessions ended in a missed field goal, punt, punt, punt, punt and missed field goal. It was a struggle the whole way against Cleveland.
15. Tennessee (1-1). An overtime loss at the best team in the division isn’t the worst thing, especially when you consider Houston needed a desperation two-point conversion and a circus catch by a rookie receiver in the end zone in overtime to win.
The Awards Section
Offensive Players of the Week
James Jones, WR, Green Bay. The enjoyable thing about watching Jones play is that he’s not just a deep threat who runs all the vertical routes in the Packers playbook and juts out of bounds. He’s a physical receiver, and his 11-catch, 178-yard day—not exceeded by a Packer since 2004 (Javon Walker, 11 for 200 from Brett Favre) showed Jones as the complete receiver he’s become. “If you let the first guy tackle you,’’ he said, “you get no respect when you come to the bench. I don’t care if it’s a 70-yarder.’’
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami. Others had gaudier numbers (three quarterbacks had 400-yard passing days), but Tannehill showed how much he’s maturing as a pro quarterback in pulling off the 24-20 upset at 2012 playoff team Indianapolis. He went 23 of 34 for 319 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions. He led 58-, 80- and 69-yard touchdown drives. The No. 8 pick in the 2012 draft bested the No. 1 (Andrew Luck) in passer rating, 107.4-79.7, and on the scoreboard.
Defensive Players of the Week
The 12th Man, Seattle. “It’s like being at the end of a runway,’’ Al Michaels said in the middle of the cacophonous evening in Seattle. The place set a Guinness Book of World Records mark for loudest recorded sound in a stadium—131.9 decibels—and considering that a jet engine on an airport runway is about 120 decibels, you can see why the San Francisco offense had such trouble operating. The Niners were penalized 12 times for 121 yards, including two false starts, a delay of game and holding call that resulted in a safety when no one could hear with the Niners backed up in their end zone. There was also a sack/lost fumble when Cliff Avril ran around end and took advantage of the 49ers’ trouble hearing on offense.
Richard Sherman and Walter Thurmond, CB, Seattle. Sherman normally plays left corner—in fact, he's played there about 93 percent of the snaps since the start of 2012. But he shadowed Anquan Boldin (13 catches last week) much of the night when Boldin moved to other spots on the line. Boldin had one catch Sunday night, and it didn’t come when Sherman was in coverage. He and Thurmond—filling in for the injured Brandon Browner—combined to physically blanket Boldin, holding him to one catch for seven yards and zero impact on the game.
Mario Williams, DE, Buffalo. The Bills have been waiting for the kind of Hall of Fame day Williams had Sunday in Orchard Park: a personal and team single-game-record 4.5 sacks of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. Seems like a long time ago—through it was only seven weeks—that there were reports of Williams not loving football and disagreeing with his team on the treatment of a foot injury. He sacked Newton on the first Carolina series and again on the second, and Buffalo wouldn’t have been able to eke out the one-point win without his big plays.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Devin Hester, PR/WR, Chicago. One of the best return days for one of the best return men in league history. Five kickoff returns: 76 yards, 80 yards, 20 yards, 31 yards, and, from seven yards deep, 42 yards.
Dustin Colquitt, P, Kansas City. In a 17-16 field-position game at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City’s most valuable player was the punter in the win over Dallas. His seven punts landed at the Dallas 23-yard line, the 5-, the 10-, the 10-, the 15-, in the end zone, and at the 4-. That last one made it impossible for the Cowboys to rally in the last minute of the game.
Coach of the Week
Mike McCoy, head coach, San Diego. The Chargers had a terrible loss Monday night, blowing a 28-7 second-half lead and losing in the final minutes to the Texans. McCoy watched the tape of the big fourth-quarter mistakes, and watched them again, and again. And he decided: We’re fine; we’re not going to panic and make a bunch of changes because of one rotten quarter. His team fed off that six days later in a stadium full of rabid Eagle fans, and stole a 33-30 victory.
Goat of the Week
Greg Schiano, head coach, Tampa Bay. The choice Schiano had to make with 70 seconds left in the fourth quarter and a 14-13lead over New Orleans, with a 4th-and-3 at the Saints’ 29, in a game in which neither team had any timeouts left: He could have punted and pinned Drew Brees at the, say, 10-yard line with 64 seconds left. Brees would have needed maybe 60 yards to get into Garrett Hartley field-goal range. Or he could have the August waiver signing from Buffalo, Rian Lindell, try a 47-yard field goal. If Lindell made it, the Saints would have had to drive for a touchdown to win the game. If Lindell missed it, the Saints would get the ball at their 37- and need 30 yards to be in field-goal range. Schiano decided to try the field goal. It was shanked. Brees went 54 yards, sweatlessly, to the winning chip-shot field goal as the clock expired. Bad decision by a coach under fire.
Quotes of the Week
“If we’re not starting fast, it’s my fault. Put that on my shoulders. I’ll take it. We’re not starting fast because of me.”
—Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, and truer words this season have not yet been spoken. Griffin’s team has fallen behind in the first two games 33-7 after 32 minutes, and 31-7 after 38 minutes.
“Everybody talks about us out there on the West Coast and Southern California, but we got a lot of gritty, tough guys. We knew what this game was going to be. We knew it was going to be a track meet from the standpoint of how fast they were going to go offensively. We kind of no-huddled the no-huddlers as we got going.”
—San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, after the Chargers came east on a short week and outlasted Philadelphia 33-30.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
At Stanford, the official title of offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren is “Andrew Luck Director of Offense.” A Stanford booster endowed the position; another endowed the “Willie Shaw Director of Defense” (defensive coordinator Derek Mason) and David Shaw’s head coaching job is called the “Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football.”
All three positions, plus the endowed strength coach job, have not been funded in their entirety by contributions. But wealthy and enthusiastic fans of the program—such as Freeman, a Los Angeles investment executive and Stanford trustee who has contributed millions to the university—have funded much of the salaries of those coaches.
Stat of the Week
We will all debate now whether Johnny Manziel will be a good NFL quarterback. I feel strongly he’ll be playing on Sundays, almost certainly beginning in 2014 after the first NFL draft for which he’ll be eligible ... of course, barring the kind of off-field immaturity Manziel has been sometimes known for while at Texas A&M. But as a football player, he’ll certainly be good enough to fit into the NFL’s current mélange at quarterback. Some teams like pocket guys. Some teams like mobile guys. Both types are prospering today. The Manziel style can work, certainly.
I may be damning Manziel with faint praise here, but stylistically as a college player, he has some things in common with Tim Tebow. Manziel can make people miss more, and he’s by any measure more accurate. But there is one thing they definitely don’t have in common: Tebow’s second game against ‘Bama, in the 2009 SEC title game, was mediocre; Manziel’s second game against Alabama, after the Tide worked all offseason to be ready to stop him, was a success—despite two turnovers. He threw for 211 more yards in his second game against Alabama than in his first.
The stat line from Manziel’s two games against the Crimson Tide:
You can say a 6-1, 210-pound quarterback (or whatever Manziel is) will have trouble lasting in NFL. He may. But it’d be because of his off-field nonsense, not what he’d do on the field, in my opinion. Just watch Russell Wilson. Watch a more pocketed Drew Brees. Small guys can play. Especially small guys who put the fear of God into Nick Saban.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
I finally got to experience an American tradition I’d missed in my 56 years: a football game at Michie Stadium at West Point, hard by the Hudson River. For those who haven’t experienced it, I highly recommend it. West Point’s an hour north of Manhattan, but the traffic chokes up near Michie Stadium.
Beautiful day for a game—bright sun (giving way to first-half clouds), temperature in the mid-60s, with a slight breeze. First thing you notice: It’s hilly here. Everything’s a hill. I walked down through the alley between the stands and the river, and there’s a rock/country group of cadets (with acoustic violin) playing “Sweet Home Alabama” and other ditties. We see the cadets march in and take over half of the bleachers on the Hudson River side of the stadium ... and then the mules come out—Raider, Ranger and Scotty. The mule has been a tradition since 1899, a symbol of its Army usefulness over the years in carrying ammo and guns and supplies. Then the parachutists land perfectly on the field as though out on a stroll, one of them delivering the game ball.
I came too early for the foliage, which will be breathtaking in a month. But the sight of the hilly Hudson River valley, with green trees as far as you can see beyond the clear water, and the campus to the left, is a sight not many football venues can match. A very good day.
Tweets of the Week
“I would like to see Carroll and Harbaugh have a rage-off at midfield during halftime.”
—@ChrisWarcraft, author and former Vikes punter Chris Kluwe, watching Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines during the first half of Seahawks-Niners.
“I’d love to see that boy get tired.’’
—@RealJoeNamath, Alabama grad and fan, watching Johnny Manziel—at the point when Manziel had 398 total yards in the first 50 minutes of Alabama-Texas A&M—shred the Alabama defense. It wasn’t enough, but you get Namath’s point.
“Passed an electronic billboard on I-94 north of Chicago that reads ‘TRESTMAN: The only good thing to come from Minnesota.’ “
—@TomPellisero of USA Today, referring to the coach Chicagoland is having a honeymoon with, Marc Trestman of the Bears.
“The bad: 12 hour bus ride last night from Durham to Providence. The good: off day allowing us to go to Pats v Jets game tonight.”
—@shelleydunc, Shelley Duncan of the Durham Bulls Triple-A team, upon arriving in Rhode Island for the break day in the International League Championship Series with Pawtucket. Sounds like Shelley scored some ducats for the Thursday-nighter 26 miles up the road in Foxboro.
“Instead of writing a column on this Jets game, is it OK if I just ring your doorbell and punch you in the face? Same thing.”
—@StevePoliti, columnist for the Newark Star Ledger, in the second half of the 13-10 Patriots win over the Jets.
It wasn’t a very good game.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 2:
a. The NFL Matchup Show on ESPN, which had this bit of prescience from Ron Jaworski Sunday on Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III: “His mechanics are flawed right now because of the injury.” Which is what Jon Gruden said during the Monday Night Football telecast in Week 1. Griffin doesn’t fully plant his right leg—with the knee that had surgery. And that prevents him from getting full velocity on his throws.
b. John Elway taking time from his Denver duties to drive 70 minutes north of the Meadowlands to see Stanford-Army Saturday afternoon in West Point. He’s a good alum.
c. Good Sunday column, as usual, by Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston, recalling his first-guessing at the Patriots letting Danny Woodhead go to San Diego in free-agency for two years and $3.5 million. In the annals of recent free-agency decisions made, this was one of the big swings and misses for New England.
d. Chicago cornerback Tim Jennings, with a blanket job on Greg Jennings of the Vikes.
e. Devin Hester, playing like Devin Hester.
f. Rookie safety Earl Wolff of the Eagles, breaking up what would have been a touchdown pass from Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates with a great end-zone strip of Gates.
g. Mike Wallace won’t be moaning about much this morning. Nine catches, 115 yards, and the Dolphs are 2-0.
h. Look at the two-point conversion run by Arian Foster, enabling Houston to force overtime against Tennessee. That’s why Foster is so good. He was stopped, and made a second and third effort to reach the ball out over the goal line. Superb play by Foster.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 2:
a. The receivers’ hands in Foxboro Thursday night.
b. Geno Smith’s fourth-quarter efficiency.
c. Dallas center Travis Frederick, with a whiff block on Kansas City’s Dontari Poe. Poe destroyed Tony Romo for a sack.
d. Washington cornerback David Amerson, for his casual coverage on James Jones—and then for getting away with a hold on Jones, and then … well, lets just say this about the rookie: Of the nine early games Sunday, he had the worst day of any cornerback. Easy.
e. While we’re on the trail of Washington goats, Josh Morgan deflecting an easy catch from Robert Griffin III into an interception didn’t exactly help the cause Sunday in Green Bay.
f. Corner route in Buffalo. Two seconds left. Game on the line. Stevie Johnson runs into the end zone and … no one covers him. One of the two Carolina defensive backs who both turned away from Johnson to cover the inside guy, Josh Norman or D.J. Moore, should wear the goat horns this morning in Charlotte. Huge, huge mistake.
g. Why, oh why, is a nose tackle like Ian Williams, who had his ankle broken from a blindside, in-line block he never saw coming, not a defenseless player?
h. Do the right thing, Competition Committee: Make it illegal for an offensive player to block below the waist when a defensive player can’t see it coming.
i. This from my buddy Elliott Kalb in the Sunday Night studio: Bill Parcells’ 1990 Super Bowl champs had 14 turnovers all season. The 2013 Giants have 10 after two weeks.
3. I think Jacksonville’s the worst team in the league, and it’s not close. It’s taken only eight quarters to prove it definitively.
4. I think the complaints about the NFL’s new small-bag policy have been coming in, including one from The MMQB staff writer Robert Klemko’s grandmother, Barbara. Thought I’d give her an airing here, to represent a load of fans unhappy with the new bag rule.
Dear Mr. Goodell.
As a matter of introduction I must tell you first that I am not a football fan; I am an Oakland Raiders fan. I attended the very first game in 1960 with my son and daughter, when the team was made up of junior college players and local high school standouts. I’ve been to at least one game every year since, and though I live in Maryland today, I fly to Oakland to attend half of the home games each year.
I was at the Raiders’ first game in 1962. After church, I brought my son, 10, and my daughter, 6, to the games with our lunches in picnic baskets. If rain or cold weather was expected, we packed our umbrellas and jackets—the essentials. Over the next few years, as the landscape of our society shifted and produced security concerns, and NFL teams sought revenue by limiting the items allowed in the stadium and selling substitutes in the building, I rolled with the punches.
This no-large-bag policy, however, is a haymaker. I suppose it is the reaction to the bombing in Boston, and the feeling is that we need to give fans a sense of security. But how much safer are we? Let’s be honest: There’s one hundred ways to bring a gun or a knife into an NFL stadium, and no clear bag is going to stop that. If two boys can sneak into the Super Bowl and make a YouTube video documenting it, I’m pretty sure someone can sneak a weapon in. Any security measure short of stadium metal detectors is contribution to a false sense of safety that is dangerous in itself.
Yet the NFL insists on small, clear bags. That way security can see all of the contents at a glance (and so can everyone else). I’m a 79-year-old woman, and I carry a variety of items I don’t need the world knowing about. For instance, if I don’t need the collapsible walking cane I brought just in case, do I really want the senior gentleman sitting next to me to know I have a walking cane? NO! Plus the size of the bag simply doesn’t allow for everything necessary for the fan experience. I wear my sunglasses and I need the case to place them in when the sun goes down. I love taking pictures, but the camera will not fit in the clutch. My seats are in the shade, so even though it starts off hot, as evening approaches, I need a jacket. I sit in a section that leaks in my lap if it rains, so I need some rain protection. When it is cool or it is a night game (we don’t have any this year), I need a blanket.
Under the new rules, I will have to wear a jacket I may not need, throw a blanket over my shoulder, carry my walking cane, camera and eye glass case in my clear plastic bag and put my identity, credit cards, health insurance, cell phone and money in my clutch purse if they will fit. That’s ridiculous! I love going to Raiders games and sharing them with my friends and family. I’ll be attending as long as the team is in Oakland and I can still walk (and maybe for a few more years after that). No stadium security policy is going to hold me back. But Mr. Goodell, I need to bring along a bag that is large enough to hold my things and not see-through. I promise I will not hurt anyone!!!
5. I think Washington safety Brandon Meriweather can get his checkbook out this morning. He’s going to be the first player fined under the new crown-of-the-helmet rule, and it could be a doozy. (Amazing no player was flagged for this in the season’s first 82 games, including preseason ones.) Meriweather lowered his head and slammed into Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy, clipping him with the crown of the helmet into Lacy’s helmet and then into Lacy’s chest. Lacy was left woozy, and departed with a concussion. The rule: No player outside the in-line tackle box can lower his head and deliver a blow with the crown of the helmet. This most often would be called on an offensive player, usually a running back, using the crown of his helmet as a battering ram against a defender to push him backward and gain more yards. But it can be called on any player who leads with the crown of the helmet, and Meriweather’s violation looked textbook to me.
6. I think the good will of the Panthers' 5-1 finish in 2012 has vanished. Cam Newton is 13-21 as a starting quarterback, and the Panthers played it safe at the end of regulation in Buffalo, helping the Bills rally at the end. It's not going to be a friendly crowd in Charlotte Sunday when the Giants come to town.
7. I think, in the wake of one of the most bizarre endings to a football game ever (Wisconsin-Arizona State, at 2 a.m. ET Sunday), I want to perform a public service for the Wisconsin coaching staff. Read this story from The MMQB in August. It centers on Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians coaching the minutiae to his young players. Never assume your players know all the rules, or will execute them properly. And remember Arians’ words: “There are no little things. The little things are all big things.” The little things cost the Badgers a game when their quarterback, Joe Stave, placed a ball down on the field, thinking he was downing it in good position to kick a game-winning field goal. But it happened so fast—even though Stave had time to kneel and put the ball down properly—that the officials and Sun Devil players weren’t sure what happened, and some ASU players flopped on the ball as the clock continued to run, and expire. Stave needed to make it clear he was kneeling down and giving himself up, and it happened so fast no one could tell what he was doing. You can blame the officials, who were indecisive, but Stave has to execute the play with enough time on the clock and set Wisconsin up for the field goal.
8. I think the NFL is operating under this false pretense: a hit out of bounds necessitates a $7,000 fine. There is no conceivable way that the Lavonte David hit on Geno Smith just barely out of bounds in Week 1—the hit that was flagged on the field for unnecessary roughness and ended up costing the Bucs the game—should be a fineable hit. Hits drawing fines should be violent and/or flagrant hits on players, not hits that were marginal penalties in the first place.
9. I think—no, I know—that Josh Freeman was not one of the top two vote-getters to be named a Bucs offensive captain. When the Bucs elected their captains, the vote came right after Freeman's oversleeping and missing the team photo, and he probably wouldn’t have won it anyway because of the team-wide respect for winners Davin Joseph and Vincent Jackson. But stories circulated that coach Greg Schiano cooked the vote to make sure Freeman—allegedly not one of Schiano’s favorites—wouldn’t be one of the two captains. A trusted source says that absolutely didn’t happen. So put that story to bed. Not that it matters much; Freeman’s not going to be the Tampa Bay quarterback much longer if he continues to lose (the Bucs are 1-7 in his last eight starts, and in their last eight games) and complete 54 percent of his throws (his completion percentage since the start of the 2012 season). People, I believe, are getting this wrong, about Schiano having it in for Freeman. He doesn’t. Schiano’s a performance guy. When you lose seven of eight and oversleep for the team photo after a so-so offseason, Schiano’s not going to be a fan. Has nothing to do with a personality conflict. It’s a performance conflict.
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. What an immense tragedy in Colorado. So sad for all the people whose lives have been unalterably affected by the flooding there.
b. Saw something I’d never seen before, at any level of football: a timeout called at halftime. Well, almost. Army came out for the start of the third quarter, took the field, and the quarterback called a timeout.
c. Touching display at Rutgers Saturday, with the retirement of Eric LeGrand’s No. 52. LeGrand says he is convinced that with faith and research, he will walk again after being paralyzed on the field in a game against Army in 2010. “Help me get back on my feet again,’’ he said in a plea to the crowd. “Believe! It’s in me and it’s in you guys too.”
d. Big week for John Legend. First he announces himself as a Bengals fan in The MMQB. Then he gets married. Congrats, John and Chrissy Teigen. And you got a nice trip to Lake Como out of it, too. That’s where they were married Saturday.
e. Can some doctor out there tell me why the University of Minnesota should keep Jerry Kill coaching football after his fourth seizure in three years on a Gopher game day? I don’t want to be insensitive. I’d really like to know if it makes sense to keep him on as coach.
f. Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara has faced 37 batters in the past month. He has retired all 37. Three of the 37 have hit the ball into the outfield. Sixteen have struck out.
g. Has a reliever in major-league history had a better month? Probably. I just don’t know who it would be, or when. To retire 37 in a row, with 34 not getting the ball out of the infield, is quite a feat.
h. C.C. Sabathia, 4.90 ERA. C.C. Sabathia, owed $96 million over the next four seasons.
i. Congrats, Todd Helton, on a great career, and good luck in retirement. Love it when a guy plays his entire career with a team he loves, and Helton loves the Rockies.
j. Helton hasn’t been great for five or six years, but he had a better career than you thought. Better career on-base percentage than Albert Pujols (.415 to .410), more hits than Mickey Mantle (2,505 to 2,415), more homers than Yogi Berra (367 to 358), more doubles than Tony Gwynn (585 to 543), better on-base-plus-slugging-percentage than Alex Rodriquez (.954 to .944), and a better lifetime batting average than Derek Jeter (.317 to .312).
k. Beernerdness: I’ve become a big fan of Brewmaster Jack beers, from Holyoke, Mass. Just tried another of their ales, Aquila Pale Ale. Lighter than most ales, with a malty flavor. Very easy to drink, and tasty.
l. Coffeenerdness: One thing I don’t understand about baristas. I bring a re-useable grande cup into Starbucks and order a macchiato. Most often, the baristas take a short cup, line it up under the espresso filters, and push the button. The espresso flows into the cup, and the barista pours the espresso on top of the milk in the cup. Then the barista tosses the cup away. There are two other ways to do this—either by pouring the shots directly into the glass shot cups, or by having the shots flow directly into the cup filled two-thirds with milk. Instead, there’s a wasted paper cup. Time to issue a memo to baristas, Seattle.
m. Jeff Garlin wrote a 10 Things I Think for The MMQB, and you’ll read it this week. Attention Curb fans: there’s some stuff in their about the future of the show.
n. Not that we’re drooling for Larry David to get back on the set for Curb Your Enthusiasm or anything.
o. I guess I have made a big mistake (my first). Never watched Breaking Bad. You know that feeling when everyone says you’ve got to watch a show, and you’re so far behind, and you throw your hands up in the air and say, “I’ll never catch up?” That’s me and Breaking Bad.
p. Re SI’s Oklahoma State story. I like Jeff Pearlman’s take.
q. One point about scandals when they’re reported: Do you think when the heat hits, most people who act as sources, either on or off the record, are going to say, “Yup, I told this reporter there was bad stuff going on?’’ No. Most are going to say, “I was taken out of context,’’ or “I was misquoted.” We see this in controversial stories all the time.
Who I Like Tonight
Cincinnati 20, Pittsburgh 16. It’s not a pleasant Monday night facing Geno Atkins for anyone, but a week ago, Fernando Velasco was on the street looking for work, having been cut by the Titans, and now Velasco replaces Kelvin Beachum as the Steeler center. In Cincinnati, where, presumably, the crowd will make it difficult for the Steelers to make their usual line calls, complicating matters for a center in his first game. Now, the center doesn’t have primary responsibility on Atkins, obviously. But even if Velasco has to block or combo-block Atkins only 40 or 50 percent of the game, the new kid on the block will still have a strong nose man, Domata Peko, to contend with on the other plays. The line is a major Steelers concern, particularly with a poor running game. Last season, when the Bengals went to Pittsburgh and won in December, Ben Roethlisberger had his only multiple-interception game of the season (two) and his lowest passer rating (58.6) of the year. And now he’s without his center, the pivot of his offensive line, his comfort zone among the linemen. Edge to the Bengals there, and maybe a big edge.
Andy Benoit analyzes the Steelers-Bengals MNF matchup here.
The Adieu Haiku
Manziel strafes Saban.
Again. I see in Cleveland
Furrowed brows by Browns.