LSU football coach Les Miles was in his office Sunday night in Baton Rouge, watching video, preparing for a Thursday night game against Texas A&M, when he was told there was something he had to see. It was video of one of his former players/acrobats, Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., making one of the best catches in NFL history Sunday night against Dallas.
“I’m not one for social media," Miles told me on the phone just after 11 Eastern on Sunday night, “but I’m told a lot of our players were on there tonight after the catch saying, 'That's nothing compared to what he did in practice.’ You have to understand: We have seen this before. I just want you to know that."
It was an eventful Week 12, and there's 13 percent of the slate still to go, with two games tonight. Mike Smith of the Falcons (4-0 in the mighty NFC South, 0-7 in all other games) bumbled through another endgame, and he might not be able to save his job after this debacle. The Lions are showing the early signs of a Schwartzian late-season collapse; their prolific offense doesn’t look so prolific—15 points in the last eight quarters. Arizona’s lead in the NFC West was cut from three games to two with five to play. The Patriots beat a division leader handily for the third straight game; they lead the division they own by three games, and if New England doesn’t win its sixth straight AFC East title, my name’s Joe Don Looney. (Hey, you can look him up: The Giants drafted Joe Don, a running back, in the first round 50 years ago.) The AFC North continued on a crazy collision course; if the Ravens win at New Orleans tonight, all four teams in the division will have seven wins with five games remaining.
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As for the other game tonight, western New York—at least the Lake Effect State—will stop snow-shoveling long enough to watch the Bills play a home game 272 miles to the west. I’ve got some logistical details as to how the NFL picked Detroit over 11 other venues (including Yankee Stadium and Penn State's Beaver Stadium), simply because I’m a detail nerd. I’ve also got news of one NFL owner providing seed money for a potentially groundbreaking residential facility at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, to take care of needy and ill former players—and writing to his fellow owners urging them to ante up too.
And coming later this week, one of the best Thanksgiving Day feasts of football in some time will happen. Chicago-Detroit in a bit of a meh game to kick it off, followed by two pre-playoff playoff games: Philadelphia at Dallas (both 8-3) for the NFC East lead in the late afternoon window—while I’ll be doing a mountain of Thanksgiving dinner dishes—and Seattle at San Francisco (both 7-4) in the nightcap, with the loser moving closer to NFC irrelevance.
But now, let’s focus on the play of the day, and of the year, though it came in a losing cause Sunday night. How did Odell Beckham last until the 12th pick of the first round last May?
* * *
Odell of a Catch
The story of Beckham’s catch cannot be told without Jarvis Landry. When Beckham was a rising high school junior at Isidore Newman in New Orleans, he went to a 7-on-7 football camp in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and met Landry. They had much in common. Both wide receivers, both Louisianans, both born in November 1992, both 5-11, both driven. “Since the day I met him in Tuscaloosa, I knew I wanted to be on the same field with him in college,” Beckham told me early this morning. Both got offered full rides by LSU, and both accepted, and they roomed together as freshmen in the 2011-12 school year.
“I have never been around a guy who pushed me like that, ever,” Beckham said. “I mean, as a football player and a man. He is so much like me, I mean as a football player and a man. Day in and day out, we went at each other—in a loving manner. It was monkey-see, monkey-do. We’d go outside our dorm, late at night, all times of the year, and take the football and throw it at each other as hard as we could. Everything was about trying to get better. We’d be out there, late at night, just us, in front of our building, throwing the football.”
Miles saw the relationship from the time they got on campus. “Odell pushed Jarvis, Jarvis pushed Odell,” he said. “I think—and I might be wrong—it was Jarvis who started making the one-handed catches at practice. And when he did it, Odell had to do it. At first, you know, the coach in me said, ‘Use two hands!’ But there are some catches you can’t use two hands to make. There are some balls you’ll just never get two hands on.”
The LSU receivers would have ball drills at practice, and for Landry and Beckham, those drills would include a session of one-handed catches. They’d do it before and after practice, too, at times, the way NBC got video of Beckham before the game making one-handed catches from equipment man Joe Skiba.
Miles said Beckham is suited to make the one-handed catches because he has unusually large hands—at 5-11, he has 10-inch hands; Calvin Johnson is 6-5, and his hands are 9 ¼ inches—and his athleticism allows him to contort his body in many angles quickly. “Some receivers you say have rare ball skills,” said Miles. “But anyone who has coached Odell, played against Odell, worked out Odell will tell you his ball skills are exceptional and rare. We saw in practice. We would stop and watch these one-handed catches Odell and Jarvis would make in practice. Let me tell you, it was nothing you have ever seen in other players. That’s why their old teammates would say today, ‘We have seen this before.’ ”
Now to The Catch.
From the Dallas 43-yard line, on the first play of the second quarter, Beckham flew down the right sideline, covered closely by Dallas cornerback Brandon Carr. “I felt him almost knock me out of bounds,” said Beckham, “and I felt him holding my jersey.” The jostling and holding happened around the Dallas 10, when Beckham was looking back for the ball from Eli Manning. At about the 5, Beckham went airborne, and Carr disengaged—while the field judge, John Jenkins, and back judge Jim Quick, both sailed their penalty flags into the end zone; it was clear defensive pass interference.
Now Beckham was reaching far behind him with his right arm. Just as Miles had seen at LSU: There are some balls you’ll never get two hands on. “One hand,” said Beckham, “was the only way to get to that ball.” It landed on the fingertips of his right glove, the arm extended fully behind Beckham’s head, and when the ball hit his gloved hand, Beckham wouldn’t have been able to see it. Amazingly, only three fingers actually connected with the ball—the thumb, index finger and middle finger—and they combined to claw the ball, and as Beckham fell to earth, he clutched it to his chest. It moved slightly, as if he might fumble it. But it stayed secure, and he landed two feet inside the pylon and a yard deep in the end zone. Touchdown.
“I saw a picture of it,” Beckham said about an hour after the game, “and it kind of felt like just my fingertips had it. I felt it on those three fingers. But I never felt like the ball wasn’t secure. I knew I had it.’’
When he met the press later, he said, “I hope it’s not the greatest catch [of all time]. I hope I can make more.”
I reached out to a few people in the game Sunday to ask if it was the best catch they’ve seen. Donte' Stallworth said it was “one of the most amazing I’ve seen. I played with Randy Moss in New England and he made insane catches look routine. This catch was ridiculous because he caught it with three fingers falling backwards and completed the catch by landing inbounds with full control through the play. Amazing.”
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Shaun O’Hara was the Giants’ center the day of the David Tyree helmet catch in the Super Bowl, and he was in MetLife Stadium Sunday night to see Beckham’s catch.
“You have to consider the stage,” O’Hara said, “and come on, Tyree’s catch was in the biggest game in the world, the Super Bowl. And I never thought I would have a conversation, ever in my life, comparing that catch to any other catch. Rodney Harrison was hanging on David Tyree like a koala bear, and David came down with it. But this one—as far as individual efforts, the Beckham catch defies all laws of gravity and whatever other physics laws there are. Everyone in the stadium was awestruck watching it live, and then, on replay, it got better. I have never seen a catch like that.”
My take: The Tyree catch is the most significant, great, unique and improbable catch I’ve ever seen. The theater of it is absurd—the catch was the most important single play in the Giants' shocking win over the previously 18-0 Patriots, and David Tyree never caught another pass in the NFL after that one. So how does a catch top that?
But for athleticism and degree of difficulty, the Beckham catch is the greatest catch I have ever seen. I still don’t think he saw the ball clearly, and he was fending off a physical cornerback, and his arm looked like it had extenders on it to reach back and get the ball, and he kept tight possession of it as he crash-landed on his back. “For him,’’ said Antrel Rolle, “another day at the park. For the rest of us, wow.” That’s pretty much my reaction.
What’s it like to know the sports world is blowing up out there, with LeBron tweeting and a ton of players reacting, saying it’s the best catch they’ve ever seen?, I asked Beckham.
“It’s a huge compliment,’’ he said. “And it’s motivation for me. All that is fine and good. But I have to keep going. At the end of the day, I have to get better every day. I have to come out tomorrow and get better. I have to come out Tuesday and get better. And we lost tonight, so that is a sick feeling. This means nothing. Winning in this game is everything.”
“To think,” said Miles, “he’s just getting started.”
Record snowfall in Buffalo forced the NFL to move the Jets-Bills game to Monday night ... in Detroit. (Mike Groll/AP)
NFL game at Penn State? How Jets-Bills in Detroit came to be
Yankee Stadium wanted the Jets-Bills game. Penn State was interested if it made sense for the NFL, which would have made Nittany Lions-loving Bills owner Terry Pegula very pleased. Toronto? Well, that made sense, except that the Rogers Centre had another uniformed event scheduled this week: Bud Light Sensation, where you’d pay $112 and dress all in white (no one admitted without all-white attire) to dance to music played by famous DJs.
And we haven’t even gotten to the seven NFL venues considered during a 48-hour span before the NFL picked Detroit on Thursday night. That’s where the 5-5 Bills play an important “home” game, a division game they have to win to stay on the fringe of the AFC playoff chase. I don’t sense the Bills are that pleased to be playing in climate-controlled Ford Field; facing the Jets in some weather would have negated the Michael Vick/Percy Harvin speed game. But in the end this was a league call, and when all the options were presented to commissioner Roger Goodell on a conference call Thursday evening, and Detroit was being painted as the best option, Goodell said, “I agree." And so it happened.
I spent some time Friday with the three NFL executives who spearheaded the nuts and bolts work of moving the game from snowbound Ralph Wilson Stadium in the south Buffalo snowbelt, where six feet of snow fell, to Detroit. And if you’re a logistics nerd, as I am, what league executive vice president Eric Grubman, director of football operations Blake Jones and senior vice president of football operations David Gardi laid out was pretty methodical—and you’ll understand exactly why the decision was made.
Let’s begin at the beginning, when Buffalo was ruled out. Grubman, just before a noon logistics meeting with the NFL staff on Thursday, got a text message from Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz, saying a snow-laden roof at a nursing home in Buffalo had just collapsed. Grubman said, “That’s it. We’re not playing in Buffalo." The fact-finding with other stadia had already begun. Now they were in full game-transfer mode. By this time the league had already eliminated a few options, but let’s list every one and go through the process of elimination.
NFL stadiums the league considered: New England, New Jersey (MetLife Stadium), Pittsburgh, Washington, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit.
Non-NFL venues the league considered: Toronto, Syracuse (Carrier Dome), Penn State (Beaver Stadium), Yankee Stadium.
Twelve venues, whittled to one. Some were easy outs.
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Toronto needed a week to outfit its stadium for the dance show. Syracuse had three hockey games in the Carrier Dome over the weekend, making it a bad fit even if the football game were played Monday night. Penn State and Yankee Stadium would have loved the game.
“When we consider non-traditional sites,” said Grubman, sitting with Gardi and Jones in an office inside the NFL headquarters Friday, “we spend at least a week building out infrastructure in the stadium to get it NFL-ready and turn it into an NFL facility. When we went to the University of Minnesota four years ago [for a Vikings game, after the Metrodome roof collapsed], that was a week build-out. It wasn’t just snow removal and field preparation, it was setting up NFL instant replay, coaches communication, coach-to-player—all that. Since then we’ve even expanded our technologies with a more in-depth coaches’ still photo system on the tablets that are Wi-Fi based. While some of those may be considered—Can we do without them?—it’s all part of that list of game-day technology that every NFL stadium is set for and ready to handle."
Said Jones: “Just the frequencies for our stadiums, in order to operate all the systems that we have—coach-to-player in the helmet—that takes a lot of work to put those frequencies in place."
“When you go into a stadium on short notice," Grubman said, “you never know, but all of the sudden you lose coach-to-player because there’s something in the area that’s suddenly stepping on that frequency. You see what happens, potentially, is this cascade—it cannot be perfectly replicated as to NFL capability. We could still stage a game. It could still be a good NFL game, but you’d rather play under standard conditions if you can."
So, barring seven bad NFL fits, the league was out of the non-NFL venues. The factors Grubman listed for the alternative NFL site: the weather, both leading up to the game and on day of game; size of stadium; a stadium’s familiarity with neutral-site NFL games; practice and treatment facilities for the Bills (the Jets would practice at home until flying to the city the day before the game); indoor practice facility availability; TV network preference (what, in this case, would broadcast partner CBS want?); and fan experience.
“In this case," said Jones, “these guys hadn’t practiced, and they needed to have some time. And we have no idea when Buffalo was going to get restored, so the objective was—as soon as there’s a window to get them out, get them to a place where they can start working. And that’s what cascaded us from Sunday into Monday, to give Buffalo a chance to prepare, where they otherwise might not have had any chance to prepare."
“Why not Tuesday?" I asked.
“The Tuesday thing we debated," said Grubman. “We talked about it, and it was an option. If Buffalo had felt strongly about wanting to play on Tuesday, that would have ticked up. The Jets play Monday night the following week, so they have a full week. Buffalo plays Sunday, so they had a short week this week, and next week is Thanksgiving, so I think that their strong preference was to balance some preparation time. But Tuesday would have been an option, if they couldn’t have gotten out of Buffalo [on Friday].”
The Bills arrived in Detroit on Friday afternoon and practiced at the Lions facility that evening. (Carlos Osorio/AP)
Weighing the options:
New England. Foxboro, with the Patriots home on Sunday, didn’t need the added congestion. And being in the same division, competitive reasons pushed Gillette Stadium and the Pats’ practice facility down the list.
New Jersey. The league didn’t want to take Jets at Bills and make it Bills at Jets. Too unfair. “Had they not already played the Jets,” said Grubman, “we would have looked at swapping. There was just no competitive disadvantage. But they played a few weeks ago, so that was off the board right away.’’
Pittsburgh. Impractical. Four high school games Friday, Syracuse at Pitt on Saturday afternoon, and a re-sodding of the field beginning Saturday at 8 p.m. “We were also worried," said Grubman, “that if you look at the snow band and the state of emergency and the travel ban, it extended on 130 miles of the interstate east to west, and that could impact travel to Pittsburgh, obviously. So we started thinking about the movement of team personnel and equipment. Would there be kinks in that?"
Cleveland. Also in the midst of a re-sod, with the Browns scheduled for Week 12 and 13 road games. The league might have gotten the go-ahead from the Cleveland grounds crew, but the turf wouldn’t have had the time to settle before the next scheduled game, Dec. 7. And with Buffalo slated to play Cleveland next week, the league frowned on the Bills practicing at the Browns’ training complex.
Chicago. Also recently re-sodded, and if you know the history of the sod at Soldier Field combined with the late-fall Chicago weather, it’s a bad idea to add to the traffic there in November.
Cincinnati. No indoor facility, and some weekend/Monday rain in the forecast. Not a killer, but Cincinnati was not a good option. “And Cincinnati graded down slightly because they hadn’t done this before," said Grubman.
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Rain in the forecast for Sunday, and when the league looked on Thursday, there was a chance for rain Monday. The field at FedEx is problematic, but Grubman and crew said nothing about that.
Detroit. The Lions practice about six miles from Ford Field in Allen Park, in a spacious indoor facility with adjacent outdoor fields. The Lions would make the field available after 4 p.m. Friday and after noon on Saturday, and with the Lions flying to New England on Saturday, the facility would be available for the Bills’ normal day-before walk-through practice. Detroit had done this before—four years ago, hosting Giants-Vikings after the Metrodome roof collapsed—and the TV and staffing infrastructure was in place. “We had the confidence we could execute this game in Detroit on a quick turn," said Grubman. “That just won the day. Roger made the decision on that basis."
The tickets are free, and the league has actually given away every available seat. How many people show … who knows? A potential TV headache was avoided by putting the game, tonight at 7 Eastern Time, on NFL Sunday Ticket on DirecTV. If you’re a Bills fan in Willamette, Ore., and you count on seeing 16 Bills game on DirecTV, it’s not fair to say you can’t watch this one. The league will pay for the operation of the stadium, and the staffing, and, well, just exactly how much is this going to cost the NFL?
“A lot," Grubman said, laughing. “We have an insurance policy with a very big deductible. It’s gonna cost us a lot of money."
Then he turned serious. “Nobody’s going to feel good about this, not only after this game, but until Buffalo is back operating in the normal course for an NFL team, and even then there’s probably going to be players’ homes and family tolls and the city rebounding," said Grubman. “This is not a victory lap. I don’t think that any of us are proud of anything right now other than that we’re proud of the potential to maybe get this game done in a way that makes everyone feel good."
Billy Cundiff's game-winner capped another wild win for Cleveland. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Five Sunday takes
1. The Cleveland Browns might be the best team in the AFC North and might be the worst team in the AFC North. How can you know? We could enter Week 13 with all four teams in the division having seven wins. I’m no Elias Sports Bureau employee, but if it happens—Baltimore needs to win tonight at the Saints—there’s no way a division has ever been that tight after 12 weeks. (Is there, Elias?) They won their third very strange game of the season Sunday in Atlanta when Mike Smith mishandled the clock late, Brian Hoyer drove Cleveland 61 yards in 44 seconds, and kicker Billy Cundiff drilled a 37-yard field goal with no time left. Cleveland 26, Atlanta 24—despite two interceptions by Hoyer in the last five minutes. “This is a game he [Hoyer] kept both teams in,’’ coach Mike Pettine told me. “But that’s the life of a quarterback sometimes. After his interceptions, he drove us downfield so we could kick the field goal to win.” Pettine told me he didn’t consider putting Johnny Manziel in (he last appeared in a game 64 days ago), nor is he considering it now. He wants to give Hoyer the benefit of playing with explosive wideout Josh Gordon, who debuted with an eight-catch, 120-yard performance on Sunday. “Brian knows we’re not going to have a quick hook with him.” Pettine said he’s learned a lot from this team, and mainly this: “A team is greater than the sum of its parts. Whatever happens in a game, good or bad, at the end of the game you put that one in a box and you either put the box on the shelf and save it, or you bury it. It’s done. You move on to the next one.” Next: at Buffalo, where more snow is in the forecast later this week. What a year.
2. I can’t see how Mike Smith survives. The Falcons have gone from hosting the NFC Championship Game 22 months ago to losing 20 of their last 28. Who knows? If Baltimore beats New Orleans tonight, the 4-7 Falcons remain tied for first place in the NFC South, one of the worst divisions in NFL history. It wouldn’t be stunning if the division winner is below .500. In fact, it might be more surprising if the division champ is .500 or better. But Smith’s clock management was poor again Sunday (he made strategic mistakes in the bizarre last-second loss to the Lions in London a month ago), which I’ll detail in Goat of the Week below (hint, hint). When Arthur Blank ran Home Depot, I hear he was very fair, but very bottom-line. Smith is a wonderful person, but barring a turnaround by the team and the coach getting a masters in Clock Management, I can’t see him staying on the job past December.
3. Please, please, please, Competition Committee: Convince the owners to make home playoff teams earn their home playoff games. Actually, I want the NFC South winner to be 6-10 this year. Maybe that will convince owners, finally, to strip the automatic home game from undeserving division champions. You know, just because they won a weak division some years. Look at the playoff standings this morning. Here’s your primo NFC Wild Card matchup as of now: Dallas (8-3) at New Orleans (4-6). Why set up a system that, once every two or three years, is going to reward abject mediocrity and penalize an 11- or 12-win team that has to go on the road to play a team that won two or three (or four, or five) fewer games? Makes no sense whatsoever. I always hear about the reward for winning the division; the owners don’t want to take that away. So good. Let’s make this season as embarrassing as possible. Let’s have the Saints win the South at 6-10, and let’s have Dallas as the first Wild Card team at 12-4. Would that be embarrassing enough for the owners to come to their senses?
4. Detroit pales in comparison to Green Bay now. This is the first morning all season—since the Sept. 4 opening game—that the Lions have woken up and not been in first place in the NFC North. Even when they’ve been tied, the Lions have held the tiebreaker edge. But no more. Green Bay (8-3) is a game ahead of Detroit (7-4), and the descent is understandable. The Lions’ offense is a shell of what it once was in the prime of Stafford-to-Johnson. In the last two weeks Detroit lost decisively at Arizona and at New England. The Lions have had 22 possessions and scored zero touchdowns. They faced two good defenses, of course, but that hasn't stopped Stafford in the past. He needs better protection, but he also needs better accuracy too—and the accuracy problem has reared its head previously. In 2012, when the Lions were 4-12, Stafford was a 59.8-percent passer with a plus-three touchdown-to-interception differential. In 2014, Stafford is a 58.8-percent passer with a plus-three touchdown-to-interception differential.
5. I feel for San Francisco and Seattle on Thursday. And for the other four short-week teams playing on Thanksgiving. But particularly the Niners and Seahawks. Both were involved in very physical games Sunday, San Francisco against Washington and Seattle against tough-as-nails Arizona. Russell Wilson and the Seattle skill players were bruised and battered by the Cardinals’ defense. I can’t imagine how they’re going to prepare, and feel close to normal, for such a playoff-significant game by late Thursday afternoon in Santa Clara.
Charles Woodson: The defensive Peyton.
Charles Woodson is playing well enough to earn another contract. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Peyton Manning, the first overall pick in 1998, finished second in the 1997 Heisman balloting. He is 38. Charles Woodson, the fourth overall pick in 1998, finished first in the 1997 Heisman balloting. He is 38.
We are collectively marveling at how Manning is playing (68 percent completions, plus-25 TD-to-pick differential) for an old man. What of Woodson? The Raiders are the lost sheep of the NFL, to be sure, at 1-10. But that 1? It happened Thursday night over the playoff-contending Chiefs, and Woodson was one of the best players on the field. A key sack of Alex Smith made Woodson the first player in history with at least 50 interceptions and 20 sacks. (I hate invented stats, but this one is pretty informative.)
More impressive is this: Woodson has played all but 11 of the Raiders’ 739 defensive snaps this season. And some of those have been pretty damned unimportant for a man who will have a good chance at Canton someday.
"I feel great," he said from California the other day. “If I continue to feel the way I feel right now, there’s no way I don’t think I can play next year. And I would like to. I’m happy. I really am, playing in the NFL, the greatest game in the world, and playing at this level."
I asked Woodson if, seeing how he’s still able to contribute at a high level, he has any regrets about picking the Raiders before the 2013 season. “No," he said. “When free agency came around, no one took me seriously. I guess it was my age, but everyone pretty much wrote me off. But I am proud to have been productive since I’ve come back. I’ve taken pride in my games. I have been productive in every way possible. It hasn’t been hard to give my all every week. But it is hard to lose like this.
"Seventeen years, though … In a weird way, it’s gone pretty fast. But thinking back to 1998, wow. Lasting this long? Wow. The only thing I can say is I’m blessed."
And playing himself into position for another contract. He’s working on a one-year, $2.5 million deal with the Raiders. Woodson has proved, with him, that age is a number. He’s not a Pro Bowler, but he’s playing well enough to earn another year somewhere. He and Justin Tuck should be brought back to be the leaders—on and off the field—that this young Raider defense needs.
* * *
A new idea, and a good one, for the Hall of Fame.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce an $11 million gift from Saints owner Tom Benson today, the biggest gift the Hall has ever received. Some $10 million will be used for needed renovations of the 76-year-old Fawcett Stadium adjacent to the Hall of Fame—it will be renamed “Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium"—and the other $1 million will be seed money for a project Benson considers vital to the future of the game. It’s called “Legends Landing," designed to help needy and elderly former players who have health and housing needs.
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"Legends Landing" is part of a long-term master plan designed to modernize the area around the Hall of Fame by creating what is being called “Hall of Fame Village." Benson, in a letter to his fellow owners going out today, is asking them to join him in funding the next housing project.
"While the donation that I am providing to the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be used for a number of major projects," Benson writes, “it is the Legends Landing, which is a mixed-use residential facility for seniors, that has garnered my main focus … Should a current Hall of Famer or legend fall on a tough time, they would literally have a place to ‘land’ and find a home. It is with sincere respect, therefore, that I invite each of you to join me to support the Pro Football Hall of Fame and match, at any level you feel comfortable, my gift of $1 million specifically targeted for the Legends Landing."
The concept is one that’s been floating around with some league leaders for some time: a central place for medical and physical assistance for needy players, and housing for former players who need a hand. With the Hall of Fame running more and more educational programs for local schools—and research projects on the history of the game and future health of the game and its players—imagine the benefit of having scores of former players on campus as resource people.
I’m told that the type of facility the Hall wants would cost around $75 million and serve upwards of 500 players a year. With brain trauma and other long-term health issues so prevalent, it’s past time the league’s owners follow Benson’s lead and help fund a facility where, as Benson says, the legends can land.
* * *
Sorry: House is still on fire in Washington.
Washington coach Jay Gruden can apologize and say he made a mistake by singling out Robert Griffin III for his poor play eight days ago. Gruden did that last week. But then he offered an assessment of Griffin’s play to NFL Media's Albert Breer that elevated the story. In many ways, the comments to Breer were more incendiary—because Gruden had to know everything he said after his Monday comments would be scrutinized heavily.
Jay Gruden’s Redskins are 0-4 this season when Robert Griffin III starts and finishes the game. (John McDonnell/Getty Images)
As I wrote last Tuesday, when Gruden elucidated Griffin’s “fundamental flaws" in a “performance not nearly good enough" in a 20-point home loss to previously 1-8 Tampa Bay, basically he was saying that the house is on fire in Washington.
Let’s make this very clear: Three years into what was supposed to be a franchise-player career, Griffin is on the precipice. Either he’s going to solidify his hold on the job in the final five games of another lost Washington season, or he’s going to give the organization no choice but to consider a future without him. The team has until May to decide whether to exercise his 2016 contract option.
The most eyebrow-raising of Gruden’s comments to Breer about Griffin:
• “The big thing is negative plays—way too many."
• “He’s been coddled for so long. It’s not a negative, he just hasn’t had a lot of negative publicity. Some adversity is striking hard at him now, and how he reacts to that off the field … hopefully it’s not in a negative way."
• “He’s auditioned long enough. Clock’s ticking."
• "Since the preseason, in the games that he's played, our production from an offensive standpoint has been awful. I think five touchdowns in all the drives he's played, for whatever reason, and that's not good. We're still trying to figure that out."
• “We have a guy behind him [Colt McCoy] that played pretty well, and people are looking, 'OK, he's 2-0.' There's always pressure on the quarterback to perform. And if you don't perform, like any other position, somebody's behind you pushing you."
Does that sound like someone who wants his chance at NFL head-coaching success dependent on the right arm of Robert Griffin III?
Last Monday night, LeGarrette Blount was suited up for the Steelers in Tennessee. Now he’s a Patriot, and he rushed for 78 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s win over the Lions. (Winslow Townson/Sports Illustrated/The MMQB)
1. New England (9-2). Gotta love The Patriot Way. Jonas Gray rushes for 201 yards against the Colts, lands on the cover of Sports Illustrated, then ends up being sent home from practice Friday because he was late, and he doesn’t play Sunday. Sacred cows? Apparently not.
2. Green Bay (8-3). I’m sure all of you caught One on One With Peter King at The MMQB the other day, right? Well, let me recap an interesting answer from Arizona safety Rashad Johnson (after, of course, he showed America his partially severed finger from his accident on the field in early 2013) when I asked him if there was a particularly intriguing potential matchup he saw down the road in the playoffs: “I think a really tough opponent looking around the NFL right now would be the Green Bay Packers. For one, they got arguably one of the best quarterbacks in the game right now, and he’s playing lights out. There’s no defense for a perfect ball. They have a running back who’s like a bulldozer, and he’s hard to tackle. That would be an interesting matchup; that would be a five-star matchup. That would be a lot of fun, to have an opportunity to play that game."
3. Arizona (9-2). I suppose alarm bells are ringing. But Arizona had a six-game winning streak going into Seattle and got swamped 19-3 against the defending Super Bowl champion. It’ll take more than one loss to convince me the Cards are fatally flawed. Fairly big game Sunday at Atlanta.
4. Denver (8-3). Doesn’t it seem like the Dolphins got more than 313 yards on offense? But that’s all it was. Well, 313 yards—and 36 points.
5. Philadelphia (8-3). Three games that will try green men’s souls on the docket: at Dallas on a short Thanksgiving week, Seattle at home, Dallas at home.
6. Dallas (8-3). Survived The Odell Experience. Finished off the Giants for good. Now comes the harder part: Landing in Dallas at 4 a.m. Central Time today and prepping for two showdowns against the co-division leaders in the next three weeks.
7. Indianapolis (7-4). The Colts essentially clinched the AFC South on Sunday. With a two-game lead over 5-6 Houston (plus the tiebreaker edge), and a quite favorable schedule in the last five weeks, starting with Washington at home Sunday, the Colts will have at least one home playoff game in January.
Ryan Tannehill stood tall against the Broncos, but the 6-5 Dolphins still face an uphill climb to make the postseason. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
8. Miami (6-5). Dolphins have lost three games in the last two months: 27-24 on that crazy fake-spike drive against Green Bay; 20-16 in the last seconds at Detroit on the crazy Matthew Stafford drive; and 39-36 when Ryan Tannehill stood toe to toe with Peyton Manning for four quarters in Denver. Don’t know if Miami will make the playoffs, but the Dolphins are one of the most dangerous teams in football right now.
9. Seattle (7-4). On Sunday the ’Hawks did what desperate teams with smart and strong vets do: asserted themselves.
10. San Francisco (7-4). How do you survive when your offense is stuck in first gear for half the season? Play the kind of defense San Francisco is playing. Seven times in 11 games the Niners have held foes to 330 yards or fewer.
11. Cincinnati (7-3-1). I need to figure out Andy Dalton. Help. After the Cleveland debacle of debacles, he goes and completes 70 percent in his next two games, both road games, with only one bad mistake—a pick-six by Johnathan Joseph at Houston. By the way, how about the tour of the American South that the Bengals are on? Week 11: at New Orleans (win). Week 12: at Houston (win). Week 13: at Tampa Bay (favored by a bunch).
12. Kansas City (7-4). Yikes? Next two foes for play-down-to-the-opposition Kansas City: Broncos at home, Cardinals in the desert.
13. Detroit (7-4). Should be time for a rebound in the next three games, all at home: Bears (Thanksgiving afternoon), Bucs, Vikings.
14. Pittsburgh (7-4). Home stretch after late bye: Three of last five at home … Bengals in Weeks 14, 17 … Steelers hope safety Troy Polamalu (knee sprain) returns to torment Jimmy Graham next Sunday at Heinz Field.
T-15. Baltimore (6-4). Ravens have to hope the bye rejuvenated 35-year-old Steve Smith (last four games: 14 catches, zero TDs).
T-15. Cleveland (7-4). “I’m not sure exactly how it’s going to end," I said to Mike Pettine late Sunday afternoon, “but I am starting to believe Steven Spielberg is going to make a movie about the Browns’ season you’re in the middle of." He chortled. “Special," Pettine said. “Getting very special."
The Award Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Russell Wilson, quarterback, Seattle. The only prediction I am very sure of this morning: Wilson will wake up very, very sore. He threw 22 passes, ran 10 times and was sacked by the Cardinals seven times. Of those 39 ball-handling opportunities, I would bet Wilson was hit hard or tackled 25 times. But he kept coming, and his play didn’t fall off. He was 17 of 22 for 211 yards with one touchdown and no picks (121.6 rating), ran it 10 times for 73 yards and led five scoring drives. The drives I found most impressive: Wilson bled the clock with a 19-3 lead (the final score) for the final 6:53 on an efficient 11-play drive to end the game. When his team needed him most, in a game Seattle had to have, Wilson fought the best team in the division and won.
C.J. Anderson has had more than 100 total yards in three consecutive games, finding the end zone twice during that stretch. (Joe Amon/Getty Images)
C.J. Anderson, running back, Denver. Following in the footsteps of the great unknown Denver running backs, Anderson went undrafted in 2013 after starting only two games in his major-college career at Cal. Sunday was his second NFL start. Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase is finding quite a few uses for Anderson now, thanks to a spate of injuries to the guys ahead of him on the depth chart. Anderson rushed 27 times for 167 yards (you mean a Denver running back actually ran it a lot?) and one touchdown, and caught four passes for 28 more yards, giving him 195 total yards. But his day wasn’t done. Miami crept to within 39-36 and was kicking off—onside alert!—with 1:34 left. Anderson smothered the onside kick. Ballgame.
Defensive Players of the Week
Sio Moore, linebacker, Oakland. That was a revelation, seeing a full game of Sio Moore on Thursday night. Players on the Raiders fall into this category: They Might Be Good, But How Would We Know Because We Never Watch Complete Raider Games? But watching these Raiders get their first win Thursday night, two players stood out: Charles Woodson (eight tackles, a sack, two additional tackles for loss) and Moore (12 tackles, one sack, and a great tackle for loss).
The TFL: Late in the first half, with the Chiefs desperate to cut into a 14-3 deficit, Knile Davis tried to convert on third-and-one, running between the left tackle and tight end. Boom! The 6-1, 245-pound Moore stood him up and drove him back for a one-yard loss.
The sack: Last-gasp Chiefs drive, third-and-six with 49 seconds left at the Raider 45; Moore burst up the middle and nailed Alex Smith for a seven-yard loss, all but ending it for Kansas City in a 24-20 Oakland win. Moore did a dumb thing there, celebrating too much as the Chiefs hurried to the line on fourth down, and only Justin Tuck’s smart timeout call prevented an easy five yards via penalty and a new set of downs. Moore’s got to be smarter than that. “They say, ‘Act like you’ve been there before,’ ” Moore said after the game. “I haven’t." But overall, Moore and Khalil Mack provide hope that Oakland has two building-block linebackers for the future.
Calais Campbell has had five sacks in five games since returning from a knee injury, including three in Seattle. (Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Calais Campbell, defensive end, Arizona. In a losing cause, the Cardinals’ pass-rush did its part to bury Russell Wilson, sacking him seven times and hitting him significantly eight more times behind the line. Campbell, one of the best 3-4 ends in the game, was all over Wilson, sacking him three times. As long as the Cardinals get Campbell’s power-rushing—and get pressure from a solid group of versatile safeties—they’ll be a very tough out in January.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Josh Huff, wide receiver/kick-return, Philadelphia. The third-round rookie from Oregon—a Chip Kelly player in college and now in the pros—has been disappointing in the first two-thirds of his rookie season. Ten games, six catches, 48 yards, no impact. And last week he got the blame as one of the key pursuit men on Green Bay punt-returner Micah Hyde’s 75-yard return for touchdown. “Everything that I’ve done so far this season has been going back," Huff said in the locker room this week. It didn’t take long for him to atone. On the opening kickoff against Tennessee, Huff took the ball seven yards deep in the end zone, made a couple of Titans miss in traffic, cut right, and stiff-armed Ryan Succop and Brandon Ghee on his way to the end zone. A good, instinctive and physical return—the longest scoring play in Eagles history—that set the tone for an easy victory. One other note on Huff: At Oregon he roomed with fellow wideout Eric Dungy, son of the former coach and current NBC analyst Tony Dungy.
Joel Bitonio, guard, Cleveland. Well, Josh Huff counted seven points for the good for Philadelphia, right? Bitonio saved seven points on the last play of the first half at Atlanta. On a missed field goal by Cleveland’s Billy Cundiff, Devin Hester of the Falcons caught the ball three yards deep in the end zone. Hester hesitated for a moment, as though he wasn’t going to be taking it out. Then he did—and Hester zoomed through the splintered, surprised Cleveland coverage. Coming at him from the side, the 305-pound Bitonio caught and corralled Hester at the Browns’ 31. Touchdown saved, in a most unlikely way.
Coach of the Week
Dan Quinn, defensive coordinator, Seattle. Arizona came in 9-1, not the smoothest machinery on offense with backup quarterback Drew Stanton handed the job for the rest of the year. But the Cards had scored 24 or more points in six of 10 games, so they were capable. Then they faced the multiple Seattle fronts, and they managed just one field goal drive (and one drive of more than 55 yards) out of 10 on the day. Seattle 19, Arizona 3, and Quinn improved his chances to be a head-coaching candidate with his defense holding Arizona to 204 yards.
Goats of the Week
It pains me not to pick Brian Hoyer, but the Browns did win, and Hoyer drove them to the winning field goal.
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Mike Smith, head coach, Atlanta.
Third-and-two at the Cleveland 35, 55 seconds left, Atlanta down 23-21. Falcons call timeout at the start of the play clock. Smith had a choice here, with a very good field-goal kicker, Matt Bryant: Let the play clock run down to about 30 seconds, call the timeout, then try to convert the third down; or call the timeout immediately, which would be smart only if you are trying to get the ball way downfield. No reason, in my opinion, to stop the clock with 55 seconds to go. None.
Now, the Browns may have used a timeout here; if they did, so be it. But maybe they don’t, and if they don’t, Atlanta snaps with maybe 30 seconds to play, throws the incompletion (a shaky call there by offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, instead of a run), and then there’s 24 seconds left, and then you kick the field goal. Atlanta makes the field goal, kicks off, and Cleveland takes over at its 20 with 19 seconds. The Browns would have had all three timeouts left, in this scenario. Three plays to make 45 yards, or two plus time for a field goal. In other words, a very slim chance for Cleveland to move into position and win. All of this is arguable, of course. But under any scenario, that was a dumb timeout by Mike Smith, and it’s the second time this year (Oct. 26 versus Detroit in London) when bad late-game management cost the Falcons a win.
Shaun Hill, quarterback, St. Louis. Rams down three, 63 seconds to go, St. Louis ball at the Chargers’ four-yard line. Field goal likely sends it to overtime. Hill fades back, throws into double coverage, and it lands in the hands of San Diego safety Marcus Gilchrist. What was Hill thinking?
Quotes of the Week
“I hate losing. I hate it. I hate losing with every fiber of my body."
—Houston coach Bill O’Brien, after the loss to Cincinnati. O’Brien has had to deal with said hatred six times in the first 11 games of his NFL head-coaching career.
"We do what we think’s best, and that’s what we did today."
—New England coach Bill Belichick, on Jonas Gray going from a 201-yard rushing day last Sunday to zero plays in the win over Detroit.
In other words: Don’t ask me my business, especially after the kid was late to practice on Friday.
"What a great player. I don’t know why everybody doesn’t see it. Great with a capital ‘G.’ ”
—San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, on quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Maybe it’s because the Niners have exceeded 17 points once in the last five games. The MMQB’s Greg Bedard will have more on Harbaugh and Kaepernick on the site later today.
“I experienced first-hand how the NFL abused its power when I was shot up with anti-inflammatory drugs like Butazolidin to keep me on the playing field. Butazolidin, commonly used on horses, has since been found to be so detrimental that it has been banned for human use in the United States. Yet no one told me at the time that ‘bute’ and other painkillers would destroy my throwing shoulder, forcing me to have it replaced when I left football.”
—Former NFL quarterback Fran Tarkenton, in a letter to The New York Times on Sunday.
“The only thing I can tell him is make the main thing the main thing. And that’s just worrying about playing football at a high level and being a great teammate.”
—LeBron James, to Mike Wise of The Washington Post, on the advice he’d give the struggling Robert Griffin III.
Brilliant, I think.
"Benjamin … I just want to say one word to you. Just one word … Plastics.”
—Actor Walter Brooke, playing Mr. McGuire, a friend of the Braddock family in The Graduate, the 1967 film directed by Mike Nichols, to Dustin Hoffman (Benjamin) at a dinner party celebrating his graduation from college.
Nichols died Wednesday at 83 after a phenomenal career in which he won Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards. He directed The Odd Couple on Broadway in the mid-’60s, then turned to movies. The Graduate is my favorite of his, and the “plastics” line one of the most memorable, ever. Nichols did so many seminal things in his career, but he made lots of interesting decisions in making this movie—and won the Oscar for Best Director in 1967 for the film.
Mike Nichols in 1967. (Archive Photos/Getty Images)
One: He cast a relatively unknown and plain-looking 29-year-old actor, Dustin Hoffman, as the lead, a forlorn and aimless college grad with moneybags parents, trying to figure out what to do with his life, and having an affair with the wife of his father’s business partner, Mrs. Robinson. Nichols could have cast the dashing Robert Redford but chose Hoffman, more of a plain guy than a Hollywood guy.
Two: When choosing songs for the movie, Nichols heard one by Paul Simon called “Mrs. Roosevelt.” He suggested that Simon change the name to another three-syllable R-word, and thus “Mrs. Robinson” the song was born. The song won the “Record of the Year” Grammy in 1969.
Three: Raquel Welch and Jane Fonda were interested in the part of Mrs. Robinson’s daughter that Katharine Ross got.
Four: Ronald Reagan was considered for, but didn’t get, the part as Dustin Hoffman’s rich dad.
And the rest is Hollywood history.
Condolences to CNN ace Rachel Nichols. Mike Nichols was her father-in-law.
Stat of the Week
Adam Vinatieri statoids of the week:
1. Vinatieri has made his last 72 regular-season kicks—41 extra points and 31 field goals—dating back to Week 16 last year.
2. Vinatieri is 41. He turns 42 on the day of the last game of the regular season, Dec. 28.
3. In the year he turns 42, Vinatieri is perfect (22 of 22) on field goals. In the year Hall of Famer kicker/QB George Blanda turned 42, 1969, he made 20 of 37 field-goal tries.
4. In the last two years, dating back to Nov. 24, 2012, Vinatieri has made 155 of 160 kicks—all 88 PAT tries, and 67 of 72 field goals.
The man is building one heck of résumé for Canton. Don’t forget: The margin in the Patriots’ three Super Bowl wins was three points each time, and each time the decisive points came from a fourth-quarter field goal from Vinatieri—with zero seconds, four seconds and 8:40 remaining in the game.
Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me...
...And probably Western New Yorkers.
According to USA.com, average annual snowfall for Orchard Park, N.Y.: 71.73 inches.
Snowfall in Orchard Park, N.Y., from last Monday to Friday, as measured by the National Weather Service: 71.0 inches.
Factoids of the Week That May Interest Only Me
For the record, with all of the mayhem around Robert Griffin III and his fate in Washington, here is what the St. Louis Rams received in return for trading the second overall pick to Washington so Washington could select Griffin in 2012. Turns out to be an 8-for-1 trade, with four starting players (as of today) but no superstars harvested by Rams GM Les Snead. But any team that thought it had its long-term starting quarterback (as St. Louis did with Sam Bradford in the spring of 2012, pre-double-knee-injury) in the house would absolutely have made the trade if told this: Trading the number two overall pick will yield four starting players three seasons down the line. Amazing, to me, that as it turns out, St. Louis traded the number two overall pick in 2012, and got the number two overall pick in 2014—and seven more choices:
Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Started 39 games. Just 23 years old.
Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
Above-average cover man; 37 starts.
Isaiah Pead, RB, Cincinnati
On IR, but no future with Rams.
Rokevious Watkins, T, South Carolina
Gone after one unsuccessful year.
Alec Ogletree, OLB, Georgia
Emerging star. Just what Rams thought.
Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia
Special-teams ace, backup WR.
Zac Stacy, RB, Vanderbilt
Former starter; out of rotation recently
Greg Robinson, T, Auburn
Starting LT struggles vs. speed-rushers
In their rookie seasons, 2012, the top two picks in the NFL Draft, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, had different views on national endorsements. As rookies, Luck had zero national endorsements, and Griffin had six.
A point guard on Michigan State’s basketball team is named Lourawls Nairn.
Lourawls Nairn’s father is named Lourawls Nairn Sr.
Lourawls Nairn’s grandparents loved Lou Rawls.
Well, I guess so.
I find this quite incredible: The football teams at MIT and Harvard are a combined 20-0 this year.
MIT (10-0) won its opening postseason game in the NCAA Division III football tournament Saturday, 27-20 over Husson (Maine) College.
Harvard (10-0) won the Ivy League title Saturday with a 31-24 win over Yale.
Tweets of the Week
Said Al Michaels on NBC: “There is your play of the year. Maybe the decade. That is just impossible."
The Denver vice president of public relations was responding to a column by Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post Dispatch that speculated that St. Louis owner Stan Kroenke would attempt to buy the Broncos “if the franchise became available."
Story-reading optional; the Tweet tells a great story itself. But I did read it, and the naked man did bite an elderly man on the ear and then tried choking the man “with his own cane," according to the story. We live in a crazy world, people.
On Saturday—the 51st anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy—the presidential historian Michael Beschloss tweeted the speech Kennedy never gave.
Long Island’s Chris Algieri, knocked down six times in the fight, went 12 rounds and lost a unanimous decision to world welterweight champion Manny Pacquiao in Macau over the weekend. Promoter Bob Arum compared the longshot Algieri to Rocky Balboa in the leadup to the fight.
Chris Borland is averaging 12.8 tackles per game since taking over as a starting inside linebacker five weeks ago. (Tony Avelar/AP)
Ten Things I Think I Think
1. I think this is what I liked about Week 12:
b. Atlanta cornerback Desmond Trufant’s superb lunging pass break-up of a pass intended for the fresh Josh Gordon, in Gordon’s first quarter back in football.
c. San Francisco linebacker Chris Borland, for the fourth straight week, leading his team in tackles. What a pick by GM Trent Baalke.
d. Emmanuel Sanders, who said to me during camp he didn’t want to be known as a wide receiver—but as a football player. He takes so much abuse, and he keeps on ticking. A terrific performance down the stretch against Miami.
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e. Denver going for two with 14 minutes left, down five. The only play to make. It’s ludicrous to suggest it’s too early. You want to be down four with the chance to have the ball only once the rest of the game? Makes no sense.
f. Ryan Tannehill. So much to like about him.
g. Every time I watch Anquan Boldin, I wonder how he he’ll feel when he’s 45. What a licking he takes, almost every week. He was a redwood against Washington on Sunday.
h. Jim Caldwell keeping Reggie Bush (ankle) out one more game for Detroit. I like how Caldwell (see also Calvin Johnson) would rather have his player as healthy as he can be, rather than putting in an 80-percent player because he is so desperate to have his impact in the lineup.
i. This smart take from Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on what the Steelers should have done with LaGarrette Blount last week.
j. Albert Breer’s weekly Friday column on NFL.com. Consistently good, informative, topical and insider-driven. While I’m praising writers, kudos too to Mike Reiss’s Patriot-centric Sunday column at ESPNBoston.com. Always learn three or four things when I read it.
k. How did no one draft Isaiah Crowell out of Alabama State last year? Six touchdowns already for the Browns this fall, including a one-cut, smart darter upfield to score in Atlanta.
l. Tennessee defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, who is such a good and underappreciated player. On consecutive snaps at Philadelphia, he sacked Mark Sanchez for minus-seven, then chased down LeSean McCoy for minus-two. Sapp-like.
m. Tom Pelissero of USA Today getting the Adrian Peterson interview. Good scoop.
n. The punting in Oakland, in the rain. Chief Dustin Colquitt bombed one 69 yards early in the game, and Raider Marquette King landed his six punts at the Kansas City 18, 18, 17, 10, 15 and 35.
o. Nice job by the Jags’ pass-rush (this means you, Chris Clemons), with three sacks of Andrew Luck in the first 10 minutes at Indy.
p. Incredible move by LeSean McCoy, leaving Tennessee safety Michael Griffin in the dust.
q. Tom Brady, with a dart to Tim Wright. Never know where it’s coming from with the Patriots.
r. Danny Amendola, tilting the field with the offense struggling for New England, returning a second-quarter kickoff to the Detroit 22.
s. Never seen a coach with game plans week to week as diverse as Bill Belichick’s.
Aaron Rodgers has thrown 11 touchdowns and no interceptions over his past three games, all Green Bay wins. (Ann Heisenfelt/AP)
t. The absolute laser from Aaron Rodgers, through tight coverage in the middle of the field, to Randall Cobb. No idea how Rodgers thought he could throw a ball 30 yards on a line into a very tight window, but he did, and it was perfect.
u. The Rodgers' touchdown rainbow to Richard Rodgers, getting clobbered in the process.
v. What a throw by Josh McCown, converting third-and-23 at Chicago with a 27-yard perfecto to Vincent Jackson.
w. Harrison Smith’s shoe-grab-and-hold-on-for-dear-life tackle for loss of Eddie Lacy.
x. What a great, great line out of the CBS booth in Atlanta (couldn’t tell if it was Steve Tasker or Steve Beuerlein) after Matt Ryan ran right into a sack after seemingly evading it: “He was just a deer, running back in front of the car."
y. In Miami-Denver, on a crucial fourth-quarter conversion try by the Dolphins, the tremendous hit and stop by physical Denver cornerback Kayvon Webster.
z. The playmaking Sio Moore.
2. I think this is what I didn’t like about Week 12:
a. The better-wake-up Sio Moore.
b. Jaron Brown, the Arizona receiver, dropping a sure touchdown, right in his gut, down 9-0 late in the first half at Seattle. Incredible drop. Instead of it being 9-7 Seattle at the half, it was 9-3.
c. The Niners on offense. This is state of the art? When you struggle to beat Washington at home?
d. Brian Hoyer’s across-the-body, bad-idea pick in Atlanta.
e. Actually, most of what Hoyer did until the final minute in Atlanta.
f. The man with the footballs on the sideline in Minnesota, stepping on the field when the ball was live. What?
g. The Chiefs playing down to the competition. Tennessee and Oakland, collectively, are 2-0 versus Kansas City and 1-19 against everyone else. That loss in Oakland could cost Kansas City the AFC West title. Those two losses could cost the Chiefs a playoff spot.
h. Blake Bortles’ first-quarter throw—late and behind tight end Marcedes Lewis—that Vontae Davis intercepted.
i. Andrew Luck’s ball-protection. On a rollout of desperation, he got stripped against the Jags, and it led to a Jacksonville field goal. More careless than anything else.
j. The Colts’ offensive line. A disaster against the Jags.
k. Big Joe Fauria getting a touchdown pass knocked away in the end zone at Foxboro. Tough catch, but a catch the strong Fauria needs to make.
l. The Movember Mustachioed Jay Cutler, who makes as many mistakes as the clean-shaven Jay Cutler.
m. Kansas City’s downfield passing game. Eleven games without a touchdown pass to a wide receiver—ridiculous.
n. The 83.5 inches of snow that fell at Steve Tasker’s house a few long spirals from Orchard Park.
o. Teddy, Teddy, Teddy. Bridgewater’s bad pass in his own territory down the left sideline, easily picked by Micah Hyde of the Packers.
p. Brutal tackling by the Falcons in the last minutes of the first half.
q. How do you throw the ball in the end zone in the middle of five Bears, Josh McCown?
r. How do you not intercept the gift from Josh McCown, Bears?
s. How do you not protect the ball better on the scramble, Josh McCown? Not a good day for McCown.
Mistrust and Anger
NFLPA leaders DeMaurice Smith and Eric Winston are not happy—and in the Friday Interview with Jenny Vrentas they lay into Roger Goodell for what they see as his arbitrary and unilateral enforcement of a new discipline policy that violates the spirit of collective bargaining.
3. I think what Adrian Peterson said last week to Tom Pelissero of
—is something he should have said to Roger Goodell 10 days ago. I cannot figure out why, regardless of the exact details of the process, with your season on the line, you wouldn’t take every chance you could to convince the man making the decision on your future that you’ve changed. You can bitch about the process all you want. But there are five games left. They’re not going to replay them, just so you can get your justice, if you win your appeal in February or whenever.
4. I think the vegans of the world are in mourning this morning. The Colts cut receiver/returner Griff Whalen, a vegan, on Saturday.
5. I think anyone who watched Thursday night would not say the cupboard is bare in Oakland. Players 26 or younger who can be the base of a good team: linebackers Sio Moore (24) and Khalil Mack (23), running back Latavius Murray (24), quarterback Derek Carr (23) and offensive lineman Stefan Wisniewski (25). And there’s hope for a pair of 24-year-old corners—D.J. Hayden, the first-round risk last year, and T.J. Carrie, a seventh-round rookie from Ohio University.
6. I think that means the Raiders should consider keeping Reggie McKenzie and letting him make the decision on the next coach. Not saying it’s a sure thing—let’s see how the next five games go. But he drafted all seven of those players. Mark Davis needs to make a judgment based on three full seasons.
7. I think Rodney McLeod shouldn’t have been fined for the hit that concussed Emmanuel Sanders eight days ago. I’m glad he wasn’t. It was a violent hit on a football play.
8. I think the first time I’ve read about former Saint Steve Gleason’s unwillingness to have his son, Rivers, play football came the other day, in a smart discussion on all things football and life with Emily Kaplan of The MMQB. Gleason, who suffers from ALS, said: “Unless there is further evolution regarding the safety of football, I believe I can make a strong case to Rivers to take his services and do something amazing elsewhere. A recent study endorsed by the NFL said that one out of three retired players will develop long-term cognitive problems. That number needs to come down, significantly, before Rivers puts on a helmet." I know Gleason pretty well, and I hadn’t heard him say that before.
9. I think, in the interest of The MMQB’s newfound CFL interest, I should tell you the league with the rouge is getting down to business in the playoffs. On Sunday, Hamilton (with Luke “Son of Steve" Tasker catching five balls for 80 yards) beat Montreal (with Duron “Son of Cris" Carter catching three for 25) 40-24 in the Eastern Conference final. Out west, in the battle of Alberta, Calgary beat Edmonton 43-18, behind quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, from Katy, Texas, and Eastern Washington. That set up the 102nd Grey Cup match, between the upstart Tiger-Cats (who won the regular-season title in the East with a 9-9 record) and the Stampeders, who scored a league-high 511 points this year. The Grey Cup will be next Sunday at 6 p.m. ET in Vancouver.
Have a question or comment for Peter King? Email him at email@example.com and it might be included in Tuesday’s mailbag.
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
b. That there is one of the stranger covers I have ever seen.
c. Press release I did not open this week: “2015 Pro Bowl tickets on sale now.”
d. So, about year three of The Newsroom … I really like the show. I do not love the show. Listen to the dialog. It happens at breakneck speed. I don’t know in real life how you process what is being said to you and spit something out so incredibly fast, the way the actors do on this show. It’s also tough to watch the newsroom give an ovation when a competitor (John King, CNN, in this case) has to admit an error on TV. Who told the producers of The Newsroom that everyone erupts in cheers and clapping when a TV foe makes an awful mistake?
e. I criticize because I like. I want it to be better, and more realistic.
f. Enjoy Green Bay on Thanksgiving, Olivia Munn.
g. Thanks, CNN, for an insightful back-in-time piece Saturday night on the weekend JFK was assassinated.
h. Attorney Brian Howe of the Ohio Innocence Project, take a bow. It was Howe’s dogged research and belief in the innocence of Ricky Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman, two men in jail for 39 years for a murder they did not commit, that got Jackson and Bridgeman sprung on Friday. How heroic: http://www.wcpo.com/news/local-news/prosecutors-dismiss-1975-murder-charges-against-3
i. Well, Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine made Melvin Gordon feel pretty unimportant Saturday. Four-hundred-yard rushing games in major-college history prior to Nov. 15: one. Four-hundred-yard rushing games in major-college history since Nov. 15: two.
j. Samaje Perine did not start the game for Oklahoma, by the way. But he did have eight rushes of 20 yards or longer en route to a 427-yard rushing performance against Kansas.
k. They had 101,717 in Ann Arbor to watch Maryland beat Michigan. That’s an awful lot of seething Wolverines.
l. Speaking of gaudy attendance figures: 48,256 packed Yankee Stadium on Saturday to see the 150th game between two Pennsylvania schools, Lehigh and Lafayette. Amazing thing was, each team was under .500 entering the game. It was a day for Joe Maddon’s team. Lafayette 27, Lehigh 7. And Maddon, the Cubs’ manager, was in the house.
m. Great story from that game. The two Lafayette quarterbacks with experience both were injured and unavailable. So the third-string senior, in the last game of his life, had to play. Zach Zweizig (he who is last in homeroom roll call shall be first, for one day at least) completed 13 of 23 for 166 yards and a 23-yard touchdown pass on his last collegiate throw. Throwing a touchdown pass on the last pass of your college career, at Yankee Stadium … that’s what I’d call a memory.
n. How does Jameis Winston not get flagged for forcibly moving the ref out of the way in Boston College-Florida State? You can’t armbar-and-shoulder a man in stripes out of the way on the football field.
o. Craziest stat in college football: Florida State has won 27 in a row. Watching them in snippets this year, including a lot Saturday, that’s nuts. FSU looks like a nice team, not a steamroller.
p. Beernerdness: I’ve had so many good beers from Maine Beer Company of Freeport, Maine. That must be a terrific brewery. Maine is a great beer state.
q. Wait, what? Hanley Ramirez for five years, $90 million? The same Hanley Ramirez who has missed 46 games a year, on average, over the past four seasons? Hurt guys don’t get health vaccines at the Massachusetts state line, Sox. I am not on board.
r. Wrote John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle on Saturday: “I hear Pablo Sandoval has received his highest contract offer from the Padres but is leaning toward accepting an offer from the Red Sox, though events could change in a hurry.”
s. Rediscovered “The Rising,’’ Springsteen’s 12-year-old emotional missive to 9/11 survivors, while writing over the weekend. He’s had so many incredible songs that it’s easy to lose track of some. “The Rising’’ is great enough, one of the best songs he has ever done. But “You’re Missing” is enough to give me chills and stop me in my tracks.
t. RIP Marion Barry, who had his demons but did a lot of good for the people of Washington during his four terms as mayor.
u. Champ, you were a champ, a good dog through and through. Your family loved you.
Who I Like Tonight
Buffalo 20, New York Jets 16 (at Detroit). The Bills practiced at the Lions’ facility Friday night and then late Saturday afternoon, compressing three days of game-planning and installation into two days, and held the weekly walk-through practice at the same facility Sunday afternoon. Coach Doug Marrone has emphasized making no excuses, but he did say in Detroit: “We’re not playing at home. We’re not practicing at home. We’re not going home at night to our families. I’m being honest. I’m not trying to make a joke.” No joke taken. One other thing: I believe the Bills much preferred to play this game outside, where footing wouldn’t have been as sure and weather could have played a factor. Big reasons: The quickness and cutting ability of Michael Vick and Percy Harvin of the Jets. If, somehow, the Jets gets big plays out of those two and win this game, the Bills may not say anything post-game, but they’ll be thinking what a big factor it was to make this a weatherless game.
New Orleans 23, Baltimore 20. Not saying I think the Saints are better than the Ravens. In fact, I don’t think that. But I can’t see the Saints losing three in a row at home, especially with what’s at stake—three of the last five on the road after this, and Drew Brees, even without the injured Brandin Cooks, having a fairly healthy crew led by Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills to make plays down the field against a suspect Baltimore back end. Best thing about this particular Monday night: nearly five hours of competitive football (7 p.m. Eastern until 11:45) instead of three.
The Adieu Haiku
Bend it like Beckham.
Now, you might not mean "David"
when you say that phrase.
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