Jeff Haynes/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB

Two months from today in Glendale, we could do worse than getting a rematch of Sunday’s Packers-Patriots showdown. Here’s how Green Bay won. Plus the Ray Rice fallout, the Rams-Ferguson controversy and why now is the time for the Browns to start Johnny Manziel

By Peter King
December 01, 2014

Three months of the 2014 season down, two to go. Two months from tonight, in Arizona, Super Bowl XLIX will be played. There can’t have been a better Super Bowl preview than the game played in Green Bay between the Patriots and the Packers. So even. So well-played. So highly competitive. No turnovers. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady, both completing 63 percent of their throws on a 17-degree wind-chill early-winter day, dueling in football’s most storied cathedral, Lambeau Field, meeting for the first time in their combined 25 years in the NFL. Which seems so unfair.

Meeting for the first time. Brady is 37. Rodgers turns 31 tomorrow. AFC meets NFC once every four years. That means, at least in this tableau, we’ll never see this again, unless Brady pulls a George Blanda and plays until he’s 45—or plays somewhere else. Rob Gronkowski, playing in Lambeau for maybe the only time ever. And Bill Belichick, coaching his 20th season, but coaching for only the second time at Lambeau Field. The game just felt … well, important. And special. “Awesome," Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels said after Green Bay hung on and won, 26-21. “That’s a Hall of Fame quarterback right there, and their tight end is like the Terminator."

From late in the second quarter, when the Patriots pulled to within 16-14, I got the feeling this was going to come down to the end. Who would make a play to win at the end? Who wouldn’t make a play at the end? I just didn’t want it to come down to something fluky. Let the best team win on the merits. And the longer the game went, I was convinced that’s how it would go. And if we were lucky, maybe we’d get to see it again … two months from now, when the Patriots, if it happened, would play in Glendale for the first time since Tyree Velcro Sunday, when the 18-0 season went up in smoke in the last Super Bowl in Arizona.

Where Pride Still Matters
 
High school football is steeped in tradition. Robert Klemko traveled to the west of Boston, where two affluent towns renewed their heated gridiron rivalry for the 127th time on Thanksgiving morning.

FULL STORY
We’re getting way ahead of ourselves. Much to cover this morning, including:

  • The fallout of the Ray Rice decision.
  • Marvin Lewis losing his mind—in a good way, as it turns out.
  • Green Bay, New England and Denver, all 9-3, taking the helm of the league, in that order.
  • Ferguson intruding on football, and vice versa, and the St. Louis police taking offense.
  • Seattle: the best defense in football, again.
  • Johnny Football lives. He plays. He scores. He complicates the Browns' playoff run.
  • The 102nd Grey Cup happens, and we have a correspondent inside the game: Hamilton wide receiver Luke Tasker. Yes, son of Steve.
  • The disturbing story of Darryl Talley, and the heartwarming story of those who read it and wanted to help.

We start in Lambeau. Green Bay sprinted to a 13-0 lead. New England got touchdowns from its typical bargain-basement types, Brandon Bolden and Brandon LaFell, to rally to within 16-14. The SI coverboy, Jordy Nelson, shook off Darrelle Revis long enough to sprint for a 45-yard touchdown; 23-14. Brady to LaFell again; 23-21. Mason Crosby’s fourth field goal midway through the fourth quarter; 26-21.

Who would make a play to win at the end? Who wouldn’t?

New England converted a fourth-and-three at midfield, then drove to the Green Bay 20. Third-and-nine; 3:25 to play. Green Bay sent four and covered with seven. Brady took the shotgun snap. From his left, end Mike Neal tried to beat tackle Nate Solder to the edge, and Daniels bull-rushed left guard Dan Connolly. The line had stood up well all day—no sacks in the first 56 minutes. But now Neal got a step on Solder. Daniels bulled and then sped around Connolly. Neal and Daniels met for a sandwich on Brady. He had no chance. On fourth-and-18, Belichick—rightly—sent out the field-goal team. Stephen Gostkowski, a worthy heir to Adam Vinatieri, wasn’t worthy here. Wide right.

Meeting of the Minds
 
He revived Brett Favre, he built Aaron Rodgers and on Sunday he outdueled Bill Belichick. The Packers' victory over New England in Lambeau showed just where Mike McCarthy belongs in the hierarchy of NFL coaches. And a moment right after the game confirmed it.
FULL STORY
Green Bay ball. One first down was all Rodgers needed. Seemed easy enough, until it got to be third-and-four, with 2:28 left, at the Packer 43. New England was out of timeouts. This was it. Make a play, Rodgers kneels for three snaps and it’s over. Don’t make it, and you give it back to one of the best quarterbacks of our lives, pacing the New England sidelines, dying for one last chance.

Green Bay came to the line in trips left (wideouts Jarrett Boykin, Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson spread from wide to tight of the formation), and tight end Andrew Quarless split wide right. In the backfield, as a sidecar to the right of Rogers, was wide receiver Randall Cobb. He doesn’t normally come out of the backfield, but he did so early in the game on a wheel route and, mismatched against Rob Ninkovich, took a beautifully placed 33-yard strike from Rodgers. Now, as Rodgers called signals and the play clock was down to three, Cobb motioned to the slot. Rodgers snapped at zero.

“I’m running an angle route there, under a couple of slant routes," Cobb told me an hour after the game. Covered off the line by corner Logan Ryan, the matchup was favorable—until he saw linebacker Dont'a Hightower standing near where he was to angle, right in the middle of the field. Cobb peeked into the backfield and saw Rodgers was searching. He had no one open.

“That means it’s scramble mode," Cobb said. “I just gotta get open. Scramble mode is more of a feel. I gotta find a hole. I know there are guys on the left running slants, and I don’t want to run into them. I looked at Davante, and he flattened out his route, and I flattened mine out a little flatter, running left [behind Hightower]. I wanted to make my guy [Ryan] go high. I wanted Aaron to have a clear shot at me."

Once Cobb was clear of Hightower, a step or two past him, Rodgers zinged the ball toward Cobb, maybe two yards past the first-down line. Now Devin McCourty came off Adams and joined Ryan in coverage of Cobb. But McCourty was just a split-second too late to break it up.

Randall Cobb's clutch grab to convert a first down sealed the win for the Packers. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Randall Cobb's clutch grab to convert a first down sealed the win for the Packers. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

“Aaron put it right in there," Cobb said. “Perfect.”

What do you remember when the ball was coming toward you?

“Nothing, really. I just know I gotta make the catch," Cobb said.

Were you feeling the coverage on you—physically? Or do you just know they’re there?

“Honestly," Cobb said, “I don’t know. I don’t recall. I guess I’ll see it when I watch the tape. I just think about putting the ball away and doing whatever it takes to catch it.”

He caught it. Game over.

“Bleep!’’ Brady said on the New England sideline. Or something to that effect. He said it three times.

One team made the play. The plays, actually. The other didn’t.

But that doesn’t mean in two months the same team will make them if they meet again. It was that close Sunday in Green Bay. It was that good. 

Roger Goodell (Leon Halip/Getty Images) Roger Goodell and the NFL have not responded to requested changes in the Personal Conduct Policy recently proposed by the NFLPA. (Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Five thoughts on the Rice verdict.

I was out of pocket Friday when Judge Barbara Jones issued her ruling that Ray Rice should be reinstated immediately. But after I read her 17-page ruling, I was struck by the common sense of it, which leads my thoughts:

1. How could the NFL possibly think that, after giving Rice a two-game ban to start, the continuation of a ban that reached 11 games was in any way fair? We all heard Roger Goodell say he got it wrong when he gave Rice two games back in July. Okay. Two games bad. Six games good. What is the possible justification for extending the ban to 11—and, if Jones hadn’t ruled when she did, maybe longer? The facts are these: Goodell saw the video of Rice dragging the limp body of his fiancée out of the Atlantic City elevator, then heard from him that she got that way because he made physical contact with her in said elevator. Goodell said he never saw the second video, the one of Rice making contact with Janay Palmer (now his wife). But all that matters, obviously, is that Rice hit her, and she went unconscious. The fact that the NFL was willing to let Rice sit for the season—which the league obviously was willing to do—goes far beyond a reasonable sanction for a first-time offender.

2. Rice’s future. I spoke to two NFL general managers over the weekend about Rice, neither of whom is interested in signing him but who believe Rice will be in some team’s training camp in 2015. As one GM said, Rice has three things working against him as we approach the final four weeks of the regular season: He is seven weeks shy of turning 28, and coming off a season in which he averaged 3.1 yards per carry (and his play reflected that statistic); he hasn’t played in a game in 11 months, and he hasn’t practiced live in three months; the distraction of Rice appearing on the team, with the protests and media attention that will come with it, will be unwanted for a team in the home stretch of its season. Having said all that, this GM did admit that Adrian Peterson would be different, because Peterson is closer to a premier player now than Rice. For the football advantages, the headaches with Peterson in your locker room would be more palatable than with Rice. I think it’s a long shot that Rice signs with any team before the end of the season, and as I said on NBC last night, there’s a slim chance it would be New Orleans and much less in Indianapolis, the two teams mentioned by Adam Schefter as sniffing around Rice. 

Judge, Jury, Executioner
 
The Ray Rice decision was a setback for Roger Goodell, writes Andrew Brandt. But even through another defeat, the NFL's boss shows no signs of backing off his role as the Conduct Commissioner.

FULL STORY
3. The Players Association is rightfully miffed at the NFL for not responding to a personal conduct policy proposal it submitted to the league a month ago. In a recent interview with Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said it was “disrespectful” that the league had yet to issue a formal response to the union’s personal conduct proposal. As Smith said, the league asked for input from a variety of sectors, including players and former players. “If they have yet to submit a proposal," Smith said, “and they have yet to respond to the proposal we have sent them, and yet you continue to unilaterally create new things in the disciplinary area, does that mean that everything is on the table?" Last week, the union and league met again on the issue, and NFLPA president Eric Winston said, again, that the league did not respond with a written proposal but said any topic was open for discussion that day. “They just want to meet with the union," Winston said, “so they can say they got our input, and then do whatever they want.” For the record, the major points in the NFLPA’s proposal, obtained by The MMQB:

  • No action may be taken after an arrest.
  • As in the Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy cases, players may be put on leave with pay while the cases are being adjudicated, if player and club agree.
  • Discipline may be imposed only after final disposition of the case.
  • After a conviction for a violent act, a player must undergo counseling with a professional chosen mutually by the NFL and NFLPA.
  • An NFLPA attorney must be present for all investigations into the players’ behavior.
  • All appeals of commissioner discipline must be by a neutral arbitrator, as in the case of Judge Jones in the Ray Rice investigation.

4. The judge in the Rice case didn’t accuse the league of any wrongdoing, but there was one striking piece of evidence she uncovered that has overtones of the Bountygate investigation. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk beat me to this over the weekend. Jones said in her report that Goodell called a meeting after the more ominous TMZ video aired in September, “at which they looked back at the notes of the June 16 meeting [with Rice] and ‘made sure all of us had the same recollection,’ ” according to Jones. That reminded me (and Florio) of the league finding fault with New Orleans coach Sean Payton for “instructing assistants to make sure our ducks are in a row.” Those sound like the same thing to me. They sound like each side is trying to get its stories straight. And when the judge overseeing the Rice case sided with Rice and not the league, well, it sure seems to me that the judge liked Rice’s (and NFLPA attorney Heather MacPhee’s) version of the truth more than the NFL’s.   

5. Why the NFL doesn’t record disciplinary hearings, or have a stenographer present, is beyond comprehension. It’s 2014. Nothing further, your honor.

Finally on this topic: I quoted a source in July as saying Janay Rice made a moving case for leniency for Ray Rice during the June 16 meeting. My source was incorrect. According to Judge Jones’ report, Janay Rice was asked only one question during the hearing—how she felt—and she cried and said, “I’m just ready for it to be over.” I regret the error, and should have vetted the story further before publishing the account of one source.

Marvin Lewis and the Bengals almost caught a very bad break in Tampa. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Marvin Lewis and the Bengals almost caught a very bad break in Tampa. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Crazy story of the day.

Watching the end of the Bengals-Bucs game Sunday, it looked like Cincinnati was on its way to a loss. The Bengals were up 14-13, but with 26 seconds left, Bucs quarterback Josh McCown completed a 21-yard pass to Louis Murphy that advanced the ball to the Cincinnati 20. Now all the Bucs had to do was let the clock run down a few more seconds, spike the ball and summon the kicker, Patrick Murphy, for a 37-yard field goal on a calm weather afternoon in Tampa. The Bucs gathered at the line, and suddenly the red challenge flag flew from the Cincinnati sideline. Coach Marvin Lewis had thrown it. One problem: You can’t throw the challenge flag inside of two minutes of either half. Replays are booth reviews then, not coaches’ challenges.

My first thought: Marvin is on the Competition Committee. Not many people in the game know the rules better. He knows you can’t throw the challenge flag inside the two-minute warning.

The Bucs had had 12 men on the offensive side of the ball on the pass play to Murphy. Oniel Cousins came in as an extra offensive lineman/tight end, and rookie wideout Robert Herron, whom Cousins was replacing, just didn’t leave the field.

Now for the strange thing: Bill Leavy’s officiating crew missed the 12 men. The Bengals caught it—and then CBS caught on the telecast. Even crazier: As Tampa Bay lined up to run another play, the Bucs still had 12 men on the field.

The Bucs were about to snap the ball, and if they had done so, the penalty on the previous play wouldn’t have been fixable.

“I just lost my mind,’’ Lewis told me from Tampa after the game. “All I needed to do was call timeout. I was trying to get Bill Leavy’s attention, and at the end I was worried they’d snap the ball, so I just threw the challenge flag.’’

But you knew …

The MMQB, 24/7
Keep up with the latest from Peter King and The MMQB team.
 
 
 
“I knew you can’t throw it,’’ he said. But, he said, he also knew the sanction for throwing the challenge flag was loss of a timeout, and the Bengals had two left. So by the time the officials addressed his throwing the flag, Lewis was comfortable that the replay official upstairs would buzz down that there had been 12 men on the field.

I still find it amazing that the four officials on the field assigned to count bodies before every play didn’t have the Bucs with 12 men on the field—and may not have had them with 12 men on the second play either, if no Bucs player exited or entered the field before the snap of the ball.

“We are fortunate,’’ said Lewis, “because we have a challenge person upstairs. He told me about the 12 men. Then it was just a matter of getting it to the officials’ attention.’’

Upon further review, of course, the 12th man was found on the previous play. A five-yard markoff was taken from the 41, so it became second-and-20 from the 46. Three pass attempts couldn’t net a first down, and the Bengals took over on downs.

What a dumb, dumb sequence by the Bucs. And not a very good one for the officiating crew, or the replay official upstairs, Larry Nemmers.

“That’s how 2-10 football teams play,” said Bucs coach Lovie Smith.

And that’s how an 8-3-1 coach, Lewis, coaches.

* * *

Worth noting …

Rams receivers entered the field with a message on Sunday. (L.G. Patterson/AP) Rams receivers entered the field with a message on Sunday. (L.G. Patterson/AP)

The St. Louis cops are ticked off at the Rams. The Rams hosted 50 business owners and clean-up-crew workers from Ferguson at the 52-0 rout of the Raiders—people who’d had their businesses torched or ruined in the wake of the announcement that officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted in the death of Michael Brown.

But five players touched a nerve before the game, entering the field with their hands raised in the familiar Hands up, don’t shoot mode of Ferguson protesters. A statement by local officers said: “The St. Louis Police Officers Association is profoundly disappointed with the members of the St. Louis Rams football team who chose to ignore the mountains of evidence released from the St. Louis County Grand Jury this week and engage in a display that police officers around the nation found tasteless, offensive and inflammatory … It is unthinkable that hometown athletes would so publicly perpetuate a narrative that has been disproven over and over again.”

The SLPOA stressed that forensics tests didn’t support the claim that Brown held his hands up. After the game, one of the Rams in the demonstration, wideout Kenny Britt, said the players weren’t taking sides. “Not at all,’’ Britt said. “We just wanted to let the community know we support them.” The officers said they would demand a “very public apology” from the Rams and the NFL today. The team had no comment last night.

Entering the game in the fourth quarter, Manziel led an 80-yard TD drive. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) Entering the game in the fourth quarter, Manziel immediately led an 80-yard TD drive. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Johnny Manziel sees the light of day for the first time in nine weeks. Cleveland’s backup quarterback might not be Cleveland’s backup quarterback after coach Mike Pettine and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan look at the tape from Buffalo today. They’ll like what they saw on Manziel’s first drive, an eight-play, 80-yard, no-huddle Manziel-being-Manziel touchdown drive. But then Manziel fumbled on the next series under a heavy rush, and overall, his 13 snaps over 12 minutes were a mixed bag. What else would you expect against a front seven that brings constant pressure, after not playing for two months? That’s why I’d be very surprised if Manziel wasn’t given a shot to start Sunday at home against Indianapolis. If I’m Pettine, I call in the quarterbacks Tuesday, tell them this is an all-hands-on-deck game, tell Brian Hoyer he could be called on at any moment, and tell Shanahan to let Manziel be Manziel. At 7-5, Cleveland can afford maybe one loss down the stretch. Hoyer, over his last four games, is a 53-percent passer with one touchdown and six interceptions. As good as he was in the first half of the season in solidifying Cleveland’s shaky offense without Josh Gordon, he hasn’t been good enough over the past month, or in the two games since Gordon came back. Manziel should get a shot, and now.

Colt McCoy will keep Robert Griffin III on the bench for at least another week. Other than the fact Washington stinks out loud (safety Ryan Clark used the word “embarrassing” four times in his first 20 postgame words on Sunday) there was some news out of its 49-27 loss at Indianapolis: McCoy will start against the Rams Sunday. “Yeah, yeah,’’ said coach Jay Gruden. “Colt competed. There are some things I wish we would have done differently, play calls and execution-wise, but I feel like he competed and did a nice job out there.’’ McCoy, after a slow start, threw for 392 yards with three touchdowns and no picks. In three games this year, McCoy has completed an eye-opening 75.3 percent of his throws, for a passer rating of 113.5. I still think Washington needs to play Griffin before the end of the year. They either need to see more of him before deciding whether to keep him—or, if they’ve already decided to jettison him, showcase him in a positive light so he can fetch a better return in trade.

* * *

There’s a reason to watch Dolphins-Jets tonight.

Three of them, actually.

One: It’s always good to see Cameron Wake play. One of the most underappreciated defensive players in the league.

Two: Jarvis Landry, Miami’s rookie wideout. He is Odell Beckham’s best pal from LSU, and they have much in common—like one-handed catches. Miami coach Joe Philbin loves him, and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor uses him. He leads Miami with 49 catches. Last four games: 24 receptions, four touchdowns.

Tannehill's play in a new system has kept Miami in the playoff hunt. (Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) Tannehill's play in a new system has kept Miami in the playoff hunt. (Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Three: Is Ryan Tannehill for real? Lately it sure looks like he is.

I’m really interested in seeing Tannehill against a pressure defense tonight, even one without its best pressure player, Muhammad Wilkerson, who is out with a toe injury. I’m impressed with what the man picked six slots after Robert Griffin III is doing in his first year without Mike Sherman coaching him since 2007. True story: In his redshirt freshman year at Texas A&M, Sherman took over as coach, and Sherman coached Tannehill for four years in college and then as his offensive coordinator for his first two seasons in Miami. Philbin replaced Sherman with Lazor after the 2013 season ended with a profound offensive thud.

A year ago, the Incognito-Martin brouhaha brewed for the second half of the season, and the offense struggled. Now, with a new offense and a no-hazing policy strictly enforced by Philbin, it’s a new world around the 6-5 Dolphins. It’ll be a struggle for them to make the playoffs, but with two games against the Jets and one with Minnesota on the slate, it’s at least possible.

“A year ago,” Tannehill said over the weekend, “we were in a state of turmoil. Now our attitude is, We’re all in this together. We're all equal. No rookie hazing. Nothing like that. On the football side, there was a pretty steep learning curve. I’ve been doing the same thing for a while, basically. It took me a while to get comfortable with our concepts, but I am now. I like it. There’s a lot more pre-snap shifting with coach Lazor. We’re going to call the plays, do some shifting and motion, and see what kind of pressure it puts on the defense. It’s a change for me, because we didn’t shift much under coach Sherman. But it helps us. You can see, every game, how it affects the defense.”

I wondered about the accuracy, particularly in a new system. Last year, he was a 60.4-percent passer. This year, he is at 66.1 percent … and he has been over 70 percent in six of his last eight games. “In this system,” he said, “I just feel relaxed. I’m not always trying to make the perfect throws. And I’ve got great receivers. What I’m proud of is how we’ve improved in the red zone. We’d struggled at times time year, and then last week, at Denver, we were five for five in the red zone. That’s big for us.”

The addition of Landry, Beckham’s buddy, has been big too. As with Beckham, the Dolphins see Landry make one-handed catches in practice all the time.

“It’s funny,” Tannehill said. “We were on the plane in Denver last week, getting ready to take off, and we saw the highlights of the catch by Beckham. Everyone was talking about it. I was like, ‘Did that just happen?’ And I went to see Jarvis on the plane and said, ‘You gonna let him do that? You gotta do that!’ I’ve seen you make that catch.”

Getting Landry in the second round will seem like a huge bargain if he starts being the kind of deep threat (he hasn’t been yet) that Beckham is with the Giants. “It’s only a matter of time,” Tannehill said.

Miami, which has lost three games at the wire in the last two months, is going to be an interesting team to watch in December.

* * *

Three Questions With …

Buffalo News writer Tim Graham did a terrific job detailing the woes in retirement of former Bills linebacker Darryl Talley and, in the process, set off a fundraising effort for Talley by a fan named Frank Croisdale that is amazing: As of 7 a.m. today, the site had raised $136,408 for Talley, from 3,008 donors—with no assurance that the very needy Talley would even take it. Talley told Graham he’s too proud to take charity. Graham’s story, and its implications, deserve to be read by all football fans.

The MMQB: I thought one of the intriguing parts of the story you told is about going down Bittersweet Lane to get to the Talleys’ home in Orlando. How did he lose it all?

Darryl Talley was a Bill from 1983-94, playing linebacker in all four of Buffalo's Super Bowl appearances.(Rick Stewart/Getty Images) Darryl Talley was a Bill from 1983 to ’94, playing linebacker in all four of Buffalo's Super Bowl appearances. (Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Graham: “Yes, their cross-street is Bittersweet Lane. It sounds made up, but it’s true. It’s a combination of mistakes made with good intentions and the economy and what he was dealing with mentally. I think this is important. He was having issues mentally before his business went south. This is a guy who thought about throwing himself off the balcony of a hotel in Hawaii in 2003. When he started cashing in his 401k and his pension and his college funds … Someone with a clearer mind would have said, ‘The business is gone. We need to protect what we do have and not throw it away.’ No one did. Now he’d let down his family and all his employees. He felt terrible about it. Then his house is foreclosed on. Everybody can relate to losing a business."

The MMQB: Are you a little bit stunned that what you wrote led to the creation of this fund drive, and fans raised more than $100,000 in two days?

Graham: “It’s West Virginia, where he played in college, and Western New York—not the most opulent places—digging into their pockets. I think it says so much about Darryl Talley. It’s fans remembering a guy who gave everything and epitomized looking out for his teammates. If you were going to tell this story, the fact that it was Darryl Talley really made it resonate. I did not anticipate this reaction at all. The idea of raising money over the internet never crossed my mind. What I wanted to do with this story was to take a step back, tell the story and get out of the way. I did not anticipate it being a life-changing story for people. It’s the ultimate honor as a journalist to tell the story and have it impact people. I can’t express how grateful I am, both to the Talley family for letting me tell their story, and to the readers."

The MMQB: What should the NFL do to help Talley?

Graham: “That’s a tough one. I think Darryl’s mission is to let the average fan know what former players are going through. But you can’t just make Darryl a special case. There are so many former players; you can’t just help him and not all the others. The system needs to be more inclusive to help players like Darryl. The league has made great strides in recent years, but they need to do more."

More than 52,000 fans packed BC Place in Vancouver for the CFL's 102nd Grey Cup on Sunday. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images) More than 52,000 fans packed BC Place in Vancouver for the CFL's 102nd Grey Cup on Sunday. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

A Grey Cup Diary, by Luke Tasker

Editor’s Note: I asked Hamilton Tiger-Cats WR Luke Tasker—son of former Bills special-teams ace Steve Tasker—to do a short diary during the Canadian Football League’s 102nd Grey Cup Week for The MMQB. Tasker, who played his college ball at Cornell, was fourth in the CFL this season with 72 catches. His 10-9 Tiger-Cats were playing the heavily favored Calgary Stampeders (16-3) Sunday night in Vancouver. Why do this? I believe America would enjoy the CFL if it simply knew more about it.

Tuesday, Nov. 25, Vancouver

This is what it’s like to be in a city with the Grey Cup in it—even a few days away. We had a group of seven players go to Cactus Club Café on the waterfront here in Vancouver when we got to town today, and the guy who ran the place came over. The place is right down the street from our hotel. “Anything you guys need while you’re in town, let us know," he told us. “If you want us to bring food over to your rooms, just call." So we knew that would kind of be our place for the week.

Oh, Canada
 
Back in the summer, Peter King and The MMQB devoted a week to covering the CFL, from Marc Trestman to Doug Flutie to a league MVP moonlighting as a banker.
FULL STORIES
Obviously I’ve never played in the Super Bowl—the Chargers cut me at the end of training camp last year—but the CFL is the big leagues to me. I wish people in America could see the spirit, the rivalries, and how big the Grey Cup is. This is the 102nd Grey Cup. That's twice as old as our beloved Super Bowl. I was in this game last year; we lost to Saskatchewan at Saskatchewan, and I got the feel of what a national thing this is. It’s such a part of Canadian life. It’s a Canadian holiday, not just a big sports event. The country stops to watch this game.

Friday, Nov. 28, Vancouver

There’s a real buzz in the city now. You can feel the country coming together here. I met a fan who has been to the last 30 Grey Cups. He’d never miss one. What happens in the host city is you go around town and you see bars that have been taken over by each fan group. There’s a Winnipeg Blue Bombers bar, a Tiger-Cat bar (well, probably a few of those), a Saskatchewan bar. Saskatchewan green is everywhere. They’re like the national team.

We went out for a meal today and had Calgary fans at a table near us, Saskatchewan fans at another table, Hamilton fans at another table. Cary Koch, one of our receivers, used to play for Saskatchewan, and he went over to their table for like 10 minutes. Once you played somewhere in this league, the fans always remember you.

Hamilton wideout Luke Tasker had six catches for 60 yards in his first Grey Cup. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images) Hamilton wideout Luke Tasker had six catches for 60 yards in his second Grey Cup. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

That’s the thing about this league—the fans are so loyal. The rivalries are fierce. Our biggest rival is Toronto, which is only about 45 minutes from Hamilton. On the last week of the regular season, we were playing Montreal in Hamilton on a Saturday. Toronto won the night before. If we win, Toronto’s out of the playoffs. So CBC has a camera in this bar where a lot of the Argos are watching our game, and it’s late in our game, and we’ve got Montreal beat, and they show the camera shot from the bar in our stadium, with sad faces on all the Argos players. Our fans went nuts. It’s like they’re happier to see Toronto out of the playoffs than to see us win.

Saturday, Nov. 29, Vancouver

It’s about 25, 26 hours before the game, and I’m standing on the field where we’re playing tomorrow. It’s a beautiful day here, cold but I can see the sun coming through the roof of the dome. We just finished our walk-through and our media stuff. My family is coming in for the game, so we’ll have dinner tonight. I’m so happy my dad could get off from his TV duties this weekend to see the game. That makes it more special.

A lot of people would look at the CFL and the NFL and think, “Well, it can’t be that big a game in the CFL, compared to the NFL." It’s all relative. I went to my brother’s big high-school rivalry game this year in Buffalo, and man, that was a big game. You ask Brandon Banks—our great return man who played for Washington for a few years; he returned two punts for touchdowns last week—about how big a game this is, and he’ll tell you. It’s a big game. For me? I went to Cornell. I tried out for the Chargers and I was crushed not to make it. I played in the Grey Cup last year, but there’s something about this year, this game. We have a confidence I don’t remember from last year. We are convinced we’re going to win the game. This is the biggest game I’ve ever played in my life. I can’t wait to play.

Went to dinner with my family. My dad gave me some good advice about the game. “Play like you’re showing off in the backyard," he told me. “Play in the moment, with a lot of joy."

That’s the plan.

Sunday, Nov. 30, Vancouver

After a great night’s sleep, I went to chapel at 9:30, then looked over my play sheet from 10 to 10:30 this morning. I love our game plan. After team breakfast, I came back to the room and just relaxed. I didn’t want to watch the NFL games or anything else on TV; I just watched a highlight video of our plays that our media guys prepared and tried to rest before the bus ride to the game. Downtown was mobbed. We needed a police escort—people everywhere, all in different CFL uniforms. I love how all of Canada is represented at these games.

Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell was named the game's most outstanding player for leading the Calgary Stampeders to the Grey Cup title. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images) Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell was named the game's most outstanding player for leading the Calgary Stampeders to the Grey Cup title. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

The game … well, I was having a lot of fun until the last minute. We were down 20-16, and Calgary punted to Brandon Banks, who ran it back [90 yards] for a touchdown—just like last week! But there was a flag. One of our guys was called for a block in the back. We didn’t like the call, because we didn’t think the guy who got blocked was in position to make a play anyway. Now it’s an hour and a half after the game, and it still hurts. I’m mad for so many of my teammates, like Tim O’Neill, our 35-year-old left tackle. We wanted to get a ring for him. I wanted to get a ring for me too. We’ll all remember that punt return for a long time.

It was a great experience—the week, the game, the crowds. But you know what it’s like in sports: There is only one team that goes home happy at the end of the year. The team that loses the Super Bowl feels the same way we do now. 

In the Broncos' past three wins, C.J. Anderson has rushed 72 times for 425 yards, just under six yards per carry. (Peter Aiken/Getty Images) In the Broncos’ past three wins, C.J. Anderson has rushed 72 times for 425 yards, just under six yards per carry. (Peter Aiken/Getty Images)

Fine Fifteen

1. Green Bay (9-3). No one quite believes how fast Jordy Nelson is until he buzzes past a very fast corner like Darrelle Revis. That’s one takeaway from Sunday’s deserved 26-21 nail-biter. Another one: Never thought when I walked out of CenturyLink Field on opening night, after the Pack’s 36-16 loss to Seattle, that I’d have Green Bay No. 1 in the Fine Fifteen in Week 13, or in any week this year.  

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2. New England (9-3). Not a deadly loss, but the Packers were better on their home tundra. And now the Patriots have to play the suddenly dangerous Chargers in San Diego on Sunday. The Patriots flew straight from Green Bay to San Diego on Sunday night instead of flying back to Providence post-game and making the coast-to-coast trip late in the week. Comparative practice weather for the five practice days for the two places on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday’s walk-through: San Diego—69 degrees, 69 (rain ending by noon), 69, 68 and 66. Foxboro—53, 53 (rainy day), 40, 40 and 43 (rainy day).

3. Denver (9-3). What I find so interesting about the new and improved Broncos is that C.J. Anderson (out of the blue, in the best tradition of the Shanahan-era running backs), in rushing for 167 and 168 yards the past two weeks, has really changed who the Broncos are on offense. In the 1-2 stretch pre-Anderson, Peyton Manning averaged 51.7 passes per game. In this 2-0 stretch, Manning is averaging 34.5. Guess which approach John Fox likes better?

4. Philadelphia (9-3). Best thing about Mark Sanchez’s game on Thursday: one negative play. Zero lost fumbles, zero interceptions, one sack taken. Also liked his 28 rushing yards. Just okay throwing the ball, though.

5. Seattle (8-4). Seahawks are on the kind of run-of-schedule that reminds me when I used to cover the Giants for Newsday, and Bill Parcells would say the reason the NFC East teams were always so well-prepared for the playoffs would be the gauntlet they’d have to survive in the regular season. “Because in the NFC East, it’s like you play a playoff game so many weeks in the regular season," he’d say. Start in Week 11 for Seattle: at Kansas City (24-20 loss), Arizona (19-3 win), at San Francisco (19-3 win), at Philadelphia next Sunday, San Francisco (Week 15), at Arizona (Week 16). They close with the Rams at home on the final Sunday. Point is, if Seattle comes out of that seven-game death march 5-2 and even if the Seahawks have to play at the Falcons or Saints in the idiotic-ruled Wild Card opener (11-5 or 12-4 at 7-9 or 6-10?), I think they have a good chance to make the kind of noise the Giants made as a 2007 roadie through the playoffs.

6. Indianapolis (8-4). Andrew Luck kibitzes with Robert Griffin III on the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium. That’s what I’d call hashtag awkward.

7. Miami (6-5). After tonight at the mortally wounded Jets, Dolphins have three of the last four at home. The one road game’s a doozy: at New England on Dec. 14.

Philip Rivers and the Chargers host New England in Week 14. (Rob Carr/Getty Images) Philip Rivers and the Chargers host New England in Week 14. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

8. San Diego (8-4). Remember the 37-0 loss in Miami, making the Chargers a feeble 5-4 entering their bye? Remember how we all wrote them off? Remember how they survived the Raiders 13-6 in the first game out of the bye? Remember the 27-24 nail-biter job over the Rams last week? Well, they continued the tightrope walk back into goodness. They’re in the playoffs if the season was 12 games long. 

9. Cincinnati (8-3-1). I know it doesn’t resonate as the Greatest Road Trip in Bengals History, beating three teams with a combined 11-22 record, but winning consecutive road games by 17, 9 and 1 against anybody in the NFL is an accomplishment. Bengals have the Steelers twice in the last 22 days, the first one Sunday at home.

10. Arizona (9-3). Not saying the sky is falling or anything, but Drew Stanton is struggling mightily, and they’ve lost two straight with him playing. Plus, there’s not a gimme left on the schedule. FYI: Arizona and Seattle control their proverbial destiny (which, of course, is impossible to do); if either team wins out, that team wins the division.

11. Dallas (8-4). Dispiriting performance by the defense Thursday, and you’ve got to wonder if the D is just running out of impact players to make impact plays. Last two weeks: 61 points and 891 yards allowed.

12. Detroit (8-4). Are the Lions awakening from a long offensive nap, or was Thursday just Thursday? Lions had their season high in yards (by 53) against Chicago and broke a nine-quarter touchdownless drought. I need to see it more than once.

13. San Francisco (7-5). I don’t think they’re done. But I also don’t think a trip to Oakland next week is a gimme, not with the way Colin Kaepernick is playing. That’s worrisome.

14. Kansas City (7-5). Can’t get behind Peyton Manning 14-0 anywhere, not even at Arrowhead.

T-15. Buffalo (7-5). That defensive front is downright scary. Ask Hoyer and Manziel.

T-15. Baltimore (7-5). Yes, John Harbaugh, that was pass interference, absolutely, on Anthony Levine that led to the crushing winning TD. 

The Award Section

Offensive Players of the Week

(With apologies to Ryan Fitzpatrick, who deserves better after throwing six touchdown passes off the bench against Tennessee—but I chose two players here who were huge in big wins for their teams in Week 13.)

Aaron Rodgers, quarterback, Green Bay. He’s had better statistical days. But Rodgers, against a team that won seven straight and allowed less than 20 points per game in the process, had eight significant possessions—possessions when they were trying to score in the 26-21 win over New England at Lambeau Field, in what Mike Florio called Super Bowl 48.5. Of the eight possessions, they punted once. They missed one field goal. Rodgers threw two touchdown passes, and Mason Crosby kicked four field goals. Rodgers, against a good defense, put the Packers in position to score on seven of eight scoring-effort possessions. For the record, he was 24 of 38 for 368 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. His last interception at Lambeau Field? Two years ago tomorrow.

LeSean McCoy and the Eagles have seized control of the NFC East and are among three teams tied for the NFC's best record at 9-3. (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) LeSean McCoy and the Eagles have seized control of the NFC East and are among three teams tied for the NFC’s best record at 9-3. (Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

LeSean McCoy, running back, Philadelphia. Eight days ago, McCoy, in the midst of a pedestrian season (averaging just 3.7 yards per rush through 10 games) was inundated with all versions of What’s wrong with McCoy? On Sunday of Week 12, he steamrolled Tennessee for 130 yards on 21 carries; on Thanksgiving Day in Dallas, he was the Eagles’ best player: 25 rushes, 159 yards, apparently none the worse for wear playing on the road on a short week. Two games, 289 yards, 6.3 per carry. “I had so many opportunities to make guys miss one-on-one," McCoy said. “So much space.” The offensive line, getting more whole by the week, had its best game of the season in the 33-10 win over Dallas.

Defensive Players of the Week

J.J. Watt, defensive end, Houston. He could—should—win this every week. (Except, maybe, when Houston has a bye.) Against Tennessee, he had his typical game of greatness: two sacks, six quarterback hits, four quarterback pressures, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a one-yard touchdown reception, when he lined up at tight end and leaked out of the formation. We are watching an amazing career unfold, and we should appreciate it every week.

Ziggy Ansah, defensive end, Detroit. It's hard to have a more impactful 43 snaps in a game, unless your name is J.J. Watt. In the 34-17 win over Chicago, Ansah abused left tackle Jermon Bushrod, showing why the Saints weren’t too concerned when they moved on from Bushrod last year. Ansah had one sack of Jay Cutler, another tackle for loss, one quarterback hit, and, according to Pro Football Focus, 10 significant pressures of the besieged Cutler. True, Ansah benefits from the pressure the Lions create inside every week, but the rest of the line is helped by Ansah's impact too.

Special Teams Players of the Week

(Jeff Siner/Getty Images) Two blocked punts sent the Panthers to their sixth straight loss. (Jeff Siner/Getty Images)

Adam Thielen, wide receiver; Jasper Brinkley, linebacker, Minnesota. They blocked two Brad Nortman punts in the first 21 minutes, and both were returned for touchdowns—the first by Thielen himself and the next by Everson Griffen. How amazing is this: Minnesota hadn’t blocked a punt and scored a touchdown on it in 28 years … and the Vikings did it twice in the first quarter and a half Sunday. Thielen is a great story. He didn’t have to go far to make it to the Vikes—Thielen went to college where the Vikings have training camp: Minnesota State in Mankato. He was on the practice squad last year, and made the roster as the fifth wideout and special-teamer this year. That paid off Sunday, when Thielen broke through the left guard-tackle hole and blocked the punt, recovering it and running it back 30 yards.

Coach of the Week

Marvin Lewis, head coach, Cincinnati. See my note earlier in the column. It is officially the only time I have ever awarded Coach of the Week to a coach who says to me, “I just lost my mind."

Goats of the Week

The offensive Bucs. Garrett Gilkey, goat. Has a good ring to it. I almost gave it to him, seeing as how he got called for four penalties. The Bucs had 13 accepted penalties (two of Gilkey’s were declined, but a vital 10-yard holding penalty on Tampa Bay’s last ill-fated drive in the 14-13 loss to Cincinnati was not), and the biggest one cost Tampa Bay dearly. On second-and-15 from the Cincinnati 41 with 32 seconds left, the Bucs had 12 men on the field and ran a play. Lewis went crazy trying to get the attention of the crew before the next play—a play where the Bucs AGAIN had 12 men on the fieldand finally the officials looked at the previous play and saw 12 men, penalizing the Bucs. Now it was second-and-20 from the Cincinnati 46, and the Bucs couldn’t move into field-goal range. Awful field management by Tampa, in all ways. Lovie Smith called the penalties “stupid" and said of the 12 men on the field TWICE: “Bad move on my part. We should have caught that. A lot of us should have caught that."

Quotes of the Week

I

"It is what it is. Whatever hasn’t happened hasn’t happened."

—New England coach Bill Belichick, in what might be the Belichickian quote of the decade, on the fact that, before Sunday, Aaron Rodgers had never started a game versus the Patriots. 

II

“Days like today are what I live for. Literally. This is my life."

—J.J. Watt, after another performance we just shake our heads at: two sacks, a touchdown catch, and a bunch of other flora and fauna you already read about in Defensive Players of the Week.

III

"Based on what I’ve seen, he would not be my quarterback next year."

—Ron Jaworski, video-aholic, on the Mike & Mike show on ESPN Radio, on Robert Griffin III. 

IV

"I’m disappointed for our fans. Our stage was set. Gosh, we had one of the greatest crowds we’ve ever had in that stadium. They were ready to do their part, and we just didn’t do it on the field. We really stunk it up all the way around."

—Dallas owner Jerry Jones, on the Cowboys’ performance in their loss to Philadelphia on Thanksgiving.

Stat of the Week

For much of this season, the answer to the question of which team is having the best defensive season was easy: Detroit. But in the span of five days ending Thursday night, the answer turned. Now it’s Seattle.

In twin 19-3 wins over division rivals Arizona and San Francisco, the Seahawks got back in the thick of the NFC West race, but also reclaimed their place as the best defense in the league, at least for now. Notes from Seattle's ascension:

  • The Seahawks became the first team this season to play consecutive games without allowing a touchdown. No team has allowed so few points, six, over two games.
  • Seattle took over the lead, from Detroit, in the NFL defense rankings. Against New England and Chicago, Detroit allowed 708 yards. Against Arizona and San Francisco, Seattle allowed a microscopic 368 yards: 204 against the Cards, 164 against the Niners.
  • NFL leaders, yards allowed per game: Seattle 285.8, Detroit 300.9, San Francisco 306.7. That’s a 15.1-yard lead with four games to play.
  • Last year, Seattle allowed 273.6 yards per game, winning the yardage crown by 27.7 yards over Carolina.
  • Bobby Wagner is the biggest reason. After missing five games with a torn foot tendon, Wagner returned against Arizona to play his sideline-to-sideline middle linebacker role, and in the span of five days, had 18 tackles, two tackles for loss and three quarterback pressures. It helped, too, that Kam Chancellor and Kevin Williams (replacing stout defensive tackle Brandon Mebane) have excelled in the same games. Williams caved in the San Francisco line consistently Thursday night.

“These guys have really joined together and recaptured what it was that we played with last year," said coach Pete Carroll. 

Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me

I sense an offensive trend in San Francisco. Offensive yards per play for the 49ers since 2012, along with quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s passer rating:

Year Period Ave. yards per play Kaepernick rating
2012 Regular season 6.0 98.3
  Post-season 7.6 101.0
2013 Regular season 5.4 91.6
  Post-season 5.5 74.0
2014 Regular season 5.1 87.8
  Thursday night vs. Seattle 3.2 36.7

 

 

Chip Kelly Wisdom of the Week

The Philadelphia coach, on either the difficulty of preparing for a Thursday game on a short week, or the tradition of Thanksgiving Day football, which the Eagles experienced against Dallas:

“Just tell us when we're going to play. We don't really read much into it or wax nostalgic. It’s not like we're going to have a cornucopia and a turkey on the sideline. We're just going to go play football.” 

Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week

I had the good fortune on the day after Thanksgiving, for the afternoon and evening, to volunteer at Fare Share Friday, a fund-raising meal for 500 in New York City that paired the affluent and the homeless at the same 10-seat round tables under the ancient dome of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in midtown Manhattan. The well-heeled paid $100 per plate for the privilege of eating a turkey dinner cooked by chefs from the Waldorf Astoria and The Palace hotels. It was the brainchild of the Rev. Edward Sunderland of St. Bart’s, with proceeds to benefit Sunderland’s soup kitchen, shelter and food pantry at Crossroads Community in midtown Manhattan.

There were two seatings. For the first, at 4 p.m., I served a table of diners turkey, potatoes, stuffing, root vegetables, water and punch. We set up the tables beforehand, then cleared them afterward and prepped for the second seating. For that second seating, at 7 p.m., I was a table host for five homeless folks and three other guests. Everyone met everyone, and discussion ensued. “There’s something about sitting down to a meal," said Sundlerland. “It’s hard to stay strangers when you’re sitting next to someone, eating." He was right. The conversation over 90 minutes was non-stop and interesting.

A man named Eddie, who hadn’t had a roof over his head for 10 years, sat next to me. He was 36 and looked 60. He lives in Riverside Park, on the west side of Manhattan, in a sleeping bag, except when it gets very cold. “Then I stay on the subway at night," he said. “I just ride it all night, unless the cops kick me off. Then I have to go to another station and wait for the next train." And you talk about gratitude … Eddie was supremely grateful to be here. “This is the best meal I have had in years," he said, digging into his fourth piece of turkey.

Politely, he engaged everyone at the table. He asked if they might have a blanket he could have, and two were found. He was almost at the end of his meal when he looked up, blissfully, and said, “Tonight, I’m not homeless."

We found him a clamshell to-go container, and he filled it with eight thick pieces of turkey—good for the whole weekend, he said—and he packed up to leave. Eddie had tears in his eyes as he left.

A few people had that same emotion at the end of the evening. Well done, Rev. Sunderland. We’ll be back next year.

Tweets of the Week

I

Seems like only yesterday that Brees, 35, was saying he wanted to play until he’s 45. 

II

 

The ex-Giant, killing the Cowboys on Thursday for pulling a disappearing act on Thanksgiving—and dredging up memories of very small late-season performances by Dallas.

III

The ex-Bruin had his number retired Friday at the UCLA football game at the Rose Bowl. 

IV

 

V

VI

 

Pelini was fired by Nebraska after going 9-3 this year. That makes sense, the same way it made sense after Frank Solich went 58-19 at Nebraska and got fired. 

Tre Mason totaled 164 yards and three touchdowns in the Rams' 52-0 rout of the Raiders on Sunday. (L.G. Peterson/AP) Tre Mason totaled 164 yards and three touchdowns in the Rams’ 52-0 rout of the Raiders on Sunday. (L.G. Peterson/AP)

Ten Things I Think I Think

1. I think this is what I liked about Week 13:

a. Who throws a wheel route better than Aaron Rodgers? Who throws almost any pass better than Aaron Rodgers?

b. Very impressed with the maturation of the New England defense, and it showed on the late-second-quarter Dont'a Hightower sack of Rodgers. Green Bay just didn’t have an answer for all the Patriots rushers on the play.

c. Saints tight end Ben Watson’s essay on his Facebook page about the events in Ferguson, Mo. Calm, reasoned, sensible and very smart. How it began:

I'M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.

I'M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.

It gets better.

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d. Almost everything I see about Le’Veon Bell, who makes at least two yards more than he should on almost every run.

e. Cameron Jordan, the Saints’ precocious defensive end, with a deflection and interception of Ben Roethlisberger. Tremendous athletic play.

f. Jerrell Freeman’s shot-out-of-a-cannon sack of Colt McCoy for the Colts.

g. Tre Mason, the 75th pick in the draft, playing like the fifth, sprinting 89 yards for a touchdown against Oakland.

h. Niners middle linebacker Chris Borland, with 15 more tackles Thursday night. It’s an off-night for him if he doesn’t have double-digit tackles.

i. Adam Schefter reporting that Ray Rice has drawn interest from four teams about playing this season, including Indianapolis and New Orleans.

j. Tremendous story by CBS’s NFL Today on Thanksgiving, about Chicago defensive end Jared Allen building homes for Wounded Warriors. Very moving. What a difference he is making in many lives.

k. On the first play of Thursday’s tripleheader, a crushing stop of returner Jeremy Ross by Bears cornerback Sherrick McManis and defensive end Cornelius Washington.

l. The section front of the Florida Times-Union on Sunday, with the “WELCOME HOME TOM” headline, welcoming Tom Coughlin back to town.

m. Great stat from Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, prior to Chargers at Ravens: West Coast teams are 0-11 on trips to M&T Bank Stadium. Imagine that: It took until the stadium’s 17th year in existence for a West Coast team to win a game there.

u2018Heu2019ll Be Backu2019
 
In the wake of the stunning news about Eric Berry, the Chiefs are rallying behind their beloved teammate and drawing strength from his determination.

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n. The outpouring of good feeling for Chiefs safety Eric Berry, as he gets tested for what is believed to be a cancerous growth.

o. Former Steeler Keenan Lewis sniffing out a Pittsburgh flea-flicker and preventing Ben Roethlisberger from hitting an open Antonio Brown for a touchdown.

p. Torrey Smith’s one-handed, juggling touchdown catch for Baltimore.

q. The jet-sweep touchdown by Tavon Austin. When the Rams drafted him in 2013, this kind of make-’em-miss sweep is exactly what GM Les Snead had in mind.

r. Beautiful interception by Cleveland’s Jim Leonhard (has he played on every team in the league, or is it just me?) off Kyle Orton.

s. Loved the Steelers’ 1974 homecoming. Roy Gerela!

t. The physicality of the Jags' Sen'Derrick Marks, stopping Giants running back Andre Williams for a four-yard loss.

u. A superb forced fumble by corner Dwayne Gratz of the Jags.

v. Six touchdown passes by Houston’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, two to DeAndre Hopkins. Whoa. Where’d that come from?

w. Great camera work by FOX, catching Ben Roethlisberger with a disgusted look on his face late in the fourth quarter of the damaging loss to New Orleans.

x. This lead from our Greg Bedard of The MMQB, from his piece about it being time to appreciate Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy: “As far as the customary post-game handshake between coaches, New England’s Bill Belichick usually goes with the less-is-more approach, especially after close losses like Sunday’s 26-21 defeat at the hands of the Packers. That’s why it was so significant that at Lambeau Field, Belichick and McCarthy embraced, and then Belichick spent several seconds talking to McCarthy, with a few headshakes mixed it for emphasis. Translation: ‘That’s a damn fine football team you have that was hell to prepare and play against. You guys do a great job.’ It certainly helps that the two teams are in different conferences and only meet once every four years (if McCarthy was in the AFC East, it wouldn’t happen regularly, if at all), but that should not diminish the symbolism of the moment. It certainly wasn’t lost on me, someone who has covered both men up close in my career. Here was Belichick, certainly the best coach in the NFL today, if not ever, clueing us all on this fact: Michael John McCarthy is one of the great coaches in the NFL. And it’s time for everyone to regard him as such."

Drew Stanton has five interceptions over the past three games, and the Cards are 1-2 in that stretch. (John Bazemore/AP) Drew Stanton has five interceptions over the past three games, and the Cards are 1-2 in that stretch. (John Bazemore/AP)

2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 13:

a. The Cardinals, down 17-0 before Georgia Domians were all in their seats.

b. How in the world did Washington allow Coby Fleener to run through the defense on that 73-yard catch-and-run? Ridiculous.

c. In his first game action in eight weeks—no, I mean, his first throw in eight weeks—Jake Locker threw an interception.

d. Saints corner Corey White dropping an easy Ben Roethlisberger pick.

e. Speaking of dropped Saints picks: Patrick Robinson, that was a pick-six gift from Roethlisberger you botched.

f. The continuation of Jadeveon Clowney’s disappointing rookie year.

g. Chicago’s offensive line. Seems like they’ve been trying to get it right, unsuccessfully, since the Jimbo Covert Era.

h. The Dallas defense, which allowed 168 yards in the first 16 snaps on Thursday.

i. I simply do not understand Jason Garrett having Tony Romo, in his condition with two broken bones in his back, being in a lost-cause game, down 23, midway through the fourth quarter.

j. Almost everything about the Niners’ offense.

k. Why in the world did Andy Dalton, down 10-0, throw a vital ball into double coverage at Tampa?

l. The Titans. Here we are in Week 13, and it seems like 13 years ago they whipped the Chiefs 26-10 in Week 1. Since then, they’ve lost 10 of 11 … by margins of 16, 26, 24, 1, 2, 14, 14, 3, 19 and, on Sunday at Houston, by 24.

m. That two-year rebuilding project, Ken Whisenhunt? Might be more like four.

n. Pittsburgh corner Ike Taylor, letting Kenny Stills behind him on a double-move for a touchdown.

o. Man, Larry Donnell: Get a handle on that ball.

p. Losing to a previously 1-10 team is not very good for the job prospects of one Thomas Coughlin.

NFL Staring Down Disaster
 
How broken is the playoff format? In one scenario, the NFL could have its first division champ with 10 or more losses and its first 12-win team miss the postseason. Don Banks says it’s time for common sense to trump tradition.

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3. I think there will be much discussion and little action about playoff reseeding, because owners are too in love with the guaranteed home playoff game for winning a division. But—and this is a significant but—what could change that is a major embarrassment. Such as, let’s say, 12-4 Seattle having to play at 6-10 Atlanta in a Wild Card game. Even the owner most in love with the current system will have to admit this shouldn’t happen.

4. I think Jemele Hill of ESPN wrote a great story in crafting Janay Rice’s words. Janay Rice comes across as smart and strong. The two things from her piece that were most interesting to me:

• On Ray Rice being cut the day the TMZ footage surfaced: “I was extremely surprised and angry that the Ravens released him, because they know him. They were our family, but I felt like the Ravens completely disregarded the past six years with him. Anytime the Ravens needed someone for a community event, Ray was their man. It seemed like a knee-jerk reaction for publicity reasons."

• On the public perception of her: “I still find it hard to accept being called a ‘victim.’ I know there are so many different opinions out there about me—that I'm weak, that I'm making excuses and covering up abuse—and that some people question my motives for staying with Ray. However, I'm a strong woman and I come from a strong family. Never in my life have I seen abuse, nor have I seen any woman in my family physically abused. I have always been taught to respect myself and to never allow myself to be disrespected, especially by a man. Growing up, my father used to always tell my sister and I, ‘We don't need a man to make us, if anything it's the man who needs us.’ ”

5. I think if there’s one sign that the Bears are going to have a rough off-season, it’s this: They’re 5-7, will finish out of the playoffs for the fourth straight year, they’re devoting the fifth-most cap space to offense of any team in football, their quarterback leads the league in turnovers (with 20), and they’re 21st in the league in points per game. Watch them any week, and you’ll see what an underperforming team this is on offense. Oh, and since the morning of the 2010 NFC title game at Soldier Field versus Green Bay, the Bears are 31-30.

Debating RG3
 
Peter King thinks Jay Gruden made a mistake in benching Robert Griffin III, while Andy Benoit says the Washington coach had no other choice. Who’s right?

FULL STORY
6. I think I hope I’m wrong about this, because Robert Griffin III seems like a good person. But I can’t help but conjure comparisons to Ryan Leaf. Griffin has already had more success than Leaf had in his career, but there are a few things that are a little too close for comfort:

  • Leaf was picked second overall in 1998 after the Chargers traded up to get him. Griffin was picked second overall in 2012 after Washington traded up to get him.
  • Leaf labored in the shadow of a perfect Colts quarterback picked one spot before him, Peyton Manning. Griffin labors in the shadow of a perfect Colts quarterback picked one spot before him, Andrew Luck.
  • Leaf helped get one coach (June Jones) fired, and was on his second (Mike Riley) when San Diego yanked him from the lineup in year three in favor of Moses Moreno, then released him after his third season. Griffin helped get one coach (Mike Shanahan) fired and was on his second (Jay Gruden) when Washington yanked him from the lineup in year three in favor of Colt McCoy. After the season with Griffin, who knows?
  • Leaf didn’t work at his craft hard enough; those were the whispers late in his Charger career. Ditto Griffin.

But I want to be fair about this: Griffin, if he never plays another snap, has had a far superior career to Leaf. Griffin was Offensive Rookie of the Year and has won 13 games, with a 90.8 rating. Leaf won four NFL games, with a 50.0 rating.

7. I think, to answer the questions of many from the other day about three NFC-only games on Thanksgiving, the NFL planned the holiday to be a rivalry day: Bears-Lions, Eagles-Cowboys, Seahawks-49ers. To the many who criticized the nightcap because it’s not a “natural” rivalry like the others (and I got a lot of that on Twitter), I would say there’s a good chance the Niners and Seahawks are the best current rivalry in football. I mean, today. There’s one other reason: This season, the 49ers have a new stadium in Santa Clara, and city officials asked the NFL to not schedule any Monday or Thursday night non-holiday games at the new stadium, while the city figured out the best traffic patterns for the new venue. They didn’t want football traffic interfering with regular business traffic in the busy Silicon Valley area. “We could not play the 49ers on a Monday or Thursday at home, with the exception of Thanksgiving," NFL schedule-maker Howard Katz told me last spring. So that’s why the Niners were likely to host a turkey day game all along—it was the only weeknight the league could play them at home.

8. I think, regarding the Johnny Manziel incident with the fan nine mornings ago, I would be concerned but not too much so about him being out on a Saturday morning at 2:30 the day before a road game. But let’s be real. Of the 1,696 players on NFL 53-man rosters this week, I would bet 100 of them were out that late on either Thursday or Friday night. They’re young. They can exist on four or five hours sleep one night a week, particularly because they can catch up either on Friday afternoons (players are typically out of their buildings by 2 on Fridays) or on planes or in road hotels or homes on Saturday afternoons. I don’t know what happened with the fan, but I would say this about Manziel: He has been a church mouse, relatively speaking, since the Browns broke camp in August. All internal reports on him from Browns people have been positive. So being out at 2:30 on a Friday night raises an eyebrow with me but nothing more.

9. I think if Rob Ryan annoyed Sean Payton on the sideline any more, Ryan would be a case of jock itch.

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-NFL thoughts of the week:

a. Smart column by the great Bob Ryan about what to do on the baseball Hall of Fame ballot with suspected PED users. Some lessons in here for football too.

b. Jose Bautista-Edwin Encarnacion-Josh Donaldson as the 3-4-5 in Toronto’s lineup. Yikes. That’s a 110-homer trio.

c. Good for you, Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm, for going for two, down 66-65 after scoring on your first possession in overtime against No. 25 Marshall, at Marshall, the other day. The offense was out of control, and his defense was stopping no one, and Brohm determined on the first series of over time that he was going for two if down a point. Western Kentucky converted, and won the biggest game of Brohm’s 12-game coaching career.

d. I’ve got an Obscure NFL Quarterback Quiz for you: Jeff Brohm threw one touchdown pass in his eight-game quarterback career for the San Francisco 49ers in 1996 and ‘97. Who was the receiver?

e. Clue: Brohm threw it in the Astrodome. (Actually, that’s a dumb clue. But it’s the only one you’re getting.) Answer lower in this section.

f. Notre Dame … I do not understand.

g. Florida State is either going to win the national title 29-27 over someone like Alabama, or lose next week 27-24 to Georgia Tech.

h. Among the leftovers and the family and friends and the shopping and the travel this weekend, you might have missed Robert Klemko’s story on the oldest public school football rivalry in the country, a Thanksgiving Day tradition that dates to 1882. Klemko and photographer Winslow Townson were in Needham, Mass., to take in the 127th meeting between Needham and Wellesley, and capture what the game means to the players and the communities. Check it out.

i. Coffeenerdness: Personal record for espresso shots in one day: nine. I set it Sunday. Hey, it's a long season.

j. Beernerdness: My favorite three beers from the Thanksgiving holiday:

  • Mo, an American Pale Ale by Maine Beer Company (Freeport, Maine). A fantastic beer. A little piney aroma, and a strong and distinctive ale taste. My beer of the year so far.
  • Southern Tier IPA, by Southern Tier Brewing Company (Lakewood, N.Y.) Classic IPA. I’ve come to appreciate the IPA style more and more, and this one is rich and hearty.
  • Zoe, an American Amber Ale, by Maine Beer Company. So I’m a sucker for their beer; it’s all so good. I liked the Pale Ale a little more because it’s not as dark, but this Amber has a distinctive wintry taste.

k. Answer to the Obscure NFL Quarterback Quiz: Terrell Owens, on Oct. 27, 1996, in the fifth game of Owens’ 15-year career. It was the second of 156 career touchdowns for Owens.

Who I Like Tonight

Miami 27, New York Jets 12. Athletes are funny people sometimes. You saw the winless Raiders, in their primetime showcase 11 days ago, legitimately beat the Chiefs, who were playing for something. So I guess there could be stranger things than the Jets (even without their best defensive player, Muhammad Wilkerson, out with a toe injury) giving the Dolphins a great game. But after watching New York stink up the stadium last Monday in Detroit, I can’t imagine Geno Smith and the offense making a dent in Miami’s D. And I can’t imagine Ryan Tannehill, a 71-percent passer in is past eight games, being lousy with a lot on the line for Miami tonight.

The Adieu Haiku

You see Belichick?

Rodgers-whispering, postgame:

"See you in two months."


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