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
“There are no SOBs in this league.”
—Lions coach Jim Caldwell
“It’s certainly more American to protest than to advocate for the suppression of protests.”
—Green Bay running back Ty Montgomery
“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
“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 MMQBran 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.
“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:
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.”
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
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
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.
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 email@example.com
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!’”