My thoughts on Tony Romo, unfair scapegoat, what comes next in Minnesota after Josh Freeman’s signing and the thrilling novelty of football 'round the clock
Now that was a really fun day of football and sidebars to football. A day plus, really, including tension in the Black Hole at 2:32 Eastern Time this morning. The highlights:
Mr. Freeman goes to Minneapolis. Josh Freeman wasn’t an unemployed quarterback for long. As Mike Florio reported on NBC late Sunday night, Minnesota GM Rick Spielman signed him to a one-year contract, and he’ll report to the Vikings today. Minnesota is coming off its bye week, and has a home game with Carolina Sunday afternoon. Freeman did the one-year deal for a strategic reason: He wants to be a free agent next March, able to sign with any quarterback-needy team before the lucrative 2014 quarterback draft in May. (More on the filthy-rich prospective QB crop lower in this column.) For now, Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel will have company in the quarterback meeting room, and Freeman’s been brought in to play, not sit. The Vikings are only 1.5 games out of the NFC North lead, but before you get too excited about Freeman, check out my Stat of the Week. He’s a 50.8 percent passer over his last 10 starts, and that’s not going to win any jobs in Saskatchewan, never mind the Metrodome.
It’s not the right day to say Romo’s a bum. We all saw the pass Tony Romo, with 506 passing yards in a 48-48 tie very late in the Denver-Dallas game, threw. And he shouldn’t have thrown it. Denver linebacker Danny Trevathan stepped in front of rookie tight end Gavin Escobar and made an athletic interception at the Dallas 24. Eight plays later, as the clock ran out, Matt Prater kicked the winning 28-yard field goal. It follows the Romo pattern, of course, of throwing the ball to the other team in a vital moment. I have a hard time, though, saying, “Same ol’ Romo,’’ when his line before that throw was 25 of 35 for 506 yards, with five touchdowns and no interceptions; when he’d put up 48 points and the defense had a track meet run on it by Peyton Manning. I’m not absolving him of the error—just saying it’s not fair to rip Romo when he’s played the game of his life, and when Manning made the exact same mistake just a few drives earlier, throwing one to Morris Claiborne in a tense time. My takeaway from this game: There are no great teams in the NFC East; there may not even be one good one. But Dallas should win the division, even if it’s with a 7-9 record.
Danny Trevathan was shocked to be playing, never mind intercepting, on Sunday. “No way I thought I’d be here after what happened to me this week,’’ Trevathan said by phone after the game. On Wednesday at practice, Trevathan felt his knee pop and went down in pain. Lucky for him, an MRI showed no damage. “Just a strain,’’ he said. He said he broke on the Romo pass and was going for the interception all the way. “The ball was low, and I’m thankful for all the ball drills we do in practice,’’ Trevathan said. Ever been in a 51-48 game before, or one like it? “No sir,’’ he said. “This is the first game like this I’ve ever been a part of. It was a game we found out a lot about our character.”
How much longer for Matt Schaub? I know Gary Kubiak said last night Schaub is his quarterback, and the Texans will do everything they can this week to get him mentally ready for the boos at home, because they’re coming. The Rams will come to Reliant Stadium, and it’s got to be Schaub’s last stand. He looks like a shell of himself. He’s not a confident thrower right now, and it looked like he telegraphed a pick-6 90 seconds into the debacle loss at San Francisco. Amazing, really, how bad the Texans look right now, with such good players across the board (except for the offensive line, which is playing poorly and leaking too much pressure, and of course the quarterback). How the Texans do this week in performing mental rehab on Schaub will go a long way in determining whether they can salvage the season.
What’s my line? Depending on your source for gambling, it’s either 27.5 or 28 points for Jacksonville-Denver, which is significant because it is the most lopsided line in NFL history—or at least since records have been kept on such things, since 1972. A bookie in New Jersey (no names, please) told me last night he’d bet on the 0-5 Jaguars for a couple of reasons. “You don’t know who’s playing in the fourth quarter for Denver,’’ he said. “They could have [Brock] Osweiler in and take it easy on Jacksonville, or run a lot just to run out the clock. I’d bet Jacksonville.’’ We'll be doing a series at The MMQB this week looking at the Jaguars' place in the lowlights of NFL history, and how lines like this are created.
The play of the day wasn’t a pass. It was a punt. The most amazing play I saw all day was Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber booting one—in a monsoon, with a crosswind diagonally in his face and with the Patriots sending a punt-block team—57 yards with two minutes left and the Bengals trying to protect a 13-6 lead. “Heaviest rain I’ve ever punted in or played in, ever,’’ Huber said an hour after it was over. When, presumably, he was dry. I asked Huber to walk me through the play. It was 4th-and-2 at the Cincinnati 17. Huber stood at his own 2, and Patriots punt-returner Julian Edelman was downfield at the New England 40. The rain pelted down, and Huber wiped his hands a couple of times before the snap, not wanting the ball to slip through. “Mainly, you want to treat it like any other punt,’’ he said. “I saw they had everyone coming except for one blocker on our gunner and their return man, Edelman. The visibility was okay, and the snap was good. I’m not even thinking about the rain, just the punt. I was trying to get it directionally left, because I know how dangerous a returner Edelman is. When I kicked it, it felt good. It jumped off my foot. Like a good golf shot. They say when you hit a great golf shot, you can hardly feel it and it’s effortless. That’s what this felt like, and so I was pretty happy.’’ When Huber’s left foot contacted the ball, it was at the Bengals' 6. Edelman kept retreating. Back and back and back, until he had one foot on the 25. Sixty-nine yards in the air, through a monsoon! “I never had one at the end of a game like that,’’ he said. Never mind the conditions. Edelman took it to the 35, and Tom Brady, in desperation, couldn’t finish the drive. Adam Jones ended it with an athletic pick. But the most valuable play in this game? A punt.
Dungy joins the chorus. As respected a voice on the NFL as I know, NBC analyst Tony Dungy, said last night on TV that Washington owner Dan Snyder should change the name of his team. “The Redskins nickname is offensive to Native Americans. In 2013 we need to get that name changed.” I reported last night that Snyder continues to be resolute about not changing the name. This comes on the heels of President Obama suggesting that if a “sizable group of people” is offended by its nickname, the owner should consider changing it. Last night, the attorney for the team, Lanny Davis, was strident to me in saying people were taking the president's statement too far—and he’s right. “What is a sizable group?’’ he said. “In 2004, the only sampling of Native Americans [on this issue] was taken in an Annenberg Poll. Nine of 10 said they were not offended by the nickname. We respect anyone who is offended, but it is not a reason to change our name. When we sing ‘Hail to the Redskins,’ it is not an attempt to dishonor anyone.’’ I asked Davis if it was fair to characterize Snyder as resolute that he would not change the name. “I’d say the team is resolute, he is resolute, 95 percent of our fans are resolute and 90 percent of Native Americans are resolute,’’ he said. NFL owners meet in Washington Tuesday, and the Oneida Indian Nation has scheduled a symposium at the same hotel to discuss why the name “Redskins” is offensive to Native Americans.
That’s a lot of windy days, and nights. The way Al Michaels calculates it, Sunday night’s Texans-Niners game was about the 340th football or baseball game (the 26th football game) he’s done at Candlestick Park … and barring a game in the old dump being moved via NBC’s flex-scheduling in the last two months of the season, it was his last one. He did three years of San Francisco Giants baseball on the radio in the ’70s, then some baseball for ABC, and, of course, Sunday and Monday night football games. And the game he remembers most was one that wasn’t played. On Oct. 17, 1989, Michaels and partner Tim McCarver, readying for game three of the Bay Area World Series between San Francisco and Oakland at Candlestick, were nearing the end of a taped piece at the top of the show, at 5:04 p.m Pacific Time, when … well, listen to Michaels: “You’re in an intense state of concentration doing your job, but there’s suddenly this noise—sounds like kids banging bats on the floor of the upper deck—and this movement. We start to move. I lived in California, so I know earthquakes, and I know it’s either a big jolt that subsides, or a small jolt that builds. And so the lights in the booth went out. We couldn’t hear the truck. We didn’t know if we were on the air or not. McCarver grabbed my left thigh and squeezed it … I mean, we were holding on. I felt for a moment we’d be pitched out onto the lower deck.’’ It lasted 14 seconds, officially. Michaels guessed it was more like a minute. “You’re on national TV, so you don’t want to act like a baby. You have to keep your wits about you.’’ And finally, he did the open of the game that wouldn’t be played on the phone, on national TV. “Well folks, that’s the greatest open in the history of television, bar none.” I asked Michaels where this Candlestick moment ranked next to the Lake Placid Olympic hockey game. “That one’s on a shelf by itself,’’ he said. “But this one, you felt the importance of it. I was on the air on ABC till Good Morning America the next morning.’’
Monday Morning Football was fun.
With the Chargers driving frantically just inside the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter, rookie Raiders corner D.J. Hayden made the biggest play of his young career. He darted in front of San Diego wideout Keenan Allen in the end zone and intercepted a Philip Rivers pass, securing the 27-17 Oakland win with the first interception of his NFL career.
At 2:32 this morning on the East Coast.
I found myself loving it—the lateness, the novelty, the vigor of the Black Hole crowd, the sereneding of Charles Woodson after the 56th interception of his career, the tremendous story of a player who nearly died on a college field last November (Hayden) being one of the heroes here.
The game ended at 2:39 a.m. Eastern Time, 11:39 p.m. Pacific Time, 8:39 p.m. Hawaii Time (held that late because of the time needed to change over the O.Co Coliseum after the Saturday night American League playoff game). At 3 a.m. Eastern, I polled my Twitter followers, asking them if they’d like to see a weekly very late Sunday night game. More football! Let’s gorge on football!
By 7 a.m., 127 of you morning people had responded. Voting yes: 91. No: 36. But as several of you tweeted, if I held that vote at noon on Monday instead of 3 a.m., I’d get a heck of a lot more no votes. One interesting refrain: Many of you said, in effect, the league should get rid of the Thursday night game and hold one of these late jobs after NBC’s Sunday night game is over. The biggest problem, of course, would be the venues and teams willing to hold a game so late. There are six teams in the Mountain and Pacific time zones, and it’s clear those are the teams that would need to host these games; hard to imagine midnight madness at East Coast stadia.
It’s an interesting concept, but one I doubt that would have any chance of happening. Just thought it was novel, and quite a few of you night owls enjoyed it.
The quarterback market will be rich next May.
(Still can’t believe I’m typing a reference to the NFL draft in "next May." It’s too late, people.)
The other day at The MMQB, our college football guru, Andy Staples, did his weekly list of the top 50 draft prospects. He had nine quarterbacks rated among his top 32 picks. When I asked Staples to do this list weekly during the college season, I told him to put underclass players in if he thinks they’ll be declaring for the draft. Thus Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a junior, in. Thus UCLA redshirt sophomore Brett Hundley, out. Staples’ gut tells him Bridgewater comes out and Hundley stays in school.
So I asked a veteran road scout who has been out this fall looking at quarterbacks—his team will be in the market for one in the 2014 draft—what he thought of us having nine quarterbacks, from Bridgewater at No. 1 to Fresno State senior Derek Carr (brother of David) No. 31.
“It would not surprise me when we make our board if we have nine quarterbacks with first-round grades,’’ he said. “Not at all. Obviously, that depends on which underclassmen declare, and you hear things out there. But I could see it.’’
That doesn’t mean nine quarterbacks will go in the first round, obviously. That won’t happen. But the big numbers at quarterback, assuming players like Manziel and Bridgewater and Oregon redshirt soph Marcus Mariota do come out, could be very good for teams like Minnesota and Oakland. The Vikings and Raiders could exit 2013 doubting Christian Ponder/Josh Freeman (and Freeman could want to play elsewhere) and Terrelle Pryor as their long-term quarterback answers—but they may not be ready to pull the plug on them for good. The market might be so good that teams thought not to be in the market (Philadelphia, Dallas, Denver, Cincinnati and Houston, for example) could see a highly ranked guy on their board sitting there in the third round and think he’s just too good a player to pass up.
This road scout said the most intriguing prospect he’d seen this season was 6-5, 235-pound LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who he said has improved a lot under new offensive Cam Cameron.
And so you want to be a Hall of Fame voter …
Well, you can’t. But I’ve got the next-best idea: Have some input into the system of electing Hall of Fame players.
The 46 voters for the Hall have until Nov. 1 to cull the list of 126 modern-era candidates to 25. When the 126-person list is cut to 25, Hall voters will then submit their votes for the final 15, and those 15 finalists will be considered for election at the 2014 selection meeting in New York on Feb. 1.
This week, The MMQB will give 10 of you a chance to make your best case for a player you believe belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Nominate and support your favorite candidate in short, 250-word essays, and we’ll run the best ones Friday on The MMQB.
The list of nominees:
Quarterbacks—Drew Bledsoe, Randall Cunningham, Doug Flutie, Trent Green, Steve McNair, Phil Simms.
Running backs—Shaun Alexander, Ottis Anderson, Tiki Barber, Jerome Bettis, Larry Centers, Roger Craig, Stephen Davis, Terrell Davis, Warrick Dunn, Eddie George, Priest Holmes, Dave Meggett, Eric Metcalf, Herschel Walker, Ricky Watters.
Wide receivers—Tim Brown, Gary Clark, Mark Clayton, Henry Ellard, Marvin Harrison, Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell, Andre Reed, Sterling Sharpe, Jimmy Smith, Rod Smith.
Tight end—Mark Bavaro.
Offensive linemen—Willie Anderson, Tony Boselli, Lomas Brown, Jim Covert, Jay HIlgenberg, Chris Hinton, Kent Hull, Joe Jacoby, Walter Jones, Mike Kenn, Jim Lachey, Tom Nalen, Nate Newton, Don Mosebar, Will Shields, Steve Wisniewski.
Defensive linemen—Jerome Brown, Charles Haley, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Dexter Manley, Charles Mann, Steve McMichael, Fred Smerlas, Michael Strahan, Ted Washington, Bryant Young.
Linebackers—Cornelius Bennett, Derrick Brooks, Tedy Bruschi, Kevin Greene, Ken Harvey, Clay Matthews, Willie McGinest, Karl Mecklenburg, Sam Mills, Darryl Talley, Zach Thomas.
Defensive backs—Eric Allen, Steve Atwater, Joey Browner, LeRoy Butler, Rodney Harrison, Albert Lewis, John Lynch, Sam Madison, Patrick Surtain, Troy Vincent, Everson Walls, Aeneas Williams, Darren Woodson.
Kicker/punter—Morten Andersen, Gary Anderson, Sean Landeta, Nick Lowery.
Special teams players—Brian Mitchell, Steve Tasker.
Coaches—Bill Arnsparger, Don Coryell, Bill Cowher, Tony Dungy, Tom Flores, Jon Gruden, Mike Holmgren, Jimmy Johnson, Chuck Knox, Buddy Parker, Richie Petitbon, Dan Reeves, Lou Saban, Marty Schottenheimer, Clark Shaughnessy, Dick Vermeil.
Contributors—Bud Adams, Bobby Beathard, Gil Brandt, Leo Carlin, Red Cashion, Jack Kent Cooke, Otho Davis, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., Ron Gibbs, Jerry Jones, Eddie Kotal, Robert Kraft, Elmer Lyden, Art McNally, Art Modell, Bill Polian, Steve Sabol, Paul Tagliabue, Jim Tunney, Ron Wolf, George Young.
The League of Denial hits the NFL hard this week.
With the book League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth (Crown Archetype) coming out Tuesday, and the PBS documentary of the same name set to air Tuesday from 9-11 p.m., the subject will be hot. Authors, brothers and ESPN reporters Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada claim the league “went to war against science,” knocking the studies of brain researchers who said the league was belittling their work. I spoke to the authors Thursday.
The MMQB: What was your reaction when ESPN suddenly parted with PBS on the documentary?
Steve: We were as surprised as everybody. We got a call from our editors telling us that this decision had been made to pull out of the partnership. A lot of it didn’t really make much sense to us. The partnership was going so well. A lot of the reporting had already been published in ESPN in some form. That said, I mean, Mark and I were both obviously disappointed, particularly with the implication that the NFL got involved and put pressure on the network. But I think our position has been that the journalism piece did not change. The book is coming out Tuesday, and it’s totally intact. The film is the same film that would have been made if ESPN didn’t pull out.
Mark: The series of events that happened would be disappointing to any journalist. It was really frustrating for us because we had a phenomenal relationship with Frontline for those 15 months and produced a lot of stuff we were really proud of.
The MMQB: Do you believe the NFL told your bosses to lay off?
Steve: Honestly, I don’t think we know. I don’t think either of us would be surprised at all, because they never cooperated; they wouldn’t make anyone available for either the book or the film.
The MMQB: It sounds like ESPN’s name is going to be off the film, but everything remained the same with your support, contribution and reporting to the show?
The MMQB: So what do you believe the league knew and when did they know it?
Steve: Starting in about 1999, 2000, nearly two dozen scientists went to attack this issue of football and the connection to long-term brain damage. Those neuroscientists went to the NFL in various forms, some of them directly, some of them through publishing their research, to issue a series of warnings. The league’s response was to try to discredit the neuroscientists and put forward its own research, which pretty much promoted a completely contradictory narrative: that concussions were minor injuries, and NFL players were impervious to brain damage. And that sort of systematic effort continued up until basically 2010 when, under pressure from Congress, the NFL completely reversed itself and basically embraced the same people who had been pushing for these other ideas in recent years.
The MMQB: How culpable do you believe former commissioner Paul Tagliabue is?
Mark: I don’t know from a legal standpoint, but … he did not confront the issue until 1999, at least in a serious way … And what you’ve got is the commissioner of the time denying that this is a serious issue for the league. He’s trotting out a statistic about maybe one concussion every three games, or something like that. And then saying this is not about football and the dangers of brain trauma. And then he creates a committee, and the head of the committee is a rheumatologist who later becomes his physician, a guy who has zero background in research on concussions or brain damage or a specialist in that area. So we certainly don’t know what was inside Tagliabue’s head when he made these decisions, but I think our goal is to lay out what we think his mindset was at the time, based off his public statements and based off his creation of that committee. One thing we laid out in the book was the shock from researchers in the field based off this committee being put together.
What you’ve got is the commissioner of the time denying that this is a serious issue for the league. [Paul Tagliabue] is trotting out a statistic about maybe one concussion every three games, or something like that.
The MMQB: What do you think about Roger Goodell’s role?
Steve: I think that he’s certainly been more proactive than Tagliabue on this issue. At the same time, there was a meeting in Chicago in 2007. It was billed as a concussion summit. Goodell was there, and he invited all of these medical personnel to sit in an amphitheater and discuss the issue. They also invited independent scientists who had a completely alternative view than the NFL had at the time. That meeting turned into a complete fiasco. They showed slides of brain tissue of deceased players who had been diagnosed with CTE, and the head of the committee essentially mocked the findings. … It’s a mixed bag. Goodell is certainly more proactive. People who have met with him, they believe his heart is in the right place. He’s really trying to implement change. At the same time, it’s taking him some time to get there.
The MMQB: How do you think the league handles concussions on the field today?
Mark: The league should be this way [with independent neurologists involved]. The league has so much money and resources, it should be providing the best care to its players and seems to be at that place in the reality of how to treat players on game day and deal with that issue. I think the real lingering question for the league is not, ‘Are they doing everything they possibly can on game day to deal with this?’ But it’s the question being put forth by folks at Boston University: ‘The repetitious nature of the sport, especially from the line of scrimmage, is that inherently exposing to the kinds of damage we’re seeing down the road?’ When you look at the CTE cases, a huge preponderance of those cases are offensive and defensive linemen. And the argument is because those guys are being exposed on every single play to the repetitious nature of hitting. Is there really a way to legislate that out of the game? I’m not sure there is. I love the sport, and one of the things people love about it is that it’s an inherently violent sport. Whether you can really change that, at the core, or whether you really want to, beside legislating out the big, huge hits everyone talks about, I’m not sure that’s really possible. … We love the sport. This was never anything for us about wanting to kill football or those kinds of things that people would try to suggest. We wanted to write a book that would inform people what was going on.
The MMQB: Should football exist?
Steve: Since I have season-tickets for the 49ers, I hope so. I don’t mean to be flippant about it. But we love the sport. I played the sport in high school, and that was a major life experience for me. I don’t think in any way would we want to minimize that. It is a game, but it is a big part of our culture. At the same time, these are real issues.
We love the sport. This was never anything for us about wanting to kill football or those kinds of things that people would try to suggest. We wanted to write a book that would inform people what was going on.
Mark: To me, the answer is a simple [yes]. We love the sport. I think it’s more about people now being as informed as they can possibly be and making decisions because of that. I think the issue previously for NFL players was the argument that yes, they knew their knees and their hips and their shoulders or whatever could be shredded, but they weren’t necessarily in tune with the idea that they could get brain damage. Well, now it’s out there, and there’s a clear knowledge that it’s a possibility, and guys are going to make decisions. It’s more about being as informed as you can be and people can make those decisions, whether it’s at the NFL level or Pop Warner level or whatever. But I would never be as presumptuous as to say it shouldn’t exist. It’s a big part of our culture.
Steve: Also, there are these comparisons to Big Tobacco. But football isn’t smoking. It is firmly established in the last 75 years that smoking can kill. Football is not that. It’s a great sport, a uniquely American sport. Ten million people watched the finale of Breaking Bad. A hundred million people watch the Super Bowl every year. This is something that we, as a country, cherish.
1. Denver (5-0). Exhilaratingly exasperating on defense. But the offense looks unstoppable.
2. New Orleans (5-0). Building a 23-7 lead and coasting is great for the confidence of a team that might have to play outdoors in January.
3. Indianapolis (4-1). Andrew Luck owns the fourth quarter. What a fabulous career he’s going to have.
4. Seattle (4-1). Why Seattle Must Play At Home in January Dept.: Seattle in Seattle this year—‘Hawks 74, Foes 20 in two games. Seattle on the road this year—‘Hawks 63, Foes 61 in three.
5. Kansas City (5-0). Allowing 11.6 points per game gets you in my top five.
6. San Francisco (3-2). The meltdowns to Seattle and Indianapolis are in the rearview mirror. Scoring 69 points against the Rams and Texans helps. And their next five weeks are pretty tolerable: Arizona, at Tennessee, Jacksonville in London, bye, Carolina.
7. Cincinnati (3-2). Beat Aaron Rodgers. Lost to Brian Hoyer. Beat Tom Brady. All in 15 days.
8. New England (4-1). Hard to say what that loss in the rain meant, but the protection of Tom Brady simply must get better—and Rob Gronkowski might want to play one of these weeks.
9. Green Bay (2-2). They'll petition the league for eight home games against Detroit every year. I think they’d rather play the Lions at home than the Jags.
10. Baltimore (3-2). Good win to pull it out in Miami, but this is something John Harbaugh frets about: Last year, Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce averaged 4.6 yards per carry. This year: 2.9.
11. Dallas (2-3). One of the craziest games in Cowboys history. In NFL history. Showed how great, and how maddening, Tony Romo can be in one game.
12. Detroit (3-2). Calvin Johnson missed the game, out of nowhere, and it showed. The Lions played like they had a thorn in their collective paw.
13. Tennessee (3-2). Ryan Fitzpatrick has to be better than 24 of 49 through five quarters to salvage the Titans’ playoff hopes while Jake Locker mends.
14. Chicago (3-2). Outscored by 16 the last two weeks, but an elixir’s on the way: the Giants, at home, Thursday night.
15. Atlanta (1-3). Speaking of New Jersey teams you like to see coming to your place … Jets at Falcons tonight.
The Award Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Julius Thomas, TE, Denver. His nine catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns came in many different forms, but the most unusual was a shovel pass you could barely see, Peyton Manning opening the Denver scoring with a four-yard sideways toss to the first-year starter.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis. So hard not to fall in love with this guy, watching him consistently. His five-catch, 140-yard performance in the win over Seattle was the latest in a string of games that shows Indianapolis has drafted well to supplement Andrew Luck in this new era. Hilton’s 73-yard touchdown catch and run up the right sideline was a perfect example of speed, agility and tightrope-walking.
Defensive Players of the Week
Charles Woodson, FS, Oakland. A historic night for the great Woodson, who turns 37 today. His third-quarter 25-yard fumble return against San Diego was the 13th touchdown of his career, tying an NFL record for defensive players. And his game-sealing interception of Philip Rivers in the final minute was the 56th pick of his career, tying him with Lem Barney and Pat Fischer for 17th on the NFL’s all-time list. Woodson looks good in silver and black.
Tramaine Brock, CB, San Francisco. Call him Wally Pipp—you’ll have to Google (or Bing) that if you need to know what it means. Suffice it to say Brock subbed for the injured Nnamdi Asomugha at nickel cornerback Sunday night, and it’s going to be tough for Asomugha to get his job back after the 34-3 beatdown of the Texans Sunday night. Brock pick-6’ed Matt Schaub on the opening drive of the game, then intercepted Schaub again in the second quarter. The two picks led to 14 Niners points.
Robert Mathis, OLB, Indianapolis. With his 100th and 101st career sacks in the 34-28 win over previously unbeaten Seattle, Mathis, a 'tweener of a fifth-round pick 10 years ago, became the 30th player in NFL history to record 100 sacks. “He’s the benchmark for any young player coming in here,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said.
Terrell Suggs, OLB, Baltimore. Suggs had three sacks in a seven-minute span of the fourth quarter, and his final two came within a minute of each other on the Dolphins drive that stalled and handed the Ravens the ball for the game-winning field goal. Impressive that Suggs had that much left in the tank on an 87-degree afternoon in Miami during a 26-23 Baltimore win.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Kevin Huber, P, Cincinnati. See above.
Jermaine Kearse, WR/punt rush, Seattle. This guy has turned into an important and versatile weapon for the Seahawks. In the first half at Indianapolis, he blocked a Pat McAfee punt, and it bounced into the end zone and out of it for a safety. That made it 12-0 Seattle. After two quick Indy touchdowns, Kearse, an undrafted second-year wideout from Washington, caught a touchdown pass from Russell Wilson, making it 19-14.
Justin Tucker, K, Baltimore. Can’t get much better than this guy. Tucker kicked field goals of 42, 50, 25 and 44 Sunday in Miami, and the last one won the game with 1:42 to play. In his 13-month career with Baltimore, Tucker is 45 of 50 on field goals, making all 22 attempts from inside 40.
Coach of the Week
Adam Gase, offensive coordinator, Denver. For the smooth transition from Mike McCoy at offensive coordinator and offensive play-caller, for being able to bond quickly with a quarterback who clearly respects him (Peyton Manning), and for piloting an offense that’s putting up 46 points a game through five weeks.
Goat of the Week
Matt Schaub, QB, Houston. It’s sad to watch the implosion of this productive player. And make no mistake—he’s imploding before our eyes. For the fourth straight game, an NFL record, he had an interception returned for touchdown, this one 90 seconds into the first quarter. It was one of three picks in all for Schaub. Though coach Gary Kubiak said Schaub remains the starter, it’d be a shock if Schaub can hang onto the job with one more poor performance Sunday at home against the Rams. Who, by the way, have a risk-taking secondary.
Quotes of the Week
“This is an afternoon game in Hawaii.”
—CBS play-by-play man Ian Eagle, with 1:48 left in the Chargers-Raiders game, at 2:32 a.m. today, in the NFL Network game telecast.
“And in Fiji.”
—Eagle’s partner, Dan Fouts.
“The key is, you want to do it about every five years or so. Naked bootlegs only work when you don’t tell anybody.”
—Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, after he ran for his first bootleg touchdown in years at Dallas Sunday, giving Denver a 28-17 lead on the way to a 51-48 win.
“I think I made the right decision. It’s really hard for me to even explain it. But the way that’ll make sense for me to explain it to people who watched me play is … I was really very much an introspective guy … and for me, coming into the NFL with so much passion and drive for the game … and really enjoying those 10 years, and then, when that drive and determination and fire started to fade a little bit, and when it faded enough, I just knew it was time to go … After 10 years, the time was right, there was nothing else to stay for, and we were kind of rebuilding, and it was time to move on.”
—Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders, on his decision to retire at age 30 after the 1998 season and 10 years in the NFL, on The MMQB Podcast With Peter King this week. I asked Sanders if he’d had second thoughts in the intervening decade and a half, and it didn’t sound like he has.
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“If I were the owner of the team and I knew that the name of my team, even if they've had a storied history, that was offending a sizable group of people, I'd think about changing it.”
—President Obama, in an interview with the Associated Press, on whether the Washington franchise should consider replacing its team name.
“Nobody says it’s a good law, nobody says it’s a bad law. But it’s a law. Did you see the Giants game on Sunday? They lost 31-7. And do you know what the Giants didn’t say after that game? ‘If you don’t give us 25 more points by midnight Monday, we will shut down the [bleeping] NFL!’ They didn’t say that! What I’m saying is: Wouldn’t it be nice if the United States Congress aspired to the maturity and problem-solving … of football players.”
—Jon Stewart last week on The Daily Show, urging our elected leaders to re-open the government and to stop using a budget debate to protest a health-care law some of the politicians don’t like.
“Ed Reed. I was born to do this.”
—Houston safety Ed Reed, during the self-introductions of the defensive starters on Sunday night’s NBC broadcast, at the point when most players say which college they attended.
Stat of the Week
One thing largely ignored in the rush to say how wronged new Viking Josh Freeman was by the Bucs in the last couple of weeks: He’s been playing bad football going back to last Thanksgiving.
Shouldn’t we judge players by how they play? Seems like we’ve heard every excuse—coach Greg Schiano is a hands-on-your-throat, privacy-invading nutcase, mostly—for why the Bucs were losing and Freeman was playing poorly. Now, Schiano certainly deserves his share of the blame for a team that has lost nine of 10. It’s his team, and it’s his job is to instill the kind of discipline found lacking at times this year (as in Lavonte David’s late hit in the first game, allowing the Jets to win). But all of the blame on Schiano, or most on Schiano and some on second-year offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan? I’m not buying it. Freeman has to take his share of the responsibility too—a lot more than he’s been assigned in the public view so far. (Last week Roy Cummings of the Tampa Tribune documented a series of Freeman screwups, including missing the team breakfast and being late for the bus on opening day, then skipping two team meetings after being demoted from the starting job.)
So: I set out to compare Freeman’s last 10 starts to some reviled quarterbacks, just to see how he fares. Let’s say I asked a good football fan, “Who’s the worst starting quarterback in football right now?” My money’s on the fan saying Blaine Gabbert. If Gabbert isn’t the one, he’s close. And who else has been judged to be a bad quarterback in the last couple of years, so bad he can’t find employment in the league? Tim Tebow.
Comparing the last 10 starts (including playoffs, in Tebow’s case) of the three men:
I’m not a big fan of the quarterback rating stat, because it over-emphasizes interceptions. But Mark Sanchez and Matt Cassel were the bottom two in rating in 2012, and they were both above 66. The completion percentage, 50.8 percent, is the worst thing for Freeman. Maybe he’ll be able to turn it around quickly in Minnesota, but it bears watching. This is 10 sub-par games, not one or two.
Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Frosh wide receiver Deion Sanders Jr. caught his first collegiate pass Saturday for Southern Methodist. It was one of 71 passes the Mustangs threw in a 55-52 loss to Rutgers.
Of the 46 players who dressed for 5-0 New Orleans Sunday, 19 entered the league as undrafted college free agents. That’s 41 percent of the roster coming up the hard way. Seven of the 22 starters weren’t drafted.
What does that mean? Seattle and New England have a boatload of undrafted players on the roster too, and it tells me those teams scout well, know the kind of players their coaching staffs want, and then go and get them. And the coaches coach them well.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
There is no moral or lesson to this story. It’s not deep, or even very interesting. It just is something that happened to a traveling person.
I went to Boston for Game 1 of the Red Sox-Rays series. On Saturday morning at 8:15 I boarded the Acela in Back Bay, the second stop on the Boston-to-New York route. The train was crowded already. I walked through the Quiet Car, found an unoccupied two-seat row, and sat down. The train left the station. A few seconds later a fellow came up and said the two seats were taken. I looked at the back of the seats, which had no tags on them noting how far the passengers were going. And there was nothing on the seat—no bag, no newspaper, nothing to show that anyone was sitting there. “You sure?’’ I said. He said he was. He and a friend were sitting there, and his friend had gone to the café car to get something to eat, and he was quite sure the seats were his. I gave the guy a good look. Seemed like an earnest man. If I didn’t move, I was basically calling the guy a liar. So I moved, and sat with a quiet apple-eater (he had two of them on the wordless journey) for the 3.5-hour trip to Manhattan.
I didn’t think much about it. He probably was telling the truth, and when I looked down the aisle later, he was sitting there with another guy.
Tweets of the Week
“Cracked open a window in the warm Oakland Raiders press box. Weed seems to be wafting into the press box.”
—@MartyCaswell, producer/reporter for the Mighty 1090 Sports Radio station in San Diego, covering the Chargers-Raiders game, in a tweet logged at 1:58 a.m. ET this morning.
“A Cam Newton turnover just sealed the Cardinals’ win in the game you’re not watching.”
—@MichaelDavSmith, Pro Football Talk manager editor Michael David Smith, while the Cowboys and Broncos were having a barnburner in Texas—and Carolina and Arizona were playing a forgettable game in the desert.
“Dirk Hayhurst...COULDNT hack it...Tom Verducci wasn't even a water boy in high school...but yet they can still bash a player...SAVE IT NERDS”
—@DAVIDprice14, after allowing nine hits and seven earned runs to Boston in a 7-4 playoff loss Saturday, criticizing TBS analysts Hayhurst and Verducci (Hayhurst, a former minor-league pitcher who had a cup of coffee in Toronto; Verducci, a New Jersey high school baseball and football star) for having the temerity to break down his losing performance.
1. Price did not include his career playoff record in the tweet: 0-4, 5.81 ERA.
2. He sounds a little Crawfordy to me.
3. Good luck pitching in New York, or wherever your next stop is, David.
4. Pitching crappy and tweeting soon afterward is probably not the best idea.
On Sunday, Price blanket-apologized—he also got into it with some fans after the game on Twitter—and tweeted: “Last night got out of hand and I apologize for the things that I said on here … if I offended you I am very sorry for doing so…#thatsnotme”
“My question to Pollack: What would you say to the man who denies your daughter/sister/wife/GF/niece an opportunity because of her gender?’’
—@trenni, Comcast Sports New England anchor/reporter Trenni Kusnierek, after ESPN college football analyst David Pollack said women should not be allowed on the 12- to 18-member College Football Playoff selection committee. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to be named to the committee, according to an Associated Press report.
“The #Giants are getting Beason? I thought they were pretty deep at injured reserve.”
—@MikeTanier of Sports On Earth, after New York acquired linebacker Jon Beason from the Panthers. Beason has missed 28 games in the last 25 months due to injury. It’s probably best to say how many games Beason has played since the start of the 2011 season: seven.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 5:
a. Alshon Jeffrey, with his franchise-record-setting day for the Bears: 218 receiving yards on 10 catches (one touchdown) while the Saints spent their time shutting down Brandon Marshall.
b. T.Y. Hilton, on his way to being a big star, with his 73-yard catch and run behind Richard Sherman for a touchdown.
c. Zach Ertz is growing on me. Good, energetic tight end in the Chip Kelly offense.
d. Mason Crosby, coming back to competency.
e. Great FOX camera work on the Eagles’ mugging of Giant special-teams gunner Charles James. Shows everything that’s important about the tenacious mode of play for the players on the outside of the punt teams.
f. My two favorite underrated offensive skill players coming up very big: James Jones with an 83-yard touchdown catch for Green Bay, and Pierre Thomas with two touchdowns for the Saints.
g. Thomas Morstead with a 55-yard punt out of bounds at the Chicago 2-yard line.
h. Peyton Manning’s first scoring drive: three plays, 80 yards, 50 seconds. Scoring on a shovel pass to a 267-pount tight end.
i. Dallas’s time of possession in the first quarter: 13 minutes.
j. Great blocking downfield by Wes Welker.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 5:
a. The NFC East—all below .500.
b. Tennessee without Jake Locker: zero first-quarter points, 10 first-quarter yards.
c. Luke Joeckel, four days after the Eugene Monroe trade, goes out with an ankle injury. Pity the Jags.
d. The Eagles in the red zone.
e. Andre Smith: You’re letting a free-agent rookie from Bowling Green, Chris Jones, beat you on the inside to sack Andy Dalton?
f. Linebacker James Anderson wearing No. 50, Mike Singletary’s number, for the Bears. Just noticed it Sunday, and I don’t like it. It was given to Anderson in April.
g. Does anyone on the Giants not fumble?
h. Blaine Gabbert.
i. I mean, that’s all you need to say.
j. Tom Coughlin with a bad day. He chose to bypass handing Philadelphia a 4th-and-4 from the Giants’ 47, ensuring an Eagles punt, in favor of pushing the Eagles back to a 3rd-and-20 … and then watching Mike Vick run for 31 yards to convert the third down. In the second half he burned two timeouts to challenge an official's call—and was wrong.
k. Giovani Bernard, the promising Cincinnati running back, who fumbled in the fourth quarter against the Patriots.
l. Three drops for Carolina in the first 20 minutes.
3. I think when I grow up, I want to understand that Calvin Johnson commercial.
4. I think one of the reasons The MMQB excites me so much is because of stories like the one veteran special-teams coach Mike Westhoff wrote for us Friday. It’s a great take on what the diminution of importance of special teams is doing to the game. I strongly urge you to read it. His best point: that the next great special-teams coach won’t be able to climb the ladder on his coaching staff and get an opportunity like John Harbaugh did. Could that rob the game of a great head coach in the making? If the game doesn’t feature enough impact plays to give a chance for special-teams coaches to stand out, how will they move up to the top jobs? Two other Super Bowl winners who got their start coaching special teams: Mike Ditka and Bill Cowher.
5. I think the best on-field idea of Westhoff’s—moving the kickoff line back from the 35- to 25-yard line, lining up the 10 kickoff-coverage players no further back than the 20-, and lining up eight of the 11 men on the kickoff-return unit between 10 and 20 yards from the kickoff line, all in an effort to diminish the high-speed, crashing hits on kick returns—should certainly be considered by the Competition Committee. And I believe it will be, from a league source. But this source said any adjustment to the kicking game would have to come with the proviso that it would not increase injuries or concussions, both of which have gone down with fewer kicks being returned in the last two-plus seasons. Remember: Moving the kickoff from the 30 to the 35 in 2011 was not done to improve the game. It was done to cut down on injuries. So if the number of kickoffs is going to go back up, Westhoff or whoever advances this cause will have to have some proof or logic that it won’t get more players hurt.
6. I think until I watched Terrelle Pryor play early this morning, I would have said the best spot for Josh Freeman was Oakland. No question. Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson coached Freeman in his first three years in the NFL (2009-11), and Freeman had a 10-6 record with a 95.9 rating in 2010, when he looked like a rising star. I think the only better place for Freeman would have been Green Bay. If I were Freeman I’d have gone to work with Mike McCarthy and studied Aaron Rodgers, signed a modest deal with the Packers through the end of the 2014 season, then decided what to do with my future. That way, I’d be mechanically sound, fundamentally better and, at 27 in 2015, much more ready to pilot a team than I am today.
7. I think I can recommend—if you’re in the New York area—the 5,000-square-foot traveling Pro Football Hall of Fame exhibit that will be at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, N.J. between now and March 2. Barry Sanders was in New York last week promoting it. The display includes a football once carried in a game by Jim Thorpe, and it’s interactive: Visitors can go through some of the scouting combine experiences. “I know people will love it if they love football,” said Sanders, who is working as an ambassador for the Hall. “It’s one of the best things I’ve been involved with.”
8. I think South Carolina pass rusher Jadaveon Clowney as a very, very high draft choice is really starting to scare me. Clowney (two sacks in South Carolina’s first five games) told coach Steve Spurrier before kickoff Saturday against Kentucky that his ribs were too sore for him to play. That means he’s been hampered now in the first five weeks of the season by a virus, bone spurs in his foot and sore ribs, and Spurrier didn’t sound very happy with him post-game. “He may not be able to play next week, but we’re not going to worry about it, I can assure you of that,’’ Spurrier said. Pro scouts don’t look kindly on a player saving himself for the next level, which is what it appears Clowney is doing. At least that’s the impression NFL people have now.
9. I think of all the stories that will get no play this week because of the outcome of the game involved, this is the one that interests me the most: After three quarters Sunday night, Colin Kaepernick had completed 4 of 13 for 45 yards. And San Francisco led, 24-3. Kaepernick finished 6 of 15, but it’s the accuracy that has to concern offensive coordinator Greg Roman. It’s declined from 62 percent last year to 56 percent now.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Excellent New York Times story on Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, who has suffered five game-day epileptic seizures in the last three seasons, causing him to not be able to coach. The most recent came Saturday morning, and it prevented him from coaching the game against Michigan. I feel for the guy, and he’s such an admirable role model for people with epilepsy. But I wonder how long he can keep doing the job.
b. And this from the Times, about a 12-year-old girl interviewing major-league baseball players, is very cool. Haley Smilow, for instance, knows Andrew McCutchen has a sock fetish (from an interview with the Pirate), and says of her player interviews: “I don’t ask them statistic-y questions because that’s grown-up stuff and I’m only a kid,” she said. “They’re sick of hearing, ‘Why did you go 0 for 3?’ when they have no idea why they went 0 for 3. I might ask ‘What’s on your iPod?’ or ‘What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?’ ”
c. Watching an A’s playoff game in Oakland, at least on TV, looks like the closest thing to a college football rivalry game that baseball has to offer.
d. Justin Verlander has allowed zero earned runs in his last three starts, striking out 33.
e. It’s Oct. 7, and the Buccos are alive (more than alive; up 2-1 against the great Cardinals), and the Steelers are on life support.
f. And no, I didn’t expect Boston to get 19 runs and 25 hits off the Rays with Matt Moore and David Price starting.
g. Something tells me the Sox-Rays series is going five games.
h. Looks like a long year for my Devils.
i. Saw Enough Said, the romantic comedy starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and the late James Gandolfini. Meh. Let’s just say the acting is significantly better than the story. We’re going to miss a lot of good roles Gandolfini would have played.
j. Coffeenerdness: Did Amtrak do something to the weak coffee on the Acela? Tasted a little more like real coffee and not coffee-flavored water Saturday.
k. Beernerdness: I thought Saranac Pumpkin Ale was the best pumpkin beer I’d tasted—and I’ve sampled maybe eight or 10 of them in recent autumns. But Friday in Boston I had the best: UFO Pumpkin, by Harpoon. A good pumpkin beer can’t be overpowering, and it can’t be sweet. UFO Pumpkin, which is unfiltered, is exactly the right touch of both, though the woman who served me asked: “Do you want that with cinnamon and sugar?” God no! She said some patrons like the rim of the glass coated with a cinnamon-sugar mixture, the way some like margaritas with salt. The beer itself is very good the way it is.
l. It’s easy to root for Northwestern.
m. I hope Art Briles is the next Texas coach. I don’t mean to pilfer him from you, Baylor, but he’d be a smart hire for Texas.
Who I Like Tonight
Atlanta 20, New York Jets 15. The Falcons have ruled out Steven Jackson (hamstring) for the third straight game; with the bye next week, that means he’ll be able to give the hammy 34 days to feel right, before Atlanta faces Tampa Bay coming out of the break. The Falcons should be able to beat the turnover-prone Jets without Jackson and with a gimpy Roddy White (who might have 2011 Falcons practice-squad cornerback Darrin Walls covering him in the depleted New York secondary), but the heat is on coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan here. A loss to the Jets would be disastrous, obviously.
The Adieu Haiku
Two a.m. football.
Surprisingly, I want more.