Another Smashing Sunday

1:45 | The MMQB
MMQB Extra: Coughlin should have taken out OBJ
Monday December 21st, 2015

“How you feeling?” someone asked Bruce Arians a few minutes before 1 this morning, as the Arizona Cardinals’ buses left Lincoln Financial for the airport in Philadelphia, and the long flight west.

You kidding? He’s great! Got to be! The Cardinals just demolished the Eagles 40-17 on national television, clinching the team’s first NFC title since 2009—and setting a record for the 96-year-old franchise for wins in a regular season (12). Arians did it a short drive from his hometown of York, Pa., and against one of the teams that spurned him when he was dying to be an NFL head coach. Sunday was a big night, and this coaching lifer had to be on Cloud Nine. Or Cloud 12.

“I’m melancholy,” the coach of the NFC West champions said.

There’s a story there.

* * *

The physical play between Odell Beckham Jr. and Josh Norman crossed the line on multiple occasions during Sunday’s game.
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Quite a day in the NFL:

• The most electric receiver and best cornerback in football faced off in New Jersey, and a UFC fight broke out.

• The Broncos, who’d owned the AFC West all season, now could be one loss away from being the conference’s sixth seed.

• Grown men wept on the field in San Diego—and not because they were sentenced to play for the 4-10 Chargers. (I’ll write the lead to my Tuesday column on the end of days, possibly, in St. Louis and San Diego on the heels of their final home games. Thanks in advance for your patience.)

• AND THE AWARDS GO TO ...  With two weeks to go in the regular season, Andy Benoit reveals his picks for all of 2015’s major awards.

• The Texans, 0-13 at Indianapolis in their history before Sunday, finally won there, behind a quarterback who wasn’t good enough to play in Cleveland or to back up in Dallas. And now Houston’s playoff life will depend on one Brandon Weeden. “Crazy day, crazy month, crazy year,” he said from the scene of the crime Sunday.

• The Jets could win their final six games, beat the reigning Super Bowl champs, finish 11-5 and miss the playoffs. Easily.

• Washington wins the NFC East by winning Saturday night. Philadelphia wins the NFC East by winning its last two games.

• Regular-season wins for New England the last four years: 12, 12, 12, 12 (and counting).

• Kansas City is amazing. First team to lose five in a row then win eight straight in one season. (Wherever do they find these silly records?) Average margin of victory in the eight straight wins: 17.5 points. And 3-11 Cleveland and 6-8 Oakland come to Arrowhead for the last two regular-season games, so the Chiefs have a heck of a shot to extend that win streak to 10 straight. With a possible first-round playoff game at Houston, it’s quite possible that Kansas City could carry an 11-game winning streak into a divisional game at Cincinnati or Denver.

• Pittsburgh’s three-headed wideout monster (Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton) caught 32 passes in the win over Denver. How often have the fifth and sixth seeds in a conference playoff been the biggest threats to No. 1? This could be that year, with Kansas City and Pittsburgh the kryptonite to New England.

• Speaking of hot wild-card teams: Seattle has won five in a row, and Russell Wilson—statistically and in every other way—is the best he’s ever been. How can you be better than 19 touchdowns and no interceptions and a 143.6 passer rating over five games?

There’s a lot going on. The Giants might be wise to work on one game plan with maniacal Odell Beckham Jr. in it and one with him out of it. Concussion opens this week. You should see it; it’s important. Three teams in eight days are preparing to say goodbye to their cities forever, and some fans are into the love-in of it all, and some want vengeance. And did I mention Brandon Weeden is relevant again?

But we start on the bus in south Philly, with Bruce Arians’ favorite player in trouble.

* * *

 

Tyrann Mathieu has been the heart of the Arizona defense this season.
Elsa/Getty Images

‘This would be devastating’

On the last defensive snap for Arizona on Sunday night, up 23, the Cardinals’ do-it-all safety, Defensive Player of the Year candidate Tyrann Mathieu, intercepted Sam Bradford to put this game out of its misery. It was a pirouetting play in front of Riley Cooper, with Mathieu turning upfield to run with the ball, then inadvertently kicking his left ankle with his right foot, and then the left leg twisted a little bit, and Mathieu went down suddenly. It was a strange incident. Mathieu will have an MRI this morning in Phoenix.

“It could be devastating. It could be okay,” Arians said. “We just don’t know. When he came off the field, he was smiling. But the doctor said the knee’s loose.”

Arians has liked the 2013 third-round pick from LSU because the Cards took a risk picking him prominently as Mathieu toted lots of baggage off the field and was thought to be too small, at 5-9, to play safety in the NFL. Since his first minicamp, Mathieu has played aggressively even in walk-throughs, determined not to let his past rule his future. Arians says he loves the fact that Mathieu has used his second chance perfectly, becoming a leader and a great player.

“It’s his energy and passion, at everything,” said Arians. “He’s just so good to be around, for us coaches and for his teammates. He wants to be great every day. I mean, we could lose Carson [Palmer], or Patrick [Peterson], and it’d be devastating. We could replace Tyrann, but who would replace his interceptions and his sacks? I have to say, he’s my favorite. This would be devastating for him.”

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​Coaches aren’t supposed to say that, but Arians has a thing for the overachievers and those who’ve got something to prove—and who then go out and prove it. That’s why he sounded glum early this morning. That plus the fact Mathieu tore two knee ligaments in 2013, missing the last three games of that season and all of the 2014 off-season. And the fact that the Cards really need him to be their defensive selves.

So Arizona will hope for the best. Arians said the celebration for clinching the division was subdued because the team has bigger hopes than that. The franchise’s newfound national respect has helped the team prepare for big games, he thinks. Four of the past six games have been played in prime time—three on Sunday night and one on Thursday night. The last one, Sunday night, brought the Cards’ prime-time record to 5-0 this year. “We’re in the big leagues,” Arians said. “Every game feels like a playoff game now. These night games have gotten us ready for the playoffs.”

With Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson coming to Glendale for the final two games of the regular season, Arizona won’t be the same without a physical center fielder in Mathieu. Arians will be crossing his fingers this morning over the MRI, just like Mathieu.

* * *

 

The aftermath of Beckham's helmet-to-helmet spear on Norman could result in a heavy fine or suspension by the league office.
Julie Jacobson/Getty Images

In this corner, Odell Beckham Jr.

It certainly wasn’t all the fault of the Giants wide receiver. It takes two to fight, and Carolina cornerback Josh Norman roughed up Beckham on the first snap of the Panthers-Giants game Sunday. After that, though, Beckham was a dangerous, reckless problem, and he’ll be lucky if he avoids a one-game suspension when NFL vice president of football operations Merton Hanks considers his case today.

I think Beckham deserves to be banned for one game, for two reasons. One: In a week when Concussion hits the theaters and attention to head trauma in football is (wisely) at an all-time high, Beckham took a seven-yard running start at Norman on a Shane Vereen running play in the third quarter and launched himself, his helmet connecting directly with Norman’s helmet in a vicious attack. There’s enough helmet-to-helmet stuff in the game already, blows that can cause concussions and can contribute to the cumulative ill effects of head trauma over the life of a player. If this blow happened by accident, you’d have seen it and thought, Norman might be concussed on that hit. But that was no accident. This was the kind of Brandon Meriweather brutality that has no place in football—and would have had no place even in the bad old days when there wasn’t such a focus on eliminating the helmet-to-helmet blows. “He came 15 yards down the field and just went straight for my head,” Norman said. “It was just crazy.”

Two: Beckham never stopped. Norman contributed too; don’t get me wrong. But this was 75 percent a Beckham show.

I can also blame the officials, and Tom Coughlin. It is absurd that Terry McAulay’s crew on the field missed a blatant Beckham blow to Carolina nickel back Cortland Finnegan’s head in the second quarter, calling the foul on Finnegan … and just as absurd that the crew called only one personal foul on Beckham in the first 35 minutes of the game. Regarding Coughlin, I’ve never seen a disciplinarian come up so soft. Not taking Beckham out of the game—even to cool him off for a series, or to warn him that one more scuffle and he’d be out of the game for the day—is a black mark on Coughlin.

This is not over, either. Usually, after a 15- to 20-minute cooling-off period after games, players cool off. Norman absolutely was not cooled off.

About 45 minutes after the game, reporters were at Norman’s locker waiting for him to speak. The MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas was one of them: “When he did talk, he was still pissed off. On a couple of answers, he spoke through clenched teeth. It was intense.”

As a veteran of 32 seasons of working locker rooms, I can’t think of many times I’d call a post-game interview period intense.

Said Norman: “What he did, obviously is on display. You see what kind of player he is. You pull back the layers of skin and really see what it is. Film don’t lie. People who watch, the stuff he was carrying on, it don’t lie … He should have been [ejected]. The guy ran 15 yards down the field, dead-on collision. He … was hunting, and it was just malicious in every way. And when they put it on the film, they go back and review it, I hope the league office takes a better look at it to see what they can do. Because players like that don’t need to be in the game.”

“I have never seen that in football,” said Finnegan of the running-start, helmet-to-helmet play by Beckham.

Nor have I. It was awful.

Beckham’s explanation for any of the extracurriculars was meandering at best and totally evasive at worst, according to the transcript provided by the Giants. Asked three times about Norman, he said, “It’s unfortunate that we lost.”

Said Giants punter Brad Wing, Beckham’s former LSU teammate, to our Emily Kaplan: “Have I seen him as emotional as he was today? Oh yeah, all the time. He takes pride in being the best, he wants to be the best every time he’s out there, he doesn’t like to lose—which has happened quite a bit lately—so what you’re seeing is the frustration. But what he did today? That wasn’t out of the ordinary.”

Wow. That is scary. There’s more of this to come?

Hanks, the NFL’s vice president of football operations, will watch the tape of this game to determine whether a fine or suspension is in order for Beckham and for others involved some of the scrums. So far this season only one player has been suspended—Denver cornerback Aqib Talib, for attempting to gouge the eyes of Indianapolis tight end Dwayne Allen. Talib got a one-game ban, lost his appeal and missed Denver’s Nov. 15 game against Kansas City. The league, if it decides to suspend Beckham, will likely do so by the end of the day Monday so Beckham will have the right to appeal to one of two NFL/NFL Players Association arbitrators. That case would be heard Tuesday, with a decision handed down no later than Wednesday morning so that the player would be fully involved in the week’s practice regimen for the next game, which is Sunday night at Minnesota. I can’t tell you what’s likely to happen. I don’t know. But how much really will a fine accomplish?

Two interesting things from a conversation I had with Carolina coach Ron Rivera post-game. He said he saw what he thought was a punch from Beckham at Finnegan and “brought it to the ref’s attention,” but Rivera said the officials told him they didn’t see it. “I was disappointed in the chippiness,” said Rivera. “Coaches and players want the excitement of the 38-35 game and the competition of the 38-35 game, but we don’t need to be chippy. That’s what I’m disappointed in today—that the game got way too chippy.”

I had talked to Rivera last week, and he seemed absolutely on the fence about whether to play all of his starters once the NFC’s top seed is clinched. The Panthers can’t clinch for at least another week, because Arizona won on Sunday night and Carolina’s magic number remained at one. But when quarterback Cam Newton got tripped up in an accidental bump with his center, Ryan Kalil, Newton came up gimpy. Rivera said he was fine after the game, but when I asked if that would factor into his plans whether to play all of his starters to go for a perfect regular season, he said: “Yes it will. I’ve got to be realistic about the big picture. I’ve got to be realistic about my players’ health.”

Carolina became the fourth NFL team ever to have a 14-0 record. The previous three reached the Super Bowl, and the 1972 Dolphins won it. Rivera appeared on Sunday night to be more interested in post-season perfection than in a 16-0 season, but did say to me, “I’m undecided” about whom to play and how long to play them in the last game, if the top seed is clinched.

In some ways, the 38-35 Carolina victory was the game of the season. But it was the game of the season, too, for rotten reasons—because the series of Beckham-Norman car wrecks deprived us of concentrating on watching on two of the best players in football facing off, mano a mano, for the first time. That’s a shame.

* * *

 

Concussion comes out this week, and it’s must-see if you like this game.

With quite a bit of fanfare, and mostly radio silence from the league it attacks, a compelling film about the NFL’s stonewalling of the effects of head trauma on its players hits theaters on Christmas Day. I’ve seen it, and I urge you to see it if you love, like or have a passing interest in football. Why? Because, as the neuropathologist/protagonist in Concussion, Dr. Bennet Omalu says, the only thing he’s interested in is the truth. Once you determine the truth, you can decide for yourself how to react to the NFL’s inaction concerning head trauma a generation ago. If you’ve watched the excellent PBS Frontline documentary on the subject or read League of Denial, by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, not much about Concussion will surprise you. (Well, maybe except for the casting of Luke Wilson as Roger Goodell.)

I can nitpick some of the little things I found wrong with the film—former safety Andre Waters did not go to NFL headquarters to beg disability-claims board member Dave Duerson for benefits, for instance, and Omalu’s wife was not chased in a car by a nefarious unseen villain trying to scare her husband away from his research—but mostly the dramatic license taken in the film didn’t bother me. The most important scenes in the film deal with Omalu’s discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease, in the brains of deceased football players, the product of repetitive blows to the head.

(This is one of the reasons I found Odell Beckham Jr.’s purposeful helmet-to-helmet blow on Carolina cornerback Josh Norman, which I describe above, so repulsive, and so worthy of a one-game suspension. Look at some of the players whose lives are altered forever by CTE, and you’ll understand why a gratuitous shot like that has to dealt with severely by the NFL.)

Will Smith, who plays Omalu, is exceedingly good, right down to Omalu’s Nigerian accent. He’s on a crusade to discover what killed Steelers center Mike Webster and other players who died young and disturbed. Director and screenwriter Peter Landesman may not have a boffo box-office draw—I have no clue in this period of big, big movies out now if Concussion will get traction—but I do think he’s done a public service. See the movie and decide for yourself if you want to be mad at the game, or if as a parent you still want to allow your kids to play football.

Landesman said he loves football, and said he stopped to watch some old Joe Washington footage on TV he saw by chance while walking through the Los Angeles airport recently. It may be a stretch when he says, “The issue is the iceberg; the game is the Titanic.” But he does have a tale that will be good medicine for a football-loving country. Not because he wants everyone to stop watching the game or to shut the sport down, but because full disclosure about a dangerous thing is good—even if that dangerous thing is an American obsession.

“It’s a movie that I believe will change the way people look at a big American thing,” Landesman said from California on Saturday, “and what it is to tell the truth about a very inconvenient revelation about this thing that is beautiful and gives us joy. Sometimes things that are wonderful are not that good for us. It’s a thing we should all be talking about.

“The sport is amazing. It saves lives. The sport is amazing. It takes lives.

“Life is an occupational hazard. We have to pick the things that give us joy yet might hurt us, and hurt us the least, and yet fulfill our need and appetites. That’s one of the big conflicts of human existence. No one has seen something this big confront something so existentially dangerous. I think either nothing will happen because of all these revelations [about head trauma and football], or more likely NFL football 15 years from now will have gone the way of boxing.”

I doubt it, but who knows? The most important thing about the game is whether the parents of America will continue to let their children play games that have a degree of danger but also have great value—in exercise, in teamwork, in work ethic, in a shared community experience—in an increasingly sedentary world.

One last point: The New York Times last week quoted the family of the aforementioned Duerson, who played 11 seasons in the NFL, as saying it was angry at how Duerson was portrayed. “They completely made stuff up,” Tregg Duerson, the son of Dave Duerson, told the Times. Dave Duerson committed suicide in 2011. “They needed a villain, someone to take the fall. And he’s not here to defend himself.”

Asked for a response, Landesman said: “I’ve been a journalist for 25 years. Nobody on planet Earth likes the way they are portrayed in a film. Dave is a very complex person. His act of self-martyrdom [shooting himself in the chest so his brain could be studied for CTE] was heroic. I feel very peaceful about his portrayal, but I am understanding and sympathetic to his family. I have enormous compassion for them.”

I’d recommend seeing Concussion. And thinking about it.

* * *

Brandon Weeden, a Cowboy to start the season, is the fourth quarterback the Texans have played in 2015.
Michael Conroy/AP

Just when you thought you’d seen the last of Brandon Weeden…

When the time comes for a backup quarterback to do something more than carry a clipboard or monitor the plays being called in to the starter, he most often has no time to prepare. “You just take your baseball cap off, put your helmet on and you're playing,” said the fourth quarterback of the season (in 14 games) for Houston, Brandon Weeden. “You don't have time to get nervous.”

Such was the situation for Weeden on Sunday in Indianapolis. After being a Texan for one month, he didn't even know everyone on the team yet. And here he was, entering a game his team trailed 10-0 with the Texans and Colts in a dead heat atop the AFC South. He certainly didn't know the intricate playbook of head coach Bill O'Brien. After the game, Weeden told me that in five practice weeks he had taken one snap with Houston’s first offensive unit. And that was a running play. So he wasn't sure what to expect when T.J. Yates went down with a knee injury in the second quarter. And Texans fans, who knew Weeden only as the quarterback who lost his starting job in Cleveland and lost his backup job in Dallas, had to have been skeptical. Beyond skeptical. Houston entered Sunday never having won in Indianapolis (0-13), and now, down 10-0, the game was in Brandon Weeden’s hands. Yikes.

“It wasn’t like I stunk it up in Dallas—I thought I’d played pretty well, but we just hadn’t won,” he said. “I’ve learned in this business you’ve just got to keep plugging away. You never know when your next chance is going to come.”

For a guy who hadn’t played a single snap with this team, Weeden exceeded all expectations in what was likely the AFC South title game. In his first six possessions, Weeden led four scoring drives—one touchdown, three field goals. He looked calm, and looked very much like he knew what he was doing. And when it was over, another chance to start loomed. Yates likely has a significant knee injury, and the other quarterback on the roster, Brian Hoyer, is in the NFL’s concussion protocol and may not play for a while. If Weeden gets the keys to the offense Sunday at Tennessee, he’d be the fourth starter in 15 games for the Texans.

After the game, a few players he barely knows, veterans happy to finally break the Indy schneid, said to Weeden, “Thank you.” J.J. Watt was one.

“It’s pretty weird,” said Weeden. “But I’m just thankful for the opportunity. This game can be difficult to figure out sometimes.”

Sometimes?

* * *

Cam Newton had 100 yards rushing to go along with his five passing touchdowns on Sunday.
Julie Jacobson/Getty Images

MVP Watch

How I view the MVP race with two weeks left in the regular season (and remember, the MVP vote does not take into account anything but regular-season performance):

1. Cam Newton, quarterback, Carolina (Last week: 1). Not sure it’s open to much debate now. Newton is playing so exquisitely that he’s leaving no room for any of the other quarterbacks having great years (Brady, Palmer, Roethlisberger, Wilson, Dalton) to nudge him aside. In the past month Newton has played five games, won them all, had the only three five-touchdown-pass games of his career, and has an 18-to-1 touchdown-to-pick ratio. One other thing about Newton’s play: When the season started, there’s a good chance his receivers, one through four, were 32nd out of 32 teams in the league: Philly Brown and Ted Ginn Jr. the starters to open the season, and Jerricho Cotchery and rookie Devin Funchess at three and four. All in all, it’s going to take a couple of sub-mediocre games by Newton to re-open this race, at least for me.

• STEPH CURRY ON NEWTON—‘HE SHOULD BE THE MVP’: The hottest players in the NBA and NFL can’t stop talking smack to each other about video games. Theirs is a friendship that runs deeper than fandom

2. Tom Brady, quarterback, New England (LW: 2). In another year, Brady would be moving toward his third MVP, and first since 2010. He leads all quarterbacks with 4,405 passing yards and 35 touchdown passes.

• AND THE AWARDS GO TO…: With two weeks to go in the regular season, Andy Benoit reveals his picks for all of 2015’s major awards

3. Carson Palmer, quarterback, Arizona (LW: 3). It’s not over for Palmer, who has been terrific for 14 games and led the Cardinals to the first 12-win season in franchise history. That’s because he goes head-to-head against Aaron Rodgers next week and against Russell Wilson in Week 17—presuming Bruce Arians plays him in Week 17, which might not be a smart thing to do with a quarterback coming off late-2014 ACL surgery. MVP or not, this has been an incredible season for Palmer.

• A QUARTERBACK AND HIS GAME PLAN: For a two-part series, Peter King spent a week shadowing Carson Palmer to see how an NFL QB devours an enormous game plan, and how that game plan works on game day

4. Russell Wilson, quarterback, Seattle (LW: 5). We’re getting to the point of absurdity with Wilson, the top-rated quarterback in the league: 19 touchdowns, no interceptions in the past month.

5. Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback, Pittsburgh (LW: not ranked). Replaces Andy Dalton. Close call, but with Dalton likely to miss one or both of the remaining games, and Roethlisberger having won at Cincinnati last week and having led a comeback from 17 points down against defensively stout Denver on Sunday, I’m putting him here despite Roethlisberger not having numbers as impressive as some of the other passers.

• ROETHLISBERGER IS THE NFL’S MOST GIFTED QUARTERBACK: So why isn’t anyone talking about him?

* * *

Case Keenum is one of six quarterbacks the Rams have started in the past three seasons.
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The QB woes of the Rams

Mastering the draft is not easy. No one has done it. Ron Wolf, a Hall of Fame GM, once told me he’d be happy if he could hit .333 in the draft … meaning one of three players he picked would be a direct hit. That’s a Hall of Famer talking.

Just look at a couple of recent drafts—the top half of the first round only—to see how hit-or-miss drafts can be.

How good the top half of the first round of the 2014 draft was:

Overall pick Player, Team Position
4 Sammy Watkins, Buffalo WR
5 Khalil Mack, Oakland LB
7 Mike Evans, Tampa Bay WR
9 Anthony Barr, Minnesota LB
11 Taylor Lewan, Tennessee OT
12 Odell Beckham Jr., Giants WR
13 Aaron Donald, St. Louis DT
16 Zack Martin, Dallas OG
 

How bad the top half of the first round of the 2013 draft was:

Overall pick Player, Team Position
1 Eric Fisher, Kansas City OT
2 Luke Joeckel, Jacksonville OT
3 Dion Jordan, Miami DE
6 Barkevious Mingo, Cleveland LB
7 Jonathan Cooper, Arizona OG
9 Dee Milliner, Jets CB
12 D.J. Hayden, Oakland CB
16 EJ Manuel, Buffalo QB
 

But the one thing a good franchise has to do is to be able to find and develop and keep a good quarterback. Or else, quite simply, the team will never be any good. The Rams are a great example of this. Since making the megatrade that allowed Washington to draft Robert Griffin III in 2012—a legitimately good trade for St. Louis, seeing that the Rams had their presumptive quarterback of the future, Sam Bradford, on the team before his two killer knee surgeries—the Rams have had 37 draft choices in four drafts, six of them in the first round. And the team may have the worst quarterback situation in the NFL.

Wisely, St. Louis built a strong defense with all the draft capital. The Rams have a franchise running back in Todd Gurley. But all that will be for naught, wherever they’re playing in 2016, if GM Les Snead cannot find a quarterback better than he’s got on his roster. Or unless 2015 third-round pick Sean Mannion is the golden child, and no one can know that now.

A treasure trove of draft choices is something every team would kill for. It’s rotten luck that the Rams couldn’t know until 2014 that they might have to move on from Bradford, and did in 2015. But at the end of the day, the franchise had an incredibly strong position in four straight drafts, and the top spot on the most important position on the depth chart in Snead’s office is empty entering 2016. Or should be.

* * *

NFL official Ed Hochuli
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The last word, for now, on officiating

My thanks to Robert Klemko and Emily Kaplan of The MMQB for their detailed analysis on the state of NFL officiating. And to Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, writing one of the best pieces in his three-year part-time columnist role for The MMQB. (Richard, you’ve got a future in the media.) He suggested an eighth official, a simplification of the rulebook, and a re-positioning of the officials on the field. 

• THE OFFICIATING CRISIS: Worse than Ever, or Just Louder Critics?

But what Sherman wrote that resonated with me was this: “To the fans who are still losing their minds over bad calls, I have one thing to say: Relax. Officiating NFL games is one of the hardest jobs in professional sports, and that’s why the replacement refs were yanked after three weeks. These days, with high-definition TV and rule experts on television and social media, everyone thinks he’s an expert. Everyone seems to know the rules and how they’re supposed to be called, and everybody can get the call right from the comfort of their own home, lying in bed. But in the heat of the moment, very few of us could get it right.”

Did you watch the Monday night game last week? In the Giants-Dolphins game, Eli Manning threw to Odell Beckham on the right side of the end zone, and Beckham stretched out for the ball, tried to get both feet in, and then attempted to secure the ball as he fell to the ground and slid way past the boundary.

To anyone watching, it was close. To me, and to the officials on the field, the immediate thought was: He didn’t get both feet inbounds, and he used the ground to secure the catch. So, then we saw the replays. One Beckham foot was clearly inbounds, and the new pylon-cam on ESPN spied a clear inch of green grass between Beckham’s other foot and the wide white stripe. So yes, both feet were legal. Inbounds. Now for the act of making the catch. Beckham caught the ball, fell to the ground and slid—and if the ball barely moved a millimeter from the time he hit the ground to the time his slide stopped. It appeared clear to me that Beckham did not use the ground to secure the catch, and that the catch should be good. That’s the way it was ruled on review. Touchdown, Giants. Another play for the Beckham highlight loop.

My point: People will yelp about the officials getting the play wrong. But there is no human watching that game on the biggest hi-def TV ever invented, or watching in real time where the officials stood, feet away from the act, who could be remotely sure whether the ball was caught legally for a touchdown. The vast majority of people, I would guess, saw the play and said, “No way. Incomplete.” No matter how many rules are put in place to clarify the act of a catch, or the act of nearly anything in a pro football game, there are going to be holes. And officials will err. It’s just the way it is and always will be.

• FOUR WAYS TO FIX OFFICIATING: Seattle’s Sherman offers his suggestions

Now, I do think what I mentioned on NBC Sunday night—that the league is on a fast track to make one official on each of the 17 officiating crews a full-time, year-round employee—is a good thing. It’s progress. And it may be that one day all officials will be full-time. But understand that the bang-bang nature of so many plays will ensure that no matter how much tape officials watch and no matter how many practices they work and no matter how many tests they take on the rules, there is very little you can do to make the game be played, live, in super-slow-motion. And that’s the only way officials can be anywhere close to perfect.

There still will be human error, the kind, in my opinion that allowed Beckham to stay in Sunday’s game when he was clearly out of control and did enough to be ejected. Why wasn’t he? I don’t know. It should have happened. It’s just another example of mistakes made under the white-hot lights of a big game. We’ll see if a full-time official on each staff—or more, eventually—will cut down on the flaws.

* * *

Preston Smith and Washington kept playoff hope alive while ending the Bills' slim shot.
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Quotes of the Week

I

“This is not Compton versus Crenshaw! Sit him down! Bench him! And Norman is winning!”

—Giants radio analyst Carl Banks, berating Odell Beckham Jr. on the air Sunday afternoon for his thuggish play in Panthers-Giants—and at the same time stunned that Tom Coughlin wasn’t taking Beckham out of the game after multiple penalties for unnecessary roughness.

II

“Unless we get a heck of a lot better, there’s gonna be changes. There’s gonna be drastic changes.”

—Buffalo coach Rex Ryan, whose 6-8 Bills fell out of the playoff race Sunday with a decisive loss to Washington.

III

“I love to see them lose. And they’ve lost more than they’ve won this year. If they’re ahead, I turn it off.”

—U.S. Senate minority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), on Washington’s NFL franchise (before Sunday’s win evened its record), to the Washington Post. Reid has been critical of the team’s nickname.

IV

“If this is indeed the last home game for the Rams in St. Louis, they’re going out in a blaze of mustard!”

—NFL Network host Rich Eisen at halftime of the The Condiment Bowl between the red-clad Bucs (ketchup) and the urine-uniformed Rams (mustard), with St. Louis leading 21-3.

V

“Kroen-ke sucks! Kroen-ke sucks! Kroen-ke sucks!”

—The crowd at what possibly was the last Rams home game in St. Louis on Thursday night, in the middle of the fourth quarter.

VI

“Okay, folks. I have to apologize.”

—Comedian and host Steve Harvey, after announcing, on live television, the wrong winner in the 2015 Miss Universe pageant. He originally crowned Miss Colombia, who paraded around the stage for a few moments before Harvey corrected himself and named Miss Philippines the real winner. 

All I can think of, for comparison's sake, is if Dan Patrick, doing the Super Bowl post-game show last year for NBC, had called up Paul Allen and Pete Carroll to accept the Lombardi. 

* * *

Antonio Brown leads the NFL with 1,586 receiving yards this season. He also led the league in that category in 2014 and was second in 2013.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Award Section

OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Antonio Brown, wide receiver, Pittsburgh. Brown continued a transcendent season, catching 16 passes from Ben Roethlisberger (on 18 targets) for 189 yards and two touchdowns. (Amazing: Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton combined for 32 catches in the 34-27 comeback win over the Broncos.) Brown now has 116, and will duel Atlanta’s Julio Jones for the receiving titles: Jones has 118 catches for 1,544 yards; Brown has 116 catches for 1,586 yards. For those into such things (I am), the last two weeks will be interesting, with Brown at Baltimore and at Cleveland in games the Steelers have to win, and Jones hosting Carolina and New Orleans in games that mean nothing for the Falcons.

Cam Newton, quarterback, Carolina. I am simply going to retire this honor. I’m just going to call it the “Cam Newton Memorial Offensive Player of the Week.” What is this? Every week he’s doing something new and impossible. In the 38-35 win over the Giants, he threw for 340 yards with five touchdowns and no picks (his third five-touchdown game in the past month)—and added 100 rushing yards on eight carries. This is a quarterback who’s been playing much more from the pocket than ever, but on Sunday in the Meadowlands, in as emotional a game the 14-0 Panthers have played this season, he needed his track shoes. Three times in the last 10 minutes he ran for a first down. Right now, Newton’s the best weapon in football, and it’s not close for second.

A.J. McCarron, quarterback, Cincinnati. He quarterbacked the Bengals to the playoff-clinching 24-14 win at San Francisco in his first NFL start. The numbers were pedestrian (15-21, 192 yards, one touchdown, no picks), but this was exactly what offensive coordinator Hue Jackson wanted out of him: 14 possessions, zero interceptions or fumbles, and scores on four straight mid-game drives. Life gets tougher next week. McCarron will be facing the angry Broncos, in Denver, with the AFC West lead at stake, suddenly, for Denver.

David Johnson, running back, Arizona. As if the Cardinals needed another big weapon on offense … meet the 6-1, 224-pound third-round pick from Northern Iowa, who exploded for 187 yards on 29 carries in the 40-17 win over Philadelphia, with touchdown runs of 1, 47 and 1 yards. The 47-yarder was a thing of physical beauty along the right sideline. Is there no end to the Cardinals’ ability to find instant offensive contributors down the line in the NFL draft? Johnson and wideouts John Brown and J.J. Nelson come to mind. Johnson’s getting impactful at the right time.

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DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Marcus Peters, cornerback, Kansas City. The Chiefs’ first-round pick from Washington intercepted Ravens quarterback Jimmy Clausen twice, returning the first for a 90-yard touchdown to ice the Chiefs’ eighth win in a row. Peters had three tackles and two other passes defensed, and continued to reinforce the belief inside and outside Chiefs Kingdom that GM John Dorsey and coach Andy Reid made the perfect first-round pick for a secondary-needy team last April.

Benardrick McKinney, linebacker, Houston. On a team of big defensive stars, the second-round rookie from Mississippi State played a big role in the first-ever Texans win in Indianapolis: seven tackles, a sack of Matt Hasselbeck for an 11-yard loss and two tackles behind the line. It’s easy to get overshadowed on the Houston defense, but in the biggest win of the Texans’ season, the rookie led them.

Vontaze Burfict, linebacker, Cincinnati. The fiery outside linebacker, coming off the chippy game against Pittsburgh last week, had seven tackles and a sack of Blaine Gabbert in the 24-14 victory over San Francisco that kept the Bengals two games up on Pittsburgh with two to play. Burfict also intercepted Gabbert late in the second quarter, leading to the Bengals’ third touchdown of the day and a 21-0 lead. He’s one of the Cincinnati front seven players who’s going to be hard for opposing offenses to figure out because he’s such a varied threat.

SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Benny Cunningham, running back/kick returner, St. Louis. Of all the kick returns in the NFL this season, Cunningham’s 102-yard run against the Bucs on Thursday night—when he quite possibly ran 135 yards to get the 102—was the most interesting. Cunningham, an undrafted free agent from Middle Tennessee in 2013, took the Connor Barth kickoff five yards deep in the end zone and weaved and sprinted 102 yards to the Bucs’ three-yard line. A dynamic return.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, cornerback, New York Giants. Special-teams coaches: Want to see an absolutely textbook rush off the edge, layout and block of a field goal? See what Rodgers-Cromartie did to the Panthers midway through the fourth quarter Sunday. With Carolina lining up for a 34-yard field goal that would have made it a three-score game with nine minutes to play, Rodgers-Cromartie got a millisecond head start off the right side of the line, launched himself and blocked the gimme kick. The Giants, of course, went on to tie the game, only to lose it on the last play.

COACH OF THE WEEK

Bill O’Brien, head coach, and George Godsey, offensive coordinator, Houston. The Texans’ 16-10 victory in Indianapolis, the franchise’s first after 13 straight losses on the road to the Colts, culminated a tale of two seasons for Houston. First seven: 2-5. Last seven: 5-2. O’Brien, who erred early in yanking starting quarterback Brian Hoyer far before his time, has recovered nicely now, making sure he creates an environment in his game-planning and play-calling for inexperienced players in his system—and putting the Texans in position to win the division with two games to play. As for Godsey, a totally unknown 36-year-old and fifth-year NFL coach, he’s had to put up with a lot since taking over the QB job for O’Brien in 2014 (Godsey was promoted to OC last offseason). “We’ve been through what, maybe 45 quarterbacks in the last two years?” J.J. Watt said after the game. Well, maybe 39. But Godsey is the guy who had to get Brandon Weeden up to speed 33 days ago when he was acquired after Dallas waived him. And he’s done a great job in getting Weeden to know as much as he needs to know to manage a game, which Weeden did very well in a hostile environment Sunday.

GOAT OF THE WEEK

Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver, New York Giants. I don’t care that Beckham caught the biggest throw of the day, the fourth-and-five tying touchdown pass from Eli Manning to make it 35-all. His behavior through the game against Josh Norman and the Panthers was reprehensible. From the start of Giants-Panthers in the Meadowlands, Beckham was totally off his greatness, dropping a touchdown pass early and being called for two personal fouls because he played completely out of control. A shameful display by Beckham, and to me, a bad case of enabling by Tom Coughlin for never pulling him from the game.

* * *

Stat of the Week

I

Denver has been shut out in the second half of the past three games, including Sunday’s 34-27 loss at Pittsburgh.

Excluding a kneel-down in San Diego, that’s no points in 22 second-half drives: five against San Diego, eight against Oakland, nine against Pittsburgh.

That’s not good for Brock Osweiler. Then again, if Peyton Manning continues to have trouble practicing at full speed and throwing the ball with velocity, it won’t matter.

II

The amazing season of Carolina cornerback Josh Norman continued Sunday in New Jersey. Week by week, look at the ridiculous numbers he’s put up, with statistics by Pro Football Focus on the totals of the receivers week by week who Norman has been in coverage against: (Note: Panthers had a bye in Week 6)

Week Foe Targets Rec. Yards TD Int
Week 1 Jacksonville 9 3 15 1 1
Week 2 Houston 12 6 40 0 0
Week 3 New Orleans 6 4 43 0 1
Week 4 Tampa Bay 8 2 31 0 2
Week 5 Seattle 2 2 -2 0 0
Week 7 Philadelphia 2 1 3 0 0
Week 8 Indianapolis 7 3 29 0 0
Week 9 Green Bay 5 2 49 0 0
Week 10 Tennessee 3 2 9 0 0
Week 11 Washington 5 4 33 0 0
Week 12 Dallas 6 2 16 0 0
Week 13 New Orleans 5 2 30 0 0
Week 14 Atlanta 6 4 33 0 0
Week 15 NY Giants 8 5 28 1 0
Total   84 42 357 2 4
 

Average production allowed per game: 6.0 targets, 3.0 catches, 25.5 yards, 0.1 touchdowns.

* * *

Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me

I

The Josh Norman-Rodney Harrison controversy bloomed recently, with Harrison predicting Julio Jones would get the better of the Jones-Norman matchup last week, Norman winning, and Norman then calling Harrison horrible at his job.

“We are the same guy,” Harrison said Sunday. “We’re the same guy!!”

Birthday: Norman, Dec. 15; Harrison, Dec. 15.

College: Middle-size. Norman, Coastal Carolina; Harrison, Western Illinois.

Position: Defensive back. Norman, cornerback; Harrison, safety.

Draft: (Now this is getting eerie.) Norman—fifth round, 143rd pick overall, 2012. Harrison—fifth round, 145th pick overall, 1994.

II

December 2007: Patriots (16-0) 38, Giants 35

December 2015: Panthers (14-0) 38, Giants 35.

Both in New Jersey.

* * *

Tweets of the Week

I

Tweeted during the fourth quarter of the Panthers-Giants instant classic.

II

This tweet came after a Sunday morning report by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport that Peyton Manning doesn’t want to serve as the Denver backup quarterback when he’s healthy enough to play.

First: Why is it news that Manning would not want to be a backup quarterback? It would be news if Manning said, I want to be the backup quarterback here. Did Rapoport say Manning would turn down any coaching order that he be the backup? No.

Manning is a player who, when healthy, has always fought against the No. 2 quarterback taking any of the first-team repetitions in practice. Why would anyone think Manning would accept in a docile way being the backup to Brock Osweiler whenever he is healthy enough to play—if ever? And why would it be such a launching pad for media and non-media alike to freak out about it?

III

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

IV

V

Could not have said it better.

* * *

Rob Gronkowski has double-digit touchdowns in each of his first six seasons, save 2013 when he missed nine games with a knee injury.
Charles Krupa/AP

Ten Things I Think I Think

1. I think this is what I liked about Week 15:

a. The most beautiful throw of the day: Tyrod Taylor’s perfect, in-stride touchdown rainbow to Sammy Watkins, too late in Washington but lovely nonetheless.

• IS TYROD TAYLOR THE GUY?: With every throw he makes, Buffalo wonders if the search for their next franchise QB might finally be over

b. The Dave Dameshek feature for NFL Network on Odell Beckham Jr., and the man who throws him the footballs he catches in an acrobatic way, Giants assistant equipment manager Ed Skiba.

c. Rob Gronkowski. Man, it looks so easy for him.

d. Cam Newton. Man, it looks so easy for him.

e. The strip-sack and recovery by Vikings defensive end Brian Robison on Jay Cutler. Quickness, strength and a sense of exactly where he needed to be keyed the play for Robison.

f. Lone Dallas offensive bright spot Darren McFadden: 25 carries, 211 yards in the past two games. What a bargain signing. He needs 102 yards in his last two games to be this season’s most surprising 1,000-yard back.

g. Charcandrick West, doing his part on the 38-yard touchdown run.

h. The Giants' Landon Collins tripping up Ted Ginn Jr., on a terrific punt-return chase and ankle tackle.

i. Case Keenum. Nice game: 14 of 17, 234 yards with two touchdowns and no picks.

j. The terrific inside rush and sack by Washington's Jason Hatcher on Tyrod Taylor.

k. Robert Ayers of the Giants, with a enveloping sack of Cam Newton that’s a good illustration of just how well he’s playing for the Giants. He’s the edge-rushing presence they need Jason Pierre-Paul to be.

l. Greg Gumbel on a marginal hit: “Can we classify that as not illegal but unnecessary?”

m. The 75-yard Keshawn Martin kick return against Tennessee, with two holes smartly picked.

n. As Dan Fouts said, the very well designed screen by Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels—with four huge protectors paving the way for a 30-yard touchdown—with James White the beneficiary.

o. Stefon Diggs. Fifth-round pick. Top-10 rookie of 2015. His second touchdown against Chicago showed speed and physicality, the two crucial traits for a wideout in today’s NFL.

p. Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker, who absolutely crumpled Pats safety Patrick Chung on his catch-and-run for touchdown. What a physical play by a physical tight end against a physical safety.

q. Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters, quite possibly the defensive rookie of the year, with a game-sealing 90-yard interception return for TD in Baltimore.

r. The best run of the day: Arizona back David Johnson’s 47-yard tight-rope job along the right sideline late in the first half. A brilliant job breaking free of traffic at the line, and finding some way to stay in-bounds.

s. Darren Fells. Bavaro-like on the Cardinals’ first drive of the night, carrying an Eagle six yards.

t. Geno Atkins, continuing one of the best defensive seasons of the year in the NFL, with two sacks of Blaine Gabbert at San Francisco.

u. Ryan Shazier being in the right place at the right time and picking off Brock Osweiler in the fourth quarter of a big Pittsburgh win.

v. Philip Rivers and a few Chargers, in what could be the last game at San Diego, returning to the field after the game to sign autographs and take pictures with fans.

w. Danny Woodhead. Three touchdowns by halftime in such an emotional game at Qualcomm.

x. Alex Smith: one interception in the past 11 games. That’s what Alex Smith does. He’s a pick-free guy.

y. Denico Autry's block of a Mason Crosby fourth-quarter field-goal try. That's one athletic block.

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2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 15:

a. Blake Bortles. Shown some good things this year, but he really makes too many errors. His late-second-quarter pick to Atlanta strong safety Kemal Ishmael killed the Jags and may have been the most significant play of a bad loss.

b. The T.J. Yates interception. Awful. It’s as if Vontae Davis was the intended receiver.

c. Buffalo’s defense. First Washington drive of the day: 10 plays, 84 yards, touchdown. Do something, Rex.

d. Timmy Jernigan, with a hit on Alex Smith, late and out of bounds, that was very close to dirty.

e. Speaking of non-uniform uniforms, I present Baltimore’s gold pants.

f. Misleading Stat of the Week: Bucs had 30 first downs, 509 yards in St. Louis. Bucs had 283 yards in the final 15 minutes, after they trailed 28-6.

g. Terry McAulay’s crew, letting Odell Beckham Jr. get away with a post-play slap in the head to Josh Norman, and then a punch to the helmet of Cortland Finnegan. Beckham is lucky he wasn’t ejected for that one—and the crew actually gave the flag to Finnegan, who did absolutely nothing.

h. Giants linebacker Jasper Brinkley, not keeping outside contain on a Cam Newton scramble, allowing Newton to run for an easy first down.

i. Rex Ryan choosing to go for two down 12 inside the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter after a Buffalo touchdown.

j. John Brown’s drop on a perfect first throw of the game Sunday night by Carson Palmer.

k. John Brown’s three first-half drops in Philadelphia, after dropping just one ball in the first 13 games of the year.

l. Seven possessions for Cleveland. Not enough in Seattle, and not enough against a red-hot Russell Wilson.

m. Three picks for Blaine Gabbert, who was pressured significantly by the Bengals, but he’s got to be more judicious if he wants to compete for the Niners’ starting job next summer … or anyone’s quarterback job next summer.

n. The Eagles’ D on the first series Sunday night. Papier-mâché like.

o. Pretty uninspiring game (season?) by Ryan Tannehill at San Diego, leading the Dolphins to 231 offensive yards against the previously 3-10 Chargers.

3. I think I would file this under Thing I Learned This Week That Most Surprised Me: There’s a fifth-year senior quarterback at North Dakota State, Carson Wentz, who could go in the top half of the first round of the 2016 draft.

4. I think I would say two things to Atlanta owner Arthur Blank as he decides what to do with his team as a third straight lousy season settles into the owner’s consciousness: Give your front office team one more year. In 2014, GM Thomas Dimitroff did what his defensive coaches wanted—he built a strong up-the-middle run defense and relied on the coaching staff to build an outside pass rush with lesser parts. It didn’t work, and Blank and Dimitroff agreed to import pass-rush specialist Dan Quinn as the head coach. This is year one of that. Dimitroff and Quinn have great rapport. Dimitroff has had his share of draft mistakes in his eight seasons, but he’s a widely respected personnel man and independent thinker, the likes of which are not common in the NFL right now. Along with Scott Pioli, this team deserves, at minimum, one more draft and free-agency period to progress in a division that’s had every team in it win at least two division crowns since 2005. Also, I wouldn’t panic about the offense, or about recently slumping quarterback Matt Ryan. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan runs a complicated scheme, and this is the first year for it, and key element Devonta Freeman—a very good, attack-the-hole back for the scheme—has been waylaid by a concussion for much of the second half of the season. Overall, I just think there’s so much new in Atlanta that I’d give it one more season to come together. Sometimes the best decision an owner can make in trying circumstances is to trust the people he put in place to get the team back on track. This is one of those times.

5. I think I’m glad to see, as Ian Rapoport reported Sunday, that Steve Smith Sr. will come back for one more season (just one?) in 2016 with Baltimore. (That confirms several reports that Smith might not be done after the Achilles tear.) You could tell when he went down with the torn Achilles in midseason for the Ravens that he had some football left. He’s the perfect player for John Harbaugh, to reinforce the lessons about the game being so hard and about what it takes to win.

6. I think, Steve Smith, that we at The MMQB forgive you for changing your mind. Our readers might recall a powerful and personal column Smith wrote for our site in August, when he announced that this would be his last season in the NFL. It was eloquent, and a side of Smith that very few of us have seen. And it’s also a passionate person talking about the lessons he wants to leave for future football players. Sometimes people change their minds, even 36-year-old wide receivers who were convinced they were done, but then played so well and with so much joy that they decided to play one more year. I think the mind-change is actually admirable. 

7. I think the coolest football picture I saw all weekend was this one, with Broncos Kayvon Webster, DeMarcus Ware, Chris Harris Jr., Demaryius Thomas, Britton Colquitt and Brandon McManus nattily attired on the tarmac at Denver International Airport.

I asked one of the editors of this column, Dom Bonvissuto, to search for a photo from an era long ago, to show that no matter how much things have changed, players still dress to the nines for road trips. See what he found?

Clockwise from top left: Rams coach George Allen at Milwaukee airport in 1967; Chiefs coach Hank Stram and QB Len Dawson at New Orleans airport in 1970; Giants players at Newark airport in 1981; Vikings QB Fran Tarkenton at Long Beach airport in 1977.
AP (2) :: David Bookstayer/AP :: Reed Saxon/AP

8. I think Mario Williams and Rex Ryan will need to have a meeting before the Bills scatter to the wind in two weeks. In that meeting, both men should ask the other, “What’s your deal?”

9. I think I realize this is the football section of the column, but there’s a little bit of football in the world sense that needs to be addressed. U.S. women’s soccer star Abby Wambach played her last game the other night for the United States in an international match against China. A couple of points: Wambach is the leading goal-scorer in world soccer history—in international matches, men or women—with 184 goals. That deserves praise in and of itself. But my other point, and one I won’t soon forget, is a scene from The MMQB’s summer offsite. The staff went to spend a couple of days learning about football, on and off the field, from Bills players, coaches and executives. One evening in June, we went to dinner at a Buffalo restaurant with Bills president Russ Brandon. It was an evening when the NBA Finals (Curry vs. LeBron) and the U.S. women’s World Cup team were playing simultaneously. So our staff plus Brandon and some Bills people were dining, and there was a big TV in the room, and the expectation was we’d watch the basketball. Well, I wanted the soccer. Mark Mravic, who runs The MMQB along with me, wanted the soccer. And Brandon wanted the soccer. Brandon had such great admiration for Wambach, who is from the Bills’ regional area in Rochester … and so the soccer is what we watched. “She’s the greatest athlete in the history of Rochester,” Brandon said over the weekend. What’s more, she’s been accessible to all the young girls in America, on all the trips to big cities and small, a beacon for the athletes of the futures. She’ll be missed.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. Terrific wish-I’d-through-of-that story by the New York Times’ Ben Shpigel on what it’s like to sit in Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ box at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Great insight into the social invitation of the season, and how Jones’ wife, Gene Jones. and daughter, Charlotte Jones Anderson, parcel out who sits where. As Shpigel deftly wrote:

“People get moved,” Gene Jones said.

“There’s a little massaging,” Anderson said.

“It’s a nightmare,” Gene Jones said.

b. A really good read, on a really good deed, from Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe, writing on a nice gesture by LeBron James, and the impact it had a deserving Massachusetts teen.

c. This is not always something I say, but I am with Jason Whitlock on the Tom Brady/Donald Trump thing: Tom Brady is Donald Trump’s friend. Do you expect Brady, in a press conference with a sound bite that will be replayed all over America, to say something negative about Trump? No. That is not Brady, who is the least political animal in the league.

d. Baseball story of the week: A really good one from Andy Martino of the New York Daily News, an inside baseball story on inside baseball at the Major League Baseball meetings in Nashville. Some rancor from R.A. Dickey that Mets and Jets fans will find compelling. But overall, a very good look at the inner workings of something so many of us are interested in.

e. And one more story to note, by Scott S. Allen of the Washington Post, on one of the best law-enforcement stings ever—involving a Washington-Cincinnati game at RFK Stadium in 1985 and a fictitious man named I. Michael Detnaw. You cannot make up such a good story.

f. I do not know anything about the fight between Colleen Dominguez and FOX Sports that resulted in her filing an age and gender discrimination lawsuit. I only know that she’s a very good reporter and I have a lot of respect for her.

g. Luke Petitgout probably didn’t want his post-career life to go like this. He’ll be spending 30 days in jail for this incident—including Christmas.

h. Beernerdness: My old friend Kevin Monaghan from Montclair did me the good deed of all holiday good deeds last week. Kevin’s daughter Annie goes to college at the University of Vermont, and he knows my affinity for some Vermont beers, and he picked me up a four-pack of Heady Topper, one of the best beers in the world. Also exceedingly hard to find. You’re a good man, Kevin. No need to shop for beer for the Christmas table now.

i. Coffeenerdness: You’re growing on me, Holiday Spice Flat White.

j. What a pleasure Saturday night for my wife and I to celebrate Mary Beth King’s 30th birthday with 10 of her friends in New York City at dinner. Good to see friends from all eras of her life—Montclair, Colgate, Seattle, Maine and New York—around the table to raise a glass to the kind, wonderful and creative person that she has become.

k. Yes, she was two weeks old when Landeta whiffed on the punt at Soldier Field. Time flies.

l. That 31-29 Camellia Bowl loss by my Ohio Bobcats to Appalachian State (I saw three quarters) might have been heartbreaking for the OU crowd after blowing a 17-point lead, but it’s just another example of how respectable Frank Solich has made a football program that was consistently meh when I attended the place. Watch Ohio play, and you see a competitive team with kids who seem to love the game, or who at least play that way. Thanks to Solich and his staff for that.

m. College basketball is fun.

n. Our Lady of the Lake University is an NAIA school playing small-college basketball in San Antonio. The University of the Incarnate Word, also in San Antonio, has a recently minted Division I basketball program. St. John’s and Syracuse are traditional powers, St. John’s having been down for a few years and Syracuse ranked 14th in the country in the AP college basketball Top 25 as recently as Dec. 4. So, in the past eight days …

o. Our Lady of the Lake University 99, University of the Incarnate Word 97.

p. University of the Incarnate Word 73, St. John’s 51.

q. St. John’s 84, Syracuse 72.

r. Two questions:

s. Incarnate Word over St. John’s, at St. John’s, by 22?

t. Does this mean, if Lake beat Word by 2, and Word beat St. John’s by 22, and St. John’s beat Syracuse by 12, that Jim Boeheim would lose to the Our Lady of the Lake University Saints by 36?

* * *

Who I Like Tonight

Detroit 32, New Orleans 30. Other than the fact Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford will combine to throw for 800 yards in the Superdome, I see no reason to pay much attention to this battle of 4-9 and 5-8 disappointers. You?

* * *

The Adieu Haiku

Holiday greetings!
So, so grateful that you read
The MMQB.

* * *

Sincerely, readers, thank you from our staff at The MMQB: editors Mark Mravic, Matt Gagne, Gary Gramling and Dom Bonvissuto; writers Jenny Vrentas, Robert Klemko, Emily Kaplan, Andy Benoit, Andrew Brandt and Robert Mays; writer/administrator Kalyn Kahler; and video gurus John DePetro and Jim Butts.

To operate an independent website trying to make an impact on the coverage of the biggest sport in the country is an undertaking that requires a very small group of professional, creative, striving worker bees. I’m fortunate to be a part of the process. Thanks for reading and watching. Have a warm and happy holiday.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.  

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