An explanation on why we devoted space on a football website to talk about Derek Jeter. Plus questions on the road failures of Sean Payton and Drew Brees, Cam Newton's body language and what the future might hold for the Titans
Many of you responded—negatively, almost exclusively—to the section of my column on Monday devoted to NFL people talking about Derek Jeter. So, because I like to try to explain much of what I do and why I do it to you in this forum, give me a few sentences to try to explain to you why I chose to spend 1,800 words of a 10,000-word football column on impressions of a baseball player.
There are some occasions in sports that I view as universal and worthy of comment in my column, regardless of the fact that it isn’t football. I thought the retirement of Jeter, who I have always viewed as a tremendous all-around player and charismatic person, was worth delving into by asking players, coaches, and football officials what they thought of him. He just seems universal to me. And not because he’s a New York athlete and I live in New York. As you know, I am not a fan of the New York Yankees. But I am a fan of Jeter—the way he played, the way he carried himself, the intense importance of baseball to him every day.
So, on Friday, I decided that I would send some text messages to people who I know and have covered in football, asking them all the same questions: If you saw Jeter’s walk-off hit, what did you think? And what’s your feeling about Jeter in general? Right away, I started getting responses. Bill Polian called me after 10 p.m. on Friday, anxious to talk about all things Jeter. Archie Manning wanted to talk, and Bill Parcells. And the text messages flowed in. Long ones from Larry Fitzgerald and Kurt Warner and Rex Ryan and John Harbaugh and Marvin Lewis and Greg Schiano and Champ Bailey. Frankly, I was overwhelmed by the reaction. I only regret that I couldn’t use everything, because then it would have been 8,000 words on Jeter in the column. Along with column editor Dom Bonvissuto, we boiled most of the comments down and tried to give you a taste of what everyone was thinking.
I realize many of you, from your mostly negative reaction to it, would prefer I spend 1,800 words writing about something current in the NFL. I get it. But one of the things that I like to do in this column is to take chances and try to do different things at times. It makes the column fun for me. I loved hearing Parcells talk about who Jeter compares to in the NFL. I hope at least some of you appreciated the thoughts of NFL people about a dignified great player in another game. And please, both on Twitter and by email, continue to tell me what you think and what you like and what you want to read. I’m listening.
Now for your emails:
BREAK UP THE SAINTS. I know Sean Payton and Drew Brees are almost untouchable, but if the Saints are ever going to get back to the Super Bowl doesn't something have to change? These two have a very hard time winning, or even playing decent, on the road and it's been this way for years.
—Greg, Silver Spring, Md.
I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a moment. Last postseason, the Saints went into Philadelphia against a hot Eagles team (winners of 7 of their last 8) and the Saints won a wild-card game there. I understand that they have not been very good at all on the road since Payton returned from his suspension. But I don’t believe the focus should be on Payton and Brees, even though the Sunday night game in Dallas was a poor illustration of what was supposed to be an explosive offense. The blame lies with the defense, and with a pass rush that simply isn’t there. It's a good question, but I’m just not sure that it is all together valid to blame the offense when opponents are scoring at will against the defense.
ON CAM NEWTON. Watching Cam Newton's body language during the beatdown in Baltimore, I couldn't help but think that he is seriously lacking the "want to" to succeed in the NFL. This isn't the first blowout that Newton has failed to finish. I hear all the talk about him being "beat up" and how the risk of taking any more shots to the body would derail further progress in his development. But I know that almost every other starting QB in the NFL would be out there fighting for his team. Does Cam Newton lack heart when the team is losing?
—Hans, Bel Air, Md.
I don’t see that at all. I think Ron Rivera has done the smart thing two weeks in a row, removing a quarterback who still is nursing a rib injury, from blowouts when the Panthers have zero chance to come back and win. There is a time to be gutsy, and there is a time to do the smart thing. If Denver was down 30 points with five minutes to go, John Fox is pulling Peyton Manning and putting in Brock Osweiler. I think if a coach doesn’t, he’s simply playing with fire.
GOOD TURNAROUNDS. Barring players returning from a full to mostly injury-riddled season, who would you say is the player that has turned it around the most through the first quarter of the season. As a Giants fan, I think Will Beatty is doing a great job making everyone wonder who the imposter was playing left tackle last year.
—Dave, Cologne, Germany
You bring up a great example. Beatty has been terrific, particularly in the last two games. I would add two members of the Baltimore Ravens: Receiver Steve Smith, who hadn’t had a 75-yard receiving game in over a year, and now is on pace to catch 100 balls for more than 1,700 yards; and running back Justin Forsett, who I believe in the first four games has outperformed what Ray Rice would have done.
TURNING ATTENTION TO TENNESSEE. I'm a regular reader, and these days I'm very sad to say I'm a Tennessee Titans fan. Following one of the least popular and least covered teams in the NFL can be a frustrating experience. However, I've come to expect more from The MMQB than other outlets that gloss over my team and provide a few articles now and then to say they don't ignore anyone. The fact is that the media, and the MMQB, are not doing a good enough job covering this franchise.
Case in point is your laughable article following Tennessee's Week 1 rout of the Chiefs. If you bothered paying serious attention to this team, you would have known to reserve judgment following one good game. After three horrible losses are you willing to take that statement back or can you provide me with a glimmer of hope that all is not lost for this team and that what you see is still yet to come?
After the first game of the season, I was heartened by the performance of Jake Locker. Because Ken Whisenhunt had such a good reputation in affecting the mechanics of quarterbacks, I thought maybe he could do the same with Locker. That was the primary basis of my optimism for Tennessee, plus the thought that the Jurrell Casey-led defense was going to be good enough to keep Tennessee in games. Right now I look ridiculously wrong.
What I would do if I were Whisenhunt is use the rest of this season to find out everything I could about Locker, and then give the rest of the snaps to Zach Mettenberger. He has a chance to be the future. Charlie Whitehurst does not. Finally, I think the recent performances of teams like Dallas and Houston and the Giants say that the distance between oblivion and playoff-contention is short. And also, if you follow me, you know that my predictions stink. I wish I could give you more of a reason to either give up or to believe, but I think so much of it depends on how the quarterback plays in Tennessee.