Quickly

  • The NFL commissioner reacts to anthem protests and celebrations across the league on Sunday, and a look at the conflicting feelings of Patriots owner Robert Kraft
  • Sections include: the significant on-field storylines of Week 3 including the unknown kicker hero in Philly, Brandin Cooks’ game-winning catch in Foxboro and more
  • Plus the Week 3 Award Section, Quotes of the Week, Stat of the Week, 10 Things I Think I Think, thoughts on the Aaron Hernandez CTE findings and more
By Peter King
September 25, 2017

On Sunday evening, the 48 Hours That Roiled the NFL were almost over. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sat monitoring the second half of the late-window games in the NFL’s officiating command center. He took a short break to consider what happened on what one owner told me was the strangest weekend he’d seen in his tenure in the league.

“The way we reacted today, and this weekend, made me proud,” Goodell said. “I’m proud of our league.”

Think of what happened. President Donald Trump was bashing the league that spurned him again late Friday night. In a speech in Alabama, the president ripped the NFL both for being too punitive on big hits and for owners not firing the next player who didn’t stand for the anthem. “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now!” Trump said, railing to an empathetic crowd. “Out. He’s fired. He’s FIRED!!”

But really, think of what happened. The previous weekend, in the 16 games in the NFL, fewer than 10 players, total, either sat or raised a fist during anthems across the league. The organized protests were being replaced by meetings between a cadre of increasingly socially conscious players and league and team officials. Then the Alabama speech happened, and players—white and black—and owners and union officials and the commissioner, got angry. On Saturday, one coach whose team hadn’t done any protesting of note before this weekend said his players “felt like the president put them in a corner—and they had to do something or it’d look like the president made them back down.”

Anthem posture varied across the league Sunday, from standing to sitting to kneeling to entire teams not showing up for the ceremonies.
Billie Weiss/Getty Images

So Trump actually was the divider-in-chief this weekend. In two-plus minutes of a speech pumping up the candidacy of an Alabama Republican senate candidate, the president of the United States detoured to cursing at grown men who would choose to protest silently before football games. How would you guess strong and principled men would respond to anyone, never mind the president, calling them SOBs? In a week, five or eight protesters became in excess of 250. Three full teams—Pittsburgh (other than Army veteran Alejandro Villanueva), Seattle and Tennessee—boycotted the anthem Sunday, and other groups either knelt or sat. “He [Trump] attacked our brothers, my brothers, and me,” said Carolina veteran Julius Peppers, who stayed in the locker room during the anthem before the Saints-Panthers game.

More than that, it seemed Trump got players so angry that these protests are likely to continue well into this season. Early Monday morning, after Washington’s victory over Oakland in the Sunday night game, cornerback Josh Norman went on an emotional run. He described watching the Trump comments, being stunned by the cheering in the crowd and he said: “Am I American? Am I here ... for the land of the free and the home of the brave? Am I really free? … This right here is NOT acceptable. I’m kinda getting choked up right now.”

Trump was at it again Sunday, while protests—players either demonstrating or locking arms in solidarity on the sidelines—happened at 14 NFL games from London to Los Angeles. He tweeted about “boring games” on a day when five of them in the early window came down to the last minute. Last second, in one case. Trump’s buddy Tom Brady, battered by a consistent Texans rush, threw his fifth touchdown of the day with 23 seconds left to beat the Texans 36-33. The Bears won on a walkoff overtime 19-yard run by Jordan Howard. Newbie Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett eked out a three-point win when Cleveland’s DeShone Kizer threw an interception on the last play of the game. Detroit lost by four to Atlanta when a last-second attempted touchdown dive by the Lions’ Golden Tate fell about 10 inches short. And a Philadelphia rookie kicker playing his second NFL game kicked a 61-yard field goal at the gun to beat the Giants by three.

NFL
NFL Week 3 Sunday FreakOut: There Were Poignant Demonstrations, and the Games That Followed Were Incredible

But it was a weird day for the game, and a weird weekend for teams. Seattle was in Nashville on Saturday preparing to play one of the league’s rising teams, the Titans. And the Seahawks, instead of either resting or focusing on the game, spent about four-and-a-half hours Saturday discussing what to do Sunday—and then even more time on it before the game. The Steelers debated what to do at length Saturday before playing the Bears. How much did that have to do with the Seahawks and Steelers losing Sunday? Maybe nothing. We’ll never know.

Goodell wouldn’t say how he personally felt when he first heard the Trump remarks early Saturday. But someone who spoke to him this weekend said Goodell had “profound disappointment” over the comments. He’d gone to Philadelphia on Sept. 12 to meet with some leaders of a players’ group working on social causes such as criminal-justice reform and police-community relations. Anthem protesting was down, and a source said the league was considering what further steps to take in response to the players’ request for the league to be more involved with social causes.

Goodell told me Sunday night: “I spent a lot of time listening to our players and coaches and owners over the past two days. They really care about our league. I just think we need more understanding. I was trying to find out with the players and coaches, ‘How are you feeling? What’s going on in your locker rooms?’ They were trying to figure out ways to respond.” He would not disclose any of the players or coaches.

Sunday’s demonstrations, Goodell said, did not surprise him. “They reflected the frustration, the disappointment, of the players over the divisive rhetoric we heard [from Trump],” he said.

NFL
For NFL Teams, Unity Has Been the Message This Sunday

Asked what the league could do now about the festering problems between the president and the country’s most popular game, Goodell said: “I think we have to be focused on what the NFL is doing—staying true to our values, unifying people and continuing an effort to understand and help improve our communities. People love coming together around football. We saw nothing but exciting football today. I think the public loves our game and recognizes the efforts we’re making with it.”

“Aren’t you bothered that the president might be on a crusade against your league?” I asked.

“No,” Goodell said. “We live in an imperfect society. A public discourse makes us strong.”


As of Sunday night, at least 23 of the league’s 32 owners issued statements on Trump’s comments, or spoke about them. Three of the seven men (Woody Johnson of the Jets, Dallas’ Jerry Jones and Tampa Bay’s Edward Glazer) who donated to Trump following the 2016 election did not comment over the weekend. Johnson, Jones and Glazer gave several million dollars toward the cost of Trump’s inauguration. Johnson is not currently owner of the Jets, and acting CEO Christopher Johnson issued a statement Sunday. 

Many of the statements were formulaic and respectful, with only a few rapping Trump with more than a ruler on the knuckles. John Mara and Steve Tisch, co-chairs of the Giants, called the comments “inappropriate, offensive and divisive.”

But imagine how Robert Kraft of the Patriots felt formulating his statement. I was told Kraft was watching Trump’s speech Friday night while working out after returning to Massachusetts from a business trip, and he was immediately upset. Kraft issued his statement Sunday morning. It read, in part: “I am deeply disappointed by the tone of the comments made by the President on Friday … There is no greater unifier in this country than sports, and unfortunately, nothing more divisive than politics.”

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft counts President Trump among his best friends.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Over the years, Trump, who at one point of his life was a huge football fan (and may still be), became friendly with Kraft and with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Trump played golf with Brady. Trump watched games from Kraft’s box. I remember meeting Trump before a Patriots game in Foxboro when he was walking the sidelines with Kraft. Kraft’s relationship with Trump was such that when Kraft’s wife, Myra, died on July 20, 2011, Trump and wife Melania were not only in attendance at the services, but also among the first to arrive. After the funeral, Trump and Melania sat shiva with the Krafts at the their house in suburban Brookline, Mass. (Shiva is a one-week mourning time during which families grieve with relatives and close friends at the family home.) For weeks thereafter, Trump was one of a small circle of friends who would call Kraft weekly to see how he was doing without Myra.

Trump ascending to the presidency hasn’t dulled the relationship—at least until this weekend. Soon after his inauguration, Trump invited Kraft to dinner with the Japanese prime minister at Trump’s winter home in Florida. Then, Kraft gave Trump a genuine Super Bowl ring, the same as his players got after the scintillating 34-28 comeback win over Atlanta last February.

Kraft has gotten to know his players throughout his years as the owner, taking groups of Patriots to Israel and on trips to Boston’s inner city, including one session with the Boston police chief. Kraft has formed lasting bonds with many of those players, black and white. He has to be thinking, It’s one thing to urge players to stand respectfully for the national anthem. But who’s that guy calling them SOBs if they don’t? That wasn’t the guy who sat shiva with me when my wife died.

So now where does the league go from here? The players may continue to poke the bear, and union executive director DeMaurice Smith could too; his defiant tone in his statement made it clear the players wouldn’t back down to Trump. But it’s unlikely you’ll see Goodell engage much with Trump’s warring words. It’s not the commissioner’s style.

NFL
Paul Tagliabue: Trump Comments ‘Insulting and Disgraceful’

And Trump? I wouldn’t expect him to go quietly into the Washington night. In 2014, he was outbid by the Pegulas for the Bills and used Twitter to tell Buffalo what he really thought.

“Even though I refused to pay a ridiculous price for the Buffalo Bills, I would have produced a winner,” Trump said in October 2014, in a flurry of tweets. “Now that won’t happen.”

Sound familiar?

Jake Elliott was mobbed by teammates after his 61-yard field goal gave the Eagles a win over the Giants.
Abbie Parr/Getty Images

It was really quite a day. Even the Week 3 games that stunk had storylines.

Jacksonville obliterated the wounded Ravens in London. The Jags are averaging 29.7 points a game, have 13 sacks and boast a hard-to-play 2-1 record. The Jags do a lot of things well, and Blake Bortles isn’t losing games.

Minnesota, playing without Sam Bradford for the second straight game, got a career game from Case Keenum (25 of 33, 369 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, 142.1 rating) in a win over the Bucs. The Vikings hope to get Sam Bradford back for the NFC North trifecta coming up (Detroit, at Chicago, Green Bay), but Keenum’s not so frightening now.

• The Jets held the ball for 36 minutes—a big surprise considering how feeble the offense is—and held the imposing Dolphins to 30 yards rushing. New York 20, Miami 6. Not a lot of fun to watch unless you live in the Todd Bowles home. But that’s how the Jets have to win: sturdy defense, efficient offense.

NFL
Seahawks' Defense Struggled Against Titans, Giving Up Too Many Big Plays

Carolina has a Cam Newton issue. Panthers at Patriots next Sunday, in what could be the second and final meeting ever between Newton and Tom Brady. (AFC teams meet NFC teams once every four seasons. I probably should not bet against a 44-year-old Tom Brady playing at Charlotte in 2021.) Last eight quarters: Brady eight touchdowns passes, 142.9 passer rating; Newton zero touchdown passes, 62.1 passer rating. Newton got yanked by the Panthers, who got routed by the Saints, but he was still confident afterward. “Just be patient and know big things are ahead for us,” Newton said.

Kansas City has a good one in Kareem Hunt. The 86th pick in the 2017 draft has a 113-yard lead in the rushing race after three games. If the Kansas City kid keeps up the 133.7-yard average per game, he might have a decent season.

Two other stories hit me Sunday, and I reached out and talked to the protagonist in both.

• Jake Elliott, hero. I didn’t even notice this until Sunday: the Bengals chose a kicker, Jake Elliott of Memphis, in the fifth round, 153rd overall, from Memphis in the April draft … and cut him Labor Day weekend, choosing to keep Randy Bullock. After a week on the Bengals’ practice squad, Elliott signed with the Eagles when Caleb Sturgis was hurt on opening day. Normal enough story, until one second remained in a 24-24 Eagles-Giants tie at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.

The preface: Before the game, coaches watched Elliott kicking on the field and decided they’d call on him if the kick was 56 yards or closer. Coincidentally, that’s the longest kick of his career, 56 yards, when he was in college. But with the ball at the Giants’ 43 with one tick left, Elliott did the quick math … 61 yards.

“I sprinted up to the coaches to put my word in,” Elliott said after the game. “I was real wide-eyed. I said, ‘Let’s go! LET’S GO!’”

NFL
Three & Out: The Eagles Kick the Giants While They’re Down

The head coach, Doug Pederson, looked at this kid he barely knows, said nothing and pointed out to the field. “I ran out there,” Elliott calmly recounted. “Normal flow. A little jittery. But I was zoned in. I couldn’t really tell you what I was thinking. I felt good about it. When I hit the ball, it felt good. You know when you’re a kicker, and you hit it really well, sometimes it feels like you haven’t really hit it that hard …”

“Like a baseball player hitting the ball on the sweet spot of the bat and not really feeling much?” he was asked.

“Exactly.”

Then, he said, he kicked it, and “I saw the ball in real life.” It veered a little bit right and kept going and going and appeared to slightly shave the inside of the right upright. Plenty of ball. Good.

The wide-eyed amazement of teammates he barely knows sprinting at him … FOX hustling him over for the Erin Andrews post-gamer on the field …  Two teammates, Mychal Kendricks and Kamu Grugier-Hill, waiting to carry him off the field … The crowd, as loud as one observer said he’s heard it in two or three years, going bonkers.

What will Elliott remember most? All of it, probably.

“It’s a little bit stunning,” Elliott said. “Surreal. Really surreal.”

That’s how you feel when you kick the longest field goal in Eagles history, the longest NFL field goal ever kicked in Philadelphia, and the longest field goal by a rookie in NFL history, and a dagger in the heart of the 0-3 Giants. Not bad for a guy who couldn’t beat out Randy Bullock three weeks ago.

• And speaking of strange Septembers … Jacoby Brissett won a game Sunday. Instead of Tom Brady on the sideline giving him pointers between series, it was Andrew Luck. Three weeks ago Brissett walked into a new world as a backup quarterback for the Colts, traded by the Patriots for wideout Phillip Dorsett. And Brissett was playing soon enough, put in while Luck rehabbed from shoulder surgery and after Scott Tolzien struggled badly in Week 1.

It’s clear Brissett will go back to a support role in two or three weeks when Luck returns from a longer-than-expected rehab. But the Colts know they’ve got a good and capable lieutenant for the next three seasons—Brissett is signed through the end of 2019 at the highly reasonable average rate of $735,000 a year. Brissett had a nice game Sunday in the 31-28 survival test against the Browns: 17 of 24, 70.8 percent accuracy, one touchdown pass, no picks, two touchdown runs, 120.0 rating.

NFL
The Morning Huddle: Land of the Knee

I’m not sure if a Colts fans will view this as a positive, but when interviewed, Brissett sounds very much like a Patriot. You can tell he took interview lessons from Bill Belichick.

“It’s hard to win in the NFL,” Brissett said. “I’m going to enjoy this one.”

On the craziness of the past month, since getting to Indianapolis: “It’s been a whirlwind. I’ve been lucky to have good people around me—good players, good coaches. My offensive line’s been great.”

On his smooth-looking touchdown pass, his first as a Colt, to wideout T.Y. Hilton: “I got the ball to the best player on the field, and he did the rest. I had plenty of time, so I’ve got to thank the line for that.”

On the best advice he got from Brady when he left New England: “Have fun. It’s football. And work, just work.”

Who knows how the trade’s going to measure out in three or four years. But Brissett’s got the demeanor—and the ability to win a game the Colts could not afford to lose—to make GM Chris Ballard very happy he made that deal.

After the smattering of boos at Gillette Stadium for the 15 Patriots who chose to kneel for the national anthem in defiance of President Trump’s inflammatory Friday remarks—you don’t hear boos for the home team too often in the house of the five-time world champs—it was time to get down to business for the Patriots. The visiting Texans weren’t making it easy for New England, though, building a 33-28 lead with a little more than two minutes left in the game, and the Patriots would need to travel 77 yards to overcome Houston.

Tom Brady soon took his fifth sack. Then he was knocked down for the eighth time in the game.

Through three games as a Patriot, Brandin Cooks has 10 catches for 256 yards and two touchdowns, including this toe-tapping game-winner Sunday against the Texans.
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Then he converted a third-and-18 throw to Danny Amendola, and ducked into the New England huddle, 29 seconds left, with the ball at the Houston 25-yard line.

“What’d he say in the huddle, other than the play?” I asked Brandin Cooks an hour after the game.

Cooks had to think for a moment. “No words, really,’’ he said. “You know, just, ‘Let’s go fellas. Do what we do best.’”

NFL
Three & Out: Takeaways From the Patriots 36–33 Win Over the Texans

Cooks’ job was to beat his man, cornerback Kareem Jackson, down the left side, deep, and be ready for the ball near the goal line. “It’s just one of the things you know playing with Tom—run the best route you can on every snap, because you never know when it’s coming to you,” said Cooks. Brady looked over his four options and let it fly for Cooks, who’d beaten Jackson by two steps and now had only to contend with the deep safety, Corey Moore, coming fast … and Cooks had to contend with the wide white stripe on the side of the end zone. The ball from Brady nestled into Cooks’ arms, just as Moore flew over his head and came close to battering him into the turf. Cooks caught it, his two feet seemingly glued to the ground, as the official stared at him, stared at his two feet, and stared to see if he hung onto the ball as he fell to the turf, as if being toppled like a tree, straight over.

Touchdown. The fifth one of Brady’s day, against one of the best defensive fronts in football. At age 40. To a talented receiver who was in second grade in Brady’s rookie year.

“To be honest, your brain knows you’re close,” Cooks said. “I can’t even describe to you what I did or why I did it. I can’t take you through it. It’s just the instincts of a receiver. You know how much space you have, and it’s not much.”

NFL
NFL Week 3 Sunday FreakOut: There Were Poignant Demonstrations, and the Games That Followed Were Incredible

Cooks turns 24 today. He’s gone from one Hall of Famer (Drew Brees) to another (Brady) in one off-season. What’s next? Going to Green Bay in free agency and finishing his career with Aaron Rodgers? I asked him how he felt now, being dropped into the New England offense, being the go-to receiver for perhaps the greatest quarterback of all time on a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. Again.

“Thankful, thankful, thankful,” said Cooks. “There are so many people who would love to play this game, and so many who would love to be in this position. It’s a gift from God. Truly, this is a gift from God.”


In their own words…

Today at The MMQBwe have a series of comments from the NFL’s rank-and-file about what they heard over the week from the president, and how the player movement is gaining steam. Below is one example, and here’s the link to what the players really think:

NFL
Voices of NFL Players on Sunday’s Protests During the National Anthem

Andrew Whitworth, OT, Rams
Age 34, 12th NFL season
Hometown: Monroe, La.

“I saw the president’s comments when I picked my phone up Friday night and saw the social media buzz. Honestly, my first thought was, ‘Oh no.’  I really had fear. I didn’t know where it would lead. And now, I hope for unity. I hope for guys to support each other. Let’s find ways to unify, to find common ground.

“Will I kneel or sit? No. That doesn’t mean I’m not 100 percent in support of the players who choose to demonstrate in some way. But this is why I will stand: My high school best friend, Lee Deal from West Monroe, La., was a soldier in the Navy killed in Iraq the year I was drafted in Cincinnati. I’ve got a tattoo on my back of his gravestone. The national anthem, for me, I always get really emotional. I get to play this game and my brother—my close friend, who served this country on a special reconnaissance team and earned a Purple Heart—doesn’t get to be here. So I will always stand, and get emotional … as a tribute to Lee.

“For me, who I am, what I’m about, it’s about people loving each other. There is inequality in this country. I don’t know all the facts, but I 100 percent believe there is racial inequality that must be addressed. The president made it personal. He went after a group of people, a special group of people, he attacked personally. Attacking people the way he did is not the way to improve the world.”

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr had nowhere to go against the Washington defense on Sunday night.
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Tom Brady, quarterback, New England. You’re kidding, right? Against the Houston defensive front, 25 of 35 for 378? Five touchdowns? No picks? This just in: Brady’s 40.

Deshaun Watson, quarterback, Houston. On the flip side, Watson just turned 22. He went into Foxboro, against the five-time world champs, and went toe-to-toe with Brady. Down eight in the third quarter, Watson engineered 70-, 67- and 49-yard drives to put the Texans up 33-28 with 2:24 left. So what if the Houston lead couldn’t hold? Coaches hate moral victories, but there hasn’t been a moral victory in the first 46 games of this season anywhere close to Houston’s three-point loss in Foxboro. The Texans have a quarterback.

Jared Goff, quarterback, Los Angeles Rams. The more we see of Goff, the better he looks in his sophomore season. Playing with a confidence belying his youth, and playing in both his high school and his college backyard, Goff shredded the Niners in Santa Clara in a 22-of-28, 292-yard, three-touchdown, no-pick night.

DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Ryan Kerrigan, outside linebacker, Washington. Through two weeks, Oakland had most often looked like as explosive an offensive team as there was in football. On Sunday night the Kerrigan-led swarm around Derek Carr limited the Raiders to seven first downs and a ridiculous 128 total yards. Kerrigan had a sack and three tackles for loss. If you’d have told me he had seven tackles behind the line, I wouldn’t been surprised.

Calais Campbell, defensive end, Jacksonville. It’s amazing how much Calais Campbell, at 32, still affects the game. Playing 32 of the Jaguars’ 53 defensive snaps in the 44-7 rout of the Ravens, Campbell had five quarterback disruptions: one sack, one quarterback hit, three hurries. The former Cardinal is off to a terrific start (4.5 sacks in three games) with his new team.

SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Deon Lacey, linebacker, Buffalo. Last minute of the third quarter. Fourth-and-two, Denver ball at its 31. Punt formation. FAKE! Upback De’Angelo Henderson takes a direct snap, and here comes Lacey, not falling for the fake, tackling Henderson after a one-yard gain. A huge play in a close game by a man plucked off the waiver wire from the Dolphins. The stuff helped the Bills upset the previously unbeaten Broncos.

Matt Prater, kicker, Detroit. Becoming the first kicker in history to convert at least 10 field goals of 55 yards or longer, Prater kept the Lions in a seesaw game with field goals from 55, 40, 35 and 57 yards. Prater also has a current streak of converting 11 consecutive field goals of at least 50 yards. Since 2011, he has connected on 31 field goals of 50 of more, the most in the NFL during that span.

COACH OF THE WEEK

Pat Flaherty, offensive line, Jacksonville. The Jags held Baltimore’s power defense sackless Sunday in the 44-7 win over the Ravens in London. Respect the job Flaherty has done in his first season with a new group: left tackle Cam Robinson, left guard Patrick Omameh, center Brandon Linder, right guard A.J. Cann, right tackle Jermey (cq) Parnell. Flaherty, 61, was Tom Coughlin’s prize line coach with the Giants, and Flaherty is reprising his outstanding work with the Jaguars—with Coughlin now in the front office.

GOAT OF THE WEEK

Marcus Cooper, cornerback, Chicago. It will take Cooper a long time to live this down—and, knowing the long memories of Bears fans in Chicagoland, they’ll never forget it. The Bears blocked a Pittsburgh field-goal try late in the first half of a 7-7 game, and Cooper picked it up and seemed headed for an easy 72-yard touchdown return. Cooper slowed down to show off inside the Pittsburgh 10-yard line, and that was all the time Steelers backup tight end Vance McDonald needed to catch Cooper—and knock the ball free at the one-yard line.


Quotes of the Week

I

“There are no SOBs in this league.”

—Lions coach Jim Caldwell

II

“It’s certainly more American to protest than to advocate for the suppression of protests.”

—Green Bay running back Ty Montgomery

III

“I’m pissed off. I supported Donald Trump. [The comments] are appalling to me … I never signed up for that.”

—Rex Ryan, on ESPN on Sunday. The former Bills coach once introduced Trump at a western New York campaign rally

IV

“If I owned a pro football team—the Tobin family—I might think of selling it before it totally blows up and becomes flag football. In my opinion, if you want to play, play. Then sign a whatever that you’ll take the risk. If you don’t want to play and you’re afraid of concussions or whatever other injuries occur, get up in the stands and be a fan. … You’ve got a lot of parents that read this stuff and they don’t want their kids to participate. I’m not confident that all of this crap about concussions is accurate, anyway. If you don’t want to take the risk then get the hell out of it. Then they talk about premature death and all that. [Expletive], there’s people dying every day that never played football. That’s a real concern of mine.”

—Veteran Cincinnati scout Bill Tobin, best known for building the powerful Bears’ teams of the ’80s, to longtime football writer Bob McGinn on McGinn’s website

Many of you have asked about McGinn since The MMQB ran his Exit Interview this year upon his retirement from covering the Packers for 39 years. Bob and son Charlie run a startup website covering all things Packers—subscribe here if you’re interested in great football writing and insightful reporting.

V

“He’s a Hall of Famer with what he’s done already in his career.”

—Cris Collinsworth, on Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, after he made the game-clinching sack in the Rams’ 41-39 win over the 49ers

Collinsworth is a splendid analyst and a very good friend. But it would take something truly extraordinary for me to vote a man who has played three years and two NFL games into the Hall of Fame. Then again, this is what the Terrell Davis Hall of Fame vote has wrought: Davis had three other-worldly seasons and one very good one, and he was elected to the Hall this year.


Stat of the Week

Value of coaching dept:

Look how much better second-year quarterback Jared Goff is, compared to rookie quarterback Jared Goff:

Rams W-L Comp. Pct. Avg. Yards TD-INT Passer Rating
0-7 .546 155.6 5-7 63.6
2-1 .704 272.3 5-1 118.2
 

Obviously, this can’t all be about coaching. But coach Sean McVay and his hands-on Goff guys—quarterbacks coach Greg Olson and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur—have gone back and educated Goff about the littlest things. Formations and pass-route combinations have been a big part of the education. Take Goff’s one-yard touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins on Thursday night—made possible by an interesting formation with Watkins paired with another receiver to the left of the formation that was as close to a pick play, but entirely legal, as an offense can run. It’s just smart stuff that makes life easier for the quarterback.

Having a significantly better offensive line helps. And the importing of Andrew Whitworth as a free-agent left tackle has meant the world. It’s like the importing of Chris Sale to the Red Sox pitching staff—it changes everything. Compare the protection from the left tackle for the Rams last year to the protection from the left tackle this year, stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus:

• 2016: Left tackle Greg Robinson allowed 40 sacks/significant pressures/hits of the quarterbacks in 511 pass drops. That’s one pressure per 12.8 pass attempts.

• 2017: Left tackle Andrew Whitworth has allowed one sack/significant pressure/hit of the quarterback in 84 pass drops. That’s one pressure per 84 pass attempts.

When I spoke with Whitworth on Saturday, he credited the teaching of McVay.

“The reality is, how many true teachers are there out there, rather than yellers and screamers,” Whitworth said. “The most impressive thing about Coach McVay is he’s a teacher. The greatest coaches are the ones who can not just stand in a classroom and instruct on the board what to do—but they can stand right beside me, looking through my eyes, and tell me how to do something. Teach me something. That can last forever. That’s what I see with coach McVay and Jared.

“Now, when I see Jared, I see a really confident guy. He’s told me, ‘I feel good about any single play we call. I just feel like I need to make the decisions. I don’t think, Is this what we should have called? Is this the right situation for this call?’ I think it’s important that after a play, Sean is not there to criticize him when he makes the wrong decision. He knows the only way for him to learn this is to go through it. It’s been good to watch.”

NFL
The Truth About Jared Goff, Continued

Factoid That May Interest Only Me

Tom Brady succeeded Drew Bledsoe as New England quarterback, as you all know. Bledsoe has gone into the wine business in Washington state, owning and operating Doubleback Winery in Walla Walla, Wash. Brady has stayed in the football business in New England.

The brains behind Brady’s passing success: Josh McDaniels, Brady’s offensive coordinator.

The brains behind Bledsoe’s vineyard success: Josh McDaniels, Bledsoe’s winemaker.


We’re in the first month of 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 person what his most valuable possession is, and why. (State Farm’s campaign mantra this year revolves around their customers’ most valuable possessions.)

Matt Ryan, quarterback, Atlanta. “Let me think … My golf clubs. Yeah, no doubt. My golf clubs. I just got fitted for a new set of Callaways this year. They’re fantastic clubs. I used them when I played the [St. Andrews] Old Course in Scotland this year. There’s something about golf clubs that you get fitted for—they just feel right. Then you’ve got no excuses when you play.”


Tweets of the Week

I

II

III

IV

Tweeted just after Sammy Watkins made a Willie-Mays-in-the-’54-World Series reception from Jared Goff on Thursday night.


Photo Op: Picture of the Week

The MMQB

That’s the shoe of a Mission High School football player on the field at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco, a player repping a team that’s all California, a black player in a school with whites, Hispanics, Asians. The story of the Mission High team leads the first episode in a series The MMQB is doing in partnership with State Farm called Football in America. Episode 1: The Bay Area. (Episodes 2 and 3 will feature the Charlotte and Minneapolis-St. Paul areas in the coming two weeks.) We’ll examine all levels of football—high school, youth, college and pro, in eight regions of the country—giving you stories like Jamal Dixon’s. The Mission High player reported to high school in an ankle-monitoring device because of juvenile trouble. A senior now, Dixon’s life has changed a lot, in part because of football.

NFL
Football in America: The Bay Area

A short bit of our first episode:

Seven years ago this week, Melanie Williams says, “His daddy got murdered in a home invasion—and Jamal seen it. The last thing that his Daddy said to him was, ‘Stay with football, not the streets.’ And he's been playing ever since.”

Before the game, Jamal prays to his father. This game has some special significance, because the sight he saw, the murder of his father, never leaves him. “September the 14th, yesterday, was the day he got killed seven years ago,’’ Jamal, a serious kid, says. “So today I gotta ball out for him.”

There are 32 stories on the Mission High football team. Some of these kids will make it, and get out of the desperate circumstances some are in. Some won’t. Some, co-coach Lamar Williams says, “will get caught in the tornado. You lose kids for sure. But Jamal has hope. He has football.”

We’d love your feedback on the series at talkback@themmqb.com


Pod People

From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.

This week’s guests: quarterback Derek Carr and tackle Donald Penn of the Raiders, and Minnesota GM Rick Spielman.

• Spielman on what he was thinking the night before he finalized the sudden trade with Philadelphia for Sam Bradford last year: “I was thinking, I'm not going to get much sleep tonight, I knew that. I stared at the ceiling all night because I knew how big a decision this was going to be. Every morning at 5 I get up to walk my dogs and clear my head, but I knew after we'd done all our research and after we'd talked through it thoroughly with the coaches and the personnel people, that this was the best thing for our organization. You have to go off of what you truly believe and usually you can tell inside your heart. And if you don't have any doubt after you sit there, and you know in your heart this is the best thing we can possibly do, then you just go with it. A lot of times it will work out. Sometimes it doesn't work out. With all the work, energy and effort we put into it, it was the best solution at the time.”

• Spielman on whether his Ohio football upbringing molded him into the GM he is today: “I believe so. The way we grew up, my dad was a high school coach for 30-plus years and ever since we've been able to walk, I remember my mom taking me and my brother out to my dad's practices. To sit there when you are three years old, all the way through your life and you are seeing your dad at a high school level deal with the adversities of wins and losses, the injuries … I always wanted to be a player. Well, unfortunately, I didn't have the change of direction and the instincts that my brother [Chris Spielman, the longtime NFL linebacker] had, but I became a front office guy. So I always tell Chris, 'You had a great career, but mine is lasting a lot longer so far! You're still not playing and mine has lasted about 28 years so far!’”

The Seahawks defense spent most of Sunday trailing in pursuit of DeMarco Murray and the Titans offense.
James Kenney/AP

1. I think these are my quick (and apolitical) thoughts of Week 3:

a. I can’t imagine the all-22 tape exonerating the official who called the offensive pass interference against San Francisco’s Trent Taylor in the last seconds of Rams 41, Niners 39. Huge call. Mega-huge call. And I will wait before judging, but man, that looked like the ultimate marginal call, and you’ve only got 16 of these football games. Even though neither team’s going to the Super Bowl this year, it matters.

b. I’ll tell you the impressive performance Sunday: The Titans running it 35 times for 195 yards, a 5.6 average, against the formidable Seahawks.

c. Was This Just a Dream First Quarter of the Year: Jacksonville outgained Baltimore in yards, 170 to minus-1, in the first 15 minutes in London.

d. You cannot make that unsportsmanlike call on Von Miller for offering to pick up a fallen Tyrod Taylor and then jerking the hand away. That is a gag. It is silly. It is not a penalty in the National Football League. Maybe in the 6-Year-Old Flag League of Bozeman, Mont.

e. I will hand it to Odell Beckham Jr. for this: He does have phenomenal hands. However he caught that ball at the edge of the left side of the end zone at Philly is just unfair.

f. I don’t want to give the Dolphins an excuse, and I know Adam Gase doesn’t either, but their Miami-to-California-(for nine days)-to-Miami-to-New Jersey travel slate couldn’t have helped in the 20-6 loss to the Jets. Now in three days, they leave for London.

g. Jameis Winston, three interceptions. Beginning to think that’s going to be a pox on the talented lad.

h. That’s a stunner, the fact that Aaron Rodgers won his first OT game ever on Sunday. Also stunning: He’s 1-7 in overtime.

i. Marshawn’s night in the nation’s capital: eight touches, 26 yards, no points, 16 snaps. What’d he have, the flu? 

j. Sixteen snaps? The man’s the missing link to your offense, Raiders. I know you want to keep him healthy for 16 weeks, but don’t put the guy in bubble wrap.

2. I think the way those owners could most forcefully illustrate their solidarity with the players would be for one of them to sign Colin Kaepernick this week.

3. I think it seems like six weeks ago, not four days go, that The New York Times broke the story of Aaron Hernandez’s autopsy results—his brain had stage three chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which means he had the brain at death at age 27 that their examiners sometimes see in men in their 60s. The maddening part of trying to put your finger on the whys of this death and what it means for future football players is that we can’t be sure of many things here. Hernandez’s family is suing the NFL, but we can’t be sure the NFL was the primary cause of this—at all. Hernandez played 28 games of high school football, and he played both ways in high school. He played 40 games at the University of Florida. He played 44 games with the Patriots. He played an undetermined amount of Pop Warner football in his younger days. I can accept that football was the root of the CTE. But which football? All of it? I imagine it’s all of it, because if he got whacked a few time in Pop Warner before his brain was fully developed, that’s a dangerous thing too. My point: There’s a lot we don’t know about CTE, and about when players are most susceptible to damage from head trauma.

NFL
The Discovery of CTE in Aaron Hernandez’s Brain Further Complicates This Complex Story

4. I think Troy Aikman said it right after Odell Beckham Jr., caught his first touchdown pass of the season, the 300th catch of his young career, and “celebrated” by going down on all fours in the end zone and raising his right leg, as if to urinate on the Lincoln Financial Field turf: “That’s not smart. It’s just dumb football.” Because it’s a 15-yard flag in a close game. That’s why.

5. I think Phil Mushnick’s got three weeks of columns on that play. If you’re not sure who that is, google him.

6. I think I admire Sean Payton for, after a big win the Saints had to have, having the presence to be able to say of the White House: “I think we need a little bit more wisdom in that office.” Payton is a staunch Republican. I saw him geek out when meeting President George W. Bush. He could have no-commented or soft-pedaled that. But he didn’t.

7. I think I think I’m not saying Ben McAdoo shouldn’t be a head coach in the NFL, but when I see him speak publicly, he does not inspire confidence that he should be a head coach in the NFL.

NFL
Tattoos of the NFL, and the Stories Behind the Ink

8. I think, at the risk of extending the Zeke Elliott-loafed story into an eighth day, I simply must call out Michael Irvin on his ridiculous deflecting defense of Elliott.

9. I think he didn’t win Goat of the Week honors because the Eagles beat the Giants, but Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson certainly made a goat-like decision that could have cost his Eagles the game Sunday. With 2:43 left in the first half, and a fourth-and-eight at the Giants’ 43, and the Eagles up 7-0, Pederson chose to go for it instead of pinning New York deep in their territory with the Giants’ offense struggling. The Giants sacked Carson Wentz and drove for what appeared to be the tying TD—except Sterling Shepard dropped the tying touchdown pass.

10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:

a. Story of the Week: Kent Babb of the Washington Post with a gem on Marshawn Lynch and the new Oakland that welcomes him back to the Raiders.

b. Great writing and story-telling by Babb, starting with a scene about being on the way to lunch with a coach, Lynch’s cousin, the head coach at Oakland Technical High School:

The coach agrees to join me for lunch, and he locks the weight room and we continue chatting and walk toward my rental car, on the other side of a football field surrounded by a chain-link fence. A moment later, Larkins looks behind him to see a gray SUV turn left onto the narrow path between a school building and the practice field, more of a walkway than a road.

It’s a Tesla Model X, and we casually step out of its way — and as we do the driver jerks the wheel, pointing the vehicle at me, and guns the motor. Larkins sprints to his right; feeling trapped and terrified, I bolt around a corner to my left. 

The vehicle screeches to a stop a few yards from us, the door swings open and out steps the driver, Marshawn Lynch.

… An outsider entering his space to talk to his guy about his town? That’s trespassing.

c. Absolutely true. And absolutely vivid. Great job by Babb.

d. In an event truly signifying we’re all incredibly old … Happy 90th birthday (last Friday), Tommy Lasorda.

e. Other happy birthdays this week: T.J. Houshmandzadeh 40 (on Tuesday), Jake Reed 50 (on Thursday), Tunch Ilkin 60 (last Saturday).

f. Baseball Story of the Week: Ben Reiter of Sports Illustrated on the incredible last-minute trade machinations that sent Justin Verlander from Detroit to Houston at the late-August midnight deadline. Houston GM Jeff Luhnow found out it got finalized 14 minutes after the deadline, when Verlander finally waived his no-trade clause … and a league operative told him: “Jeff, don’t ever put me through that again. We received final verification from Verlander at 11:59 and 58 seconds.” Good cloak-and-dagger by Reiter.

g. Holy cow. This Saquon Barkley is one great running back. That leap over the Iowa Hawkeye on Saturday night was Olympian enough. But then he gets whacked from the side as he’s coming down but still in the air, and he keeps his balance and gains more yardage? Last spring, Pete Thamel told me Barkley might be better Ezekiel Elliott, and I didn’t know what to think because obviously I’d just seen Elliott lay waste to the NFL as a rookie. But now I know what Thamel meant. Barkley is the genuine item.

h. Alabama 59, Vandy 0. I get Alabama should beat Vanderbilt 59-0 regularly, but Vandy was 3-0, with some hope. Man, it’s got to be tough to be an SEC team trying to climb the ladder to try to get in Alabama’s league.

i. Ten years ago, Louisiana-Monroe beat Alabama.

j. Coffeenerdness: Tried the Starbucks maple pecan latte the other day. Though not a fan of the pumpkin spice latte, I liked this one, because it didn’t have the sickeningly sweet taste of its pumpkin brother.

k. You were good on Bill Maher, Bob Costas.

l. One week until the new season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” So I’m officially on Larry David Watch.


Who I Like Tonight

Dallas 23, Arizona 13. Ezekiel Elliott in two games: 33 carries, 112 yards, 3.8 yards per rush. Meh. The Arizona run defense: 56 carries, 158 yards allowed … 2.8 per rush. Time for the rushing champion to carry his team in a tough environment.


The Adieu Haiku

I don’t imagine
we will be “Back to Football”
much before Christmas.

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