David E. Klutho/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB

On Sunday night, America tuned in to see Tom Brady and Andrew Luck battle for AFC supremacy. Instead an undrafted journeyman running back stole the show. Plus, the Chiefs roll on, and what's next for Adrian Peterson?

By Peter King
November 17, 2014

On Sunday morning, none of the eight divisions were tied at the top. On Sunday evening, four were. Three hours after the Browns were alone in first place in the AFC North, they were tied for last in the AFC North. Drew Stanton’s Cardinals ended the day with a three-game lead over the mighty Seahawks and 49ers. The Falcons, who went 50 days without winning a game earlier in the season, ended the day two games under .500—and tied for first in the NFC South. The Packers did something a Green Bay team had never done in the 94-year history of the franchise.

But the story of Week 11 happened in Indianapolis, and it involved a player who was on the Patriots’ practice squad for the first six weeks of the season, a player any team in the NFL could have claimed and signed, for free, until the middle of October. “Obviously we didn’t want to expose him like that, but we did what we felt was best," said coach Bill Belichick as the clock struck 12 Sunday night in Indianapolis.

The story was named Jonas Gray. The Patriots are doing what they always do—owning October and November—only this time looking like an old-fashioned power-running team. Using a sixth offensive lineman regularly, and at times using both a fullback and a blocking tight end on the same play, New England had the kind of dominant running day Woody Hayes used to put together, demolishing Indianapolis with a 244-19 edge in rushing yards.

Gray, undrafted, unloved and—at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time Sunday—unknown, had the best running day of any NFL back in the last 11 months: 38 carries, 199 yards, four touchdowns (one in each quarter). First half: 100 yards. Second half: 99 yards. Postgame: dazed.

Two things I found amazing: Gray never seemed to be winded, or tired, or showing the strain of what in today’s football is an amazing workload, especially for someone who in college or pro football had never carried this many times. And in 38 rushes, he had zero negative carries. It’s a pretty big difference in a game when it’s second-and-four or second-and-six consistently—and never second-and-12.

“When we get home,” Gray said in the New England locker room, “I'll probably just lay in bed and look up at the ceiling and be just astonished at what's going on. I'm just writing a great story, man."

* * *

Jordy The Great
 
 
Greg Bedard examines why Jordy Nelson, a man who has never been to a Pro Bowl, is now among wide receiver royalty. FULL STORY
We’ll have news about the Chiefs (those Patriot-conquerors) and Adrian Peterson and the crazy NFC South, but first a few sentences on Gray, who is so New England. In 2011, at Notre Dame, the 5-10, 228-pound power back, a polite kid, was in a job-share with Cierre Wood at running back, but starting more than not. “I figure he’d go to a Senior Bowl, get drafted and have a nice career," said Mike Mayock, the NBC Notre Dame analyst. “He really broke out that year. Then he got hurt. Tore up his knee against Boston College. I had such profound sorrow for the kid."

No Senior Bowl. No scouting combine. No draft. Gray got signed by Miami in May 2012 and spent the year rehabbing the knee. In August 2013, Miami cut him. Baltimore signed him to the practice squad on Labor Day weekend 2013, and there he spent all season before being cut loose at the end of the year. New England signed him to a futures contract last January. Mayock and Belichick are close, but Mayock said he doesn’t think they talked about Gray. “I just lost track of him," Mayock said. “Then I went to see the Patriots practice this summer at Washington, and saw a few Notre Dame kids there. He was just a guy I kept hoping for. He was a guy who was just desperate for someone to believe in him."

The Patriots kept him on the practice squad early but didn’t have a need for another running back until Stevan Ridley was lost for the season in October with a knee injury. Up came Gray. Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels obviously felt the Colts were susceptible to the power-running game Sunday night. The Patriots started early. On the first series they put 6-6, 322-pound rookie tackle Cameron Fleming as the sixth offensive lineman, at left tackle. Gray’s first carry, behind Fleming, was for seven yards. Then, with a fullback and blocking tight end paving the way, Gray went for seven up the middle. Three snaps later, with a seven-man line in front of him, Gray burst behind Fleming again for 16. From the four-yard line, behind another seven-man line, Gray scored his first touchdown as a pro midway through the quarter.

That’s how New England played the whole game. Belichick and McDaniels are chameleons in designing game strategy. Some weeks it’s going to be bombs away; some weeks Belichick channels his inner Marion Motley and plays power. Obviously he saw a deficiency in the front seven of the Colts that told him Indianapolis could be overpowered. New England did that, for four quarters, with a back no one ever heard of. They have now. Jonas Gray now owns the biggest rushing day of the season—and the most carries in any game.

Again: It’s amazing that Gray never tired. You don’t want to make too much of one game. But this game showed New England can be more than Brady-to-Gronk-or-Edelman.

One more note about Gray, from Alex Flanagan, who covered Notre Dame as the sideline reporter for NBC for several years. It’s a humorous one—I think. Gray’s an amateur comedian. He once opened for Dustin Diamond—Screech, on Saved By The Bell—at a comedy club. If I were Gray, I’d probably keep that to myself around Bill Belichick.


GALLERY: GOOD DAY TO BE A PATRIOT | Photos by David E. Klutho/SI/The MMQB

* * *

With star linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman sidelined, rookie Chris Borland has come up huge. (Al Bello/Getty Images) With star linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman sidelined, rookie Chris Borland has come up huge. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Seven things you need to know about this weekend.

The rookies are out of control. Three of the top four rushing performances were from rookies or first-year players: New England’s Jonas Gray (38 carries, 199 yards), Houston’s Alfred Blue (36 carries, 156 yards) and Cincinnati’s Jeremy Hill (27 carries, 152 yards). Three of the top 10 receiving performances were by rookies: Tampa’s Mike Evans (seven catches, 209 years), Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin (nine catches, 109 yards), and Philadelphia’s Jordan Matthews (five catches, 107 yards).

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Keep up with the latest from Peter King and The MMQB team.
 
 
 
Chris Borland has 47 tackles over the last three games. Speaking of rookies, Borland also had two interceptions of Eli Manning. The 77th pick in the May draft is wedging his way into the Defensive Rookie of the Year sweepstakes.

The NFL needs to curtail law enforcement officials moonlighting for teams. It was evident in the Ray McDonald case that San Jose police officers were too buddy-buddy with the Niners. Now, in Steve Eder’s excellent New York Times investigation of allegedly abusive former Miami defensive lineman Phillip Merling, local officers who had a cozy relationship with the Dolphins favored Merling over the fiancée he was accused of striking and harassing.

Teams have relationships with local police departments because it’s convenient for them to hire trained law enforcement officers on their off time to work on their security detail. But because there have been incidents such as these, when police favor players on the teams they work for, the NFL should draw a line and, at the very least, institute standards of behavior for any officers who moonlight as club employees.

Today is a big day for Adrian Peterson. Adrian Peterson deserves to be removed from the Commissioner’s Exempt List. He deserved that right when his case was adjudicated in Texas earlier this month. But he wasn’t, because the league believes that Peterson needs to be disciplined under the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy and not immediately reinstated to play. This is where the case is going to get more contentious than it already is—and that’s saying something. As I said on Football Night in America on NBC last night, the league doesn’t view the nine games Peterson has missed as any sort of “time served” punishment because he was paid during this period; the league maintains it is clearly not a disciplinary sanction. But Peterson, just as clearly, will claim that whatever the league called his enforced paid absence, it should be over now because he’s been sidelined for more than half the season. In any case, I expect the league to issue discipline in the Peterson case today, and I expect Peterson to appeal the sanction immediately. It’s possible (probable, I’d say) that Peterson will appeal whatever punishment he gets and petition to play this weekend, at home against Green Bay.

WATCH: Peter King goes one-on-one with Browns CB Joe Haden

The Packers are playing ridiculous football. Aaron Rodgers, in 2013 and 2014, has not thrown an interception at home. In nine games (he missed four home starts last year with a broken collarbone), he has 26 touchdowns and zero picks. What may help him the most this year—other than the other-worldly play of receivers Jordy Nelson (whom The MMQB's Greg Bedard writes about in his Extra Pointc column today) and Randall Cobb, who have combined for 19 touchdowns catches—is a more opportunistic defense. Green Bay’s D has forced six fumbles and four interceptions in the last two games. Julius Peppers is making a real difference, as is Clay Matthews' playing both inside and outside linebacker.

Jay Cutler stood and delivered Sunday. Say what you will about the Chicago quarterback. (What? Has he been in the news?) But after two horrendous Bears losses, Cutler made a Brett Favre-like 44-yard touchdown throw to Brandon Marshall against Minnesota at Soldier Field Sunday and played well enough to get a sloppy, 21-13 win over Minnesota.

Marshawn Lynch might get fined $100,000 by the league, or he might not. Two years ago, because he refused to talk to the press in violation of league-mandated duties, Lynch was fined $20,000. Last year he repeated his press boycott and was fined $50,000 more; but that fine was held in abeyance upon appeal, and Lynch was told it would be collected and another $50,000 would be added if he had any further violations. He refused to talk to the media Sunday after Seattle’s loss in Kansas City—but when he left the building, he called two media members, former Seattle fullback Michael Robinson and Mike Silver of NFL Network. Lynch thinks that level of media cooperation should suffice. The league will decide if it does. It shouldn’t, of course.

* * *

The Chiefs might send Carson Palmer a playoff share.

Kansas City is dangerous, and I mean that in a good way. The defensive front manhandled Seattle on Sunday, and the Chiefs have allowed just 70 points over the last five games—all wins. The good thing for Kansas City is that it’s not just the marquee guys, sack-master Justin Houston and noted rusher Tamba Hali. There is depth along the front. Recently, 2011 third-round defensive end Allen Bailey has become a force. That’s why the Chiefs were glad to reward him with a four-year, $25-million contract Saturday—but more about that in a moment.

Allen Bailey signed a new deal with the Chiefs, then had a big day in a win over Seattle. (Ed Zurga/AP) Allen Bailey signed a new deal with the Chiefs, then had a big day in a win over Seattle. (Ed Zurga/AP)

With Kansas City up 24-20 and Seattle facing a fourth-and-one at the Chiefs’ 36 with 3:38 left in the game, Seattle lined up in a power formation, with Marshawn Lynch set back behind Russell Wilson. Everyone knew what was coming: Lynch up the gut. Dontari Poe lined up over the center for Kansas City, with Bailey to his immediate right. At the snap, Bailey caved in his man, ruining the push Seattle hoped to create for Lynch. Bailey corralled Lynch around the neck and, with four of his mates, stopped Lynch for no gain. Arrowhead went nuts. (Does it ever not go nuts?) Seattle had one more chance but never got past its own 28, and Kansas City had a very big win.

The Chiefs are not going to win many shootouts; Alex Smith hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass to a wide receiver yet this year. But they won’t play in many shootouts if this defense keeps playing with the disruptive force it has shown over the last month. Three times in the last eight minutes Sunday, Kansas City stopped Seattle on a fourth down, twice on the Chiefs’ side of the field. That’s championship defense.

“Our saying is, ‘Deny it to the end,’ ” Bailey said from Kansas City after beating the defending Super Bowl champs. “That’s what we did today. Marshawn Lynch is a load, a great, great back. You’ve got to bring everything you have against him, because there will be big collisions.”

Bailey was a great signing for GM John Dorsey. He inherited Poe, Houston and Bailey from the 2011 and ’12 drafts of fired GM Scott Pioli, and Dorsey wants to keep the group intact, obviously. Getting Bailey for a $6.25 million yearly average was a good job by Dorsey, since in three months Bailey probably could have made more in free agency. If Bailey—a 3-4 defensive end who is also a 4-3 defensive-line fit—had hit the market, he could easily have been an $8-million-a-year player, or more. Why? As of now, 13 teams have between $25 million and $60 million available on their 2015 salary caps, and defensive linemen (next to corners and quarterbacks) are always the hardest starters to find in free agency. And Bailey is just 25.

I asked Bailey: Why didn’t you wait for free agency?

“I saw the Carson Palmer incident,” he said. “That was an eye-opener. Anything can happen, on any play. I decided to do it now. Plus, this is a great place for me. I love the family atmosphere we have here. We all buy in, and we all work hard. It’s a great bunch of guys.”

Palmer, of course, signed a three-year contract extension 48 hours before tearing his ACL last week. He’ll get about $19 million guaranteed, despite the fact that he’ll miss the rest of this year and will be challenged to be physically whole for the start of the 2015 season.

So it’s easy to question Bailey for not waiting. But he knows the cruel truth of life in the NFL: He’s not being paid $25 million if he wrecks his knee in the next couple of months. Signing now was a good move for the Chiefs—and probably a better move for Bailey.

* * *

Three Questions With…

Larry Foote, Arizona’s veteran linebacker, in the wake of the Cardinals' suffocating 14-6 win over Detroit on Sunday. Arizona, 9-1, has a two-game lead over four 7-3 teams (Detroit, Green Bay, Dallas, Philadelphia) for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

The MMQB: Your team is 9-1. Admit it—you’re a little bit surprised to have the best record in football, aren’t you?

Foote: Little bit. But the belief is in the air around this team. You can smell it, feel it. We’ve got something good brewing here. It’s like back in the day, with Pittsburgh.

The MMQB: You guys said all the right things about believing in Drew Stanton coming into this game, but losing Carson Palmer is pretty big. How did you think Stanton would play?

Foote: We had faith in him. I’ll tell you why. This summer in training camp, B.A. [coach Bruce Arians] put the ball down at the 20-yard line, and Drew went under center against us, against the No. 1 defense. He went 80 yards on us. That’s the only time that happened all camp. Once that happened, we saw what we had in him.

The MMQB: How has your defense been able to survive all the injuries and keep playing at a high level?

Foote: It starts with our coordinator, Todd Bowles. He has us in a scheme we believe in. We haven’t focused on the guys we’ve lost. I’ve replace [Karlos] Dansby; [rookie] Deone Bucannon is so flexible that he’s been able to replace Daryl Washington—he can play up or back. That’s the thing about a lot of our players on defense; we’re flexible.

After Sunday's loss to the Chargers, the Raiders became the first team officially to be eliminated from the 2014 NFL Playoffs. (Gregory Bull/AP) After Sunday's loss to the Chargers, the Raiders became the first team officially to be eliminated from the 2014 NFL playoffs. (Gregory Bull/AP)

Five fun facts about those lovable Raiders

1. They won their last game one year ago today.

2. They’re on a 16-game losing streak, they’re 0-10 in 2014, and only one game in their final six is against a team with a losing record.

3. Since Nov. 1, 2012, they’re 5-30.

4. Defensive lineman Antonio Smith was on Houston last year and lost his last 14 games there. So Antonio Smith is on a 24-game losing streak.

5. Charles Woodson is 4-22 since returning to the Black Hole. “You try to keep a positive attitude, keep a smile on your face to keep from crying," Woodson said to Bay Area scribe Tim Kawakami Sunday in San Diego.

* * *

I don’t get why the NFL is still hung up on legalized gambling.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver opened a door Thursday that had been slammed shut for years, writing in The New York Times that legalized and heavily regulated sports gambling should be allowed. As Silver wrote: “Congress should adopt a federal framework that allows states to authorize betting on professional sports, subject to strict regulatory requirements and technological safeguards. These requirements would include: mandatory monitoring and reporting of unusual betting-line movements; a licensing protocol to ensure betting operators are legitimate; minimum-age verification measures; geo-blocking technology to ensure betting is available only where it is legal; mechanisms to identify and exclude people with gambling problems; and education about responsible gaming … I believe that sports betting should be brought out of the underground and into the sunlight where it can be appropriately monitored and regulated."

When the NFL successfully argued against the adoption of legalized sports gambling in New Jersey recently, the league's brief focused on the traditional argument against allowing fans to place legal bets on game “because it undermines the public’s faith and confidence in the character of amateur and professional team sports." The brief went on to say that legalized gambling would “irreparably harm amateur and professional sports by fostering suspicion" that games aren’t on the level.

But if the estimates are accurate, and $400 million is wagered illegally on sports in America annually, wouldn’t that already be true? Isn’t placing an illegal bet with a bookie dangerous too? And how many documented point-shaving events have there been in the NFL? None, since I’ve been alive. I think it’s time for the NFL to devote energy to things that matter.

* * *

Sure must be a tough call, to make a coach this confused.

Since Sam Bradford tore his ACL on Aug. 23, Rams coach Jeff Fisher has had quite a time figuring who will play quarterback for him as this succession of statements shows:

Aug. 25: Fisher says Shaun Hill will be his quarterback “for the season." Says Fisher: "I think it's important once you make a change for whatever reason, you stick with it. And we're sticking with this. There's no doubt about that. That allows everybody to get comfortable and have confidence in who is under center as opposed to 'Well, what are we going to do this week?' There's no doubt that he's our guy."

Three different quarterbacks have started for Jeff Fisher's Rams this season. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Jeff Fisher. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Sept. 7: Hill injures a quad muscle and has to leave the Rams’ opening game. Austin Davis replaces him. Davis starts the next two games.

Sept. 14: A Tweet from the Rams’ official account: “Fisher confirms when Shaun Hill returns, he will remain the ‪#Rams starting quarterback. ‪#STLvsTB"

Oct. 1: The Rams return from their bye, and Fisher announces Davis will be the starting quarterback for the rest of the season. Says Fisher: “I did say that Shaun was our quarterback. My job is to make the right decisions, and I felt that I was going to go this way pretty much after the Tampa Bay game based on what I saw, and then the Dallas game was just what really convinced us as a staff and myself. And he [Davis] deserves it."

Nov. 10: Fisher, asked he is considering benching the slumping Davis after a poor performance at Arizona: “No. He [Davis] didn’t have his best half. He missed some opportunities. He made a couple bad decisions and he had trouble seeing at times. The last couple of weeks he’s thrown four interceptions, but we’re going to hang in there."

Nov. 12: Fisher announces he is benching Davis and will start Hill. “I just felt that the best thing to do, at this point moving forward, was to lean on the experienced quarterback. [Austin] is much better now than he was when he started, but we made the decision to go ahead and play with Shaun. It’s all out in the open. There’s no controversy."

Unsolicited advice for a 19-year head coach: Might be a good idea to take “for the season" out of the coaching lexicon, even after Shaun Hill engineered the upset of the Broncos on Sunday.

I will say this in defense of Fisher: It’s hard to have faith in either of these quarterbacks after watching 10 games of them. Whether the Rams have Sam Bradford back next season, they’ve got to invest in a second quarterback they can trust to win games. There aren’t many of those around, obviously. But if Bradford returns, his fragility shows backup quarterback is one of the most important 10 players on the St. Louis roster.

Both of Michael Floyd's receptions in Sunday's game against the Lions went for touchdowns. (John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB) Both of Michael Floyd's receptions in Sunday's game against the Lions went for touchdowns. (John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)

The Fine Fifteen

1. New England (8-2). Think the Pats are in the Colts’ heads? They’ve played three times since Andrew Luck walked on campus with the Colts. Scores: Pats 59-24, Pats 43-22, Pats 42-20.

2. Arizona (9-1). Beginning to think there is a player on the Cards named Nextmanup.

3. Green Bay (7-3). The Packers have been playing football since 1921. Playing rather well most years, I might add. In their 94th season, in the past two weeks, they scored 50 points or more in succession for the first time in their history.

4. Denver (7-3). Last week it was Jets beat Steelers. This week, Rams beat Broncos. The reason you can’t overreact about this loss, decisive though it was, is because Julius Thomas (sprained ankle) was gone early in the game, and Emmanuel Sanders (concussion) was lost 90 seconds into the second half. If those two are back Sunday at home against Miami, all will be right with Denver. If either is missing, the Dolphins could mess up the best-laid plans of John Elway.

5. Kansas City (7-3). Chiefs are 7-1 in the past two calendar months. The one loss: Niners 22, Chiefs 17, and K.C. led in the fourth quarter.

6. Indianapolis (6-4). Worrisome: Indy has lost to the best four teams it has played—Denver, Philly, Pittsburgh, New England.

7. Detroit (7-3). Strange, strange group. Lions are 3-1 in their last four, but have been outscored 74-72 in those games. Nice little roadie they’re on: at Arizona yesterday, at New England next Sunday.

8. Philadelphia (7-3). Hard to know what to do with a team that got smashed into a million tiny pieces at The Tundra. I guess I’m passing it off as the Packers will score 50 on anybody these days. Move on, nothing to see here.

9. Dallas (7-3). No body parts needed a bye more than the two small bones in Tony Romo’s back that are fractured. They’ll get a workout next week: Dallas has the unenviable task of playing a Sunday night roadie (at the Giants) and a Thursday afternoon home game (Thanksgiving, against the Eagles).

Aldon Smith played his first game of the season Sunday after completing his nine-game suspension last week. (Julio Cortez/AP) Aldon Smith played his first game of the season Sunday after completing his nine-game suspension last week. (Julio Cortez/AP)

10. San Francisco (6-4). Totally different defense with Aldon Smith involved. The pressure he put on Eli Manning, consistently, helped Manning (six picks before Sunday) throw five in New Jersey.

11. Seattle (6-4). Strangest thing Marshawn Lynch told Mike Silver on Sunday: He didn’t go into the locker room at halftime. He stayed out on the field. Said he was too sore to make the walk into and back out of the locker room in Kansas City. That is just plain bizarre.

12. Miami (6-4). Still in show-me mode about Ryan Tannehill, particularly in completing throws downfield to a good trio—neither Mike Wallace, Jarvis Landry nor Brian Hartline has a 60-yard receiving game in the last five weeks—but at least Tannehill’s not making the big mistake. Two picks in those last five games.

13. Cincinnati (6-3-1). Freud would have had fun with Andy Dalton. “I cannot figure this man out!’’ Sigmund would say after five sessions with him.

14. Pittsburgh (6-4). Tonight marks the seventh straight year the Steelers and Titans have met. First straight year Jason McCourty has to figure out a way to cover touchdown machine Martavis Bryant.

15. Baltimore (6-4). Bye, and an extra day to heal before playing next Monday at New Orleans.

The Award Section

Offensive Players of the Week

Jonas Gray, running back, New England. The Patriots in the Belichick Era just find guys like Gray—young, unproven players who get a chance and rarely disappoint. Gray, a part-time starter at Notre Dame, and then unused at Miami and Baltimore in the NFL, earned his spot with the Pats during camp this year and was elevated to the active roster when Stevan Ridley tore up his knee a month ago. Gray responded on national TV Sunday night with one of the great rushing performances in Patriots history: 38 carries, 199 yards, four touchdowns. “Real productive player at Notre Dame who had a knee injury," Bill Belichick said afterward. “Smart. Runs hard. His game is what we saw tonight."

Andy Dalton and the Bengals are back in first place in the tightly packed AFC North after Sunday's win over the Saints. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) Andy Dalton and the Bengals are back in first place in the tightly packed AFC North after Sunday's win over the Saints. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Andy Dalton, quarterback, Cincinnati. In the immortal words of Mike Florio, “He went from Andy Dalton 2.0 to Andy Dalton 2.0." Dalton’s passer rating in the worst football game of his life 11 days ago was 2.0, and he did something about it Sunday in New Orleans, in one of the toughest places to win, the Superdome. He was 16 of 22 for 220 yards—10.0 yards per attempt—with three touchdowns and no interceptions, a 143.9 rating.

Defensive Players of the Week

Alec Ogletree, linebacker, St. Louis. Roll this around in your head: The St. Louis Rams, who had allowed more than 30 points in six of nine games before Sunday, held Peyton Manning and the explosive Broncos to seven at the Edward Jones Dome. In the 22-7 victory, Ogletree was the leader of the pack: 13 tackles, an interception and two passes defensed. Chosen with the Rams’ second first-round pick in 2013, Ogletree is rapidly becoming the kind of pass-rusher and pass-defender every quarterback has to fear. This was his second straight game with a pick.

Mario Williams, defensive end, Buffalo. What a performance in the 22-9 loss to Miami on Thursday. It wasn’t just that Williams had 3.5 sacks (only once in 124 career games has he had more in a game) and exposed rookie right tackle Dallas Thomas in his starting debut. It’s how he did it. He speed-rushed Thomas for 1.5 of the sacks, beat a tight end on another, and bull-rushed Thomas all the way back into Ryan Tannehill for one of the most overpowering sacks you’ll ever see. He had another bull-rush on Thomas, driving him back into Tannehill in the fourth quarter and forcing a hurry that was nearly a Bills interception. But since the great performance came in a loss, Williams wasn’t too excited afterward. “No," he said, “not at all." Okay. Let the rest of us recognize it then. Remember when Williams signed that six-year, $96 million deal in March 2012? I thought the Bills overpaid for a guy who’d averaged 8.9 sacks a year in six Houston seasons. Now we’re nearly at the midpoint of the contract, and while the 29-year-old Williams hasn’t been Lawrence Taylor, he’s out-performed my expectations, and he’s a big reason why the Bills have the best defensive front in football right now … and he hasn’t missed a game since the day he signed. His numbers, with an assist from Pro Football Focus on the quarterback hits and significant pressures:

Year Games-Starts Sacks QB Hits/Pressures
2012 16-16 10.5 45
2013 16-16 13.0 55
2014 10-10 10.0 29
TOTAL 42-42 33.5 129

  

Williams averaged .65 sacks per game in Houston. He’s averaging .80 sacks per game in Buffalo.

Special Teams Players of the Week

Justin Bethel, cornerback, Arizona. This Presbyterian Blue Hose product had a huge, and controversial, play in Arizona’s tight win over the Lions. Trying to down an Arizona punt deep in Detroit territory with 12 minutes left and the Cards clinging to a 14-6 lead, Bethel caught the ball off balance, with his feet three inches from the goal line, and threw it back into the field of play as he was trying to stay out of the end zone. Detroit’s Jeremy Ross picked the ball up and returned it 46 yards, but ref Jerome Boger reversed the call, ruling that Bethel possessed the ball legally and it should be down at the one. Huge, huge play in a game that could determine home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

Micah Hyde. (Mike Roemer/AP) Micah Hyde’s punt return for a touchdown was the second of his career. (Mike Roemer/AP)

Micah Hyde, safety/punt-returner, Green Bay. When the game against Philadelphia was still a game—two minutes left in the first quarter, Green Bay up 10-0, a Donnie Jones punt spiraling down to Hyde at the Packer 25—Hyde went into another gear immediately, speeding past the first line of defense and sprinting 75 yards up the right sideline for a touchdown. 

Coach of the Week

Bill Belichick, head coach, New England. The greatest coach of his era moved to 100 games over .500 in the regular season for the first time in his career (207-107), and is now 110 games over .500 including playoffs (226-116). He did it in a way he’s famous for—by using the whole roster, including the street free agent running back (Jonas Gray) who ran for 199 yards and four touchdowns, the rookie center (Bryan Stork) who paved the way for one of the scores, and the rookie defensive end (Zach Moore) from some place called Concordia-St. Paul who started at right end. For the record, the top five in career wins, including playoffs: Don Shula 347, George Halas 324, Tom Landry 270, Curly Lambeau 229, Belichick 226.

Goat of the Week

Washington. The team. This team, after a bye week, with extra time to prepare, lost by 20 to the 1-8 Buccaneers at home … allowed Josh McCown to post a 137.5 passer rating… got close to zero production from Robert Griffin III … fumbled four times and threw two interceptions … gave up a 209-yard receiving day to a rookie. Best thing about the day? The verbal pasting former Washington returner Brian Mitchell gave the team on Comcast after the game. Via the DC Sports Bog: “This team has sucked over the last few years, OK? And as a former player, I’m embarrassed to watch this junk, over and over again. And I will call out names and tell them exactly what I feel. Because a lot of guys who want to be big time and talking about what they think and what the media shouldn’t be doing, play some damn football. You sucked on the field today, and you know who you are."

Quotes of the Week

I

"Clocks here are bull----. It was musical clocks out there.”

—Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer, angry that the clocks at Soldier Field in Chicago went out during significant portions of the game, including with 2:54 left in the fourth quarter when Teddy Bridgewater had to try to run the two-minute offense without being able to see a clock. Chicago won 21-13.

 

II

"After today’s performance? Nobody has proved that they deserve to start anywhere after today’s performance … I believe this was a total team effort, this horrific game.”

—Washington coach Jay Gruden, after the embarrassing 27-7 loss to Tampa Bay at home.

 

III

"In all my years of competitive sports, I have never seen someone as competitive. He plays to destroy you.”

—New England cornerback Darrelle Revis, to Jim Corbett of USA Today, on Tom Brady.

 

IV

"The Cardinals are no longer a Super Bowl contender. They are out of the picture.”

—ESPN’s Ron Jaworski, on the 9-1 Arizonans, before Sunday’s game against Detroit.

 

V

"These people ought to be rounded up and kicked right in their ass.”

—Mike Ditka, on the Twitter tormentors of the daughters of Chicago coach Marc Trestman, to the Chicago Sun-Times.

 

 

Stats of the Week

I

I actually thought there’d have been more flags in 2014 than what I found from the yellow-flag-centric site NFLPenalties.com. As of this morning, there have been 1.04 more flags per game (seems like 13 some Sundays), and 6.2 more penalty yards than in the 2013 season. Breaking down the first 160 games of 2014 versus the complete seasons of the last four years:

Year Games Accepted Penalties Accepted Yards Average Penalties Average Yards
2010 256 3,097 26,057 12.10 101.8
2011 256 3,285 27,736 12.83 108.3
2012 256 3,210 27,193 12.54 106.2
2013 256 3,129 27,019 12.22 105.5
2014 160 2,121 17,874 13.26 111.7

 

II

Melvin Gordon, the Wisconsin running back, rushed for 359 yards Saturday … in two quarters. That was one wacky game the Heisman candidate had against Nebraska. Quarter by quarter, how Gordon set the single-season college football rushing record on a snowy Saturday in Madison:

Quarter Carries Yards Average per rush TD
1 6 49 8.2 0
2 10 189 18.9 1
3 9 170 18.9 3
4 - - - -
TOTAL 25 408 16.3 4

 

III

Three times in 11 weeks this season has an NFL back rushed for at least 170 yards in a game—Rashad Jennings of the Giants (176 in Week 3), Mark Ingram of the Saints (172 in Week 8) and Jonas Gray of the Patriots (199 in Week 11).

Gordon did it twice Saturday, in two separate quarters. 

Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me

I

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My apartment in Manhattan is 1,480 square feet in area. We have two televisions.

The NFL replay command center on the fifth floor of the league offices in Manhattan is 1,512 square feet in area. It has 82 televisions.

That, of course, is a shameless plug for a story I wrote the other day for The MMQB on an afternoon in the replay center. I think you’ll like it.

II

In the 2007 NFL draft, Detroit general manager Matt Millen, with his first two selections, chose wide receiver Calvin Johnson with the second overall pick and quarterback Drew Stanton with the 43rd overall pick. Johnson and Stanton were key cogs in a game with teams that had won 15 of 18 entering the meeting of Johnson’s Lions and Stanton’s Cards in Arizona.

Who says Matt Millen didn’t leave anything good behind when he got dumped by the Lions in 2008? 

Chip Kelly Wisdom of the Week

Last summer the Eagles coach told me one of the things that bugs him about how fans and the media often view an NFL season is that they see it not as 16 one-game seasons. That’s how Kelly views it, as he discussed last week:

“I think the simple thing is you only have one game each week. As simple as that sounds, it's the truth. There's no reason to look past anybody, because in this league anybody can beat anybody. That's evident in terms of when you look at it. There's no undefeated teams in this league. You got to be on top of your game every single week. It is a challenge, I think. But when you really, truly look at it, every game has a huge impact. When you get towards the end of the season, you know, what's the difference, it's one loss here, one loss here. You can look back to it—it was a game in October, a game in September that maybe we kind of let slip by us. But the nature of our sport is that it's all one-week deals. It's a one-week season every [week]. Sometimes the week is a little longer, like it was last week because we played on a Monday night. Then it's a day shorter this week. The teams that can win consistently over the long haul kind of take that same approach. But if you kind of get it up, gear it up for one game, then kind of gear it down for another game and say, ‘In two weeks, we got a big one coming up,’ you're going to get surprised." 

Tweets of the Week

I

 

II

Poor Cleveland. Nothing lasts forever. The Browns are now in a three-way tie for last place. 

III

 

IV

This seems especially noteworthy given the recent trouble the Panthers have had blocking anyone.

V

The Giants’ guard and rampant Tweeter, after Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon rushed for an NCAA single-game record 408 yards (in three quarters, no less) in the Badgers’ rout of Nebraska Saturday. 

Yes. Yes, I believe we are. 

VI

 

Ten Things I Think I Think

1. I think this is what I liked about Week 11:

a. Larry Donnell, the Giants’ tight end, showing great hands.

b. I love that Browns’ bullmastiff mascot, Swagger. What a good-looking dog.

c. Cleveland cornerback K’Waun Williams, the undrafted rookie.

d. Rookie Giants linebacker Devon Kennard not getting fooled by Colin Kaepernick.

e. SI’s Andy Staples breaking the story of Will Muschamp getting fired at Florida. Many claimed they broke it. But only Staples did.

f. ESPN’s Adam Schefter with the story of the NFL investigating the Saints stashing a player they’d just waived, linebacker Todd Davis, in their building for a day, and not giving him access to communications, delaying his agreement to a deal with Denver. Schefter said New Orleans intended to keep him off-limits so the team could re-sign him to its practice squad. Davis finally got word that Denver had claimed him and reported to the Broncos in St. Louis on Saturday.

g. The specter of the last two Scott Pioli drafts—which left the Chiefs with three crucial pieces on the front seven, one of whom signed a big deal Saturday. Dontari Poe (round one, 2012), Justin Houston (round three, 2011) and newly signed Allen Bailey (round three, 2011), who got a four-year, $25 millon deal.

h. Johnthan Banks, the Tampa corner, with a good pick plus touchdown run at Washington.

i. Jay Cutler hanging in, hanging in, hanging in, taking a huge hit, and delivering a 44-yard touchdown bomb, thrown perfectly, to a well-covered Brandon Marshall.

j. Jadeveon Clowney, off the milk carton.

k. Terrific catch, turn and lunge for the pylon by Kenny Stills of the Saints.

l. Two straight third-down conversions on Andy Dalton-to-A.J. Green throws in the second half at New Orleans.

The MMQB's Highlight Reel
 
 
Inside the NFL’s Replay Command Center, where the process is supposed to make calls faster, more accurate and more consistent. FULL STORY
 
 
Greg Bedard examines why Jordy Nelson, a man who has never been to a Pro Bowl, is now among wide receiver royalty. FULL STORY
 
 
 
Mark Sanchez’s transformation began in January with an intervention disguised as a lunch meeting. FULL STORY
 
 
 
Geoff Schwartz, now on his fourth team in seven years, and his wife, Meridith, give us an honest look at NFL married life. FULL STORY
 
 
 
Are the Rams a quarterback away from being good? Greg Bedard settles the debate. FULL STORY
 
 
 
For Ray Rice, returning to football relevance might not be possible. But he can still restore his name off the field. FULL STORY
 
 
 
When a team has a franchise quarterback, it wins. When a team doesn’t, it loses. That’s the reality of today’s NFL. FULL STORY
m. Anquan Boldin seeding a permanent scholarship fund through his foundation, donating $1 million so the foundation can give four $10,000 scholarships per year to needy high school seniors.

n. John Elway stepping out and working out Richie Incognito. Smart, and I bet Denver signs him at some point.

o. Bjoern Werner’s crushing takedown of Danny Amendola. Excellent legal tackle. Textbook.

p. The best game of Coby Fleener’s pro career. A great-hands night.

q. Jamie Collins. The Patriots linebacker is becoming a trusted sideline-to-sideline playmaker.

r. J.J. Watt had the catch of the day. Think of that. He's a defensive end, a great one. And he made a diving, toe-tapping-at-the-side-of-the-end-zone touchdown catch, the first of Ryan Mallett's Houston career. What a player.

s. Drew Stanton, playing well enough—particularly early in the game—to win.

t. The Cardinals, in all red.

u. The Dolphins, in all aqua.

2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 11:

a. Picked a heck of a time for your second home missed field goal as a Panther, Graham Gano.

b. The Bills have played 21 straight drives, covering 107 minutes, without scoring a touchdown.

c. The Chargers putting rookie corner Jason Verrett on IR with a torn labrum. Really hurts whatever chance San Diego has of making a playoff sprint.

d. Niles Paul juggling a pass right to him into what will go down as a Robert Griffin III interception.

e. Ditto Greg Olsen in Carolina, handing an unfair pick to the battered Cam Newton.

f. Jermaine Gresham reaching out to the end zone with the ball in one hand, begging to get it knocked out … which happened. Even though Gresham luckily recovered it in the end zone, it’s a dumb play.

g. Frank Gore, with a bizarre ground-causing-the-fumble fumble leading to the Giants’ first touchdown.

h. Cornerback Ron Parker of the Chiefs, cut five times by the Seahawks, beaten for the first Seattle touchdown at Kansas City.

i. Brutal interception by Eli Manning.

j. Two roughing-the-punter penalties on J.J. Watt—in the first half.

k. Bad intentional-grounding call on Russell Wilson—when his receiver turned the other way and Wilson threw the ball to the spot he thought Cooper Helfet would be.

3. I think there is one thing you probably didn’t know about Jordy Nelson (other than the fact that he is a Kansas City Royals fan, and his son is named Royal but was not named after the baseball team) and that is: He spends a month every year working on the family farm in Kansas. “When we get the opportunity to go back—it's a little bit less now than when it was earlier in my career—in the summer after minicamp, it times up perfect with the wheat harvest. So I'm able to go back and help my brother and my dad get that taken care of. It's a very busy time of year; you need a lot of hands on deck to get that done. So I'm fortunate to be able to help them get through that and spend the rest of the month there doing whatever. Working with cattle, working the ground, building a fence, whatever it is. I like being outside. The great thing about farming is that for the most part it's something different every day. Which is great. I get to be with my brother, and we have a great relationship. Growing up, he was a year older than me, so we were able to play sports together all the time. So it's great to do that, great to help out the family. It's a family farm so something that provided for me as a kid, as I grew up taught me a lot of lessons, so I always like going back and looking forward to the day I move back there and get my son on the farm so he can help us out as well and learn a lot of life values.”

4. I think I recommend two pieces of football-related television for you:

• HBO’s State of Play: Happiness (Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET, HBO) explores the post-career lives of former players Brett Favre, Wayne Chrebet and Tiki Barber. This is a topic we talk too little about. What happens when you wake up one more morning and there’s no more football, no more meticulously organized world—and you have nothing you particularly want to do? All three players are eloquent in their discussion of the topic, and Chrebet’s wife, Amy, is the most eloquent of all. “You retire," she says, “and there’s … nothing." Asked for advice she’d give to spouses dealing with the difficulty of relationships after football, Amy Chrebet said: “It’s gonna get really hard. Give it a couple years. Don’t give up on it." This is some real TV, including the executive producer of this show, Michael Strahan, with his view of what happened to the once-promising TV career of his former teammate, Barber: “That was one of the quickest crash-and-burn careers I think we’ve seen."

The MMQB on the Regional Combines
Last spring, Andrew Lawrence entered the world of the NFL Draft's longest shots. FULL STORY
• NFL Network’s Undrafted six-show series (Tuesdays through Dec. 9, 9 p.m., NFL Network) looks at the longest of the long shots, the players who go to the off-season regional combines the NFL sets up around the country, the Gong Shows of NFL tryout camps. What makes the show real: There are cameras in the room as the scouts pare down the numbers to a precious few, and the scouts’ brutal honesty about the players is refreshing TV. One who survived and made it to a super-regional combine, Alcorn State wide receiver Terrance Lewis, is shown calling his mother to give her the news that he passed the first test and made it to the second. “I made it to the super regional combine," he tells her over the cell phone. To which she says: “Shut up!"

5. I think that was a pretty short Mark Sanchez honeymoon, Philadelphia.

6. I think we saw one more example Saturday of the need for goal-line cameras, as if any more reason was needed. The Alabama fumble near the goal line was called a fumble on the field, then overturned on replay to be a touchdown … but even that was a miracle call, I think, because there was no camera that looked right down the line, no way to see precisely where the ballcarrier lost the ball. It could have been an easy call, as so many in the NFL could be, if a camera, slightly elevated, were placed on one end of the goal line, maybe attached permanently just underneath the loge level of the stands and controlled remotely. These shots should be seen on all close plays at the goal line.

7. I think if I were an NFL owner in the market for a head coach—or a general manager with hiring authority—I would place a phone call to Nick Saban, very much on the QT, and ask if he has even a smidgeon of interest in a second chance at head-coaching in the big league. I doubt he does. But you don’t know for sure until you ask, do you?

8. I think there’s no reason you should care about an agent parting ways with his agency, but I want to read the book one day of how Ben Dogra, the hottest agent in the football business, and Creative Artists Agency got divorced.

9. I think this qualifies in the “What a Country!” category: The Green Bay Packers debuted self-service beer at Lambeau Field on Sunday. You show an ID, buy a $20 beer card, choose either light beer (39 cents per ounce) or an Octoberfest beer (44 cents per ounce) and chose how many ounces you want, and the machine pours the prescribed amount.

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

a. Journalism of the week: A great story by The Oregonian’s John Canzano about a 16-year-old rape case at Oregon State, a brave woman, and an amazing reaction from football coach Mike Riley.

b. Forgot this last week, but how chillingly negative and miserable is Frances McDormand in HBO’s Olive Kitteridge? She might be the unhappiest character I have ever seen, on any screen.

c. NPR’s Scott Simon had the awkward, but necessary, interview moment of the week Saturday morning on his national radio show, asking Bill Cosby about the charges he sexually assaulted a budding 17-year-old actress more than 20 year ago. Simon asked Cosby about it, and Cosby went silent, and Simon—this being a radio interview in person—described the reaction simply as, “You’re shaking your head no.” Meaning, Cosby wouldn’t respond to the allegations by Barbara Bowman. Simon asked again, and Cosby didn’t respond, and Simon described the same Cosby reaction. Uncomfortable radio, but great radio.

d. Re Mississippi State: That was the number one college football team in the country on Saturday morning?

e. Urban Meyer is 33-3 at Ohio State. Pretty good.

f. Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly made one of the all-time bonehead coaching decisions, going for two with an 11-point lead with 10 minutes to play. Notre Dame failed. Northwestern scored a touchdown with a two-point conversion, then a field goal, to tie it and send the game to overtime. A Northwestern field goal in overtime won the game. “Our chart in that situation tells us to go for one," Kelly said at his post-game press conference. “But we were up, I think, 11 at the time. And we felt like, given the circumstances, our kicking game situation, that we were going to try to extend it with a two-point play."

g. There is no justification for that, unless your holder has two broken hands.

h. Stopping the clock after first downs in college football is crazy.

i. Making defensive pass interference a 15-yard penalty in college football is brilliant.

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j. Allie LaForce asks good questions under pressure. But of course! She’s a Bobcat!

k. Rutgers is in the Big Ten. Rutgers is bowl-eligible in the Big Ten. Two sentences I never thought I’d write during the 24 years I lived in Jersey.

l. My three big problems with giving Giancarlo Stanton a 13-year, $325 million contract:

m. The 13 years.

n. The $325 million.

o. The fact that the last time Stanton was on a baseball field he took a fastball in the face. How can the Marlins be sure that Stanton, who suffered multiple facial fractures and some dental damage and had to sit the last two-and-a-half weeks of the season, will be totally unaffected by one of the most frightening things that can happen to an athlete in any sport? Hope the Marlins have done their research—including studying the Tony Conigliaro story.

p. Let’s say Stanton hits 40 homers a year for the next five years. That will mean he will be earning his money. He will still have eight more years, at that point, starting at age 30, that he will need to produce like that to earn the contract.

q. Insane. What 10-year baseball pacts have been truly earned? Derek Jeter’s maybe. Beyond that … none.

r. I understand the position of the Marlins, who basically have to sign the only true marquee player they have. But 13 years is just … not smart.

s. Coffeenerdness: Starbucks has officially jumped the Christmas shark. They’re putting chestnut flavoring in one of their holiday drinks. I support novel things. But just perfect the eggnog latte, will you?

t. Beernerdness: Tried the Greenpoint Beerworks (Brooklyn, N.Y.) Pumpkin Ale. A little bit faint on the pumpkin side, but the clove and orange bits gave it a unique taste. I’d give it a B.

u. Great letter to The New York Times the other day, from Paul Apfel, of Mashpee, Mass. After the low voter turnout in this year’s election, Apfel suggests moving voting day from the first Tuesday in November to the first weekend of November—both Saturday and Sunday. He theorizes, and I agree, that it’s harder for many people to find time to vote on a work day than it would be on the two weekend days that many more Americans do not work. Great idea.

One last appeal …

… for your best Thanksgiving Day rivalry games.

I’ve asked you from around the country to send me 200-word essays on the best Thanksgiving Day high school football rivalries in America. We’ll run a selection of them next week, and The MMQB will cover one of the games on Thanksgiving and give it star treatment on our site on Friday, Nov. 28.

I thought I would give you an example of what we’re looking for. The Fordham Prep-Xavier game in New York City (the schools are in the Bronx and Manhattan, respectively) has been played for more than 100 years. This was submitted by Tom Rumore, Xavier Class of 1964:

“Turkey for Thanksgiving? I think not. Not when you can have Ram-chops!

“One of the oldest of all high school Thanksgiving rivalries, the annual Xavier High School versus Fordham Prep matchup dates back to 1905, according to the Wall Street Journal, but the inter-school rivalry itself dates back to the late 1800's. My memories of the game date back to the 1960-1964 years. At that time Xavier was an all-military school, and the stands were full of cadets in their dress blue uniforms. The entire regiment paraded the field at halftime. 

“For the Xavier players, we were pointed toward this game from the early days of freshman year. No matter the overall season record, no season was a success without a victory over the Rams. The intensity of practices heightened during the week before the game. We knew the entire school's hopes and prayers were being carried on our shoulders into battle on Thanksgiving Day. Motoring up from the Lower East Side in my buddy's (and team manager) dad's Corvair (yes, in which we were perfectly safe!) to the stadium at Randall's Island, everyone knew better than to talk to me. My mind was filled with one thought and one thought only: the utter destruction of anyone who got in front of me while wearing a Fordham jersey. The fact that a 165-pound two-way starting tackle could even dream in terms of utter destruction speaks highly of the motivational factors at play in this rivalry. Our 14-0 shutout victory speaks for itself!

“After the game, I remember the long drive home, tasting victory. Dinner might have been a drumstick, but it tasted like Ram-chop to me."

Send your essays by Friday to talkback@themmqb.com, and we’ll use the best ones next week. Thanks.

Who I Like Tonight

Pittsburgh 31, Tennessee 20. Battle of the –bergers: Tennessee quarterback Zach Mettenberger versus Ben Roethlisberger. I like the veteran –berger. Roethlisberger has a new toy, and his name is Martavis Bryant. A fourth-round pick from Clemson, Bryant is 6-4 and has traveled a strange 2014 path to this point. Inactive the first six weeks, he struggled to learn the offense. But in the four weeks he has played, Bryant has become the kind of downfield threat Antonio Brown needed to take some pressure off him. Amazing, to me, that Brown and the other young receiver the Steelers are using, Markus Wheaton, have been targeted 169 times by Roethlisberger this season, and scored 10 touchdowns. Bryant has been targeted 24 times and scored six touchdowns. I predict number seven tonight. Now there’s a tough call.

The Adieu Haiku

Is it possible?

Six wins wins NFC South?

Wake up, New Orleans!


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