- Week 1 was in full swing Sunday, but even with real football back, attention drifted to the storms in Florida and the immediate aftermath
- Sections include: the Week 1 highlights including big wins by Jags and Rams; Tony Romo’s broadcast debut; the Dolphins’ unholy travel slate
- Plus the Week 1 NFL awards, quotes of the week, a stunning stat from Jags-Texans, 10 Things I Think, Monday night predictions and more
“Just waiting,” the text from Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter read Sunday at 10:38 p.m. ET.
As was all of Tampa. Koetter was in his office at One Buccaneer Place, a few long spirals from Raymond James Stadium, the 40 mile per hour winds gusting up to 62 and spraying sharp rain pellets at his windows. He was waiting for the brunt of the storm, due by about 1 to 2 a.m. local time, and I asked him what he was watching—the Giants-Cowboys game or the Weather Channel?
“Both!!” he texted.
This was a strange capper to a strange football weekend for the three Florida teams. A contingent of about 150 Miami Dolphins players, coaches, staff and family members jetted 2,775 miles west late Friday night; the team is tucked away in Oxnard, Calif., where it will practice on the Dallas Cowboys’ training-camp practice fields this week before facing the Los Angeles Chargers. Around 130 Bucs players and staffers flew on four smaller jets to Charlotte to ride out the storm at a hotel. Koetter, some coaches and staffers stayed behind. “I’m looking out the window right now,” Koetter said when I spoke to him at midday, “and my defensive line coach, Jay Hayes, is out on the practice field, walking his German shepherd. One thing I’ve learned in this: People will not leave their pets.”
Meanwhile, the lone Florida NFL team that played this weekend, Jacksonville, stunned the Texans 29-7 in Houston on Sunday. The Jags are holed up for at least Monday in a Houston hotel, hoping to fly home in the evening, unsure of the damage northeast Florida will undergo. “We’re excited,” coach Doug Marrone told me Sunday night, not sounding at all excited. “But all of our minds and our hearts are with the people back in Florida, and the first responders, and the people doing the real work. That’s the truly important thing. Football’s a game.”
Koetter, if he can sleep at all in the Bucs’ football facility overnight, will wake up this morning and survey the damage to the team’s fairway-like grass practice fields outside his window, and he’ll get reports on the airport and local infrastructure. Tampa, it appeared overnight, might dodge the worst of the storm, though the Tampa-St. Petersburg/Clearwater coast faced storm surge that could flood the region. The Bucs would wait to see if it’s feasible to practice in Tampa for their home game next Sunday, or whether they’d take off for New Orleans or White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., to practice.
I asked Koetter at midday how he balanced football with one of the worst storms in Florida history. “Anything I’m going to say about football has zero importance compared to the danger of this hurricane to the coast and to potential loss of life, obviously,” he said. “But I would imagine we’ll try to have a game next week. I love football. Football has been everything to me from the time I was a kid. But come on, football is a game. I’ve got my TVs on here watching this storm. Look at Houston. Football’s so insignificant.
“What’s been eerie is watching the rest of world just go on. I’ve never been through a hurricane; I’m from the northwest. But you know it’s coming, and you turn on the TV, and there’s the stock market going on as usual, and the rest of the country is all watching college football, and we’re just sitting here waiting. The eeriness, the waiting, the anxiety—that’s the real challenge.”
The Bucs and Dolphins both dismissed their players last Wednesday for the abrupt bye week, and many left Florida. About half the Dolphins are in Oxnard, with the rest of the team due by late Monday night for a Tuesday morning team meeting. The Bucs’ schedule is TBD. “We got a couple guys as far west as L.A.,” Koetter said. “Jameis [Winston] is in Alabama with his family. I’ve been in text contact with 95 percent of the roster, telling ’em, Rest up and be ready. It’s gonna be a crazy week.”
Miami receiver Kenny Stills, from the hotel in Oxnard, said he was watching Packers-Seahawks and Rams-Colts on Sunday afternoon. “When we play,” Stills said, “I really want to try to bring the city some hope, the way the Saints did for New Orleans after Katrina. In a storm like this, you realize how small we all are in this world. We’ve been waiting to play football, because that’s our job and we’ve been prepared for it. But whatever happens, we’ll be fine.”
Good perspective from everyone on the three teams. That’s going to be needed for the little football inconveniences in the next few days, as Florida gets back to some form of normal. Football was a pretty small thing Sunday, and three teams knew it.
I don’t have the kind of memory that categorizes specific weeks of football. So I can’t say this week of NFL ball through 13 games is one of the worst ever. But I can say it stunk.
Week 1 margins of victory, through 14 games in 2016 and 13 in 2017 because of the Tampa Bay-Miami postponement:
2016: 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 4, 4, 6, 6, 7, 9, 9, 19.
2017: 3, 6, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 20, 20, 22, 37.
There’s no rhyme of reason to it. No trend here. Just a bad week to feed the ratings swoon. Let’s get to what happened in a week of crumminess:
• Up is down: Jags dominate in Houston. Jacksonville ran it better, passed it (slightly) better and rushed the passer lots better, remarkably, than the best defense in 2016—a defense that got back J.J. Watt. Entering the season, I didn’t expect this. The Jags have been like the early-century Washington teams, winning free-agency every year and then stinking. Glad to hear Doug Marrone wasn’t buying claims of preseason greatness either. “I’m tired of hearing how talented we are,” he told me from Houston. “When they say that, you’re usually not winning. I told our team, ‘I’m tired of hearing about our talent. Until you guys win, that doesn’t mean crap.’” They won’t do this every week, to be sure, but Marrone got what he wanted out of the running game with a 65/35 percent run-pass ratio, after physical practices in camp that were designed to get the team used to the pounding of the ground game. First-round back Leonard Fournette had a 26-carry, 100-yard rushing day Sunday. “We’ve worked on that quite a bit,” Marrone said. “We gotta get tougher. This was a good start.”
• David Johnson could miss significant time. The top pick in most fantasy drafts (I guess) after his 2,118-all-purpose-yard, 20-touchdown year in 2016, Johnson damaged his wrist at Detroit, and though X-rays were negative, Chris Mortensen reported that the Cardinals back could miss significant time. There’ll be an MRI on Monday in Phoenix. For you fantasians, pick up rookie Tarik Cohen of the Bears (who might be a revelation) or Johnson’s understudy, Kerwynn Williams. The bad thing, really, for the Cardinals is that the turnover bug that sometimes plagues 37-year-old quarterback Carson Palmer bit him again in a three-turnover loss at Detroit. Now without Johnson, the pressure increases on Palmer. Coach Bruce Arians prefers the pressure to be on Johnson. Arians is going to have to get imaginative with his game plans now, if Johnson misses a few games.
• The Ravens looked like the old marauding Ravens. Cincinnati had won six of the previous seven against the Ravens, and Baltimore (the city and the team) truly hated that kind of failure against a division foe. The Ravens took a rare rich foray into free agency this offseason, signing safety Tony Jefferson, who plays like he has anvils in his shoulder pads, and adding some young speed to the defense in the draft and signing nosetackle Brandon Williams long-term. And back came Terrell Suggs for his 15th year, looking rejuvenated in training camp because he wasn’t rehabbing an injury; he could work out to get stronger and more limber. On Sunday, Baltimore won a 20-0 shutout, holding the Bengals to 221 yards and forcing five turnovers, and afterward Suggs had a veteran’s perspective on the victory. “We were okay,” Suggs told me from Cincinnati. “We could have been a lot better today. We’re gonna enjoy it, but we have a lot of improvement to make. We’re just like every team who won one game. It’s one game.” But I could tell Suggs was excited about the potential of the defense, and about Jefferson, who led the Ravens with nine tackles and had a sack. “In the middle of the game today,” Suggs said, “I said to him, ‘You had a great career at Arizona, but you were meant to be a Raven.’”
• Ezekiel Elliott’s back. For now. Elliott’s grinding 104-yard rushing night was the key to Dallas’ 19-3 win over the Giants—but the Cowboys probably could have won without him. That’s how ineffective the Giants were on offense. Dallas is at Denver and Arizona the next two weeks, then home for the Rams and Packers. Elliott would be vital in all four games. But if the league wins the next battle in court (as early as this week) in knocking down Friday’s U.S. District Court temporary restraining order, Elliott could have to serve his six-game ban at some point this season. He said after Sunday’s game he was relieved “for the fact that I finally get a fair trial. I finally get a chance to prove my innocence.” But would he? There’s no guarantee that he would get a full trial. We’ll see in the coming weeks how the Elliott case gets resolved, but the vagaries of going to court in athletic cases—the league was stunned at the outcome of Friday’s injunction for Elliott—make predicting the outcome exceedingly hard. For now, Elliott plays, and when he plays, Dallas is the best team in the NFC East.
• Worried, Giants? Points per game, last seven games: Giants 13.6, Browns 14.0. Without Odell Beckham Jr., in the lineup (as happened Sunday night with Beckham’s bum ankle), nothing works for this offense. With him in the lineup, it’s still one of the worst offensive lines in football. It’s only one game, but the stench from it will last until next Monday, when the Lions come to the Meadowlands for the New York home opener.
• What was that about waiting a minute until Mike Martz pukes? Remember in August, when the Thomas George book on quarterback success and failure in the NFL came out and former Rams coach Mike Martz questioned the credentials of 31-year-old Sean McVay as a quarterback expert, and Martz said, “Wait a minute while I puke?” (Martz later said his comments for the book, “Blitzed: Why NFL Teams Gamble on Starting Rookie Quarterbacks,” were embellished.) In his first game as an NFL head coach, McVay led the Rams to a stunning 46-9 win over the moribund Colts at a shocked L.A. Coliseum. “A little surreal,” is how McVay put it. This game—with two interceptions of he-doesn’t-belong-there Scott Tolzien returned for touchdowns—is the classic example of coaches who say, It’s one game. But the good thing is that Jared Goff looked competent in his first NFL win, and finding out if Goff can be consistently competent is the most important thing about this season for the Rams. McVay is sort of an excitable darter-around-the-practice-field type, and it was just 11 years ago that he was a senior wideout at Miami of Ohio. So there’s going to be doubt. But just watch the quarterback. Goff’s best throw was a post route, perfectly delivered to rookie Cooper Kupp for an 18-yard touchdown. At the end of the day, Goff had thrown for 309 yards, 72 percent accuracy, and a rating of 117.9. That’s a heck of a start. Mentor Jay Gruden and McVay’s former protégé Kirk Cousins come to the Coliseum on Sunday, and that should be a better test for the Rams and for Goff. But let the Rams revel in their first great moment since the move to Los Angeles 19 months ago.
No one should feel for any football teams from Florida. At all. People should feel for the state of Florida, and for the displaced people, and the ruined property.
But this is a football column, and I think you should know what’s going to happen to the Miami Dolphins in the next three weeks. It’s already happening. Competitively, it’s one of the toughest stretches logistically I’ve ever seen for a team that had a slight prayer of challenging New England in the AFC East this season a week ago. Still might have that prayer, judging by the way the Patriots played Thursday night. But a few words about what the Dolphins are about to experience.
In short: The Dolphins will spend 13 nights between Sept. 8 and Oct. 1 on the road, flying to stadiums and cities and hotels nine time zones apart. The Patriots will spend one night in the same period on the road in a hotel. (I don’t count teams staying at a hotel the night before home games; it’s too convenient.) The Dolphins will fly for a total of approximately 34 hours and 55 minutes between now and Oct. 1, round trips to Los Angeles and New Jersey and London. The Patriots will fly six hours round trip to New Orleans.
• Friday, Sept. 8: Two days after the NFL moves the Bucs-Dolphins game to Week 11 because of Hurricane Irma, about half the Dolphins’ players plus more than 100 staff members and families boarded a charter at 10:30 p.m. in Miami and flew more than five hours to Los Angeles. The travel party bused 75 minutes north to Oxnard, to two hotels in the area where the team will practice beginning Wednesday.
• Saturday through Monday, Sept. 9-11: Players off. Those players who left south Florida for the hastily arranged “bye week” last Wednesday are due at the Oxnard hotel by Monday night for a Tuesday team meeting.
• Wednesday through Saturday, Sept. 13-16: Practice in Oxnard. Bus to hotel near the Chargers’ home stadium Saturday.
• Sunday, Sept. 17: Play the Chargers at StubHub Center. Fly five hours home to Miami.
• Monday through Friday, Sept. 18-22: Regular practice week preceding game against the Jets at the Meadowlands.
• Saturday, Sept. 23: Fly three hours to Newark.
• Sunday, Sept. 24: Play the Jets at MetLife Stadium. Fly three hours home.
• Monday through Thursday, Sept. 25-28: Prep to play New Orleans. Fly 8 hours, 35 minutes to London after Thursday’s practice.
• Friday and Saturday, Sept. 29-30: Festivities, acclimation, some practice in London.
• Sunday, Oct. 1: Play the Saints at Wembley Stadium in London, 4,405 miles from their home in south Florida and 5,437 miles from where this 24-day odyssey began in Los Angeles. Fly 9 hours, 40 minutes home to Fort Lauderdale. Begin to play first home game of 2017 at Hard Rock Stadium … on Oct. 8.
I watched 60 percent of the Raiders’ 26-16 win over Tennessee—Tony Romo’s first game as the CBS number one color man, replacing Phil Simms. I thought Romo was good, and very good in spots. He was right in the X’s and O’s, properly enthusiastic (particularly about Marshawn Lynch’s physicality) and spoke in the kinds of informative staccato bursts that are essential for network color guys. Occasionally, his voice broke, but other than that, Romo sounded like he’d done this before. Examples:
• First Oakland drive, highlighting a rookie in his first NFL game on a big-time Oakland receiver: Romo interrupted Jim Nantz and blurted: “Look at this matchup. That’s the rookie, Adoree’ Jackson, on Amari Cooper.” Three seconds, presaging what was to come three plays later: an 8-yard TD pass from Derek Carr to Cooper, beating Jackson when Jackson gave up on the tackle. The Titans rookie will hear about that from his coaches. “You gotta make that tackle!” Romo yelled. And he was right—Jackson should have finished off the tackle.
• Late first quarter, fourth-and-one for Oakland at the Tennessee 3-yard line, Marshawn Lynch run: As Lynch ran right, linebacker Wesley Woodyard hogtied him and flipped him over—but Lynch, in a veteran move, looked like he stretched the ball for a first down. “Are you kidding me?” Romo said, voice rising. “That should have been stopped! That’s all Marshawn Lynch! I think he got the first down. It’s gonna be close. You have a guy in the backfield with a CLEAN shot on him and he makes him miss. That’s why you go bring back Marshawn Lynch, right there. He’s still Marshawn Lynch.” It was a 75-percent good call … but Romo should have mentioned the guy who missed him in the backfield, Jonathan Cyprien, and the guy who tackled him but allowed him to get the first down, Woodyard.
• He saw things before they happened: Late in the first half, Romo said the Raiders would carefully push the ball downfield to see if they could get into field-goal range without turning it over. They did. He called a Tennessee blitz with 29 seconds left in the half, and here came free safety Kevin Byard on an Oakland screen. And he praised the Raiders’ offensive coordinator, Todd Downing, in his first game as a play-caller, when he called eight straight runs down the stretch, forcing Tennessee to stop Oakland; the Titans couldn’t. “How about this offensive coordinator!” Romo hollered. “”Run, run, run with the game on the line.”
• Romo liked Lynch: Really, who wouldn’t have? Lynch gave Oakland the toughness in the inside running game that Jack Del Rio has longed for. While the Raiders were trying to bleed the clock late, Lynch trucked one of the best defensive tackles in football, 305-pound Jurrell Casey, quite literally knocking Casey over and gaining four more yards. A good color guy has to know when to milk the emotional moment, and this is what Romo said: “BOOM! I’M BACK BABY! I’M BEAST MODE!”
A good debut for Romo, better than I thought I’d hear, with a few things to work on. You can tell his enthusiasm for the game, and his ability to translate football-speak to English, a la Cris Collinsworth. Good start.
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Marshawn Lynch, running back, Oakland. Forget the numbers—pedestrian ones: 18 carries for 76 yards, a catch for 16 more yards. Think of Lynch’s contribution to a 10-point win at Tennessee this way: On his 10 fourth-quarter runs, the Raiders burned 6:01 off the clock. Lynch, personally, was responsible for taking 40 percent of the clock away with positive fourth-quarter carries (10 carries, 38 yards) as the Raiders ran out the clock and even added to their lead in Nashville. This is precisely why Oakland traded for Lynch.
Kareem Hunt, running back, Kansas City. No one saw 246 rushing-receiving yards coming. Hunt, the third-round rookie from Toledo, is about to become the latest Mid-American Conference sensation (Khalil Mack, Antonio Brown) to rock the league. His outside speed was the stunner in the win at New England. “I am shocked,” Hunt told me on my game story podcast after the game. “But I’m not that shocked. I prepared all my life for this moment. I worked 15 years for this.”
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
T.J. Watt, linebacker, Pittsburgh. When Watt was taking the field in Cleveland, a fan yelled to him that he better hope he turns out half as good as his brother. Well, he’s off to a nice start. The Steelers’ first-round rookie did something his brother has never done in his career in Pittsburgh’s 21-18 win: He had two sacks and an interception. All came in the third quarter.
Calais Campbell, defensive end, Jacksonville. In his first game as a Jaguar, the ex-Card did something he’d never done in his previous 147 NFL games: He had four sacks. Those were four of the 10 Jacksonville had in the stunning 29-7 victory at Houston.
Terrell Suggs, pass-rusher, Baltimore. The ageless one—he turns 35 a month from today—came up huge in a déjà vu opener for Baltimore, a defensively dominant 20-0 skunking of the Bengals. With the Bengals trailing 17-0 but driving to the Baltimore 6 on the first series of the third quarter, Suggs marauded through the Cincinnati line, sacked Andy Dalton and forced a fumble, which was recovered by Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce. Baltimore then drove the other way for nine-plus minutes to a field goal, and that was the game. Suggs finished with two sacks, a pass deflected and the forced fumble. He’s been around a while. I think he played with Unitas.
Mike Daniels, defensive tackle, Green Bay. What a football player. What an underrated football player. Made the play of the game to help the Pack beat the Seahawks. Seattle up 3-0, 11 minutes left in the third quarter, Seattle ball at its 13, Daniels sacks Russell Wilson at the 3 and forces a fumble, Pack recovers. Next play: Ty Montgomery runs for a touchdown, and the Packers don’t trail again. Daniels for the game: 1.5 sacks, four quarterback pressures.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Tyler Matakevich, linebacker, Pittsburgh. The special-teams demon from that football hotbed of southwestern Connecticut burst through the Cleveland line after the Browns’ first possession of the season and smothered the Britton Colquitt punt. It was recovered for a touchdown, and the Steelers had the start they needed on a sputtering offensive day.
Giorgio Tavecchio, kicker, Oakland. Might be the only player born in Milan to be named an MMQB player of the week. In fact, I’m rather sure of it. Might be the only played waived seven times to be named an MMQB player of the week too. But when lifetime Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski was put on IR the other day, the Raiders signed Tavecchio for the fourth time. Only this time he kicked when it mattered. And Sunday in Tennessee, he mattered. He kicked four field goals in the final 45 minutes—from 20, 52, 52 and 43 yards.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Todd Downing, offensive coordinator, Oakland. In his first game calling plays for the Raiders, the rookie coordinator matched wits with 80-year-old Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau, the Tennessee defensive coordinator. Downing’s unit put up 26 points and 359 total yards, and dictated the flow late, running the ball on eight consecutive snaps down the stretch to run out the clock in a 26-16 victory.
Doug Marrone, coach, Jacksonville. With the specter of players’ homes and family lives being disrupted due to Hurricane Irma, Marrone had his team ready to play on the road against a heavily favored foe, and the Jaguars embarrassed the Texans. Most impressively, one of the campaign promises by Marrone when he got the Jags job was he’d make the team physically tougher, and he’d turn it into much more of a classic running team. In game one, the Jags ran it 39 times for 155 yards. Marrone is putting his stamp on the Jaguars, and when your quarterback is the shaky Blake Bortles, the more running the better.
GOAT OF THE WEEK
Jordan Howard, running back, Chicago. Bad day all around for this Bear, who may be getting his job taken before our very eyes by a tiny rookie tank from North Carolina A&T, Tarik Cohen. With 16 seconds left in the game and Chicago trailing Atlanta by six, the Bears had the ball, second-and-goal at the Atlanta 5. Howard leaked out of the backfield, and right at the goal line, at the left pylon, Mike Glennon threw Howard a catchable ball that Howard dropped. May have been the touchdown to win the game. May have been third-and-goal from the six-inch line. But the game was there for the Bears to win, and Howard dropped that chance.
Quotes of the Week
“We got our asses kicked, and credit the 49ers and coach McVay.”
—Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano, after the 46-9 loss to the Rams in Los Angeles on Sunday.
Bad day all around for the Colts.
He did have the right state, however.
“It’s my first opening win since I’ve been in the league. Once they found out, hey, they gave me the game ball.”
—Newly minted Steelers cornerback Joe Haden, whose Browns were 0-7 in openers when he played for Cleveland, after the Steelers’ 21-18 win over the Browns on Sunday.
“I just wonder: Maybe the platform is more important to him than his play on the field. You know what, Colin? Prove me wrong.”
—CBS pregame show analyst Bill Cowher, on Colin Kaepernick.
“Sometimes I think the Patriots have better Buffalo players than Buffalo has.”
—NBC’s Al Michaels, in the first half of the Patriots’ season-opener against the Chiefs.
Ex-Bill Chris Hogan was a Super Bowl hero for New England last year. Ex-Bill Mike Gillislee rushed for three New England touchdowns Thursday night.
Stats of the Week
No, this could be the stat of the year. Or the stat you won't believe unless you saw Jacksonville 29, Houston 7:
|Sacks By Quarter||1||2||3||4||Total||Pass Plays|
The Jaguars got nine sacks in the last 44 minutes of the game. Calais Campbell had four of the team’s 10 sacks in his first game as a Jaguar.
J.J. Watt, in his first game back after 2016 back surgery, had one tackle and one quarterback pressure.
NFC East titles since 2003:
New York: 3
The division hasn’t had a repeat winner since Philadelphia won consecutively in 2003 and 2004. Since 2004, in order, the winner of the NFC East: Philadelphia, New York, Philadelphia, Dallas, New York, Dallas, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Dallas, Washington, Dallas.
This fall, we begin a new section of the column called Most Valuable Possession, as part of The MMQB’s partnership with State Farm. Each week, I’ll ask an NFL figure what his most valuable possession is, and why. (State Farm’s campaign mantra this year revolves around their customers’ most valuable possession.) As with many items in the 21-year history of this column, I have no idea where it will take us during the season, but we just might have some fun with it.
Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz took a good 20 seconds thinking about it before he said sheepishly: “My phone. I almost hate to say it, but especially after a long day here [at the Eagles’ practice facility], with my schedule getting pretty jammed these days, my phone puts me in touch with everything I need to know. So I’d say my phone.”
Factoids That May Interest Only Me
Tom Coughlin, 71, the executive vice president of football operations for the Jaguars, has a resting heart rate of 42 beats per minutes. That’s what he told me in training camp.
To put that into some perspective, a top marathon runner’s resting heart rate would be in the area of 45 to 55 beats per minute. The resting heart rate of an average American male, ideally, should be between 60 and 100. I’m no fitness freak, but I work out, and I just checked my FitBit for my heart rate sitting here writing this column. It’s 63.
Coughlin, most days, runs on a special treadmill (“Alter-G,” an anti-gravity treadmill, designed to decrease pressure on joints or to be used by rehab patients), and also is on a lifting regimen. “Other than the stress of the job,” Coughlin said, “I consider this an ideal job for my health. You almost literally have your own health club. We’ve got doctors here 24/7. We’ve got athletic trainers. We’ve got a fantastic weight room. We’ve got the best cardio equipment in the world.”
Coughlin told me he has the job he wants, and he’s not interested in coaching, and I hear him. But we live in a world when there’s a pair of 65-year-old head coaches of Super Bowl contenders, Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick, who look like they could coach five or eight more years, easy. And there’s an 80-year-old defensive coordinator in Dick LeBeau. All three of them seem healthy as mules. As does Coughlin. So when a 71-year-old football person has the resting heart rate of a marathon runner, you think nothing’s out of reach.
There were 12 large jars of HyVee dill pickles in the visiting locker room refrigerator in Foxboro the other night, on the bottom shelf, below four shelves of bottled water and Gatorade. What gives? The Chiefs believe the electrolyte and potassium in the briny pickle juice compare to—and some think are better than—even the high-quality sports drinks. I noticed three of the jars were empty of liquid, with only the pickles in there.
The Jets woke up Friday morning above the hated Patriots in the AFC East standings. That was the first morning they’d been ahead of New England in 1,090 days … five days short of three years.
Tweets of the Week
Forgot to add this earlier: Andy Dalton was walking out earlier and greeting some fans, who told him to "Shake it off, like Taylor Swift."— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) September 11, 2017
Wentz !!!!!— Mike Trout (@MikeTrout) September 10, 2017
Deafening roar for JJ Watt when he was just introduced. pic.twitter.com/dumTapVxlY— Jeff Darlington (@JeffDarlington) September 10, 2017
"I would rather drive across the country with Skip Bayless," than have to cut players on cut day, Jason Licht says.— Greg Auman (@gregauman) September 6, 2017
Ben Roethlisberger is NOW the winningest Quarterback in Cleveland Browns stadium history (since 1999)...More wins than any Browns QB— Bob Pompeani (@KDPomp) September 10, 2017
From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
This week, a bevy of guests, including Von Miller of Denver, quarterbacks Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota, and ESPN’s Mike Reiss.
• Carr on whether money has changed him after signing a $125 million contract: “You see what I’m wearing? Free Fresno State Bulldog shorts, some Uggs slippers … I got a free shirt from Carr Elite, which is our [football] camp … our gym that my brother and I own, and I got my Target undershirt on. It has not changed me one bit.”
• Miller on living in Europe and touring with Drake for part of the offseason: “Drake had a European tour overseas and we just followed the tour, we stayed in the same hotels. Whenever they traveled, we traveled. London first, then Paris, Manchester, that was a three-day span. Was in London for two days, and then we went to Amsterdam for two days and came back to London. Then we went to Paris for Fashion Week. Fashion Week was great. I'm big on fashion, so to go over there and witness it in Paris, it was an amazing thing. And that was my first time ever going to Paris. I was kind of disappointed in the food—you would think they have amazing cuisine, but I didn't get that. I had a hard time finding food to eat. I was there for about a week and then we came back to London, he had like six shows in London. It was a true blessing … to go witness someone’s culture. There was some stuff that I learned to appreciate about humanity. They look at things a lot different. Things matter over here to us that don't matter over there, from a fashion sense to a social sense. It's really hard to explain but when you get into a room full of Europeans, it just has a different vibe then what you have over here.”
• Miller on Drake: “I probably saw the same concert about 25 times. Whenever you go see the best, if you go see Steph Curry and Kevin Durant go and play basketball, it doesn't matter if you see them play 30 times, the same time, they are the best at what they do. It's the same concert, but the crowd was totally different and the energy was totally different in every city. Whenever you can go see the greatest do what they do, you can learn something from them. He was consistent every single night. I would say he is definitely a perfectionist, and I think he gives the people a show every single night. Some artists, they have energy one night and then it's down the next night. He was the exact same guy. He had a physical therapist, he worked out. He had a massage guy backstage. He would get in the ice tub. He is up there for two hours running around jumping and getting the crowd into it. To go and see him do it consistently, 25 times, was incredible. That's the same thing I want to bring to my craft. I want to be the same Von each and every game.”
1. I think these are my quick-hitting thoughts of Week 1:
a. Great to see you back in the studio, Chris Mortensen.
b. I do think Bill Belichick will fix the Patriots, but a couple of fretters for the Pats this morning: Before Thursday, the home teams in the last 14 Thursday night NFL openers were 13-1, and New England lost by 15 … and Alex Smith outperformed Tom Brady by 101 passing yards and 78.6 rating points.
c. Great idea by Fox, getting Michael Bennett to share his social thoughts on Sunday. From the sound of it, seems like it will be an every Sunday segment on its pregame show.
d. It didn’t work, but how do you not like Mike Mularkey starting the season with an onside kick?
e. The same people who say it was a crappy idea—I guarantee you—would be praising him as Riverboat Mike the Great if it worked.
f. Graphic of the Day, when the CBS cameras showed Marshawn Lynch early in Nashville: “First NFL game in 602 days.”
g. Washington’s Ryan Kerrigan (pick returned for a TD versus Philly) always makes good things happen.
h. Three picks in the first half is not the way to make friends and influence Cincinnatians, Andy Dalton.
i. Downfield block of the week: Titans tight end Delanie Walker chopping down Oakland safety Reggie Nelson, paving the way for a Marcus Mariota touchdown run.
j. As an NFL coach, I can’t imagine there to be a more ignominious thing than trailing the Rams 37-3 after 38 minutes of play.
k. The coaching clock is ticking on a truly good man, Chuck Pagano, after four quarters of a 64-quarter season.
l. The accuracy issues still exist for Cam Newton, but he did have good chemistry in the short game at San Francisco—and that’s the most important thing for these Panthers.
m. Take a bow this morning, Jags offensive line coach Pat Flaherty, for your guys surrendering zero sacks to the vaunted Texans front.
n. My Super Bowl pick, Seattle over New England, looks like a gem after Week 1.
o. A friend of mine texted me Sunday evening and asked, how could the Seattle offensive line be worse than last year, and I texted back: “I don’t know, but it is.”
p. Not saying Goff-to-Kupp will be one of the great combo platters of this NFL era, but if Jared Goff is going to be any good, he’s going to need a precision route-runner with great hands. That’s what Cooper Kupp is.
q. Lots of teams with offensive line issues right now, but the Giants, Seahawks and Colts are 1-2-3 on my list.
r. Which brings back those great memories of the dog days of summer, when Colts owner Jim Irsay pronounced, “The offensive line is fixed.”
2. I think the Giants’ porous line helped, but I’ll be damned if Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli hasn’t again figured a way to take a slew of blue-collar players with a star or two (Sean Lee may be the only one) and build a defense that should be good enough for Dallas to contend for the playoffs.
3. I think the Ben Roethlisberger ankle tackle of Emmanuel Ogbah should have been penalized for sure. But those comparing it to a Vontaze Burfict hit and saying if that was Burfict he would have gotten suspended—don’t make me laugh. Your Bengal stripes are showing.
4. I think I know what must give Matthew Berry intense acid reflux: At 3:11 p.m. Sunday, late in the third quarter for the Cardinals and Steelers, the two best fantasy football backs in creation, David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell, had 18 and 16 rushing yards, respectively. And the monstrously unknown Tarik Cohen of Chicago and Javorious Allen of Baltimore had 66 and 56 yards rushing, respectively, both team highs. Aah, the science of fantasy football.
5. I think the stark reality of football hit home to me in the Chiefs’ locker room at New England on Thursday night. Most of the players knew one of their vital guys, safety Eric Berry, had been hurt seriously late in the fourth quarter, and the injury turned out to be an Achilles tear. He’s out for the year. Truly sad. But there was a life-goes-on vibe that has to be part of a player’s credo. So tough. So real.
6. I think there’s a lesson for the NFL in the way MLB is likely to handle the Red Sox sign-stealing. Follow me here:
• The Red Sox used electronic means—an Apple Watch, according to the New York Times—as part of a system to steal signals from the catcher to the pitcher in a series against the Yankees, and maybe in more games than that. Stealing signs is allowed in baseball. Stealing them with electronic or computerized aids is not.
• The Patriots may have used a scheme to deflate footballs so that they would have been more to the liking of Tom Brady’s grip. I say may have, because there was some significant circumstantial evidence, but it was never proven with certainty that such a scheme occurred.
• Sox 8-11 versus Yankees this year.
• In nine years before the investigation, Brady performed almost exactly the same at home (when home ball boys theoretically could fiddle with the footballs) and on the road. Nine-year home rating: 100.2. Nine-year road rating: 99.7.
• The MLB shelf life of the controversy is expected to be a month or less. The investigation and whatever discipline is meted out should be done by the end of the regular season, commissioner Rob Manfred said.
• The NFL shelf life for the Brady story—through the months of the reported $8 million investigation, the initial sanction, the court battles, the Brady suspension and all the way to the Thursday night game last week when Roger Goodell finally reappeared on the field in Foxboro and got massively catcalled—is 32 months.
As my friend Mark Leibovich of The New York Times reminded me Thursday night (and I’ve heard this so much over the years), Paul Tagliabue always liked to say, “All’s well that ends.” Not, “All’s well that ends well.” Get the story out of the papers and off the web. Resolve it. End it.
Going to war is costly for everyone. Save the jail sentences for true crime. MLB fined the Cardinals $2 million, and St. Louis employees lost jobs, for hacking into Houston’s scouting database. That’s true crime. Neither of these other ones is. As I said at the time of the Goodell ruling, he killed an ant with a sledgehammer in this case. If I’m right about the baseball sanction being a moderate fine and a loss of a draft choice that’s not very high, seems like a good lesson for the NFL: Reevaluate what true crime is.
7. I think there’s one postscript to that, and to what will be the lingering Ezekiel Elliott story, possibly well into 2018, and maybe to the 11.5 percent drop in ratings from the 2016 opening game to Chiefs-Pats last Thursday: The NFL has to start building more bridges, starting with the fractured relationship with players and the union. The Elliott story’s going to be drawn out, and ugly, and though America wants to see the league be tough on violence against women, there has to be a way to make it a more cooperative venture so that every fight with a player isn’t nuclear.
Regarding the ratings: The decline for the opener should frighten the league, and the partners who pay multimillions to broadcast the games and to advertise on them. Last year, with no Peyton Manning in the game, and no megamarkets, and (maybe) the contentious presidential campaign election siphoning away marginal viewers, the Denver-Carolina ratings were down 6.8 percent from the previous year’s Brady-Ben Roethlisberger opener. This year the league’s marquee player was back, but even Brady couldn’t stem the rockslide. This year’s opener, in fact, was down a whopping 17.5 percent from the Patriots’ 2015 opener. Maybe it’s Kaepernick. Maybe the anthem protests. Maybe the league office needs to learn from the “all’s well that ends” ethos of Goodell’s predecessor. Whatever, it doesn’t look like it’s going away.
8. I think, and I’m judging by the 2-1 ratios of trades from 2016 before final cutdown to 2017, the trading deadline will mean something this year. The deadline’s on Halloween, the day after the end of Week 8. That’s going to be an interesting couple of days, October 30th and 31st, particularly if some of the aggressive trading teams (Seattle, New England, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver, Indianapolis) have major needs or are sufficiently out of contention and would be willing to make deals. I’d watch the Jets dealing a good veteran too. They’ll want ammo to be able to compete with Cleveland, if necessary, to move up for the best quarterback in what’s shaping up as a good quarterback draft in 2018. And the Browns could have five picks in the top 70, including primo ones near the top of the first three rounds.
9. I think the unique football TV show of the week, and it’s not close, will be Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. ET, on ESPN. It’s a short documentary, “Strike Team,” about one of the most famous stings in law-enforcement history—and it involves an NFL game in Washington in 1985. Before the Cincinnati-Washington game on Dec. 15, 1985, the U.S. Marshals Service worked a scam by inviting a long list of outstanding fugitives in the District of Columbia to a party at which two game tickets (Washington at the time was a Super Bowl contender) per attendee were the lures. There were no game tickets—just the fake promise of them, to reel in the crooks. I watched it Saturday; it’s a classic cops-and-robbers piece with inside footage of planning leading up to the execution of the scam. On the appointed day, let’s just say the cameras were there to show exactly how the game-day experience of the 101 dangerous fugitives went down. If you can’t see it, set the DVR. Cool show.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Sixteen years ago this morning, two airliners hit the World Trade Center in New York, another hit the Pentagon, and a fourth, bound for Washington D.C. landmarks, crashed to the earth in Shanksville, Pa. The multilayered act of terrorism cost more than 3,000 lives and reverberates to this day. There’s a lot going on today—hurricane recovery, flood recovery, threat of nuclear war. But we mustn’t forget 9-11. Ever.
b. Movie of the Week: The Man in the Red Bandana, about a 24-year-old heretofore unknown hero on the day the towers fell, and the work it took to make a film about him.
c. Story of the Week: From Evan Osnos of The New Yorker, a story about our tempestuous and potentially life-changing relations with North Korea, with real people at the core of it. That’s the kind of great reporting that must never go out of style.
d. Who knew North Korea had two operatives living and working legally and in plain sight in Manhattan, doing everything in pairs so as not to risk defection? What a story.
e. Hurricane Story of the Week: From David Ovalle of the Miami Herald, in Key West on Friday night with those planning to stay during the storm that could obliterate the town. “You have to get out of town!” one man said after busting into the Conch Farm bar. Those who remained were unmoved. And not moving.
f. Sports Story of the Week: Sean Gregory in Time writes a gem about the growing business of youth sports specialization that seems totally and ridiculously out of whack, with some kids traveling across the country at 10 and 11 to play on high-level travel teams. Really quite absurd, and captured so well by Gregory.
g. Wake up, parents.
h. Sports Column of the Week: Steve Rushin of Sports Illustrated, with an homage to his wife, Hall of Fame basketball player Rebecca Lobo. This is just terrific, Steve.
i. “So Mom is better than LeBron?” their 6-year-old daughter asked. Wonderful.
j. Coffeenerdness: There are things I’ll never quite get, but that’s okay. My feeling about the pumpkin spice latte is if you want a drink that tastes like the fall and has 3,000 calories, get a pumpkin milk shake. But, as Maura Judkis tells us in the Washington Post, this Starbucks drink is the sugar bomb of choice as the leaves change around the country.
k. Beernerdness: Walt Wit, the greatest name ever for a Belgian-style witbier, also has the greatest beer tap I’ve seen: It’s a pencil. I had Walt Wit (Philadelphia Brewing Company, Philadelphia.) at a Phillies game this summer, and it was tremendous. I say this in the most flattering way possible: Walt Wit reminds me of Allagash White. Congrats, Philly Brewing.
l. Good for you, Sloane Stephens. Talking about coming from way back in the pack earlier this year, and from the unseeded pool of the U.S. Open, and then dominating the final. Congrats. And good for both players, that post-match bearhug.
m. Joined the human race. Finally have an Echo Dot in my office. I’m no tech nerd but holy crap, this is one incredible invention, Amazon. I love it.
n. Take a guess the first song I asked Alexa to play.
o. “My Old School,” by Steely Dan.
p. I’ve had Steely Dan on the brain, shuffling through their songs over and over all week since the death of Walter Becker. (And my apologies for my terse RIP last week. I should have written more about Steely Dan and what the band meant to my life.) My late brother Ken was nine years older than me. We were not close growing up, and then he went to William & Mary, the first in our family tree ever to go to college. When he graduated, he moved home for a while and worked construction, and I used to hear this new band from his room. Then he bought me a copy of “Can’t Buy a Thrill,” by Steely Dan, and then I bought “Countdown to Ecstasy,” and took both to college in 1975 and wore them out and drove Irvine Hall at Ohio University crazy, with this jazz/rock music with the fanciful lyrics. Anyway, “My Old School” became my favorite Steely Dan song, in part because of the lyrics (“I was smoking with the boys upstairs … when I heard about the whole affair … I said oh no, William and Mary won’t do … well I did not thing think the girl could be so cruel … and I’m never going back to my old school …’’ It’s a cliché, and I know that, but when my big brother and I had nothing whatsoever to talk about, we could talk about music.
q. Who remembers 44-year-old lyrics? Answer: I do. It’s kind of weird.
s. Dodgers since Aug. 26: 1-15.
t. Cleveland since Aug. 26: 16-0.
u. You are such a good friend, Don Banks. Do you know what Don Banks did the other day? He gave me a belated 60th birthday gift. I was born in 1957. Banks collects baseball cards. He got me a 1957 Topps Ted Williams baseball card. A cool, thoughtful gesture.
v. RIP, Don Ohlmeyer, the former producer of “Monday Night Football” and longtime imaginative TV czar. He left tremendous footprints in the TV sand.
Who I Like Tonight
Minnesota 23, New Orleans 20. Lucky schedule break of the year: NFL schedule released April 20 (and was pretty solidly in place for several days beforehand, particularly the marquee games like the Monday nighters in Week 1); Adrian Peterson signs with Saints April 25. The NFL’s schedule-meister, Howard Katz, couldn’t have known. This should be the kind of ratings-grabber the NFL really needs. I could see the Saints winning, if Sean Payton’s plans for less Drew Brees and more clock-eating running game work perfectly. There’s something about the Viking front, though, that I think is going to be hugely significant. I think Danielle Hunter, one of the game’s emerging pass-rush stars, comes up big tonight.
Los Angeles Chargers 25, Denver 23. Upset special. I think the Chargers’ Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will give the Broncos’ edge protection some real trouble, and I think Philip Rivers with some healthy offensive weapons will do enough to win. Two media notes you would be interested in: Ed Werder debuts as a Westwood One sideline reporter on the national radio broadcast (with Kevin Harlan and Kurt Warner upstairs). And Beth Mowins becomes the first woman play-by-play voice to do an NFL regular-season game in 30 years. She’ll team with Rex Ryan on the second ESPN game of the night. Interesting point from Mowins to SI’s Richard Deitsch about the significance of her appointment to this job tonight, and what has to change for more women to sit in her chair: “I have always thought it has been significant for men who are making decisions in the business to have a daughter. They realize they want her to have every opportunity that their son might have. I think that has been huge in this industry, once they start seeing young women in these roles.” Simple. Wise.
The Adieu Haiku
Big hole in Week One.
Rumblin’, bumblin’ ... and golfin’.
Missed you, Chris Berman.
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