1. I think last week’s performance in San Francisco, 137 yards with four broken bones in his back, was a fitting closing argument in Steve Smith Sr.’s case for Canton. Over his career, Smith has caught a lot of passes for a lot of yards; he moved into the starting lineup for the Panthers in 2002, and his 13,618 receiving yards are third-most in the NFL during that span. And he has been very good for a long time; Smith is on pace for his ninth 1,000-yard season; his first came in 2003, when his current QB, Joe Flacco, was a being redshirted as a true freshman at Pitt and Carolina’s Week 1 starter was Rodney Peete.
Smith has 59 catches for 1,001 yards and nine touchdowns in 11 postseason games. That 91.0 yards per game is best all time among receivers to play in five different postseasons.
And he did it all playing the prime of his career with second-tier passers: mostly Jake Delhomme, and later a young Cam Newton. Imagine if he ever had the chance to play alongside Brady or Manning.
Aside from Randy Moss (who, of course, was a cyborg assassin sent back from the year 2029 to embarrass NFL defensive backs), I’m not sure any receiver in the post-Jerry Rice era has had a more impressive career than Smith.
• STEVE SMITH SR.’S LAST LECTURE: In a first-person piece written for The MMQB, the star receiver looks back on lessons learned, the legacy he’ll leave behind, and why he doesn’t fear what’s next after retirement.
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2. I think it’s quite the bummer to see Smith’s career end on a team that’s going to have to battle just to get to eight wins. We here at The MMQB have written about the Ravens’ shrewd strategy of letting veteran players walk and restocking through compensatory picks. But you start to wonder what kind of impact that has when Joe Flacco’s favorite targets are let go again and again (first Anquan Boldin, then Torrey Smith and Owen Daniels, meanwhile Dennis Pitta hasn’t been able to stay on the field). Chemistry between the quarterback and his receivers is more vital than at any other spot on either side of the ball; replacing a receiver is more complicated than, say, replacing a cog on the defensive line. Maybe things would be different if Breshad Perriman, the man who would replace Torrey Smith, had been able to get on the field. But it’s fair to wonder if this was simply too much changeover too soon.
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3. I think there are probably better days ahead for Melvin Gordon. But right now it’s not fair to him or the Chargers to put him on the field for significant snaps. San Diego’s o-line is struggling, but Gordon has looked lost running out of those single-back sets after spending his collegiate career in Wisconsin’s Power O scheme. He can’t run, and he’s having trouble just hanging onto the ball when he tries.
Gordon has shown flashes; there have been a handful of runs when he impressively churned out extra yards when it looked like he was bottled up. But if the Chargers are going to get back into the Wild-Card picture, it’s going to be with Danny Woodhead and Branden Oliver flanking Philip Rivers, who’s going to have to keep chucking it.
By the way, the last four running backs teams traded up or into Round 1 to draft: Gordon, Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, Mark Ingram. Maybe there’s a moral to this story.
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4. I think EJ Manuel was late, late, late again and again last week against the Bengals. He just seems overwhelmed by the moving parts out there. He can run around a little, and he generally avoids the crippling mistakes. But it just isn’t clicking for him, and it seems there’s no way the Bills can move the ball with any consistently. So anyway, enjoy, London.
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5. I think it’s time to check in with the Chip-O-Meter, literally the only accurate way to gauge Chip Kelly’s performance as head coach and GM in Philadelphia. So where does Chip fall on the scale of Spurrier to Jimmy Johnson after moving the Eagles into first place in the, shall we say, “competitive” NFC East?
Too harsh considering the two-game winning streak? Maybe. But consider this: There’s really only been one game, at home against what is (let’s face it) not a very good Saints team, that you came away saying, Eagles looked good. A win is a win in the NFL, but if there were ever a game in which both teams should have walked away with a loss it was last week’s Monday Nighter against the Giants. Philly’s first win of the year was Brandon Marshall Giveaway Day. They’re at Carolina tonight. Let’s see where Chip’s guys are at.
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6. The NBA season tips off Tuesday night. I think, if I were putting together a basketball team of current NFL players, this is what it would look like:
Quinten Rollins, CB, Packers: A no-brainer as the only true point guard available. He was a four-year starter at Miami (Ohio) before moving over to football, racking up an impressive 214 career steals.
Bruce Ellington, WR/KR, 49ers: This squad is gonna be hard-pressed for offense, which is where Ellington comes in. He actually led a bad South Carolina team in scoring as a freshman in 2010-11 with 12.8 points per game. He’s going to have the neon green light to shoot.
Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers: The cagey veteran was a much better offensive player on the court than many people remember. As a senior at Kent State (the year after they went to the Elite Eight), he averaged 20.6 points per game, 4.1 assists per game, and stepped out and hit 15 threes. He’s this team’s Draymond Green.
Jimmy Graham, TE, Seahawks: He was a role player (kinda like he is now, hey-oh!) on some quality Miami teams, a shot-blocker and rebounder to do some dirty work.
Darren Fells, TE, Cardinals: I believe the only player on this squad who played basketball professionally at any level. Fells was a force for UC-Irvine, second-team All-Big West as a senior after averaging 14.4 points and 7.2 rebounds. He went on to play hoops in Belgium, Finland, France, Mexico and Argentina before coming to the NFL.
Demetri Goodson, CB, Packers: He can platoon offense/defense with Ellington. Goodson was a two-year starter and outstanding perimeter defender for a Gonzaga program that won a ton of games.
Julius Peppers, OLB, Packers: A bruiser off the bench at North Carolina, Peppers’ final basketball game was an upset loss to Penn State in the second-round of the NCAA tournament. But he put the Tar Heels on his back in that game, with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Vincent Jackson, WR, Buccaneers: Some instant offense off the bench. Jackson walked onto the team at Division-II Northern Colorado and led the Bears in scoring.
Julius Thomas, TE, Jaguars: Can’t have enough guys with postseason experience. Thomas played in the big dance twice with Portland State, and averaged 10.8 points as a senior.
Eric Swoope, TE , Colts: A bouncy role player at Miami, Swoope is a project on Indy’s practice squad after not playing football in college or high school.
Menelik Watson, OT, Raiders: The British import spent a year as a part-time starter at Marist before taking up college football, transferring to Saddleback College (where he bookended Kyle Long) and then Florida State. He can move around and set some screens in a Nazr Mohammed-type role.
Martellus Bennett, TE, Bears: He was a practice player on a couple of very good Texas A&M teams (49-16 over two seasons).
I’m not saying that’s a great roster, but it’s gotta be better than what the Nets are trotting out there, right?
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7. I think I think some things about college football…
a. I wouldn’t feel any urgency to settle on a starting quarterback if I were Urban Meyer, either. There were a lot of Big Ten games on TV yesterday. Indiana, Maryland-Penn State, Rutgers… these look like teams that belong in the MAC (and Michigan State seems to be stuck in dogfights with all of them). This feels like the preseason for the Buckeyes, with a three-game “real” season starting with the conference title game. Even if the they get tripped up once or twice, all they have to do is roll in the Big Ten Championship and let Jim Delany do his thing with the selection committee.
b. The most unfortunately named kicker in organized football, Chris Blewitt, knocks home a game-winner for Pitt for a second straight week. Yeah, this week’s 24-yard chip shot, indoors, to beat Syracuse wasn’t the toughest kick. But last week, on the road at Georgia Tech, from 56? That’s a kick.
c. Gimme a frickin’ break, ACC Network. You do not get to claim Russell Wilson among your alumni after N.C. State essentially told him Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out. It’s like the Chargers claiming Drew Brees as a franchise icon. Or the Giants claiming Kurt Warner.
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8. I think, while you’re counting down the hours to kickoff, you should spend some time with The MMQB Read of the Week: Kalyn Kahler on the Secrets of the Vikings’ Donut Club.
We’ve done some heavy pieces around here lately, but this is one that will make you a little bit giddy. Unless you’re a Packers, Bears or Lions fan going in, you might be a Minnesota Vikings fan by the time you’re done. And, on a personal note, Kalyn was absolutely awesome on this, both as a reporter and in striking the absolute perfect tone as a writer. (And to think, we got the rookie as a third-rounder out of Northwestern; an absolute steal!)
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9. Twelve-plus things I think about Sunday’s 12 games:
a. I know the popular refrain is “another crap game for London.” And yeah, the Bills are basically running their practice squad out there as far as the passing-game personnel goes, and the Jaguars are still a year away at least. But Jacksonville is headed in the right direction. Blake Bortles is making strides, T.J. Yeldon looks like a potential star, and at some point a young defense is going to turn the corner (perhaps when they get Dante Fowler, the third overall pick in last year's draft, back in the lineup). Assuming this is the franchise that will consistently play in London, better days are ahead.
b. Coming off the extra week of prep, this is a legitimately winnable road game for Tampa, in Washington. A win would push the Bucs to 3-3. And of their 10 remaining games, only three are against a team that currently has a winning record. And two of those games are against a Falcons team that may have been exposed last week in New Orleans. I’m not saying playoffs, but 8-8 would be a pretty nice turnaround for this franchise.
c. I still have my reservations about the Falcons. But the breaks just keep coming on the schedule for them. Not that a trip to Tennessee wasn’t already winnable, but with Zach Mettenberger under center instead of Marcus Mariota…
d. This seemed like an Adrian Peterson kind of day, with the Vikings figuring to go run-heavy as they likely protect a lead in Detroit. Downgraded to questionable because of an illness, we’ll see if that happens.
e. Landry Jones, meet Justin Houston. Plus, playing on the road is a whole different beast in the NFL. The Steelers are in a lot more danger than you might think today.
f. This is the game Todd Gurley has been waiting for. He’s healthy, and he should run roughshod over a Cleveland run defense that’s struggling again.
g. The most encouraging thing about Dan Campbell’s head-coaching debut was the performance of Cameron Wake, who had been on a milk carton for the first quarter of the season. If this defensive line can ratchet up the pressure again, this time against Houston, that’s a very good sign as they head to Foxboro next week.
h. The Andrew Luck Colts have made a habit of beating up on bad teams. The Saints are a bad team. This should serve as a nice bounceback week after Sunday night's (hilarious!) loss to the Patriots.
i. The Jets and Patriots will each be facing their toughest opponent of the season. Two things I’ll be interested to see (both when the Patriots have the ball): How Darrelle Revis will handle Julian Edelman, and whether Todd Bowles can wreak havoc with the blitz against Tom Brady and a green offensive line.
j. As mentioned above, I’m not sure the Chargers can win games without Philip Rivers chucking 40-something passes. This should be a fun one against the Raiders.
k. Welcome to the Matt Cassel era! The Cowboys can’t be any worse off than they were with Brandon Weeden, but they need to start collecting some wins, starting tonight in East Rutherford.
l. The Eagles have a tendency to wear down opponents in the second half of games (+40 in the second half of over six games). The Panthers, at least this year and at least Cam Newton, have a tendency to play their best football in the second half (+29 over five games). So make sure you’re caffeinated tonight.
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10. I think, at 12:58 p.m. ET, you should turn your volume all the way up and press play…