On Air Pressure, Head Trauma and the Preseason
Lots of football stories in the NFL this morning, 10 days from the opener. The Eagles, and Sam Bradford, are out of control—in a good way. (Composite first-quarter preseason score: Philadelphia 52, Foes 3.) More: Burgeoning weirdness in Washington with Robert Griffin III … Julio Jones gets his money, while Cleveland gets reminded of another blown chance to franchise-build … The Bills evidently have Unitas, Montana and Fouts on the roster … NaVorro Bowman plays like J.J. Watt will have competition for Defensive Player of the Year … Jeremy Maclin’s a game-changer … Drew Brees walks two miles home from practice, lugging his helmet and shoulder pads, through the adopted city he loves, at a time the adopted city really needs it.
I’m no Fandango or Rotten Tomatoes, and certainly no Hollywood Reporter, but I’ll get involved in some movie business today. Here, we’ll debut the trailer for a movie the NFL is not going to like. (I don’t mean The Curious Case of Thomas Brady either.) “Concussion,” a film starring Will Smith, about the man who began sounding the alarm for change in how the NFL treats head trauma, will hit theaters on Christmas.
We start, though, with the Nightmare That Will Not Go Away, coming for the third time to a New York courtroom, forcing Super Bowl MVP quarterback Tom Brady to miss a third Patriots practice while he fights to avoid a four-game suspension, forcing Roger Goodell to put off governance of a distracted league for another day, forcing America to start the 2015 season with endless Deflategate news after ending the 2014 season with endless Deflategate news and having every month of the offseason sullied by endless Deflategate news, while a federal judge decides the fate of Brady’s season and the fate of Goodell’s authority. While we all decide whether to throw our shoes through our TV screens.
Personally, I think Brady should skate. For now.
But it’s complicated.
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I’ll start at the end: If I were U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, I’d begin today’s proceedings with a question for both sides about a potential compromise:
Seeing that the pressure in footballs has never been measured at halftime and after games before, and seeing as though no one is exactly certain how much pressure in footballs would be lost over two to four hours on cold days, and seeing as though the Patriots footballs from the AFC Championship Game lost—by the measure of one gauge—a fairly predictable amount of air pressure according to the Ted Wells Report … why can’t both sides agree to table the Brady suspension until the end of the 2015 season? If the pressure in the footballs on a similarly cold days drops at the same level that the pressure in the Patriots’ footballs did, then Brady will not be suspended. If the pressure in the football on similarly cold days drops much less, then Brady—who wants to play several more years—will be suspended for the first four games of 2016.
Then, if I’m Berman, I’d direct this point to the NFL side:
Of course you’re not going to like putting this off. But if Brady is suspended for four games now, and then, after the footballs are measured throughout the 2015 season, what happens if the balls on days with a similar temperature as the AFC title game—in the forties—show a similar drop in pressure as they did in Foxboro on Jan. 18? We have significant circumstantial evidence that sullies Brady’s case, to be sure. But we have no smoking gun, no proof he directed the footballs to be deflated below the league-prescribed level. And I believe it’s in the best interest of both sides that you agree to test footballs in all 267 games this season, then re-convene in my courtroom on Feb. 15, 2016. Agreed?
I don’t expect that to happen. I expect Berman to push both sides anew today, trying to force two sides that don’t want to compromise to somehow find a deal. The NFL clearly wants Brady to admit fault and to accept some sort of punishment. Brady doesn’t want to admit fault on anything to do with deflating footballs below 12.5 psi. He will, reportedly, accept some sanction—with an eye-roll—for not cooperating fully with the investigation or obstructing the investigation with his diversionary cell-phone escapade. But I keep hearing that’s not good enough for the league.
So what will Berman do if the two sides can’t agree on anything? I spoke to an attorney who has argued two cases in front of Berman in his district courtroom in lower Manhattan, and asked him. This attorney is a big football fan. He’s been following the case closely. He thinks Berman will be “offended”—the attorney's words—by Goodell’s moving the ball way down the field from the Wells Report to the NFL’s 15-page brief to Berman before this process started a month ago. In the Wells Report, Brady was found to be “at least generally aware” of the scheme to deflate footballs below the 12.5-psi minimum. The NFL ruled against Brady without a smoking gun, believing the preponderance of evidence in the case justified the sanction against Brady and the Patriots.
But the NFL wrote in the brief to Berman: “The commissioner suspended Brady for having ‘approved of, consented to, and provided inducements in support of’ a scheme to tamper with the game balls. And for having ‘willfully obstructed the subsequent investigation.’ ” This attorney found that to be level-jumping, as do I.
• MEANWHILE, IN FOXBOROUGH: On the field, the training camp like no other actually looks very familiar. The coach has his team hyper-focused, and the players won’t acknowledge Deflategate. As for the quarterback, he hasn’t been talking at all. The owner and the fans, on the other hand, have plenty to say on Tom Brady’s behalf
Remember: Berman can suggest, and cajole, and threaten with a you’re-not-going-to-like-what-I-decide wag of the finger to both sides. But he cannot order the two sides to compromise. He has been asked to decide whether to uphold or vacate Brady’s four-game ban by Friday, so the Patriots can know who’s going to play quarterback for them six days later—Brady or neophyte Jimmy Garoppolo.
I agree that there’s significant reason to doubt Brady’s innocence, led by him getting rid of a cell phone knowing it could have evidence important to this case. But the NFL’s hands are too dirty here for me to buy its case, starting with league officials warning referee Walt Anderson to keep a close eye on the footballs on game day Jan. 18 and Anderson losing sight of them for at least eight minutes before the game; the letter the day after the game with false charges from NFL executive David Gardi about the level of pressure in the Patriots’ and Colts’ footballs; never correcting (to this day) false information in the media, which the league knew to be false, about pressure levels in Patriots’ balls; the “independent” Wells investigation, though his report was read by the NFL legal department before it came out; and the huge jump in charges, from Brady being generally aware of malfeasance regarding the Wells Report to him being the ringleader in the letter to Berman.
“Significant reason” to doubt Brady is not enough to throw the book at him. I hope both sides find a reasonable compromise this week, whether it takes Brady off the field for a game or more. But if no compromise is found, the league is at risk again of having a higher legal authority tell Roger Goodell he’s made another disciplinary mistake. And how many more of those can his battered office take?
Regardless of what Berman rules this week—and no one truly knows how it will go—each side could appeal to the United State Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, also in New York. There, a three-judge panel would hear an appeal (an expedited one, most likely, if Brady playing in the opener is at stake) and rule.
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The debut of the trailer for “Concussion”
Seen here on The MMQB for the first time, here's the trailer for “Concussion,” the Sony movie starring Will Smith due out on Christmas Day:
I watched Concussion with several staff members of The MMQB recently. It’s the story, as you can see, of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian-born neuropathologist and veteran of scores of difficult autopsies. Omalu was the first doctor to ferret out the existence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy—the progressive degenerative brain disease found in athletes who have endured a history of head trauma and subsequent damage to the brain. He found it in Pittsburgh while doing the autopsy first of former center Mike Webster, then of other football players. The film follows Omalu (played by Smith, with a quite good accent) as he tries to convince the football establishment that the game is hazardous to the brain. The football establishment, as we learned in League of Denial, has little interest in listening to Omalu. It’s a story of how Omalu leaned what he learned, and the frustration of convincing people who love football that the game is particularly dangerous to the human brain.
The movie was written and directed by Peter Landesman. He and I met in New York to discuss the film.
MMQB: Why did you make this movie?
Landesman: I gravitate towards stories of David versus Goliath, the small man versus the machine. Whether it is Bennet Omalu or Gary Webb, a reporter who discovered the cocaine trafficking with the CIA and was destroyed by the Washington Post and the CIA and others. In my writing career as a journalist, it was little man against the machine so I think I am just hard-wired for that narrative. When I heard about Bennet Omalu, I recognized that the story operated on a number of levels that made it completely unique. As an immigrant coming to America, who discovers a dangerous detail about the most American of things, America’s sacred cow, who then is forced to tell America about itself as a disaffected Nigerian, it was an extraordinary opportunity to explore what it is to be an American. And it was a gorgeous way to understand what it is to be a citizen of this nation. And then there was the sports element. I played football for two years in college, I love the game, I am an athlete, I love sports and I watch football. I went to Brown, the powerhouse. I thought this was another way to un-peel the layers away from the theater of it and the pageantry of it to get to the humanity of it.
MMQB: In seeing all the scenes of Pittsburgh in the film, a city that just loves football as much as any city in America, I thought, “Maybe it took a person not from America to examine this. Maybe no one else would have looked at Mike Webster’s brain.”
Landesman: It’s the dynamic of, ‘Respect the person or respect the truth.’ Bennett has a savant-like relationship to the dead. His obsession is to tell the story of death. As he says in the movie, I think more about the way people die and reasons they die than the way they live. He was completely focused on the science. He didn’t know football, he didn’t know who Mike Webster was; to him, Webster was just another body on a slab. He didn’t have a reverence for the game because he wasn’t brought up in this country. So in some ways, his purity and his innocence was a requirement for him to drill down into this and tell us a very uncomfortable and inconvenient truth.
MMQB: Do you think people should love football? Should there be football?
Landesman: I have no position on whether or not people should play football or whether they should have their kids play football. To me, this is a story about making adult choices. Once you have the information—and the information has been obscured for a long time, it’s been buried and covered up by people who don’t want to damage the sport—the information is now out there, and I hope this movie brings together the information in a way that the general public can metabolize and now make their own decisions. So now that you know that concussions can kill you and playing the sport can kill you, it’s on every parent and it’s on every college player, it’s on every high school player and professional player on whether you are going to let your child play. It’s the same with smoking, drinking and doing drugs. I like to think in some ways that life is an occupational hazard. Something we do in our life is going to kill us; maybe now, maybe 50 years from now. You have to choose what those things are. We love to drink and be merry and be happy, we know it’s not good for us, but we do it. It’s about making adult choices.
MMQB: Are you sure you’re not making this movie to drive people away from football?
Landesman: I was very focused on this story. I don’t feel responsible or connected to the consequences. Storytellers can’t be. Otherwise you get hamstrung by your own conscience. You just have to tell the truth with the most integrity that you can.
MMQB: What was your reaction to Chris Borland’s early retirement? And Borland screened the movie. How was that?
Landesman: I had a feeling of tremendous sobriety. I understood the heaviness of his decision to walk away from the money and the fame and the joy and the camaraderie. But there’s a high school team in Texas that just closed its doors. There are colleges that are considering closing their programs. I did reach out to Chris because I wanted him to know that he’s not alone, and I wanted him to understand his own decision in a way he might not be able to yet. So we brought him down to Los Angeles, and at the end of it, he was literally, physically shaking. Shaken and shaking. I think that he wasn’t able to really understand the physical consequences of his own decision yet.
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The only preseason weekend that matters
I watched 16 first halves over the weekend, to see how 32 teams are faring entering cut-down time. My game-by-game observations:
DENVER 19, SAN FRANCISCO 12
The headline: NaVorro Bowman is playing out of his mind. Last week: three plays in his first action in 19 months, three tackles, two of them for losses. Saturday night: 42 snaps, nine tackles, two sacks. On the first two series of the game, Bowman tormented the Broncos. He forced a fumble on Demaryius Thomas (later overturned) over the middle on the first series. In a five-play sequence on Denver’s next series, Bowman beat Ronnie Hillman for an up-the-middle sack of Peyton Manning, stoned wideout Jordan Norwood after a four-yard gain over the middle, beat Hillman again on the same up-the-middle rush for a second Manning sack, and stopped C.J. Anderson after a short gain up the middle. I don’t know what we expected out of Bowman exactly, but his first two appearances show he looks as good as ever—incredibly, after such a major knee injury 19 months ago.
Notes: The Kubiak offense is struggling. “I’d be crazy to not do what Peyton Manning does well,” coach Gary Kubiak told me in training camp. In other words, Kubiak probably won’t call many sprint-outs for his 39-year-old quarterback. But Manning has to play better. He threw a wobbler that Niners safety Eric Reid deflected on the first series, and missed Thomas in the end zone in the second quarter, getting picked by safety Kenneth Acker … Reid is really an impressive player—around the ball a lot and a ball hawk … the Denver pass rush is going to be great. Not good—great … Colin Kaepernick never had much time, but he didn’t throw it well either … C.J. Anderson is a legit number one back. His 49 hard-earned first-half yards included about 10 to 12 yards he shouldn’t have gotten but instinctively found space.
Stat of the day: The Niners had three first-half first downs. Protection is a definite worry, particularly right tackle Erik Pears.
Injuries: Emmanuel Sanders (hamstring) was the most encouraging news of the night. He didn’t play, but Manning’s second-most important receiver, who has been plagued by a hammy all through camp and hasn’t played, ran routes at full speed before the game and was pronounced ready for the Broncos’ opener in 13 days against Baltimore.
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BUFFALO 36, PITTSBURGH 19
The headline: Need closure on the quarterback competition? Not today. In the first eight Buffalo drives of the game, Bills quarterbacks were 22 of 24 for 284 yards—and, in particular, EJ Manuel pushed himself back into the competition with Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor. Manuel, who started six of six for 166 yards, looked sure of himself and absolutely on target, and looked over his options consistently well. And Tyrod Taylor was maybe more impressive: 12 of 13 for 122 yards.
Notes: Ugly game … The Steelers are really going to miss Martavis Bryant (four-game substance-abuse ban), particularly early in the season, before rookie wideout Sammie Coates has bonded with Ben Roethlisberger. Bryant, a touchdown machine last year, had 63-yard and 36-yard and 39-yard catches early against the Bills … Mike Vick is wearing No. 2. He was No. 7 in Atlanta, No. 7 in Philadelphia and No. 1 with the Jets … The way Vick was firing the ball around Ralph Wilson Stadium (5 of 6, 106 yards), Rex Ryan must have wished he’d signed him in the off-season. Vick is a security blanket for the Steelers—if Ben Roethlisberger ever went down, the season wouldn’t be over. “By the grace of God I was able to find a job,” Vick said post-game … The hip malady sidelining Percy Harvin has to concern Buffalo … Lord, how do Bills fans stand that constant horn that sounds like a semi truck’s airhorn?
Stat of the day: Couldn’t have been a very nice Sunday for new Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Keith Butler, analyzing the tape from the first half especially: 269 Buffalo yards, and 15 of 17 passing by quarterbacks who couldn’t start anywhere else.
Injuries: I asked two Bills coaches in the summer about the surprising player in camp. Both said strong safety Aaron Williams. He walked off limping after looking like he tweaked a knee—or worse. The Bills are incredibly beat up. Their top four receivers and two top backs missed this game with various nicks … The Steelers lost kicker Shaun Suisham in the first preseason game for the season with a knee injury. They may have lost his heir, Garrett Hartley, who came up lame, grabbing his hammy, in the second quarter.
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DETROIT 22, JACKSONVILLE 17
The headline: Blake Bortles looks ready for prime time. You may remember a play I wrote about when I visited Jaguars camp, wideout Tony Washington one-on-one against cornerback Davon House, and Bortles firing the ball before he’s out of his cut toward a skinny post, and Washington turning his head and the ball hitting him perfectly in the chest. Big gain. “That throw reminded me of a throw Aaron [Rodgers] would make,” said House, the former Packer. There was more of that on Friday night in Jacksonville. Bortles drove the Jags 92, 83 and 63 yards to scores against a 2014 playoff team, completing 20 of 29 throws and looking totally in command. His most impressive play, I thought, was a play-action, sprint-out 15-yard dart to tight end Nic Jacobs that encapsulates everything a quarterback with movement skills can do well.
Notes: Rookie free agent Zach Zenner, a 5-11, 223-pound truck, is either going to med school this fall or playing for the Lions. He continued his quest for the latter, with an eight-carry, 85-yard night in Jacksonville … Allen Hurns, who came out of nowhere last year as an undrafted free agent from the University of Miami, continues to appear to be Bortles’ favorite target. Four targets, four receptions in this game … Golden Tate is going to be Matthew Stafford’s best friend if he keeps it up. With Calvin Johnson resting, Tate caught a perfect 62-yard strike from Stafford to open Detroit’s scoring … The Jags want T.J. Yeldon to win a prominent role in the running game, but he’s going to have to be better than he was in this game: eight carries, 10 yards, mostly stonewalls.
Stat of the day: Zenner, an undrafted free agent from South Dakota State, rushed for 2,044, 2,015 and 2,019 yards in his last three college seasons.
Injuries: Jacksonville tight end Clay Harbor rolled his ankle and could miss some time. He’s had a good camp but that’s a position of strength for the Jags—assuming Julius Thomas (fractured hand) plays Week 1, which is how Jacksonville is thinking right now.
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NEW ENGLAND 17, CAROLINA 16.
The headline: No one’s running much on these teams. In the first 25 minutes of the game, with ones versus ones throughout, both teams' running backs combined to rush 19 times for 45 yards, a 2.4-yard average. Chandler Jones, Dominique Easley, Jabaal Sheard and Malcolm Brown filled holes for New England, and Jerod Mayo, back to health, could be the playmaker the middle of the defense needs. “Good team defensive plays,” Bill Belichick said. The key for New England is depth, and versatility with that depth—so many of the defensive linemen who will make the team will be able to play inside and outside. Easley, for instance, the first-round pick from a year ago. For Carolina, tackles Dwan Edwards and Colin Cole played big, and will have to, for Carolina. Both secondaries let receivers loose.
Notes: Garoppolo wasn’t as sharp in Carolina as in the previous two games. He had two interceptions dropped by Panthers. But he threw a lovely 40-yard stutter-and-go down the right side to Aaron Dobson. I was surprised Belichick went all through the first half with Tom Brady, seeing as no one has any idea if he’ll play in 10 days against Pittsburgh … Carolina’s got a major problem with a receiver Ron Rivera really wants to make the team, undrafted Corey Brown. He dropped one sure touchdown, and another ball popped off his chest inside the New England 10-yard line with no one pressuring him. Clearly, Brown’s confidence is shaky. It’s a godsend Carolina re-signed Ted Ginn Jr., in the off-season … Extremely impressive game for Carolina rookie linebacker Shaq Thompson, credited with only two tackles. Terrific sideline-to-sideline speed … Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 53-yard field goal, the winner, off a ground-ball snap—and the kick would have been good from 65 … Not a good night for either starting quarterback. Meh … Reggie Wayne played regularly in the first half and dropped the only pass thrown to him by Tom Brady.
Stat of the day: Garoppolo, who may have to play opening night for New England, has completed 76.3 percent of his throws this preseason, for 554 yards, two touchdowns and two picks, for a rating of 92.4.
Injuries: A potentially significant one for New England. One of the best fullbacks in football, and a Bill Belichick favorite, James Develin, suffered a bad-looking leg injury in the fourth quarter (later reported to be a broken right tibia, leaving him out six to eight weeks). Develin had to be carted off, with trainers placing his leg gingerly on the cart. Belichick doesn’t come on the field and talk to players too often when they’re in agony, but he did it with the self-made Develin.
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PHILADELPHIA 39, GREEN BAY 26
The headline: Sam Bradford has quieted the Philly nut jobs. It’s not just Bradford’s sick numbers from the game at Green Bay—10 of 10, 121 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions—but that he seems so at ease piloting Chip Kelly’s breakneck offense. Three series, three touchdown passes, 18 plays, the final of which was run with 2:15 left in the first quarter. I clocked how fast Bradford ran the offense on the second series. After the first play, a run, he took successive snaps with 24, 22, 23, 24, 14 and 22 seconds left on the play clock. That is precisely how Chip Kelly wants to play, and for Bradford to have picked that up this fast, coming off ACL tears in two straight seasons, is damn impressive.
Notes: Just a guess, but Tim Tebow probably hasn’t done enough to beat out Matt Barkley for the third quarterback job with the Eagles … Aaron Rodgers didn’t play. No surprise, really, given that his front line was missing three starters … It was 25-0 after a quarter. In Green Bay … Not a great decision by Packers third-string quarterback Brett Hundley, who got the start, in throwing a pick-six to Walter Thurmond of the Eagles. His receiver slipped, but the coverage was too good by Thurmond for Hundley to have taken such a risk … Very nice touch on two of Bradford’s three touchdowns, including a rainbow over Packers linebacker Sam Barrington that nestled perfectly in Darren Sproles' arms.
Stat of the day: Bradford played three series—13 minutes in all. If you pro-rated his stats over a 60-minute game, he’d have been 46 of 46 for 558 yards, with 14 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Injuries: Green Bay wide receiver Randall Cobb went out in the first quarter with a sprained right shoulder. The state of Wisconsin was in a cold sweat until late Sunday afternoon, when it was learned there was no structural damage and Cobb may be ready to play in the Sept. 13 season opener at Chicago. Sort of crucial, of course, given that Nelson won’t play until September of 2016.
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MIAMI 13, ATLANTA 9
The headline: Ndamukong Suh is not the only impressive Miami defensive tackle. Earl Mitchell was a monster Saturday night. He’s the unrestricted free agent signed away from line-rich Houston last season. At 6-3 and 310, you might think he’s only fit to play one down next to Suh. But not only did Mitchell stone rookie back Tevin Coleman on the first series against the Falcons; he followed it by pushing center James Stone—no match for Mitchell strengthwise—back into Matt Ryan and sacking Ryan. On another play in the first quarter, Suh terrorized Ryan, and it happened because Mitchell again was able to push Stone into an escape path Ryan would have used. Key thing: Teams are going to overprotect on Suh’s side this fall, and that could leave Mitchell single-blocked by lesser players, as happened with the Falcons.
Notes: With Julio Jones signing a five-year extension Saturday, the Falcons have the best receiver probably in their history, if he continues playing as well as he did in his 104-catch 2014 season) through 2020. Smart signing by the team … Devin Hester showed toughness in his expanded role as a receiver against Miami … Ryan’s going to have a tough time finding his receivers if his line protects as poorly as it did here … Olivier Vernon, the former third-round pick, had two good pocket-disrupting plays for Miami … Lamar Miller’s an underrated back on a team that’s going to use him a lot … If it’s possible to go 15 of 19 and have a “meh” day, Ryan Tannehill did.
Stat of the day: Josh Freeman sighting! He hit four of five for 35 yards in relief for Miami.
Injuries: Left tackle Branden Albert (knee) will likely miss a couple of games in the regular season, which makes the knee-caving that happened to center Mike Pouncey especially worrisome. Pouncey said after the game he wouldn’t miss any time, but an MRI on his knee will tell that tale.
• JOE PHILBIN TALKS FOOTBALL: The Dolphins coach, a one-time prison guard, is known as a buttoned-up disciplinarian. But part of making his team more focused means he’s starting to cut loose. Just look at him gyrate in that white tuxedo
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WASHINGTON 31, BALTIMORE 13
The headline: Kirk Cousins is who he is. A fantastic guy, and a great teammate, and he can fool you in an impressive camp practice. (Fans in Richmond loved the guy.) But on his first pass Saturday night against Baltimore, he threw into a scrum of three people—and I mean a scrum. Tackle Morgan Moses, wideout Pierre Garçon, Baltimore rusher Terrell Suggs. Why he would make that throw, when he couldn’t even see Garçon—I’m serious; find the replay and watch it—is beyond logic. Suggs reached up and grabbed it, picking off an embarrassing attempt. Cousins finished 20 of 27, and he played well. But there’s a reason his trade value has plummeted around the league. I’m not sold by one impressive preseason show.
Notes: Feisty game. Coach versus coach (after a set-to on the field between the players), Steve Smith getting thrown out, and then coach versus TV guy, when John Harbaugh didn’t like the line of questioning by the Ravens’ sideline reporter … Not all that worrisome a day offensively for Baltimore, which started touchdown-field goal-field goal-missed field goal before napping … But Baltimore’s sack-less pass rush needs to awaken … For Washington, some impressive runs by rookie third-round back Matt Jones from Florida. He finished seven for 57, an 8.1-yard average.
Stat of the Day: Linebacker Jackson Jeffcoat has a last name Washington fans who hate Dallas will never love. (Remember Dallas’ Jim Jeffcoat? This is his son.) Jackson Jeffcoat: one sack, one interception, one intense run at a roster spot.
Injuries: The status of Robert Griffin III is … no one knows. He said he felt fine last week, but an independent neurologist held him out of the game. Then ESPN reported the team had decided already to play Cousins in the first game of the regular season, against Miami, which the team denied. Stay tuned this week. Griffin could be groomed to play if he’s cleared. Or he could be traded. Or he could be fired. I understand the sideshow aspect of all this, but I also understand how much Washington traded to get Griffin, and also that he’s 25 years old. Not so fast on lancing this boil.
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NEW YORK JETS 28, NEW YORK GIANTS 18
The headline: Ryan Fitzpatrick looks competent enough to beat the NFL’s huddled masses. The Giants are not good. At least not now, not with Eli Manning struggling for consistency and for time to throw. Fitzpatrick looked in unison with Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall and showed that when he’s not under pressure he can make the throws he needs to make to win. He was just nine of 14 for 127 yards, with two touchdowns and no picks. The Jets are going to be a running team first and second this year, and Zac Stacy and Chris Ivory combined for 98 yards on the ground.
Notes: A superb night for the Jets' offensive line, while so many offensive fronts struggled this weekend. The line kept Fitzpatrick clean (zero sacks) while clearing the way for the runners to gain 4.5 yards per carry ... Why’d the Giants sign Shane Vereen? Perfect example: On a third-and-three in the middle of the second quarter, with the Giants struggling to get anything going on offense, Vereen wheeled out of the backfield to the left, caught a flip from Eli Manning and slithered for 19 … Henry Hynoski, classic fullback, waylaid a very good linebacker, David Harris, on the Giants’ first-half touchdown run ... Darrelle Revis-Odell Beckham Jr. was fun to watch for 20 or so snaps. It’ll be more fun when they meet for real on Dec. 6.
Stat of the day: Fresno State free-agent punter Robert Malone (two punts, 59.5-yard average) has a shot of beating out 32-year-old incumbent Steve Weatherford.
Injuries: The lingering calf issue that has prevented Victor Cruz from playing in preseason games isn’t going away. Asked Sunday if Cruz will practice this week, coach Tom Coughlin said, “Not as far as I know.”
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ARIZONA 30, OAKLAND 23
The headline: Watch your back, Carson Palmer. And your front. Palmer (eight of 22 for 103 yards, with three sacks and two picks) was under duress all through the first half. Bruce Arians had to be having second thoughts about playing him for two full quarters after seeing the harassment Palmer was taking, though even Palmer said last week, “Part of coming back [from his ACL tear] is getting hit again, and feeling it, and recovering from it during the week.” All well and good. But the Cards are 13-2 in Palmer’s last 15 starts, and not nearly as good when he’s missing, so the one thing Arians knows is he’s got to find a way to keep him upright. Palmer’s drives traveled 11, 5, 44, 0, 45, minus-5, minus-4, zero and 19 yards Sunday night.
• CARSON, THE CARDS AND AN OFFENSE ON ‘EMPTY’: How Bruce Arians’ system thrives on spread concepts and big plays, and why the return of a healthy Carson Palmer makes them one of the league’s most dangerous offenses again.
Notes: Derek Carr had a so-so day and lost right tackle Menelik Watson for the season with a torn Achilles. Big loss. Watson was a cornerstone lineman for the Del Rios … Strange to see an NFL head coach in a team-logoed T-shirt for coaching attire during a game. But Jack Del Rio wore the black T with the silver Raider shield, and he wore it well … Good call by Cris Collinsworth on the NBC telecast, pointing out that the Cards had a five-safety alignment in the game on one pass-coverage snap. That’s the kind of alignment 2014 defensive coordinator Todd Bowles often used because he didn’t have enough good inside linebackers, bringing one or two safeties down as box linebackers. Same thing Sunday night under new defensive coordinator James Bettcher … Raiders quarterbacks threw 54 pass attempts to 16 different receivers. That’s a lot … Khalil Mack is one scary penetrator. And Malcolm Smith, the former Super Bowl MVP, had a good first half in coverage and holding the point of attack on running plays.
Stat of the day: In three games, here's the preseason rushing line for Oakland running back Trent Richardson: 15 carries, 42 yards, 2.8-yard average. Sound familiar, Browns/Colts fans?
Injuries: Arizona running back Chris Johnson (hamstring) missed his second straight game since signing, and Arians hopes he’ll be ready to be a change-of-pace reliever for the running game by the opener Sept. 13 against New Orleans.
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INDIANAPOLIS 24, ST. LOUIS 14
The headline: A good day for Andrew Luck—and you won’t see it reflected in his numbers. Nick Foles was 10 of 11 at St. Louis, better-looking than Luck’s 12 of 21. And Luck fumbled on the first snap of the second half, leading to a Rams' score. But Luck wasn’t sacked, and by my count, he was pressured significantly only three times in his two quarters and a play. Now, that doesn’t mean the line—which has been a question mark almost from the day Luck was drafted—is in great shape; Indy ran for just 2.0 yards per attempt. But keeping the franchise clean is where it starts and ends for that group.
Notes: The Rams will have to bring far more pressure with the first unit on defense to justify all the off-season medals they’ve been awarded … Rookie Henry Anderson from Stanford was all over NFL draft boards last spring, and the Colts finally got the versatile defensive lineman with the 93rd pick. He can play inside at tackle and rush a little from the edge too, and showed both skills here … Adam Vinatieri, 42, will be kicking field goals when he’s 72. He booted a 55-yarder … Jeff Fisher is ticked off at the Rams’ 29 penalties in three preseason games. As well he should be.
Stat of the day: Since opening day of last regular season, Vinatieri has made 35 of 36 field-goal tries.
Injuries: With first-round pick Todd Gurley not expected to be ready to start the season because he’s still rehabbing his wounded knee, Tre Mason was being counted on to carry the load for the first couple of weeks, at least. Not so fast. He strained a hammy against the Colts. Questionable for the opener against Seattle … Colts defensive lineman Arthur Jones missed seven games due to injury in his first year with the Colts in 2014. He left the Ed Jones Dome in a walking boot Saturday, and he could have a high ankle sprain. If so, cross off September for him.
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HOUSTON 27, NEW ORLEANS 13
The headline: He who is first shall be first. Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson, the Texans’ first-round pick, had the kind of day mature players should. Playing gunner on the punt team in the second quarter, Johnson downed a Houston punt at the New Orleans’ 2-yard line. Not all first-round picks would be fired up about covering punts, but Johnson seemed to be. At the end of that drive, New Orleans had the ball at the Houston two on fourth down and went for it. Luke McCown threw for Josh Morgan in the end zone, and Johnson, lunging, knocked it away. One long series, two great plays.
Notes: The star of Cleveland’s camp last year, wideout Willie Snead from Ball State, is making a strong bid to stick with the Saints. He had four more catches for 56 yards and drew a pass-interference flag … Rookie linebackers Stephone Anthony from Clemson and Hau’oli Kikaha from Washington—6-3, 245-pound bookends—both play confident and fast. Anthony sheds blocks exceedingly well … Brian Hoyer, now that the quarterback competition is over, can settle down and just play. He had a good deep connection for 29 yards with DeAndre Hopkins … I wonder if the Texans will listen to offers for “Hard Knocks” co-star Chris Polk, the pugnacious running back. He was only 11 for 22 against the Saints.
Stat of the day: Drew Brees has thrown 16 passes this preseason. I don’t expect him to throw a 17th.
Injuries: Houston left tackle Duane Brown (left hand injury) didn’t play, but the Texans believe he’ll be ready to start the season against the Chiefs in 13 days.
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CLEVELAND 31, TAMPA BAY 7
The headline: The Ray Rice Watch is officially on in Cleveland. The fit’s a good one. Rice is desperate for one more NFL chance. His former position coach in Baltimore, Wilbert Montgomery, is the Browns’ running backs coach and a mentor to Rice. You can be pretty darn sure Rice wouldn’t screw up this opportunity. If I’m Cleveland I’m taking the week’s worth of bad publicity and bringing in a player who will show a strangely entitled back, Terrance West, what football hunger is like. The talk surfaced again over the weekend, after draftee Duke Johnson was lost with a concussion in the game at Tampa. “If we do come to the decision that we need to add a back,” coach Mike Pettine said cryptically, “we’ll look at the list of backs that are available.” Rice, I’m told, is high on that list.
Notes: Cleveland’s Terrelle Pryor and his achy hamstring sat again. He probably needs to play Thursday against the Bears to have a chance to make the team as a wideout … Tough night for Jameis Winston and his young offensive line. Winston was six of 15 with four sacks and one interception. He struggled picking up blitzes, but anyone would have with all the leaks in the Bucs line … Josh McCown, booed out of Tampa after a bad 2014, had to feel good about his 80-yard and 78-yard touchdown drives.
Stat of the day: Jameis Winston: 48.9 percent completions, no touchdowns, two picks in three games. Work very much in progress.
Injuries: Johnny Manziel (elbow) is likely to sit out the preseason finale, and his status for the early season is unknown. But McCown’s play has made it easy for the Browns not to rush Johnny Football.
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KANSAS CITY 34, TENNESSEE 10
The headline: Hey, the Chiefs might be able to throw it deep. Alex Smith is always going to be efficient, and so it was no surprise that his final passing line was 16 of 18. But it wasn’t 16 of 18 for 112 yards, a chain-moving exercise and with no explosion. He had 171 yards passing, with completions of 34 and 29 yards … and wasn’t sacked. He and $11-million-a-year free-agent Jeremy Maclin are trying to get more explosive plays into the passing game—that wouldn’t be hard, considering the Chiefs had zero TD passes to wideouts last year—and Smith completed seven of eight targeted throws to Maclin on Friday night. A designed rollout to the left and throw across his body to Maclin resulted in a 29-yard touchdown four minutes into the game.
Notes: Amazing to see the highest-paid guard in the game just two years ago, Andy Levitre, being phased out by Tennessee. Byron Bell moved from right tackle to left guard to replace Levitre, while rookie third-rounder Jeremiah Poutasi moved outside to right tackle and played mostly well against the Chiefs’ excellent edge rush … Quarterback Aaron Murray played some with the ones, but Andy Reid said the Georgia kid’s still number three behind Chase Daniel … Marcus Mariota has four scoring drives in 10 possessions so far.
Stat of the day: Alex Smith’s 6.4-yards-per-attempt would still be abysmal if this were the regular season. Only Oakland and Jacksonville were worse in the regular season last year.
Injuries: Tennessee cornerback Jason McCourty (groin surgery) is still iffy for the opener at Tampa Bay. The Titans have Andrew Luck in Week 3 but no other star quarterbacks until mid-October, so the schedule will be forgiving if McCourty isn’t ready in 13 days.
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MINNESOTA 28, DALLAS 14
The headline: Scrap those Cordarrelle Patterson-is-expendable stories. After Tony Romo threw a touchdown pass early in the second quarter, the Cowboys kicked off, seemingly for a touchback. But Patterson caught it seven yards deep in the end zone and took it out. Amazing thing was, the return didn’t look all that hard. I mean, he ran it back 107 yards for a touchdown, and it was a fairly ho-hum return. That just shows the precocious athleticism of a player the Vikings were disappointed in last season: Patterson had just one touchdown, only 11.6 yards per reception and no long kick returns. That changed in an instant in the House That Jerry Built on Saturday night.
Notes: Don’t imagine defensive boss Rod Marinelli would have been a very happy breaking down the tape from this game. The Vikings completed 24 of 27 passes, with just one pick and two sacks … Mike Zimmer, correctly, was excited about Teddy Bridgewater’s seven-of-seven night, and not just because of the numbers. You can see Bridgewater processing his progressions with patience … Encouraging night for Darren McFadden (four rushes, 37 yards), who will be part of the Cowboys’ running-back-by-committee approach … Dallas’ backups struggled mightily. One first down in the second half.
Stat of the day: In three games, Bridgewater’s been sacked once and completed 83 percent of his throws. Imagine when Adrian Peterson starts playing two weeks from tonight.
Injuries: Dallas is still reeling after the loss of Orlando Scandrick, its best defensive back, for the season with a torn ACL. Tyler Patmon or Corey White is likely to replace one of the best three slot corners in the league.
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CINCINNATI 21, CHICAGO 10
The headline: A.J. McCarron raises a couple of eyebrows with his play. After Andy Dalton (sore neck) left the game following one series, McCarron, the former Alabama quarterback drafted in the fifth round last year, got his chance to play with the ones, against the ones. He completed his first seven passes and had 66-yard and 54-yard touchdown drives in the first half. “We brought him here for a reason,” said coach Marvin Lewis. That reason, in time, will be to be the most popular man in Cincinnati—if Dalton doesn’t play markedly better late in the season and in the playoffs. You know what they say about backup quarterbacks and popularity.
Notes: The Bears got blown out when it was ones against ones. It was 21-3 at the half, and that’s with McCarron, not Dalton, playing the majority of the half … Shea McClellin, transitioning to the center of the defense at linebacker, had six first-half tackles. He’s not the strongest guy and gets pushed around, but he was in the right place throughout the first half … Two sacks for Lamarr Houston, trying to be the edge rusher the Bears need.
Stat of the day: In three preseason games, the Bears have one touchdown pass—and it’s not by Jay Cutler. It’s Jimmy Clausen’s.
Injuries: Chicago defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, the 39th overall pick in the draft, left with a concussion. He was due to be the starter at nose tackle while Jeremiah Ratliff served a three-game suspension in September. Now Goldman enters the concussion protocol, and it’s unknown when he’ll be healthy enough to play.
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SEATTLE 16, SAN DIEGO 15
The headline: Repeat after me, Seahawkers: Preseason doesn’t count … Preseason doesn’t count. Russell Wilson has led 12 offensive drives in three practice games. Zero touchdowns. Good for Pete Carroll for admitting Saturday night: “We’re all a little frustrated with it.” Six catches, 75 yards for Jimmy Graham—that could be better. But I’ll make this point in defense of the Seahawks for now: They’ve faced three of the best pass-rush teams in football (Denver, K.C., San Diego) so far. You have to remember that over the last 11 seasons, heading into this one, New England has the best record in football in the regular season and was only 20-24 in the preseason. It just doesn’t matter … but I’m sure Carroll won’t feel great about going to a place where the team never plays well, St. Louis, on opening day, if the first-unit offense hasn’t scored a touchdown all summer.
Notes: Melvin Gordon got stonewalled, mostly: 14 carries, 34 yards. He showed a couple of bursts and almost broke one run for a decent gain, but the Seattle front-seven speed contained him … Second-round Seattle defensive end Frank Clark, the controversial pick after being kicked off his Michigan team under a cloud of domestic violence, ticked off the Chargers with what two of their linemen said was extra physicality against Philip Rivers at the bottom of a pile in the first half of the game … Tyler Lockett looks like the receiving threat/return man Seattle thought it dealt for two years ago in Percy Harvin. His 67-yard punt return was Seattle’s only touchdown.
Stat of the day: A 60-yard field goal by Steven Hauschka of the Seahawks won the game. He’d never made a 60-yarder in his career.
Injuries: Philip Rivers suffered a right hand injury that didn’t appear serious—but that’s his throwing hand, of course, so anything that happens there bears watching … Seattle linebacker K.J. Wright left with a shoulder injury. Neither man is likely to miss the opener.
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An important story … about gloves
Kudos to Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times for his story on how the gloves worn by quarterbacks and wide receivers are affecting the game. From Hall of Fame receiver Tim Brown saying Odell Beckham Jr., couldn’t have made his miracle catch last year without the tackified gloves, to NFL Competition Committee chairman Rich McKay saying it’s time to look at the gloves’ effect on the game, expect this to become a topic next spring at the annual NFL meetings. Think of Peyton Manning, who never was a glove man until his neck surgeries, telling me he has no feeling in the fingertips of his throwing hand; clearly, wearing gloves in inclement weather is really important to his performance. As Cris Collinsworth told Farmer: “I think if they took the gloves completely away from the guys, including the quarterbacks at this point, it would have a major impact on what the game looked like on the field. And not for the better.” Really good story on a topic the league should examine.
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The Voice of the Fan
In July, looking for candidates for the fan network that The MMQB is launching this season, I asked readers to send in a short essay on why you love the team you do. We were overwhelmed by the number of responses—and by the nature of the submissions. Your stories were poignant, powerful, pained and funny. We heard from fans all over the country and all over the world, men and women of all ages, who told us about their passion for the team they grew up with, or adopted, or came to love in some crazy way. Because of the quantity and quality of responses, we’ve rethought our approach to the project.
Originally we planned to select a single representative for each of the 32 NFL teams. Having read through hundreds of submissions—and still counting!—we realized that approach would close off opportunities to too many talented fans with great stories to tell.
The new plan: We’re organizing the submissions we’ve received and grouping them by team allegiances. As we plan stories throughout the 2015 season and beyond, we’ll draw from that pool based on our contributors’ backgrounds.
We might ask a single contributor to write a story on a particular topic; we might call on a group of fans of one team to participate in a roundtable, or fans of various teams to debate league issues. Contributors might be asked to share photos or videos from their NFL experiences. We might pit two fans of rival teams in a debate before a big game. And at certain points in the season we might call for more submissions based on a story we’re considering. The opportunities are endless, and we want to draw upon the knowledge and passion of as wide a range of fans as possible.
We will debut the fan network, under the Voice of the Fan column, the week of the season-opener—beginning by sharing a sampling from the essays we received for each team based on our original request. Each week we’ll build upon that foundation to cover the NFL in a way that no else is doing: through your eyes.
This project has taken us some time to work through, and we thank you for your patience. We're a small staff and training-camp duties pulled us in many different directions. But everyone who wrote to us will get a response, via email, about the new goals for the fan network. Whether we end up using you during the season or not, we are overwhelmingly appreciative of your interest in this project. It shows how much you love football and we’re so lucky to have you as readers of The MMQB.
You can always reach us at email@example.com—and if you have a great fan story, feel free send it our way. Thanks for being a part of our future.
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Quotes of the Week
“I have nothing to say about that.”
—Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, after he had a fierce-looking exchange with Washington coach Jay Gruden as halftime of their game Saturday
“Your job leads you to attempt to kill yourself on multiple occasions. Your self-perceived social inadequacy dominates your every waking moment and thought.”
—Miami bullying scandal victim Jonathan Martin, the former Dolphins and 49ers tackle, now retired, admitting (seemingly) that he tried to kill himself because of issues relating to his job as a football player.
“He went to a doctor because he felt like he had ADD. He didn’t think his brain was functioning properly. Our daughter played basketball and volleyball every Tuesday. That was her day—every Tuesday. But Reggie would always forget. And it was like he’d ask me a question, then ask the same question again two hours later. Our son only played flag football, and that was a relief to Reggie. Reggie would have headaches all the time. All. The. Time. He took a lot of Tylenol, but he was aware the game wasn’t great for your health. He didn’t want his son to go through that.”
—Sara White, widow of the late and great Reggie White, to Jeff Pearlman. Sara White seems now to regret not allowing Reggie White’s brain to be examined for CTE after his death.
“Mathis was the second-ranked NFL offensive guard in 2014 according to ProFootballFocus.com after posting the top grade among his position group from 2011-13.”
—Press release from the Denver Broncos on the signing of guard Evan Mathis.
I believe this is the first press release—at least the first one I’ve seen—that uses Pro Football Focus metrics as a reason why a player was signed by that team.
I use this occasion to announce that The MMQB will have a regular Wednesday analytics/advance-stats column on the site from Week 1 (Sept. 9) to the week after the Super Bowl (Feb. 10, 2016) by Pro Football Focus founder and president of football operations Neil Hornsby. We’re excited about it, and look forward to sharing his consistently strong and important knowledge with you this season.
“Leave Tom Brady alone! He is a champion and a winner. Leave him alone.”
—Donald Trump, a fund-raiser in Norwood, Mass., Friday night, according to the Boston Globe.
Stats of the Week
If this is the end of Robert Griffin III in Washington—and by no means am I advocating that a man lose his job because of a concussion and its related effects—let the record show this most damning statistic contributed to it:
In Griffin’s last 54 offensive possessions, stretching over seven Washington games (including two this preseason), he has thrown two touchdown passes.
Including regular- and post-season games, Bill Belichick has 233 wins in 20 seasons as a head coach. That is 11.65 wins per season, on average. He needs 115 wins to pass Don Shula for the winningest coach ever. That means he’d have to coach 10 more years, and win games at that dizzying pace, to pass Shula. Or, obviously, coach longer. Now, there’s never been any indication by Belichick that he cares about the all-time coaching list. But he is a fervent student of football, so who knows? Maybe in his Nantucket Julys, he thinks about such things.
The top four NFL coaches in wins, in history:
• Don Shula (33 years as coach in Baltimore, Miami): 347-173-6, .666
• George Halas (40 years as coach in Chicago): 324-151-31, .682
• Tom Landry (29 years as coach in Dallas): 270-178-6, .603
• Bill Belichick (20 years as coach in Cleveland, New England): 233-118-0, .664
Halas coached the Bears starting in the 1920s, and the schedule was inconsistent. The Bears played 11 games in 1924 and 17 in ’25. So it’s hard to compare coaching wins per season with teams from the early years, particular because a playoff team now could play four post-season games, and teams in the ’20s didn’t play playoff games.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
This is low-hanging fruit, and I do not mean to bum out fans of the Browns this morning. But it is stunning how little the Browns got out of a trade that should have set up the franchise with a treasure trove of talent four years ago.
In April 2011—two coaches and two general managers ago—the Browns traded the sixth pick in the draft to Atlanta for two first-round picks, a second-round pick and two fourth-round picks. Atlanta picked wide receiver Julio Jones, who caught 104 passes for 1,593 yards last year, and earned a five-year, $72-million contract extension Saturday with the Falcons.
From the five picks in that trade, there is one player left on the Browns: backup defensive tackle Phil Taylor (who played 11 snaps as a backup Saturday night in Tampa). Cleveland drafted Danny Shelton in the first round this year, and Shelton has made Taylor, riddled by injury and unimpactful as a Brown, obsolete. Already gone:
• Quarterback Brandon Weeden (first round, 2012), who lasted two seasons. He was 5-15 as a starter, and now backs up Tony Romo in Dallas.
• Wide receiver Greg Little (second round, 2011), released in May 2014 after being a marginal starter and catching 155 balls in three seasons.
• Fullback Owen Marecic (fourth round, 2011), released in 2013. He had four carries in two seasons for the Browns.
The 2012 fourth-round pick was used in a package of three picks in 2012 to move up one spot in the first round so the Browns could take running back Trent Richardson with the third overall pick in 2012. Richardson lasted 17 starless games in Cleveland before being traded to Indianapolis, and now is fighting for a roster spot in Oakland.
But there is a Paul Harvey rest-of-the-story here.
In order to draft Taylor, the Browns had to move up from 27 to 21 in the first round of the 2011 draft. GM Tom Heckert traded the 27th and 70th picks to Kansas City for the 21st overall pick.
With the 70th pick in the 2011 draft, Chiefs GM Scott Pioli chose Georgia linebacker Justin Houston.
Houston led the NFL with 22 sacks last year.
Heckert begat Mike Lombardi/Joe Banner, who begat Ray Farmer. Coach Pat Shurmur begat Rob Chudzinski, who begat Mike Pettine.
And the beat goes on.
Vin Scully announced Friday he will return in 2016 for his 67th season as a baseball announcer for the Dodgers.
Jon Miller, like Scully a winner of the Ford C. Frick Award for major contributions to baseball as a broadcaster and included in the Baseball Hall of Fame, is 63 years old. Pretty famous baseball broadcaster, a longtime prime-time ESPN play-by-play man and now a fixture with the San Francisco Giants.
Vin Scully was at the end of his second season as a Dodgers’ voice when Miller was born. Miller was born eight days after the Shot Heard ’Round The World, Bobby Thomson’s home run off the Dodgers’ Ralph Branca to win the National League pennant on Oct. 3, 1951.
Scully’s been doing games longer than legends have been alive.
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To personify the impact of Scully's career, I asked The MMQB editor Dom Bonvissuto, a Long Beach, Calif., resident and long-time Dodgers fan, to share his thoughts on the 2016 return announcement.
Two years ago, my wife, then 3-year-old son and I sweated it out in the September sun at a Dodgers Fan Appreciation game. They gave away prizes every inning and most people had their fingers crossed for autographed jerseys or season tickets. And while we certainly wouldn’t have turned either of those down, we had our eyes on the best prize of all: the chance to have Vin Scully leave our outgoing voicemail message.
That voice. It’s the soundtrack to our lives.
When all the Time Warner stuff happened at the beginning of the 2014 season, we didn’t just lose the chance to flip on the TV and see the Boys in Blue do their thing; we missed out on all those fantastic Vin-isms that make the game an experience.
RT @dombonvissuto: Pads-Dodgers returns from commercial to shot of full moon over Petco. Vin Scully: "Can you believe we put a man on it?"— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) April 7, 2012
Now that we’ve figured out a (relatively legal) work-around, Scully’s voice is back—and as much a part of our household as unfolded laundry. He tells us stories while we eat dinner, picnic-style, in our living room. When the late games keep us up past bedtime, we brush our teeth during the commercial break. My son’s bobblehead collection, three dozen strong and pushing the limits of his Ikea bookcase, will crowd in a little tighter to make room for the man and his mic—Vin Scully Bobblehead Night is Sept. 23.
Here in Los Angeles County, they’ve taken away Los Doyers, but Scully’s return means all is not lost. My dad turns 67 in 2016, which means three generations of Bonvissutos have been born while Scully’s been calling the Dodgers. That’s not just a career; that’s a legacy.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
One more reason why living in Manhattan, and exercising there occasionally, is so good.
On Saturday morning about 7:50, I entered Central Park to run the perimeter, which I do many weekends. I usually do a circuit of the park, and on this day, about three-quarters of a mile up, on the east side of the park, was a huge crowd preparing for the 8K France Run, honoring the culture of France. (Often, countries and consulates and overseas businesses sponsor runs in the park.) So as the runners prepared to start, a voice on the loud speaker welcomed the runners to Central Park and asked them before starting to run to please honor France and stand at attention for the singing by a French choir of La Marsellaise, the French national anthem. So hundreds of registered runners stopped their stretching and squatting and stood while a lovely, deep-throated rendition of the French anthem boomed throughout the east side of the park.
Now that was really cool.
One other note to depress you weekend runners (and me too): As I passed the marker for mile one on the road through Central Park, the first group of runners was just passing. The electronic time read “4:42.” And six or eight guys to my left sprinted past, not even breathing hard.
Tweets of the Week
The details of Griffin's departure are all that remain. For RG3 to have any hope of reviving his career, he must accept that he must change.— Jason Reid (@JReidESPN) August 29, 2015
#Bills captains today: QB Matt Cassel QB Tyrod Taylor QB EJ Manuel QB Matt Simms— Buffalo Bills PR (@BuffaloBillsPR) August 29, 2015
I mean, I give up trying to figure Rex Ryan.
It amazes me how "Fantasy Football" is the only football that some of you know. It's sad. News flash for ... http://t.co/wy4iPccZg9— Jeremy Maclin (@jmac___19) August 29, 2015
Who vomited in your Cheerios this morning, Mr. Maclin?
Fan mail! pic.twitter.com/UozL9dKSMP— Steve Politi (@StevePoliti) August 28, 2015
Don Orsillo no longer broadcasting Red Sox games? Say it ain't so, NESN!— Stephen King (@StephenKing) August 26, 2015
The regional cable network dismissed Orsillo, the longtime and well-liked play-by-play man last week, offering no explanation why. I was the 45,109th person to sign a change.org petition to keep Orsillo at NESN on Saturday.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think it’s always a highlight of the summer when the Football Outsiders Almanac lands in the mail, or the inbox, with previews on every team, and much more. You’re always a smarter football fan (or media member) when you read the annual Aaron Schatz-edited tome. Some highlights to educate you:
a. When you think of a Rex Ryan defense, you perhaps think of a ravenous takeaway machine. Well, the Jets defense last year only ended 5.6 percent of opposing drives with a takeaway, the lowest rate of any team since at least 1997.
b. Pittsburgh is the first team since 1940 to intercept fewer than 12 passes in four consecutive seasons. Football Outsiders ratings go back to 1989, and Pittsburgh had never ranked lower than 15th on defense from 1989 to 2012 but then ranked 19th in 2013 and 30th in 2014.
c. The Giants have an injury problem. For two straight years, the Giants have finished last in FO’s adjusted games lost metric, which measures appearances on the injury report by starters and important situational players. The Giants lost the equivalent of 137.5 starter-games to injuries in 2014 after losing 141.3 starter-games the previous season. Looks like it’s happening again this preseason too, with an injury-ravaged secondary.
d. The average NFL quarterback throws his average third-down pass 1.4 yards past the sticks. Since 2011, Alex Smith has thrown his average third-down pass 1.7 yards SHORT of the sticks. He's the only quarterback with at least 300 attempts on third downs since 2011 whose average throw is short of the sticks. Aaron Rodgers led the NFL with an average third-down throw 4.0 yards past the sticks in 2014.
e. Want to affect Peyton Manning? Blitz him from the secondary. Manning struggled against defensive-back blitzes even though Denver opponents almost never used this strategy. Manning faced DB blitzes on just 6.8 percent of passes—only Matthew Stafford faced them less often—but had just 5.7 yards per pass on these plays.
f. The Colts led the league with 34 dropped passes by receivers.
g. Seattle had 70 offensive penalties, tied for second in the NFL. It was the fourth straight year the Seahawks ranked first or second in offensive penalties. Seattle also had the fewest penalties called against its opponents—by a huge margin. Seattle opponents were flagged only 85 times.
h. San Diego used play-action on just 8.0 percent of plays, the lowest figure of any team in FO’s game-charting data since the 2008 Arizona Cardinals. Yet when they did use play-action, the Chargers had a league-high 9.6 yards per pass.
2. I think the greatest football event of the emotional Katrina anniversary weekend in New Orleans, next to the Saints practice at Tulane in the heart of the city Friday night, was what happened after practice. Drew Brees signed autographs and took selfies with fans—every fan who wanted one got an autograph, one observer said—from 8:40 until the lights in the stadium went out at 10:10 p.m.; then, with the team gone, Brees chose to take his shoulder pads and helmet and walk down St. Charles Avenue, two miles to his home near Audubon Park. While on the way, he phoned up his Jimmy John’s sandwich shop—he owns one in New Orleans—and ordered a number 9. (That’s right: The Italian Night Club sandwich, his favorite, is his jersey number.) And a delivery person biked up and gave it to him on his walk home. After a few fans began the walk with him, Brees, in his practice pants and carrying his jersey and shoulder pads and helmet, walked through his adopted city, mostly alone, home. I mean, who does that? Brees loves that town, and he deserves a ton of credit for everything he’s done that no one sees.
3. I think if I were Jay Gruden, I’d be starting Colt McCoy, not Kirk Cousins, right now.
4. I think I’m a Bill O’Brien believer, at least in how he handles the team, after watching “Hard Knocks” the other night. Last week was the first chance I’ve gotten to see the series this summer—this just in: J.J. Watt’s intense—and the last bit of the show was O’Brien telling his quarterback room (Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, Tom Savage) who’d won the quarterback competition between Hoyer and Mallett. This was 100 seconds of decision-making and good communication, not overly dramatic but decisive, telling each player exactly where he stands. I liked it. Here it was: "I think basically they pay me to make decisions in the name of consistency with the team and trying to get this team into a rhythm, especially offensively. I think it's time to name a starter. I don't expect everybody to agree with every decision I make, but I do expect that we act like pros and we are good in the locker room and we go out there and try to keep the best interest of the team in mind, at all times. I'm going to name Brian the starter, Ryan, okay? And really, it comes down to consistency. It's just consistency over time, from OTAs through training camp, consistency in the meeting room, consistency on the field, consistency all the way around the organization. It's really not that big of a difference. I will say that in front of you. It's really not. You've got to earn it every day. When it comes to leadership and things like that, it's important for the quarterback to be a leader, there is no doubt about that. But you've got to earn it on the field, you've got to win games for the Houston Texans before you become the leader of the team. What I would expect from you, Ryan, is to be a professional about it, to prepare like a starter and be f---ing ready to play. If things aren't going very well, look, we're not on a short leash here, but we're not going to sit there and let it go, like, eight games not being very good. You need to be ready to go. Not trying to put heat on you [Brian], but you've got to get after it every day. We are going with Brian right now because he has been the most consistent. If there is anything else you guys want to talk about, you can come see me anytime. All right? All right.” Then O’Brien got up and walked out the door of the quarterback room.
5. I think, by the way, that was brilliant cinematography to close the show in a very “Sopranos” kind of way. O’Brien walks from the room, closes the door, then is shown walking down a hallway in the Texans offices, clearing his throat, walking, walking, opening another door, walking, having the door close … and fade to black. End of show. Very, very cool. Kudos to director Matt Dissinger for keeping a camera at the end of the hallway and keeping it running throughout the day, and to cameraman Dave Malek for capturing O’Brien, and to show producers Garrett Fittizzi and Paul Camarata for having the guts and the sense to take such a vanilla 40 seconds or so and end the show on a man walking down a hallway and opening a door. I know nothing about putting a TV show together; I truly don’t. But in not putting music over the scene, in not hurrying it, in putting this back to back after the scenes from his house of the 13th birthday of O’Brien’s severely handicapped son … was simply a perfect end to the show. It illustrated the personal and professional and thoughtful life an NFL head coach experiences. Whatever you think of the “Hard Knocks” franchise, the end this episode is one of the best things I’ve ever seen from the series. Oh, and also...
a. ... Here's a spoiler for this week's episode: Cornerback Charles James—who has been doubling as a Texans running back in camp—plays Odell Beckham Jr., in “Madden ’15.” That's cover man Odell Beckham Jr.
6. I think if you read this column last week, you read a pensive John Elway feeling bad about cutting Peyton Manning’s base salary from $19 million to $15 million this year, and putting the $4 million into incentives, and then Elway saying he hoped Manning understood that he was going to use the money to make the team as solid a Super Bowl contender as possible. So … the Broncos signed a Pro Bowl guard, Evan Mathis, for $2.5 million this year, with an extra $1.5 in incentives. So if Mathis plays 16 games and plays at least 85 percent of the snaps—and if both happen, the Broncos will certainly be getting their $4 million worth—Mathis will be playing for exactly the money Manning gave up. My gut feeling is Manning is still stung by taking a pay cut he did not deserve. But at least he knows the money went to some good use.
7. I think no matter the emotion in Philadelphia—still—I see no violation by Terrell Suggs in the hit on Sam Bradford nine days ago. “Until it’s clear that the quarterback doesn’t have the football, or he clearly re-establishes himself in a passing posture, he doesn’t get the special roughing-the-passer protection,” NFL officiating VP Dean Blandino said in his officiating tape to the media Friday. There’s no way, after looking at the tape, that Suggs' hit was out of line.
8. I think the Eagles should get used to traveling, as they did over the weekend to northeast Wisconsin. The Eagles are in the midst of five road games in six weeks, in the midst of playing at Lincoln Financial Field one time in 49 days. The Pope is at fault, in part. The sked:
Aug. 29: at Green Bay.
Sept. 3: at New York Jets.
Sept. 14: at Atlanta.
Sept. 20: DALLAS.
Sept. 27: at New York Jets. (Chip at the Green Men twice in 25 days.)
Oct. 4: at Washington.
You may remember this issue from my NFL schedule story in the spring. The Eagles don’t play at home when the Phillies are playing across the street, so that eliminated Weeks 1 and 4 of the NFL season. And the Archdiocese of Philadelphia requested the Eagles not be at home in Week 3 either. On that Sunday, Sept. 27, from 4 to 6:30 p.m. outside the Philadelphia Art Museum, some 2 million are expected to participate in a mass celebrated by Pope Francis. “The Pope did influence the NFL schedule,” NFL senior vice president of broadcasting Howard Katz told me back in April, on the night of the schedule release. It was clear the NFL, which didn’t have to accede to the archdiocese’s request, also didn’t want to risk—with traffic or spiritually—playing downtown from the Pope. As Katz said: “My name may be Katz, but I wasn’t taking any chances.” I just thought of this: The Eagles play the Jets at 1 p.m. on the 27th. Team buses will leave the Meadowlands about 5:15 p.m. (best guess) for the 85-minute drive (normally) back to Philadelphia. Imagine driving into the teeth of 2 million people leaving the city when you’re arriving. That’ll be a fun evening for the KYW traffic reporters.
9. I think, for those of you who haven’t heard and will wonder when the season opens and sees all the yards lines in white (as usual) with the 50-yard line in gold … The league will have the 50 in gold this year as a reminder that it's Super Bowl 50 this year. And not “Super Bowl L,” as in the Roman numeral for “50,” because “L” connotes, you know, “Not A Winner.”
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. I’m not advocating taking away anyone’s guns. But in the wake of the point-blank murders on live TV in Roanoke this week, and the unprovoked and outrageous slaughter of a Harris County sheriff’s deputy while fueling his car Saturday (the 23rd killing by gun of a law-enforcement officer in the United States this year), it is inexcusable in this country if we do not have a national discussion on gun violence. I don’t know what the answer is. I do know we’re being irresponsible if we simply roll over, throw up our hands and say there’s nothing we can do about it.
b. Act, people. Act!
c. Looking more and more like a Toronto-Kansas City ALCS. That’ll be fun. Two fan bases that will go bonkers for seven games (I hope).
d. Saw a movie the other day—“Grandma,” with Lily Tomlin. A good story, though a tad far-fetched, about a grandmother helping out a desperate granddaughter. Best part was Tomlin’s work. She’s worth the price of admission.
e. Beernerdness: Tried the Alaskan Big Mountain Pale Ale (Alaskan Brewing Company, Juneau, Alaska), and it was the kind of bold and malty beer Alaskan does so well and so consistently. One of the sad things about living so far from Alaska is none of the Alaskan products are sold (I believe) east of Michigan. So I try to get my Alaskan White fix when I’m out west. I found it in the Bay Area a couple of weeks ago and was a grateful man.
f. RIP Al Arbour—one of the most anonymous really good coaches ever.
g. Amazing things about Arbour: He’s the second-winningest NHL coach ever—but who would know that? And this just blows me away. Al Arbour’s Islanders teams, in their great run of four Stanley Cups, won 19 consecutive playoff series. That is modern dominance on the highest level.
h. That Tony Romo DirecTV commercial is the second-best one of those I’ve ever seen, right behind the Rob Lowe sensitive-urinator spot.
i. Seen some bad bullpens in my life. This Red Sox bullpen. Yeesh. Arsonistas.
j. Boston trailed the Mets 2-0 entering the seventh inning Friday night. Boston’s bullpen walked eight men the rest of the way … and the Red Sox won 6-4 in 10 innings.
k. Incredible inside-the-park homer from a catcher, Blake Swihart of the Red Sox—except that it should have been called a regular home run because it was above the yellow line in center field, and except that Yoenis Cespedes, who should have been backing up the center fielder on the play, never moved an inch from his spot in left. Keep hearing what a gamer and hustler and unselfish guy Cespedes is. It’d be nice if he, you know, actually moved a muscle to potentially save a man from scoring.
l. If you have it in your heart to help a guy who truly was a gem of a person from all accounts, here’s the address for the two children of deceased race-car driver Justin Wilson: Wilson Children's Fund, c/o Indy Car, 4551 West 16th Street, Indianapolis, IN 46222.
The Adieu Haiku
Preseason ends Thurs.
The end can’t come soon enough.
Two games max, owners.
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