The Dolphins wide receiver, tired of losing to the Patriots, has a bold prediction for Miami’s AFC East rival in 2017. Plus reader questions on Peyton Manning as a broadcaster, the NFL in London and much more
I strongly urge you to read the longform story from The MMQB’s Robert Klemko and Jenny Vrentas on the Tom Brady jersey caper. So much new information and color, and you’ll learn exactly how the investigation wove through the West Coast, East Coast and Mexico in a cool whodunit. Now a bit about what I’ve been up to this week.
LIVERPOOL, England — Each year, the NFL UK, the league’s organization arm across the pond, puts together a tour of some cities in the United Kingdom, and some current and former players get up on stage in a program run by Sky Sports host Neil Reynolds. This year I was invited, and Tuesday night I sat with Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins and Miami wide receiver Jarvis Landry in a two-hour program in front of the good people of northwest England, hard by the Irish Sea.
The benefit for me is spending time with good players and seeing the interest in the game in the United Kingdom. (Stops on this tour: London, Liverpool, Nottingham in England; Edinburgh in Scotland.) Steve Smith Sr. and Cleveland defensive tackle Danny Shelton join the tour in Nottingham today. I’d never spent much time with Cousins or Landry, and I’ve enjoyed two solid days with both.
I’ll write more on the tour in the coming weeks. But today is Jarvis Landry day.
I’d been on only one of these tours before this week—in 2008, on a USO Tour with some NFL players to bases in Kazakhstan and Afghanistan. Usually they don’t bring out much news. Or any news, in fact. And I point that out because some will leap to a headline based on what Landry told a London audience Monday night. Landry predicted the Dolphins would beat New England twice this season, and that doing it with Tom Brady still in his prime would add to the satisfaction of his predicted sweep.
I told Landry that was quite a bit of bravado. And he said that was good, and he wanted people to know how he felt.
“If you’re a competitor, that’s the way you should feel, and I don’t mind saying it,” Landry said a day later. “It’s time for a change. I have all the respect in the world for the Patriots, and I respect Tom Brady tremendously. But they’re not our big brother anymore.”
What’s interesting is that after splitting with the Patriots in 2013, 2014 and 2015, Miami was swept by New England (by seven and 21 points) in coach Adam Gase’s rookie season. Progress in catching the Patriots? Not judging by what we saw in 2016. At the two-minute warning of the first half of the first Pats-Dolphins meeting last season, New England led 24-0. At the two-minute warning of their second meeting, New England was up 20-0.
The Patriots are dominating the AFC East the way no American pro sports team has dominated its division or conference this century. In the 16 seasons since the Patriots got good, 2001, only twice has New England lost the division—and amazingly, the Pats tied for first in each of those seasons, losing on tiebreakers both times. It’s absurd, really. Absurd how dominant the Patriots have been. And absurd how the AFC East, with 23 head coaches on the three franchises outside of New England since Robert Kraft hired Bill Belichick in 2000, has been unable to break the schneid for going on a generation now. Part of that I’ve felt, but certainly not the majority of it, is that teams have given the Patriots too much respect. That’s something Gase began to work on last year.
What, I wondered, gave Landry the confidence to predict a 2017 sweep of the five-time Super Bowl champs?
“Coach Gase,” Landry said, riding the bus back from Tuesday night’s event in a suburb of Liverpool. “He’s flipped the switch with us. New England’s won the division 14 of the last 16 years, something like that? It’s ridiculous. It’s a problem. We cannot let that happen anymore. What I’ve seen is, when we play that game, sometimes we focus on the guys on the other side of the line instead of just focusing on us. And I want to be part of that change. I want to go into the games against New England expecting to win—that’s something we need to do.”
If you could have listened to Landry, there wasn’t a speck of disrespect or smack talk about the Patriots. It was a simple statement of fact: This franchise needs, among other things, Gase’s continued attitude adjustment to pass the Patriots. It needs more consistent play out of the quarterback, to be sure. Ryan Tannehill needs to keep improving the way he did in Gase’s first year, increasing his accuracy from 61.9 percent in 2015 to 67.1 percent in his injury-shortened season last year. Tannehill’s not quite the holler guy that, say, Brady is. Maybe that offensive leader should be Landry. He says he wants to be the guy, and why not? He’s led by example (no NFL player has caught more balls in his first three seasons than Landry’s 288), including the incredible physical bounce-off of Patriot linebacker Dont’a Hightower for a touchdown last year; and he’s led by fire.
“I love playing in Miami. I want to play my career there,” he said. “When I was 8, 9 years old, playing with 14, 15-year-olds, I didn’t care how old they were, I just grew to hate second place. Losing, sometimes I need to just get lost after a game because it hurts so much. I just live for winning. If we sat down right now and played Connect Four, I’d be pissed off if you beat me. It’s in me. It’s a still a hill to climb with New England, but we need to expect to win. That’s it.”
Now for your email of the week.
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ROMO THOUGHTS I
I think CBS is making a fundamental mistake in scheduling Tony Romo to do both the Thursday Night and Sunday games with Jim Nantz. I'm not a Phil Simms hater, but I did notice his performance slipped when he was required to do two games a week instead of the traditional one on Sunday. Two games is fine for Jim Nantz; play-by-play is a different challenge than color/analysis. I believe CBS would be wise to put Romo on either the Sunday or Thursday games, and perhaps retain Simms to continue doing the other games.
—Scott O., Waltham, Mass.
Good points. Once the emotion of this situation settles down, CBS may be able to get Simms to accept a deal with some of the prime-time or doubleheader games.
ROMO THOUGHTS II
Thanks for your sensible, balanced column about Tony Romo and his new role at CBS. Personally, I’m sorry to see Phil Simms dumped; I’ve never understood all of the social media hate that comes his way. He is a knowledgeable, capable broadcaster who knows his stuff. What is it that people don’t like: his southern accent? Please. I don’t see Romo doing better and I think this is a case of CBS going with a “flavor of the month” rather than rationally making a decision that actually will make for a good in-game viewer experience. Simms has been railroaded.
It’s probably not fair. But CBS didn’t make this move without demographic studies, I’m sure. And there’s something about the media and flavors of the month that has existed since the dawn of this media age. I don’t think it’s surprising when a network gets enamored of a player late in his career and wants him. Which leads us to ...
PEYTON MANNING IN THE BOOTH?
I'm surprised Peyton Manning isn't yet an A-team commentator. He's a natural communicator and has all the football credentials. Romo on camera often comes across as reserved and isn't as polished in appearance. Peyton would be a lot less risk for CBS. He has the personality and passion for the game to be the next John Madden.
Manning has the chance. Make that chances. And he’s turned them down. I think it’s because he doesn’t want to be in position to second-guess people he likes and respects a lot, and he knows that comes with the territory of being in the booth if you want to be good. And Manning would not get involved in something, anything, without devoting himself to trying to be the best. In this case, he’d aim at Cris Collinsworth, who is probably acknowledged to be the best right now. In order to be better than Collinsworth, Manning would need to be able to say, “Man, that was an awful call.” In my opinion, that’s one of the things keeping him from TV.
ONLY IN THE AFL…
I worked five seaons for the Arena Football League's Spokane Shock, starting as an intern and ending up with some made-up title like “Senior Director of Operations.” The roles of this job included scheduling team travel, ordering dance team spray tans, and driving players around Spokane in a bus. Only people who have been in the AFL realize the absurdity that is the AFL. Truth is stranger than fiction. It was one of the weirdest times of my life but the best job I've ever had. I just wanted to say thanks for the great series on the L.A. Kiss. There are some great people in the league and for all of its debauchery, I think you captured the humanity of guys trying to chase their dream at all levels.
Thanks to the writer/experiencer Neal Bledsoe and to the editor of the series, Matt Gagne of The MMQB, for their diligence in making it happen and shining a light on one of the strangest sports leagues there is.
WILL BREXIT AFFECT THE NFL IN THE UK?
Is the NFL in any way concerned about the Brexit? It might make traveling to London for NFL games a lot more challenging for European fans. Also marketing and commercial rights will probably be harder to sell if the United Kingdom is not part of the European Union anymore. Are there any plans of changing the focus to to a different country? I would love to see the games in Germany.
—Jan, Benediktbeuern, Germany
Thanks, Jan. I think the NFL will certainly have to address this, because so many of the fans come from other countries in Europe. As of now, of course, they travel free and easy. After Brexit, the NFL will want to make sure the borders are open sufficiently to make coming to see a football game manageable.
VIN IS GREAT, BUT YOU’RE FORGETTING…
Bob Miller. Arguably the most famous voice in hockey (he did the announcing for the Mighty Ducks and other films too) is retiring at the end of this season after 44 years as the play-by-play man for the Los Angeles Kings. He just called his final home game for the Kings in a thrilling OT win over the Ducks. Growing up in LA, I was spoiled as a kid getting to listen to three of the greatest announcers in their respective sports with Vin Scully, Chick Hearn (RIP), and Bob Miller. He has some of the most memorable calls in the game via the Gretzky years and will be sorely missed.
Good point Andrew. I know Miller is widely respected by southern California hockey fans. Good luck to him retirement.
YOU SUPPORT MMA?
I don’t get it. You have written thousands of words about head trauma in football and how the NFL should do more to protect the players. Then you send out kudos to Austen Lane for his 14-second knockout in his MMA debut. Only 14 seconds for him to inflict enough brain damage on his opponent to knock him cold and you celebrate it. In 10 years, are you going to be interviewing the families of former MMA fighters who are suffering dementia and ALS and say MMA should have done more to protect its fighters? MMA is human cock fighting.
—Allan, Savannah, Ga.
I am not an MMA fan. I was sending kudos to a friend of the program who had a big debut in a legal sport. I wouldn’t read too much into a one-paragraph note in a 6,400-word column.
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