Week 5 featured no shortage of wait, what? developments, from the late heroics of Andy Dalton and Josh McCown to Matthew Stafford’s benching. Plus, Miami’s motivating new leader, a 78-year-old INT combo and more
What an intriguing weekend. One month ago, the first Sunday of the regular season kicked off, and this is how weird the season has gotten:
• Baltimore is four games out of first in the AFC North. Cincinnati is 5-0, Baltimore 1-4. Neither of those records is remotely fluky. The Ravens gave up 505 yards to the Browns on Sunday ... in Baltimore.
• The aged shall inherit the league. This weekend’s winning quarterbacks included Matt Hasselbeck (40) and Peyton Manning (39), both of whom were born before the newest head coach in the league, Miami’s Dan Campbell (39). Charles Woodson (39) had his first two interceptions of Manning ever on Sunday, but Manning got revenge for the 1997 Heisman voting (in order, Woodson, Manning, Ryan Leaf) with a 16-10 win.
• The Ohio quarterbacks no one wanted in August? Fans want ’em now. Josh McCown and Andy Dalton combined for 788 passing yards to beat Super Bowl 47 champ Baltimore and Super Bowl 48 champ Seattle, respectively. Explain how the Bengals came from 17 down in the fourth quarter to win, and how they went back to throw the exact same pass, exact same pattern, to tight end Tyler Eifert for a second touchdown against the great and powerful Seahawks. “That one did surprise me,” said Hue Jackson, the man with enough stones to call the play a second time.
• No quarterback’s getting beat up like Russell Wilson. No coincidence Seattle is 2-3 … lots of reasons why, really, including the leaky and green offensive line. But the Seahawks are still very much alive, despite the fact that Wilson has been sacked an NFL-high 22 times.
• The Lions yanked Matthew Stafford for Dan Orlovsky while being routed by Arizona Sunday. Crowd at Ford Field: BOOOOOOOOOO. I repeat: Stafford out, Orlovsky in. Stafford healthy. Stafford stinking it up at an RG3 2013 level. Coach Jim Caldwell said Stafford was the starter, and there is no controversy. “It's like a pitcher not having a very good day,” Caldwell said of his quarterback. “That pitcher comes out and, obviously, he's still the starter.”
• Only two men are averaging 100 rushing yards per game. Rookie Todd Gurley, three games into his career, and vet Chris Ivory are both putting up 104.7 yards a week. Only Le’Veon Bell (95.5 in two games) is within 10 yards of them.
• The leading rushers of Week 5 would have made you titter a month ago.
|Player, Team||Draft Status||Week 5 Total|
|1. Thomas Rawls, Seattle||Undrafted rookie, Central Michigan||169 yards|
|2. Todd Gurley, St. Louis||Rookie, 10th pick overall, Georgia||159 yards|
|3. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta||Fourth-round pick, 2014, Fla. State||153 yards|
• Unbeatens: Cincinnati, Green Bay, Denver and Atlanta, 5-0. Carolina and New England, 4-0.
• Winless: Detroit, 0-5.
• We can say there is some normalcy. The Packers, Broncos and Patriots are a combined 14-0. But if you want normalcy, this is not the right sport for you this morning.
We’re going to start in a heartwarming place this morning: in Cleveland, where the quarterback of the 2010 Hartford Colonials just might have done enough to earn a spot on a wall he considers hallowed in a room in Berea, Ohio.
Cleveland's unlikely hero.
Josh McCown probably should have taken his gold watch last year. Nice career, meandering from Arizona to Detroit to Carolina to Hartford of the United Football League to coaching high school football to Chicago to Tampa Bay last year. At 35, coming off a very good five-start stretch for Chicago in 2013, McCown was going to be the Bucs’ bridge to the future. But offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford fell ill before the season, never was right during the year, and the offense was in shambles, and the offensive line was the worst in football, and McCown played poorly. There were his wife and kids in Charlotte, and no one would have thought it odd for McCown to leave the game and go back to coaching.
“But I just thought, ‘This isn’t the best I can be. I don’t want to go out like that. I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder from Chicago—I know I’m capable of doing that,’ ” he said Sunday night. “I just knew I could do it again, and my wife was super supportive.”
So the Browns needed a sort of player-coach to play and mentor Johnny Manziel—or whomever the next quarterback there would be. McCown signed, won the starting job in camp and led the Browns on a 17-play drive on the first possession of the season at the Jets. He was concussed on play 17, trying to dive for the end zone. Johnny Football time. Manziel had some moments, and beat the Titans in Week 2, and the locals were frenzied. Cleveland wanted Johnny. And this, old-fashioned McCown understood.
“I was heartbroken after that long drive against the Jets, because I thought we’d have a big day,” he said. “But people don’t understand—you sign with a team, and you’re there to serve your team. If you’re called on to play, you play. If you’re not playing, you help your team in other ways. So my job until I played again, if I played again, was to help Johnny be the best. The organization picked this young man in the first round and has high hopes for him—still does. So I wanted to help him.”
That sounds trite, honestly. You’re tempted not to buy it. But I know it’s the way McCown feels, because I’ve heard it from him before—about Jay Cutler, about Mike Glennon—and because he has this weird attitude that quite a few players don’t. Team guy.
“My wife and I went to couple of the NBA Finals games here in the spring,” he said. “We’re walking downtown and we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if this would happen with the Browns?’ The energy, the passion, the drive. So I promise you—I get it when they chant for Johnny. You know why? They want to win. They want a spark. Give us a win! Make us feel good!”
McCown got his job back in Week 3 and threw for 341 yards, but the Browns lost to Oakland. He kept the job in Week 4 and threw for 356 yards at San Diego, but the Browns lost in overtime. No reason to think Sunday in Baltimore would be different; the Ravens were 13-1 against Cleveland in the John Harbaugh era, and Harbaugh’s 1-3 team needed a win badly.
Baltimore up 21-9. McCown, methodical, with 75 and 79-yard drives to put Cleveland up 22-21. The second touchdown came on the strangest TD catch you’ll ever see. From the Ravens’ 18, McCown, pressured, lofted one to tight end Gary Barnidge at the goal line. He jumped with a Ravens’ defender, and Barnidge ended up falling, the ball near his feet. As he fell, Barnidge kept the ball off the ground between his legs but not touching his hands; somehow it never touched the ground and he was able to pop it back into his hands while lying on the goal line. The officials couldn’t believe it, and no one else could either. Touchdown. Browns up.
They were waiting for replay after the score to confirm or deny when McCown saw Barnidge on the field.
“Did you catch it?” McCown asked.
“Yeah—just not with my hands!” Barnidge said.
“Hey, put that on the stat sheet!” McCown said.
The catch counted. But back came Baltimore. They traded touchdowns again—Ravens up 27-22, then Cleveland up 30-27—and Justin Tucker’s field goal with 25 seconds left tied it going into overtime.
Now, the Browns are not set up to be a throwing team. With Josh Gordon suspended for the year and with a solid run-blocking line, coach Mike Pettine was planning to be pretty balanced between the run and the pass. But it hasn’t worked out that way in the past three weeks. Since McCown has taken the reins back, Cleveland has called pass plays on a remarkable 72 percent of the snaps. “When I came here, I was thinking maybe 30 throws a game,” McCown said. “But in our quarterback room, we have the attitude that we don’t have to be babysitters. We can win the games.” On this overtime drive, there was a key third-and-1, and Baltimore expected run. McCown delivered a strike to Barnidge for 19 up the seam. That got Cleveland near field-goal range. After nibbling at Baltimore’s exhausted defense a little more, the Browns set up for Travis Coons’ winning 32-yard field goal.
When it was over, McCown saw the incredible numbers: 36 of 51, 457 yards, two touchdowns, no picks.
The Browns were founded 69 years ago. Through Otto Graham and a succession of pre-’90s very good passers and the Browns’ rebirth, no quarterback ever had a regular-season game like this one. No other Brown ever threw for as many yards.
“When I’m done,” McCown said, “I think it’ll sink in, and I’ll enjoy it. But we’re in the middle of something pretty cool here. We went to San Diego last week and had our hearts broken, and the energy in the locker room was so fantastic—we’ve got something good going here. Today we come back to Baltimore, and obviously it’s a team that’s been tough for us, but the energy was fantastic again. I just love being in there. I love being a part of the team. That’s what means something to me.
“Now, we have a quarterback room, and the Browns have these murals on the walls with all the great quarterbacks, back to Otto Graham, and Frank Ryan, Brian Sipe, Bernie Kosar. You see the history in there. It’s cool. And I’ve sat there and I’ve thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to be on that wall someday, and have the respect of the next generation of quarterbacks in this room?’ That would mean something to me.”
Elsewhere in Ohio…
The MMQB had Robert Klemko on site at Seahawks-Bengals, and he’ll have a detailed report from Cincinnati on Tuesday. This morning, I want to focus briefly on the progress of the Bengals.
Simply, Sunday’s game was not one this team would have won in the past three or four years. I wrote about the Bengals—specifically, Andy Dalton—on Friday in my Game Plan column, and said there were four reasons why Dalton was playing at the highest level of the position, in the rarified air to be able to compete with Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Dalton has a tight end he trusts, Tyler Eifert. He’s tremendously more accurate and confident on his deep balls, in part a result of working so hard to refine his mechanics; he’s tightened them up, made them more compact, and all without compromising on his deep balls. The depth of his offensive weapons is as good as any quarterback has in football. And the Bengals have good team shrinks for Dalton, pumping him up when so many in the public are down on him for his 0-4 playoff record.
So much of that showed on Sunday. I’ll take you to the drive where it did. It was a bad drive, a drive that very nearly cost Cincinnati the game. And I say Dalton got them out of it.
From talking to Hue Jackson last week, I understood that the Bengals weren’t going to be afraid of doing new/different stuff against the Super Bowl-veteran Seahawks. Jackson showed that from the start. On the first series of the game he put up both tackles on the line, legally, but when Dalton went from under center to shotgun, a tight end and tackle from each side split out wide. The tackles stayed on the line, which by rule they have to do. So Cincinnati had a three-man offensive front on the second snap of the game. Seattle wasn’t sure what to do. Left end Michael Bennett crashed into the backfield, but Dalton scurried behind right guard Kevin Zeitler. Gain of six. First down.
Midway through the third quarter, the game was slipping away. Seattle was up 17-7, and the momentum was all Seahawks. Jackson sent in a play of trickeration. Running back Rex Burkhead came hard from left to right on a sweep in front of Dalton, who handed to him, and immediately Michael Bennett—who sniffs out everything—banged into Burkhead, dislodging the ball. Bobby Wagner picked it up, ran 23 yards, and scored. Seattle led 24-7.
“Very bad call on my part,” Jackson said Sunday night. “I should never have called it. You could see how they were rushing and getting some penetration. They were ferocious. So I felt bad, and when Andy came to the sidelines, he said, ‘Coach, lotta time left. Don’t worry. We’re gonna win this game.’ ”
That, Jackson said, is what a leader says. It’s what Dalton said to his offensive mates on the sideline too—whether he believed it or not. The comeback began on what I thought was a remarkable play call. On the first drive of the game, from the Seattle 14, Dalton sent Eifert—a better and more reliable pass-catcher and route-runner, with better hands, than last year’s tight end, Jermaine Gresham—up the left seam, and strong safety Kam Chancellor passed him back to a gap in the coverage that no one covered. Easy touchdown. “Through the game,” Jackson said, “I could see the adjustment hadn’t been made by Seattle. I don’t call the same play down there very often at all. But I saw something, and so we called it again.”
Amazing. Chancellor passed Eifert back again, and this time, a late-arriving cornerback, Cary Williams, tried to break up Dalton’s throw. But Eifert snared it at the exact spot of the end zone where he caught his first one. “Outstanding throw,” Jackson said. “Perfect location.”
The chemistry now is so good in Cincinnati. Dalton (mostly) is kept clean to make the right decisions. His coordinator knows what the quarterback does well, and with the rare exception of the Burkhead play, understands defensive concepts of teams he sees as seldom as Seattle well enough to know when he can push the envelope. And Dalton just makes the right decisions and the crisp throws—with the confidence of his team. Cincinnati’s 27-24 win in overtime was a tribute to talented people who have worked together long enough to know what works and what doesn't.
“That’s the best defense we’ve played,” said Jackson. “I told you the other day it would be a clash of the titans, and it was, wasn’t it?” The survivor from this clash, Cincinnati, is 5-0, and though it’s too early to obsess about the standings, the Bengals have a two-and-a-half game lead over second-place Pittsburgh, which plays a tough game at San Diego tonight. As optimistic as the Bengals were before this season, they couldn’t have dreamed of having a three-game lead over Pittsburgh and Cleveland, and a four-game edge over Baltimore, after five weeks.
Dan Campbell is not a shy man.
Dolphins interim coach Dan Campbell was near the end of a 30-minute conversation with me on Saturday. I felt like I was being coached for about half of it, with Campbell sometimes lapsing into coach-speak, like I was one of his players: We gotta get off to better starts! We gotta get manageable second downs! But then, at the end, I asked him what he wanted Dolphins fans to know about this perennially disappointing franchise, and what the Campbell regime, however long it lasts, had planned.
Pause. Two, three seconds.
“I would say this,” Campbell, 39, said ominously. “We’re about to wake the sleeping giant.”
Pause. Then nothing.
Okay, Dan. Have a good day! End of interview.
The man is serious. He sounds nothing like an interim coach. In 30 minutes, you got the feeling that the matter of taking over a team in October after a pitiful 1-3 start was a trifling inconvenience—he was the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, and the fact that he took over now instead of in January didn’t really matter. He had every intention of taking advantage of this chance and turning Miami around this year, rather than keeping the seat warm for the next, more established head man. Odd. Campbell had never coached anywhere other than Miami, working as a coaching intern in 2010 and then as the tight ends coach since 2011. Never a coordinator, anywhere. Never a head coach, anywhere.
Campbell, a Texan, was a tight end for four NFL teams over 10 seasons, and never thought he’d want to be a coach until he left the game. At that point he thought, What do I love? Football. And competing, and physical and mental toughness. “I am the guy who loves challenges,” Campbell said. “There’s plenty of people out there who look at my inexperience, who look at whether I deserve this, and that gives me motivation. That is when I rise to the top. Whether you’re a player or a coach, it’s all about being competitive. As coaches and players in the last four weeks, we’ve all underachieved. And my message to the team is going to be: We’re going to get back to the basics. And we’re going to be competitive.”
That word kept coming up—competitive. I brought up to him how hard it was to fathom, and how much an indictment of the talent-laden team it was, that after four games Miami has been outscored 37-3 in the first quarter.
“I addressed that with our team in our first meeting,” Campbell said. “Thirty-seven to three. I said, ‘Somebody tell me what that is.’ Nobody knew. I said, ‘That’s the score in the first quarter of our games. That’s the first thing we gotta look at. How can you win games when you’re always playing from behind so fast!’”
“I would say this,” Campbell says. “We’re about to wake the sleeping giant.”
Before Miami went on its long bye weekend, Campbell had one practice. Wednesday. He decided to use one of the Dolphins’ allotted 14 full-padded practices for the season for that day, and he decided to go very heavy on one-on-one competition. Receivers versus cornerbacks. Tackles versus edge rushers. Guards versus defensive tackles.
When he got to tackles and outside rushers, defensive end Olivier Vernon stepped up without being asked. He just put himself in position to take the first rep.
“So we had three of those reps, all the offensive guys on one side, the defensive guys on the other side. Olivier would not get off the field. He took all three reps. I absolutely loved it. It was a positive atmosphere, energetic, intense. It was a winning vibe, a winning experience. That is where the best athletes in the world, playing a great game, bringing the fun back into the game, they’re just competing. Offense on one side, defense on the other side, and Olivier won all three reps. His teammates on defense were all over him. Hitting him, high-fiving him, chest-bumping him. Their guy won. They embraced him. That’s what I want.”
“One of the most interesting practices I have ever been to,” said the executive vice president of football operations, Mike Tannenbaum, who will be in charge of the search for a permanent coach. He made it clear Saturday that Campbell will be a candidate, and that Wednesday’s practice, showered in intensity and competition, was a good start.
When Campbell reconvened with his team this morning at 8, that’s what he would stress—competition and fun. “I think I understand the NFL,” he said. “I understand players. I relate to ’em. Not in a buddy-buddy way. Without sounding conceited, I think I can pull the best out of people. It’s not fake; it’s from the heart. I have been around some phenomenal coaches, and I know what works. A lot of people say that. But the guys I’ve learned from—Bill Parcells, Sean Payton, Mike Martz, Rod Marinelli, Mike Pope—my position coach with the Giants, a great teacher—and Tony Sparano … I think I’ve taken something from all of them. It’s a different path to this job, for sure. But I am confident about my ability.”
Now the coach-speak.
“We gotta change the culture!” he said, voice rising. “We’re not just going through the motions anymore. We’re gonna be fast and we’re gonna be crisp. Hey, running the ball, running backs, you get a little crease and I want to see you put your head down and bull for two or three yards! The hole’s not always huge. No more getting stuffed at the line!”
He realized he wasn’t talking to a player, but it sounded like Campbell just couldn’t help it. Sometimes in the conversation, he just morphed into coaching mode.
“Sorry. Sorry,” he said. “I’m just so into it.”
So the Dolphins embark on an uncertain road today. Big names will be associated with this job for the next two-plus months. I’ve said this could be Sean Payton’s last year in New Orleans, and Adam Schefter reported Sunday the Dolphins could be interested if he’s available. There will be more. But Tannenbaum may go more anonymous. In his year-and-a-half between Jet and Dolphin jobs, he was an agent for coaches, and he repped NBA newbies Steve Kerr and David Blatt—who made the NBA Finals in their first seasons in Golden State and Cleveland—and other small names. He loves a West Georgia College coach named Will Hall. “There is greatness in different places,” Tannenbaum said. “The great coaches quickly reveal themselves at all levels. In the [NBA] D-League, they can inspire people. In the NFL, we’re all victims of intellectual incest—that’s a Parcells line. We go to Mobile for the Senior Bowl, Indianapolis for the scouting combine, and there’s the draft, training camp … we all get on the same train and see the same things. But I think there are countless untold stories of really outstanding coaches and teachers and leaders.”
He hopes Campbell’s one of those. His future is in his hands.
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And on the L.A. front…
What we know right now is the owners are likely to vote in January on which team or teams will be permitted to move to Los Angeles with the NFL’s approval. That’s pretty much all we know, other than that the owners seem most inclined to try to help the San Diego Chargers because the Spanos family has been such a good ownership family for the league. Other than that, guess at your own risk.
One bit of news this morning: St. Louis stadium task force chief Dave Peacock told me Saturday that the group will submit to the NFL the long-awaited term sheet, making the city’s bid proposal for a new stadium official. Owners have been waiting to see that approximately 20-page document, with precise details of the funding and financing for the proposed new open-air stadium on the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis. On the heels of National Car Rental signing on to the project for $158 million as the long-term naming rights sponsor, the St. Louis organization feels it has the momentum to present a strong bid for the Rams to stay in St. Louis. That’s something owner Stan Kroenke obviously doesn’t want to do. He wants to move the franchise to Los Angeles, and now the league is going to decide if he can or not. (Obviously, from a legal standpoint, Kroenke could take matters into his own hands if owners block his effort to move.)
“The only step after that,” said Peacock, “is we have to get the support of the aldermen of St. Louis, which would take about four weeks. We feel the support is there to get this done. We want a long-term lease, a 30-year lease, and we’re glad the league wants this term sheet to examine our proposal. It shows they seriously want to consider our proposal.”
If Kroenke is so dead-set on moving, and the league forces him to stay in St. Louis (at least for the time being), will the city and Kroenke be able to co-exist?
“If Stan Kroenke wanted to commit to St. Louis,” said Peacock, “I think he could be successful in St. Louis. Some people have thought there is irreparable damage in the relationship, and there really wasn’t. I think a better team, which they’re building, and a building with a lot of amenities would be a win for everyone.”
Yes, there are DFS Startups.
Three Columbia University students, including one 10-year fantasy player named Joey Levy, thought they had a great business plan: a daily fantasy business called DraftPot with a couple of twists to differentiate from market-leaders FanDuel and DraftKings. They would have games without salary caps, so the business might be more attractive to the non-sophisticates, the everyman (and woman). And they would have other fantasy games, like NASCAR and golf and the video game League of Legends. Three questions for 20-year-old co-founder and CEO Levy:
The MMQB: So, you left an Ivy League school to start a fantasy-sports business. My first thought is, what did your mother say?
Levy: I’d become passionate about DraftPot, more about DraftPot than about school. I started playing fantasy sports when I was 10 years old, and I’m passionate about it. I got to a point where it wasn’t fair to me or to my professors to continue. I fully intend to return. But when I told my mother originally, I believe last December, that was followed by several months of weekly phone calls, about why I was making such a terrible decision. As we raised money and got some press, she sort of stopped. It’s really a tremendous learning experience. We’ve learned so many real-world skills, more than I could ever learn at Columbia. Last semester, there were instances that I had to leave class in the middle of a seminar to manually start, say, a fantasy basketball contest. It was exhilarating, but there’s no way I could have done this and stayed in school.
The MMQB: Does the recent news about daily fantasy sports, and the potential scandals involving a sort of inside trading, change your belief about the long-term viability of the business?
Levy: I think daily fantasy in all of our opinions is undoubtedly legal. When you are part of—in the case of our competitors—billion-dollar companies, you’re scrutinized and held under a microscope. It’s really not surprising. It’s been proven there isn’t foul play that’s gone on. For us, no full-time employee is permitted to engage in DFS on any other site without my express permission. We also issued that statement to all of our users. It is important for us to have transparency. Despite our humble beginnings, we’re emerging as a second-tier site in an industry we believe is going to be a $20 billion business by 2020.
The MMQB: We did a story on daily fantasy, and sent one of our reporters up to Southern Connecticut State University, and one of the school officials was worried about students gambling so much money on this. Does that concern you? Is this good for people?
Levy: I think anyone who participates obviously should do so responsibly, and not beyond their means. I guess I can say this anecdotally: I think fantasy sports significantly enhances the way people consume sports. As a kid, I had Matt Kemp and Carlos Gonzalez on my fantasy baseball team. So [my father and I] watched the Dodgers and the Rockies because of that. Sports fans are no longer sort of handed their home teams and that’s the only team you root for. A lot of people do this for entertainment value. If you’re going to be watching a game, and you want to have a stake in it, and you like the Dolphins, and you want to put a lineup in with Ryan Tannehill in and put $20 on it, it will probably enhance your enjoyment of the game.
• Question or comment? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Quotes of the Week
“Obviously that was an extremely poor performance. And that’s an understatement.”
—Detroit coach Jim Caldwell, after one of the worst home performances in recent Lions history, a 42-17 loss to Arizona when quarterback Matthew Stafford, and most of the team, was booed consistently through the second half.
“And Aaron Rodgers is human. Five hundred eight-seven passes since his last pick at Lambeau.”
—Ian Eagle of CBS, doing the play-by-play of Rams-Packers in Green Bay, after James Laurinaitis of St. Louis intercepted a Rodgers pass. Fifteen plays later, Rodgers threw another one, to cornerback Trumaine Johnson.
“What? Hey, man, I’ve got to start collecting my money from these guys. If I’m on your team and I’m making you money, I need a paycheck for that. Help me out, man!”
—Green Bay wide receiver Randall Cobb, informed by Robert Klemko of The MMQB that the highest-ranked Daily Fantasy Sports player, 26-year-old Saahil Sud, who lives in Rajon Rondo’s former apartment in Boston, made about 10 times as much money as Cobb on a recent weekend when Cobb scored three touchdowns in a game. Sud made more than $1 million by flooding scores of lineups with Cobb across DFS games.
It is really an interesting story that Klemko wrote, with the feeling that the DFS world is like the Gold Rush in California, or the rush to find oil wells in Texas years ago.
“I love Sunday night after the game—you win, you go to the parking lot, you grab a beer, hang out for a little bit. Then I can't wait to get home and watch the game on my iPad. I love getting in Monday, and I can't wait to see what the team we are getting ready to play is doing on third down. I love the studying, the preparation, the mental challenge of turning around on a Monday. I love the practices. Obviously the games. I love being in the locker room. I love all of it.”
—Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer, to Dan Pompei of Bleacher Report, in Pompei’s outstanding story about Palmer.
“I still have a house in New Jersey in case you’re looking to buy one. I also have one in Ohio and I’ve got one in Cape Cod. I’m collecting houses. I’ve got the ones in New Jersey and Ohio rented out, which is good, but I didn’t set out to be a landlord. But this profession kind of makes you one.”
—San Francisco defensive coordinator Eric Mangini, to Mark Cannizzaro of the New York Post. In the past seven years, Mangini has worked in Florham Park, N.J.; Cleveland; Bristol, Conn.; and Santa Clara, Calif. Of course, there was the six years in Foxboro before all that.
The Award Section
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
It’s a Midwestern quarterback week at The MMQB.
Josh McCown, quarterback, Cleveland. Amazing. With the exception of 1996 through ’98, the Browns have been alive since 1946, with several very good quarterbacks—Otto Graham, Frank Ryan, Brian Sipe, Bernie Kosar. None had as prolific a regular-season passing day as McCown had Sunday in Baltimore, in yardage. Executing the 33-30 overtime win over the Ravens, McCown completed 36 of 51 throws for 457 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for a 10-yard score. Quite a day. “He’s surprisingly mobile for being 50 years old,” tackle Joe Thomas told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Andy Dalton, quarterback, Cincinnati. Facing a 24-7 deficit early in the fourth quarter, Dalton had the ball five times in the next two periods—the fourth and overtime. He threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Eifert with 12:18 left, led a 71-yard drive that ended in his own quarterback sneak for a touchdown with 3:38 left, led a 69-yard drive to a tying field goal as the clock ran out at the end of the fourth quarter, and then got the team in position in overtime for a 42-yard field goal by Mike Nugent to win it. For the game, against the defense first in the NFL in 2012, 2013 and 2014, Dalton completed 30 of 44 passes for 331 yards, with two touchdowns and one pick. Not his best game of the season, to be sure, but under the circumstances, one of the finest performances of his five-year career.
Matt Hasselbeck, quarterback, Indianapolis. “Was literally on his deathbed Monday and Tuesday,” coach Chuck Pagano said in praising Hasselbeck, who deserved the gushing plaudits. I doubt death was contemplated by Hasselbeck or the doctors treating him as he was beset with spells of diarrhea and vomiting in the days before the 27-20 win over Houston, but it certainly made for some good hyperbolic fun. Hasselbeck, 40, was accurate (18 of 29, 213 yards, two scores) and mistake-free and, playing for the second time in five days in relief of Andrew Luck (shoulder), won his second division game despite being ill.
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Robert Alford, cornerback, Atlanta. After committing a long pass interference penalty that set up a late Washington touchdown and struggling mentally with it on the sideline, Alford made the play of the day in Atlanta, keeping the Falcons unbeaten. His second interception of the day, on the first series of overtime, was returned 59 yards for the winning score in the 5-0 Falcons’ 25-19 win over Washington at the Georgia Dome. Funny, but Alford’s the No. 2 corner on the team, and as you’re seeing with this team, it’s a different star and often a non-famous one. But Kirk Cousins tried to stay away from the better Falcons corner—Desmond Trufant—and Alford made him regret it. Twice.
Fletcher Cox, defensive end, Philadelphia. Cox, 24, has never had a day in his football life like the one he had in the Eagles’ rout of the Saints on Sunday: three sacks, two forced fumbles (leading to 10 Eagles points), six tackles and a fumble recovery. “Not even in college or high school,” said the Eagles’ 2012 first-round pick. “First time having three sacks in a game.” In fact, he’d never had two in a game in the NFL until Sunday. As a 3-4 end, Cox is not expected to get a sackful of sacks, but he was able to work on rookie tackle Andrus Peat, who had a tough time with Cox’s quickness and power.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Colton Schmidt, punter, Buffalo. Sunday was a field-position game in Tennessee, and Schmidt played a big role for the Bills. He punted seven times for a 51.0-yard average, and only once in 11 drives did Tennessee start on Buffalo’s side of the field. For the season, Schmidt is averaging 48.5 yards per punt and a net of 42.6, both very good.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Darrin Simmons, special teams coordinator, Cincinnati. In his 13th year with the Bengals, Sunday was one of Simmons’ finest hours. His kickoff team stuck the Seahawks at the 20, 19, 20, 20 and 20-yard line (obviously a tribute to Mike Nugent’s leg); his punt team pinned Seattle at the 2-yard line twice, and once at the 16. His punt returners, Adam Jones and Brandon Tate, bounced through Seattle for 93 return yards. The Bengals needed everything to go right against the Seahawks to have a good chance to win, and that included special teams. And everything did go right.
GOAT OF THE WEEK
Matthew Stafford, quarterback, Detroit. It’s not all his fault, but Stafford has been terrible for the first five games, by and large, and coach Jim Caldwell was so despondent about his offense Sunday that he yanked his $19-million-a-year quarterback for the forgettable Dan Orlovsky in the third quarter after Stafford threw three interceptions. Dark days in Detroit for Stafford and a team that thought it would compete for the NFC North and is instead 0-5, with a quarterback having a crisis of confidence.
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Stat of the Week
The most important players for Indianapolis, by statistical measure, in its 27-20 win over Houston, have something in common. They’re old. Really old, by NFL standards.
They scored all the points. They led the defense, in tackles and takeaways.
Tale of the aging tape:
|Player||What He Did||Age|
|K Adam Vinatieri||Scored 9 points, with field goals of 48, 42 yards||42|
|QB Matt Hasselbeck||Two touchdowns, no picks, 107.4 rating||40|
|S Mike Adams||Had both Colts interceptions||34|
|WR Andre Johnson||Two touchdowns among his six receptions||34|
|RB Frank Gore||98 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown||32|
|LB D’Qwell Jackson||11 tackles led both teams||32|
Average age: 35 years, 11 months.
Do not ever debate the value of a good backup quarterback, by the way. Hasselbeck, for $3 million this year (a $1 million signing bonus and $2 million salary), has won two division games, and he may have to face the Super Bowl champions Sunday at home. On 82 pass dropbacks in his two wins, Hasselbeck has thrown zero interceptions and lost zero fumbles.
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Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
Memo to AFC Southerners: Can you at least make an attempt to compete with the Colts?
Factoid 1. Since Christmas Day 2012, Indianapolis is 16-0 against teams in the AFC South: 6-0 versus Houston, 5-0 versus Jacksonville, 5-0 versus Tennessee.
Factoid 2. The Colts have won those 16 games by an average of 13.4 points per game.
Factoid 3. Gus Bradley has lost his five meetings with the Colts by a composite 150-46.
Factoid 4. Records of AFC South teams since Christmas Day 2012:
That is one pathetic division. The Colts have won the division by four and two games the past two years, and are up by 1.5 games after Week 5, and have a win over all three teams in the division already this year, two by using a 40-year-old backup quarterback.
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Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
I had the pleasure, along with some of my crew from The MMQB (senior editor Matt Gagne, reporter Kalyn Kahler, videographer John DePetro), of traveling to Durham, N.H., on Wednesday to speak at law professor Michael McCann’s “Deflategate” class at the University of New Hampshire. I’ll have a report on it later on our site. It would be impossible to have been treated more hospitably. The university housed us at the Three Chimneys Inn on the Oyster River in Durham, built circa 1649 and recently overhauled. Cute and four-poster-beddish. In the morning we left before breakfast was served; without being asked, the desk gal rustled up coffee and pastries for the road for us. McCann is a whip-smart teacher and a better host. He had the students in his class (and four townies who audit it for fun) primed and knowledgeable, to the point where, in the first break of the three-hour class, I thought to myself: These people could take the final now and ace it. They know everything. It’s like they’ve memorized the Wells report. (Poor saps.) On the way out of town, driving back to New York early the next morning, a thick fog lay atop the fields near the Three Chimneys, maybe eight or 10 feet high. That’s it. Very New England. In all, a wonderful way to spend 24 hours.
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Tweets of the Week
November 2014: Gurley tears his ACL, Thomas Rawls plodding away in the MAC, Devonta Freeman a rookie backup. Today, all 3 rush for over 150— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) October 11, 2015
Freeman’s in his second season, but the point remains the same.
Garrett said he will evaluate a quarterback change during the bye week— Clarence Hill (@clarencehilljr) October 11, 2015
Well, I should hope so.
Wrote last week and will repeat now. Goff has a lot of talent but he isn't ready for the NFL. Needs 1 more year of college— Greg Gabriel (@greggabe) October 11, 2015
The former NFL scout, after Cal quarterback and premier NFL prospect Jared Goff threw four interceptions in the first half at Utah on Saturday night.
Are the refs from last week's monday night football umping this baseball game?— Joe Giza (@JoeGiza) October 11, 2015
The sports producer for WBZ-TV in Boston was watching the replay umps call Chase Utley of the Dodgers safe at second base even though he didn’t touch the bag. Ruben Tejada, the Mets shortstop, didn't touch second either. Turns out the rules say if both players, the fielder and runner, miss the bag, the umps can rule the runner safe.
Might want to examine that rule this off-season, MLB.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 5:
a. The appearance of Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens and his tackling robot on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Dartmouth players don’t tackle each other during practice, trying to cut down on concussive head injuries, Teevens said. “We can eliminate a good percentage of them,” Teevens said on the show. “We’ve dropped 80 percent [in team injuries] just going to a non-tackling [practice] situation. Most concussions occur in practice, not in games.” So Dartmouth tackles the robot. Colbert did on the set. Good form.
b. Washington safety Trenton Robinson, with the first interception of the year for the team, midway through the first quarter in Week 5. Tipped job off Matt Ryan.
c. Andy Dalton, four of four, with a perfect touchdown strike to Tyler Eifert, on the first series of the day against the formidable Seahawks.
d. That deceptive bootleg keeper by Joe Flacco for the first touchdown in Cleveland-Baltimore. Really smart call by Marc Trestman … really smart orchestration by Flacco.
e. The new hats in the crowd at Lambeau Field: Men with huge ears of yellow corn on their heads, with a green 18 emblazoned on headwear. Get it? Randall “Cobb.”
f. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, pressuring Andy Dalton into his first sack of the season at Paul Brown Stadium.
g. Ted Thompson’s roster architecture. He picked a one-year football starter from Miami (Ohio), cornerback Quinten Rollins, in the second round last spring. Rollins had played four years of varsity basketball at Miami, and he came through with an interception returned for touchdown against Nick Foles and the Rams.
h. The rush of Dallas, pressuring Tom Brady consistently and keeping the Cowboys in the game early.
i. What a stop by Earl Thomas on Gio Bernard, stopping the Bengals, momentarily, from getting a second-quarter first down.
j. Tennessee, with four sacks for 31 yards on the elusive Tyrod Taylor.
k. Taylor, who doesn’t let a bad half ruin the next one.
l. Willie Snead (six catches for 141 yards in a loss at Philly) looks like a good option in a lost-cause season for Drew Brees.
m. Dion Lewis. Thought after the opener he was just a bit part, an interchangeable piece to the Patriots’ puzzle. The little back’s a playmaker.
n. Jason Garrett saying he’d consider a quarterback change.
o. Jim Caldwell saying he’d go back to Matthew Stafford after making a quarterback change in-game. Good move during the game, when Stafford was an absolute lost sheep, but it’s smart to go back to him now because there’s not a backup Caldwell can trust.
p. Todd Gurley.
q. The beautiful throw by Jay Cutler to Matt Forte to beat the Chiefs. An absolutely perfect strike.
r. What Arizona did in Detroit, particularly on defense—the four picks, the intense pressure, the incredible safety play.
s. Colin Kaepernick, rebounding to decency in the narrow loss to the Giants on Sunday night. Good job by coaches Geep Chryst and Steve Logan for picking up the pieces of a quarterback going south, and to Kaepernick for playing better than anyone thought he would against New York. In the second half, particularly, this was a confident player.
t. Shane Vereen. What a threat out of the backfield, and he was the biggest receiving factor on the Giants’ last two drives. The Patriots recognized that.
u. The Giants always hang around and hang around with Eli Manning, and they know they’re never out of it, and they know it’s not going to be lovely football all the time. But hand it to Manning: The Giants are the lead dogs in the NFC East right now, and they should credit a 441-yard night from Manning for fueling a win that was in doubt until the end.
v. The catch by tight end Larry Donnell, who has not been sure-handed at all in his career, between middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman and safety Antonie Bethea, placed perfectly by Manning and brought down by Donnell.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 5:
a. The video of the injury to Jamaal Charles.
b. Detroit’s offensive line. I do not put all of the mess on Stafford. At all. Lines of the Lions (and, very often, the Seahawks) are not letting their quarterback breathe.
c. Jacksonville allowing 38 points and 369 yards to Tampa Bay’s offense. Gus Bradley’s got to be asking himself some serious questions about his team.
d. This is not good: The Jags have given up 35 points per game over the last three weeks.
e. The big faux pas by Michael Bennett, with three bizarre and totally unnecessary hits on Andy Dalton—helmet in the back of Dalton, pushing him over, then blocking him fully over. Bennett’s illegal physicality on the Earl Thomas interception late in the first half at Cincinnati cost the Seahawks 51 yards of field position. Instead of Thomas returning the pick to the Cincinnati 31-yard line and Seattle starting there, the visitors started at the 18. Just a dumb play by an excellent player.
f. Dalton’s poor decision—a rarity early this season—on the deep throw that Thomas picked off. The chance just wasn’t there. Shades of last year for Dalton, and the only big mistake he made on a very good day.
g. The news from Ian Rapoport that Giants tight end Daniel Fells has had five surgeries stemming from a MRSA illness, and may lose a foot because of it. Wow.
h. Seems basic, but Ryan Schraeder, the right tackle on an overachieving Atlanta offensive line, forgot to block Washington’s best pass-rusher, Ryan Kerrigan, who took advantage for an easy sack.
i. Jay Cutler, who forgot where he was in the first quarter at Kansas City. He was at the goal line, and instead of throwing the ball away, Cutler got sandwich-sacked and fumbled and watched as he gave away seven gimme points to the Chiefs, on a fumble recovery by rookie linebacker Ramik Wilson in the end zone. Just no sense of where he was.
j. Andrew Whitworth’s holding/hugging/mugging call after tackling Cliff Avril, negating a perfectly thrown 72-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green—and a great run after the catch by Green.
k. Horrible throw by Nick Foles, picked and returned for a touchdown by Quinten Rollins of the Pack.
l. Catch the ball, Riley Cooper.
m. The Bills, with 51 offensive yards in the first half at Tennessee.
n. Ryan Mallett sulking.
o. The New Orleans Saints. Time to rebuild. Who’s in?
p. The horrendous interception in the end zone thrown by Eli Manning just before halftime of the Sunday-nighter. Cost the Giants three easy points that they would need.
3. I think you’ve got to hand it to Greg Hardy: With the world hating him and watching him at the same time, he showed the NFL he hasn’t lost his ability to rush the passer in his 19 games away from football. Hardy was superb against New England in his return to the field Sunday—though the Patriots routed the quarterback-less Cowboys 30-6—with two sacks of Tom Brady, five total hits of Brady, a forced fumble and five tackles. It was odd to see him during one timeout, apart from his teammates, standing and staring darts through Brady. And it was odd to hear him speak after the game, mostly in nonsensical quotations. “I’m still excited,” he said at his locker after the game. “I’m just excited to be in the locker room and looking at all you guys. Just the smell and aroma.” This story bears watching. No idea if he’s a powderkeg or anything. But he sure had a strange and tone-deaf week in his return to football.
4. I think one thing I heard out of the league meetings in New York last week disturbed me. Commissioner Roger Goodell was asked if the data from testing air pressure in footballs in random games this fall will be released to the public. “I don’t know,” he replied. In the random games, the league is testing the air pressure of the footballs before the game (as always) and then again at halftime. Officials will log the data, then remove those balls from play. In the second half, 12 backup balls per team will be used, and then those balls will be gauged and the measurements logged after the game. So, about whether the data will be made public, it’s a big mistake if kept under wraps. It has to be made public, or else the public’s going to think the NFL is hiding the results. The NFL can’t simply say, “The balls were in compliance.” Goodell said before the Wells report was released that the league would be totally transparent and we would know what Wells knew when Wells finished the report. So why is this different? I can guess. The NFL wants to reserve the right to not issue the measurements if it makes the league’s case against Tom Brady look bad.
5. I think what I’ve thought all along about the PSI measurements of the footballs: The New England footballs from the AFC Championship Game may have been doctored. But how will we know for sure if we don’t see the measurements from similar games later in this season—games with weather conditions similar to that from the Jan. 18 Colts-Patriots game in Foxboro? And why would the NFL not want to publicize the data from games with the same approximate weather? There is only one conclusion to be drawn: That the league doesn’t want to be shown to have blown the Brady discipline (and the docking of two draft picks and $1 million from the Patriots) by prematurely whacking Brady and the team so hard.
6. I think, on the other hand, there are many things to criticize the commissioner of the NFL about this year and last. But I laugh when I see the critiques of Goodell on domestic violence, or the NFL giving Greg Hardy “only” four games. Goodell put Hardy out for 15 games last year (while being paid) and then suspended him for 10 games this year before it was reduced on appeal to four games. Depending how you look at it, Goodell has levied rulings to take Hardy off the field for 25 games, more than a season and a half. In the end, Hardy missed 19 games, and only four games without pay, which isn’t enough. I don’t see that as Goodell’s fault.
7. I think you realize, of course, that if you say LSU running back Leonard Fournette should not play another college game, you’re telling him three things:
a. You won’t play a football game for the next 23 months, until September 2017.
b. You’re from Louisiana and dreamed of going to LSU, but your career as the big star lasted about one season: the last seven games of last season and first five games of this season.
c. The chances of getting a career-ending injury are slim, but you shouldn’t risk even that. You should just work out and stay in shape until the 2017 NFL draft.
d. As you can tell by those three points, I think it’s crazy talk for Fournette not to play football for the next year and two-thirds while he waits to become NFL eligible. I get the fact that serious knee injuries happen. I get the fact that Nick Chubb of Georgia suffered one Saturday. But Todd Gurley suffered his torn ACL last November, and he had his surgery in late November last year, and still he was the 10th player picked in the 2015 draft, and still he had the best performance by an NFL running back in Week 4 of 2015. If Fournette wanted to sit out, I wouldn't think it would be a big mistake. But it’s not Fournette who wants to sit out. It’s the media who wants Fournette to sit out. That isn’t to say I think it’s fair he can’t enter the draft until 2017. I don’t love the NFL’s three-years-in-school rule, because some (though probably not many) 19- and 20-year-old college players are ready physically and mentally for NFL life. But I would say under the current rules, most NFL teams would put a pretty big mark against Fournette’s name in 2017 if he entered the draft that spring without having played football for the last one and two-thirds years of his college career.
8. I think this statement from NBC’s Rodney Harrison about 39-year-old (and still starring) Charles Woodson is amazing: “He’s the best defensive back of all time.” That takes in a lot of ground—Ronnie Lott, Deion Sanders, Night Train Lane, Rod Woodson. I’ve thought a lot about it, and I’m not sure it’s hyperbole. Good corner early in his career, then a great corner, then a great safety, then, in his twilight, a gritty and still-effective safety getting by on instinct and a great break on the ball. And a leader.
9. I think if I’m guessing on the NFL’s international schedule in 2016, I’m guessing three games, again, in England, and one at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. That one in Mexico? Let me throw a dart: Houston-Oakland. The Raiders are a popular sell in Mexico, have a home game scheduled with the Texans, and a Texas team would obviously be preferable to sell the show in Mexico.
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. So much about that Ruben Tejada-Chase Utley play Saturday night in Mets-Dodgers was nonsensical. Utley started his slide into second when he was even with the bag—way too late—and never attempted to touch second base. Tejada fractured his leg on the play. The umps, on replay, said Tejada never tagged second base and so Utley was safe, even though Tejada came within centimeters of the base and Utley missed it by three feet and then jogged off the field. Then Cal Ripken on TBS said benignly that Utley was “breaking up a double play.” If he was breaking up a double play in a normal way, Utley would have started his slide well before the base, not high and even with the base, so he would knock over Tejada like a bowling ball knocks over pins. And truly, if Ripken, who is a mentor to so many kids and has a baseball organization of his own, was teaching young players how to break up the double play, is that the way he’d teach them to do it?
b. “Dirty slide, dirty play,” Alex Cora said on ESPN. On TBS, Gary Sheffield said, “I hate this play. This play don’t seem like baseball.” Both are correct.
c. The umpires, MLB said, have every right to call a runner safe in this case. But the rules say if the player did not attempt to tag the base, the runner is out. The applicable rule: “If, in the judgment of the umpire, a base runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead. The umpire shall call the runner out for interference and also call out the batter-runner because of the action of his teammate.” The deal is, baseball can call Utley safe here because of baseball tradition—runners have been taking out middle infielders forever at second base. I have no preference here regarding the teams. This just felt ugly and desperate and far too injurious to be sporting. Utley, in my opinion, deserved the suspension that was handed down Sunday night.
d. Good week at The MMQB. As well as the aforementioned Robert Klemko piece on daily fantasy sports, my thanks to Tim Layden for his illuminating why-Jim Brown-matters piece, and to Andy Benoit on his educational look at a rising star. Benoit watched film with Rams rising star Aaron Donald for the story, and in the accompanying video you see Benoit give away one of the Rams’ defensive signals and hear Donald say, “We’re gonna have to change that now,” with a chuckle. Insightful stuff. And kudos to Jenny Vrentas for her superb profile of Ed Werder and his family.
e. That Ed Werder, he’s got some perspective on life. He’s a friend of mine, and I come away from that Vrentas piece marveling even more at the courage and attitude of Werder and his family. Werder’s daughter Christie can teach a lot of people a lot about life.
f. Another recommendation this week: I loved this obit in the New York Times on the Secret Service agent who shoved Ronald Reagan in the car after the president was shot by John Hinckley. Jerry Parr died Friday at 85. People who served their country as selflessly as Jerry Parr should have a prominent obituary in the New York Times. I never knew that Parr, when he was 9 years old, saw a movie starring a young Ronald Reagan as a secret service agent, and that movie was a big reason why he wanted to be one when he grew up. My favorite passage in the obituary, by writer Liam Stack:
Mr. Parr was just feet away from Mr. Reagan when John W. Hinckley Jr. opened fire on the president outside the Washington Hilton hotel on March 30, 1981.
“When he was about probably six or seven feet from the car, I heard these shots,” Mr. Parr said in a 2013 interview promoting the memoir he wrote with his wife. “I sort of knew what they were, and I’d been waiting for them all of my career, in a way. That’s what every agent waits for, is that.”
Mr. Parr grabbed the president, shoved him into a waiting limousine and then jumped in on top of him. A shift supervisor grabbed both men’s feet, shoved them further inside and slammed the door behind them, Mr. Parr said. Mr. Parr then shouted to the driver, “Take off!”
At that point, alone with Mr. Reagan in the back of the limousine, Mr. Parr did not know that the president had been wounded.
“I thought, ‘We’re clear,’ and then he started spitting up blood,” Mr. Parr said. “I looked at it and I said, ‘I’m taking you to the hospital.’ ”
g. Could be a long year for Dan Bylsma in Buffalo, and it’s only two games into the NHL season.
h. Will be a long year for the Devils, sad to say.
i. Seems like it should be a requirement, Brooklyn Islanders, that if you sell fans a $125 tickets, they should be able to see the entire rink. Some cannot.
j. Did Boston College really lose by messing up a fake spike with zero seconds left on the clock?
k. It’s contagious. Rutgers, driving in the last minute to try to tie Michigan State at home, spiked the ball on fourth down.
l. As George Costanza once said after a famous incident with the cleaning lady at work, “Was that wrong?”
m. Leave Sam Ponder alone, trolls. A good person, a true professional, a worker.
n. What were you thinking on the bunt back to the mound, Jaime Garcia?
o. Still think it’s bizarre to bat the pitcher eighth, even though it worked for Joe Maddon and the Cubs on Saturday. If there has ever been back-to-back safety squeezes, as there was Saturday in game two of the Cards-Cubs series, I’ve never seen it.
p. Beernerdness: So, I’ve had better ideas than this one: lining up 12 pumpkin/autumn beers, tasting them, judging them. A crew of us did that Friday in the palatial offices of The MMQB in New York—me, beernerd Mark Mravic, Gary Gramling, Kalyn Kahler, visiting artist Greg Bishop. I’d had my first pumpkin beer of the year, the Shipyard Pumpkinhead (Shipyard Brewing, Portland, Maine) on Wednesday in New Hampshire and loved it. But 12 in a row … not such a good idea. Even cleansing the palate between each with a pretzel didn’t do the trick. The 12 we tried in an hour morphed into a bunch of mixed palate-teasers, with none standing out in a positive way. The Shipyard Smashed Pumpkin was heavier on the pumpkin and zero on the spice … Sierra Nevada Octoberfest, bland … Southern Tier Pumking, so sweet one of the reviewers said, “It’s like bathing in a pumpkin pie.” … Leaf Pile Ale gave off a bad nose, but didn’t drink badly … Elysian Dark o’ the Moon Pumpkin Stout, one of us said, “smells like a candle you’d give your grandmother” … Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale tasted nothing like a pumpkin ale to any of us … Elysian Punkuccino, with coffee and pumpkin, was a bit flat and a poor combination of two flavors that should be kept apart … The weirdly named Pumple Drumkin from Cisco Brewers of Nantucket actually tasted like a beer “I’d want to sit on my deck with and watch a crisp New England day go by,” one of our reviewers said … Dogfish Head Punkin Ale had the weirdest label in beer history—a seductive woman in old clothes looking bizarre—and wasn’t nearly as memorable as the other of the Delaware brewer’s offerings (“totally unremarkable,” one of us said) … the Southern Tier Warlock was overwhelmingly alcoholic (10 percent) and dark, with a misplaced pumpkin and clove taste. “It’s a fall-asleep-on-the-subway beer,” said one. “You wake in Canarsie, a few stops past your stop and you say, ‘What happened!’” … Finally, maybe the Heavy Seas Greater Pumpkin fell victim to being the last beer tasted. But it was not a good beer. Three comments: “Who put coconut in a pumpkin beer? Yeccch!” And, “Who ever said, ‘Hey, let’s put some coconut in a beer?’” And, “You know, it’s strange. I was drinking a pumpkin beer, and I accidentally spilled some suntan lotion in it.”
q. Cubs-Cards is so good for baseball, and this comes from someone who really wanted the Pirates to advance.
r. Congrats, Columbia, for breaking the two-year football losing streak. Columbia 26, Wagner 3. Looking forward to this week's episode of WNYC’s “The Season” podcast, to celebrate the win.
s. Attention all fans who do crazy things to their cars or other vehicles (trick them out in team colors and logos, soup them up, etc.) in the name of team spirit: The MMQB is going to write about such things in our Voice of the Fan column. Send your photos and stories to us at email@example.com. Thanks.
t. And kudos, yet again, to our Jenny Vrentas, who will be honored Wednesday with David Tyree and Stephen A. Smith as Literacy Champions by Write on Sports, a Newark-based youth literacy organization that inspires young people to improve their writing and reading by writing and reading about sports. Jenny volunteers with Write on Sports at its summer camps. The event is Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Newark Club in Newark, N.J., and you’re welcome to attend. I’ll be the MC, but don’t let that deter you. Tickets may be purchased by calling 973-783-5588, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. A very good cause.
* * *
Who I Like Tonight
San Diego 30, Pittsburgh 22. (See, you’re starting to get the weird scores this year because of the missed PATs and two-point tries.) I was really looking forward to a Ben Roethlisberger-Philip Rivers kind of shootout. Is it so bad now to settle in for a Le’Veon Bell-Melvin Gordon ground-a-thon? I’d say no—but I don’t know if Gordon (four games as a pro: 51, 88, 51, 38 rushing yards) can handle the load, or if Mike McCoy trusts him to grind it out when he’s got Keenan Allen (who already has 15- and 12-catch games in the first month) and Rivers, averaging 381 yards per game playing at home this year (two games), and facing a team that is allowing 70 percent completions. I think San Diego will go 65-35 pass and give the Steelers trouble.
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The Adieu Haiku
So the Haiku Society of America (man, I love this country) is holding its 2015 conference at Union College in upstate New York from Wednesday through Sunday. More than 100 haiku artists from as far away as India, Japan and Australia will gather at Union for the festivities, making it the largest and oldest gathering of haiku poets.
Haiku! Five-Seven-Five Forever!
Former Haiku Society president John Stevenson gets the honor of this week’s Adieu Haiku, going all e.e. cummings on me:
a gambling addict
certain a football will bounce
as he imagines
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