Cutler's Mile High reunion brings intense energy to unnatural rivalry
We'll get to everything in the league pre-8 p.m. Sunday in a minute. And there's a lot to get to. But first, there's the exhibition game that was no exhibition game. I wasn't in Denver, but I watched Bears-Broncos on TV. Or should I say, I felt it. I don't remember a preseason game that felt as much like a regular-season game in the 25 years I've been covering the sport. The hitting, the noise, the stakes, the vibrating NBC cameras. At one point
This wasn't August football against an NFC team with no rivalry history. This was a December game with the playoffs on the line. Against an archrival.
Turns out I wasn't alone in feeling that way.
"It was very, very, very, very much like a regular-season game,'' said Josh McDaniels, an hour after it ended.
"It was not like any other preseason game I've ever been involved in,'' said Chicago offensive coordinator
It was a tale of two teams. Chicago, the team on the rise with the petulant franchise quarterback,
On the ropes is too nice. Everything the Broncos have touched in the last five months has turned to crap. Even in the lead-up to this most interesting of practice games there was another slap in McDaniels' face: Star wide receiver
As if the 27-17 home loss didn't hurt enough, Denver is faced with another bit of wonderful news: Orton suffered what appeared to be a wound to the index finger on his right (throwing) hand. That's only the most important finger to throw the football. The wound would have to heal, and the finger would have to be flexible enough to throw a football 13 days from now, in the season opener at Cincinnati. If Orton's finger can't heal in time, then backup
Uh-oh. Now there's something new for the Broncos: Storm clouds, the kind that roll in over the Rockies many afternoons and drench the plains. I found the vanquished more interesting. From his car early this morning, McDaniels sounded a little edgy. Almost angry, but not quite. Defiant might be a better way to put it. I can see what
"Kyle was fine tonight,'' said McDaniels. "What was he, 12 of 16, something like that? [Exactly.] He's not our issue, and I don't believe he's going to be. He's a good player who knows what to do. He's accurate, he knows the offense, he's well-respected by the guys in the locker room. But it's hard to get into a rhythm when you have 10 penalties, six holding calls and put yourself in bad situations over and over again and it always seems like it's first-and-20.''
I mentioned to him that
"Well, I can tell you that certainly I don't feel sorry for Kyle Orton,'' said McDaniels, his voice rising an octave or two. "Kyle Orton is one tough son of a bitch. Kyle Orton doesn't feel sorry for himself, and no one feels sorry for him in our locker room. What he has here, both with the coaching staff and in the locker room, is a tremendous amount of respect.''
As for his own mental state after the public and private battering he's taken, the 33-year-old McDaniels sounded passionate. "I have never felt sorry, not once, for anything going on here. And certain not for myself,'' he said. "I love this game. I love this city. I love the passion of the fans. It was fantastic in that stadium tonight. And I'm blessed to have a chance to coach these players, in this city. I'm thrilled about the locker room we have and the kind of players we have. We're all in. I mean that. I was in the locker room tonight after the game, and I looked around, and I saw it. We're all in. We've got a veteran locker room with strong-minded people who care about winning and not all the BS.''
They're going to need that strength. How about this eight-game stretch, starting in Week 4: Dallas, New England, at San Diego, at Baltimore, Pittsburgh, at Washington, at San Diego, Giants (on a three-day week).
"You have to be pretty happy with what you saw from your offense, and what you saw from Cutler, tonight,'' I said to Ron Turner.
"Sure am,'' he said.
A couple of minutes before I talked to Turner from the Chicago locker room, he had gone over to Cutler (15 of 21, 144 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, one 98-yard touchdown drive that sucked all the air out of the stadium) and told him this, in paraphrase: What I learned from you tonight is you're not going to force the ball when we've got a good play called downfield but it's not open and you've got to take the checkdown. You could have been tempted to say, 'I gotta take more, I gotta take a shot downfield,' but you weren't. and if you didn't do it tonight with all the emotion in this stadium, then you're never gonna do it.
"It's funny,'' said Turner. "But this was actually a great thing for our team tonight. It was so unlike any preseason-game atmosphere. You can't manufacture the noise, the pressure, all the attention on a young quarterback trying to get to know his team. It's a great learning experience to be backed up all night and then have to take the ball 98 yards in that environment. You learn something about him, he learns about his teammates. So we couldn't have asked for a better situation than tonight, because this will help us get ready for the real adversity we'll face in big games this year. In our first preseason game, at Buffalo, we went three-and-out our first times with the ball, and I think everyone started pressing. Not tonight.''
The one thing about the Bears that's going to be tough on passing downs is the checkdowns to Matt Forte. If he gets in space, even a little bit of it, Cutler will find him when he can't throw it intermediate or deep. In this offense, especially if Cutler stays disciplined and takes what the defense gives him, Forte might catch 90 balls. He'll be
In one night, Chicago learned everything it needed to know about Cutler. He withstood the storm, which good quarterbacks have to do. In brutal environments like that one, good quarterbacks just have to hold the fort and make sure they're not down 14-zip by the time the crowd is back to normal decibel level. Cutler had a couple of shaky series early, survived the gnat-like presence of
Ask Chicago GM
The news of the last few days, and the coming ones:
Bruschi made as many plays as any other defensive player in New England's three Super Bowl seasons, and it was clear he couldn't make them anymore. He told former teammate
But what Bruschi did off the field was just as important. Just as Tom Brady was on offense, Bruschi was the defensive guy who never hesitated to get in mates' grills and tell them they had to play better, or stop screwing around off the field. His consistency, his devotion to the offseason program, even after winning multiple titles, and his comeback from the stroke were things that can't be measured in regular football terms like tackles and wins. "He reminds me of
That's a good legacy.
They succumbed to beautiful sight lines at the new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
The league ruled Friday that despite a punt hitting the video board 90 feet above the field in a preseason game 10 days ago, it would not authorize the board to be raised 15 or 20 feet higher to make sure it is not struck again during a game. Instead, if the board is struck again, the play will be re-played and time put back on the clock.
Mark my words: There will be a big play in a game this year affected by one of these do-overs, maybe when the Raiders or Chargers (with booming punters
"You can bet if there's a competitive advantage to be gained by hitting the board, coaches will tell their punters to try to hit the board,'' the special-teams coach said, requesting anonymity. "I can see a couple of major problems. One is if you're near midfield and ask your punter to punt one high so your coverage team can run under it. How's he going to punt one high when he knows he's got a good chance to hit the scoreboard? The second thing is, I've got cornerbacks who will play in our regular defense who might be gunners this year [pursuit men double-teamed on the outside of the formation]. How can I ask them to run down the field two or three times in a row if a punt hits the screen, then stay out to play defense? It's unfair competitively.''
I still haven't heard an intelligent reason why this ruling was made, other than the fact that this is
It's beyond me why Marshall, on the heels of yet another run-in with an oil-and-water lover back home in Georgia, thinks he'll get his way -- a trade plus a new contract -- by trying to baby his way out of town. The Broncos have been loath to consider trading him because they don't want to continue the squeaky-wheel-gets-a-trade precedent they began with Jay Cutler. I think they'd listen now, but it's dumb to think they'd get any kind of offer that would make them listen -- like a high second-round draft choice, because of the money Marshall would want in a new contract. Who's going to pay Marshall a dime if they're not sure he won't blow up again?
Then there's this from
Cassel, meanwhile, told a friend he'd suffered a grade-two sprain of the medial collateral ligament Saturday night against Seattle. It's a two-week injury, so it's unknown if he'll face the Ravens at Baltimore in the season opener. Then again, it's probably best if he doesn't face the Ravens. Give that one to
Regarding the Packers, their first unit has had 12 possessions this summer and hasn't punted. Sixty-six points in 12 possessions ... just sick. And the starting defense has forced six turnovers in 12 opposing possessions.
"Three games, no punts, 31 points in this game,'' said
That's something he did often, write letters. Kraft got quite a few over the years, and Belichick got several too. Kraft, for a time, was close to the inner circle of the Kennedy political machine. In the late '60s, he and
Kraft played tennis with Kennedy at the family compound in Hyannisport and learned about his competitive side; Kennedy would put Kraft on the sunny side of the court and say, "Let's change sides every three games, not two.'' As years went on and Kraft bought the Patriots, Kennedy stayed an ardent fan. "He was the third or fourth phone call after we won those Super Bowls. First the president, then [close friend]
I asked Kraft what he wanted people to know about Kennedy. "His service to the community, his looking out for the little guy,'' Kraft said. "His family was a family of privilege, but they always used their power to help the people who needed the help the most. People used to say to him, 'You never worked a day in your life.' But I know he did. He really, really worked hard, and for the right reasons.''
Five topics each with coaches I've not seen this summer ...
"One of the biggest mistakes I could make right now is have him get all involved with this Wildcat stuff. If we were to get an injury at the quarterback position, then he's got to be the No. 2, and I'm a lot more concerned that he'll be ready to play quarterback than whether he can do that other stuff. And
"There's no 'Jay' in team.''
"I don't know that they'd be completing this many passes against air in practice. This is an embarrassment for the Raider defense.''
"I talked to Bill Belichick. He said whatever is the best decision for you. It's not like it's going to hurt you to go back. The same teams that want you now are going to want you later. He was talking both sides of the fence with me. Just from knowing him, he was able to talk to me like a friend, and because he's so close with coach [
Regular Season Team of the Decade Dept: New England and Indianapolis are in a fight to the finish for the crown of the best regular-season team of the first decade of the century. From 2000 through 2008, here are the teams with the top winning percentages:
1. New England 102-42 .703
Two notes: The Colts play host to Jacksonville to open the season Sept. 13, and if they win, they'd be tied for the decade lead in wins for at least 30 hours; New England doesn't play until the next night ... Green Bay (84-60), Tennessee (83-61) and Baltimore (83-61) are knocking on the door of this top-five list.
We take for granted that the 1983 first round was the best round of quarterback-drafting in NFL history. But when you draft a quarterback in the first round, you do it with the hope the passer you pick will lead your team to the promised land.
1. He thinks it makes him look slim.
You Know You Live In Boston Sign of the Times Dept: Across from each other in Terminal A at Logan International Airport are a Dunkin Donuts and a Starbucks. Last Monday at 5:55 a.m., 17 people were in line at Dunkin Donuts and two at Starbucks.
"Just got a call back from
"Attention: 1st rd. Pick
Alabama tackle Andre Smith signed in time to be on the practice field for the Bengals Sunday afternoon.
"I talk to everybody -- EV-REEEE-BODY -- in the league,'' Ocho told me Sunday night. "You have to understand -- I know people on every team in this league, and I talk to all of them. This is not hard for me. It's just something I do naturally.''
Ocho is aiming to set some Tweet record. He's averaging 63 Tweets a day since becoming a Twitterer on May 15. I asked him if he thought he was, well, you know, over-Tweeting, and taking too much time away from the job that pays him a lot of money. "Really, if you think about it, it keeps me out of trouble,'' Ocho said. "In this job, we have a lot of time on our hands, and after I study and do my film work, I'm Tweeting. The time when trouble might be happening with other guys, I'm Tweeting.''
But there's another motivation. He gets out his message -- as ill-versed as it sometimes is -- the way he wants the message gotten out, and, as of Sunday, 137,679 people were following him. Listening, presumably. It's not necessarily an apples-to-apples comparison, but as of June, the circulation of the
1. I think these are my thoughts on Week 3 of the preseason:
a. Washington just sighed.
b. Pittsburgh just sighed more deeply. Not only did
c. If I know Detroit coach
e. ESPN must be really excited about that San Diego-Oakland season opener two weeks from tonight. All I can say is
g. I don't have a Defensive Player of the Week category in the preseason, but if I did,
h. Can't imagine what
i. Just from the highlights,
2. I think, if I had to guess, that
a. Maybe if Josh McDaniels were still in the building, he'd have championed the cause for keeping O'Connell.
c. Maybe O'Connell just can't do it. And if that's the case, Belichick is doing the smart thing to cut the cord now and go with either
3. I think I haven't seen a preseason game with the energy of Chicago-Denver since ... well, maybe ever.
4. I think
5. I think, speaking of the Eagles, the defense is becoming a concern. If I were coordinator
Philadelphia's first-team defense has been on the field for 16 drives and given up 48 points. Seeing that the average game is about 12 series per team, the Eagles' starters, in essence, have given up the game-equivalent of 36 points. And seeing that the final preseason game is fairly meaningless as far as first-teamers playing, Philadelphia will enter the season not knowing how the defense is going to play.
6. I think the most significant single play of the weekend could well have been the right-in-his-hands drop by Colts wide receiver
Manning's going to throw to players he trusts, and with Gonzalez dropping a ball like that one -- and not making enough plays otherwise in the preseason -- he could well make Manning lean on Clark and rookie
7. I think it's been a long time since I watched a preseason game as one-sided as the Saints-Raiders. These Raiders are god-awful. You know what I think? I think
8. I think the two candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2010, as selected by the Seniors Committee in Canton last week, will be interesting cases on election day next February. A thumbnail on both:
a. Former Lions cornerback
As a player, LeBeau was a three-time Pro Bowler in 13 seasons with the Lions. He started 171 straight games at corner, a record that still stands 37 years after he set it, and his 62 career interceptions are seventh on the NFL's all-time list.
It's going to be an interesting vote. Remember when
Although the 44 voters weren't supposed to consider anything other than Madden's coaching career, I'm sure the "lifetime achievement award'' aspect came into play when he got voted in. Same thing with LeBeau. He'll purportedly be considered only for his playing career, but how can his invention of the Zone Blitz in 1984 and the three number one defenses in Pittsburgh over the past five years and two Super Bowl titles be ignored?
b. Denver running back
We talk in the Hall of Fame selection room every year about not discriminating against guys on historically bad teams, which this Denver team was. I guess when I think of jobbed guys on historically bad teams, I think of
9. I think
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
My point: Hasn't Notre Dame gone 10-15 over the last two years? And isn't USC still on the schedule? The team that outscored Notre Dame 76-3 over the last two years? I don't care if Southern Cal graduated every player on its first, second and third teams. To think Notre Dame is going to beat USC is a pipe dream. And to think Notre Dame is going 12-0 ... well, it's just not going to happen.
d. I hate that Tampa Bay traded
e. Coffeenerdness: I continue to be amazed at the lack of attention paid to coffee at hotels and restaurants. Do the people who run these hotels -- these Marriotts, these Days Inns, these Comfort Inns -- even taste the coffee they put out? This is not snobbery, but reality: Most of American coffee is swill.
g. The last few days were pretty emotional around our new home in Boston, with the death of
Said Ted Jr.: "When I was 12 years old I was diagnosed with bone cancer and a few months after I lost my leg, there was a heavy snowfall over my childhood home outside of Washington, D.C. My father went to the garage to get the old Flexible Flyer and asked me if I wanted to go sledding down the steep driveway. I was trying to get used to my new artificial leg and the hill was covered with ice and snow and it wasn't easy for me to walk ... As I struggled to walk, I slipped and I fell on the ice and I started to cry and I said, 'I can't do this.' I said, 'I'll never be able to climb that hill.' And he lifted me in his strong, gentle arms and said something I'll never forget. He said, 'I know you'll do it. There is nothing you can't do. We're going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day.'
"Sure enough, he held me around my waist and we slowly made it to the top, and, you know, at age 12, losing a leg pretty much seems like the end of the world, but as I climbed onto his back and we flew down the hill that day I knew he was right. I knew I was going to be OK. You see, my father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable.''