Best Sunday of the Season
Feb. 1, 2015, Seattle vs. New England, 26 seconds left:
At the New England 1, Russell Wilson, down four points, throws for Ricardo Lockette at the goal line; New England defensive back Malcolm Butler is there. Interception. One of the best Super Bowls ever is over. Patriots win 28-24.
Nov. 13, 2016, Seattle vs. New England, 14 second left:
At the Seattle 1, Tom Brady, down seven points, throws for Rob Gronkowski in the end zone; Seattle defensive back Kam Chancellor hand-fights him. Incompletion. One of the best games of the year is over. Seahawks win 31-24.
* * *
A 1 a.m. phone call is never good, unless it’s a scenario something like this: It comes after a great football game, and the guy on the other end just scored three touchdowns in the House That Kraft and Belichick and Brady Built.
“How poetic,” a reflective Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin said from the Seahawks’ bus as it motored to the airport from Foxboro 75 minutes after Seattle’s 31-24 victory. “Incredible, really. They had the opportunity to win at the one-yard line at the end of the game. I thought of that, looking back … It’s one of those special moments you won’t forget. Football’s special, so special. How poetic this is.”
Baldwin said “poetic” twice, and I think if I’d let him talk about it for a while longer, he’d have said it a couple more times. He seemed blown away by the coincidence and the drama and about exactly what Seattle had accomplished capping a great day of football. In a brutal scheduling quirk, the NFL had the Seahawks play Monday night at home, travel 2,687 air miles to New England on Friday, and play the best team in football on Sunday—and the Patriots were as well-rested as you can be, coming off a bye week. The Seahawks’ defense had been worn down, having played 90, 72 and 82 snaps, respectively, in a three-game, 16-day span coming into Foxboro Sunday night. Seattle came back from deficits of 7-0, 14-12, 21-19 and 24-22 to win.
This was a magnificent game. Did you watch it all the way through? I’m guessing not, seeing as NFL ratings entering Sunday were down an alarming 15 percent across the board. This was a magnificent TV day, in fact, for the beleaguered NFL. Sunday was one of those days you could have put in a DVR time capsule with the label: OPEN WHEN BORED. In the early window, you’ll see the craziest win-turned-loss of the year, with the first ending of its kind in NFL history: Denver 25, New Orleans 23. You’ll see the Chiefs, at Carolina, with the Panthers’ season on the line, score the final 17 points of the game in the fourth quarter to win 20-17. In the late-afternoon window, you’ll see rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott force himself into the lead of the MVP race in a game with seven lead changes; Dallas 35, Pittsburgh 30. And at night, you’ll see another MVP candidate, Russell Wilson, outduel Tom Brady in Foxboro in a breathtaking game of great plays.
When Sunday was over, these were the three things I think I thought right away:
• Seattle-New England is the best rivalry in football, and it’s not close; what do you mean they won’t play again except in a Super Bowl till 2020?
• A Seattle-New England Super Bowl is a distinct possibility.
• Russell Wilson is as dangerous a quarterback as any in the NFL, with the softest touch, and the perfect risk-reward combination a quarterback can have.
Wilson and Brady dropped so many beautiful throws into the hands of receivers throughout the game. Just before the half, with New England up 14-12, Wilson and Baldwin drew up a thing of beauty. This is the risk-reward thing I’m talking about. No timeouts left for Seattle. Seahawks’ ball at the Patriots’ 18, with 13 seconds remaining. Clearly, Wilson has one play left and then a field goal try if the Seahawks don’t score. But he can’t take a sack, and he can’t leave the ball in the field of play.
“What happened,” Baldwin said, “is so against Football 101.”
Wilson took the shotgun snap and looked, looked, pirouetted out of trouble to the left … :11 … :10 … “Better be careful,” Cris Collinsworth sing-songed on NBC.
As he faded left, against the grain, Wilson looked. And there was Baldwin, going away from Wilson, fading toward the right pylon at the goal line. “That’s against every rule of football,” said Baldwin. “In a scramble drill like we were in, you move with the quarterback. You don’t want to go away from him, so he’ll be under pressure and have to throw across his body farther to you.”
Why’d Baldwin do it? Simple. All the Patriots’ defenders, amoeba-like, were forming around Wilson, and Baldwin knew Wilson would see him with no one behind him and enough of a cushion without coverage in front of him. With nine seconds left, Wilson calmly launched a rainbow all the way across the field to the goal line, and with six seconds left, it nestled into Baldwin’s hands. Touchdown. “That’s a great illustration of Russell’s ability to see the field and use great judgment,” Baldwin said.
Five times, by my count (including the final points of the night, a 15-yard strike floated into Baldwin’s hands for a touchdown), Wilson dropped a perfecto into the hands of his receivers at least 15 yards downfield. The man’s got a gift, and I don’t care if he was the 75th pick in the draft four years ago, or that he’s 5'11". Russell Wilson’s in the conversation for best quarterback in football. Today. This game he played, against the rested best team in the NFL, bordered on a mensa level.
Wilson and Brady have played three times now. Seattle, 24-23, in 2012, with Brady running out of time and downs in the final minute. New England, 28-24, in the Super Bowl, decided in the final minute. And now Seattle, 31-24, decided in the final minute, in a game that left those who stayed up to watch begging for a February rematch.
* * *
The Cowboys are ridiculously fun to watch
Before we can have Seattle-New England in February, Dak Prescott’s Dallas Cowboys, and Ezekiel Elliott’s Dallas Cowboys, will have something to say about that.
As we sit here this morning, imagine Seattle at Dallas for the NFC Championship Game, on Jan. 22. The two NFC powers don’t meet this year. Elliott versus Kam Chancellor? Prescott/Dez Bryant against Richard Sherman? Not bad.
Dallas-Pittsburgh was a fitting prelim to Seattle-New England. It was every bit as good, with more you-gotta-be-kidding-me plays, in a setting great players aspire to play.
“Old school football,” Dallas tight end Jason Witten said afterward. “What NFL football is all about. Beautiful November day, great for football, kind of breezy, great football city, great stadium, great environment, crowd so into it. Smashmouth football. Sunday evening in the Steel City. One of the games I’ll remember a long time.”
The ending, insane. Elliott (21 carries, 114 yards; two catches, 95 yards; three touchdowns), on his 20th carry of the day at the two-minute warning, burst through the line behind right tackle Doug Free for a 14-yard touchdown. Dallas led 29-24. Pittsburgh sprinted downfield (that’s how it seemed anyway) and, in one of the coolest plays in football, Ben Roethlisberger fake-spiked the ball at the line, lifted up and threw a strike to Antonio Brown midway through the end zone. Pittsburgh, 30-29, after a missed two-point conversion.
Crowd in full throat now. “Back and forth,” Witten said. “All the lead changes, you felt it. What a game.”
In the huddle, before the last drive, Prescott talked to the other 10 players like he’d been there 10 years, not 10 starts. “We’ve been here before,” Prescott said. “One first down at a time.”
The 1,063rd catch of Witten’s NFL life, moving him past Andre Johnson for ninth all-time, was a 13-yarder from Prescott to the Dallas 48, and Witten was hogtied down. The 1,064th was the key to this game; it was just a five-yard gain, with another Pittsburgh hog-tying in the open field, only this time rookie safety Sean Davis grabbed Witten’s facemask. Now Dallas was at the Steelers 32, in field-goal range for the strong-legged Dan Bailey with 23 seconds left.
One more play. Maybe two. Dallas had one timeout left. Whoooooosh! Center Travis Frederick and right guard Ronald Leary opened a hole for Elliott on his 21st and final carry of the day, and he was gone, 32 yards for the win.
We’ve never seen two rookies do what they’re doing, this fast, in Dallas. Elliott, the fourth pick in last spring’s draft, and Prescott, the 135th, are 1-2 in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race right now. I’d have Elliott as the 10-week MVP right now. That last run put him over 1,000 yards for the year (198 carries, 1,005 yards). Prescott’s the fourth-rated quarterback in football (106.2). Nothing fazes him. Dallas has its longest winning streak, eight games, since 1977, and only the president of the Tony Romo Fan Club would suggest that one of the most beloved players in recent Cowboys history should get his job back.
“It’s re-energized me,” Witten, 34, said. “They’re good football players, obviously, but what makes them different is how much they love football. They are special. My goodness, we have all these big wins, and they come back to work Monday to work, and they just work on football, because they know how hard it is to stay on top in this game. They embrace situations like today, on the road, against a tough team.”
With a manageable schedule ahead, the 8-1 Cowboys are cruising. What great theater.
* * *
The thrill of victory; the agony …
It looked like the Broncos were going to get Breesed on Sunday, and go home with a soul-crushing 24-23 loss after Drew Brees threw a perfect 32-yard strike that dissected defenders T.J. Ward and Bradley Roby and fell into Saints wideout Brandin Cooks’ hands in the end zone. Now the extra point would get kicked with 90 seconds left, and the shaky Denver offense would have one last chance to win.
“Leaper,” special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis said to his extra-point defense team.
“I heard that,” said rookie Denver safety Justin Simmons, “and my heart started beating out of my chest.”
“You watch the highlights, and you see so many crazy plays every week,” said rookie Denver safety Will Parks. “I heard ‘leaper, leaper, leaper,’ and I just thought, ‘Scoop and score. Scoop and score.’ That’s my job on the play.”
On Sunday, Simmons and Parks were the Broncos’ seventh and eighth active defensive backs. In other words, the bottom two. Bill Parcells used to tell his teams that the bottom guys on the roster would win or lose games for the team during the course of the year. Never were those words so prescient as on this day. In one of the first days they spent as Broncos, Simmons and Parks remember DeCamillis saying in the special-teams room last spring, “If you want to make this team, you make this team in this room.” Simmons, a third-round pick from Boston College. Parks, a sixth-rounder from Arizona. They roomed together in training camp. The visitors’ locker room at the Superdome was so cramped, Simmons and Parks had to share a locker, their nameplates doubled-up above the single locker stall.
All day, Simmons, who was “leaper,” the man who would try to jump over the center and block Will Lutz’s PAT, watched long-snapper Justin Drescher. He tried to figure when he’d make his move to leap over him, if DeCamillis decided to ever call “leaper.” Said Simmons: “I had to clear the center without touching him, then get my hands up as soon as I hit the ground.”
It happened just like that. Simmons timed the snap perfectly, then high-hurdled over Drescher, and the ball thumped against him. “Hands down my biggest moment in football,” said Simmons. “That’s a win-or-lose situation in an NFL game.”
Of course the ball bounced right to Parks, waiting on the flank to scoop and try to score. Last season the NFL added a rule to increase the excitement in PATs; now defensive players could return blocked extra-point tries to the end zone and be awarded two points. So now Parks had the ball and needed to run three-quarters of the field. “I just look for that orange cone, that orange pylon in the end zone ahead of me, and I knew I had to get there,” Parks said.
I spoke to Parks maybe 45 minutes after the game, and it sounded like he was hyperventilating still. “I dreamed about this since I knew one day I might have the chance to get one of these,” he said. As he sprinted down the left, he tiptoed along the sideline, trying to avoid the white stripe. At one point his left shoe, a white shoe fortunately (for the Broncos) either landed on the edge of the stripe or came very close. “I know I didn’t step on the sideline,” Parks said. But in the mayhem of the moment, that would be pretty impossible to be certain of. “I took ballet in fifth grade, so I’m good on my toes.”
He made it to the end for the two-point … what is that thing called? “Defensive two-point conversion” is how it was listed on the NFL stat book after the game. Good enough for me.
“Welcome to the NFL,” cornerback Aqib Talib told Parks.
“I don’t know what just happened,’’ Parks said, and he sounded overwhelmed. Would you be, if you were the 219th pick in the draft, and your NFL well-being was hanging by a special-teams thread? Welcome to the NFL, son. You can stay another week.
* * *
Good luck to Donald Trump, and I mean that
A few thoughts on the election of Donald Trump as our 45th president:
• He won fair and square. Accept it. It will come as such a surprise (NOT!) to many of my longtime readers that I voted for Hillary Clinton and supported her enthusiastically. Though the tenor of the campaign was vile, Trump touched a nerve in many Americans, particularly in economically distressed areas of the Rust Belt and flyover America, and figured out how to win the battleground states. Congratulations to him. And I am glad that this election has taught us coastal people (or should have) that the people who live in a yuge area of the country—from Wilkes-Barre all the way west to Coeur d’Alene, from Missoula all the way south and southeast to Baton Rouge—should be heard, loud and clear. I’ve always felt whether I liked a candidate or not, after the election it’s best to support the winner. Whether he is the president for four or eight years, however long it is, we need to do what’s best for the country now. Having said that, citizens need to be vigilant, and to be heard. The xenophobic sentiment expressed during the campaign by Trump and many of his supporters is not what this country is about. If he tries to roll back any gay or LGBT rights, I’ll be in full-throated anger against him. He’s got to find a way to build a workable, tolerant immigration policy instead of a wall. Overall, Trump’s biggest job is to unite the country now, which will be difficult. But it’s his job. I wish the former New Jersey Generals owner well.
• Dissent is good. As Howard Zinn wrote (there’s some dispute whether Thomas Jefferson actually said it), “Dissent is patriotic.” Protest is good. Violence is not. I hate seeing the destruction of property in some cities across the country. It’s got to stop.
• Good for the NBA coaches. Loved seeing Gregg Popovich, Stan Van Gundy and Steve Kerr speak out about the election. They were all anti-Trump. Good for them, being citizens. Not good for NFL coaches and the vast majority of players, who chose not to speak out. I know the demographics of the locker rooms are different in the NBA and the NFL. But I wish more NFL people spoke up.
• Richie Incognito’s not afraid. Richie Incognito, the Bills guard, and I are probably never going to a Democratic rally together. But I respect him (and Malcolm Jenkins for speaking up for Clinton, and Jay Cutler for speaking up for Trump) for laying out their feelings before and after the election. On Sunday, I asked Incognito what he’d say to the 61 million people who voted for Clinton and—in many cases—are scared to death today. Said Incognito: “My message would be, This is what America wanted. America spoke. Now let’s see what he can do. All the complaining’s not going to change anything. This was a fair election. I went to a Trump rally in Arizona early on and jumped on the Trump train. He is real. He is not a polished politician. He says what he believes, and sometimes he says something emotional that pisses people off. But it’s real, and it’s coming from the same authentic place. He was a national pariah so often during the campaign, and he just kept fighting. That’s one reason I identify with him. I went through a public crucifying in the media in Miami; they crucified me the same way Trump got crucified in this campaign. I believe in standing up for what you believe. As for how he’ll do … deep down, I honestly don’t know. I think it’s going to be touch and go. He had this scorched-earth approach—repeal Obamacare, build the wall—and now he has to see what he can actually get done. We can only judge him by his actions from here on out. It’s something the country wanted, so let’s see what the man can do.”
• And about the Electoral College … By late day Sunday, Fox News had Clinton ahead in the popular vote, 60,981,118 to 60,350,241. Math wiz that I am, that translates to this reality of the 2016 election: Hillary Clinton won the average American state by 12,618 votes. But it doesn’t matter, because Trump won the Electoral College vote decisively. There are 538 electors nationwide in the 50 states and Washington D.C., and 48 states are winner-take-all. The Electoral College was born in 1787, spurred by small states that feared having no power and influence over the larger states with much bigger populations. And though it’s clearly outmoded 229 years later, it’s never been changed, despite the fact that five times in 45 elections, the candidate winning the popular vote lost the election because he/she lost the Electoral College vote. Basically, the two major candidates only had to campaign heavily in the eight or so states that were going to be clearly contested (Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Arizona, and as it turned out, Wisconsin), because the other states were all but decided, and so the popular vote in those states just didn’t matter. I asked a Stanford professor, Doug McAdam, who has written on the Electoral College and political science, about its significance. “It’s huge,” McAdam said. “They call this a national election, but in reality, it’s an election contested in six or seven states. Once you find out you’re in a state where your vote really doesn’t matter, you disengage. Imagine if we did away with the electoral college tomorrow. Every vote would count the same. The candidates would have to logistically figure out to move around the country and actually engage the citizenry significant more. That would be a net gain for American democracy. Why don’t we repeal it? There’s a genuine puzzlement why we don’t.”
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Quotes of the Week
“It was so important to me that I didn’t even know it was happening.”
—Nick Saban, head coach of Alabama, asked about the election the day after the election last week.
Assuming he’s serious, what a leader of men.
If I coached Auburn or Florida or Tennessee and had to competitively recruit against Nick Saban, I’d use that statement to parents in living rooms across the south. I’d tell the parent or parents how their son is going to leave our university a well-rounded, intelligent thinker who will be apprised of important current events and be expected to have at least a limited amount of knowledge on the world around him—as well as a much better football player. Theoretically, players will get their non-football education on other parts of campus, obviously. But Saban’s quote is incredibly tone-deaf. To claim to not even know that the most significant election in years has happened? A bad look.
“I do. He’s ready.”
—Dallas owner Jerry Jones, asked if he felt Tony Romo would be sufficiently recovered from back surgery to be Dak Prescott’s backup next week against Baltimore.
There’s a lot in that four-word quote.
“That’s as bad a loss as I’ve had in 10 years. To be in complete control of the game in the fourth quarter and just self-destruct, so, it’s tough.”
—Carolina tight end Greg Olsen. The Panthers had a 17-3 lead over the Chiefs at home with 13 minutes to go, and Kansas City scored the last 17 points of the game to win.
“I mean, that’s my first touchdown on defense ever—that’s high school, college, everything.”
—Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso, who intercepted Philip Rivers in San Diego and ran for the winning touchdown in the Dolphins’ 31-24 victory.
“Have you ever heard 70,000 people quieter than this?”
—Al Michaels, after the Seahawks stretched their lead to 31-24 over the Patriots in church-like Gillette Stadium late in the fourth quarter Sunday night.
* * *
The Award Section
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
DeMarco Murray, running back, Tennessee. And he won this in the first eight minutes of the game. On the Titans’ first series, Murray burst through the left side of his line and sprinted 75 yards for a touchdown, a stunning waltz through the Green Bay defense. Minutes later, he took a pitch from Marcus Mariota and took a jab-step as if he was going to run a right-end sweep … and then threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Delanie Walker—the first TD pass of Murray’s career. Just another day for Murray: 146 yards from scrimmage, a touchdown pass and a rout of the Packers.
Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Dallas. He’s not just the leader for rookie of the year and for first-team All-Pro running back. He’s one of the top candidates for MVP after his dominant 209-total-yard, three-touchdown performance in one of the best football games played this season, Dallas’s 35-30 win in Pittsburgh. He took a swing pass 83 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter, then ran 14 and 32 yards, respectively, for touchdowns in the final two minutes of the game. Right now, he’d be my MVP.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Darian Stewart, safety, Denver. Stewart is a no-doubter for one of the performances of the year. No player in four years had intercepted Drew Brees twice in one game; Stewart did in New Orleans on Sunday. Then, early in the fourth quarter with the Broncos down by seven, Stewart plucked a Saints’ fumble out of the air and returned it 13 yards to the New Orleans 27, setting up the tying touchdown drive. Stewart perfected the right-place-at-the-right-time art Sunday in the 25-23 win over New Orleans.
Preston Smith, linebacker, Washington. His two sacks of Sam Bradford were important Sunday as the Washington defense and special teams helped to build a second-half lead. Smith’s interception of Bradford as the Vikings drove for the potential game-winning touchdown with six minutes left was vital. Smith’s presence was crucial in a game Washington had to have to stay in contention to defend its NFC East title.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Johnnie Hekker, punter, Los Angeles. For the punt of the year. The story: Rams 6, Jets 6 … 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter … Rams with a fourth-and-one at the L.A. 17 … Hekker lines up at the 2 and boots it. Punt lands at the Jets’ 5-yard line … Returned to the Jets’ 15 … Net punt of 68 with the game on the line. For the game, Hekker punted seven times, put the Jets inside their own 20 four times, and had a net average of 50.3 yards. Amazing day for Hekker, a huge part of the offensively toothless Rams’ 9-6 win.
Dustin Hopkins, kicker, Washington. Strange game, the 26-20 win over Minnesota that put Washington (5-3-1) square in the playoff race with seven to play. Washington trailed 20-14 at halftime. In the third quarter, Hopkins’ 30-yard and 37-yard field goals were the only scores. In the fourth quarter, Hopkins’ 50-yard and 28-yard field goals were the only scores. Strange game, reliable kicker.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Mike Mularkey, head coach, Tennessee. “We felt this was a game we had to make a statement about our team,” Mularkey said after the shocking 47-25 rout of the Packers in Nashville on Sunday. He told them Saturday night they’d be onside-kicking on the opening kick if they kicked off—and they did, and they failed. But statement made. A few minutes later, Mularkey called for a halfback pass from DeMarco Murray, who’d never thrown a touchdown pass in his professional life, and he made a perfect throw to Delanie Walker for a touchdown. And so it went. Mularkey’s Titans played a bold game, had 35 points by halftime, and had their foot off the gas by the fourth quarter.
GOAT OF THE WEEK
Jay Cutler, quarterback, Chicago. His fingerprints were all over an embarrassing 36-10 loss to the Bucs, including two picks (the first returned by Chris Conte for a touchdown for the first points of the game) and two fumbles (the second fumbled out of bounds in the end zone for a safety, making it 29-10 and hopeless). The Cutler Era is nearing an end in Chicago. It has to be.
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Right Combination of the Week
Andrea Kremer, NFL Network, and Warrick Dunn, humanitarian. In a beautiful piece for NFL Network on Sunday morning, Kremer featured the son of slain Baton Rouge resident Alton Sterling uniting with the widow of slain Baton Rouge police officer Matthew Gerald in an emotional meeting that clearly put a salve on the hate and the tension in the Baton Rouge area. You remember the awful story from July, when Sterling was killed in a confrontation with police, and in apparent revenge, three law-enforcement officers were murdered on the job. Dunn got involved because his mother, a Baton Rouge officer herself, was killed on the job during Warrick’s formative years. And the Saints got involved, with coach Sean Payton and the team hosting the families and giving them a day at a Saints game recently. Mostly, this was a gift of Kremer’s storytelling. She was able to get son Cameron Sterling to talk about his life now, and able to get widow Dechia Gerald to do the same. Kremer and Dunn were a perfect combination of humanity here, and the tragically linked families the beneficiaries. She should take a bow for this warm and important piece.
Kremer ended the story thusly: “From the darkest moments, the seeds of something better are often planted. And in the common ground of mourning, we may emerge with a shared understanding, and perhaps the dawn of a new morning in America.”
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Stat of the Week
The Rams defense, and coordinator Gregg Williams, must have been thinking as they flew home from New Jersey last night: “Little help, fellas?” Meaning it’d be nice if the offense pitched in a bit.
In the past three games, the Rams have scored two touchdowns, with the vaunted running game led by Todd Gurley accounting for zero. But look what the defense has done.
|Foe||Yards Allowed||TDs Allowed||Possessions||Result|
|NY Giants||232||1||13||Loss, 17-10|
|NY Jets||296||1||11||Win, 9-6|
Three games in a row of allowing less than 300 yards in this offensively explosive league. Three games in a row, with a total of three touchdown in 35 drives.
This is one horrible offensive team. I know Jeff Fisher is playing Case Keenum because he thinks he doesn’t want to throw a potentially mistake-prone rookie, Jared Goff, to the wolves and have him make a bunch of game-deciding errors. Honestly, though: How much worse will he be than Keenum?
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Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
It’s simply very hard to be better at any position in football than Adam Vinatieri is at placekicking—and the man is 43.
Since he turned 41 on Dec. 28, 2013, Vinatieri has missed three field goals. He’s 77 of 80, for a geezerhood accuracy rate of 96.3 percent. I repeat: 77 of 80, over three years.
I’m not one to be a fanboy for Hall of Fame players before their time, but I cannot fathom a way Vinatieri will not make it into Canton the first time he’s eligible.
This headline, from respected baseball scribe Jon Heyman, startled me.
Pitcher Jeremy Hellickson—without looking at his uniform, name the team he played for in 2016—is considering turning down $17.2 million on a one-year deal. He is 22-27 in the last three years.
At his current rate of pay (which, obviously, won’t last long), Dak Prescott, who will make a total of $833,000 this year, would have to work 20.6 years to earn what Hellickson is likely to turn down.
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On Their Night Table
The Knight in Rusty Armor, by Robert Fisher
Recommended by Broncos tackle Russell Okung
Writes Okung: “The Knight in Rusty Armor, a short read, speaks to a lot of men in our day. Everybody is trying to keep a façade and no one really searches to find his purpose or who he really is. This book really speaks to that life: to understand that there is this destiny, this purpose, that's bigger than what you do and more about who you are. It challenges the reader to make that first step. It’s a little bit of both existential and philosophical. A lot of men see themselves as that knight, wanting to save the ‘damsel in distress.’ It has this very deep philosophical meaning that can apply to a man or a boy of any age. The armor itself is a metaphor for this façade or this imagery of emotion that you think is attached to your identity of how you’re supposed to act and how you’re supposed to be. It brings clarity to that issue and challenges you to look at your own life. This is a book for everyone, because I think we all have a purpose, and our purpose is so much bigger than ourselves. It’s about family and our ability to do our best with what we have. If we can really identify that and not so much associate our identity with what we do, I think the sky is the limit. Then, we’ll realize what our true potential is.”
* * *
In Jaguars coach Gus Bradley’s office (and I realize his time may be short there), I found it interesting to see all the inspirational books. Bradley said he doesn’t read a lot of these tomes through, but rather picks and chooses the things that might inspire his players. Highlights of the bookshelf:
• “The Servant,” by James C. Hunter.
• “Real Leaders Don’t Do Powerpoint,” by Christopher Witt.
• “The Moment: Life Changing Stories from 125 Writers and Artists, Famous and Obscure,” by Larry Smith.
• “The Energy Bus,” by Jon Gordon.
• “The Miracle of Optimism,” by Kevin M. Touhey.
• “The Winners Manual: For the Game of Life,” by Jim Tressel.
• “Today Matters,” by John C. Maxwell.
• “Sometimes You Win—Sometimes You Learn: Life’s Greatest Lessons Are Gained from Our Losses,” by John C. Maxwell
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Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note
Nothing deep, nothing exciting, nothing particularly dramatic. But on Tuesday, in my polling place on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, there was a line around the block into an elementary school where we were to vote. The line was there when I got up at 6:20, and it stayed around the block until 3:30 in the afternoon. I took my turn in the morning, waiting 97 minutes to vote. You’d figure there’d be some grousing about the line, or the amount of time we waited. But I heard none of it. Not even when we got into the little gym/cafeteria of the school, and there was organized mayhem in there. Seriously: Everyone was just happy to do the civic-duty thing. (And, I assume, to get this nightly cable-news haranguing over with.)
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Tweets of the Week
Very rough estimates for most cap room next year on $166M cap— Jason_OTC (@Jason_OTC) November 13, 2016
1. Cle $112M
2. SF- $86M
3. NE- $67M
4. TB- $64M
5. Jax- $64M
6. Ten- $60M
GOFF: "#Jets going with Petty, coach"— Mike Tanier (@MikeTanier) November 13, 2016
GOFF: "Give you any ideas?"
FISHER: "Better get Mannion warmed up."
The Divided States of America— Justin Tuck (@JustinTuck) November 9, 2016
The Braves have signed two starting pitchers in the last 24 hours. Their combined ages are 85.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 11, 2016
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From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
This week’s guests: Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Buck.
• Roethlisberger on pulling himself out of a game last year with concussion symptoms: “I'm proud of it. I have been just like Drew [Brees] where I haven’t reported things before either. Probably everybody who has ever played the game of football hasn't reported an injury. For me it wasn't about an injury—I’ve played through many injuries—but when you talk about your head, that is a different ball game. You can replace a lot of body parts, but you can’t replace a brain. You see the effects of it from past players, players who have taken their lives, the CTE, all that stuff and I’m thinking about my family and long term. I love this game and I love my brothers that I play football with, and I would encourage any player that has an issue with their brain to just report it properly. I wasn’t fabricating. I wasn’t making it worse or making it better; I was just telling them what I was experiencing.
“It was different because I had never felt that way before. I remember getting hit and I didn’t black out or anything. I could see straight ahead fine but my peripheral vision was very wavy. It was like looking through water … it was the weirdest thing. I’ve never experienced anything like that, so I told the doctors I can see you guys just fine, holding fingers out in front of me, but everything around exactly where I’m looking was like looking through water. They had a good idea of what it was and I was just honest with them about what's going on. At that moment you have to think about long term as well … We are blessed to play this game but we also have a life to live. We aren't going to be doing this until we’re 50 or 60 years old.”
• Buck on seeing a therapist: “It’s made me identify some things. I hate going, but I feel great when I walk out. I do feel like I have gotten some benefit from it. You feel a little bit lighter when you walk out of there. I only really go once a month … probably should go more, but I guarantee you my dad [Hall of Fame sportscaster Jack Buck] never went to therapy. Wherever he is right now, he is laughing at me that I am even bringing it up. I think it is a good thing, especially for men who tend to act like, ‘Oh, what’s the big deal,’ or ‘I can handle it.’ Eventually you get sick, and I think it is good to get that out and clean the system. I think there is real value in that. It has identified things with my dad and me. It’s identified things with my first wife and me. It’s been a good give-and-take. I’ll say this: You better have the right therapist. … I am lucky to have somebody who makes me feel better every time I walk in there.”
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Dr. Z Unsung Guys of the Week
1. Chiefs center Mitch Morse. He played a crucial part in helping the Chiefs pull out a three-point road victory over the Panthers and stay at the top of the ultra-competitive AFC West. Morse didn’t allow a pressure, hit or sack of Alex Smith on 47 pass-blocking snaps.
2. Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan. His performance largely went unnoticed due to the dramatic late loss to the Broncos, but he was dominant in a losing effort. Jordan had one sack, one quarterback hit and seven hurries on 45 pass-rush snaps—and also six run-stops.
3. Chargers linebacker Korey Toomer. He put together one of the better defensive performances of Week 10 even though his Chargers lost. Toomer’s 10 run-stops and his run-defense grade both led all defensive players in Week 10. Toomer also broke up the only pass that was thrown into his coverage area.
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Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think these are my quick notes of analysis from Week 10:
a. The Browns will win two games between now and New Year’s Day. I just don’t know which two, though I would guess the Giants and Chargers, both at home.
b. This has nothing to do with his performance Thursday night, but for all the “Joe Flacco is elite” folks—PFT Commenter, I include you—it’s pretty tough for a quarterback with an 81.5 rating (in this era of grossly inflated ratings) and 69-55 TD-to-interception ratio in the past four years to be considered elite.
c. See if that fits in MMBM, PFT Commenter.
d. This is the kind of year—two years, actually—it’s been for Green Bay: The Packers get outplayed by the Titans, and we’re not all that surprised.
e. The decline of Darrelle Revis has turned into the free-fall of Darrelle Revis.
f. Jay Cutler has run out of time. After seeing him fumble due to a startling lack of pocket awareness at Tampa Bay (the last straw on a bad day Sunday) I wouldn’t employ him as anything more than a backup in 2017.
g. You cannot make a better thrown than Ryan Tannehill’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills at San Diego. Tannehill took a big hit and threw an absolutely perfect strike from 49 yards away.
h. Unless, of course, it’s the dime Drew Brees dropped in between two Denver defensive backs with the game and the Saints’ season on the line, 32 yards to Brandin Cooks with 90 seconds left at New Orleans.
i. Man, is Doug Baldwin tough.
j. Philip Rivers threw four interceptions in the fourth quarter in San Diego’s home loss to Miami, which, in the week the stadium initiative failed miserably in San Diego, seems appropriate.
2. I think when you watch Kansas City win the way it wins—victorious in 18 of its past 21, including Sunday when the Chiefs scored the last 20 points of a 20-17 conquest of NFC champion Carolina—it says much about the physical and mental ability of its players. The K.C. players simply think they’re better than anyone they play, and even when they’re losing big to a hot team at home. There’s something to be said for flatline coach Andy Reid and a flatline quarterback, Alex Smith. They just don’t get too worked up when the sky’s falling.
3. I think the AFC West could be one of the all-time great races. Just look at it:
• Kansas City, 7-2, has left two games with Denver and one with Oakland.
• Oakland, 7-2, has a short-week Thursday game at Kansas City in three weeks, and the final stretch could be brutal: In the last four weeks, the Raiders have all three away division games: at Chiefs (Week 14), at Chargers (Week 15), at Broncos (Week 17).
• Denver, 7-3, has its bye this week, and is hopeful Trevor Siemian and Aqib Talib come out of it healthy. The Broncos have the toughest final three games of any team in the league, playing a trio of teams currently 7-2: Patriots home, Chiefs road, Raiders home.
4. I think a good league person told me over the weekend that the league office desperately wants to do something to prevent what looks like a near-fait accompli—the Raiders moving to Vegas and the Chargers moving to be the second team in Los Angeles. The Chargers in L.A. is just not smart. It’ll be Clippers II. But I think the league is equally concerned about the Raiders leaving northern California, for a couple of reasons: They’ll never come close to duplicating the fervor of Oakland in transient Vegas, and the league knows how valuable the turf is in the corridor encompassing San Jose, Santa Clara, San Francisco and Oakland. They really want to keep a second team there, but probably can’t without Mark Davis taking on a partner, which he has shown no signs of wanting to do.
5. I think, for as much as the league worked on the Oakland/St. Louis/San Diego solution—I mean, for years—it’s going to end about as poorly as anyone could imagine if a second franchise floods a market with a team L.A. doesn’t want nor will support, and if the Raiders end up in Nevada, dependent on the tourist economy. What a potential disaster.
6. I think Tom Brady-Russell Wilson should be a game played every year until about 2026, when Brady retires.
7. I think it is a peculiar kind of twisted reasoning that has Colin Kaepernick re-Tweeting pictures of Bay Area high schools walking out of school Wednesday, in protest of Donald Trump being elected. I mean, Kaepernick doesn’t vote, and here he is, apparently back-slapping protesters for walking out of class over the election of someone he doesn’t like but wasn’t concerned enough about to cast his own vote.
8. I think, regardless of whatever meaning your vote has at the end of the day (and I understand California’s not a contested state, but if you’re a citizen who cares, you vote), I don’t want to hear you bitching about Trump if you’re 18 or older and didn’t vote. You had a chance to be heard. You didn’t use that chance. If, like Kaepernick, you want to protest social injustice, fine. But I’m not listening to a word you say about Trump if you didn’t vote.
9. I think every week you see an undrafted free agent rising and wonder, “How in the world was this man not drafted?” This week’s awardee: Tampa Bay tight end Cameron Brate, who has the hands of a wide receiver and the route-running ability of a Martellus Bennett and the toughness of a blocking tight end and okay (4.77 seconds in the 40) speed. Good pickup by the Bucs.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Trevor Bauer, you are a very good man. Here’s the story of how the World Series pitcher helped a Cleveland-area high schooler with her homework on Twitter.
b. Big Ten football this fall: State of Michigan 127, Rutgers 0.
c. Michigan State, Michigan. I’m sure Central, Eastern and Western would have added to the Rutgers mayhem if given the chance.
d. Somewhere, Greg Bedard weeps.
e. Rutgers: 3-35 forever versus Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin.
f. Perhaps the Big Ten is not the best place for the state university of Chris Christie.
g. RIP Leon Russell. Man, a bad year for so many talented people. “Lady Blue” is so great, as is so much of what Leon Russell sang.
h. Coffeenerdness: Bummer. Big bummer. So Charlie the dog, aka “Chuck,” was in the throes of diarrhea madness Saturday morning, and I was in the midst of running the dog downstairs and outside—four times between 6 and 9 a.m.—and getting breakfast together. Which, for me, entails brewing the Italian Roast. So all of a sudden, the urgency hit Chuck, and I had to drop everything to take him outside in a flash, and that really shouldn’t have meant “drop everything,” because I dropped the Krups coffee pot and it shattered, and No Chuck do not I repeat do not put that chunk of glass in your mouth and start crunching it but oh no there it is I hear it … too late. Thirteen-month-old dogs are so much fun. And 59-year-old owners are so stupid, to have coffee pots in their hands when the dog has been a reverse faucet.
i. Beernerdness: Tried the Empire Aphro White (Empire Brewing Company, Syracuse, N.Y.) and struggled to put my finger on what exactly was different about this veteran of the New York witbiers. It had an odd taste, very different and almost spicy to the point of a mixed drink ... so I looked it up on the Empire website, and there it was: lavender. Not a fan of lavender in my beer. It’s just an odd taste that overwhelms. This is odd, because I love coriander, which is a major feature of Allagash White and many other white beers. But I’m a fan of Empire, and my feeling about the Aphro White won’t cause me to abandon the rest of the line. Their Cream Ale is really good.
j. News note: Lindsay Vonn suffers arm fracture. Wouldn’t it be easier to note when Vonn’s been healthy? Talk about unlucky/star-crossed.
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Who I Like Tonight
Cincinnati 24, New York Giants 20. This falls under the category of “desperate team wins.” The Bengals are confusing, but a lot less so offensively in the past two weeks, when they’ve averaged 487 yards and 29 points a game. If they protect Andy Dalton against the resurgent and costly Giants’ pass-rush, I think he’ll be able to make just enough plays to win.
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The Adieu Haiku
What more can one do?
Not one more hoop to jump through
for Russell Wilson.
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