The NFC’s best team lost its starting quarterback Sunday, but Arizona isn’t feeling sorry for itself in the least. Plus, inside Detroit's remarkable turnaround, an unlikely hero helps the Jets topple Big Ben, and more from Week 10
An early Happy Veterans Day to all in uniform, past and present. Thanks to all in the military who make it possible for us to enjoy the lives we lead and feel safe while doing it. And congratulations to Air Force Capt. Ben Garland, the 2010 Air Force Academy grad who worked out seven days a week for two years, chasing his NFL dream while fulfilling his military service requirement. “The chances of me making the NFL were tiny. Tiny," he said in the summer. But Ben Garland made the Broncos this summer, and on Sunday the Broncos’ real-life veteran made his NFL debut, playing five snaps at right guard against the Raiders.
That is a cool story. The rest today pale in comparison. Way to go, Captain.
* * *
Every NFL season has its eccentricities. The Arizona Cardinals own the most in 2014—and we’ll get to the backup quarterback-turned-Sunday-savior who almost missed his star turn when his overdue wife texted him Sunday morning to say she hoped the game went fast, because her contractions were coming. We’ve got you covered, Lions fans, with how Jim Caldwell has turned this team from outlaws to outliers; these are not the usual find-a-way-to-lose Leos. Jay Cutler’s horrible history versus Green Bay was highlighted in another Wisconsin nightmare. After Chicago allowed 106 points the past two games, is Marc Trestman in trouble? After the Giants allowed 350 rushing yards to the Seahawks, is Tom Coughlin in trouble? After the Jets bashed Ben Roethlisberger around for three hours and stunned the Steelers, is Rex Ryan out of trouble?
Ten Uniquely 2014 Things About Week 10
1. Cleveland is in sole possession of first place in the AFC North. Last time that was the case after 10 weeks: In 1994, when Bill Belichick coached and Vinny Testaverde quarterbacked.
2. Brian Hoyer’s agent, Joe Linta, told me Sunday he hasn’t had any discussions about a new contract for the 2015 free-agent-to-be since May. Six months. Hoyer would be the most desirable veteran quarterback among a weak crop. There is time for Hoyer to fall to earth, of course, but I’ll be amazed if the Browns, seeking a long-term answer at quarterback since forever, let him walk.
3. Arizona and Detroit meet next Sunday in Glendale. It’s the kind of November matchup that would usually merit FOX’s sixth crew. These two teams are a combined 15-3. Joe Buck, anyone?
4. If the season ended this morning, Green Bay (6-3) wouldn’t be in the playoffs. True fact. Detroit (7-2) has them beat for the division, and Dallas (7-3) and Seattle (6-3 with the head-to-head tiebreaker over Green Bay) would be wild cards.
5. The Raiders have lost 15 in a row. (You’re right. That’s actually not stunning at all.)
6. The best team in the NFC South, New Orleans, would be 1.5 games out of last place in the AFC North.
7. Atlanta has won once in the last 53 days and is a game out of first in the NFC South.
8. The best rookie in football was the 91st pick by Arizona in the May draft, played for a college team with the nickname “Gorillas,” and caught the winning touchdown pass in the last eight minutes against San Diego, Philadelphia, and, on Sunday, St. Louis. John Brown of Pittsburg (Kans.) State, you’re the man.
9. The Thursday-nighter this week reminds me and my fellow ancients of the old Runnerup Bowl. The 5-4 Bills are at the 5-4 Dolphins, and the wheat will be separated from the chaff.
10. As if anyone needed another lesson, gambling on football is fool's gold; the Steelers looked like the ’07 Patriots the last two weeks and came to the Meadowlands to play a team on an eight-game losing streak—and Pittsburgh got drilled. We wake this morning to learn that the 2014 Patriots, nearly flawless the past five games, are field-goal ’dogs at Indianapolis Sunday night. Keep your money in your pocket. I repeat, keep your money in your pocket.
* * *
While Carson Palmer gently weeps.
It seems particularly cruel this morning to write about the team with the best record in football in a life-goes-on sort of way. Carson Palmer was the quarterback chosen by coach Bruce Arians and GM Steve Keim to be their franchise leader when they got their jobs in January 2013. Palmer finally felt like he was in football nirvana. He quit football at 31 rather than continue playing for a franchise he didn’t trust to put a winner on the field, Cincinnati. He was traded to the Raiders, another pit of despair, and played two years there. Then the Cardinals plucked him away for a song 19 months ago. “It’s the most important acquisition we made," Keim said a couple of weeks ago, and the Cardinals went out and put a backbone to that: On Friday, Arizona signed Palmer to a three-year contract extension worth $50 million.
On Sunday, against St. Louis, it appeared that Palmer, on a play early in the fourth quarter, tried to change his protection just before the snap to account for an extra rusher. As the play progressed, Palmer’s left knee caved in as he tried to avoid the rush on a sack, and he lay on the field, writhing in agony. Nothing is official, and Arians told me Sunday night he wasn’t sure of anything, but all signs point to a torn left ACL, the second time he has suffered that injury, to that knee, in his career.
“We just did the contract, and everybody was on cloud nine,” Arians said from Arizona. “Now this.”
Backup Drew Stanton entered the game with 9:45 left and Arizona trailing 14-10. “Being around Carson now for the last couple of years,” Stanton said Sunday night, “I knew something was wrong when he stayed down. That is not Carson.”
“We can win the Super Bowl with Drew Stanton," Arians said. “There is no doubt in my mind."
This was the second bit of major drama in Stanton’s day. He and his wife, Kristin, are expecting a child. She was due last Wednesday. He got a text from her Sunday morning, when he’d arrived at the stadium for the game. “The text basically said, Just so you know, you might want to get home pretty quick after the game. She felt like the contractions were coming," Stanton said.
This was an hour or so after the game, and Stanton had ducked into a Whole Foods on his way home, shopping for dinner. And champagne, in case the baby came. As he checked out and got in his car, Stanton explained the strangeness of the day.
"All week at practice, Carson loved this deep throw to John Brown," Stanton said. “We had it in the game plan, and at halftime we said, ‘We want to take our shot with this play. It’s going to be there.'" Arians is famous for not dumbing-down his game plan; whoever is in the game is going to run the stuff they planned for the week. So even though Stanton was shaken to the core by the injury to Palmer, he listened to Arians before he went out for his first play, first-and-10 at the Arizona 11. We’re gonna stay with what we planned. Just try to put some points on the board. Nothing different from what Arians would have said to anyone subbing for an injured player.
I did an interview with Arians for The MMQB that ran last week, and what he said about dealing with injured players impressed me. He said: “Injuries happen to everybody. Free-agent losses happen to everybody. I preach and preach and preach, ‘The most valuable player on the team is not Larry Fitzgerald. It’s who’s gonna take his place after Larry Fitzgerald gets hurt.’ It happened to me. I was the next man up. I was the assistant coach in Indianapolis, and 20 hours after Chuck [Pagano] goes down [with leukemia] I am running the team. I always tell the Wally Pipp story, even though the players never know who he is, that he’s the guy Lou Gehrig replaced, and Wally Pipp could never get his job back. The worst part? They don’t know who Lou Gehrig is."
Stanton came in and found two quick completions to his tight ends, who often are the forgotten men in the Arizona offense because of the wideout threats the Cardinals have. On first down from the Rams’ 48, Arians thought he’d get the single-high safety look the Rams had shown on similar plays at similar points of the field. He called the play for Brown. In it, the Cards flank Brown and Fitzgerald left. Fitzgerald takes a corner with him trolling across the field. Brown presses his man toward the left corner, then sprints inside toward the post. If he’s right, Brown will have beaten the corner already, then will outrun the safety on the way to the ball. That’s exactly what happened.
“I didn’t know if I had enough arm on the throw,” said Stanton. “John’s so fast.”
Stanton definitely had enough arm. For the third time this season Brown made the game-winning catch on a fourth-quarter deep ball. Arizona added two late defensive touchdowns, and this improbable 8-1 team had a muted celebration, players going into the trainers’ room to pay their respects to Palmer. “You try to be respectful,” said Stanton. “You know he’s down. It’s so tough to see someone in pain like that.”
I asked Arians how many more body blows his team could take and still keep ticking. Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby at linebacker, gone. Darnell Dockett, gone. Calais Campbell, hobbled in October. Now the quarterback they’d built the offense around, most likely gone for the season. “It’s not gonna stop," Arians said. “It’s football. There’s gonna be another one, I just don’t know who and when. That’s what we believe. We don’t let up, and we don’t make excuses."
One more thing.
“We can win the Super Bowl with Drew Stanton,” Arians said. “There is no doubt in my mind.”
There will be a few people in the Cardinals’ offices today pulling for Kristin Stanton to have that baby early in the week. Her husband’s got another big job coming up. The football calendar is unforgiving that way.
The Lions don’t make the dumb mistakes anymore.
Detroit has been winning the games they lost a year ago, and Sunday against Miami was a perfect example.
Tie game, 4:31 to play, Miami ball, third-and-goal at the Detroit two. Ryan Tannehill slid right, looking for an open receiver in the end zone, and tight end Charles Clay suddenly clapped his hands. I’m open! Tannehill threw a dart. Clay caught it—but in flew safety James Ihedigbo, the former Belichick and John Harbaugh safety, to punch the ball out of Clay’s hands. Miami settled for a field goal.
Trailing 16-13, Detroit at its 27, second-and-nine. Stafford was at the line for eight, 10, 12 seconds, trying to read the seven men who juked and stopped and started on the other side. The blitz was on. “They had eight up,” Stafford said from Detroit. (I counted seven, but found out Stafford was right on NFL Game Rewind early this morning. Safety Reshad Jones left his perch over the right tackle when Stafford changed the protection, and it turned out five men rushed and two more dropped at the snap.) “I ended up switching protections three times, and then Golden [Tate] did a great job beating the coverage over the middle.”
At the two-minute warning, Detroit had advanced to the Miami 38, and Stafford and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi met at the sideline. “We’re close, and we’re almost in field-goal range” Lombardi told him, “but let’s try to go win this thing now.”
Stafford worked his way down to the Miami 11 with 36 seconds left. If he could, he was going to try to find a sliver of space to get the ball into Calvin Johnson. (Who wouldn’t?) Again, the Dolphins put eight men near the line. This time they dropped eight and rushed only three. Off the line, Dion Jordan—who spent some time actually covering Johnson in this game—was on Johnson here, on the biggest play of the game, as he left the right flank and began running upfield. Jordan was joined by a safety. “Looked like a blitz at first, but only three came, and they doubled Calvin,” said Stafford. “So I had to do something else.”
What followed is not a play many quarterbacks can make. Stafford is a different breed on the run. He can throw going to his left and his right accurately, on the run and making sudden stops. “He’s got more ability to throw the ball from different angles than any quarterback in the league,” Dan Fouts said on CBS, and I agree. This time the rush forced him left. Stafford spied running back Theo Riddick, the 2013 sixth-round back from Notre Dame, with maybe a quarter-step of an edge on Reshad Jones inside the five-yard line along the left sideline. “Theo’s a confident kid,” Stafford said, “And I can count on him to make the right decision, be in the right spot. When I start to run around, it becomes a little bit of backyard football, and I thought I could get the ball into him.”
Stafford, moving laterally left, flicked the ball sidearm. Perfect spiral. Landed right in a sliding Riddick’s gut five yards into the end zone. Touchdown. Ballgame.
“He teaches the important things,” Stafford says of Caldwell. “Poise and confidence.”
For the third straight game, the Lions won a game they’d trailed late in the fourth quarter. And that, players and staff say, is a direct result of some of the mind games new coach Jim Caldwell is playing.
Caldwell might be one of those rarities in the NFL—a coach who is better-suited to be a head coach than a coordinator. He worked to mixed reviews as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator last year (the Ravens were 25th in the NFL in scoring, at a paltry 20 points per game), but the Lions saw him as the perfect remedy to the up-and-down, discipline-challenged team that he would inherit. Caldwell can be an impassioned speaker, but much like one of his career mentors, Tony Dungy, he’s a flatliner who doesn't threaten loudly. If you don’t do things his way, you’ll be gone—but it will be done civilly.
Detroit led in the fourth quarter of its last seven games last season—and won one of those games. This year the Lions are turning it over less (last nine games last year: 26 turnovers; first nine games this year: 12 turnovers) and winning more. They are 7-2 and heading to the desert this week for a showdown with the 8-1 Cardinals.
“We were frank and honest with the players from the moment we walked in the door,” Caldwell said from his office the other day. “In this league, we see it every year: Teams lose games in the NFL more than they win them. We brought in players and coaches from winning backgrounds—James Ihedigbo and Glover Quin [from Houston], Golden Tate from Seattle, [coordinators] Joe Lombardi from the Saints and Teryl Austin from the Ravens.”
Caldwell introduced a twice-weekly part of team meetings: The High Cost of Low Living. Each meeting, he’d have an example, culled from the internet or newspaper by longtime senior VP of communications Bill Keenist or someone else on staff, of an athlete or famous person being arrested or doing something stupid publicly. “Common-sense lessons,” said Caldwell. “Like, ‘Don’t be out after 1 a.m.’ Tony [Dungy] used to do something like this. He’d say, ‘If you want to stay out of the USA Today, don’t do this,’ and he’d show guys who made mistakes. They’re all things that happen that can be avoided. It’s education that helps your players stay on the field.”
And when they mess up, as defensive tackle C.J. Mosley did in London, reportedly smoking marijuana on the trip, but absent of a test proving it, Caldwell acted quickly. He sent Mosley home and benched him for two games.
“I just think discipline is important,” he said. “It shows up in games.”
Caldwell also took all positions groups out to dinner, one a week, during the offseason. He’d let the players pick the restaurants, then spend two to three hours getting to know them. “Their favorite movies, their favorite book, their families. I’d ask them, ‘Who’s the best point guard in the NBA?’ We’d get some great discussions going. Just to get to know the players as men, as people, is so important. I read a lot, and I always have believed something General Patton says is important: ‘Take care of your men.’ ”
Stafford said he feels the respect from Caldwell. “He teaches the important things,” Stafford said. “Poise and confidence. Those are really important traits to him.”
Those are traits these Lions are playing with now. We’ll see if they last for the long haul. Last season, Detroit was 6-2 after eight games and it didn’t last. The proof with Caldwell will be known in a couple of months.
Who is Jaiquawn Jarrett, and why did he dominate Big Ben?
The MMQB's Jenny Vrentas covered the Jets’ upset of the Steelers on Sunday and filed this report on the stunning star of the game.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Jaiquawn Jarrett, a 2011 second-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, couldn’t remember ever playing like this in the pros. The last time he played as well as he did in the Jets’ 20-13 upset of the Steelers? “Probably in college," the Jets safety said. “It was a great feeling to finally get my first NFL interception."
Think about that: A defensive back, drafted 54th overall, gets his first pro interception during his fourth season. Jarrett’s career so far has been a bumpy ride. He was cut by the Eagles one game into his second season, a humbling fate for a high draft pick, and spent the rest of the season out of the league. The Jets took a flier on him. (Sports Quiz: What was Mike Tannenbaum’s last move before he was fired as Jets’ general manager? Answer: Signing Jarrett to a futures contract days after the ugly 2012 season ended.) Their evaluation at the time: Good character, smart, tough, and close friends with Muhammad Wilkerson. So why not take a shot?
Sunday’s performance was fueled in part by one of the lowlights of his Eagles tenure. Jarrett recalled a 2012 preseason game when the Eagles played the Steelers, and he whiffed on an opportunity to make an impression in the starting lineup. Missed tackles, poor angles, blown coverages. A few weeks later he was cut. “My first time playing [Ben Roethlisberger] in 2012, I didn’t have a great game," Jarrett said. “I was going to make sure I came out here and did my job.”
He did more than that. Told on Friday he’d be starting over first-round pick Calvin Pryor, Jarrett was the main reason the Jets finally secured their second win. He ended the Steelers’ first drive with a sack of Roethlisberger. He ended their second possession by recovering receiver Antonio Brown’s fumble on a screen pass. Then came a pair of interceptions: the first a diving scoop on the ricochet of teammate Marcus Williams’ batted pass on the goal line, and the second on Roethlisberger’s overthrow of wideout Markus Wheaton over the middle. Jarrett noticed Roethlisberger point to Wheaton before he made the throw, so he broke on the ball with a brisk sprint. “I saw Ben direct him, and when he floated it, I was like, ‘I gotta come down with it,’” he said.
Jarrett’s takeaway tally yesterday: three. The Jets’ takeaway tally over their first nine games: three.
With a ring of reporters around Jarrett’s locker after the game, Geno Smith, another second-round pick who knows what it’s like to be humbled, came over and slipped in a hug. “Good game, bro," Smith said. If Jarrett was ever going to make an impact in the NFL, the time is now. The Jets have been playing musical chairs in the secondary, looking for someone to emerge among a deficient unit depleted even further by injuries. “It’s an amazing feeling," Jarrett said. “You go through a lot of adversity and you’ve just got to continue to keep your faith." Obviously, Jarrett kept his.
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Five quick questions, five quick answers…
With Chris Simms, the former quarterback and NFL quality-control coach, now analyzing the NFL for Bleacher Report and CBS Sports. I reached out because I’ve liked his direct, blunt analysis this season. He said, for instance, that the Eagles may be better off with Mark Sanchez than Nick Foles; and when the Jets’ quarterbacks were struggling mightily, he said he didn’t think his brother, Matt, the third-stringer with the team, should be playing over Michael Vick. (Seems obvious after Vick’s play Sunday against Pittsburgh, but it didn’t seem so obvious a couple of weeks ago, particularly to Matt’s flesh and blood.)
The MMQB: Why the media gig?
Simms: I wanted to get into coaching or get on the track to be a GM. But for the last three years I was basically a bitch boy, a quality-control coach and part-time scouting assistant, working with Josh McDaniels and the Patriots [most recently]. I loved it, but I couldn’t stomach all the time I’d be away from my family. I’m going to put all my efforts into being good at this. Like my dad [Phil] told me, “If you’re going to do this, you can’t fake it.” So I put in the work. I watch the tape. I talk to people I know in the league. I really work at it.
The MMQB: How did you like working for Bill Belichick?
Simms: Loved it. He’s the smartest person I’ve ever been around. His attention to detail just blows me away. What I noticed about him is that the grind of coaching is not a grind to him. He loves it. It’s a way of life.
The MMQB: Best five quarterbacks in the NFL today.
Simms: I hate how everybody just says Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are the best two quarterbacks in football. They’re not. Are they gonna be 65 years old and we’ll all be saying, “Brady and Manning are still the best?” Tom Brady’s not in my top five. I mean, he’s still really good, but I like other guys better. I’d go Aaron Rodgers one, Andrew Luck two, Ben Roethlisberger three, Russell Wilson four and Peyton five.
The MMQB: Best player in the league we don’t know yet.
Simms: [Oakland linebacker] Khalil Mack. He’ll be a superstar for a long time. He’s Von Miller-esque.
The MMQB: Ever wonder what would have happened to you if you didn’t rupture your spleen in that game? [Simms suffered a rupture spleen in a 2006 game against Carolina, and started only one game the rest of his career. He retired in 2009, at age 29.]
Simms: Never a week goes by that I don’t wonder about that. The injury ruined my career.
* * *
Four issues, four quick opinions.
The Bears will not recover this year. The decisiveness of the 55-14 loss in Green Bay Sunday night said much more about the Bears’ deficiencies than it did about the Packers’ greatness. The Bears’ secondary was abominable. The only worse thing in this football weekend was Andy Dalton—and I’m not even certain about that. NBC had a great graphic during the game that showed how wide open Jordy Nelson was on one of his long gains. I don’t generally advocate panic moves, but giving up 106 points in two games? This is professional football. Someone has to pay, and I believe it should be a good man whose players are somnambulant right now, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. But make no mistake: GM Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman will ultimately be responsible. We’ll see how the season ends (the 3-6 Bears are playing for pride, and jobs, now), and I doubt Chicago will fire either man, but that depends how much this team embarrasses the franchise. The level of humiliation cannot get much worse.
The Niners save their season, and need to play more like Chris Borland. “Just a little dumb luck,” said linebacker Chris Borland, after he recovered a fumble in overtime and Phil Dawson followed with a game-winning field goal in New Orleans. There’s some truth to what Borland says, but to see how he attacked the loose ball, swan-diving in from five feet away, no regard for his own health, is a good lesson for the seasoned pros on the Niners who might not be playing the same sense of desperation. “I didn’t give it a lot of thought,” Borland said. “I just reacted. That’s the game right there, that ball on the ground.” San Francisco now faces a clear path to the playoffs, with games against the Giants, Washington and Seattle (Thanksgiving Night) in the next 18 days. Pass-rusher Aldon Smith returns from his suspension Sunday in New Jersey, and his fresh legs are needed.
I think Ray Rice wins his appeal. That doesn’t mean he’ll find a job. I haven’t spoken to anyone who thinks the NFL will be able to keep Ray Rice suspended; it’s a clear and elongated version of double jeopardy, and I presume judge Barbara Jones will rule thusly in about two weeks. But while it’s tempting to think a thumb-their-nose-at-the-league team like New Orleans could take a shot at Rice in December if its backfield is beat up then, I hear nothing reliable about specific teams intending to try to sign him if the suspension is dropped.
Tony Romo should have played Sunday. It’s not complicated. Players who are cleared to play by team doctors play. If you want to dispute whether the team doctors are acting in the players’ best interests in Dallas, that’s fine. But the fact is you don’t know anything about that and neither do I—at least not enough to question their care for Romo. Now, having said that, I can be critical of the Cowboys for two things: Keeping Romo and DeMarco Murray in the game for any part of Sunday’s fourth quarter with a 24-point lead was unnecessarily risky, and I think Romo shouldn’t have gone back in the Monday night game two weeks ago.
The Fine Fifteen
1. New England (7-2). Average points per game during current 5-0 streak: 40.3. Average points per game by Denver in 2013, when the Broncos set the NFL single-season scoring record: 37.9.
2. Arizona (8-1). Game of Week 11: Detroit (7-2) at Arizona (8-1). Seems the Cards play one of these prove-it games every two or three weeks. Even without Carson Palmer, this just looks like Arizona’s year.
3. Denver (7-2). Broncos are now 15-1 in AFC West games with Peyton Manning behind center. A couple of good tests in division remaining: at Kansas City in Week 13, at San Diego in Week 15.
4. Green Bay (6-3). No words, except for these: The Packers are really good, and the Bears, who have allowed 106 points in the past two games, ought to be ashamed of themselves.
5. Philadelphia (6-2). Eagles defensive MVP DeMeco Ryans lost for the year with a torn Achilles. Casey Matthews, who has been gathering cobwebs much of the past three years on defense, starts for him tonight against the Panthers. All eyes are on Matthews and whether he can hold the point against physical runners.
6. Indianapolis (6-3). Worked out well that the NFL gave the Patriots and Colts the Week 10 bye and a Week 11 meeting. Competitive fairness.
7. Kansas City (6-3). Four-game winning streak now, and toughest one was Sunday in Orchard Park. On The MMQB today, Greg Bedard asks how seriously we should take the Chiefs.
8. Detroit (7-2). Lions have won the past three by 1, 1 and 4 points. I say last year’s Lions would have lost two of those. “We don’t think about that," Matthew Stafford told me after the tight win over Miami. I do.
9. Dallas (7-3). There wasn’t too much pressure on Tony Romo to play competently with two broken bones and screaming pain in his back Sunday at Wembley, was there?
10. Seattle (6-3). I don’t want to deflate any win by any NFL team, and I don’t mean to make light of the Giants’ defensive backfield Sunday at CenturyLink Field, but I do believe that was Elvis “Toast” Patterson playing nickel for the beleaguered and beat-up New York secondary.
11. Pittsburgh (6-4). Two things happened in the Meadowlands on Sunday: Steelers got outplayed, and Steelers gave the game away about 13 different ways. Most misleading quarterback line of the day is Ben Roethlisberger going 30 of 43 for 343 yards.
12. Baltimore (6-4). Biggest event in their week wasn’t the easy win over the Titans. It was the IR-ing of ace cornerback Jimmy Smith on Friday. That’s a big blow for a secondary that’s going to have to beat some combination of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger if the Ravens get to January.
13. Miami (5-4). Left tackle Branden Albert gone, probably for the season, with a knee injury. Huge loss. Just a bummer of a day in Detroit.
14. San Francisco (5-4). There are elements to criticize in Colin Kaepernick’s game Sunday in New Orleans, but he kept the vital play alive at the end of regulation, saving the season with a 51-yard bomb to Michael Crabtree on fourth-and-10 from the Niners’ 22. Now the Niners (at New York Giants, Washington at home) can be relevant for their Thanksgiving Night showdown with Seattle at Levi’s Stadium if they take care of business in two winnable games.
T-15. Cleveland (6-3). Still not sure the Browns are playoff-worthy, but the schedule is friendly enough to keep them in the hunt until December. Next three: Houston (in the Tom Brady Backup Bowl … Brian Hoyer versus Ryan Mallett), at Atlanta, at Buffalo.
T-15. Buffalo (5-4). The offense is really limiting the growth of this team. Points in last seven games: 10, 17, 17, 22, 17, 43 (against the Jets) and 13. That’s not going to get it done.
The Award Section
Offensive Player of the Week
Michael Vick, quarterback, New York Jets. A Jets quarterback, player of the week? Heresy! Classic Vick game, doing just enough with his legs (39 yards rushing, including a nifty 18-yarder), an efficient 10 of 18 for 132 and two touchdowns (including a well-thrown 67-yarder to T.J. Graham). Best things: No interceptions, no fumbles lost, no fumbles period. The Jets, with that oppressive defense, will make it very interesting on foes down the stretch.
Marshawn Lynch, running back, Seattle. On a day when the Seahawks shredded the Giants' run defense with a franchise-record 350 rushing yards (on 45 carries, a ridiculous 7.8-yard average), Lynch led the way with 140 yards and four touchdowns in the 38-17 Seattle victory. Whether Lynch is around in 2015 is unimportant right now; he'll be the focus of the Seahawks offense down the stretch this season.
Defensive Players of the Week
I lied when I promised I'd only give a max of two awards in any category. I cannot whittle down the defensive men from Week 10.
Jaiquawn Jarrett, safety, New York Jets. The first of the anonymous Defensive Players of the Week, Jarrett came to the Jets in 2013, originally drafted by the Eagles in 2011 out of Temple. On Sunday he had the best game of his short career—and one of the best games by any defensive player in the league this year. Ten tackles, a sack of Ben Roethlisberger, two interceptions of Roethlisberger, and a forced fumble. Jarrett was huge in a game where the Jets needed a great defensive day.
Ron Parker, cornerback, Kansas City. Two very big reasons I’m giving this to the unknown cornerback from tiny Newberry (S.C.) College. Buffalo was driving to take a 17-3 lead on the first series of the third quarter, and Parker forced a Bryce Brown fumble that bounced out of the end zone for a touchback. Huge play. Also, on the last Buffalo series of the day, the Bills trailing 17-13, Kyle Orton got the Bills to the Chiefs’ 15-yard line, with 2:47 to play. Plenty of time. Momentum in Buffalo’s favor. On first, third and fourth downs, Parker was the man in coverage who prevented a completion. He had a team-high eight tackles, but those four plays were the biggest of his day.
Chris Borland, linebacker, San Francisco. Well, he did recover the Ahmad Brooks strip of Drew Brees in overtime at the Saints’ 17, and the Niners kicked the winning field goal on the next play. But that was just the cherry on the sundae. Borland had 17 tackles in the 27-24 win over the Saints, on the heels of his 18-tackle day against St. Louis last week. Not bad for a rookie. Not bad for Niners GM Trent Baalke, who used the 77th pick in the draft on him last May and is getting one of the bargain rookies of the season.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Earl Mitchell, defensive tackle, Miami. With the Lions lining up to kick a field goal to expand their second-half lead to 13-6 over Miami, Mitchell forced his way through the center-guard gap, stuck his meaty right arm up and blocked the Matt Prater field-goal try. Dion Jordan picked it up, ran it back inside the Lions’ five, and set up the go-ahead touchdown for Miami. But, sadly for Dolfans, ultimately not the winning touchdown for Miami.
Coach of the Week
Kyle Shanahan, offensive coordinator, Cleveland. The Browns have gone 3-0, averaging 23 points a game over the past three weeks, without their best offensive weapon, wideout Josh Gordon, and without Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, and, in Thursday’s game at Cincinnati, without starting tight end Jordan Cameron and jitterbug wideout Andrew Hawkins—all either hurt or suspended. Shanahan is playing survival-ball with a cast of low-round picks and training-camp finds, with a quarterback who may or may not be the answer. It’s a strange brew, and Shanahan, who got run out of Washington with his father last year, is on his way to proving he can make do with less—which is one way to get a head-coaching job in the NFL. That’s multiple years down the road, if ever, but this has been a terrific job by the Cleveland offense, playing competently when almost every week the sum of the offensive talent is less than that of the team across the field.
Goat of the Week
Andy Dalton, quarterback, Cincinnati. It was one of the most mind-numbingly awful performances by a quarterback of this, or any, NFL season. Dalton’s 10-for-33, no-touchdown, three-interception game Thursday in the 24-3 loss to Cleveland reinforced the belief among Bengal partisans that Dalton is not the man to lead the Bengals out of the football wilderness. The worst eight NFL games Dalton has played, measured by passer rating, leave no doubt that Thursday night was the worst performance of his 61-game NFL career:
|Career Game No.||Result||Passer rating|
|61||L, 24-3 Cleveland||2.0|
|3||L, 13-8 San Francisco||40.8|
|34||L, 19-13 Houston (playoffs)||44.7|
|17||L, 31-10 Houston (playoffs)||51.4|
|44||L, 20-17 Baltimore||52.2|
|43||L, 22-20 Miami||55.4|
|57||L, 27-0 Indianapolis||55.4|
|24||L, 24-17 Pittsburgh||56.4|
Quotes of the Week
“It was definitely not a push-off. I’m running down the field telling myself, ‘Whatever you do, don’t push off.’ It’s interesting how guys grab me everywhere on the field and I put literally two fingers on somebody, and they make that kind of call.”
—New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham, on the offensive pass interference call at the end of the fourth quarter that negated what would have been the winning touchdown.
I mean, I have great admiration for Graham the player. But that is just crazy. Graham pushed off, the defender hit the ground, and it enabled him to catch a touchdown pass that rightfully was flagged and called back.
"How ’bout those Chieeeeeeefs! That was a beautiful thing. You kept pounding and pounding and pounding!"
—Kansas City coach Andy Reid, to his team in the visitors’ locker room after the 17-13 win over Buffalo.
"This is the most American thing you can do. This is apple pie right here."
—Steve Shukie, the football coach at Kents Hill School, a prep school in Readfield, Maine.
What’s cool about the Kents Hill team: The four captains are from four different countries, and in Bedard’s piece and in the video, they speak about how important football has been in their development and maturation. The story is well worth your time.
"It’s a bit extreme."
—Jets quarterback Michael Vick, on the “Fire John Idzik" banner that was flown over the team’s practice session last Wednesday. Idzik was on the field to see it.
"Jets Rebuilding Since 1969."
—Banner toted by a plane flying over the Meadowlands before the Steelers-Jets game Sunday
“I have given my heart and soul to the game that I love, and it’s time for me to move on to the next chapter of my life and help others. I have given every ounce of my energy toward making a full recovery from my knee injury, and I have made a lot of progress. Unfortunately, getting my knee fully back to the level the NFL demands has proven to be insurmountable. I am grateful for the entire 49ers organization. Their decision to draft me was the realization of a lifelong dream to be an NFL player, and I cannot thank them enough for believing in me and for doing everything in their power to assist in my recovery. Though I am proud of what I have accomplished throughout my football career, I am sincerely disappointed that it must end, but I trust that God has a great plan for my future. As for what’s next, I will be returning to the University of South Carolina to complete my degree."
—From the retirement statement of San Francisco running back Marcus Lattimore, who suffered a debilitating knee injury as a South Carolina player in 2012 and, obviously, couldn’t come back from it.
ESPN reported he will be able to collect on a $1.7 million insurance policy that he bought for around $10-15,000 while at South Carolina. Lattimore was a tremendous talent. A shame he never got to show that talent in the NFL. Having met Lattimore in training camp in 2013 and in speaking with 49ers people over the last couple of years, I think Lattimore’s going to be okay in life. Class guy.
“We gave a game ball to specialist Andrew Martin, who was out at the coin toss and is certainly serving our country. We gave it to him as a symbolic representation of all the men and women that serve in the armed forces and he’s going to be deployed to South Korea. We certainly wanted to give him something to remember.”
—Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who invited the serviceman into the postgame locker room, gave him the game ball and made sure he got an ovation from his team, after Detroit’s 20-16 win over Miami. Sunday was the day the NFL recognized all branches of the military.
Stat of the Week
Before the Bears’ eighth game of the season, at New England, Chicago had played 1,313 games in the 95-season history of the franchise.
In game 1,314, against the Patriots last week, the Bears allowed 38 points in the first half, the most points they’d ever allowed in a first half in their history.
In game 1,315, against the Packers on Sunday night, the Bears allowed 42 points in the first half, the most points they’d ever allowed in a first half in their history.
All four teams in the AFC North have four wins at home, and one loss at home.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Many of you have wondered about the NFL’s love affair for the London games. Not surprisingly, it has to do with money, and exposure, and a bet on the globalization of football. There will be three more games at Wembley Stadium next season (Jets-Dolphins, Lions-Chiefs, Bills-Jaguars), so the experiment clearly is not going away.
The average ticket price of the London games is 80 pounds, the equivalent of $127. Each of the three games this year, including Cowboys-Jags on Sunday, was a sellout. Which set up this financial bonanza for the NFL moving three of its 256 regular-season overseas:
The bigger question, probably, is how much more the Jacksonville Jaguars can make from a home game in London versus a home game in North Florida. (In exchange for their four-year commitment to playing in London, the Jags receive the full home-team share at Wembley; other teams that give up home games receive what they’d average in a home game in the U.S., and the remainder is shared among all 32 teams.) Assume the Jags would have sold out the game Sunday against Dallas—67,297 seats, at an average ticket price of about $58. The gate at Wembley Stadium would be about $6.7 million more than if the game was played in Jacksonville.
Chip Kelly Wisdom of the Week
“I had it all mapped out actually. Seriously. I wrote it down. I said, ‘When I'm the head coach of the Eagles, I'm going to make sure I get that guy on my team.’ And then guy next to me was like, ‘You're only the offensive coordinator at New Hampshire.’ I said, ‘Don't worry about it. Minor details. But it's going to work.’ ”
—Kelly, the Eagles’ coach, asked before to Sanchez’s first start under Kelly whether, a decade ago when he was a college recruiter at New Hampshire, he had any feeling that he might one day actually coach Sanchez.
Sometimes I wonder about these questions NFL coaches get asked.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
I had to drive from Manhattan to Boston on Thursday morning for a breakfast meeting. It’s about 208 miles from point to point. I left Manhattan at 4:50 a.m., sharp. Stopped once, briefly—at a drive-thru Starbucks on the Merritt Parkway in Woodbridge (near New Haven), and, at that hour, managed to avoid traffic everywhere for the first 170 miles … and I started imagining: This could be my first-ever New York-to-Boston drive in less than three hours. I was 33 miles out when, on the Mass Pike, my dream died. Morning rush into Boston—not good. That traffic is as soul-sucking as the FDR Drive in Manhattan in the morning. Three hours, 33 minutes. Bummer.
The only way to break the three-hour barrier, I’m convinced, is to leave at 2:30 a.m. Which is something I’ll probably never do.
Not a travel note, but a life one I thought you might enjoy.
Most mornings when I am home, I walk out of my apartment on the east side of Manhattan and head over to a bodega a block away and buy the New York Post and New York Daily News. (We get the New York Times and Wall Street Journal home-delivered.) We are watching daughter Mary Beth’s dog Lucy for a spell, and so this affords me the chance to take the black lab/shepherd/maybe-a-few-other-ancestries mix around the block for her morning walk.
Tweets of the Week
Weirder that 1)Bieber is a Steelers fan, 2)He was at Steelers BIBLE STUDY, 3)Steelers down 2 TDs to Jets?
— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) November 9, 2014
Justin Bieber, for some reason, was at the Steelers’ New Jersey hotel Saturday night, and somehow found himself in Bible study at the hotel.
Um. I can confirm that a cow is on the loose on #LSU’s sorority row. Yes, a cow. The real thing. An animal.
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) November 10, 2014
The host of at Tiger Sports Radio in Baton Rouge, on Sunday night.
Mallett = #Texans starting quarterback. Mallet = the thing you whack stuff with.
— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) November 5, 2014
Tania's Twitter Factoid of the Week.
Trying to figure out when exactly Thanksgiving became road kill on the Super Highway to Christmasville.
— trey wingo (@wingoz) November 9, 2014
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 10:
a. Great coverage by Richard Sherman on Odell Beckham on the goal line, forcing a deflected interception into the arms of safety Earl Thomas—and a gutsy return by Thomas. He could have taken a knee eight yards deep in the end zone, but Thomas had the presence to take it out, and he got it out to the Seattle 42.
b. Receiver Preston Parker of the Giants. A more physical receiver than I’d thought.
c. The three-sack day by Marcell Dareus of the Bills. “If I’m going to take over the league, then I’m going to do it," said Dareus. “One of the goals that I wanted to reach when I came out of college was to be the best player and be the best person I can possibly be. Why wait until a contract year like most guys do?"
d. Patrick Peterson's two interceptions in two and a half minutes in the fourth quarter. If this had been a baseball game, Peterson would have been credited with a six-out save.
e. The incredible interception, leaping and with one hand, by Miami’s Brent Grimes, in the end zone at Detroit.
f. The Andy Reid coaching lookalike in the stands in Buffalo. Perfect. But what was that as his play sheet? Looked like a menu from a Chinese restaurant.
g. The first defensive series for Buffalo: Kyle Williams blowing up Jamaal Charles, loss of three; Jerry Hughes nabbing Charles behind the line, loss of two. Seven-yard completion, with a Williams tackle. Dominant start of the game for Buffalo.
h. Dallas’s Dan Bailey, who is the most efficient placekicker of all-time, with a 54-yard field goal in London.
i. Denard Robinson, with more explosiveness than I thought he had, on a 32-yard touchdown burst against Dallas.
j. Johnthan Banks with a touchdown-saving pass-breakup for the Bucs on Julio Jones.
k. Great on-field ceremony remembering the troops on two continents in London.
l. Joique Bell with his shoulder lowered.
m. Are you kidding me with that flip-pass while getting dragged down, Ben Roethlisberger?
n. Anquan Boldin: best physical receiver in football.
o. Mike Evans: heir to best physical receiver in football.
p. Tremendous significant disruptive play by New Orleans defensive end Tyrunn Walker, poking the ball out from a scrambling Colin Kaepernick and giving the Saints a final chance in the first half to whittle down an 11-point deficit. (Which they didn’t do.)
q. Dan Fouts’ line on Calvin Johnson, who bobbled twice and then caught a pass in the third quarter under duress. “He’s so good he can catch the ball three times!”
r. Great hold by Andy Lee on the game-tying field goal in New Orleans.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 10:
a. Every single thing about Andy Dalton’s game Thursday night.
b. Antonio Brown. Two lost fumbles in his previous four-and-a-half NFL seasons. Two Sunday, helping doom the Steelers.
c. The Giants, on the brink of their fifth playoff-less season in the past six years, falling to 3-6 with the loss at Seattle. The Giants' record in the regular season since 2009: 46-43.
d. Come on, Blake Bortles. Ever throw a touch pass?
e. Alex Rodriguez.
f. I know. Alex Rodriguez is a baseball player. Or used to be. I just wanted to emphasize how much I don’t like him. I also cannot figure out how he can keep track of so many lies to so many people.
g. Can’t lead with your helmet and try to spear Alex Smith, Aaron Williams. Cost Buffalo 15 big yards.
h. Shonn Greene, fumbling at the goal line for Tennessee. Absurd turnover. You’ve got to know foes will be clawing to try to get the ball out, and the Ravens obviously were.
i. Looked like another rolled ankle for Reggie Bush. Just can’t stay healthy.
j. Terrible non-reversal in the Jets-Steelers game at the two-minute warning of the first half. Mike Vick fumbled. The ball stayed in bounds. The Steelers recovered. What’s to dispute?
k. Please, De’Anthony Thomas. You’re good. You’re not Superman. You cannot field punts at the 2-yard line in the National Football League.
l. Buffalo’s fifth running back, Anthony Dixon, turning the corner and making positive yards against the Chiefs.
m. The thieves who burglarized the home of Texans linebackers coach Mike Vrabel. Included in the items stolen from his Houston area home: Vrabel's three Super Bowl rings from New England.
3. I think the call of the day belongs to back judge Jim Quirk, in the San Francisco-New Orleans game. The push-off on Jimmy Graham was real, and should have been called under any circumstances. The fact that it happened on the last play of the fourth quarter and led to Graham catching what would have been the game-winning touchdown pass … meaningless. A penalty is a penalty, and Quirk was definitive, decisive and correct.
4. I think two very reliable Saints will be kicking themselves this morning, and maybe all week, for their performances at the end of the first half in the loss to San Francisco. It was ridiculous for Drew Brees to throw into the middle of three 49ers, trying to find Jimmy Graham. Chris Culliver picked it off in the end zone. And coach Sean Payton keeping two timeouts in his pocket, so the Saints couldn’t take full advantage of having the ball at the Niners’ 42 with 66 seconds left in the half. He used one of his three timeouts on the drive. Too much wasted time.
5. I think this should be required reading for you this week, whether you love football unconditionally or whether you are having queasy thoughts about football’s place in our society. The title of writer Michael Sokolove’s piece is, “Is football the next tobacco?” Good question, and a thoughtful story.
6. I think Carson Palmer re-signing Friday is a tremendous boost to Brian Hoyer’s prospective new deal, wherever it ends up being done. There is not a marquee quarterback (is there ever?) in the 2015 free-agent quarterback pool. The two most interesting—which could change, depending on how Ryan Mallett does with his chance in Houston in the last half of the season—are Hoyer and restricted free-agent Austin Davis of the Rams. How I would rate the top five prospective quarterback free-agents-to-be, in order:
• Brian Hoyer, Cleveland. Quick release, ability to process info. Has made some big throws under pressure for the Browns during their surprising 6-3 start, and the Browns have had zero conversations about a new contract for Hoyer since May, agent Joe Linta said Sunday. Linta also had Joe Flacco a couple of years ago. Flacco played out his deal and was rewarded after the Ravens won the Super Bowl. Hoyer has nowhere near the résumé of Flacco, of course. But he’s got one thing in common with Flacco. “He’s like Joe," Linta said. “He’s bet on himself.”
• Mark Sanchez, Philadelphia. Much to see in the next two months, but in the right system, running a fast-paced offense (more to his liking), I think he has a chance to compete to be someone’s starter for a few years.
• Austin Davis, St. Louis. He’s restricted, meaning the Rams will have the right to match any offer he gets. But Davis has been impressive under tough circumstances, and much more accurate than the Rams had any right to expect. He’s had 76 percent, 71 percent and 85 percent passing games in the past two months.
• Drew Stanton, Arizona. Can he take Bruce Arians with him?
• Ryan Mallett, Houston. Just a hunch, because I’ve soured so much on Jake Locker.
• Jake Locker, Tennessee. Maybe, just maybe, the right coach can work on his accuracy issues, which are major. I don’t know what anyone can do about his injury issues, which also are many.
7. I think these would be my questions about the Dallas Cowboys and player usage Sunday: Why, oh why, is DeMarco Murray in until the end of the third quarter? Ditto Tony Romo? The Cowboys have talked openly about conserving Murray, and he’s in the game, running it, with a 33-7 lead in the last minute of the third quarter? And Romo too? With two broken bones in his back? Get the man out of a 24-point game with 15 minutes left.
8. I think this is the most damning stat coming out of Sunday’s games: As Bears quarterback, Jay Cutler is 1-10 against the archrival Packers, with 22 interceptions. He has never played a game against Green Bay as a Bear without throwing an interception. This is the quarterback you’re married to for the next six years, Chicago?
9. I think this was a refreshing take from Tony Romo on the future of football in London. He loved the week, said he loves London, and said, “As far as a team in London, I would recommend it for sure. I loved it here." Music to Roger Goodell’s ears.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Happy 35th birthday, NPR’s Morning Edition. Can’t say I’ve been with you every step of the way, but Bob Edwards was my morning companion for many a year.
b. Story of the week: Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel with a few thousand interesting words on Brett Favre. Said he doesn’t want to do a TV gig, in part because of the travel and in part because, as he says, “I don’t want to sit around the set all day and hear Warren Sapp tell stories."
c. This could be prominent among the Things I’ll Never Figure Out About College Football: Why, in the midst of the home stretch of the college football season, was Ole Miss hosting the Presbyterian College Blue Hose (enrollment 1,172)? And why was Mississippi State hosting the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks?
d. Another long year for the Devils, eh, Tom Mantzouranis?
e. Do these Navy SEALS take a vow of silence about what they do on their missions? If so, what kind of people trained to do some of the most important work our country can do break that vow and go yapping for money, as these apparent bin Laden triggermen are doing?
f. RIP, Tom Magliozzi, the first man to consistently laugh on NPR. He was half of the Car Talk brothers, and he died the other day of Alzheimer’s disease. Amazing that the duo hadn’t done new shows for the past two years, but the audience kept coming back for weekly Saturday morning Car Talk re-runs.
g. Funny how Tom Magliozzi came to do this Car Talk show. He explained in the MIT commencement speech in 1998: “I graduated from here and I went to work as an engineer. And I will tell you about my defining moment. I was driving—I lived in Cambridge at the time—I was driving from Cambridge to my job in Foxboro, Mass., and I was driving in a little MG. It weighed about 50 pounds and on Route 128 I was cut off by a semi and I almost, as they say, bought the farm. And as I continued my drive, I said to myself, if I had in fact bought the farm out there on Route 128, how ticked off would I be that I spent all my life going to this job, living a life of quiet desperation. So I pulled into the parking lot, walked into my boss's office and I quit, on the spot. I became a bum. I spent two years sitting in Harvard Square drinking coffee. I invented the concept of the do-it-yourself auto repair shop and I met my lovely wife."
h. Something to be said for being happy in one’s job.
i. Sid Hartman, the prolific columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, celebrated his 70th anniversary of working for the paper this week by … working. His Friday column discussed the Twins’ free-agent budget this off-season, the Gophers’ biggest game of the season (Saturday, against Iowa), and the fact that Robin Yount won’t be joining the coaching staff of his buddy and new Twins manager Paul Molitor. Just your normal 1,221-word day for the 94-year-old Hartman.
j. Never knew this until the weekend: Sid Hartman was a Bernie Madoff ponzi-scheme victim. That's the Media Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me.
He told the Barista that his name was Marc with a "c"... pic.twitter.com/W63d3xmL46
— Mike Clarke (@Mr_Mike_Clarke) November 2, 2014
l. Beernerdness: Found a poor man’s Pliny The Elder in a west side bar in Manhattan on Saturday: Harpoon 100 Barrel series #51, Cambridge Uncommon Pale Lager. The name is long. The beer is worth it. It’s a cool beer—as the name implies, a combination of IPA with lager, leaving a bit of pine taste on the pallet.
m. This is not a misprint: Five miles, treadmill, all flat, Saturday, in 39:50.
n. I am finally reaching the limit of what my 57-year-old legs—and my 57-year-old will—can do. I am pretty pleased about it.
o. Running and writing have something in common. It’s been said that the best thing about writing is having written. (Which I agree with.) I also think the best thing about running is having run.
p. The basketball season is about 314 games long, and people are worried that the Cavaliers started 1-3? Sheesh.
Who I Like Tonight
Philadelphia 23, Carolina 16. Funny how all the focus in this game is whether Mark Sanchez can play competently enough for the Eagles to win. I wonder if Cam Newton (last three games: 48.1 percent completions, one touchdown pass) can. Carolina needs Newton to form a better bond with Kelvin Benjamin (last three: 23 targets, nine receptions). Maybe getting back DeAngelo Williams will help, so the quarterback doesn’t have to put so much of the run game on his own shoulder pads.
The Adieu Haiku
The Cards: 8 and 1.
Even with Carson injured,
still NFC’s best.
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