Sunday was quiet early, but the real drama ramped up as soon as the early games ended. Here’s a look at how the Patriots kicked their way to 9-0, the Cards crushed Seattle’s soul and why Peyton’s end could be nigh
The fun (or agony, if you live in greater New York, Wisconsin, Oakland, or the Pacific Northwest) started after the late-window games kicked off on Sunday afternoon. In brief chronological order:
1. The Lions’ Calvin Johnson missed a vital onside kick that was right in his hands at Lambeau Field, putting Detroit’s first win in Wisconsin in a quarter-century in jeopardy.
2. Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby went shankapotamus on the field goal that would have prevented Detroit’s first win in Wisconsin in a quarter-century. Knuckleballed kick ended a six-hour fourth quarter. Final: Lions 18, Packers 16.
3. Peyton Manning passed Brett Favre for most career passing yards on a nondescript four-yard out route to Ronnie Hillman. The game was stopped. Manning gave the most uncomfortable waves to the crowd in NFL history. He knew what was coming, and it wasn’t good.
4. Eli Manning to Odell Beckham Jr. against the Patriots at MetLife Stadium, up the right seam for 87 yards. Touchdown. Longest touchdown pass against a Belichick-coached defense ever.
5. Peyton Manning’s nine drives on the worst day of his NFL career: Interception, three-and-out, three-and-out, interception, three-and-out, interception, three-and-out, three-and-out, interception. Yanked. Yes, Peyton Manning removed from a game; coach’s decision. Final: Chiefs 29, Broncos 13.
6. Adrian Peterson capped a 203-yard rushing day with an 80-yard gallop in Oakland. Final: Vikings 30, Raiders 14.
7. Fifth lead change of the day in New Jersey (because the Giants and Patriots have to play bizarro-world finishes worthy of Grisham climaxes: With a second to play, Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 54-yard field goal three inches inside the left upright. Final: Patriots 27, Giants 26.
8. In two fourth-quarter minutes, Seattle went from down eight to up four, thanks to two strip-sacks of Carson Palmer that turned into touchdowns. When Arizona got the ball back, it was so loud in CenturyLink Field that Palmer had to press his hands tightly over his ear holes so he might be able to hear coach Bruce Arians’ play calls.
9. Arizona did what great teams do. Palmer drove the Cards 83 and 80 yards for touchdowns that finished this one off. Final: Cardinals 39, Seahawks 32.
10. Bruce Arians, from the Cards’ team bus, about 1:15 a.m. on the East Coast: “To come up here to a place like this, and to play as well as we did early, to go up 19-0, and then to see it go down the sh----- so fast … I’ve never been so proud of a group of guys, to weather the kind of storm they weathered.”
That was seven compelling hours of football right there.
What does it mean? For one thing, the drama is dead in five of eight divisions. Five teams have a division lead of three games or more with seven weeks left. The Vikes (7-2) have passed the somnambulant Packers (6-3) atop the NFC North, while two divisions... well, someone’s got to win ’em. The NFC East is a combined 15-22, the AFC South a combined 12-23.
All the flags bust up the flow of games, and the what-is-a-catch debate continues to vex every professional official and the amateur ones too (you, that is). But this morning, there are other things to worry about, and to celebrate.
Finally, the Patriots had time enough
The last three times the Giants and Patriots met, New York took the lead with 35, 57 and 19 seconds left, and New England didn’t have time to come back. On Sunday, the Giants took a 26-24 lead late. But “late” is a relative term. “Late” in this game was with 1:47 left to play. And though the Patriots had no timeouts left, and though they were missing top wideout Julian Edelman (who broke a bone in his foot in the first half) and top back Dion Lewis and their starting left and right tackles, they were not missing Tom Brady. He took them 44 yards in 12 plays, to the Giants’ 36.
It’s a funny thing: Very few kickers are referred to as “great players.” Adam Vinatieri is one; when I toured NFL camps last summer, I asked kickers in several camps about Vinatieri—10 years a Patriot, 10 years a Colt—and they spoke in reverential terms. Even Gostkowski. “I looked up to Adam in high school and college, and I still do,” Gostkowski said. For one team to have kickers in succession like Vinatieri and Gostkowski … amazing good fortune. Vinatieri will go down as a top-five kicker of all time, and the way Gostkowski is going, he just might too.
“That’s the guy you want out there,” Bill Belichick said post-game. “You want your best player in that situation, an opportunity to win the game for you.”
When Gostkowski stepped up to kick, he was 263 of 300 on regular-season field goals in his career. As a Patriot, Vinatieri was 263 of 321. This was a 54-yard try; Gostkowski had never tried a field goal that long in the dying seconds to tie or win. This was to keep the Patriots undefeated. “I’ve kicked the ball millions and millions of times,” Gostkowski said from New Jersey after the game. “You practice for those moments. The wind was blowing a little bit to the left. Sometimes you don’t know what the wind’s gonna do. Once I saw it was inside the goal post, I knew I had it.”
Not so fast. The ball snaked, with the wind, toward the left upright. As it got closer, it looked like might hit the upright.
“You made that kick by about three inches,” I said.
“They all count the same,” Gostkowski said.
Yes they do. On the biggest regular-season kick of his NFL life, Gostkowski passed Vinatieri as the Patriots’ career field-goal leader, and he needed 20 fewer attempts to set the record. He’s a confident guy, a player teammates don’t treat like lots of other teams treat kickers, who seem to be out on islands, not part of many team things. “Wherever you put it, I’ll make it,” he has said to teammates in the past. And he does.
On this day, after the game, the two longest-tenured Patriots met. Brady (16 years) and Gostkowski (10 years) hugged.
“Can you get me a little closer next time?” Gostkowski said to Brady.
Why would Brady need to? Gostkowski is now 17 of 21 lifetime from 50 yards and out.
Not saying it’s probable, or even a 50-50 shot, with the dearth of kickers (Lou Groza, Jan Stenerud) in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But imagine Gostkowski kicks at this clip for eight or nine more years, and adds a couple of big postseason kicks. Vinatieri certainly will be in the discussion for Canton one day. If Gostkowski keeps this up, he could be too.
There’s something about Carson
I find it stunning that, as Carson Palmer lined up to play the Seahawks on Sunday night in Seattle, he was playing to get to .500 for his career. I know he was on some mediocre Cincinnati teams, and the Raiders were troubled during his two years there, and I know a quarterback’s won-loss record isn’t the measuring stick for greatness. But Palmer, 76-77 in regular- and postseason games entering Sunday? He has played better than a game under .500.
On Sunday night Palmer was a lot better than that. And now he’s even, 77-77, after a 39-32 win that tried fans’ souls—but gave the Cards a commanding three-game lead in the NFC West.
“Carson Palmer just has a unique grounding system,” coach Bruce Arians told me afterward. “He just does not get shaken up. He gets the guys rallied up. Even when it was going bad in the fourth quarter, he’s up and down that bench, telling guys in his way what we had to do to win.”
Programming note from the The MMQB’s Promotions Dept.: We plan to have a special two-part series on Wednesday and Thursday this week about how a quarterback absorbs and learns a game plan, and how he puts that game plan into action. Before Arizona’s Nov. 1 game at Cleveland, I was given access to Palmer and Arians, and to the game plan process, which was a foreign language at times, War and Peace in breadth and scope at other times. It’s a really enjoyable project (I’m still working on Part 2) and I’m sure some of it will surprise you. I know it surprised me. Please come back to The MMQB Wednesday and Thursday to read about Palmer’s life as a football learner. When Arians says Palmer has a unique grounding system, you’ll certainly see it in great color and detail in those pieces.
Something I found unique about the Cardinals when I spent time with them came into play Sunday night. Arians doesn’t run a dictatorship. He’s a benevolent king. Palmer has great input into the pass plays the Cardinals run, which you’ll see in my stories. And Arians values the input of others who know his offense and his thought process very well—such as backup quarterback Drew Stanton.
Arizona was in crisis two minutes into the fourth quarter Sunday night. The Cards had blown all of a 19-0 lead, as two strip-sacks of Palmer led to 14 points in less than two minutes for Seattle. The Seahawks took their first lead of the night, 29-25, with 13 minutes left in the game. “We were just getting our butts kicked,” Arians said. And so Stanton, who’d been with Arians at their previous stop in Indianapolis and was signed by the Cardinals when Arians was hired, came up with an idea. “Drew helped me,” Arians said. “He comes over to me and thinks we should put a couple of plays in, and I hear him out. They were plays he knew Carson would be comfortable with.”
The first was the opening play of the next series, with CenturyLink in full throat. Stanton suggested hitting Larry Fitzgerald out of a bunch formation to the left. Gain of 15. Two plays later, Stanton suggested a hitch route to cat-quick John Brown, and Arians called it. But Palmer chose a more-open Fitzgerald again. Gain of six. And so on the 83-yard drive that regained the lead for Arizona, two completions and 21 yards (a quarter of the yards needed for the touchdown) came from the head of the backup quarterback. Once the Cards scored to retake the lead, the crowd never got as loud again.
“Those were a couple of really good calls,” said Arians. “They really helped us tonight.”
Arizona (7-2), took a three-game lead over Seattle and St. Louis, at 4-5, with Cincinnati coming to Glendale for a magnetic Sunday night matchup next week. Could be 9-0 at 7-2 (if Cincinnati beats Houston at home tonight), Palmer versus Andy Dalton. “Andy’s playing really well, and they’ve got a hell of a defensive front four,” said Arians. “Should be a great game.”
And a note on Mike Iupati, who was motionless after a big first-half collision with Seattle strong safety Kam Chancellor: Arians said his guard seemed to be doing fine, back from the hospital and taking the charter back to Phoenix after the game, and had already been cleared to play against the Bengals.
The Fate of Peyton Manning
After the Broncos’ loss to Kansas City—the worst game of Peyton Manning’s career—Denver coach Kubiak said, “That’s on me,” implying that he should not have started Manning because the quarterback wasn’t healthy enough. It struck me at the time that Kubiak was being a good team guy in saying that, taking the blame for the poor performance. Manning looked weak-armed, as he has all season, and his decisions were questionable, especially the interception to linebacker Josh Mauga, which was poorly thrown, off-target and soft. But on Monday morning, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Manning was playing with a partially torn plantar fascia in his foot, which worsened in the Chiefs game.
I agree with Kubiak: If Manning is fit, he should be Denver’s quarterback. But what constitutes “healthy” for Manning now? There was no immediate timetable given for his recovery. If the Broncos’ training staff can get Manning to where his foot isn’t barking, then he should play. But if he plays the way he played on Sunday, and the way he has often played this year (nine touchdowns, league-high 17 interceptions), Manning has to understand that Kubiak needs to do what’s best for the team and play Brock Osweiler.
I don’t think it’s foolish or disrespectful to suggest that Osweiler is a better option than Manning, because today he is. Sunday in Chicago and in 13 days at home against New England, Osweiler might be the best option, too, especially if Manning’s foot is as bad as the report indicates. The Broncos are 7-2 and have a three-game lead in the AFC West, with seven more to play. But that lead will evaporate if there is a push for Manning to return too soon.
Remember how everyone decried the new OT rules?
At the league meetings in 2012, the sentiment in the hallways was, Why fix what’s not broken? Even though the NFL had eliminated the sudden-death aspect of overtime in playoff games the previous two seasons, adding the revamped overtime rules to every game meant this: The 256 regular-season games, not only the 11 postseason games, would mandate an overtime possession for both teams, unless the team with the ball first scored a touchdown or there was a safety on the first drive. Big stuff. Last week, current Bucs coach Lovie Smith—who coached the Bears in 2012—remembered not liking the move. “I was okay with the old rules,” Smith said. “I was not a part of the group that said both teams should get a shot. You have a chance to play defense, and that’s an equal part of the game, obviously. If you want the ball back, stop ’em. Guaranteeing a possession to both teams, I wasn’t a part of that.”
But two interesting things have happened in the three-and-a-half seasons since the new rules have been in place:
• The importance of winning the coin flip to start overtime has been drastically reduced.
• Strategy has entered the picture.
First, take a look at the numbers of how the overtime protocol has changed in regular-season games between 1974 (the first year of NFL sudden death) and 2011, and then since 2012, after the rules change.
|Total overtime games||477||63|
|Games won by teams with first possession in OT||252||30|
|Games won by teams that didn’t have ball first||208||30|
|Games ending in a tie||17||3|
So, of the games not ending in ties, 55 percent of games in the sudden death era were won by the first team with the ball. Since 2012, of the games not ending in ties, it’s been exactly 50-50.
Of the 14 overtime games through 10 weeks, it’s exactly 7-7 … seven games won by the team with the ball first, seven by the opponent.
The emphasis on the rules change—and I would have preferred to see a guaranteed second possession, not just if the first drive didn’t end in either a touchdown or a safety—has led to some interesting decisions and results. In Tampa Bay's Nov. 1 game at Atlanta, the Bucs won the overtime toss in a 20-20 game. They drove to the Atlanta 29, and instead of playing it safe and just running the ball to get in position for a field-goal try, Jameis Winston threw deep down the right side, trying to score a touchdown. Later in the drive, on third-and-four from the Atlanta seven-yard line, Winston again threw, trying to score, but it was incomplete. Tampa Bay settled for a field goal. The Bucs stopped Atlanta on a fourth-and-seven play on the next series and won.
The next night, in Charlotte, the Colts kicked a field goal on the first drive of overtime. But the Panthers countered with a field goal, picked off Andrew Luck on the next series, and kicked another field goal … becoming the first team in an NFL game to stage a come-from-behind win in overtime.
Last week in Minneapolis, with a stiff and inconsistent wind kicking up during the game, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer chose to take the wind in overtime instead of the ball, reasoning, based on the drives Zimmer had seen late in the game, that the Rams’ Nick Foles wasn’t going to drive St. Louis 80 yards to the winning touchdown. The Vikings kicked off, held the Rams to a three-and-out, and kicked the winning field goal on the second possession of overtime.
“Now,” said Lovie Smith, “when you win the toss and take the ball, you don’t have a big advantage. Our mindset, of course, is when we get the ball, we want the touchdown. In that game in Atlanta, we were trying hard to score a touchdown on the first drive, and we had a third-down play we should have hit, and if we do, we win it. Our attitude was, let’s score a touchdown, and let’s win it right here.
“I definitely think there’s more strategy. Even before you get to overtime, there is strategy too. And I could tell that day in Atlanta—I know the fans in the building liked the rule. It was exciting in there.”
I asked Smith if he’d had his mind changed by the 2012 tweak, and his experience since. “It’s more entertaining now,” he said, “and our game should be about entertaining the fans, so I am all in favor of it. I was in favor of the rule before, but I kind of like this way. I don’t know anyone who would want to go back to the old rule.”
About those numbers written on the game balls
A hearty tip of the hat to reader Bob Mullen, who saw a photo of Aaron Rodgers earlier this season and asked an astute question: What's with those number markings on the football?
The photo above shows Aaron Rodgers in a Week 8 game against the Broncos. Rodgers must like the feel of this football. The numbers reveal that that was the fifth game this season that the Packers had used this exact football as one of the 12 game balls for their offense.
Each of the numbers near the point of the football was written in silver sharpie by the referee working the game, when the balls were inspected and pressure-gauged pre-game. Referee John Parry, who wears number 132 on his back, worked this particular game. The other four numbers, top to bottom, are those of referees John Hussey (number 35, from the August preseason game at Pittsburgh), Brad Allen (122, New England preseason game), Carl Cheffers (51, Philadelphia preseason game) and Jeff Triplette (42, New Orleans preseason game). The Packers likely used this ball in practice both in the summer and then in the week of the Denver game, to break it in further so Rodgers would be comfortable with it.
Notice, also, the number “8” near the spot where the needle is inserted into the bladder to inflate the ball (and to test its pressure before the game; balls have to measure between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch). Twelve footballs are put in play on offense for each team, and they are numbered 1 through 12 before the game. In this case, if a ball has been used in more than one game, it can remain “8” in a series of 12 footballs. And this is probably not that unusual: Quarterbacks love the feel of broken-in footballs, because the leather is not slippery and feels softer—kind of like the feel of a well-worn baseball glove to a shortstop.
One other point: There is no limit to how many times a football can be used as a game ball, as long as it is not scarred or pockmarked or does not have a tear in the cowhide. Yes, cowhide. The hide of the football comes from a cow, despite how people still love to call it a pigskin.
There may not have been a bigger Week 10 play
I don’t want to overstate the third-down conversion pass by the Bills’ Tyrod Taylor to Sammy Watkins with 2:47 left, and the Bills protecting a 22-17 lead, against the Jets on Thursday night. But it was the biggest play of the game. And if it wasn’t quite a changing-of-the-guard play in the AFC East, it said a few huge things, at least to me:
• The Bills, on the victory-ensuring play of the game, attacked 30-year-old Darrelle Revis, who, at the start of this season, was the consensus best corner in football and second to J.J. Watt as the brightest of all defensive stars in football.
• Sammy Watkins, 22, absolutely abused Revis on the play. I didn’t know such abuse of a great player was possible.
• Revis was so badly beaten that it left the Bills’ coaches stunned. “I watched in amazement,” Bills wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal told The MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas. “I still don’t know how he did it.”
“He spun [Revis] around like a top,” said Rex Ryan. “Like, that doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen against good corners, let along someone like [Revis].”
I went back and watched the play on NFL Game Pass several times over the weekend. It was third-and-two at the Bills’ 15. Watkins was split wide left at the line of scrimmage. Revis was snug on him. At the snap of the ball, it was clear Revis was going to hand-fight Watkins, and there are few times when Revis engages a receiver at the line that he doesn’t throw him off his route.
Taylor took the shotgun snap, and Revis immediately had both hands high on Watkins, trying to keep him in place—and trying to prevent him, especially, from working to the sideline by using outside-leverage force on the coverage. If Watkins was going to make a play, it’d have to be on a slant or incut, because Revis wasn’t giving him the sideline.
“Revis had the perfect leverage,” said Lal.
Watkins tried to bull left. No dice; Revis had him fully engaged with both outstretched arms. Then Watkins took a jab step to his right, to disengage from Revis. Watkins got loose, but safety Rontez Miles lurked over the middle, and there was no way Taylor could risk throwing the ball there. But Watkins never had any intention of staying in the middle. He put his foot in the ground and pirouetted back to his left, knowing he had to get to at least the 18 for the first down. Meanwhile, Revis, fearing that inner jab step and that Watkins might sprint upfield, took two long strides downfield before he realized Watkins was headed for the left sideline. By the time he moved back to try to recover and catch back up to Watkins, Revis was at the 24. Watkins was at the 18.
The other amazing part of this was watching Tyrod Taylor. He was never going anywhere else except to Watkins. He never looked middle, never looked right. It was Watkins or bust. And Watkins won the matchup in a rout. Buffalo hung on and won.
“You can’t coach that,” said Lal. “It’s innate football instincts, everything personified in a three-yard play. It was Sammy knowing what he had to do, and he just felt his way through it and was decisive and was able to come open. We work on a lot of things, but that was 100 percent Sammy.
“All the credit to Revis, for recognizing it, lining up outside of him, and more credit to Sammy for finding a way to win.”
The Bills used two first-round picks (trading their 2015 first-rounder to move up five spots) to draft Watkins in the first round in 2014. The Jets made Revis the highest-paid defensive back in history this off-season, despite his advancing age.
Did Buffalo do the right thing with this huge investment of resources in one player, who hasn’t been a singular performer at all yet? Did the Jets do the right thing in paying Revis so much when the early part of this season would suggest he’s still very good but not the standalone player he was for three or four years?
It’s early, and I don’t want to make a mountain of one play. But I’ll be watching Revis closely, and you can bet the next few quarterbacks who will play the Jets—Brian Hoyer, Ryan Tannehill and Eli Manning—will have their eyes opened by that play.
The Manning mark afterthought
Peyton Manning’s breaking of the all-time passing yardage record on Sunday was eclipsed—massively—by the worst regular-season game of Manning’s career, when he was so hurt and so ineffective that he got yanked in the second half of the loss to Kansas City. It’s almost embarrassing. Manning never had a no-touchdown, four-interception game in his career, and he’d never had passer rating of 0.0 in any game. To celebrate the career accomplishment rings hollow. But he did break the record, so let’s note it thusly. The evolution of the modern record began on Dec. 12, 1964. That’s when Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle played the last game of his career, at age 38. He started, threw for 93 yards, and New York lost to Cleveland, 52-20. Here’s who has held the record in the 51 years since that day:
|Date Broken||Record-Breaker||Former Holder||Career Yardage||Held Record For...|
|12-1-68||John Unitas||Y.A. Tittle||40,239||7 years, 11 months|
|10-31-76||Fran Tarkenton||John Unitas||47,003||19 years|
|11-12-95||Dan Marino||Fran Tarkenton||61,361||12 years, 1 month|
|12-16-07||Brett Favre||Dan Marino||71,838||7 years, 11 months|
|11-15-15||Peyton Manning||Brett Favre||71,871||1 day and counting|
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Quotes of the Week
“The report about my interest in buying a portion of the Oakland Raiders is absolutely ridiculous and absurd. It is 100 percent not true. I have no intention in returning to the NFL and am focused on enjoying my family.”
—Former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., in response to a report on The NFL Today on CBS that he was interested in buying a minority ownership in the Raiders.
DeBartolo’s sister, Denise DeBartolo York, is the co-chair of the 49ers, along with her husband, John York; Eddie DeBartolo’s nephew, Jed York, is the CEO of the team. It would seem rather … odd for Eddie DeBartolo, the former owner of the Niners, to come back in an ownership position with the rival franchise in the Bay Area.
“We’re a connected world. You know, six degrees of separation. I must admit I was very disappointed in whoever the fan was who made a comment that I thought was really inappropriate during the moment of silence. It’s that kind of prejudicial ideology that puts us in the position we’re in today as a world.”
—Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, pleased that there was a moment of silence for the tragedy in Paris before Sunday's games—but angry that one fan in Green Bay spoiled the moment with an apparent slur about Muslims.
“You have done your part. Now we must do our part. You deserve a Lions football team that is a consistent winner and one that competes for championships.”
—A letter from Lions president Martha Firestone Ford to season-ticket holders last week.
“You’re talking about a person, what, six or seven years removed from a stolen laptop, things that people don’t really want to talk about … A person that had to go to junior college. There’s athletes in junior college right now asking, ‘Am I going to make it? Am I going to get a scholarship?’ But I did all that and look at who I am today. I’m not saying that to brag or boast ... We all make mistakes. But yet it’s all about how you rebound from that mistake rather than giving up.”
—Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, who, indeed, was arrested for stealing a laptop while at the University of Florida. The charges were dropped when he served a pretrial intervention program. He went on to Blinn (Texas) Junior College, and then to Auburn before being the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. He now pilots the 9-0 Panthers.
Kudos to Newton for not shying away from his journey.
“Stop yourself right there. Just stop.”
—First-year Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, after Saturday’s 48-41 win over Indiana, asked about the possibility of interest in the Colts’ head-coaching job after this season. Which is not open right now.
“It’s like watching elves play football.”
—Ann King, my wife, as we watched the Jets, clad in green from shoulder to toe, play the Bills, clad in red from shoulder to toe, Thursday night on TV.
Back in the Day Quote of the Week
So … Indianapolis signed Charlie Whitehurst to back up Matt Hasselbeck while Andrew Luck recovers from a lacerated kidney. In 2010, the Seahawks traded for Charlie Whitehurst to back up Hasselbeck and perhaps one day to succeed him. Hasselbeck invited Whitehurst to his home to eat dinner with his family. The three Hasselbeck children were at the table for dinner, and young Annabelle could not believe how much Whitehurst, with flowing brown hair and dark brown mustache and beard, looked like Jesus Christ. The Hasselbecks, a religious family, began dinner without saying the traditional grace. Afterward, Annabelle said to her father:
“Daddy, we didn’t have to say grace. We just ate with Jesus.”
The Award Section
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Tom Brady, quarterback, New England. Almost gave it to the New England offensive line, which came up big enough for the Pats to win 27-26 in one of the classic games of the Belichick era. But the one constant is Brady, who, at 38, is leading one of the most decimated lineups he has directed since he took over the starting job 14 years ago. Brady had a fairly pedestrian day, for him: 26 of 42, two touchdowns, one pick, three sacks, 92.8 rating … but the fourth-down conversion to Danny Amendola on the last drive of the game was the difference between 9-0 and 8-1.
Adrian Peterson, running back, Minnesota. With the lead in the NFC North on the line, Peterson rushed 26 times for 203 yards, capping the Vikings’ win with an 80-yard touchdown gallop. The last 73 yards of the run Peterson was untouched. At age 30, he has 961 yards rushing in nine games and is the NFL's leading rusher. He’s the most important player on a 7-2 team.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Terence Newman, cornerback, Minnesota. With the Vikings trying to hang on to a 23-14 lead in Oakland late and Derek Carr driving the Raiders toward the end zone, Newman picked off his second Carr pass of the game, this time in the end zone, ending any chance Oakland had. Newman added four tackles, one for a loss, as the Vikings took over first place in the NFC North.
Ronald Darby, cornerback, Buffalo. Through nine games, this strong contender for defensive rookie of the year already has the Bills’ rookie record for passes defensed (18) after a stellar game in the Meadowlands on Thursday night. The 50th pick of the 2015 draft is so feisty, so competitive, so unafraid, that it’s surprising so many corner-hungry teams passed on him last spring. Darby deflected three Ryan Fitzpatrick passes and played physically on Jets receivers all night in Buffalo’s 22-17 win.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Ameer Abdullah, running back/kick-returner, Detroit. In a 3-3 game at Green Bay—Detroit hadn’t won in Wisconsin since 1991—Abdullah took the opening kick of the second half five yards deep in the end zone … and he didn’t stop for the next 104 yards. He was tackled stretching for the goal line, and because the Lions chose not to review it, Detroit took it first-and-goal at the Green Bay one-yard line. It would have been close had it been reviewed, however. But that return was exactly what the toothless Lions needed. They scored three plays later to take a 9-3 lead and survived, 18-16. Abdullah’s play was the biggest of the day—until Crezdon Butler, signed Saturday, knocked away what would have been the game-tying two-point conversion.
Stephen Gostkowski, kicker, New England. The third-most accurate kicker ever might have made his biggest kick ever, a 54-yarder, to beat the Giants at the Meadowlands in one of the season’s dramatic moments. The kick was good by about three inches.
Jason Myers, kicker, Jacksonville. With no time left on the clock and the Jags trailing Baltimore 20-19 at the Big Crabcake, Myers lined up at the Baltimore 43 and booted a 53-yard field goal straight and true and deep. Jags 22, Ravens 20.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Adam Gase, offensive coordinator, Chicago. The Bears are 4-5, and they’re playing for .500 next week (against the suddenly vulnerable Broncos at Soldier Field), and this is possible because of the rebirth of the offense under the more efficient Jay Cutler. At St. Louis on Sunday, the Bears rolled up 397 yards, and Cutler rolled up a passer rating of 151.0 (19 of 24, 258 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions.) When John Fox imported Gase to try to do minor surgery on Cutler in the off-season, he couldn’t have known it would have worked this well. The Bears have won four of the past six, Cutler has thrown but three picks in those six games, and the Bears are running the ball well even without injured Matt Forte. Very good hire by Fox.
GOAT OF THE WEEK
Elvis Dumervil, linebacker, Baltimore. On what should have been the last play of the game, and with the Ravens up 20-19, Dumervil yanked the face mask of Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles as time expired. The penalty put the ball on the Baltimore 35 for an untimed down. It’s just not Baltimore’s year. The 2-7 Ravens succumbed on a Jags field goal with no time left.
Brandon Browner, cornerback, New Orleans. I am serious when I say this: Browner passed up a chance to pursue and tackle Washington running back Matt Jones on a long touchdown run so he could decleat a Washington blocker on the play. Watch the replay. It’s incredible. But this year it’s fitting for Browner, who leads the NFL in penalties.
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Stats of the Week
Through nine games this season, in regular-season play:
The Lions: 39 games under .500 since 2007.
The Patriots: 81 games over .500 since 2007.
Victor Cruz of the Giants missed the final 10 games last year with a torn patellar tendon. He has missed the first 10 games of 2015 with a strained calf muscle. Drawing a line of demarcation, in Cruz’s career, on the October night in Philadelphia when he tore up his knee:
|Games Played||Stats||Cost to the Giants|
|First 70 Giants games (regular-season only)||55||264 catches, 24 TDs||$6.05 million|
|Last 20 Giants games||0||0 catches, 0 TDs||$8.80 million|
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Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Dallas had 17 takeaways through Week 10 last year.
Dallas has six takeaways through Week 10 this year.
The Cowboys have three takeaways in their past seven games. Rod Marinelli, the Dallas defensive coordinator, has to be just spinning like a top over that. No defensive coach stresses the takeaway more than Marinelli.
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Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Connecticut highway sign near New Haven on Saturday afternoon: PRAY FOR PARIS.
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Tweets of the Week
Nick Foles was 0-12 on passes thrown 10+ yards downfield Sunday. Most attempts on such passes without a completion in the last 10 seasons.— Nick Wagoner (@nwagoner) November 16, 2015
Whoa, Eddie Lacy INACTIVE for #Packers.— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) November 15, 2015
On Darien video board: former state record holder Dwight Freeney of the Cardinals congratulating Evanchick. Players going nuts. #cthsfb— Dave Ruden (@DaveRuden) November 14, 2015
Ruden, the editor of The Ruden Report, tweeted this after Darien (Conn.) High School’s Mark Evanchick had three sacks Saturday afternoon and broke former Bloomfield (Conn.) High pass-rusher Dwight Freeney’s state sacks record. Freeney had 59.5. Evanchick, with three Saturday, now has 62.5. Freeney did one of the classiest things of this football weekend, recording a video congratulating Evanchick on breaking his record, and it was played on the scoreboard after Evanchick set the new record.
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) November 13, 2015
There's not been a game in the last 4 years where the Hawks corners were defeated the way AZ did so tonight. Humbling night on the perimeter— Brock Huard (@BrockESPN) November 16, 2015
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Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 10:
a. Greg Olsen: the most underappreciated player in football. Every week he makes four or five plays that help Carolina win … plays like the one-handed catch in Nashville on Sunday during which his other hand never got anywhere near the football.
b. Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner's big hit on Arizona running back Andre Ellington, late in the second quarter Sunday night.
c. The one-on-one matchup between Odell Beckham Jr. and Malcolm Butler. An instant classic at the Meadowlands.
d. Kirk Cousins, for changing lots of minds. I’m not saying he’s done enough to make Washington GM Scot McCloughan stop looking for the next quarterback of the team, but he’s on his way: 67.9 percent passing in nine starts, including 71.4 percent over his past three. Behind Cousins, Washington is a half-game out of first in the NFC East.
e. Loved the Richard Rodgers stretch for the sideline with 45 seconds left, saving the last Packers timeout against Detroit in an eight-point game in crunch time.
f. The Vikings: 385 yards, no turnovers, a dominant game from Adrian Peterson, a strong defensive game, a mistake-free game by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Don’t look now, but the Vikings might be better than Green Bay.
g. The brilliant blitz by Philadelphia’s Walter Thurmond, resulting in a safety against Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
h. Todd Gurley bulling for an early touchdown against the Bears.
i. Wow. How did Muhammad Wilkerson catch Tyrod Taylor for an 11-yard loss, cutting the angle and getting him before Taylor could turn the corner? Incredibly athletic play by Wilkerson.
j. Chris Hogan of the Bills, with a great piece of kickoff coverage against the Jets.
k. Ron Brooks of the Bills, with a great piece of punt coverage against the Jets.
l. “I truly from the depths of my heart cannot say thank you enough.” Good PSA on the Thursday night game about veterans from Carolina defensive end Jared Allen.
m. What speed by Zach Miller, the Chicago tight end, on his 87-yard touchdown catch and run.
n. Will Hill, the Baltimore safety, with a decleater on Bryan Walters of the Jags.
o. The artistic, almost balletic dive to the pylon by Tennessee’s Dexter McCluster, scoring a touchdown to tie the game with Carolina.
p. Fast and athletic pursuit of Aaron Rodgers by Detroit defensive lineman Caraun Reid, the former Princeton project, ending in a Reid sack.
q. Lardarius Webb—finally—with a clutch interception for the Ravens. Lurked in coverage and broke on a Blake Bortles pass perfectly.
r. Michael Griffin, the Tennessee safety, with good pursuit and an athletic sack of Cam Newton.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 10:
a. What is a catch.
b. What isn’t a catch.
c. Julian Edelman’s broken foot, according to the Boston Globe. Bummer for the team, bummer for the sport.
d. Players who celebrate by knocking helmets with each other. This is 2015, fellas. Read about head trauma much?
e. T.J. Ward’s cheap-shot punch that got him ejected from Kansas City-Denver.
f. The Saints defense. It is one pathetic unit. New Orleans gave up 394 yards in the first half at Washington. Will Rob Ryan make it back after the bye? Wouldn’t be surprised if Sean Payton considered making a change.
g. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as brutal a face mask penalty in recent years as the wrenching of Johnny Manziel’s face mask by Pittsburgh linebacker Arthur Moats. How Manziel wasn’t seriously injured on that play, I have no idea.
h. The rotten luck of Landry Jones. Four minutes into a vital start in his green career, he gets his foot stepped on and has to come out against Cleveland.
i. Bucs receiver Mike Evans needs to keep his eyes on the football. Ten drops in three weeks? Wow.
j. Dez Bryant losing it with the media. The Cowboys sure do have their share of volcanoes.
k. Buffalo’s Manny Lawson, dropping what would have been an easy interception and likely pick-six against Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets.
l. Dumb throw by Ryan Fitzpatrick, trying to force the ball to Brandon Marshall when he was catch-less Thursday in the middle of the second quarter. Just because you want to get the guy a ball doesn’t mean he’s open.
m. Darrelle Revis, giving Sammy Watkins too much cushion early against Buffalo. And then Watkins beating him for that vital first down with 2:40 left in the game.
n. Lord. Look for the ball on that end-zone fade, Kellen Davis.
o. Should have gone for two late in the third quarter, Todd Bowles.
p. Not sure if I didn’t like it, I guess, but Aaron Rodgers threw eight passes to Davante Adams and zero to Randall Cobb at one point Sunday. Just strange.
q. Miami kick returner Damien Williams. The Dolphins paid a nine-point penalty for Williams’ first-quarter indecision at Philadelphia. With the Eagles kicking off after taking a 7-3 first-quarter lead, Williams took the ball four yards deep and couldn’t decide whether to come out. By the time he did, and decided to run it, he got snowed under at the Miami one. Two plays later, on a blitz, Philly got a sack of Ryan Tannehill in the end zone; two points. Philadelphia took the free kick and drove 58 yards on a short field for a touchdown. That one piece of indecision, in the span of four minutes, turned a narrow 7-3 lead into a commanding (or, at least it should have been) 16-3 one.
r. How hard it must be to root for the Browns. Mistake after mistake after mistake.
s. Like, cornerback Pierre Desir’s coverage on the Roethlisberger-to-Martavis Bryant touchdown bomb just before halftime. What kind of coverage was that? The invisible kind?
t. Like, center Cam Erving getting blasted into the Cleveland backfield by the interior Steeler rush.
u. Like, Travis Benjamin dropping a touchdown pass with no one around.
v. Too many of Nick Foles’ throws look like the intended receiver should be 15 feet tall.
3. I think I ask this question without trying in any way to be inflammatory: How much more are the Cowboys going to take with Greg Hardy? How, in a team sport, do you continue to put up with a divisive force like Hardy? A Cowboys radio reporter said Sunday that Hardy had to be separated from teammate Demarcus Lawrence during the first half at Tampa Bay.
4. I think, judging from a few conversations I’ve had with college scouts over the past month, the name to watch in January—is he coming out or is he not?—is Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch. One personnel man whose team will be in the market for a quarterback next spring told me last week Lynch reminds him of a bigger Ben Roethlisberger at this point of their college careers. Lynch is 6-7 and 245 pounds. Roethlisberger was 6-5 and 241 coming out of Miami (Ohio). Both with big arms. We’re five-and-a-half months away from the draft, so it’s ridiculously early to make any judgments. But Lynch has scouts fascinated.
5. I think I’m not telling Mike Pettine what to do or anything, but this might be the year for the Browns to go 2-14 and get the first overall pick. I’ve even got the campaign slogan for the Browns players and coaches: “Be lax for Pax.” Or, if they get to the last week needing a loss against Pittsburgh to ensure the first overall pick, how about this: “Clinch for Lynch.”
6. I think if you’re color blind—and about 8 percent of all men with European ancestry have difficulty telling the difference between green and red—then the Jets-Bills game Thursday night was tough on the eyes. As in, you couldn’t make out the difference between the teams on TV, particularly with both teams wearing white helmets. This is what former kicker Lawrence Tynes, who is color blind, said via email Friday: “The game was difficult to watch especially from the elevated camera views. From the elevated views I could not identify who was who, and that was frustrating. Just my opinion, but two NFL teams should not have on dark-colored jerseys. There was just not enough contrast last night. To me everyone looked the same, especially with each team having white helmets. Looked like 22 guys on the same team playing against each other. My brother texted me and said he couldn't watch it. His color blindness is worse than mine, and he actually had to turn the game off.” The NFL said it would do a color blindness analysis before having teams wear uniforms like those again.
7. I think, not to continue to harp on Darrelle Revis and the jillion-dollar Jets secondary, but this amazes me: The Jets have given up 1,227 passing yards over the past four games. The Jets, with an abysmal secondary last year, never gave up 1,200 yards passing in any four-game span. Either last year’s staff made chicken salad out of chicken feathers, or this year’s staff isn’t getting as much out of the group as a staff should. Or this secondary is vastly overrated. Maybe all three.
8. I think Ronald Darby is one of the most pro-ready defensive players I’ve seen come into the NFL in years. He’s physical, he’s a clinging defender, and he’s really competitive. What a great pick by Buffalo GM Doug Whaley, nabbing Darby with the 50th pick last spring. How were seven corners picked before Darby?
9. I think I keep meaning to tell all you Colt fans the best story I have about your quarterback for the next month—or however long Matt Hasselbeck will stand in for Andrew Luck and try to keep the Colts’ season afloat. When Hasselbeck was picked late in the sixth round by the Packers in 1998 and reported to Packers camp, he, of course, had to know his place as a rookie. But he also had to be able to hold his own with one of the merriest pranksters in the league, Brett Favre. Hasselbeck told me once: “One day, Brett asked me to go get him something when I was eating a bowl of cereal. And when I get back, I take a bite of the cereal, and he’s put Tabasco sauce on it. Okay, he got me. But I’m going to get him back. He liked to [use chewing tobacco.] And I found his dip and put some fishing worms in there. We’re in a quarterback meeting, and he goes to take some out and he totally flips out. He’s yelling that he wants to know who did it. [Quarterbacks coach Andy Reid is] trying to defuse the situation and he says, ‘Brett, look, it was me.’ But I figured I needed to say something. So I told him. Here I’m wondering if I’m going to get cut because I’ve really pissed off the MVP of the league, but he had this look on his face, like, ‘Not bad, kid. Not bad.’ I think he looked at me like I was a psycho.”
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. I have no deep thoughts on Paris. Just sad ones. The world is changing, and it will never be the same.
b. The thing that’s most depressing is the utter disregard for human life. Killing scores of complete strangers who’ve done nothing to you is just something no logical person could ever understand. The eyewitness accounts of the killers in Paris doing their work is just chilling.
c. It continues to feel inevitable that one of those attacks like the one in Paris is coming to our shores. And there’s almost certainly not a damn thing we can do about it, except be as vigilant as we’ve ever been to anything that looks suspicious.
d. Had to be in a car for a few hours Saturday, and caught an hour of BBC reporting from Paris and London on the attacks, via NPR. What superb, thorough reporting.
e. Nice deadline work, this Los Angeles Times profile of the American college student, 23-year-old Mexican-American Nohemi Gonzalez, killed in the Paris attacks.
f. Saw “This is Life,” with Lisa Ling, on CNN for the first time the other night. Never heard of it; just stumbled on it flipping the channels. The real-world show, about how the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office works, was riveting. I found it amazing to see the hundreds of bodies the coroner’s office has to handle at any one time, and even more amazing to see in a given year how many John Does the country has to bury. Ling showed a service where the remains of 1,489 cremated unidentified bodies were interred and memorialized. Just think of that: 1,489 unknown dead people, more than four for every day on the calendar, in one year. Eye-opening TV.
g. Great post by Jeff Bradley about his life as an under-employed former sports writer. Tremendous respect for Jeff as a writer already, and even more now because he bared his soul like this.
h. Coffeenerdness: Why is the design of Starbucks to-go coffee cups a story that presidential candidates deem important enough to discuss? It’s absurd. The Boston Globe looked back at past holiday seasons and found zero cups ever that had the words “Merry Christmas” on them. Make an issue of something that matters, people.
i. Beernerdness: Looking for some good beer recommendations for Thanksgiving dinner. (And pre-gaming the turkey day meal too.) Thinking saison, or maybe something with good fall spices. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org if you've got some good ideas.
j. I love how different this country is. The Iowa-Oklahoma State wrestling match the other day drew 42,000 in Iowa City. Pretty cool.
k. Man, the Devils have amazed me. Beating Chicago twice in a week, shutting out the Penguins 4-0, winning 10 of the last 13 … beyond anything I thought they’d do. I was sure this would be a total rebuilding year, post-Lamoriello and with no big scorers. But they’ve opened it up some, and the hockey is more entertaining.
l. I understand the Red Sox gave up three strong prospects (none of whom is in the top two in their system) and a lesser infield prospect to get Craig Kimbrel. But what do you expect to pay to improve an awful bullpen (26th in MLB ERA last year) with the second-best closer (to Aroldis Chapman) available, who is signed for the next three years, with a career WHIP of 0.93 and ERA of 1.63? It’s a slight worry that Kimbrel blew up a bit early last year, but he was his old self over the last three months. You’ve got to give to get. That’s how I look at this.
m. The editor of this column, Dom Bonvissuto, saw Spotlight Saturday night (I feel slightly responsible for pushing him to it), and he walked out of the movie and texted me thusly: “Holy crap.”
n. Promise: I won’t steer you wrong on Spotlight. It’s really good, whatever you think of journalism or journalists.
o. Attention all fans who have a turkey day family football game: We want to hear stories of your annual family game or the ways that football has molded your Thanksgiving celebrations and memories. Send your stories to us at email@example.com
* * *
Who I Like Tonight
Cincinnati 30, Houston 12. Not to kill you with numbers, but Andy Dalton has played 17 games in each of his four previous NFL seasons, and the most games he had with a passer ratings of 100 or more in any year was six. This year, he has six in eight starts. How impressive is this: All six of his 100-plus games this year exceed 115. This is a different player, folks. He can’t do anything about the playoffs until January, and his mantra every time anyone asks is almost a zombie like: All I can do anything about is the next game, not the playoffs. Smart of him. And in Cincinnati’s second straight prime-time game, Dalton has a chance to quash the can’t-win-in-the-national-spotlight storyline tonight too. “I think we’re starting to silence that one,” Dalton said. Tonight is another brick in that wall, with J.J. Watt trying to make it hot for him. And next week, at Arizona on Sunday, will be the third straight prime-time game for Cincinnati. When, if ever, has that happened in Bengaldom? (“Bengaldom,” by the way, was coined by Boomer Esiason; I cannot take credit.)
* * *
The Adieu Haiku
Manning’s worst, ever.
Agonizing. One question:
Is it the end now?
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