The Upset of the Season
The game of the weekend, on the football weekend of the season, didn’t change Chip Kelly’s mind about the pro game, or his place in it. If you can believe what this son of New England told me on Sunday night from Foxboro, after a ridiculously unlikely and raise-the-hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck win—Philadelphia 35, New England 28—over the team he respects more than any other in America, he’s entrenched.
“I made a commitment to this organization when they hired me,” Kelly told me, “and I will see it through.”
Kelly, a pragmatist, knows he’s not convincing anybody who’s convinced he’d leave for the next perfect college job, where there will be four or five JV games on the schedule and he can go recruit the next Mariota. Or three of them. “I don’t have to convince people I’m staying,” he said. “I can’t. Everyone says, ‘He’s a college guy.’ It’s going to take a while for people to look at the ticker across the bottom of the screen without my name on it for people to understand.”
To understand he’s staying, he meant. In fairness to Kelly, I’m the one who brought these things up to him. He came to the phone to talk about this game, one of the strangest of this or any season. Kelly knows that no matter how long he coaches, and wherever the coaching road takes him, this breezy 52-degree Sunday will be an indelible memory. How often do you visit the toughest venue in the league, with your own squad severely wounded, and pull the upset of the year? Together, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have lost 15 regular-season games in Foxboro over 15 seasons. Together, Chip Kelly and the Eagles had embarrassed their franchise in the previous two games, giving up 45 points apiece to Tampa Bay and Detroit, the two worst losses of Kelly’s three seasons in Philly.
They upset the Patriots by playing a complete game. In the span of 12 minutes mid-game, the Eagles scored 21 straight points, and it was how they scored that was stunning—on a 24-yard return of a blocked punt, on a 99-yard interception return of a tipped ball, and on a balletic 83-yard punt return. That made it 28-14. Then the quarterback Kelly committed to (overpaid for, all of the city would tell you), Sam Bradford, made the second-biggest throw of his shaky Philadelphia tenure: a 10-yard bullet, low and inside to Jordan Matthews, just out of the reach of Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, a ball only Matthews could catch. (Bradford's biggest throw: his overtime touchdown pass to Matthews to beat Dallas a month ago.) That made it 35-14, and within a few minutes, had Kelly looked up, he’d have seen more than a few Patriots fans walking to the exits, shocked at this impossible result.
“I’m just really proud of my players,” Kelly said. “I can’t say enough about them. Our guys were great this week. Really, when we came out of Detroit, I still thought we had a good team. When we got the players together this week, I said to them, ‘Sometimes you don’t see what we see.’ We saw a lot of good things, and those two games, I thought were uncharacteristic of the type of team we had.”
Those two games were Mark Sanchez starts, after a concussion and left shoulder injury KO’d Bradford for two-and-a-half games. New England would be Bradford’s first game back. “When he went out,” Kelly said, “Sam was really getting better. We traded for him for a reason. At the time he got hurt against Miami, he had a 118 quarterback rating. That’s the kind of player we knew he was. Today, on the touchdown to Matthews, he showed it. And that conversion to Riley Cooper on third-and-11 [a 14-yard completion for a first down with less than three minutes to play] … that was big. That’s Sam.”
So now the Eagles have life. How much life will be determined beginning tonight, with Dallas at division-leading Washington. The Eagles, 5-7, are tied with the Giants a half-game back of 5-6 Washington; Philadelphia has the next three games at home, starting with the grudge match of LeSean McCoy returning with 7-5 Buffalo on Sunday.
Whether the Eagles can scratch out a playoff spot in a bad division, I’m sure there are many—most, maybe—in Philadelphia who have a love-hate relationship with Kelly. He came in as an offensive guru, a quarterback whisperer, and since Nick Foles had the season of his life in 2013, the Eagles have struggled at the position. Mightily. They may have to look for a quarterback again this off-season, when potential free agent Bradford could sign elsewhere. But the biggest mistake of all would be to lose Kelly.
He’s had some skirmishes with his players. That’s because what he’s done early hasn’t resulted in a big winner or a solution at quarterback. He’s made some poor decisions—the biggest of which was paying pedestrian corner Byron Maxwell like a star, continuing a long Eagles tradition of screwing up the secondary badly—and needs an improved player personnel staff to take some of that heat off him. But he’s the same smart guy Jeffrey Lurie waited for 35 months ago. He’s 25-20. Not great, but not a debacle. For once, Philadelphians need to match the owner’s patience. Remember how Lurie gave Andy Reid 14 years? He’s certainly not going to look to move on from Kelly after three. Nor does Kelly have wanderlust. I still feel this strongly: Kelly’s an imaginative coach with good ideas, and there’s a good chance he’s going to win big in Philadelphia. Sunday showed that with this guy, miracles are possible.
A Playoff Glimpse
What a day. The weekend that began with the longest successful Hail Mary in NFL history was punctuated Sunday night with the Steelers absolutely beating the stuffing out of the Colts, who haven’t looked this bad since the Deflategate game.
The Sunday game raised an interesting situation: If the playoffs started today, one of the best teams in the league wouldn’t be in them. Let’s look at the matchups, complete with the TV schedule that I’m guessing at:
SATURDAY, JAN. 9
Late afternoon: No. 5 Minnesota (8-4) at No. 4 Washington (5-6), NFC
Night: No. 6 New York Jets (7-5) at No. 3 New England (10-2), AFC
SUNDAY, JAN 10
Early afternoon: No. 5 Kansas City (7-5) at No. 4 Indianapolis (6-6), AFC
Late afternoon: No. 6 Seattle (7-5) at No. 3 Green Bay (8-4), NFC
Jets-Patriots, TV gold. Seahawks-Packers, TV platinum.
But what is wrong with this picture? No Steelers. After watching Pittsburgh lay waste to the last month of its schedule—the only scar was a 39-30 shootout with the Seahawks eight days ago in Seattle—the Steelers are certainly one of the best 12 teams in the league. They’re certainly one of the eight best. Maybe five. So let’s see how they match up the rest of the way with their competitors for the two AFC wild-card spots:
Kansas City (7-5): San Diego, at Baltimore, Cleveland, Oakland.
New York Jets (7-5): Tennessee, at Dallas, New England, at Buffalo.
Pittsburgh (7-5): at Cincinnati, Denver, at Baltimore, at Cleveland.
I’m giving one of the spots to Kansas City. The Chiefs might go 4-0 against that schedule. Amazing that Kansas City could start this season 1-5 and finish 10-0. Could. To ensure a good shot at the second wild card (and with a three-game deficit in the AFC North, catching the Bengals seems impossible for Pittsburgh), the Steelers will probably have to go 3-1. That means they’ll have to win at Cincinnati or beat the Fighting Osweilers at home.
If they stay hot, the Chiefs and Steelers in the playoffs would be the best 5-6 seeds in the AFC since the Ravens and Jets made it with 12 and 11 wins, respectively, in 2010. And they would give a strong No. 3 seed—like New England—a very tough wild-card game, unlike most 6 versus 3 games.
In the NFC, there’s less drama, because Seattle and the second-place team in the North don’t have much competition for the wild-cards. But watch Tampa Bay. The Bucs (6-6) have won three out of four, have swept Atlanta, and play sub-.500 teams the next three weeks.
The other headlines from Sunday:
• Carolina stayed unbeaten at 12-0. Good for them to have a scare in New Orleans and have to bring their second-half A game to beat Drew Brees. Carolina hosts fading Atlanta on Sunday, and history will be mindful if the Panthers travel to play the Giants with a 13-0 record. In 1998, the 13-0 Broncos were heavily favored over the Giants and backup quarterback Kent Graham, but the Giants shocked John Elway that day. I say the Panthers have an excellent shot to run the table.
• Minnesota had a nightmare. The 38-7 home loss to Seattle was bad enough. Falling out of first place via tiebreaker with Green Bay was worse. Adrian Peterson grumbling about inactivity afterward wasn’t great either. But how about this: The Vikings have a short week now and have to fly to Phoenix on Wednesday for a Thursday night game with the highest-scoring team in football, one that’s on a six-game winning streak.
• Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota willed their teams to fourth-quarter wins. There was this great debate about which of these quarterbacks, picked 1-2 last April, would be the franchise guy. Maybe both will be. Winston has a fire in him we might have missed in the run-up to the draft. Look at the third-and-19 scramble/dive late in the fourth quarter, his team down three. Winston got 20. The drive ended in a game-winning touchdown pass to Mike Evans. Mariota isn’t as demonstrative, but do you have to be when you can run 87 yards for a touchdown, the way Mariota did in the fourth quarter in Nashville? Mariota doesn’t have anything to play for now (Winston has a whisper of a playoff shot), but don’t tell him that. Both guys are on the right track.
• Brock Osweiler is 3-0. The Broncos are playing good defense and Kubiak-ball. And it’s hard to see how even a healthy Peyton Manning gets his job back when he’s ready—which may not happen at all, but it may happen in time for, say, the last two games of the season. In his three starts, Osweiler has thrown 95 passes over 38 drives … with only two interceptions. That’s the efficiency his team needs.
* * *
Brandon Marshall is on his way to doing something extraordinary
Marshall was huge down the stretch in the Jets’ 23-20 overtime conquest of the Giants, catching the touchdown pass that sent the game to overtime. With 12 receptions for 131 yards on Sunday, Marshall has became the first player in history to amass 1,000 yards receiving in a season for four different teams. Of course, that doesn’t happen unless you wear out your welcome in at least one or two of those places—or, in Marshall’s case, perhaps three. But to me that’s not the end of the story.
Marshall now has 1,062 receiving yards this year. With even a moderately productive final four games—he’d have to average 35 receiving yards per game—he’ll become the first player to have a 1,200-yard receiving season with four different teams. A thousand is nice, a heck of an achievement; exceeding 1,200 for four teams means you’ve been the go-to guy for four teams that like to throw the ball. That’s a huge compliment to the 31-year-old Marshall.
“It’s been an interesting career so far,” he said, in the understatement of the weekend, over the phone after Sunday’s win. “I usually wait ’til the end of the season to think about what I’ve accomplished. But I’ve had a lot of different quarterbacks, and I’m proud that I’ve been able to be productive with a lot of quarterbacks.
“In Denver, I was immature and didn’t understand everything about the game. In Miami, I fit in for a while, but they made the right decision trading me. Chicago, that was home for us [Marshall and his wife]. I feel like I should still be there. Sometimes I have bitterness about it. That’s the place we called home. We loved it. But I’ve been really happy here. And at this point, I realize football’s a platform for me to try to help bridge the gap for so many people on mental health issues. I know how important that part of my life is.”
Marshall, who behaved erratically for much of his Denver and Miami tenures, was diagnosed in 2011 with borderline personality disorder, an illness marked by mood swings, anger and depression. He became a spokesman for BPD and, over the past four years, an advocate for mental health awareness. He realizes that even though he didn’t want to leave Chicago, being in the New York area is better for what he wants to do off the field.
But he’s got a while before his begins his next life—presumably on TV, and working with some mental-health cause. He’s playing so well now, at 31. About that 1,200-yard possibility … Look at the best year he had in each of his four stops:
Denver, 2007: 1,325 yards
Miami, 2011: 1,214 yards
Chicago, 2012: 1,508 yards
N.Y. Jets, 2015: 1,062 (with four games remaining)
Marshall enjoys playing with Ryan Fitzpatrick because he says Fitzpatrick finds flaws in the other team from film study that many coaches and players don’t see. “He’s relentless with the voicemails, the texts, the video messages, and sometimes he’ll just pull us aside on the practice field to tell us something he’s learned,” Marshall said.
That happened the other day at practice. When the Giants were playing defense in the deep red zone, Marshall said, Fitzpatrick saw a tendency for them to leave receivers split far out in single coverage. So, Fitzpatrick told Marshall, If we get in a situation like that, we’ll split you far to the left or right, to be sure there’s only a corner on you and not a safety in support. So in the final minute of the fourth quarter, with the Jets down seven and at the Giants’ nine-yard line, Marshall was dispatched to the far left of the formation. At the snap of the ball, he was singled by Prince Amukamara. Fitzgerald threw a jump ball into the end zone, and Marshall overpowered Amukamara for the ball. And the tying touchdown.
“Game on the line, and it happened exactly the way he said it would happen, and we scored,” Marshall said.
Chemistry like that with a quarterback softens the blow of leaving a place you never wanted to leave. That, plus the fact the Jets are 7-5 and the Bears 5-7. It’s been a good autumn for Marshall, and it’s not over.
Meet Christian McCaffrey
So I’m not much of a college football watcher in the fall; I’m usually writing, reporting or otherwise living on Saturdays. But I began to take notice of this 19-year-old true sophomore at Stanford, Christian McCaffrey, earlier this season, because he is the son of a former NFL receiver I’d covered some, Ed McCaffrey, and he was competing for playing time at Stanford with Barry Sanders’ son, Barry Jr. And as the year went on, McCaffrey exploded. I had the chance last week to talk to him between classes and figured it’d be an interesting bit of the column this week, the week the Heisman Trophy winner is announced. Alabama running back Derrick Henry entered the final weekend the favorite for the award, and he did nothing to hurt his cause by rushing 44 times for 189 yards in the SEC title game Saturday. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson had an impressive ACC title game against North Carolina; he’s in the running. And McCaffrey had a career night in Stanford’s Pac-12 championship game victory over USC. Actually, it was multiple career nights.
McCaffrey, 6-feet and 201 pounds, and from the Denver suburbs, runs about a 4.45 40. Watching the game Saturday night (I made an exception), I saw that he’s the kind of one-cut, upfield runner another Coloradoan, Mike Shanahan, preferred for his Broncos backs. He finds a crease and tries to wedge through it; if not, he’s rarely tackled for a loss—he’ll take a yard or two, and eventually seems to figure he’ll break free in space for a big gain.
Against USC, he had the kind of night that could propel him into serious competition for the Heisman. He rushed for 207 yards and a touchdown. He caught four passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. He threw an 11-yard touchdown pass. He returned seven kicks/punts for 149 yards. That’s 461 all-purpose yards, a Stanford record. His 3,496 all-purpose yards is more than 1,000 yards better than any other player in college football this year, and broke Barry Sanders’ all-time record for all-purpose yards in a season, set a generation ago at Oklahoma State. (McCaffrey did it in two more games than Sanders played.) “There’s nobody in the nation doing what he’s doing,” said Stanford coach David Shaw.
Was the record night, and breaking Sanders’ record, enough to win the Heisman? Voting closes today, and the winner will be announced on Saturday.
“It’s happened so fast,” McCaffrey said the other day. “I honestly haven’t had time to think about it. It is in the back of my mind. If I do think about it, I’m losing sight of what’s important. But definitely it’s a cool honor, to be even mentioned in that conversation. I wouldn’t be in the discussion if we weren’t winning games.”
He wouldn’t politic for the award (wisely). He said playing in the NFL is his dream, but it’s too early to think about when he might try to make that dream happen (also wisely). He’d first be able to enter the NFL draft in 2017, after his third season of eligibility at Stanford. “One thing my dad has told me is make sure you’re having fun—remember why you’re playing. And I do. I play because I love football so much. I’ve been playing since I was seven, and I haven’t gotten sick of it yet. I can’t imagine getting sick of it. I’m extremely thankful I get to play, and I get to play Division I football.”
Along the way, McCaffrey became a well-rounded person. “Stanford’s such an easy place to love, and it will be a hard place to leave,” McCaffrey said. “The weather, the facilities are so great. The people are great, and so smart. You might meet the next Einstein next to you in class. This is a school where we have to find our own way. We have to find our own tutors if we need them. There’s not an easy class here. After practice, you better work hard [on homework] or you’ll fall way behind. To me, that’s one of the things that makes Stanford a great place.”
The class that’s consuming him this semester is American Studies, focusing on the identity of America. “It’s about what makes an American an American,” he said. “Very wide-ranging—feminism, diversity, religion in America.” Currently, he said, he’s writing a paper on the different views of success of Ben Franklin and 18th-century philosopher and theologian Jonathan Edwards. His books for the class include We Should All Be Feminists, by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and his subjects include Martin Luther King Jr. and 19th-century Massachusetts poet and author Lucy Larcom.
“A lot of times I’ll be icing while I’m doing my reading,” McCaffrey said. “You’ve got to get your work done.”
Those are good seeds to plant with future NFL employers—and Heisman voters waiting until the deadline to file their ballots.
Sometimes the most important people are those you don’t know.
I was covering the New York Giants for Newsday in January 1987, at the Giants-Broncos Super Bowl in Southern California, staying at the Giants’ hotel in Costa Mesa. I always stayed on East Coast time, so I wandered down to the lobby just after 5 a.m. on Tuesday of Super Bowl week to find a cup of coffee and the newspapers. There was Bill Parcells in a far corner of the lobby with a white-haired man of 70 or so whom I’d seen around and knew to be a Parcells mentor. I introduced myself, and he shook my hand. “Mickey Corcoran,” he said.
Now, you don’t find coaches in hotel lobbies anymore. Haven’t for years. They go up and down the service elevators, usually with security or PR people. But a generation ago, football was a little simpler, and the Super Bowl not quite as garish. Every day of this week, Parcells and Corcoran—his former high school basketball coach in New Jersey—would sit for an hour, talking about the Broncos or the Giants or matchups or just whatever was happening in the world. Fun times. Corcoran died last week in northern New Jersey at 93. The mentor to many coaches, officials and students had 2,000 people cram into his wake.
Vince Lombardi coached Corcoran in high school basketball in Englewood, N.J., and Corcoran went on to coach Parcells at River Dell High, not far from where Parcells would coach the Giants to two Super Bowl victories. Corcoran was the connection between two Pro Football Hall of Fame coaches, and he was proud of it.
Still shaken by Corcoran’s loss, Parcells said Saturday: “He was everything to me. Everything. And the way I could pay him back for what he did for me was to include him. So he was with me a lot as a coach. To this day he gave me the best advice I have ever received as a coach. And he kicked my ass when it needed to be kicked—both as a player and as a coach.”
The Giants lost in the 1985 playoffs to Chicago, 21-0, and Parcells took it hard. And petulantly. “We left the locker room and got on the bus for the airport. Mickey sat next to me. Didn’t said a word. Got on the plane. Mickey sat next to me. Didn’t say a word. Finally, we’re over Pittsburgh, about an hour from landing in New Jersey. He taps me on the knee. He says, ‘Hey, Parcells,’ and I mean it—he called me ‘Parcells’—he said, ‘Hey, Parcells, you better find a way to beat these guys.’ I just said, ‘They’re pretty good.’ And then he said, ‘No one’s crying the blues for you, you know. You gotta figure it out.’ And that snapped me out of it. I had to figure it out.”
The Giants won the Super Bowl the next season. Corcoran was in the lobby of the California hotel during the week, at practice in the afternoons, and on the sideline of the Rose Bowl for the game. When NFL Films showed Phil Simms coming off the field after one touchdown that day, Corcoran was one of the first to congratulate him.
Now for the piece of coaching advice. “Eight seconds left in a state tournament basketball game, River Dell-Wayne Valley. There’s a timeout. We’re behind. We go to the sidelines, and he’s thinking. Lotta moving parts here. We gotta go the length of the court to score. Finally, he says to me, ‘Bill, I’m gonna get you the ball at the foul line, with your back to the basket. There’ll be five seconds left.’ That was it. Here’s why that was the greatest piece of advice: He solved all my problems for me. He eliminated all the stuff that doesn’t matter. I was going to have the ball in my hands with five seconds left and my back to the basket, and I had to figure out how to score from there. You don’t know how important that is in coaching. I’ve told it to my coaches a thousand times over the years: ‘Solve the problems for your players. That’s your job.’ That’s the single most valuable thing I’ve ever been taught about coaching.”
Parcells got the ball with his back to the basket, by the way. He wheeled and took his man to the baseline and powered home a basket. But the make or miss wouldn’t have mattered. Getting the ball at the foul line with time to score—that mattered. Whether he made it wasn’t the coach’s doing. It was the player’s.
Finally, Parcells-Lombardi. “The story over the years, obviously, is that Vince Lombardi was pretty tough on his guys in practice,” Parcells said. “Mickey told me that no matter how tough Lombardi was on his players in practice, he’d do damage-control after practice, either while coming off the field or in the locker room. He’d let his players know why he did things. So that’s what I tried to do, and I passed it on too. When [former Giants fullback and Parcells protégé] Mo Carthon became a coach, he used to tell me, ‘Time to do damage-control’ after practices. You never want the athlete to feel mistreated. You always want him to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.”
Mickey Corcoran, 1922-2015.
L.A. Update: Carson surges ahead
In the wake of last week’s NFL meeting on the future of football in Los Angeles, and with the resolution of this soap opera five weeks away (let us pray), a few things I learned from people involved in the story:
• The Carson proposal—with either the Chargers and Raiders together, or the Chargers alone—seems to have more momentum than Stan Kroenke’s plan to move the Rams to a complex in Inglewood. Part of the sentiment for Carson is simple: The owners want to support the Spanos family and the Chargers, feeling they have done everything they can to make a new stadium work in San Diego for years.
• The six-owner Committee on Los Angeles Opportunities (perhaps the NFL could name a Vice President of Committee Name Improvement) is likely to end up either 4-2 or 5-1 in favor of the Carson project, a source with knowledge of the committee’s feelings told me. One asterisk there: The committee is likely to side with Carson as long as the new St. Louis stadium is rock-solid when it comes time to vote. If any of the six believe the St. Louis proposal is flawed, they could switch to Kroenke and Inglewood.
• Neither site is close to having the 24 votes to approve one plan.
• No one knows the outcome. The reason, essentially, is that there are still a few important factors up in the air. St. Louis aldermen are scheduled to vote this month to approve funding for a new stadium for the Rams; if they do, how can the NFL abandon a city that has twice in the past 20 years committed to build a downtown stadium for the league? One other recent headache: The Federal Aviation Administration believes the Inglewood stadium would interfere with radar for plane traffic at Los Angeles International Airport. Could that be fixed? The league is confident Kroenke’s plan could be amended to address that.
• Robert Iger, the Disney CEO, has been a boon to the Carson project since he joined forces with the Chargers/Raiders last month. “He feels like a partner to people like Roger Goodell and Bob Kraft,” said one source. Why shouldn’t he? Disney is the parent of ESPN. ESPN has enriched the NFL with rights fees, signed off by Iger, for years. Snagging Iger was the right move.
• One ownership source said he thinks Spanos, if he were in the Carson project alone with Iger, would probably have 24 votes to win the project now. Some owners view the Raiders as a drag on the Carson project, feeling the team brings little to the table. And some owners still seem to carry some enmity for the late Al Davis.
• As for the league’s ability to finalize the plan for Los Angeles at a series of meetings in Houston on Jan. 12-13, that’s no lock. It’s probable, but not certain.
• And as for Rams owner Stan Kroenke, should his dream of the Inglewood project die: No one knows what he’ll do. I hear he’s not interested in becoming the owner to move to London. But every other piece of speculation—that he sells the Rams, that he keeps the Rams in a stadium he doesn’t like, that he waits out the Bowlen family and buys the Broncos—is talk-show fodder. My best guess is he’d hang on to the team and become the biggest franchise free-agent in the coming few years. I keep hearing he doesn’t like the new St. Louis stadium project. It could be an ugly shotgun marriage, or Kroenke refusing to go to the altar.
• Last point: The one thing I heard a lot in the last few days is about what’s best for the Chargers, and best for the Raiders, and—to a much lesser degree—what’s best for the Rams. I haven’t heard many people asking: What would be best for Los Angeles? Roger Goodell is on record, multiple times, saying the league will only go back to Los Angeles after the 21-year hiatus with what makes the most sense for Los Angeles and the NFL. Is solving bad stadium situations for the Chargers and Raiders the best thing for Los Angeles? Is a two-team plan best for a market where you’re reintroducing a sport that’s very expensive for fans? NFL owners will be voting on a lot when they vote on L.A., with ramifications that will reverberate for years.
* * *
Quotes of the Week
“I mean, you all know who’s next.”
—Buffalo running back LeSean McCoy, traded from Philadelphia (after some rancorous feelings toward coach Chip Kelly) to Buffalo in the off-season. The Eagles host the Bills on Sunday afternoon at 1.
“ME! ME! ME!”
—Mike Evans, Tampa Bay wide receiver, in the huddle late in the fourth quarter against Atlanta, when Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston asked his team, “Who wants a touchdown?” Evans, indeed, was the man to score the winning touchdown in the 23-19 victory over Atlanta.
“There is a perception now that officiating is not very good. But the reality is that the officiating is very good. Our officials are averaging 4.3 mistakes per game. [The league averages about 160 plays per game.] When you think about those numbers ... the number of decisions our officials have to make before each play, during each play, after each play … We are talking about a very small number of mistakes. We’re talking about a handful of plays that have happened in high-profile situations. Now those have been mistakes. We own them. We have to make the corrections to ensure they don’t happen again. But we are talking about a handful of plays … They see it once, in real time, in full speed. And then we all get to evaluate them from multiple different angles, with high definition, slow-motion replay. So we understand where the standard is, and we are going to work to meet that standard. But our officials are very, very good at what they do.”
—NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino, responding Friday to the torrent of criticism of NFL officiating this season.
“I think Tevin [Coleman] has a chance to be a great running back, and I think the only thing that will hold him back is the turnovers. Anyone who has the ability that he has, the toughness he has—I think he's going to have a hell of a career. But he has to fix the turnovers.”
—Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, to Andrew Hirsh of the Falcons website, on the rookie back who lost three fumbles in his first 77 carries as a pro.
“How can you not be? How can you not be? You’re a citizen of this country, and you have this circumstance that’s taking place in our country and you just ask, ‘Why?’ And, ‘How?’ Where’s the value of life? What do these statements mean? What in the world are we up against? We all wish it would stop and it wasn’t a part of our world today, but unfortunately, it is.”
—Giants coach Tom Coughlin, on the mass murder in San Bernardino, and whether it is affecting the players on the team. One of the Giants, safety Nat Behre, had a cousin who was among the 14 people murdered.
The Award Section
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
So many candidates. So many great performances over the weekend. I have two regrets: 1) Leaving out Sam Bradford; he was terrific when it mattered; 2) Jameis Winston was awfully good too. I thought five offensive days were better.
Antonio Brown, wide receiver/punt-returner, Pittsburgh. With apologies to Ben Roethlisberger, who was spectacular Sunday night in the rout of the Colts, I’m giving Brown the edge here, for his diverse night in the 45-10 win over the severely outmanned Colts. Brown caught eight balls for 118 yards and two touchdowns, and he relieved the fumbly Jacoby Jones as punt returner and cavorted through the Colts for a 71-yard nightcap of a return touchdown. Lots of great receivers in football. Brown might be the most dangerous.
Brandon Marshall, wide receiver, New York Jets. Players prefer to set records in the course of playing great—and being important in a big victory. That was Marshall in the 23-20 overtime thriller over the Giants in their once-every-four-years game. Marshall became the first player in NFL history to have 1,000-yard receiving seasons with four different teams with his 12-catch (on 13 targets), 131-yard effort. His nine-yard touchdown grab from Ryan Fitzpatrick late in the fourth quarter sent the game into overtime.
Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Tennessee. Mariota continued to show he’s the Titans’ long-term solution at the most important position. His 87-yard touchdown run, the longest run in the NFL this season, gave Tennessee a 35-32 lead midway through the fourth quarter, and he supplemented his 112-yard rushing game with a 20-of-29, three-touchdown game in the Titans’ first win at home since midway in 2014. Mariota’s the genuine item, if you didn’t see it yet.
Cam Newton, quarterback, Carolina. The Panthers’ 41-38 win at New Orleans kept them unbeaten (12-0), and, in my opinion, catapulted Newton into the lead for the MVP award. Trailing 16-13 at the half, Newton ended 79-, 60-, 80- and 75-yard second-half drives with touchdown passes in a game that was extremely tough to finish. The Saints were the classic Drew Brees Saints; Newton had to be up for the duel, and he was: 28 of 41, 331 yards, five touchdowns, one pick, for a rating of 122.1. For the second time in 15 days, Newton threw for five touchdowns—and Carolina needed every one of them this time.
Russell Wilson, quarterback, Seattle. Wilson has played a lot of good games in his four-year NFL career. Sunday in Minnesota, Wilson, I thought, was a virtuoso. The numbers were good, sure—21 of 27, 274 yards, three touchdowns, no picks, 146.0 rating, 51 yards rushing—but it was one of those games you had to watch to really see Wilson’s impact. Late in the third quarter, for instance, Wilson weaved and sprinted 53 yards for a touchdown that appeared to ice the victory. But Luke Willson was called for holding, and so the Seahawks had to come back to try again. Next snap: Wilson threw down the deep middle for Doug Baldwin, who had a step on the Vikings secondary. Beautiful throw. Wilson was in total command in a 38-7 win.
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Malcolm Jenkins, safety, Philadelphia. To call the Eagles’ secondary “embattled” entering this game would be an understatement. It’s been a debacle all season. Not Sunday. In a 14-14 tie midway through the second quarter, Tom Brady threw into traffic at the goal line, and Jenkins pulled a popup out of the air and started running the other way. He kept going, and going, and going … 99 yards for the touchdown. The Eagles were up 21-14 and never trailed thereafter. Jenkins added seven tackles, two behind the line.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Stephone Anthony, linebacker, New Orleans. Anthony became the first player in NFL history to score two points on the return of a missed extra point. This is the first season the defense has been permitted to score on a missed conversion attempt after touchdown. Think about it: This was a three-point swing in the game—the one point Carolina didn’t score as the PAT, and the two points New Orleans did. Instead of Carolina tying the game at 14 late in the second quarter, Anthony’s long return gave the Saints a 16-13 lead going into halftime. And give an assist to veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams for blocking the Graham Gano kick, making the two-point play possible. Anthony scored another touchdown on a first-quarter fumble return and added 10 tackles in a breakout game for the rookie.
Chris Maragos, safety, Philadelphia. He was a part of two huge plays that were vital in the Eagles’ stunner at New England. Maragos burst through the New England line to block a Ryan Allen punt late in the first half, setting up a touchdown return to tie it at the half. And late in the third quarter, Maragos made a smart obstruction that led to Darren Sproles finishing off an 83-yard punt return touchdown.
Dwayne Harris, returner/wide receiver, New York Giants. Smart alignment by Giants special teams coach Tom Quinn, putting Harrison and Odell Beckham Jr., a magnet for attention, back in punt-return formation near the Giants’ 20, split apart about hashmark-wide. Harris got the punt, and three Jets pursuit players ran toward Beckham. Harris never handed it off nor made a serious move to fake it. He ran up the seam, and then the left sideline, and then the seam again, juking punter Ryan Quigley to the ground. Touchdown, for 80 yards.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Gary Kubiak, Denver. This is not just a one-week award. It’s for how Kubiak has handled the Peyton Manning shortcomings and injury (deftly), how he has trusted Brock Osweiler with a fairly full game plan in his three weeks at the helm, and how he has gotten the running game to come alive post-Peyton (170, 179 and 134 yards in the Broncos’ 3-0 run post-Manning). Kubiak’s steady hand has been just right for Denver, which finds itself ahead of New England in the AFC playoff race this morning. Surprisingly.
GOAT OF THE WEEK
Matt Ryan, quarterback, Atlanta. The Falcons have a problem. It’s in-the-clutch Matt Ryan. The situation: Fourth quarter, 1:39 left, Tampa has just scored to go up 23-19. Falcons need an 80-yard drive. One timeout left. On first down, Ryan throws over the middle for Julio Jones—and Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David picks it off. Ballgame. The Falcons have lost five in a row to fall almost all the way out of the playoff race, and they’ve lost those five games by 3, 1, 3, 10 and 4 points. Ryan, with seven picks in those five losses, has to play better late for the Falcons to have a chance to salvage the nightmare.
Derek Carr, quarterback, Oakland. The Raiders led the hated Chiefs in the Black Hole 20-14 with 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter Sunday, and Carr was driving Oakland to a bigger lead. Over the next nine minutes, however, Carr handed the Chiefs a resounding win in what could be the last Raiders-Chiefs game in Oakland. His first interception, by Josh Mauga, led to a two-yard touchdown drive. He second interception, by Marcus Peters, led to a 13-yard yard Chiefs touchdown drive. And Carr's third was returned for a touchdown by former Raider Tyvon Branch. Carr will have some great days for this franchise, and some great quarters. This fourth quarter will go down as one of his worst.
* * *
Stat of the Week
Pitcher Jeff Samardzija is 18-26 with three major league teams over the past two years, with a 3.96 ERA.
Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers might be the best two quarterbacks in the NFL. In the past two seasons they have thrown 125 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions, collectively.
Guaranteed money in Samardzija’s new San Francisco Giants contract, signed Saturday: $90 million.
Guaranteed money in current Rodgers and Brady contracts, combined: $87 million.
What is wrong with this picture?
* * *
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me
This is either a sign that receiving stats have gotten out of sight, and comparing eras is useless, or a sign that Marques Colston is one of the most underappreciated players of this era:
Colston has 702 receptions in his 10-year career with the Saints as Drew Brees’ most consistent target. That is more receptions than 14 of 23 wide receivers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who have played since 1950.
Colston has never played in a Pro Bowl.
* * *
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note of the Week
Finally made it to Bruce Park Grill in Greenwich, Conn., for pizza. I’m a pizza hound, like most Americans I know, and I’d been told since moving back to New York that I should take the train up to Greenwich one night and have one of the 10-inch pies at Bruce Park. It’s an unassuming little bar with a few tables, a shuffleboard game, a very limited beer menu, one red wine, and a takeout business that keeps the place humming. I sat at the bar with my bride. She had the regular 10-inch pie with onion; I had the regular 10-inch pie, plain. One of the thinnest crusts I’ve had, similar to Star Tavern in my old neighborhood (Orange, N.J.). I liked the pizza; in fact, I devoured it. But I wouldn’t say it’s an all-timer. The atmosphere, though, was tremendous, and we’ll be back.
* * *
Tweets of the Week
If it would be traveling in basketball, it should be a catch in the NFL. https://t.co/DLrCONJmpf— KC Joyner (@KCJoynerTFS) December 6, 2015
The football scientist, with this week’s edition of, “Wish I’d thought of that.”
Covered #Dolphins from 2000-02 and again since Oct. '12. Not sure ever seen parking lot so empty at this hour.— Chris Perkins (@chrisperk) December 6, 2015
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel writer, 2 hours and 12 minutes before the Baltimore-Miami game Sunday.
This McCaffrey guy is real. He gonna beat SC by himself.— Golden Tate (@ShowtimeTate) December 6, 2015
The former Golden Domer, while watching Stanford all-purpose back Christian McCaffrey roadgrade USC in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Saturday night.
Steph curry is a make believe character... #beast— Julian Edelman (@Edelman11) December 3, 2015
The Patriots wideout, shortly after Curry shredded Charlotte for 40 points and didn’t even take the floor in the fourth quarter Wednesday night.
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 13:
a. Martavis Bryant. The Steelers are so well-stocked at the receiver position, and Bryant is as big a difference-maker in his own way as Antonio Brown is in his. Bryant’s 68-yard, third-quarter touchdown catch-and-run from Ben Roethlisberger showed why he's so dangerous. You're just not catching him.
b. The absolutely lovely touchdown pass, thrown to the perfect spot, from Sam Bradford to Jordan Matthews that put the Eagles up 21 in the fourth quarter at Foxboro. Maybe the best pass Bradford has thrown this year—right where Matthews could catch it and Malcolm Butler couldn’t touch it.
c. The competitive nature of Sean Payton’s team. With all the defensive weaknesses the Saints have, it’s a tribute to Payton and Drew Brees, in particular, that they came so close to beating the best team in football.
d. Ron Rivera. Terminally underappreciated.
e. The where-did-that-come-from, 10-catch, three-touchdown game by Allen Robinson of the Jags.
f. Ryan Fitzpatrick. The more I see him, the more I appreciate his mature approach to the game and his consistent production with a new group this year.
g. Tremendous blitz pickup by rookie running back David Johnson on Arizona’s first series, preventing a potentially violent sack on Carson Palmer.
h. Great point by broadcaster John Lynch in Minnesota-Seattle: Jimmy Graham going out won’t mean that the Seahawks will go away from the tight end. On their first scoring drive of the game, the Seahawks proved it. Russell Wilson went to Luke Willson for a nine-yard gain (good catch by Willson) and then screened to Wilson for a big gain.
i. Harrison Smith opening the game for Minnesota by run-blitzing on first down and stopping Thomas Rawls of Seattle for a loss of one. Smart, instinctive moves by the Vikings’ invaluable safety, who later left the game with a hamstring injury.
j. Odell Beckham Jr. outdoes himself every week.
k. Matt Forte does the best job of any back (including Adrian Peterson, I think) of making something out of nothing.
l. Tampa Bay is better than Atlanta.
m. Great call, Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey, with five seconds remaining in the first half, no timeouts left, ball at the Jaguars’ one-yard line. Instead of kicking the field goal and taking the safe three points, Mularkey directed Antonio Andrews to burst up the middle to try for the touchdown. Which Andrews did. When your team’s going nowhere, it’s worth taking chances like that.
n. Excellent decision by Lovie Smith to go for two after a touchdown that put the Bucs up 13-12 with three minutes left in the third quarter against Atlanta. Doesn’t matter that the Bucs failed to convert; it’s a smart call.
o. Great note from Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer out of the Browns’ locker room after another debacle, quoting Brian Hartline as declining substantive comment by saying, “I want to keep a job.”
p. LeSean McCoy, who carried 21 times for 112 yards, exactly the reason Buffalo traded for him. The Bills needed a ground-eater for a game in which Tyrod Taylor was going to be pressured consistently, and McCoy was just that on Sunday.
q. Tyrod Taylor, by the way, is the second-most elusive quarterback in football. What a day he had evading the Texans.
r. The first? Russell Wilson, who was marvelous making people miss in Minneapolis.
s. Congratulations to Blaine Gabbert. Really. I mean, wouldn’t it have been easy for Gabbert to slink out of football and decry the rotten luck he had getting picked by a terrible team in Jacksonville? Sure. But the 71-yard touchdown pass in overtime, on the road, to Torrey Smith, to beat the Bears … a great throw, on time, and how can you not be happy for a guy like Gabbert? He just went to work to fix his career—and maybe he has.
t. The likely thought running through Bill Belichick’s mind in the fourth quarter of that debacle: This is this year’s Kansas City game. I’ll use it to max effectiveness with my team, the same way I used the loss to the Chiefs last year. Just a guess.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 13:
a. Why cover Ted Ginn deep downfield with a linebacker, Saints? I mean, valiant game and all that. But that is a bad error, not covering a speed guy like Ginn with a corner. That touchdown put Carolina ahead for good in the fourth quarter.
b. Good comment by FOX’s Thom Brennaman, pointing out the Patriots, down by three touchdowns with just over six minutes left, took 23 seconds to run a play.
c. Willie Colon, who is on IR with the Jets, with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in his civvies, yakking at Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie of the Giants on the sidelines. That cannot happen.
d. Tom Coughlin not kicking the field goal to give the Giants a 13-point lead late. I understand why he did it. I just don’t agree with it.
e. Matt Schaub in a nutshell, from Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk: Schaub has thrown a pick-six in six of his past nine games.
f. Ridiculous call of the week: Vikings defensive end Brian Robison nearly sacked Russell Wilson, but Wilson never fell to the ground, so Wilson got up running, and Robison tackled Wilson a second time—but not violently. And Robison got an unnecessary-roughness flag. Just a major overreaction by the officials there.
g. The words “first-ballot Hall of Famer.” If every player called a “first-ballot Hall of Famer” was indeed a first-ballot Hall of Famer, the Pro Football Hall of Fame would have 47 people enshrined every year.
h. Chicago linebacker LaRoy Reynolds, with the blatant (and unnecessary) hold, negating a punt return for TD on the first punt of the Bears-Niners game.
i. T.J. McDonald spearing/knocking teammate Janoris Jenkins out cold early against the Cards. Clearly he’s not trying to nail Jenkins, but McDonald simply has to play smarter and less recklessly than that.
j. Forty real-time minutes into the game against Seattle, Minnesota had run eight plays and gained three yards.
k. Eddie Lacy. Really? Under fire because he’s not playing well, and he ditches curfew the night before a must-win?
l. The stats probably don’t support this opinion, but if I were a Packers fan I would be very nervous about Mason Crosby and a big January (or February) kick.
m. Randall Cobb over the past nine games: averaging four catches and 46 yards per game, with a total of two touchdowns.
n. Cobb and Davante Adams have zero 100-yard receiving games in the past 10 Green Bay games.
o. Jay Cutler, with a pick-six that never, ever should have been thrown.
p. The Giants and offensive line injuries, after losing starting tackle Ereck Flowers (leg) against the Jets.
q. Eli Manning, throwing into double coverage at the goal line with a 10-point fourth-quarter lead. Actually, throwing into double coverage at the goal line in any situation would be silly, but this seemed especially so.
r. Desmond Trufant’s pass-interference call on an Atlanta interception on the crucial drive of the fourth quarter.
s. You could drop-kick extra points more efficiently that Buffalo’s Dan Carpenter kicks them regularly. He missed his fourth in 12 games Sunday.
3. I think the saddest thing of the NFL weekend was that Darrelle Revis (recovering from a concussion) didn’t play for the Jets against the Giants, which means we may never see a matchup of Revis versus Odell Beckham Jr. Think of it: If Revis stays a Jet, the next time the Jets and Giants play (and I do not count preseason games, because they don’t count, and both guys will play to protect themselves in August, as will all smart veterans) will be 2019, when Revis will be 34 and not the same player he is now—and he’s even fading a bit currently. Think of it: Giants and Jets play in the same building. They practice 21 miles apart. And two of the biggest stars in the league, and likely the biggest on their teams, will never get to face off.
4. I think that just illustrates the flaw in the NFL schedule: how regional rivalries get short shrift. I have proposed this before, but in my opinion each team should play one team outside of its division every year as part of its regular schedule. Logically, you might say: My team doesn’t have a real regional rival. True. Every team is not going to have one. So you create them. It’s natural to have New York-New York, Baltimore-Washington, San Francisco-Oakland (which could change depending on franchise movement), Kansas City-St. Louis (ditto), Atlanta-Jacksonville, Tampa Bay-Miami, Dallas-Houston, Cleveland-Detroit. Then you’d create some. And they become rivalry games over time. You think Denver-Oakland started as a big rivalry, or Dallas-Philly? They became rivalry games over time, with the teams playing each other every year. Seattle-Denver, or Minnesota-Denver, would become a good rivalry game over time. Some would be stretches. I get that. But it’s too valuable for the teams that should play every year to ignore them just because every team, today, doesn’t have a natural rival outside its division.
5. I think I’ve got a one-word reaction to the news that Coldplay’s the headline act for Super Bowl 50 halftime: Meh. Nothing against Coldplay; I like the band. But it’s a little lackluster for such a landmark game.
6. I think Mario Williams’ comments about the Bills and the defense he’s being forced to play (poor baby) are borderline disloyal. For someone getting a check of $950,000 per game from the Buffalo Bills, it strikes me as … cheesy.
7. I think it’s going to be very interesting when Gleason, the documentary on Saints special-teamer Steve Gleason’s four-year battle with ALS, is exposed to the wider world in January. Gleason was told last week that the documentary has been accepted for screening at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah next month, in the documentary competition. “The hope is that this film will be a catalyst for positive change and choices for those who face major challenges in life,” Gleason said. “If there is a takeaway, we believe those who watch might think differently about life, love and family.” Gleason had cameras follow him for much of the past four years, since he received his diagnosis, first to document a series of lessons he wanted to leave for his unborn son, because he wouldn’t be able to be as active with his son as he wanted. The project morphed into some globetrotting, and then some living-with-ALS experiences.
8. I think, week after week, I have more questions about Ryan Tannehill’s ability to lead the Dolphins to greatness. Even with the win Sunday against Baltimore, he continues a very shaky season.
9. I think I will start a section next week with my weekly view of the MVP race. But at the three-quarter mark of the season, here’s my top five right now, in order:
• Cam Newton, QB, Carolina.
• Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona.
• Tom Brady, QB, New England.
• Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati.
• J.J. Watt, DL, Houston.
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. I often put favored stories here (I have a couple of them today, after this), and this week, my favorite story is an editorial, the first one placed on the front page of the New York Times in 95 years. In it, the paper’s editorial board writes: “It is a moral outrage and a national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed specifically to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency.” The paper called for the combat rifles used in the San Bernardino attack to be “outlawed for civilian ownership.”
b. It is not good enough anymore, Washington, to be paralyzed by inaction over the continuing murders of innocents by anyone—those on the fringes of society, those with some form of mental illness, or those who may have been emboldened by terrorist movements overseas such as ISIS.
c. If you are running for public office, and you do nothing to stop the spread of these weapons, and I have a vote in whether you get elected or not, I will vote for your opponent.
d. It isn’t good enough anymore, gun advocates, to accuse those with common sense of being anti-Second Amendment if they’re in favor of preventing regular citizens from owning the kind of semiautomatic rifles used in the San Bernardino killings. One of those weapons, an AR-15, had been modified to accommodate a high-capacity magazine; the other was unsuccessfully modified to attempt to make it automatic.
e. Stop with the murder-rates-are-down stats, with the they’d-find-a-way-to-kill-if-you-banned-these-guns arguments. Look at the sickness in our society. Stop pretending it isn’t there, that it’s normal to have a mass killing a week.
f. I’m not much of a political animal—at all. But sometimes we need to stand up for the future, and I feel strongly that now is one of those times.
g. To those who say, “I read you for football; I wish you’d stick to football,” this column is more than 10,000 words long. Football is about 95 percent of that each week. There’s plenty of NFL fodder. You’re free to skip what you don’t like. But I’m not going to stop writing about things I feel strongly about.
h. Tremendous story by Eli Saslow of the Washington Post on one of the Oregon shooting victims, trying to live normally again.
i. Saturday is the 100th anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s birth. Party accordingly.
j. Sports Story of the Week: Ben Cohen of the Wall Street Journal had an idea and executed it so well. Cohen went to watch Steph Curry warm up to see how many fans showed up (plenty) and what kind of show Curry would put on (an incredible one). Wrote Cohen: “Curry showed off his hypnotic dribbling skills, swished 3-pointer after 3-pointer and generally left a crowd of thousands of Warriors fans in slack-jawed awe. And then he went back to the locker room. The opening tipoff was still an hour away. This is the latest and maybe the most inconceivable example of the craziness surrounding the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player and its must-see attraction: Fans are now coming to Warriors games hours early just to watch Curry warm up.” Great idea, great execution of it. Kevin Clark does a lot of the same for the WSJ with NFL stories. Just smart.
k. NBA Stat of the Week: Curry scored 40 points against Charlotte Wednesday and took only 18 shots from the field. Well, you say: He must have taken a lot of foul shots. Nope. Four. Made them all. So Curry took 18 shots from the field to score 36 points. Amazing, averaging 2.0 points per field-goal attempt. He made eight three-point shots and six garden-variety twos. When everyone in the arena knew he was going to be the offensive thrust, Curry missed a grand total of four shots. (Forgive me, because I am not an NBA devotee; this might be a dumb stat, but it blew me away.)
l. There can’t be a better athletic attraction in the country today.
m. Golden State, 22-0.
n. Golden State, 12-0 on the road.
o. Coffeenerdness: The newest member of the Red Sox sounds like he understands the coffee culture in New England—and it sounds like he may be switching from Starbucks to Dunkin Donuts. At his opening press conference Friday in Boston, David Price said: “I can start drinking Dunkin. Had some today.” Either that or he’s brown-nosing Dunkin.
p. Beernerdness: No new ones this week. I’ll make sure I make up for it next week.
q. Regarding the Price of Price: As I said last week, I’m not a big fan of $31-million-a-year pitchers the year they turn 31, already with 1,500 major-league innings on their arm. But that’s the baseball world, whether I like it or not.
r. Price signed on Friday. That night, Zack Greinke beat him by $3.4 million a year. He’ll get $34.4 million a year for six years in Arizona. I believe Tony LaRussa was involved in that, and Tony LaRussa was tired of looking up at the Dodgers and the Giants.
s. Have a story about your favorite team’s most crushing loss? In the wake of the Browns' Monday night loss last week and the Lions' Thursday night heartbreaker, The MMQB is looking for fans to tell the story of their team’s worst loss for this week's Voice of the Fan column. Send your entry—include the game and a short paragraph explaining why it was devastating to you—to firstname.lastname@example.org.
* * *
Who I Like Tonight
Washington 27, Dallas 16. For some quality pregame reading this evening, peruse Robert Klemko’s fine piece about the man vying to be your Washington quarterback of the future, Kirk Cousins. There’s a cool story in there about the relationship between Cousins and Robert Griffin III, and another about Cousins’ pursuit of perfection. Jury is still out on whether Cousins will be a great quarterback, but he’s playing more like a man who can keep the wolves away from his door and win the job for 2016 and beyond—assuming Washington GM Scot McCloughan can sign the looming free agent after the season. Now for the strange part of this evening: If, somehow, Dallas can spring the upset, the Cowboys will be one game out of the NFC East lead with four to play. I don’t see a win tonight, and I don’t see contention even if they find a way tonight—because the remaining schedule includes trips to Green Bay and Buffalo, with the Jets and Washington at home.
* * *
The Adieu Haiku
Don’t know about you.
But Pittsburgh’s top five to me.
Big Ben. Big trouble.
• Question or comment? Email us at email@example.com.