At 38, Peyton Manning’s Prime is Right Now

Monday October 20th, 2014

In the Denver locker room Sunday night, after his 246th NFL regular-season game, Peyton Manning asked, “Where’s Demaryius?"

Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, someone said, was on his way out to the field to do an interview with NBC.

“We gotta get him back,” Manning said. “Get him back in here for a second.”

Someone went to intercept Thomas, and while he was being summoned, Manning found a blank piece of white paper in a notebook, wrote “509” on it with a black Sharpie and ripped the page out. He had a plan to commemorate setting the all-time touchdown-pass record with the 509th of his career, thrown in the second quarter to Thomas; Manning usually does have a plan. Now Thomas was back, and Manning posed with the ball, the piece of paper and the pass-catcher for the record-breaking touchdown pass. You know, like the old days. When Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in an NBA game in 1962, he wrote “100” on a piece of white paper and held it up for the cameras. A few more photos, and then he gave the ball to Pro Football Hall of Fame vice president Joe Horrigan, who was there to ferry it back to Canton this morning.

"I land at 3:15 in the afternoon," Horrigan said. “Hopefully, it’ll be on display by 4 p.m."

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Manning will be happy that the ball will be in the shrine in the town where pro football was birthed. If any player in sports today has reverence for the history of his game, it’s Manning. He had no desire to meet with Bob Costas for an NBC interview the other day, but then he figured, What if I could talk about the guys who held this record before me? NBC loved it—a Manning interview is always fun TV—but now Manning could talk about how he met the late Sammy Baugh, and tell some good John Unitas stories, and he didn’t have to practice saying all the correct things about what a thrill breaking the record was again.

We’ll have time for the rest of the news of Week 7—the Detroit Lions winning with defense, Seattle continuing its puzzling slide, Seattle continuing said slide without Percy Harvin, the Bears’ bickering, and a twist in the NFL’s quest for a new personal conduct policy—but we open in the car with Peyton Manning, as he drove home after one of the great nights of his football life … and that is saying something.

“Short night," Manning said from the car. “We got the Thursday night game [versus San Diego this week], so I’ll be in pretty early. Not much of a celebration now."

There is no logic for what we’re seeing now: Peyton Manning, 38, veteran of four neck surgeries just three years ago, breaking a hallowed NFL record for career touchdown passes, and doing it at the top of his game. How is that possible? I don’t know—it just is. We’re seeing it. Manning is playing better in Denver at 36, 37 and 38 than he did when he was supposed to be in his prime. Except now is his prime. How long it lasts, no one knows. The evidence:

  Indianapolis Denver
  (208 games) (38 games)
Touchdowns per game 1.92 2.92
Passing yards per game 263.6 315.4
Completion percentage .649 .685
Passer rating 94.9 111.9
Team winning percentage .678 .816

 

It is obviously a much smaller sample, but the numbers are stark. He has a deeper roster of wideouts to work with (four first-rate ones in Denver versus two in Indianapolis) and, though he loved and trusted Dallas Clark, there’s no question a superstar tight end is growing in Denver in Julius Thomas. One thing Indy had over Denver, though—running back Edgerrin James. He was better than the cast Manning has had to work with on the Broncos.

He struggled for a reason for his better numbers as he drove home Sunday night, but I like the one he came up with. 

"I can’t … I don’t know, really,’’ he said. “But I will say, possibly, that when I started back after my neck surgeries, I started back with the basics. The absolute fundamentals. I worked with [Duke coach and former Manning college coach] David Cutcliffe, and we went back to ground zero with everything I did. So I think my fundamentals all got sharper, and that could be a reason why this is happening now. But I don’t know.”

Whatever the reason, we sat back and appreciated what we saw Sunday night. Unless you’re a Niners fan, I suppose. But even the Niners seemed to appreciate the moment, despite the 42-17 score put on them by Denver. Did you see Colin Kaepernick, who was 10 when Manning was drafted, smile broadly when Manning passed Brett Favre for the record in the second quarter? And did you see Niners rookie pass-rusher Aaron Lynch, who was 5 when Manning was drafted, smile and tap Manning on the helmet with a way-to-go when he broke it?

The game paused after Manning's 509th touchdown, as coaches and teammates celebrated the achievement. (Aaron Ontiveroz/Getty Images) The game paused after Manning's 509th touchdown, as coaches and teammates celebrated the achievement. (Aaron Ontiveroz/Getty Images)

In chronological order, I asked him about 507, 508 and 509:

507: A three-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders, running a shallow cross just past the goal line, midway through the first quarter. Sanders used umpire Mark Pellis for a screen; the Niners cover guy, Dontae Johnson, ran into Pellis, fell down, and there was Sanders, wide open. “I didn’t know about that till I was looking at the pictures of the play back on the bench," Manning said. “That’s not what the design was. We weren’t using the ref for a screen." Worked nicely, though, and Manning was glad to get Sanders, a valuable first-year free-agent, his first touchdown catch as a Bronco.

508: The pass that tied Favre was a 39-yard rainbow down the left side to Wes Welker, more open than he should have been, late in the first quarter. Welker dove for the pylon and hit it, making it 14-0. “This was sort of a ‘Friday Edition’ thing, between me and [offensive coordinator] Adam Gase," Manning said. “Sometimes—I don’t know how it is with other teams, and I understand you don’t want to rip up the game plan on Friday, but the way we do it is as the week goes on, I might have an idea, or Adam might have an idea, or one of the receivers might have an idea. And on Friday we’ll say, ‘Why don’t we put this in this week?’ Like I say, you don’t want to reinvent the wheel late in the week, but something popped into my head, and Adam had the flexibility to put it in, and we got to practice it late in the week." Welker and Demaryius Thomas lined up in a bunch to the left. San Francisco put two defenders across from them. The book on Denver on this play is that one of the receivers would poke through the coverage, and the other would stay back for a bubble screen. Manning knew film study would show him almost always going to the wide-receiver screen. So Thomas took two steps, then backed up and turned toward Manning, as if to receive the screen. Welker burst past the coverage, with both Niners pausing to come up on Thomas. Manning threw to Welker. Easy as pie. “With those Friday specials, you’re always looking to change things up a bit, do something different," said Manning.

509: The pass that set the record—an eight-yard out to Thomas, on the shallow right side of the end zone with 3:15 left in the second quarter—followed one of the most inelegant successions of plays Manning has had since Super Sunday. On first-and-goal from the San Francisco one, Manning threw the potential record-breaker behind Julius Thomas; incomplete. On second down, “I think my feet got tangled with the guard [Orlando Franklin], but whatever, I just figured nothing good can come from a pass from your knees. So I just ate it." Niners rookie Chris Borland will be able to tell his grandchildren, “I sacked Peyton Manning the play before he set the all time touchdown record.” Loss of seven. Third-and-goal from the eight now. “I wasn’t feeling really good about our chances then,” Manning said. “But the play we decided to run next we’d tried in the preseason game when we played San Francisco out there. Only this one was on the other side of the formation, and it was [wide receiver] Andre Caldwell, not Demaryius. In the preseason, I missed Caldwell—I threw it a tad too quick and threw it outside. But I learned something from that. I took mental notes from it. Take your time, hold onto it one more tick, and throw it outside so only your guy can get it, but not too far outside. Give him a chance. This time I gave Demaryius an extra half-second to let the route develop, and it was there." The throw was perfect.

"Somebody—Aaron Rodgers, maybe, or one of the other great quarterbacks—has a good shot to break it," Manning says. "But for me, two and a half years ago, I never figured this would be possible."

Thomas and the boys played keepaway with the ball, which looked so cute on TV—until Thomas spilled the beans that they’d planned to do it after they scored the record-breaker. “Well, sort of," said Manning. “We were playing around on Saturday, and they were doing it to me then, and of course I am the stiff and I can’t keep up, but I didn’t think in the game they would actually do it.” They did it.

Who could break the record?
According to advanced metrics, Peyton Manning will finish his career with an estimated 627 TD passes, and Andrew Luck has an 18.8% chance of one day breaking his record. The five other QBs who have the best chance to catch Peyton. FULL STORY
For good measure, Manning threw a perfect deep seam route to Demaryius Thomas, a 40-yard touchdown, perfectly placed, to end the passing portion of this rout. His numbers when Brock Osweiler replaced him with 13:32 left in the game: 22 of 26, 318 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions, and a rating, 157.2, that he’d eclipsed only five times in his 16-year career.

Afterward, coach John Fox gave Manning the game ball (surprise!) and asked him to speak.

“It’s a special night,” Manning told the room. “It’s only special because of the way we played on both sides of the ball. That was a great team win tonight. I’m honored to be your teammate, men.”

But an hour after that moment, he was in moving-on mode. “I’ll be in fairly early," he said. “I’ll do the cold tub. It’s recovery day for me. That stuff is essential now. The chiropractor, all the treatments I get … The good thing is I can watch tape and figure out what we’re looking to do this week. And the sleep part, the sleep’s become critical to me. Sometimes, if I’m texting Adam late at night, or emailing him, I’ll get back something from him like, ‘Get your ass to bed.’”

The record now stands at 510 and with Manning averaging 3.1 touchdowns per game this season, the number will continue to climb. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) The record now stands at 510, and with Manning averaging 3.1 touchdowns per game this season, the number will continue to climb. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

One last question.

"You haven’t wanted to talk about the individual part of this," I said. “But you’re at the top of the mountain now. You’re such a student of history, that’s got to mean something to you, to have more touchdown passes than anyone else who’s ever played pro football. Right?"

"This is the kind of record I’m only going to have temporarily," he said, but I got the feeling he was trying to be a bit self-deprecating here. Plus, who knows how high he’s going to push the bar—600 touchdown passes? Six-fifty?

"Somebody—Aaron Rodgers, maybe, or one of the other great quarterbacks—has a good shot to break it. But for me, two and a half years ago, I never figured this would be possible. I remember when [brother] Cooper couldn’t play anymore [after being diagnosed with spinal stenosis in college], and when I had my neck situation, I was determined that if I played, I would never take anything for granted. I would appreciate it all. And I have. I am just truly grateful to be out there, for as long as I can be. And coming here—wow, this has been so special.

"I just hope whoever breaks it years from now has an appreciation for history, and for quarterbacks."

With Calvin Johnson sidelined, it was ex-practice squader Corey Fuller tapping his toes for the game-winning touchdown. (Leon Halip/Getty Images) With Calvin Johnson sidelined, it was ex-practice squad player Corey Fuller tapping his toes for Detroit’s game-winning touchdown. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

The Lions are not held hostage by Calvin Johnson anymore.

That’s not a slap at Johnson, obviously one of the best players in football. But over the years, quarterback Matthew Stafford has become so dependent on Johnson, and the rest of the team so sure that Johnson would bail the Lions out of trouble, that the crutch has hurt the development of the franchise. Last year, for instance, Johnson missed two games. The Lions had their season’s worst performances in terms of points (9 and 13) and yards (286 and 245), and lost both games. This year Johnson has been out for two games, and he has barely played in two others, because of a sprained ankle. Detroit is 3-1 in those four games, for three reasons: Stafford has found other weapons to use, the defense is really good, and the new coach, Jim Caldwell, doesn’t stand for any excuses.

The real proof about the offense came Sunday, with the Lions down 23-10 with 5:23 left in the fourth quarter. Stafford hit Johnson’s replacement, former Lions practice squad receiver Corey Fuller, for 21 yards early in the drive, then connected with free-agent bonus baby Golden Tate for a 73-yard catch-and-run touchdown. After safety Glover Quin intercepted Drew Brees on the ensuing series, it was a toe-tapping-at-the-boundary catch by Fuller for the winning touchdown from Stafford.

The Lions have had a good front seven for the last couple of years. But a leaky secondary has killed them—until this year. Detroit waited too long for thumping safety Louis Delmas to get healthy, and he never did. This year they’ve got two tone-setting safeties, Quin and James Ihedigbo. Quin is the brains of the operation, and Ihedigbo has had such great training from good defensive coaches (Rex Ryan, Bill Belichick) that he has fit in a variety of roles, including some blitzing. Then there’s last year’s second-round corner, Darius Slay, a reliable cover man needed in a division with big-play quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler.

The Lions finished last season on a 1-6 run that cost Jim Schwartz his coaching job. In all six of those losses Detroit gave up the tying or winning points after the start of the fourth quarter. That has turned around this year. Detroit has the stingiest defense in football through seven weeks, the only team allowing less than 300 yards per game. On Sunday, Quin told his defensive mates down the stretch: “We’re the No. 1 defense. Play like it.” And they did, limiting Drew Brees to a stunning 2-for-10 on the last two fruitless Saint drives.

Caldwell, of course, is a Tony Dungy-mentoring type. “He talks to you, not at you,’’ says guard Rob Sims. Caldwell is fond of saying common-sense things like, “Just win. It doesn’t matter how.” Without talent, a quiet and unassuming coach would be a short-term quiet and unassuming coach. But there’s a lot of respect for Caldwell in the building, from the people executive offices to the guys who clean the floors. And last week he took the beat writers out for a three-hour dinner, and non-football topics were not only suggested but encouraged. A three-hour dinner, in the middle of a game week, with the media. Land sakes alive, coach! Stop being so human!

The Lions play Atlanta in London on Sunday, and Caldwell seems likely to give Johnson the week off again to rest his ankle—which would mean Johnson would have 20 days from today before he would play again because the London game is followed by the bye. It would be a smart move. And the Lions have proved during their 5-2 start that they’re not overly dependent on Johnson anymore.

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* * *

Three thoughts about the Percy Harvin deal.

You’ve been beaten over the head about Harvin going to the Jets for a sixth-round pick that could become a fourth-rounder in 2015 if Harvin is still on the Jets then. And he could be, but I sincerely doubt it will be for the non-guaranteed $10.5 million he is owed under the deal he signed with Seattle in March 2013. So here’s my take, in brief:

1. Seattle GM John Schneider was too trusting, but in the end he made the right move by jettisoning Harvin. Schneider believed those who told him the big problem in Minnesota had been the fractured relationship between Harvin and his first NFL coach, Brad Childress, whom Harvin did not trust. A change of scenery would be exactly what Harvin needed. Plus, Schneider thought, Pete Carroll’s culture was so welcoming to all kinds of players—from hard-to-reach guys like Marshawn Lynch to Eagle scouts like Russell Wilson—and Harvin would appreciate what it was like to be part of a team of players happy to be somewhere. But Harvin wasn’t sure the Seahawks did right by him in diagnosing a torn hip labrum, and he had his surgery done by an outside physician in New York. That led to tension during his rehab and to his developing mistrust of the Seahawks. The same way he didn’t trust the Vikings. The problems with his teammates were well-documented over the weekend, beginning with the Seattle Times report Friday that he fought Golden Tate before the Super Bowl last winter because he felt slighted when Tate said the Seahawks had won games without Harvin—not meaning to insult Harvin, simply meaning that no one person on the team was irreplaceable. There was another fight with Doug Baldwin in August, and Harvin reportedly refused to enter the game last weekend against Dallas, feeling he wasn’t being used correctly. Schneider, I believe, would have cut Harvin had the Jets not offered him something over the weekend. And he was right to dump him. You can’t have such a divisive player poisoning the team.

2. The coaches are happy. First: Harvin should have produced better than he did. And who knows? Maybe he would have over time. But Seattle won last year with a strong running game and a regular NFL passing game out of multiple sets and with a quarterback in the pocket and on the move. With Harvin in the game, the Seahawks were getting too cute, playing too horizontally—because they viewed him as a Jet Sweep, bubble screen, get-the-ball-in-space-and-make-something-happen player, not a regular wide receiver. If you’ve got a Lamborghini, you don’t keep it in the garage; you drive it. Except Harvin didn’t deliver the big plays, and when he didn’t, he got frustrated. He beefed with coaches and players alike. Not constantly, but enough to be a distraction. If you’re offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, you don’t want to produce a game plan every week thinking, “Well, I’ve got to make sure I don’t tick off Harvin this week, so I have to account for that when I’m making decisions.”

3. The Jets did the right thing; this is a good experiment for them. For the last nine games of the season New York owes Harvin $6.47 million. That’s the last bit of money in this contract the Jets are obligated to pay him. I doubt this wakes Harvin up, and if it doesn’t, the Jets can say goodbye on Dec. 29, the day after the season, and figure, Well, we gave it a shot. Harvin was a bona fide MVP candidate in the first half of the 2012 season but then got hurt. Maybe he understands this is his last chance to save a huge contract; I doubt it, but maybe. I’m not very optimistic, because I believe if you can’t play for Pete Carroll and a Super Bowl champion, who exactly can you play for?

As for the Seahawks, I think they’ll work their way out of their rut (2-3 since opening night), but only if they protect Wilson better, make some holes for Lynch and get invaluable linebacker Bobby Wagner back from injury soon. They probably would have won Sunday in St. Louis had they played even a D-plus game on special teams instead of an F-minus.

* * *

“We have to have everyone take a breath.”

After a dud at home on Sunday, the season could be slipping away from Alshon Jeffery and the Bears. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) After another dud at Soldier Field, the season could be slipping away from Alshon Jeffery and the Bears. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Thus spoke Bears coach Marc Trestman after Chicago fell to 0-3 at home this year with a 27-14 loss to Miami.

But inside the locker room, before it was opened to the press, anger spilled out for outsiders to hear. “Do your job!’’ was one of the milder ventings. The Bears continue to get flashes of brilliance but stretches of careless, turnover-plagued play from quarterback Jay Cutler, who reminds me of a more cavalier Brett Favre with the ball. He threw a bad interception and lost a fumble Sunday, and he has 10 turnovers in seven games now. “Same mistakes, same mistakes,’’ Brandon Marshall said. “We’ve got to protect the football.”

Things could get worse before they get better: The Bears are at New England and Green Bay in their next two games. The only good thing about hitting the road: They won’t get abused by an increasingly frustrated Soldier Field crowd.

PEANUT TILLMAN UNPLUGGED: The long-time Chicago star on how many years he has left, and why Calvin Johnson isn't the greatest he ever faced

* * *

A different path to a new NFL policy.

It looks as though the NFL could take two paths to a new personal conduct policy: one for players, and one for all other NFL employees, including owners. The reason: It could take significantly longer to craft a personal conduct policy with the NFL Players Association to cover transgressions for players. And so the NFL is likely to have a two-step process here—a conduct policy for all other employees, owners and league officials, perhaps finished before Thanksgiving, and then one for players. The player policy could end up being very similar to the one for other employees, but it’s too early to tell that yet; the NFL has only recently begun discussions with the NFLPA.

I am told there is likely to be one onerous part of the policy for NFL personnel—from owners to administrative assistants—that hasn’t existed before. The NFL could well adopt a policy similar to some police departments and other public-service sectors. If an employee is charged with a serious crime, such as happened in the case of Colts owner Jimmy Irsay, the league could put the employee or owner on paid administrative leave, pending the outcome of the case.

This, of course, would be a sea change from the current policy. Irsay was allowed to stay on the job for nearly six months after being arrested for driving under the influence and possession of controlled substances in March. He wasn’t suspended by commissioner Roger Goodell until he admitted in court that he was under the influence of illicit painkillers in September. That’s when Goodell slapped Irsay with a six-game ban from all activities with the Colts and a $500,000 fine. But if the plan under consideration now is put into place, a similar occurrence would get the owner or employee banned until the case is adjudicated.

League officials are in the final stages of fact-finding in the next week or two. The sculpting of a policy for employees and owners should happen soon after that.

With a 128-yard day in a win over the Giants, DeMarco Murray became the first running back in NFL history to rush for 100 yards in each of the first seven games of a season. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) With a 128-yard day in a win over the Giants, DeMarco Murray became the first running back in NFL history to rush for 100 yards in each of the first seven games of a season. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The Fine Fifteen 

1. Dallas (6-1). Tony Romo is completing 69 percent, DeMarco Murray is on pace to rush for 2,087 yards, and the Cowboys can play defense. Life is darn good in Dallas.

2. Denver (5-1). I don’t know who wins Dallas-Denver. It’d be a great game. I’d pay to see one the quality of last year’s 51-48 Denver win in Jerryworld.

3. Arizona (5-1). Next two weeks—rested Philadelphia at home, then at Dallas—will tell us an awful lot about these wacky Cards.

4. Indianapolis (5-2). They’ve beaten three pretty good teams (Ravens, at Texans, Bengals) by an average of 13 points this month. “We’re starting to get a glimpse of what we envisioned when we got together here a couple years ago, and what we wanted to build here," said coach Chuck Pagano. “Looks like that monster is rearing its head a little bit."

5. Philadelphia (5-1). Four of the next six on the road. The bye came at a good time. LeSean McCoy is starting to run with authority, but he could use a healthier offensive line.

Sunday's win over the Panthers was Aaron Rodgers' fourth straight game with at least three touchdown passes. The Packers have won all four. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images) Sunday’s win over the Panthers was Aaron Rodgers’ fourth straight game with at least three touchdown passes. The Packers won all four. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

6. Green Bay (5-2). Really, three through eight here can be put in any order. You pick.

7. San Diego (5-2). Losses by one and three points, both to good teams, sandwich a five-game win streak. I am not overreacting.

8. Detroit (5-2). I am starting to think of them as “Not the same old Lions.” They’ll be on a plane for London tonight at 9. Lions-Falcons on Sunday at 9 a.m. ET.

9. New England (5-2). On Friday morning, the morning after the survival win against the Jets, the Patriots could wake up and think how fortunate they were to be at this point of the schedule: Over the next 29 days—from Oct. 17 to Nov. 15—they’d have but two games, and have to travel for neither. The mini-bye after the Jets is one benefit; the real bye in Week 10 is the other cushion. In those 29 days, the Patriots have the Bears at home next Sunday and the Broncos at home the following week. New England will make up for that luxury scheduling after the bye with this brutal foursome: at Indy, Detroit at home, at Green Bay, at San Diego.

10. Baltimore (5-2). Won five of six, and scored 29 (Sunday), 38 and 48 in three of those game. Which is good when you’re giving up an average of 14 points in the same span. It’s fairly incredible that all of this is happening to a team that was supposed to be ripped asunder by the Ray Rice scandal.

11. San Francisco (4-3). In eight quarters this season (four preseason, four regular-season), this is the score between Denver and San Francisco: Broncos 76, Niners 17.

12. Seattle (3-3). I don’t know what this team is right now. I do know the Seahawks are 2-3 in the last five games, and allowing 25 points per game, and playing like that is going to get the Seahawks homebound in January. Which would be a mild upset.

13. Kansas City (3-3). Three quality wins (by 19 over Miami, by 27 over New England, and Sunday’s 23-20 win at San Diego), and one-score losses at Denver and at San Francisco.

14. Miami (3-3). Don’t look now, but Ryan Tannehill is a 72 percent passer over his last three games.

15. Cincinnati (3-2-1). And fading very, very fast. 

(John W. McDonough/SI) Alex Smith threw for 221 yards in leading the Chiefs to an upset win over the division rival Chargers in San Diego. (John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)

The Award Section

Offensive Player of the Week

Peyton Manning, quarterback, Denver. 510. And counting.

Alex Smith, quarterback, Kansas City. In his 103rd NFL regular-season game, Smith finally won in San Diego, where he grew up, starred at Helix High, went 25-1 as a prep quarterback, and rooted desperately for the Chargers. On Sunday he executed superbly in the second half against red-hot San Diego, which hadn’t lost since opening night. He led the Chiefs on second-half scoring drives of 63, 86 and 52 yards. And he out-rated the Quarterback Who Would Be MVP on the other side of the field, Philip Rivers, 103.4 to 83.4. A memorable afternoon for Smith, with his extended family in the rickety stands of Qualcomm.  

Defensive Player of the Week

Vontae Davis, cornerback, Indianapolis. Chuck Pagano decided moments after the 27-0 win over the Bengals (who scored 37 points last week, by the way) to give every defensive player who dressed a game ball for holding the Bengals to 32 rushing yards, for holding Andy Dalton to a 55.4 rating, for forcing Cincinnati into 10 three-and-outs on 14 possessions … That enough for you? Davis’s perfectly clean and jarring smash of Bengals back Gio Bernard, separating him from the ball, preceded safety Michael Adams’ doing the exact same thing to Bernard two plays later to stop a Cincinnati drive. (I would not want to be Bernard’s ribs this morning.) Davis added four passes defensed in a great day for the secondary. Honorable mention for this award: defensive end Cory Redding. The 12-year vet is the most underappreciated player on this team. He makes disruptive plays every week, as his sack and four tackles showed Sunday. The Colts are going to be trouble for anyone they play.

Colin Kaepernick was sacked six times by the Broncos defense on Sunday night. (Joe Amon/Getty Images) Colin Kaepernick was sacked six times by the Broncos defense on Sunday night. (Joe Amon/Getty Images)

DeMarcus Ware, defensive end, Denver. At 32, Ware is playing like he did as a 25-year-old Cowboy, when he was one of the best three or four pass-rushers in football. And on Sunday, he played like that against one of the best left tackles in football, Joe Staley of the Niners. Ware had three sacks in the 42-17 rout of the Niners, including one of the best sacks of this, or any, year. He started a spin move to work Staley to the inside, toward the guard, but Ware stopped mid-spin, and then spun back toward the outside. Staley kept working toward the inside, because obviously he had never faced a pass-rusher who started to spin and then stopped and went back around the outside. Ware got Colin Kaepernick easily. The sack took Ware up to 15th place on the all-time list, with 123; the late Derrick Thomas, a noted spinmeister himself, is next at 126.5.

Special Teams Player of the Week

Chris Jones, defensive tackle, New England. Week 7, 2013: Jones gets called for pushing a teammate in the back to propel him forward trying to block a game-winning 56-yard Nick Folk field-goal try; Folk missed the kick, but the penalty allowed him to get closer, and his 42-yard field goal gave the Jets a 30-27 win. Jones was the goat. Week 7, 2014: Jones blocked a 58-yard Folk field-try with five seconds to go, and the Patriots survived, 27-25. Jones was the hero. “Folk was 50-plus yards away, so I knew it was going to be a low line drive," Jones said. “God willing, I blocked it." Jones taketh away, Jones giveth. 

Coach of the Week

John Fassel, special teams coordinator, St. Louis. He orchestrated one of the crazy plays in the NFL this year, totally confusing Seattle’s punt-coverage team in the process. Midway through the second quarter in St. Louis, Fassel, who obviously saw in scouting the Seahawks that punter Jon Ryan mostly kicked to his left when trying to pin the opponent deep in its territory, had return man Tavon Austin line up to the punting team’s right (Austin’s left), and when the ball was punted, Austin faded further to his left, and his protection also went left … even though Ryan punted the ball where Fassel thought he would, toward the coffin corner, on the opposite side of the field from Austin. Meanwhile, seven Seahawks charged toward Austin. The punt flew away from the crowd, but Stedman Bailey did just what Fassel had ordered—run down the field where the punt was going, not where the crowd was flowing. Bailey caught the ball over his shoulder around the Ram 10, pivoted and ran untroubled 90 yards for a touchdown. That made it 21-3 Rams, and it turned out to be a critical score in the 28-26 win. “We knew that we had a 90 percent chance that the punt would go to the left,” coach Jeff Fisher said after the game.

Goat of the Week

u2018Nothing Easy About Itu2019
Broncos tight end Julius Thomas talks to Peter King about being on the receiving end of Peyton Manning’s touchdown throws. FULL STORY
Drew Brees, quarterback, New Orleans. Brees had the Saints up 23-10 late at Detroit. The Lions scored once to make it 23-17, and Brees went incompletion-incompletion-interception. The Lions scored to go up 24-23. On the ensuing series, Brees’ first four passes were incomplete, then he completed two for seven yards, and then he threw an incompletion on fourth down. It’s not often, if ever, that Brees, in the clutch over two series, would go 2 of 10 with a passer rating of 0.0, but he did here, and it cost New Orleans dearly. "The worst feeling in professional sports is when you feel like you let your team down," Brees said after the game. "That's the way I feel right now with that interception."

 

Quotes of the Week

I

“You’re playing against a coordinator out there."

—San Francisco safety Eric Reid, after Peyton Manning shredded the Niners for four touchdowns, including the NFL record-breaking 509th career TD pass.

II

“We can’t really wait on this. This is not any type of disease you can contract and then there are vaccines and it goes away. People are dying within weeks and within the first month of contact. So we have to act now."

—Kansas City Chiefs linebacker and Liberia native Tamba Hali, to me, for a story and video on The MMQB last week, about the need to send money and medical-worker volunteers to West Africa immediately to stop the spread of Ebola. Hali is helping Heart to Heart International, a humanitarian-aid group based in Kansas City, raise money to build Ebola treatment units that house patients.

6:38 | The MMQB
One on one with Tamba Hali

 

III

"God is good. And so are we."

—Dallas linebacker Rolando McClain on the surprising 6-1 Cowboys, to Greg Bishop in this week’s Sports Illustrated.

IV

“Let me address something real quick. This is the last time I’m going to talk about it. If anybody has a problem with me helping people up off the field, that’s a personal problem, something you’re going to have to deal with. If people really pay attention you would also notice that when the opposing team gets hurt, most of the time there’s one person who walks on the field every time and says a prayer. It’s me. That’s who I am. That’s who I’m going to be. If you don’t like it, get over it. I’m going to help people up because I’m a good sportsman."

—Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who has heard some criticism for helping foes up after plays.

V

"Hopefully we got windows on that son of a b----."

—Arizona coach Bruce Arians, on the team buses the club will use in Oakland. Arians was reminded on Friday that the fans in Oakland, the site of the Cardinals’ game on Sunday, threw eggs at the Chargers’ team buses last Sunday.

Arians loves to say that “SOB" phrase. 

VI

"Unsportsmanlike conduct, number 20 … Removing his helmet in disgust, 15-yard penalty."

—David Witvoet, the referee in the Maryland-Iowa game, after Maryland defensive back Anthony Nixon apparently took off his helmet in an unkindly way.

That’s got to be the funniest penalty announcement since … well, let’s look at the three best penalty announcements I recall:

  • Referee Ben Dreith, during a Bills-Jets game in 1986, called a personal foul on New York defensive end Mark Gastineau for his attack on quarterback Jim Kelly thusly:

“There’s a personal foul on number 99 of the defense. After he tackled the quarterback, he’s givin’ him the business down there, that’s a 15-yard penalty.”

“The ruling on the field is that we did have a completed pass. During that, the receiver was injured. An injury inside of one minute carries an automatic timeout to the team with the injury. Green Bay is out of timeouts, which would be their fourth timeout. By rule, that would carry a 10-second runoff as well. But, due to the fact that we have a personal foul/unnecessary roughness after the play on the offense, number 77, the 10-second runoff will not occur. There will be a 15-yard penalty against Green Bay, penalized from the end of the run. It will be first-and-10, Green Bay. Would the game clock operator please put 25 seconds on the game clock? Twenty-five seconds on the game clock please. Thank you.’’

I mean, how do you remember all that?

“Yes, there are penalties in the Pro Bowl. Pass interference, number 24, AFC … ”

Stats of the Week

These from the Percy Harvin file:

  • Harvin had more touchdowns called back against Washington Oct. 6 (three) than he actually scored in his Seattle career (two).
  • After being traded from Minnesota to Seattle, he was a Seahawk for 24 games. He played in eight of those games—three of 19 last year, five of five this year.
  • For those eight games, the Seahawks paid Harvin $19.03 million, and they paid the Vikings first-, third- and seventh-round picks.
  • Harvin played 17.3 percent of Seattle’s offensive snaps while employed by the Seahawks—248 snaps of the 1,434 offensive plays Seattle had in those 19 games.
  • Seattle was 13-3 (.813) without Harvin playing, and 6-2 (.750) when he played.
  • Harvin touched the ball 55 times in his Seattle career: 14 rushing, 27 receiving and 14 returning kickoffs.

Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me

I

Rams defensive sacks in the first 151 opponents’ dropbacks this season: 1.

Rams defensive sacks in the next five opponents’ dropbacks, by Russell Wilson on Sunday: 3.

II

Travis Ishikawa, the San Francisco Giant who hit the walk-off three-run home run to win the National League pennant Thursday night, played more games (71) with more at-bats (240) in the minor leagues this regular season than he did in the major leagues (62 and 107).

Chip Kelly Wisdom of the Week

Kelly, captured by NFL Films on the sidelines of the Giants-Eagles game eight days ago:

“We got a good group of guys, don’t we? Culture wins football games. Culture beats scheme every time.”

Eighteen words that tell the story of Chip Kelly the football coach right there.

Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week

This week, from the Niceness of Strangers Dept.:

I had a speaking engagement Tuesday afternoon in Chicago at Chicago Ideas Week. (Great event, by the way; I highly recommend you Midwesterners putting it on your radar next October. The session following our future-of-sports panel at the Northwestern Law School auditorium in downtown Chicago was titled, “Death: An Unexpected Take on Life.” Lots of smart people there.) On Wednesday, I had an appointment in Kansas City with Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali, a native of Liberia, to talk about his effort to help contain Ebola in West Africa. So I was flying to Kansas City on Tuesday night, and it was pouring at O’Hare airport, and I had a two-hour weather wait, and so I settled in to watch the O’s-Royals game at a bar near the gate for the flight.

The fellow next to me at the bar was rooting for the Royals, and I looked over and saw his boarding pass with “MCI”, the Kansas City airport abbreviation, and so we struck up a conversation. Lance Baughman was his name; a lawyer from Kansas City with Royals season tickets held by his firm. He wanted to know what I did, and I told him, and said I was going to Kansas City to do a story there with the Chiefs. So we settled in, watched the game and talked. Nice fellow. I told him if I got done with my meetings with the Chiefs in time for the late-afternoon game the next day that I would try to StubHub a ticket late and go. We exchanged numbers and boarded the plane, going our separate ways.

When we landed, Lance Baughman sent me a text. Seems his partner couldn’t make the game the next day, and would I be interested in attending the game with his partner's grown son? Well, what a swell offer. I just had to be sure I could make it the next day, and when we texted the next morning, I was sure I could. So I met Adam Wright, son of Baughman’s law partner Roger Wright, and we spent a very pleasant afternoon watching the Royals win their first pennant in 29 years. How incredibly nice of Lance Baughman and Roger Wright.

Postscript: Every time on Wednesday afternoon that I stood up to stretch or look around between innings, I scanned the stands at Kauffman Stadium, and I couldn’t find an empty seat. This was not a crowd there to be seen or to go get food and beer over and over; this was a celebration of baseball, and the 40,468 in the house would be damned if they were going to miss a pitch. So good to see.

Postscript II: Flew home Thursday morning on the same Delta flight as Joe Torre. And yes, he is as nice as they say. Cordial and inviting to everyone who approached him in the airport and on the plane. We talked for a few moments, both angry at the idiot who ripped off Yogi Berra’s prized World Series rings and MVP awards from the Yogi Berra Museum a week earlier.

Tweets of the Week

I

 

The Oklahoma City Thunder superstar, after Manning broke the all time record for touchdown passes on Sunday night.

II

An NBC Sports producer, after Cousins was yanked against Tennessee and third-string Washington quarterback Colt McCoy threw a 70-yard touchdown on his first pass of the season. 

III

 

A writer for Bleacher Report and Football Outsiders, Tanier is one of the best follows on Twitter—if you like good information and irreverence, and if you don’t take tweets as wedding-vow important as some in the Twitterverse.

IV

The CEO of a company called Stomping Ground. 

V

 

The Africa correspondent for The Globe and Mail of Toronto.

VI

 

The ex-QB on Saturday night, presumably before the big event. That, Drew Bledsoe, leads the league in cuteness.

 

Cameron Wake and the Bears sacked Jay Cutler three times and kept Chicago under 200 passing yards for just the second time this season. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP) Cameron Wake and the Bears sacked Jay Cutler three times and kept Chicago under 200 passing yards for just the second time this season. (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

Ten Things I Think I Think

1. I think this is what I liked about Week 7:

a. DeMarco Murray, who has rushed for more yards (913) than Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith or Walter Payton ever did in the first seven games of a season. And now Murray is the first player in history to rush for more than 100 yards in his first seven games of a season. Heck of an achievement.

b. Drew Brees, with 19 straight first-half completions against a rising-star defense in Detroit.

c. Cam Wake, who is just a terrific football player, with a strip-sack of Jay Cutler.

d. Nice (unexpected) debut, Colt McCoy.

e. I love the referees being able to talk—through wireless communications—with the field officials on things like pass interference.

f. Chris Ivory, who had a 100-yard game in 32 minutes at Foxboro. Runs with abandon every snap.

g. Geno Smith going toe to toe with Tom Brady. Smith provided a glimpse of what might be for the Jets. Now he’s got nine games to prove that was legitimate.

h. The tremendous inside move after an early catch Thursday night by Brandon LaFell of the Patriots, opting to stay in bounds and make extra yardage instead of ducking to the white stripe automatically after a catch. More receivers should do this.

i. Philip Rivers’ ability to interview himself on national TV.

j. Chip Kelly visiting Victor Cruz early Monday morning last week in the Philadelphia hospital where Cruz was taken after tearing his patellar tendon in the Sunday night game hours earlier.

k. Jay Glazer’s scoop on the Percy Harvin trade.

l. Fabulous story by ESPN on Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden.

m. The Bills putting longtime play-by-play man Van Miller on their Wall of Fame at Ralph Wilson Stadium. So deserving.

n. First snap of the game for the embattled Cincinnati defense at Indianapolis: Carlos Dunlap with heavy pressure on Andrew Luck, diverting his first pass. Colts go three-and-out on the series.

o. First series of the game at St. Louis, in the first game of Seahawks cornerback Tharold Simon’s career: He stops lightning bug Tavon Austin for a four-yard gain on third-and-seven, forcing a Rams punt.

p. Chad Greenway’s jarring forced fumble at Buffalo, stopping what looked like the first scoring drive of the day for the Bills.

q. Tre Mason. Not a lot to like about how the Rams are playing as we approach midseason, but the rookie has a burst and some power to him, as shown against Seattle.

r. Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill leading an 81-yard touchdown drive with precision early at Chicago.

s. Baltimore’s Pernell McPhee, another mid-round find by Ravens scouting (fifth round, 2011), with a strip-sack to halt a deep Atlanta drive.

Denard Robinson rushed 22 times for 127 yards and one touchdown, all career bests. (Bill Frakes/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB) Denard Robinson rushed 22 times for 127 yards and one touchdown, all career bests. (Bill Frakes/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)

t. Denard Robinson, with 64 rushing yards—the Jags’ best running day of the season—in the first 20 minutes against Cleveland.

u. Chicago defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff with a month’s worth of pass-rush in one half against the Dolphins: He sacked Ryan Tannehill 3.5 times.

v. Buffalo quarterback Kyle Orton with a beautiful 26-yard touchdown pass laid in perfectly to Sammy Watkins.

w. What a great fingertip catch, run and score by Dwayne Allen, the nimble Colts tight end, who now has four TDs in his past five games.

2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 7:

a. Pretty much everything about the Falcons.

b. Man, who was Jay Cutler throwing to on that first-half interception? A ghost?

c. Antoine Cason missing the bump on Jordy Nelson at the line (Cason’s not the first one to err on Nelson), and Nelson catching and running 59 yards for a touchdown.

d. Jets tight end Jace Amaro’s steel girders for hands.

e. Darrelle Revis, who sure didn’t look like a shutdown corner Thursday night.

f. The Jets, finding another way to lose their 27th game of the past 42.

g. Come on, Jets: I know you’re the house organ, but you’re telling me you can’t ask Percy Harvin even one pertinent question

h. The Seahawks really missing Bobby Wagner.

i. The Panthers winning the toss at Green Bay … and electing to defer.

j. The Panthers not putting up much of a fight against Aaron Rodgers, getting steamrolled on the first two drives of the day at Lambeau.

k. Russell Wilson, taking an unwise chance throwing into traffic to stop Seattle’s second drive of the day at St. Louis. He’s lucky Rodney McLeod didn’t intercept it.

l. I praised Tharold Simon above, but two big penalties against him really hurt Seattle.

m. Carolina, down 21-0, third-and-one at its 33 to try to get something, anything, going … and then Jonathan Stewart is stoned at the line of scrimmage. Rapidly becoming a lost season for the Panthers.

n. Oh, and Cam Newton’s first-quarter stats at Green Bay: 0-for-2. And Carolina’s yardage in the first quarter: five.

o. The Seahawks putting backup tight end Cooper Helfet on Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, one on one, late in the first half, on a passing down. Sack. Tough to predict that one.

p. Offensive efficiency in Indianapolis: Bengals and Colts 0-for-10 combined in third-down conversions over the first 26 minutes of the game.

q. In fact, speaking of the Absence of A.J. Green Effect, the Bengals went three-and-out on their first eight possessions.

3. I think the tremendous NFL Network interview with Brett Favre on Sunday took me back to so many of the conversations I had with Favre—because the word “interview” with Favre is really misleading. You’d go into a talk with him thinking you’d want to ask him about X number of topics, and invariably you’d veer off into some tributary you never expected. Or he’d be so good on one topic you’d never get to any of the others. He’d be tough to deal with today, in the atmosphere of tight schedules for superstars, where a 10-minute window with a big star is generous. So many times 15 minutes became 115 minutes, and he was fine with that. That’s what I saw between Favre and Steve Mariucci on Sunday. You can say, “Well, Mariucci coached him and they’re good friends." True—but I’ve seen it with Favre and people he didn’t even know very well.

• JENNY VRENTAS: Brett Favre finds coaching happiness with Oak Grove championship

On Friday, the Seahawks traded Percy Harvin to the Jets for a conditional mid-round draft pick(John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB) On Friday, the Seahawks traded Percy Harvin to the Jets for a conditional mid-round draft pick. (John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)

4. I think, looking back on the Percy Harvin deal for Minnesota, it’s too early to draw final conclusions, but here’s what the Vikes did with the first- and seventh-round picks in 2013 and the third-rounder in 2014: Cornerback Xavier Rhodes and guard Travis Bond were the 2013 picks, and running back Jerick McKinnon the 2014 pick. McKinnon is a starter now, has shown good burst and is averaging 5.2 yards per rush. Bond is out of the NFL; he never made the Vikings’ active roster. Rhodes has started 13 games at corner (he’s now the starting right cornerback) for Minnesota and been decent but not a difference-maker. Clearly, Rhodes is the centerpiece piece of this deal and must become more of a playmaker for the Vikings to feel good about the three picks from this trade. (Worth noting: Rhodes was beaten by Buffalo's Sammy Watkins for the game-winning touchdown with one second remaining on Sunday.)

5. I think Percy Harvin needs to talk to Brandon Marshall about whatever it is that ails Harvin. And it is apparent something does. Marshall, until being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in 2011, was widely viewed as a very good football player who simply couldn’t control his emotions, and those emotions were ruining his football career and wreaking havoc with his ability to live a normal life. I don’t know what Harvin’s story is. But if he blows this chance with the Jets because he can’t control his emotions, his football gravy train might be over. Not that he won’t get a job next year; it’s just that he’ll have to play for a fraction of what Seattle signed him for in 2013.

6. I think it’s pretty easy to talk about the futility of the Bucs and focus on the inability of the defense to stop anything in its wake; Tampa has allowed 56, 24, 37 and 48 points in the past four games. But that is masking an equal problem on the other side of the ball. The Bucs have a startling number of negative plays on offense. I missed this display of offensive futility last week in the column, but with the Bucs on the bye Sunday, I wanted to bring it to your attention today. Starting early in the first quarter against Baltimore, the Bucs ran 12 straight plays without gaining a yard. It’s the most amazing streak of futility I can recall, because in addition, the Ravens scored four touchdowns in between thanks to Tampa Bay's offensive incompetence. The Bucs ugliness: incomplete pass, Doug Martin run for no gain, Mike Glennon interception … Baltimore touchdown to make it 14-0 … Martin run for minus-one, Martin run for no gain, incomplete pass … Baltimore touchdown to make it 21-0 … Bobby Rainey run for no gain, Glennon sacked for minus-nine, incomplete pass … Baltimore touchdown to make it 28-0 … incomplete pass, incomplete pass, incomplete pass … Baltimore touchdown to make it 35-0. The Bucs have had a haphazard offensive season, starting with the heart-related illness that has forced coordinator Jeff Tedford off the job. But the offensive line, led by pricey free-agent left tackle Anthony Collins and declining guard Logan Mankins, has been a major disappointment, and they’ve gotten poor play from tight ends Brandon Myers and Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

Hali: u2018We Can't Wait on Thisu2019
Tamba Hali grew up in Liberia, where many family members still live. The Chiefs linebacker is helping to combat the spread of Ebola in West Africa and beyond, Peter King writes. FULL STORY
7. I think if I had to make the call now, I’d say Rex Ryan should return as coach of the Jets. Glad that call can wait nine weeks, but the team plays very hard and is loyal to him. He still is reaching his players. Ryan has the thick skin to coach in New York and be tabloid fodder year-round, and if he had enough players in his back seven, I can guarantee you the Jets wouldn’t be 1-6.

8. I think I found the Charlie Weis information the most interesting stuff from the Bill Parcells/Nunyo Demasio book, a chapter of which was excerpted in Sports Illustrated last week and ran on SI.com. Parcells tells a tale of Weis, the Jets’ offensive coordinator during the 1999 season, lobbying for the head-coaching job once Parcells decided he was going to step away. This was at the time when Bill Belichick accepted the job and then backed out a day later, and the Jets were coachless. “I can do this job. I’m your guy," the book quotes Weis as saying. Parcells, of course, picked Al Groh. And two weeks later, at a league hearing to decide Belichick’s fate, Weis agreed with the Belichick side—that even though Belichick was supposed to have full football control as the coach of the Jets, Parcells would not have given up full control of the football operations. Parcells had hired Weis for an entry-level job with the Giants in 1990—out of a New Jersey high school—and he viewed Weis’s testimony as an act of disloyalty, to say the least. The next day Parcells saw Weis in the Jets’ offices and said, according to the book, “Charlie, you need to get your s---- and leave the building.” Out went Weis. Belichick, who soon afterward was traded to the Patriots, hired Weis. One more note: Bill Barnwell wrote a good story on Grantland the other day about the trade of Belichick to New England for a mid-first-round pick and some fodder (trades back and forth of low-round picks). The trade, in essence, became Belichick for defensive lineman Shaun Ellis, who had a good 12-year career in the NFL (that, of course, ended with a perfectly fitting final volley in the Pats-Jets turf war, playing for Belichick in New England in 2011). Great point by Barnwell: “Belichick, the highest-paid coach in football, reportedly makes about $7.5 million per year from the Patriots. That’s right about what Paul Posluszny will make in base salary from Jacksonville this year. Belichick’s ‘true’ value is somewhere around $15 million to $20 million, which means the Patriots are generating something like $10 million in excess value from Belichick’s deal every year. Even better, that money isn’t part of the salary cap."

9. I think if you want to know why so many details about Percy Harvin’s sordid time with Seattle never surfaced until the weekend trade to the Jets, I believe it has much to do with the culture of the locker room—and specifically the culture of Pete Carroll’s locker room. The Seahawks may have had a combustible mix because of Harvin, but it was important to the players to keep the disharmony in-house. For proof, see the Harvin-Golden Tate fight before the Super Bowl. It even extended to Tate once he left for Detroit in free-agency and was no longer beholden to honor the code of locker-room silence in Seattle. He never broke the code as a Lion. After the story was reported by the Seattle Times on Friday, it was confirmed in many spaces over the next 36 hours, and here’s what former teammate and respected team leader Michael Robinson said about it on NFL Network on Sunday morning: “There was an altercation in the locker room between Percy Harvin and Golden Tate. It saddens me because I was a leader on that team and to know that this information got out … usually Pete Carroll-coached teams, this type of thing stays in-house. There was an issue. I physically broke it up."

Talk Back
Have a question or comment for Peter? Email him at talkback@themmqb.com and it might be included in Tuesday mailbag.
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:

a. What a game, Florida State 31, Notre Dame 27. Where to begin? Everett Golson has the trait great quarterbacks have—the ability to make plays when very big games are on the line at big fourth-quarter moments. Fourth-and-18 to David Robinson’s kid, for instance … Golson played such a great game, and afterward, he saw the scoreboard, not how good he’d been. “I’m disappointed in myself," he said … Jameis Winston has huge issues off the field, but at one point, he completed 18 of 19 throws. Like Golson, his presence and confidence and accuracy are great future NFL traits … I can’t argue with the interference call. Looked to me like the Notre Dame receiver interfered with the Florida State safety’s ability to make a play.

b. Oklahoma lost 31-30 and missed an extra point (blocked) and 32- and 19-yard field goals. That’s got to hurt.

c. So … for the college football playoff, maybe Florida State, Ole Miss, Mississippi State (are we living in some alternate universe this fall?) and _________________________.

d. Fill in the blank. Today, my fill-in would be Notre Dame.

e. The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!

f. They’re going crazy! They’re going crazy! Whoaaaaaa-oh!

g. Frank Burke did one of the all-time coolest things. The lifelong Giants fan caught the Travis Ishikawa walk-off home run ball out beyond the right-field wall in San Francisco and gave it to Ishikawa. He got an autographed bat and four World Series tickets in return. A nice trade, but I can think of more than a few people who would have held onto the ball and sold it for lots more than the value of what Burke got. Good fan.

h. Tempted to pick the Royals, but I’m just not sure they’ll hit enough. (Not that the Giants are a hitting machine, collectively, either.) Then again, the Royals own the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. Amazing to me that Kansas City scored all of its runs in games three and four of the ALCS on a sacrifice fly, infield out and a slide at home that kicked the ball out of the Baltimore catcher’s glove. Four runs, two wins. Six-and-two-thirds innings of goose eggs from Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland in those two games.

i. Giants in seven. But I don’t feel particularly confident about it.

j. If I were building a baseball team this offseason, and if I could spend relatively the same per year, combined, for Andrew Miller, Pat Neshek and Yovani Gallardo (or a starting pitcher in the $10-million-a-year range) as I could for, say, Jon Lester, I’d opt for the first option.

k. I have never heard a rendition of “O Canada” as stirring as the one from Ginette Reno before Bruins-Habs on Thursday night. Wow. Goosebumpy.

l. This thought is really hard to fathom: Thursday night’s hockey game was the 726th of all time between Boston and Montreal.

m. There is an endless supply of Gronkowskis, apparently. The fifth brother, Kansas State fullback Glenn Gronkowski (they all look like fullbacks), scored on a 62-yard catch-and-run against Oklahoma on Saturday.

n. Way to stick up for your league, Don Garber. I applaud you standing up to Jurgen Klinsmann.

o. Coffeenerdness: Whole Foods has a very nice decaf Italian Roast. Almost as good as the real thing.

p. Beernerdness: Tried another pumpkin brew, Captain Lawrence Pumpkin Ale (Elmsford, N.Y.) and came away with a “meh” feeling. It was more cinnamon and spice than pumpkin. Some pumpkin beers overwhelm you with pumpkin, but this one was almost hiding it.

q. Enjoyed the story by Richard Sandomir of the New York Times on plummeting baseball ratings despite the thrilling postseason. Amazing to think that, in 1982, 49.9 million people watched a World Series game between small-market teams St. Louis and Milwaukee … and, 32 years later, a Game Two playoff cliffhanger between Los Angeles and St. Louis was seen by 1.77 million people on MLB Network. When I say to people who work in baseball what a great postseason it is, and when I travel I often can’t see the games, the reaction is the same: That’s a shame … but hey, what incredible games these are! True. Both things are true.

r. It stands to reason, of course, that if Bowling Green beat Indiana by three and Indiana beat Missouri by four and Missouri beat Florida by 29, then Bowling Green would beat Florida by 36. Right? 

Who I Like Tonight

Pittsburgh 24, Houston 20. The Steelers are in crisis, having lost two of the past three to Tampa Bay (you’re kidding!) and Cleveland (no!!!!), and barely survived against Jacksonville in the third. They lost five in a row in 2009, then won their last three, starting with that crazy 37-36 win over Green Bay. They started 2-3 in 2012, including awful losses to Oakland and Tennessee, then won four in a row. After opening 0-4 last year, Mike Tomlin righted the ship, sort of, with wins over the Jets and Ravens. In other words, Tomlin is good at painting a picture of the outside world being on fire, and inside the building on the South Side of Pittsburgh, we’re fine. And we’ll turn this thing around. The most worrisome thing tonight? The rebirth of Arian Foster, who has 266 rushing yards the past two games for Houston. After surrendering 155 rushing yards to the immortal Ben Tate and Isaiah Crowell last week in Cleveland, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau needs to be sure he plugs the leaks tonight, and he’ll have to do it with a patchwork line: Second-round defensive end Stephon Tuitt becomes the first Pittsburgh rookie since 2001 to start a game at defensive end, and street free-agent Cam Thomas moves in to play nose tackle for the injured Steve McClendon. If the Texans gouge the Steelers for significant rushing yards early, you know Pittsburgh is in trouble. I think Tuitt responds, LeBeau comes up with a plan to keep Foster under 100 yards, and Pittsburgh staves off the “Fire Tomlin” crowd. For now. 

The Adieu Haiku

Could Luck pass Manning?

He's four hundred forty-five 

behind. (All heads shake.)

new-end-slug
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