- The mood was surprisingly joyous in Oakland for the first regular-season home game since the Las Vegas relocation announcement, and Beast Mode led the party
- Sections include: examining Ezekiel Elliott’s embarrassing performance; five things to know about Joe Thomas’ snaps streak; Canada takes the ead on football safety
- Plus the Week 2 NFL awards, quotes of the week, a revealing stat in the Bengals’ bad start, 10 Things I Think, a Monday night prediction and much more
OAKLAND — So everyone wondered (including Derek Carr, to be honest) how the Raiders would be received by a crowd of loyal Black Holers on Sunday in the first regular-season game since owner Mark Davis announced in March that the team would move to Las Vegas in two or three years.
“We got stabbed in the back,” said a fan dressed in a Raiders Hawaiian shirt who identified himself as Mark T., from the Oakland ’burb of San Lorenzo. He was the cook in the family tailgate in the heart of the Oakland Coliseum parking lot, distinctive because the tailgate had a skeleton dressed in Raiders headgear in front, holding a can of Stella Artois and “Al Davis” written on his right shoulder. “You want us to be the fans, and you want us to buy season tickets, but you know what they tell you at the end of the day? They give you the middle finger and say, ‘We don’t care about you.’ They want the corporate money. You and I are nobody.”
Imagine if this was three years ago, when the Raiders lost their first 10 games. Imagine the 2014 Raiders as lame ducks. How would this crowd have reacted to a crap team like that losing by 16 in the home opener, or 24 in the second home game, knowing they were counting the days to Vegas? Now that would have been ugly.
Not Sunday. I’ve covered the NFL for 34 seasons, and I haven’t seen many love fests between fans and team like I saw inside this run-down old barn during Raiders 45, Jets 20. Did you see Marshawn Lynch, game in hand late, dancing on the sidelines like he was trying to win “America’s Got Talent?” Did you see the happiness? At one point in his dance, I looked down at the stands, and the people were swaying in unison, dancing with Lynch.
“It was just joy,” said GM Reggie McKenzie, still beaming in the locker room afterward. “So much fun. And it was all natural. It just happened. Football needs more fun like that.”
Marshawn Irony Dept.: At the Beast Mode Store in downtown Oakland (Beast Mode bras can be purchased), staff members there would not do interviews Sunday. On this joyous occasion of Lynch’s first home game ever as a Raider, they had no comment.
How cool is that?
Truthfully, it was going to be hard to hate the Raiders on Sunday if you were in the Coliseum, no matter how mad you were at Mark Davis, or Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf, or Roger Goodell, or Vegas. Because the Raiders looked like Super Bowl contenders, and because Lynch did everything right all day, starting with bringing his much less famous backup backs Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington out on his flanks when he got the loudest ovation in years during pregame introductions.
That decision was pure Lynch. When he told Richard and Washington he wanted them to take the field on either side of him, Richard said: “I was like, ‘They cool with this?’ Lynch said, ‘It doesn’t matter what they say. You boys are coming out with me.’ That just got me pumped from the get-go.”
The Jets have a good run defense but got gashed by long gainers here. No one should be surprised positively or negatively by Lynch’s pedestrian rushing line Sunday—12 carries, 45 yards—because he was the tough-yardage back. Richard and Cordarrelle Patterson, the hybrid wideout/back in Oakland’s offense, were the changeup pitchers, and they combined to rush nine times for 115 yards. Near the end of the first half, the Raiders nursing a 14–10 lead at the Jets 4, Lynch was the lone setback behind Derek Carr. Everyone knew where the ball was going. Lynch over right tackle in a pileup; no gain. Lynch slamming behind left tackle Donald Penn; gain of two. On third down, with interior linemen Gabe Jackson and Rodney Hudson parting the Jets’ big middle, Lynch torpedoed through the hole for a touchdown.
The Raiders have some great weaponry. Carr to the back shoulder of Michael Crabtree is football artistry. Patterson as a back, a la Ty Montgomery, is a revelation. Amari Cooper is the franchise receiver. Richard is sneaky fast and instinctive.
But no matter how many weapons you’ve got, you’re never going to win everything without being able to make third-and-2s with some consistency. Lynch is 31, and he had 600 days between NFL games with his two-season retirement. So who knows how long he can last playing at the level he’s played for the first two weeks? He is a dangerous, physical back. You can’t buy 16-game insurance for backs like that. So offensive coordinator Todd Downing will continue to spread around the carries ; Lynch is on pace for a 240-attempt season, and the Raiders would probably like that to be a little less. Whatever, it’s no sure thing Lynch will make it through a full season, especially considering how battered he was late in his Seattle career.
However long it lasts, Lynch is going to love it. For 45 seconds in the fourth quarter, the game clinched, Lynch danced on the Raiders sideline to a rap song called “Oakland,” by Vell featuring D.J. Mustard. The team gave him his space, he danced with the same vigor with which he ran over Jets defenders earlier in the afternoon, and the crowd went absolutely batcrap.
“After that,” linebacker Marquel Lee told The MMQB’s Kalyn Kahler, “the crowd was ‘turnt,’ and we were ‘turnt’ because of the crowd.”
“It is Marshawn being Marshawn,” Penn said. “That's him. He's playing in front of his hometown team. If you grew up cheering for a team, and you get to play for them, I mean, wouldn't that make you so happy?”
Lynch spoke after the game, a rarity for him. But this response from the Raiders’ post-game quote sheet was more Lynch than anything he uttered.
Q: Was it what you imagined it would be like in your head?
Lynch: (Nods head yes.)
And so what of the relationship between team and city, team and fans, fans and their bittersweet love/hate that Mark T. of San Lorenzo tried to put into words in the parking lot before the game? I will add that Mark T. wasn’t the only one we met who is conflicted about the situation.
The quarterback is too.
“Our true fans are hurting just like we are,” Carr told me just off the locker room, in a taping for The MMQB Podcast With Peter King set to air this week. “The city of Oakland is hurting because we’re leaving, and we’re hurting because we’re leaving, you know? But that’s out of our control, that’s out of the players’ control, it’s out of our fans’ control. And what you see is people who are hurting are coming together. We’re not turning on each other. I think there’s really a bigger story there … amongst people.”
“The fans were incredible today,” Penn said. “I didn’t sense they were thinking about Vegas today. Did you?”
Not for the three hours that counted in the standings. Lynch scored. The franchise players played like franchise players. The Raiders put up 45 in their home opener. The crowd, as Lee said, was turnt. There might be better teams in the NFL in 2017—and I stress might—but there won’t be more compelling ones.
I don’t like what Ezekiel Elliott did Sunday. At all.
With the Cowboys down 18 to Denver in the middle of the third quarter, Elliott, the defending NFL rushing champion, ran a route from the left slot. Quarterback Dak Prescott threw for the receiver just outside Elliott to the left, Dez Bryant; the ball went through Bryant’s hands, and Denver’s Chris Harris intercepted it. At the time of the interception, Harris was about five yards away from Elliott. Elliott immediately stopped and put his hands on his hips and didn’t chase Harris. Harris ran to his left, passing maybe four yards from Elliott at their closest point. Eventually, in a zig-zag course, Harris ran back to his right and was tackled by a Dallas lineman.
I give you the play-by-play to describe without prejudice exactly what happened on an important play in the eventual Denver rout of Dallas. Elliott stopped. Elliott did not chase the Denver interceptor, though he certainly would be instructed by any coach in the history of football to pursue the man who intercepted the ball until he was down. Elliott stood there with his hands on his hips. He did nothing.
It was a stunning lack of effort in the middle of a game that was still certainly in play. Dallas, down 28-10 at the time of the Harris interception, had six possessions after that. So often in cases like this, the player gets a pass. And very often, Dallas players get passes, because the Cowboys take chances on great players who have character or behavior or ethos flaws. Elliott might have all three of those. To give up on that play was horrendous. Dallas coach Jason Garrett has to do something about it—if he has not already. Owner Jerry Jones should back his coach 100 percent when Garrett does discipline Elliott. And if Garrett does not, then there’s something seriously wrong in Dallas.
It’s one thing to be frustrated. It’s another thing to quit. Elliott is a good football player who quit on a play. Don’t sugarcoat it. He quit on a play in the middle of a game that was still a game. And he should not be allowed to get away with it.
Here is what LaDainian Tomlinson said on NFL Network on Sunday night about Elliott. “He absolutely quit on his team today.”
Maybe Elliott was frustrated at his awful day (nine carries, eight yards). Maybe the pressure of his suspension and his court case to try to overturn the suspension are getting to him. Maybe he simply doesn’t handle failure or rejection well. The 42-17 loss to Denver was an eye-opener for Cowboys players and coaches and owner Jerry Jones. But that changes nothing about what we saw in the middle of the third quarter, with the game slipping away, and one of the best players on the team giving up on a play he could have tried to make. Inexcusable.
Joe Thomas, in this day and age, is absurd.
The streak of consecutive snaps played by the franchise left tackle for Cleveland is now 10,062. It’s comical to suggest that any position player has ever played every snap of every game over a decade or more. Your shoe splits and you have to come out for a snap. You get a busted face mask that has to be fixed. You get stepped on. Something. Not Joe Thomas.
Five things about the streak you should know:
1. No one acknowledged it Sunday in Baltimore when Thomas played his 10,000th straight snap. It happened on a nine-yard Isaiah Crowell run … to the right side, on the fourth offensive play of the game. “We were in the middle of the game,” Thomas told me afterward. “It was just a regular play, like so many others. Not like you ignore it, but no one really says anything. It wasn’t ’til later in the game that a couple of guys on the Ravens said something. Eric Weddle, C.J. Mosley, they both congratulated me on the field.”
2. He’s played through a grade-two LCL tear, three MCL strains, and two high ankle sprains. “In 2012 I got the LCL tear mid-game in the last game of the year, and I was able to hobble through it. If it wasn’t the last game, I might have missed some time.”
3. The streak came closest to ending on Oct. 12, 2014. Near the end of a rare blowout win over Pittsburgh, the Browns were subbing in backups to rest vets. Earlier in the game, center Alex Mack broke his leg, so there was more motivation to keep everyone else on the line healthy. “Yeah, the famous Vinston Painter incident,” Thomas said, laughing, on Sunday. “I was not hurt, but they sent Vinston in to replace me. I think they were just paranoid after Alex Mack got hurt. But Vinston got out there, and I wasn’t leaving.” By that time—he began to realize the rarity of playing every snap of every game in 2012 or 2013—Thomas knew he was doing something great.
4. The ethos. “How did it happen? To be honest, I never set out to do it. It just sort of happened. It’s ingrained in you as a young athlete: ‘Get up! Play the next play!’ It’s the job. You know, obviously, the losing hurts. I’m human. But something I’ve found comfort in is, Just do your job. I’ve got people in my family who get up and go to work every day and they don’t complain. Regardless of the record, I get to play a kids’ game. I am blessed to do what I love to do so much.”
5. What does it mean? Thomas tries to not overthink this. “I just hope it means I’m a regular guy who gets up every morning and goes to work, and plays as hard as he can, and is a good teammate. I hope that’s what they say about me.”
The Canadian Football League has told its nine franchises that, except for training camp in 2018, full-contact practices will be banned through the end of the 2018 season. Players can wear helmets in practice, but no shoulder pads, and tackling in practice will not be allowed. I talked to the CFL commissioner, former offensive lineman Randy Ambrosie, on Friday about how it came about.
MMQB: How’d you make this happen, especially in-season like this?
Ambrosie: It’s what I can only describe as a magnificent display of partnership between us and the players union. It will give our players more time to recuperate, and stay on the field. There was another part of this, going from [18 games in] 20 weeks to 21 weeks. Because of our nine-team structure, because not all of our teams have access to their facilities at all times, we have had some tight turnarounds on our games. We have now gone to a 21-week schedule, staying at 18 games. It dramatically improves the time players will have to rest and recuperate. One example this year was Ottawa. The Redblacks had three games in 11 days [a Friday-Wednesday-Monday schedule.] That is just way too much football is too tight a time. There is something magnificent and elegant about simplicity. We wanted to do something fairly immediate and avoid the confusion of tackling too many issues at once. It is going to challenge our coaches, who I believe are world-class. It’s going to be different. Coaches begin to wean themselves off padded practices later in the season anyway. We know coaches can go with less, because we’ve seen that in football now anyway. Coaches will adapt. They will find new training techniques.
MMQB: Have you gotten any pushback from football people over the decision?
Ambrosie: I have not had one of those calls at all. We had our [CFL] Hall of Fame inductions last night, and I spoke to a couple of our coaches. They were positive and polite and constructive. I am aware this may have cost me one or two Thanksgiving dinner invitations, but the reaction has been almost entirely positive. It was a quick decision, and some would argue too quick. But when you’re on the doorstep of doing the right thing, quick is good.
MMQB: How much are you concerned about the future of football, with all the issues of head trauma and CTE that have surfaced?
Ambrosie: Talking about player safety is not just words to me. It means very much. The [future of football] has been on my mind throughout this. The more we do together to make this game safer, it will inspire confidence that the game can be played at the safest level. … What I love about the game is it offers the greatest inclusiveness of any game. You can be a gigantic person, super strong, and you can be a small person, super fast, and then in a locker room all these things come together. We need to fight, literally, for the future of football, and we do that by making it safe. I think the battle for the future of the game is one we will win. We’re teaching safer tackling. It’s gonna take us all pushing it. Change is hard. We all know that. The fraternity of football people, we’ll find our way. I’m honored to be part of it.
The MMQB things you need to know this week
We have a newsletter, and you can subscribe, and it’s free. You can get our terrific NFL newsletter, “Morning Huddle,” written Monday through Friday by young staffer Jacob Feldman, simply by going here and checking The MMQB newsletter box. I’ve become a bit of a newsletter junkie—for news and politics and sports—and find these newfangled bite-sized collections of news summaries perfect for a world that moves fast. So I asked Feldman—who co-curates the “Sunday Long Read” collection with Don Van Natta—to do one for the NFL this fall. I love it. It’s quick, with a newsy top each weekday, then good reads and videos from around the internet. Basically, you should let Feldman be your NFL news curator. I start every day with it.
A new series is coming this week. For eight weeks this fall, The MMQB, in partnership with State Farm, will examine the state of football in the U.S. We’ll go to eight places, from the Bay Area to Philadelphia and other rich football markets in between. It’ll be a thorough bottom-to-top look at the game, from youth football to high school to college to pro, here on this site and on our social channels including Twitter and Facebook Live. I was in the Bay Area over the weekend, and that’s where we’ll start when the “Football Across America” series debuts this week on social and on video and in print Thursday. We’ll go to four games in 48 hours in each area and listen to the players, coaches, parents and fans on the state of the game. Our debut of “Football Across America” will take you to:
• Friday night: San Francisco’s storied Kezar Stadium, where the Niners used to play, to see a city high school, Mission High, take on a strong suburban program, San Mateo. You’ll learn about the significance of the game to a senior player who witnessed his father’s murder at age 10.
• Saturday morning: In gritty Oakland, at Oakland High School, we’ll take you to the youth program where Marshawn Lynch played.
• Saturday night: In Berkeley, we tailgated before Ole Miss-Cal, trekked up Tightwad Hill to see the strange tradition of the Cal cannon, then watched the interesting intersectional clash.
• Sunday afternoon: Live from the Black Hole, Jets-Raiders.
The archive is back. You asked, we listened. (Well, it took us a while, but we got it done.) Now you don’t have to go scrounging for stories at The MMQB that you may have missed. The archive will always be on the front page of our site. The moral of the story is, keep yelling at us to improve, and we’ll try our best to do so.
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Antonio Gates, tight end, Los Angeles Chargers. Gates’ 113th career touchdown catch set the NFL record for TDs by a tight end, breaking a tie with Tony Gonzalez. It was a classic Gates touchdown. He snuck between coverage into the end zone from seven yards out, caught a well-aimed high toss from Philip Rivers, and held onto the ball despite a good and legal mugging from Miami safety Nate Allen. Gates has had a terrific career, and he’s playing like he’s going to put some distance between himself and the field in tight end touchdowns.
Joe Thomas, tackle, Cleveland. The Browns are 4-35 since Thanksgiving 2014, and they’re on their way to another lost season. It is not Thomas’ fault. The walk-in Hall of Famer (and if you know me, you know how much I hate pronouncements like that—but this one is easy) has now played every snap of his 11-year career, and passed snap No. 10,000 Sunday at Baltimore. He plays the game right, and he makes no excuses, and he doesn’t want pity because he’s on a consistently lousy team. Celebrate Joe Thomas.
Trevor Siemian, quarterback, Denver. Still early, but the first two games of 2017 show that Siemian may be moving away from The Guy You Hope You Can Win With and toward The Guy Who Can Beat Playoff Teams. That’s what Siemian was in the 42-17 victory over Dallas, with a 22-of-32, 231-yard day, with four touchdown passes and one pick.
Tom Brady, quarterback, New England. An affirming performance at New Orleans, with Brady proving that the Patriots should be able to win important games even with half the offensive skill players starting the game hurt or finishing it hurt. Brady (30 of 39, 447 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions) used James White and Chris Hogan the way he finished last season with them, targeting the two 14 times collectively and completing 13 of those passes.
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Chris Jones, defensive end, Kansas City. At 6'3" and 311 pounds, Jones is not a quick edge rusher, obviously. But he’s become a force for a defense with multiple weapons, and one few could see coming when he was the 37th overall pick in 2016, by ex-GM John Dorsey. In the 27-20 win over the Eagles, Jones had three sacks, a forced fumble and an unlikely interception. I ask this about the Kansas City defense: Even without Eric Berry for the rest of the year, who exactly do you key on if you’re an opposing offensive coordinator?
Von Miller, outside linebacker, Denver. With such a torrid start to his career, it’s becoming rare to sit up and say, ‘Wow!’ when you see one of Miller’s stat lines. But that’s exactly what happened to me Sunday. Per Pro Football Focus, the Broncos pass-rushing force tallied a league-high 12 quarterback pressures, with two sacks, two hits and eight QB hurries. Dak Prescott will be checking his bedsheets before crawling into them all week for fear Miller might be in there.
Julius Peppers, defensive end, Carolina. I thought this was supposed to be a victory-lap season for the 37-year-old Peppers. Come home to Carolina, where Peppers played the first eight years of a starry career, collect the gold watch, play a few snaps, teach the kids how to be great. Well, he’s been an impact rusher through eight quarters. In the 9-3 win over Buffalo, Peppers had two sacks and six tackles (including one behind the line). Turning out to be a good going-away gift for the locker room from the stunningly fired GM Dave Gettleman.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Shane Lechler, punter, Houston. In a game featuring a first-time starting quarterback, field position was going to be huge. And the 41-year-old Lechler did what he was supposed to, and more. He punted nine times for a 48.9-yard average in Houston’s 13-9 victory over Cincinnati. What a career for Lechler. He had 13 great years for Oakland, and at 37 moved to Houston, and here’s what he’s averaged in four full seasons as a punting senior citizen: 47.6 yards, 46.3, 47.3, and 47.5.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Steve Wilks, defensive coordinator, Carolina. When defensive coordinator Sean McDermott left for Buffalo be to be the head coach, Ron Rivera took about 10 seconds to decide on Wilks to run his defense. Wise move, if the first eight quarters are an indication. Wilks’s unit has allowed six points, zero touchdowns and just 292 total yards in Carolina’s 2-0 start.
GOAT OF THE WEEK
Kalif Raymond, punt returner, New York Jets. At the two-minute warning of the first half, with the Jets hanging around and Josh McCown making some plays and the New York defense holding its own, Oakland led 14-10 and was punting to the Jets. Raymond faded back and muffed the punt at his 14-yard line, and Oakland recovered at the 4. Three Marshawn Lynch pileups later, Oakland had a huge touchdown before the half on Lynch’s first TD at home for his hometown team. The Jets, instead of running out the clock before halftime and then taking the ball to start the second half down four, limped into halftime down 11, and the game was never closer than eight the rest of the way.
Younghoe Koo, kicker, Los Angeles Chargers. Son, you’re not going to last long missing wide right 44-yard game-winners. The Chargers lost 19-17, instead of winning 20-19. Rough indoctrination for a player who was one of the early feel-good stories of 2017.
Quotes of the Week
“The Chargers are hemmed in by anger from the south and apathy from the north.”
—Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke, in a perfect representation of the Chargers’ reality now that they’re playing before scattered empty seats in a 27,000-seat stadium in a southern L.A. suburb.
“Timeout, San Diego. Excuse me, Los Angeles.”
—Referee Tony Corrente, at the Chargers-Dolphins game.
“The idea was to make Prescott beat us because we knew he couldn’t.”
—Denver defensive end Derek Wolfe to Mike Klis of KUSA-TV, after Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott struggled in a 42-17 Broncos’ win Sunday.
“I’m coming back to change the game. Everybody just watch out.”
—Kansas City Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry, in a video from his hospital bed tweeted out by agent Chad Speck, before Berry underwent Achilles surgery last week. Berry will be 29 years and 8 months old when he next plays a football game, assuming he plays opening day 2018.
“It’s still attached.”
—J.J Watt, on his dislocated finger.
“Oh, we’ll stay. It’s the place I’ve been happiest. It’s where I’ll die.”
—Super Bowl-winning NFL coach Jimmy Johnson, a resident of the Florida Keys, to me, on whether he intends to stay in his Islamorada, Fla., home after Hurricane Irma.
As I explained last week, we’re beginning a new section of the column called My MVP, as part of The MMQB’s partnership with State Farm. Each week, I’ll ask an NFL figure about his most valuable possession. (State Farm’s campaign mantra this year revolves around their customers’ most valuable possessions.)
This week’s MVP: Falcons center Alex Mack. “It’s my watch,” he said, showing it off to me in the Falcons locker room recently: the Omega Seamaster CMT GoodPlanet. [Retail value: about $5,100.] “I’ll tell you the story. I always wanted a nice watch. I kept thinking about it, and how much it would cost, so I kept hesitating. Then when I turned 30 [November 2015], I still hadn’t bought the watch, but I decided it was time. For me, after waiting for so long to get it, even though it was expensive, it was time I bought it for myself. I’m really happy with it.”
Mack, including this season, has made about $51 million in nine years playing pro football. He’s allowed to splurge on a watch.
Stat of the Week
If we’re compiling a 12.5 Percent of the Season NFL all-pro team, I’d better see Andrew Whitworth get some consideration. Whitworth was Cincinnati’s left tackle last season. With former first-round tackle Cedric Ogbuehi waiting in the wings, the Bengals let Whitworth go to the Rams in free agency, and the decision has had a profound early effect on both teams. Via Pro Football Focus numbers, check out how Whitworth did in the first two Bengals games last season, and how Ogbuehi has done in his first two at left tackle for Cincinnati this year:
|Year||Left Tackle||Games||Pass-Block Snaps||Sacks Allowed||Hits Allowed||Hurries Allowed||Bengals Points|
In those two games:
Whitworth, pass-blocking errors: 1 per 48 Andy Dalton pass attempts (2 in 96).
Ogbuehi, pass-blocking errors: 1 per 8.7 Andy Dalton pass attempts (9 in 78).
Now for the 2017 performance of Whitworth on the 1-1 Rams. After all, if he’s not playing worth a darn, the fact that the Bengals are awful on offense without him doesn’t mean he merits a nod for his great value.
The PFF numbers for Whitworth’s first two games protecting Jared Goff’s blind side: 61 pass-drops by Goff … one sack allowed … zero hits allowed … zero hurries allowed.
Factoids That May Interest Only Me
As was presaged in this column in August, Adam Vinatieri has now played—playoffs and the regular season—177 games for New England and 177 games for Indianapolis.
Vinatieri is soon to have another freaky factoid. Any week now, health permitting, he’ll have the same number of field goals in Indianapolis as he had in New England. He has 340 for Indianapolis as of this morning. He had 347 in his New England career.
I could come up with Vinatieri factoids for weeks, but I’ll leave you with three more:
• Vinatieri has played football during six presidential campaigns, beginning with Clinton-Dole-Perot in the fall of 1996.
• When Vinatieri began his career, Jerry Maguire and Titanic had not yet been released.
• On the day Vinatieri debuted in the NFL, Sept. 1, 1996, the Baltimore Ravens played their inaugural game, and the Cleveland Browns did not exist.
Until the other day, I had never seen this in my years covering the game: an NFL game book (the official statistical record of every NFL game) with only 10 players in a team’s starting lineup. (See screengrab below.) It happened a week ago, New Orleans at Minnesota, when the Saints defense played the first snap of the season with 10 men on the field. It appears that third corner De’Vante Harris somehow, some way, didn’t take the field for the first play of 2017. Harris played 44 snaps in the game. He apparently should have played 45. Hat tip to Eric Edholm of Pro Football Weekly and FanRag Sports for catching this first.
It really can’t be said enough: J.J. Watt, in the span of 19 days, raised $37,132,157 for hurricane relief in Houston. That’s $36,932,157 more than his original goal.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note
Regarding the Beast Mode Store in downtown Oakland: The store has a barber’s chair in it, and Marshawn Lynch (have you heard he’s beloved here?) provides free haircuts for good students—who must bring report cards to show they’re working hard in school—on Wednesdays.
Cal has a hilly campus. That’s putting it mildly. I wear a FitBit, and I walked from the center of campus up a hill that was more like a mountain to get to the platform where students fire this old cannon. When I saw the terrain I would be walking, I wanted to see how many flights of stairs it would equal on my FitBit. In about 38 minutes, I got the answer: 57 flights of stairs.
Tweets of the Week
LA attendance:— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) September 17, 2017
Chargers - 25,381
Rams - 56,612
NFL combined - 81,993
USC v. Texas - 84,714
This week's opponent: the Washington Redskins— Sam Farmer (@LATimesfarmer) September 17, 2017
Last week's opponent: the Washington Generals
What's remarkable about the consecutive snaps streak is something as simple as, your shoe falls off, can end that streak.— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) September 17, 2017
This sentiment is from the former NFL guard, who would know about how amazing it is that Joe Thomas played his 10,000th consecutive NFL snap on the offensive line Sunday in Baltimore.
From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
This week: Tennessee tackles Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin, Tampa Bay COO Brian Ford, and Dallas center Travis Frederick.
• Taylor Lewan on his game-day mindset: “As far as the anger goes, I am not an angry person, but something about when I play football, I just feel the need to hurt everybody I play ... badly. And I don't care about them. I don't care about who their parents are, how they grew up. I don't give a s--- what you did in your life up until this point. I just really care about making sure you never want to play against me again.”
• Lewan, who is well-tattooed, on the Frank Sinatra mugshot tattooed on the back of one hand: “I got Sinatra’s mugshot. My big stupid joke is that, oh yeah, we both have gotten in trouble before. So that's the reason why, but honestly, the reason why I did it wa---
Me: “Every day for the rest of your life you are going to be eating dinner and have Frank Sinatra's mugshot staring at you. You are a bizarre human being.”
Lewan: “I appreciate that. That honestly means a lot to me. No one gets anywhere in life being normal. I've wanted tattoos since I was 8 years old. I am going to get the tattoos I love. A good friend of mine said, ‘Tattoos first and foremost have to look good. And then after that, they can mean something.’ You can get a picture of your grandma, but if your grandma is hideous, it's not going to be a good-looking tattoo. You know what I'm saying? Maybe you can do something with flowers or a dove or something like that. And it's unique too. If you saw this hand anywhere else, and you just saw that hand, you'd know whose hand it was. If I put your hand or Jack [Conklin]'s hand up in a crowd, no one would be able to tell the difference, besides the 17-inch long fingers that Jack has.”
For the record, Lewan also has a tattoo of an otter in a black suit and top hat on one leg. He also has this little fella on his right hand.
1. I think these are my brief truths of Week 2:
a. I miss Ron Jaworski and Merril Hoge on the “NFL Matchup Show.” I do like their heirs, Greg Cosell and Louis Riddick, with Sal Paolantonio. It’s the most underrated football show on TV.
b. Bengals are 3-7-1 in their last 11, and Andy Dalton has 10 touchdowns and 10 picks in those games. Something had to give.
c. The Sunday night game was almost like the Falcons saying, Loved you, Kyle Shanahan. But we’re all good here.
d. Carson Palmer: 65.6 rating. Arizona’s truly fortunate to be 1-1.
e. So much admiration for Josh McCown, for persevering in another impossible situation. His first TD throw to Jermaine Kearse on Sunday was just gorgeous—perfectly placed and thrown.
f. Happy to see Brandon Carr, as durable a DB as there is in football, opening well in Baltimore. He has two picks in two games.
g. Christian McCaffrey is finding a tough road in pro football, but it’s early. He’s averaging just 2.7 yards on his 21 carries. Amazingly, Carolina’s 2-0 … and averaging 2.9 yards per rush. Running was a huge focus for the team in the offseason.
h. Eddie Lacy, a healthy inactive in Seattle. Talk about a career going downhill fast.
j. Seriously? Russell Wilson got sacked only three times in the 12-9 win over the Niners? He ran a half-marathon avoiding the rush.
k. I love imaginative coaches, and offensive coordinator Todd Downing of the Raiders fits that bill in the first two weeks. Cordarrelle Patterson (four carries, 62 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown Sunday against the Jets) in the backfield … who knew?
l. Marshal Yanda is one of the best guards in the game, and the Ravens’ best offensive lineman by far. His broken leg will be a crippling blow to a struggling offense.
m. Greg Olsen is one of the best tight ends in the game. His broken foot is bad news for Cam Newton.
n. Amazing how far Blake Bortles has fallen in 20 months.
o. Keep wondering what Andy Reid can do (and should do) to turn Travis Kelce from a 14-year-old boy to a 26-year-old man.
2. I think we’ll get at the truth of the Jerry Jones/Roger Goodell/contract roadblock situation soon enough, but Falcons owner Arthur Blank’s words to me after the ESPN report resonate. “The speculation is incorrect,” Blank told me. “He is not impeding it. I got a note from him the other day. He’s comfortable with where we are.” Blank is the chair of the NFL compensation committee, which is currently negotiating an extension with the commissioner. Jones is an ad hoc committee member in addition to the six permanent members. The ESPN report intimated that Jones believes Goodell is overpaid, and that Jones had a cadre of owners in his corner. I do want to say that Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter are state of the art, and Mortensen and Schefter are certainly correct in the impression they leave: Jones is unhappy with some elements of the job Goodell is doing. But now that Jones has in effect been called out by two trustworthy reporters, let’s see if the Goodell extension faces further delays, and let’s see if some owners leak out who opposes a rich extension. My gut feeling: The Goodell extension gets done by the end of the year.
3. I think when I heard Ed Werder that was going to sit in the stands as a fan at an NFL game for the first time in 45 years Sunday, I thought it was a golden chance to ask a good thinker what it’s like to sit with the people who for years he’s reported for. Werder’s thoughts, in his words, about sitting with wife Jill at the Denver-Dallas game Sunday:
• In 1972, when my father took my brother and me to see what proved to be a significant game during the only perfect season in NFL history ... Bob Griese broke his ankle as we watched the Dolphins play the Chargers. For the Broncos-Cowboys game, I bought tickets at face value for $144 each for Jill and me. We sat in section 128, row 11, seats 21 and 22. We had pregame field access and parking, compliments of Denver’s media czar, Patrick Smyth. We had a $31 lunch—two burgers, one order of fries and a Coke to share. We spent $10 for two ponchos.
• The Broncos fans, perhaps trained from the Orange Crush days or the No-Fly Zone, seem most engaged when the defense is on the field. They cheered wildly as the Broncos delivered the most dominant performance against the Cowboys in the Elliott/Prescott Era, using an eight-man front to control the run—Elliott had nine carries for eight yards—and trusting the secondary to handle the Cowboys receivers.
• The Broncos fans who wore Manning, Tebow, Elway, Miller, Wolfe and other Broncos jerseys and those who wore Staubach, Witten, Elliott and Prescott jerseys deserve a lot of credit for coming to the stadium. To me, the game is hard to see and overall a much better experience when viewed at home on television—or better yet, from the press box where I've covered games for the past 34 years.
4. I think if you think the Bengals fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese precipitously in Cincinnati—Bill Lazor takes over the offensively inept 0-2 Bengals—you’re probably right. But there almost had to be a sacrificial person here, and it wasn’t going to be Andy Dalton, and it’s too early for it to be Marvin Lewis. (Though I won’t be surprised if defensive coordinator Paul Guenther or offensive line coach Paul Alexander takes the head-coaching job if the Bengals start something like 0-6 or 1-8.) But an offensive shakeup at this point is smart. The Bengals’ first unit has gone 29 straight drives without a touchdown (four preseason drives in Week 3, 25 in the first two regular-season games); Cincinnati’s once-potent offense has scored 28 points or more once in the past 11 regular-season games. Plus: Once your stars start to openly question the direction of the offense, particularly mild-mannered team guys like A.J. Green (18 targets, 10 catches in two 2017 games), management’s going to notice.
5. I think for those who remember my Sam Wyche heart transplant story from last November, here’s an update: Wyche just passed his one-year transplant anniversary, and he celebrated that day by cycling 22 miles on a paved trail near his home in Pickens, S.C. This week, he’s going to urge athletes at Southeastern Conference schools to sign up to be organ donors when they die—the significance being that the organs of athletes are more apt than average students to be healthy for years after they stop playing sports. I hope the SEC heeds Wyche’s call. One other cool thing: Wyche and fellow heart transplant patient Rod Carew will share a float in the New Year’s Day Rose Parade in Pasadena.
6. I think this should be said about whatever outrage there was that former Giants and Eagles wideout Steve Smith was nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “Shockingly nominated” was how USA Today put it. There are in excess of 100 nominees for the Hall of Fame every year. From there, the 48 selectors winnow the list to 25. That is a list (The Other) Steve Smith will not be on. You may ask, “Why would Smith be on any nominations list in the first place? He’ll never get in.” You’ll be right. But any player who has played at least five years and made at least one Pro Bowl or All-Pro team is eligible to be nominated for the Hall. It’s a catch-all net, and the Hall keeps the net open, figuring that no matter how marginal a player is, the voting process will eliminate those who don’t belong. Smith did catch 107 passes in his best season, and he had five catches in the Giants’ 2007 Super Bowl upset of the Patriots. Really, is his career impact all that much different, say, from Eddie Guardado’s (on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in 2013) or Woody Williams (on in 2015)? Man, we get outraged at the strangest things.
7. I think (and thanks to Jenny Vrentas for pitching in with this one) Tom Coughlin sounds like a man who is still getting used to his new role. On Friday night in New York, at his 13th annual Champions For Children gala, which raised $1.2 million for his Jay Fund Foundation, Coughlin admitted that being part of an NFL team in the front office instead of being a head coach feels different for him. “Yeah, it really does,” said the former Jaguars and Giants head coach, who is in his first season as Jackonville’s executive vice president of football ops. “But that doesn’t make it bad.” Coughlin scheduled the event for his foundation, which provides support for families facing childhood cancer, on the same weekend as the 10th-anniversary celebration for the Giants’ Super Bowl XLII team. How’s this for a travel note: Coughlin was in New York on Friday night, then back in Jacksonville for the Jaguars’ home opener on Sunday afternoon, and plans to return to MetLife Stadium on Monday night for a halftime ceremony with his first Super Bowl team during the Lions-Giants game.
8. I think this story by Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune perfectly sums up the hugely frustrating three-year NFL career of wide receiver Kevin White. (In summary: 2015—left shin stress fracture; out for the year. 2016—fractured left fibula. 2017—broken left shoulder blade, which happened in game one of this season against Atlanta.) This is the kind of thing that makes football so frustrating to so many players, and as frustrating to the architects (GM Ryan Pace, in this case) who pick them. White may or may not be able to return this season from the shoulder injury. But if he does not return, he’d finish his first three seasons with five games played and 43 not played … and 21 catches with zero touchdowns. Just amazingly sad for White and the Bears. And for Pace. General managers ought to be judged on their successes and failures, to be sure. And Pace has had his share of questionable draft decisions. (I don’t consider trading two third-round picks to ensure getting Mitch Trubisky to be one of them, by the way.) But if Pace is ever downgraded for the pick of a player who wasn’t hurt in his two seasons at West Virginia, it would be almost cruel, and certainly unfair.
9. I think when Trent Dilfer talks quarterbacks, I listen. The other day we were speaking about this current crop of college quarterbacks due arrive in the NFL in the 2018 or 2019 drafts. My ears perked up when he said: “In terms of talent, these next two drafts, ’18 and ’19, will be the best two quarterback drafts since Marino and Elway came out in 1983.” Man, there’s going to be some hype for the draft in 2018, particularly. If I were a city bidding for the draft (Dallas/Fort Worth and Philadelphia seem to be the leaders in the clubhouse), I would factor in the fact that it’s going to be a quarterback-enthusiastic draft, and the hype train for ratings and attendance will be out in force.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Most educational 90 minutes I spent in the past week: Lunch in Berkeley, just off the Cal campus, with Ameer Hasan Loggins, a Ph.D. candidate in African Diaspora studies who teaches at Cal—and who had Colin Kaepernick in a 2016 class that contributed to Kaepernick’s growing awareness of the world around him. (Although Kaepernick was plenty aware when he met Loggins.) It was an interesting discussion about the world we live in.
b. Story of the Week: From my old paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, a riveting opus on the American drug crisis, told from the region around Cincinnati. “Seven Days of Heroin: This is What an Epidemic Looks Like” is the kind of great local journalism that is so vital to this country. In one week the Enquirer tracked heroin and synthetic opiate use in the region. The story concentrated on the human toll: 18 deaths and 15 babies born with drug-related medical issues in one July week. Congrats to the Enquirer on this great work.
c. A snippet: Kim Hill searches through the boxes filled with her son’s belongings, unsure what she’s looking for. There’s a box for Tommy’s clothes, sneakers and hats. There’s a box for his cologne. She can smell him on the clothes he’ll never wear again, and on the green comforter from the bed he’ll never return home to sleep in. Kim decides to take the comforter home with her. She will hold it close tonight, in her own bed, while she tries again to sleep. And she will think, “This is what is left of my child.”
d. The death of Frank Vincent (memorable mobster Phil Leotardo on “The Sopranos”) will resonate because of this classic scene. It happened in Montclair, N.J., my old hometown, at an ice-cream place called Applegate Farms, where a generation of our softball teams went for post-game cones. There’s nothing like the calm, reasoned approach of the father figures on this family show.
e. “You want a smack, too?!”
f. “Finish that thing. There’s no eating in the car.”
g. We need to further acknowledge the greatness of Nolan Arenado, the Rockies’ third baseman. Did you know he’s on the verge of winning the RBI crown for the third straight year? Won it in 2015 by seven RBIs over Josh Donaldson. Won it in 2016 by six over David Ortiz and Edwin Encarnacion. Leads it by 11 this year over Giancarlo Stanton. In 2015: 42 homers, 43 doubles, 130 RBIs. In 2016: 41 homers, 35 doubles, 133 RBIs. In 2017, so far, 34 homers, 42 doubles, 124 RBIs. That’s 387 RBIs over three years, with two weeks left.
h. If you read last week’s column, you read my feelings about the similarities between the Deflategate and Red Sox/Apple Watch cheating cases. Namely, that they were very similar, and I favored the Paul Tagliabue “All’s well that ends” ethos over the Roger Goodell “battle to the death” ethos in the Deflategate case. Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred handled the watch case expeditiously (and probably too lightly with the Boston penalty) with a significant fine for the Red Sox. I was at Cal on Saturday, and later in the evening in a campus bar, and two or three times during the football game on TV the crawl mentioned the latest in the Ezekiel Elliott case, with the NFLPA responding to the NFL after the NFL was in court last week trying to reinstate Elliott’s suspension, and on and on it goes. The continuous fighting between the league and the players is so wearisome. It has to end.
i. Weirdness from a 15-inning, 13-6 Boston win over Tampa Bay game Friday night: Dustin Pedroia went 0-for-9 and stranded 13 runners; Rays batters struck out 24 times; the Rays used 12 pitchers. And there’s this: In a two-month span, the Red Sox played extra-innings games that went 16, 15, 13, 19 and 15.
j. Coffeenerdness: Great simple coffee shop in the Haight in San Francisco, Ritual Coffee Roasters. The barista there Saturday told me he’d gone to Costa Rica to sample the beans and meet with their growers; both the espresso and drip coffees (I had to make a second trip) were sharp and distinctive. I don’t know that I’ve had espresso from Costa Rica before. This one had a nutty tinge. Liked it a lot.
k. Winenerdness: Heitz Cellars, how do you keep doing it, over and over? I’ve never had a bad glass of Heitz cab, no matter the year.
l. Whoa … 70,425 to see Atlanta United on Saturday in the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta—an MLS single-game attendance record.
m. RIP Jack Teele, a longtime NFL executive and the unofficial logistical organizer of Super Bowl I in Los Angeles. He also came up with the nickname for the greatest defensive front in Rams history, the Fearsome Foursome.
n. I have no idea why Clay Travis would go on CNN and say (to a female news host) the only two things he believes in are “the First Amendment and boobs,” but it’s an insult to everyone who takes a job in the media seriously. Be an adult, dude.
Who I Like Tonight
New York Giants 20, Detroit 16. Odell Beckham Jr. will play. Odell Beckham Jr. might play. Odell Beckham Jr. probably won’t play. Odell Beckham Jr. will be out a month if he doesn’t play tonight. I mean, how many more forecasted updates on a high ankle sprain can there be? I’m picking the Giants here because I think Beckham plays, and I think Eli Manning figures a way to get him the ball eight times against a suspect secondary. But the one thing to watch: How often—every snap, maybe, or just most of them—do the Giants keep an extra blocker in to help an anemic tackle situation?
The Adieu Haiku
Hustle, Zeke. Hustle.
Lots of football things are tough.
Effort is not one.
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