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 Todayput 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 Tribuneperfectly 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 Enquirertracked 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 theRBI 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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