Streams and Streaks: A Historic Sunday of Football
Sunday was a historic day in the NFL, a little bit on the field, and a big bit off. On: Carolina’s 27-16 win over the Eagles means the NFL has five 6-0 teams simultaneously for the first time in league history—Carolina, Cincinnati, Denver, Green Bay and New England. Off: Also for the first time since the NFL has been televising its product, a game was streamed live, free and exclusively on the internet. And though Buffalo-Jacksonville in London wasn’t a marquee game, it accomplished just what the NFL and Yahoo, the provider, had hoped. Yahoo announced that it had 15.6 million unique viewers and 33.6 million total live streams of the game; roughly 33% of that viewership came from outside the U.S.
“We’re a lot closer to the internet being a real, legitimate distribution platform for NFL games than we were one or two years ago,” NFL executive vice president of media Brian Rolapp told me late Sunday night. And there’s little doubt that, though the league treats its 256 regular-season games like home-TV gold, it’s likely to parcel out more than one game to an internet company in 2016.
That will make fans around the world happy. “The streaming quality was fantastic,” said Marcelo Fujimoto, a Cleveland-raised Browns fan who watched in São Paulo, Brazil. “It was like watching a game on TV.”
Vietnam checked in with praise. “It was better than I expected,” said Tyrone Carriaga, another football fan who watched in Ho Chi Minh City. “No freeze screen at all.”
More later in the column about the brave new football world on your laptops and smart phones and tablets and whatever other newfangled contraptions deliver entertainment to citizens of the world. Let’s begin with the stories of the week, from south Florida, New England, Charlotte, London, Indianapolis, New Jersey and Seattle, with stuff about donuts, the ticking time bomb that is Greg Hardy, and the deep scar that won’t be leaving Lovie Smith anytime soon.
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The football folks we’ll be discussing today.
Greg Hardy. I think the sooner we realize that Hardy is a member of the Dallas Cowboys only and absolutely only because he is a very good defensive end with rare pass-rush skills, the better off we’ll be. Then we can ignore the Jerry Jones enabling and the incessant wagon-covering by the Cowboys for someone who is impossible to like, respect or admire. The video put on air by Mike Florio at NBC on Sunday night, showing Hardy in a sideline conflagration with Dallas special-teams coach Rich Bisaccia—slapping the clipboard in the coach’s hand threateningly, causing the coach to shove Hardy and Hardy to get in his face—showed a player bordering on out of control. I don't expect the Cowboys to cut Hardy. He plays too well. But it would be nice if, instead of saying things like what a great and fiery competitor he is, someone with the Cowboys would say: “If Hardy continues to act volcanic, he’s going to have to find somewhere else to play. If anyone will have him.”
Ryan Tannehill. Somehow, he got very short shrift Sunday. Very. Tannehill completed his first 18 throws, and he threw only 19. It was sort of heartbreaking to see what happened on the 19th. Midway through the fourth quarter in a rout of Houston, Tannehill threw a 10-yard out pass to backup tight end Dion Sims. It was high, but Sims raised one hand and the ball bounced off it. Had he put both hands up, who knows? But it was a catchable ball, for sure. So Tannehill finished 18 of 19 for 282 yards with four touchdowns (all in the first 16 minutes) and no interceptions. Afterward I said to Tannehill it was a shame about that 19th throw. “What’s that?” he said. You know, I said, the fact that it ruined his perfect day. He acted as if it wasn’t a big deal, because of the way the day was game-planned. “We had a lot of respect for Houston’s pass rush,” Tannehill said, “so if you noticed how I was throwing, it was a lot of short stuff, trying to mitigate the pass rush. Really good game plan by Coach [Bill] Lazor. I felt like every pass I threw was under 20 yards in the air.” Let’s check the touchdown throws:
• On the 53-yard touchdown pass to Rishard Matthews, Tannehill threw it six yards beyond the line. Matthews made the two defensive backs clank into each other, and he was off for the score.
• On the 50-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry, Tannehill’s throw met Landry 13 yards beyond the line.
• On the 10-yard touchdown pass to Landry, Tannehill’s throw, a crosser, hit him four yards past the line.
• And the 54-yard touchdown catch by running back Lamar Miller was on a screen pass. Miller caught the ball two yards behind the line and actually scooted 56 yards for the score.
• Average distance past the line for the four touchdown throws: 5.5 yards.
“It was wild,” Tannehill said. “For a few minutes it was like anything we did worked, and we scored.” Tannehill’s day, added to the final seven completions from his game last week in Tennessee, gave him the NFL record for consecutive completions—25, breaking the mark set by Donovan McNabb in 2004. Obviously, the coaching change in Miami is agreeing with Tannehill. He’s an 83.3 percent passer in the two games since Dan Campbell took over. “He wants us to play like we played as kids, with a love of the game,” Tannehill said. Well, something’s working.
Dan Campbell. Stop saying, “Who cares? He’s beaten Tennessee and Houston, and they stink.” The Joe Philbin Dolphins lost to Jacksonville. The Joe Philbin Dolphins lost to the Bills by 27. The Dan Campbell Dolphins won at Tennessee 38-10, and had a 41-0 halftime lead over Houston on Sunday. “Forty-one to nothing, at halftime,” Campbell said, incredulously. Part of my job at NBC on Sundays is to pay particularly close attention to the 1 p.m. ET games before production work for the Football Night show begins in earnest. And the difference in the Dolphins has been startling. One sack in the first four games. Ten sacks in the two games since Campbell took over. Clearly the players are playing with more drive, more passion. If you don’t love what you’re doing, it’s going to show in your work, negatively. And it’s clear these players like playing for the new boss. He’s injected an energy into the team that any athlete needs to be really good. He’ll need to do it this week, especially. Miami has a short week of prep for the big, bad, 6-0 Patriots in Foxboro on Thursday night.
Tom Brady. The Jets ranked first in team defense heading into Sunday’s showdown in New England, having allowed 227 yards a game over their previous three games and holding quarterbacks to 50 percent completions and only nine third-down conversions. In other words, not bad. With Sheldon Richardson back from a four-game suspension, the defense didn’t have a weakness. If you’d told me that the Patriots would have dressed six offensive linemen, were missing two of their top three tackles, were missing their most dangerous back (Dion Lewis), would get one rushing yard from a running back, and would drop nine passes in the game Sunday, I’d have picked the Jets to win, by double digits. But even with all those problems, and even with the nine drops, Brady overcame.
Brady, the week he said he wanted to play 10 more years (he’s 38), still completed 34 of 54 passes for 355 yards, with no interceptions. Imagine if, say, seven of those dropped passes had been caught. Brady could have had a 400-yard passing day against the best interior rushing front in football, with Darrelle Revis leading a starry secondary.
The Patriots are 6-0. Brady has thrown one interception, in 251 passes. For those inclined to hate him, or treat him the way so many baseball fans treat Alex Rodriguez, for instance, nothing he does will change your mind about him. For all others, consider this: In his 14th full season as a starting quarterback, Brady, at 38, is having the kind of year he’s had only once before—in his 50-touchdown season of 2007. When he was 30. And when the Patriots went 16-0.
Stefon Diggs. For one of the catches of the year. Maybe the catch of the year. With the Vikes down 17-15 in the third quarter at Detroit, this emerging rookie star laid out at the goal line, caught a Teddy Bridgewater throw from 36 yards away with his fingertips, parallel to the ground, and kept control of the ball while slamming to the turf. Folks, this ball is missed or dropped (understandably) 19 times out of 20. Diggs controlled it, and the Vikings took a 22-17 lead in a game they went on to win. The Vikes are 4-2 today with a huge assist from this fifth-round pick from Maryland, who finished with six catches for 108 yards—his second straight 100-yard receiving day.
Rex Ryan. The Bills had the fourth-best defense, statistically, in football last year, and Ryan said in the spring, “I know we’ll be better this year.” They’re 11th this morning. Players are grousing about roles. The quarterback who played Sunday, EJ Manuel, shows occasional flashes of good deep-ball throwing, but he cannot be saved. The Bills had to dig out of a 27-3 hole against the Jaguars on Sunday, took the lead 31-27, and still lost, 34-31. Rex looked like his dog just died after the game. “Extremely painful loss,” he said. “To come all the way back, then to give it up at the end … a devastating loss, to say the least.”
Arian Foster. He’ll be 30 next summer when (if?) he tries to come back from another major injury—this one a torn Achilles suffered Sunday at Miami. It’s been a heck of a career. If this is it, and there’s no indication it is (though Foster is a worldly guy with money), he’d finish as the 72nd-leading rusher of all time, between Lydell Mitchell and Wendell Tyler. And the former undrafted free agent got paid once, earning $36 million from the contract he signed in 2012 through the end of this year. Personally, I’ll remember going to dinner with him once in Houston before he’d hit it big and thinking this was one of the brightest players I’d ever met—and that if this magic-carpet ride he was on early in 2010 ever ended, he’d be fine. My thinking hasn’t changed.
Kawann Short. Two sacks last week in Seattle, and the NFC Defensive Player of the Week Award. On Sunday night, on the national stage again for Carolina, Short was better in the 27-16 win over the Eagles: eight tackles, a career-best three sacks, a pass deflection and a forced fumble. So where did this defensive tackle, the one drafted after the big Star (Lotulelei) in the 2013 draft, come from? In GM David Gettleman’s first draft running the Panthers, he was criticized for taking defensive tackles with the first two picks—Lotulelei and then Short, from Purdue, who’d had questions about his work ethic and college production, and whether he could stay at a weight of near 310 so he could rush the passer. Playing now around 315, Short is quick enough to keep Russell Wilson in his sights, as he did last week, and stout enough to keep linemen off the talented Carolina linebackers. “They demand double-teams,” Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly said of Short and Lotulelei before the game. Short is the one demanding more attention these days, and he’s proving that Gettleman was smart to eschew a receiver or cornerback early in that ’13 draft. When you can get quick big guys on the defensive front, Gettleman believes you never pass on them—and the pick of Short is proving him right.
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The great live-streaming experiment.
“First,” said Brian Rolapp, “we wouldn’t call it an experiment. We waited until now because we wanted to make sure the internet could handle it; we weren’t going to do this until we felt confident in everyone being able to see the game. The quality of the production and the quality of the stream both had to be good. And we think it was, from everything we’ve heard.”
My experiment with Bills-Jags on Yahoo, I suppose, was not unlike others in the United States with things to do on Sunday morning. In my Manhattan East Side apartment, I tried two devices, a laptop and a smart phone, just before the game kicked off. Got into Yahoo.com immediately on both, and painlessly got the game up in time to see Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon give me a quick preview. The smart phone was two seconds ahead of the laptop in streaming the game. I kept both on until I had to leave at 10:45 to make the trek to NBC for our Sunday studio show. I kept the phone on, and it mostly held the stream well, though there were three or four gaps of 10 seconds or so when the screen froze. But mostly good. And then, at NBC, with a strong signal obviously, the picture was fine through the end of the game.
Rolapp and some NFL employees watched from a conference room on Park Avenue. “We had it up on laptops, tablets, Surfaces, iPhones, Roku, Xbox, everything we could think of,” he said, “and the stream held up well on all of them.”
So the NFL wanted to see three things when it decided to take one of its three Sunday morning games from London and show it free on the internet only, rather than on a television network or its domestic and international subscription services. One: The league wanted to know if the picture quality would be good when millions of people tried to access the game at the same time, not just in America but around the world, given that internet infrastructure varies widely. Two: The league wanted to see if there was an appetite for the game in some of the places where the NFL is underserved. Russia and China, for instance, and a Sunday morning game in Eastern Time would be a Sunday evening prime-time game in large swaths of Asia. Three: Would it all go smoothly enough so that the project might expand and more games would be exclusively streamed to the net beginning next year?
About that last point: Let’s start with the idea of just what games the NFL has available for the internet. The vast majority during the regular season and post-season are spoken for through 2020 and 2021. But there are three Sunday games (currently the early-window London games, starting at 9:30 a.m. ET) available, and there will be the Thursday night package in 2016; CBS is on a one-year deal for Thursdays in 2015, simulcasting with NFL Network and then ceding to NFL Network alone beginning in Week 9. That 16-game package is now up for negotiation for 2016 and beyond. So that’s about 19 games the NFL can farm out as it sees fit. But the Thursday package, the vast majority of it at least, is likely headed to a network. I think it’s likely there could be a Sunday game plus at least one Thursday game headed for the internet in 2016.
“We’ve always thought of the Thursday package as a way to help us prepare for the future, in part,” said Rolapp. And though no decisions have been made on what the NFL will do with one, two or three (or more) of the games in the brave new world of internet football, it’s clear that the league has an appetite to explore an expansion. We’ll see what that becomes.
The MMQB asked fans around the world who watched the game on Sunday to send us their views of the streaming experience. Their responses were what you’d think if you watched: positive. Taking the pulse of the experiment, including what time it was locally when Bills-Jags came on in their part of the world.
Gametime: 9:30 p.m. Sunday
“I watched the game on my laptop in my study at home. This worked out really well for me. Normally, the games would be on through the thick of the night (due to the 12-hour time difference), making it very difficult to watch. I normally wake up in the middle of the night to catch the New York Jets’ latest score on the ESPN app. I tend to follow the play-by-play of the late-night games on the SI website. The quality of this game was excellent, the streaming very clear—buffering ever so slightly at times. Each aspect and angles was like watching on TV. I did have my concerns about the commentary—they did try to pander to the U.K. crowd unnecessarily. Also, they mentioned the Rugby World Cup at least three times! The quality of the game (at least in the last quarter) made me sit up and stay awake! Great experiment, stretching the envelope … This opens up the viewership window on the other side of the world.”
Gametime: 6:30 a.m. Sunday
“I watched it from my hotel room in Tijuana, where I'm living. I like football and was anxious to watch the Bills play. They were supposed to be decent this year. The quality at times was dazzlingly clear, like HD on my Mac laptop. Other times it got fuzzy and then the feed dropped a few times. Internet is not great in Mexico, and so I was hoping it would at least be as good as my MLB TV subscription. It was actually better.”
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Gametime: 8:30 p.m. Sunday
“I watched at home using Apple TV. I watched because I do not see a live game as part of the TV package here. The start time was convenient as well. It looked like standard definition most of the game. I expected stop and freeze frame because that is what I get if I watch some shows online, but it did not occur in this game.”
Gametime: 10:30 a.m. Sunday
“I watched at home, on my phone and then my laptop. I try to watch as many games as I can. Big NFL fan. Playing at Wembley adds a little something extra. It's great to see a soccer temple being used for football. The quality was excellent. I expected a less-fluent transmission, but it turned out to be flawless. Spanish commentator was a bit annoying though.”
New Delhi, India
Gametime: 6:30 p.m. Sunday
“I was watching from India. I am a huge football fan. Instead of watching the pre-game shows, I had the game on. Broadband speeds aren’t the best here so quality varies with speed. Overall it was good. Quality on par with NFL Game Pass [the NFL’s subscription streaming service for fans outside the U.S. and Mexico]. No hassle, just click the link and it worked.”
São Paulo, Brazil
Gametime: 11:30 a.m. Sunday
“I watched it from São Paulo, Brazil, where I live. I was up and about doing a few things, so I watched the game on my iPhone 6. I watched because I love NFL football. (I grew up in Cleveland.) And the opportunity to watch games is limited here. On normal cable packages in Brazil, only ESPN Brazil televises games, which means only one game per time slot is televised. As a Browns fan whose team unfortunately rarely gets televised here, I'll take any bit of NFL football any way I can. Watching NFL games on TV in Brazil is a very choppy experience: Between snaps (commercial breaks, timeouts, on-field reporting etc.), a lot of footage you see in the U.S. doesn't get televised here, so the viewing experience is not as good. The online stream was a smooth and consistent viewing experience. It was great. Much better than expected. Yahoo outdid themselves on the streaming quality.”
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The biggest event in London this weekend wasn’t a football game.
It was a think tank on head trauma and sports concussions, with representatives from around the world—the NFL, the Canadian Football League, FIFA, the National Hockey League, international hockey officials, Australian Rules Football, the NCAA, rugby leagues, equestrian officials and the U.S. Defense Department—sharing ideas on how to better diagnose, treat and track concussions. It was an all-day event hosted by the NFL in London on Saturday.
The reason this is important, as I wrote the other day, is that the current leadership in the NFL—with Roger Goodell at the head of it—ultimately will be judged by how it responds to the current concussion crisis. Goodell will be judged by other issues too, like the Ray Rice debacle and Deflategate, but I believe the concussion crisis will be at the fore. Goodell and top league officials aren’t going to have a $20 billion industry a decade down the road if the league doesn’t get a handle on diminishing the frequency and severity of brain trauma suffered by NFL players. I wrote on Friday that the fact that 2013 Defensive Player Luke Kuechly sat out 34 days with a concussion before returning to play last week in Seattle is a marker of progress. It was also progress that Kuechly said, “We had to be careful with [my concussion]. I trusted the care I got.”
More progress needs to be made. The co-chair of the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee, Seattle-based doctor Richard Ellenbogen, was in London for the conference. He is also one of the NFL’s unaffiliated head-trauma experts on the sidelines, and has the power to take a player off the field if he sees the player wobbly or otherwise showing symptoms of a concussion. “Would you have seen [Kuechly sit so long] 10 years ago?” Ellenbogen said Saturday from London. “The culture is changing. We are seeing a revolution of thought and an evolution of action.”
In London, the NFL agreed to help fund a study of 1,000 high school and college football players, Australian rules football players and Irish rugby players to see if the best method of recovery from concussions is simply rest and avoidance of bright lights and stimulation—or if there is some therapy that can be done to treat concussions more wisely. “Can you get an athlete back to health faster than just by resting?” Ellenbogen said. “”That’s something that will be studied. Basically, can you rehab a concussion?”
Ellenbogen thinks one of the big needs in concussion diagnosis and treatment is a concussion registry—a definitive record for every athlete, and perhaps every person, who suffers a concussion, to create a data set for head trauma, particularly for those in contact sports. “I would love in this country if we had a record system, so if you had a concussion at five it would stay with you on your registry at 75,” Ellenbogen said. “We track breast cancer in this country, but we don’t have a concussion registry. If you fall off your bike and got a concussion, then get three in high school and five in college, no one tracked that stuff, but if you knew that when a guy gets to the NFL, it could be extremely valuable.”
I asked Ellenbogen if he ever felt like he, and those in the think tank Saturday, held the future of football and perhaps other contact sports in their hands. It’s clear that football is under such fire that its existence could be threatened if the fathers of the game don’t do more for the health and safety of players.
“No question it’s important,” Ellenbogen said. “But the unintended consequences of getting rid of contact sports would be an unmitigated disaster. Whatever we do, please do not have the conversation about banning these [contact] sports. The benefits of sports—for physical health, for the benefits of being on a team—far outweigh the risks. I can’t even imagine the consequences if enrollment started declining in sports like football and lacrosse.”
It’s a valid concern, but as Ellenbogen knows, there are sports with far less head-trauma potential that will become more attractive to parents if the concussion crisis isn’t handled aggressively by those running the business of football. Including the NFL.
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Quotes of the Week
“It’s not over. I promise you, it’s not over.”
—Injured Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant. Dallas is 0-4 since losing Tony Romo to a broken left collarbone, and 1-4 since losing Bryant to a broken bone in his foot.
“That first half was pathetic. Nothing good happened from the first play on. It sucks, to be honest with you.”
—San Diego coach Mike McCoy, whose Chargers were down 30-6 at the half on the way to a 37-29 loss to Oakland.
“All losses hurt. Some leave a deep scar. This is one of those.”
—Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith. The Bucs blew a 24-0 lead at Washington and lost, 31-30.
“If they trade me, I’d quit today.”
—Baltimore wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., perhaps nervous that one of the teams most inclined to trade in recent NFL history—the Ravens and their pragmatic GM, Ozzie Newsome—are on the verge of going 1-6 with the trading deadline eight days away. He made his remarks to the team’s website.
“Maybe 10 more years. I think that's probably what my goal is.”
—Tom Brady, who is 38, on his future plans for playing pro football.
"We feel that after 14 years we’ve exhausted every viable and potentially viable option in our home market here.”
—Chargers counsel Mark Fabiani, to Dan Sileo of radio station the Mighty 1090 AM in San Diego, telling Sileo the team plans to file for relocation to Los Angeles in January.
Well, no kidding.
“The glazed donut is timeless. I am a man of the classics.”
—Defensive Jared Allen, formerly of the Vikings, to Kalyn Kahler of The MMQB for a story about the Vikings’ Donut Club that I would strongly recommend. I mean, who doesn't like a good donut story?
“It’s basically Game of Thrones with footballs instead of swords.”
—Charles McClain, a 72-year-old Lee, N.H., resident and a student in the University of New Hampshire’s Deflategate class this semester, describing the scandal in this The MMQB story.
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The Award Section
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Kirk Cousins, quarterback, Washington. With huge pressure on his shoulders after helping his team to a 24-0 deficit at home to the Bucs, Cousins came back with the best day of his career: 33 of 40, 317 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions … and a six-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Reed to win it with 28 seconds left. “YOU LIKE THAT?!” Cousins screamed on his way into the locker room, presumably to the gathered press. Well, we thought it was a terrific play. And I guess you could say we liked it.
Danny Amendola, wide receiver, New England. Look, I could give one of these to Tom Brady almost every week, and certainly when he goes 34 of 54 for 355 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions against the kind of relentless rush that the Jets sent at him Sunday. But even Brady seemed to acknowledge Amendola post-game, getting very emotional with him, gesturing to him that he played great. Amendola’s two big plays: Down 20-16 midway through the fourth quarter, he caught a lasered, small-window touchdown pass near the ground from Brady to give the Patriots a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. On the insurance drive that ended in a Rob Gronkowski TD, Amendola made a tough 11-yard third-down conversion catch. Eight catches in nine Brady targets for Amendola—on a day when New England receivers had the dropsies—for 86 yards. For a man often in the shadows behind Julian Edelman and Gronkowski, Amendola was huge in a big game Sunday.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, cornerback, New York Giants. There’s the Matt Cassel factor here—he threw interceptions on three straight series midway through the Giants’ 27-20 win over the Cowboys on Sunday in New Jersey—but credit Rodgers-Cromartie for being in the right place at the right time for two picks totaling 70 return yards and one touchdown. His 58-yard return on a early-third-quarter pick gave the Giants a 17-13 lead, and New York never trailed after that.
Michael Bennett, defensive end, Seattle. The San Francisco offensive line, which used to be good, got absolutely abused by the Seattle pass-rush Thursday night in the Seahawks’ 20-3 victory. The primary abuser was the man New England thought was Seattle’s best player entering Super Bowl 49, Bennett. He had 3.5 sacks Thursday night and appeared to thoroughly discombobulate Colin Kaepernick.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Dwayne Harris, wide receiver/kick returner, New York Giants. Dallas 20, New York 20. Fourth quarter. Huge drive by Matt Cassel and company to tie it up. So what does Harris—signed by the Giants from Dallas in free agency last spring—do? He takes the kickoff at his goal line, gets two key blocks 18 and 22 yards downfield, and sprints past everyone for a 100-yard kick return. He couldn’t have picked a better time for his first touchdown as a Giants returner.
Pat McAfee, punter, Indianapolis. He capped the busiest day of his career—10 punts—with a fourth-quarter 45-yarder that pinned the Saints at their 1-yard line. Tough week for Colts special teams. Figure they could use such a prestigious award as this one: 10 punts, 51.7-yard average.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Bill Lazor, offensive coordinator, Miami. So, Lazor had to adapt to life without Joe Philbin as his boss—and he was close to Philbin and liked him a lot. Now Lazor is working for a man whom he once bossed around, former tight ends coach Dan Campbell. With Campbell as head coach/motivator, the team has played markedly better the past two weeks, and Lazor’s offense has been terrific. Miami’s offense put up 31 points and 503 yards against Tennessee in Week 6 and 37 points and 434 yards against Houston on Sunday. Afterward, Ryan Tannehill told me how comfortable he was with Lazor and the offense, and how much in a groove he felt Sunday.
GOAT OF THE WEEK
The Houston Texans. Just an awful performance, falling behind 41-0, being outgained at one point 275-0. Time to do the proverbial look-selves-in-the-mirror and the gut-check and, well, all the other clichés.
EJ Manuel, quarterback, Buffalo. I know. The Bills rallied, and came very close to winning the game in London. But Manuel put them in such a deep hole that it cannot be overlooked. Jacksonville didn't have a defensive touchdown in its first six games. On Sunday the Jags had two in five minutes, and both were courtesy of Manuel. In a pathetic display of quarterbacking, Manuel responded poorly to a corner blitz and was strip-sacked, the fumble recovered for a Jags touchdown. He followed that up with interceptions on the next two series, including one right into the arms of Telvin Smith, who returned it for a touchdown. Great end zone view on the Yahoo stream, with Manuel staring the entire time at the spot he threw to, and Smith baiting and waiting. Easy pick. Buffalo’s worst nightmare—first when drafting Manuel in 2013, then when dealing Matt Cassel to Dallas for a 2017 fifth-round pick. Manuel had a couple lovely throws after his meltdown, but I wouldn’t trust him at all if I were Rex Ryan.
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Stats of the Week
There has never been a 6,000-yard passing season in NFL history, and I doubt there will be one this year. But at the rate San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is throwing—and going—it’s a possibility.
After Rivers’ 336-yard performance against the Raiders on Sunday, he’s at 2,452 yards through seven games, an average of 350.3 passing yards per game. That’s on pace for 5,604 yards for 16 games, which gives you some idea how hard it would be to throw for 6,000 yards in a season. The NFL record is 5,477, set by Peyton Manning in 2013.
For Rivers to hit 6,000, he’d have to average 394 yards for the remaining nine Chargers games—tough duty considering his line is beat up and two of the games left are against the rugged Denver defense.
You may not recall this. It’s been almost 10 years. But when the Patriots decided to let Adam Vinatieri go in free agency, the team was criticized in some corners for not ponying up to re-sign the kicker, who’d been the epitome of clutch. Instead, Vinatieri signed with Indianapolis, and New England drafted a kicker from Memphis, Stephen Gostkowski, in the fourth round of the 2005 draft.
• In Vinatieri’s six years (regular-season and post-season) playing for Bill Belichick, he made 82.9 percent of his field goals.
• In Gostkowski’s 10 years playing for Belichick, he has made 87.7 percent of his field goals.
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Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
In the last 10 games against each team in their division, the Patriots are:
• 8-2 against the Jets.
• 8-2 against the Dolphins.
• 8-2 against the Bills.
Everson Walls was the honorary captain for the Giants for their game against Dallas on Sunday. Walls was a member of the Giants’ 1990 Super Bowl championship team. Still, Walls at midfield in New Jersey pre-game as a Giant, greeting the Cowboys on the other side, struck me as odd.
• Seasons as a Cowboy: 9.
• Seasons as a Giant: 2.5.
• Pro Bowls: 4 (all as a Cowboy).
• Years leading the NFL in interceptions: 3 (all as a Cowboy).
• Walls donated a kidney to ailing former Dallas teammate Ron Springs several years ago.
Not the biggest deal of Week 7, and not anything wrong with it. Just eyebrow-raising.
III (a.k.a. Baseball Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me)
The last game of the 2015 season will be Mets versus Royals, in the World Series. The first game of the 2016 season for the Mets and the Royals will be Mets versus Royals, on April 4 in Kansas City.
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Headline of the Week
From the website of the Chicago Sun-Times, last Tuesday:
Mike Ditka says fart on ESPN ‘wasn’t me’
The Sun-Times quoted Ditka denying he did the deed: “It wasn’t me. Believe me, I’m to the point in my life where it doesn’t matter. One day I’ll be happy if I can leave a fart. Right now, it wasn’t me. I don’t care what they think. They can think anything they want.”
One day I’ll be happy if I can leave a fart?
They don’t make ’em better than Ditka.
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Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
I traveled six miles Friday evening to Barclays Center—what a pleasant surprise, seeing Mr. and Mrs. Brasco, Don and Alissa Banks, there—to watch an Islanders hockey game. Hockey in Brooklyn. What a country. I like the building, though there clearly are sightline issues in various sections, and the place wasn’t invented for hockey. I feel for the fans who have to travel from the Island to see the Islanders. Lively crowd saw the Bruins prevail.
Bonus: The drinks and food are really good there. Brooklyn Lager on tap, with a slice of square Williamsburg Pizza, terrific crust and fairly light, complete with fresh basil.
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Tweets of the Week
How nervous is the Yahoo IT guy right now?— Ross Tucker (@RossTuckerNFL) October 25, 2015
The NFL analyst sent this out 19 minutes before the first exclusively live-streamed NFL game in history Sunday.
In road games at Atlanta and Miami, the Texans have trailed 69-0 at halftime.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) October 25, 2015
I just saw the whole video of Cowboys Greg Hardy on the sidelines. He is totally out of control going after one of their coaches. Terrible.— Tony Dungy (@TonyDungy) October 26, 2015
Weatherford called by #Jets pro personnel scout Greg Nejmeh while radio show was in break. Said yes, then rushed off phone as show went live— Dennis Waszak Jr. (@DWAZ73) October 24, 2015
The AP writer was describing how punter Steve Weatherford was in the middle of doing a radio show in New York on Saturday and got a call from the Jets inquiring about his availability because their punter was injured. Weatherford got off the phone in time to do the radio gig.
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Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 7:
a. Amari Cooper’s moves, and his hands, and his speed. The Oakland wideout is special.
b. The former Raider, Darren McFadden, with his best post-Oakland game by far: 29 carries, 152 yards. Dallas may have the back it has been seeking as primary mail-carrier, but McFadden has always had issues staying healthy. Jason Garrett will be wise to not overuse him.
c. Fantastic throw, catch and lunge for the touchdown by the Jags’ Blake Bortles and Allen Robinson on the first touchdown of Sunday.
d. Aaron Colvin’s corner blitz for the Jags, forcing the fumble on EJ Manuel.
e. Miami wideout Rishard Matthews’ separation ability.
f. Miami wideout Jarvis Landry’s ability to be a complete receiver—hands, speed and making tacklers miss.
g. Patrick Chung, with the four-point-saving pass-breakup in front of Jets tight end Jeff Cumberland. Instead of a touchdown, Chung’s ripping of Cumberland’s arm as the ball arrived prevented the completion and forced a field goal.
h. Lamarcus Joyner’s excellent open-field tackle for the Rams, forcing a Cleveland punt.
i. Good CBS graphic in the first half at Foxboro: Pats 46-4 in their previous 50 home games, best 50-game home record in the league in at least the past 50 years.
j. Superb pass deflection, juggle and interception by Titans linebacker David Bass, leading to the first touchdown in Atlanta-Tennessee.
k. The all-around impactful play of rookie Saints linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha.
l. Cleveland kicker Travis Coons, with his 13th and 14th field goals. He’s perfect in his 14-kick NFL career.
m. The tip-of-the-fingertips catch by Gary Barnidge, Cleveland’s emerging stalwart tight end. (You just might read about him very soon at The MMQB.)
n. Dallas coach Jason Garrett taking the Cowboys to the New York area a day early this weekend, so his team could tour the new World Trade Center and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.
o. Good note by Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk: Next week’s Detroit-Kansas City game will be the 14th regular-season game played in London, and none of the 14 will have matched two teams with winning records.
p. Incredible effort by Detroit’s Ziggy Ansah, sprinting 72 yards to catch Adrian Peterson and knock him out of bounds at the 3-yard line. It saved Detroit four points. Instead of Peterson scoring a touchdown, the Vikes settled for a field goal.
q. Washington’s well-executed onside kick, the first one recovered by the kicking team in seven weeks this season.
r. The electrifying Devonta Freeman, with an impactful day: 25 carries, 116 yards at Tennessee.
s. Ryan Fitzpatrick’s terrific 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that ended with the Jets up 17-16 in the third quarter.
t. The vital third-down sack by Tamba Hali, with the Chiefs up six in the fourth quarter, forcing the Steelers to take a field goal instead of a touchdown.
u. Not sure how much to blame Houston’s pathetic effort on defense, but in the first 28 minutes of Dolphins-Texans, Miami running back Lamar Miller had 175 yards on 14 carries—the 14th being an 85-yard touchdown run through the heart of the Houston defense. That’s what Miller ended with. He has the ability to make tacklers miss with minute jukes that you can barely see but that are effective in taking away the aggression of the defenders.
v. Nick Folk, the Jets kicker. His 55-yard field goal (which would have been good from 63) with 23 seconds left kept the Jets in it at 30-23, and then his onside kick was recovered by Brandon Marshall with 18 seconds left, giving the Jets one last chance to try to win a game for AFC East supremacy.
w. The transcendent year Josh Norman is having for Carolina. Did you see the pass-breakup he had near the end of the first half, which looked absolutely like the touchdown the Eagles desperately needed? Norman sold out, flicked it away, and saved four points; the frustrated Eagles settled for a field goal.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 7:
a. Man, the Browns make a lot of unforced errors. Forced ones too.
b. Folks online (Twitter, elsewhere) grousing they couldn’t watch the Buffalo-Jacksonville on their big screens. Stop. Just stop. Buffalo-Jacksonville, first of all. Second: It’s bonus football, in a specially created window because it’s a London game. Third: 95 percent of the complainers would never have watched this game anyway. So stop.
c. Greg Hardy and Dez Bryant yapping at each other on the sideline. Just dumb. Know when to shut up.
d. Most amazing drop of the day: Justin Hunter of the Titans dropping a 50-yard bomb from Zach Mettenberger … uncovered, and with a pasture ahead. Amazing. Right in his hands.
e. The Houston defense.
f. And the Houston offense. When Miami led 28-0 early in the second quarter, this was the total yards in the game: Dolphins 275, Texans 0.
g. Stretch the ball to the goal line, James White.
h. Julian Edelman’s drop at the goal line in the third quarter. Instead of New England being up 20-10, the Pats settled for a field goal and a 16-10 lead.
i. Ditto Brandon Marshall’s drop early in the fourth, negating a TD. Would have been an eight-point lead. But Jets settled for 20-16 edge.
j. Memo to Jets: Brady has popped the ball over the plane of the goal line 652 times in his career. You didn’t see that coming on the second-quarter sneak?
k. Brandon LaFell’s hands in his first game back from injury for New England. Four first-half drops. Six for the game.
l. Injuries, injuries, and more injuries.
m. Marcus Mariota missing the Atlanta game after his left knee got caved in by an Olivier Vernon low blow that brought a league fine.
n. Valuable and versatile Carolina rookie hurricane Shaq Thompson (knee), who’s been an eye-opening addition, sitting on Sunday night.
o. Steely safety Eric Weddle’s 86-game starting streak coming to an end. A groin injury kept Weddle out of the Chargers-Raiders game.
p. San Francisco safety Antoine Bethea (shoulder) going on IR in the wake of the Niners’ 20-3 loss to Seattle on Thursday. Big blow. If NaVorro Bowman is the leader of the front seven (and he is), Bethea, 31, is the leader of the back four. And at a time when the team is in crisis mode, taking away such a smart and responsible player is a huge blow.
q. The Bills’ inactive list for Sunday: the starting quarterback (Tyrod Taylor), two starting-caliber wideouts (Sammy Watkins, Percy Harvin), one of the best defensive tackles in football (Kyle Williams), a starting offensive tackle (Seantrel Henderson), and an emerging running back (Karlos Williams).
r. Buffalo’s offensive intelligence, as shown by three plays in succession by the Bills on the first scoring drive of the day in London:
s. One: Robert Woods in motion, and the center snap bouncing off Woods on the way to LeSean McCoy in Wildcat formation.
t. Two: Tight end Chris Gragg stepping out of bounds, alone, on the way to catching a pass that, obviously, was incomplete because he was out of bounds. Totally bizarre mental block.
u. Three: EJ Manuel throwing a corner route to Gragg way out of the end zone, though Gragg was open. Manuel does brain-lock things like this way too often.
v. Two Jags offensive holding calls in the first 12 minutes … and then two flags on the Jags on the same third-and-long play.
w. The first-down-enabling missed tackle by Tahir Whitehead and Glover Quin in Detroit.
x. The Bills, averaging 10.3 accepted penalties a game. That’s a lot.
y. Not to harp on this stat, but there’s a symmetry to the Colts in the Pagano/Luck Era now: Indy is 20-20 in games outside the division, including playoffs.
3. I think the most interesting thing on the NFL leaderboard right now is this rather incredible number: Devonta Freeman, who started his first NFL game one month ago, will enter Week 8 with an 80-yard lead in the NFL rushing race.
4. I think the best news for Pittsburgh is how good Ben Roethlisberger moved in practice last week. Big game next week, with the 6-0 Bengals coming to town Sunday, and you’ve got to assume that after 34 days off to rehab his ailing knee, Roethlisberger would have a good chance to play. Then it's time for the Steelers to get in playoff-push mode, with the Raiders and Browns following to finish a three-game homestand before the Pittsburgh bye.
5. I think this remains one of the most numbing stats in football: Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham Jr. have been employed by the Giants for the past 23 games. They have played together in one of the 23, because of injuries.
6. I think whether Percy Harvin retires or not, it’s clear the mercurial 27-year-old wide receiver has lost his once-premier value as an NFL game-changer since tearing a hip labrum in 2013, the year he was traded from Minnesota to Seattle. He’s simply not the same player—through little fault of his own. The Bills gave him the London game off, to clear his head and try to figure out what he wants to do with the rest of his career, and to see if he thinks he can be effective playing with the nagging hip injury. Though his production has plummeted, he’s gotten paid. In his three post-Vikings seasons, Harvin has been paid $31.5 million. Comparing his production as a Viking to his production with the Seahawks, Jets and Bills:
• Vikings (54 games): 387 touches from scrimmage, 10.3 yards per touch, 24 touchdowns … 27.9 yards per kick return, five touchdowns.
• Seahawks, Jets, Bills (19 games): 109 touches from scrimmage, 8.7 yards per touch, three touchdowns … 24.8 yards per kick return, no touchdowns.
7. I think it was hard to listen to Bill Belichick in his Friday news conference—when he’s fairly expansive, with the hay in the barn at that point, and nothing of real news substance very often left to dissect—and not think of how the Colts messed up the fake punt against New England eight days ago. Belichick was talking about losing two of his top three tackles to injury, and figuring how to juggle his lineup, and the conversation morphed into special teams. In brief, the Colts botched the fake third-quarter punt against New England in Week 6 in part because the snapper on the fake punt, Griff Whalen, hadn’t practiced the wrinkle the coaching staff put into the play that week, namely that the center was not supposed to snap the ball. Whalen didn’t know because he was the backup snapper on the play and hadn’t practiced it.
Listen to Belichick (and try to follow as he tends to ramble): “You don't go into the game thinking about losing two guys at the same position. When that happens, that's a difficult situation. And particularly in the kicking game because now you're talking about 66 players on special teams—kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return, field goal, field goal rush. That's 66 players. That means you have to have 66 backups. I mean, you've got to have it. So, this guy is out on this team, who is going in for him? … It's hard enough to lose one because you're looking at 66 plus 66. You start dropping down below that, then the opportunity to even give that guy reps at that position when you get 11 guys on the field, whoever that guy is, just getting him out there is one thing. ... But special teams, people don't realize how difficult it is to just manage the roster in the kicking game because there are a lot of guys you can just eliminate from special teams. You don't see any offensive linemen on the kickoff team, you don't see any defensive linemen on the kickoff team, you don't see any quarterbacks, other than the kicker and the punter, so you can take probably 15 to 20 players and just eliminate them from a lot of those teams.”
8. I think if you believe Sunday was the end of the Jets for this season, after the Patriots made sure all is back to normal in the AFC East with a home win over New York, consider these points:
• The Jets are 4-2.
• In the next seven weeks, they play teams with a combined record of 18-28: at Oakland (3-3), Jacksonville (2-5), Buffalo (3-4), at Houston (2-5), Miami (3-3), at the Giants (4-3), and Tennessee (1-5).
• Five games in their home stadium. Two, at sub-.500 teams, on the road.
Tell me why it’s unlikely the Jets could be 10-3 entering the final three games of the season: a fascinating Week 15 Saturday night game at Dallas (with Tony Romo, presumably, back), the Patriots at home two days after Christmas, and a nippy affair at Buffalo three days into 2016. I’m just saying I certainly don't consider the AFC East race to be wide open, but it might not be over yet.
9. I think congratulations are in order for Mike Tirico. Baltimore-Arizona tonight is Tirico’s 150th Monday Night Football telecast. Ten years on the job already?
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. The shame of the city happened Tuesday night, when New York police officer Randolph Holder was shot in the forehead, murdered, allegedly, by a career criminal, Tyrone Howard. The city is incredulous that a man who has been convicted (not just charged, but convicted) of robbery, felony drug sale, felony drug sale, felony drug sale, drug possession, public lewdness, felony drug sale, drug possession, drug possession, drug possession and felony drug sale—with two 2015 shootings still being investigated—could be put in a diversion program instead of behind bars. Howard was sentenced earlier this year to a diversion program and drug rehab, but he skipped out on the rehab and was being sought by police when he allegedly shot Officer Holder in the head.
b. I don’t usually document things like this. Maybe I should do more of it. But this case is so utterly galling and such a pox on society that I cannot get over it. Eleven convictions and Howard’s not in jail. He’s in a diversion program, which he can walk away from and continue his life of crime. What kind of world are we living in that allows this to happen?
c. You cannot pay the police officers in this country enough money. You simply can’t.
d. Deep breath.
e. I am just disgusted. Now onto other parts of the world.
f. Story of the week: From Michael Cohen and John Diedrich of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, some excellent reporting on the troubled life of defensive tackle Letroy Guion of the Packers, a story that leaves you wondering why the Packers employ him.
g. RIP Cory Wells, one of the lead singers of Three Dog Night. I show my age here, but I loved that band. “Shambala” and “Mama Told Me Not To Com,” were two of Wells’ best. Casey Kasem loved “Mama Told Me Not To Come.” You might have heard this before. If not, that’s okay. Move along.
h. Yes, I saw the Paxton Lynch highlights. The Memphis quarterback—he’s in his third year playing for the Tigers, meaning he’d be draft-eligible if he chooses to come out next spring—has a good arm with a sweet touch.
i. And yes, Cameron Smith is going to make this column. When you’re a true freshman, playing at such a distinguished school for linebackers as USC, and you pick off three passes against the number three team in the country (Utah), you will get back-patted in MMQB.
j. Pat Shurmur doesn't look old enough to have a starting college football player for a son. But he does, and on Saturday, Kyle Shurmur, a Vanderbilt true freshman, started at quarterback for the Commodores, beating Missouri 10-3 in his college debut.
k. Did you see the Georgia Tech player, waving teammates away from the loose ball that would become a return for the winning touchdown of Florida State-Georgia Tech? Good thing at least one Yellow Jacket paid no attention. Coaches: Don’t assume your players know all the rules.
l. Red Sox news item of the week: Ruben Amaro Jr., ousted as Phillies GM, becomes Boston’s first base coach. Wh-wh-wh-what?
m. Beernerdness: Had a Sidewinder Southwest Pale Ale (Revolver Brewing, Granbury, Texas), made with water from an aquifer on the property of the brewery—and a hint of agave, which is a first for me in a beer, I think—and really enjoyed it. Easy to drink, distinctive, very smooth and different in a southwestern sort of way.
n. Hockey’s a strange game. The Devils lost their first four games, 3-1, 5-3, 3-1 and 2-1. In the past week, they won their next four: 2-1, 3-2, 5-4 and 4-2.
o. Congrats on a great career, David Climer. The sports columnist of The Tennessean in Nashville is retiring. He has been a great credit to his profession for 41 years.
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Who I Like Tonight
Arizona 29, Baltimore 23. Good news: The death march that is Baltimore’s early schedule (at Denver, at Oakland, at San Francisco, at Arizona in the first seven games) is over after tonight. Bad news: The Ravens, if heavily favored Arizona wins tonight, will be 1-6, their season a hopeless mess before they spend six of their final nine games in friendly downtown Baltimore. The Cardinals will be motivated to show that, after scoring in the 40s in three of their first five games, the 13-point showing in Pittsburgh was fluky. I would expect Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington (together, averaging 5.4 yards per rush) to make the Ravens prove they can stop the run. Even if they can, and they’ve been a solid run defense so far, I wouldn’t fret if I were an Arizona fan. The Ravens have allowed 11 touchdown passes and made just three interceptions.
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The Adieu Haiku
The byes wreak havoc.
No Bengals, Packers, Broncos.
Week seven: quite meh.
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