- Sunday had a bit of everything, from a vice presidential walkout and a video of an NFL coach allegedly snorting drugs, to season-ending injuries to superstars, and another sensational finish by Green Bay in Dallas
- More notes from Week 5 including: Cam Newton’s big day, Alex Smith’s MVP-like performance, Peyton Manning’s new statue, Todd Bowles’ surprising season, quotes, awards, stats and so much more
Where to begin? You’re going to need to close the door to your office, or hole up in your cubicle, or say your dog ate your car keys … I don’t know. But you’re going to need more time than usual to process what happened this weekend in the NFL.
Let’s see. Start with David Letterman roasting Peyton Manning, and his hometown. Then there was Indianapolis booing Roger Goodell, loudly, at the Manning lovefest. Then the Vice President of the U.S, who claims to be a Manning fan, wasting hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on a political stunt that overshadowed (to put it mildly) the retiring of Manning’s number on Sunday. Then Carolina’s Cam Newton, with just a little pressure on him, playing one of the best games of his career, highlighted by one of the oddest, coolest plays he’s made. Then Philly’s Carson Wentz absolutely steamrolling the Cardinals in what may have been the best game of his shiny young career. Then Ben Roethlisberger saying, “Maybe I don’t have it anymore,” after the first five-interception game of his 210-game NFL career.
More? Then Odell Beckham Jr. fracturing his ankle and possibly being lost for the season. Then Beckham in tears. Then the Giants falling to 0-5. Then the Jets winning their third straight; their record (3-2) says they’re better than Oakland and Dallas. Then Green Bay playing a classic for the time capsule, capped by not-quite-a-Jared-Cook catch by Davante Adams—stunningly back from the Danny Trevathan car crash 10 days earlier to win with 11 seconds left in The House That Jerry Built. Then Jones saying any Dallas Cowboy who doesn’t stand respectfully for the anthem will not play for the team anymore.
You want more? Then three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt breaking a leg bone and likely being lost for the season—again—and even the biggest Watt fans wondering: Will we ever see his greatness again? Then Watt on the verge of tears. Then the Chiefs moving to 5-0, with blinding speed everywhere, and beginning to distance themselves from everybody who’s pretty good. Then Deshaun Watson, in his fourth NFL start, throwing for five touchdowns against the best team in football. Then the realization that Alex Smith is the most valuable player in the game after five weeks. Then a shadowy, weird, unconfirmed video emerging just before midnight depicting a man, supposedly Dolphins assistant coach Chris Foerster, snorting some white powder while talking luridly to an absent female friend—before going into a meeting.
There have been some crazy weekends in my time covering the NFL. But this one was a combo platter of “North Dallas Forty” and “The Situation Room” and whatever show has grisly injuries you do not want to see but cannot look away.
So we’re going to be here for a while, starting with the happiest man, and most relieved man, on the Green Bay Packers’ charter on the tarmac at DFW Airport just after 9 Sunday night.
Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling wrap up the Sunday action each Monday morning on “The MMQB: 10 Things Podcast.” Subscribe on iTunes.
This is what Davante Adams remembers about the hit heard ’round the NFL, the savage, Bednarikian helmet-to-helmet hit from Chicago linebacker Danny Trevathan in the Week 4 Thursday night game:
“Nothing, really,” he said from his seat on the Packers’ plane after Green Bay’s 35-31 win in Texas. “I couldn’t recall anything. My first memory is when I got to the hospital. Then things started coming back. I vaguely remember scoring a touchdown the play before the hit. It got called back, and then the hit happened on the next play. I remember a little bit then, but then I started to remember more as time went by and I got a little less foggy.”
“Did you see the play?” I asked.
“Yeah, I saw it,” he said. “My fiancée showed it to me. She showed it to me on her cell phone—it was already on YouTube. When I saw it, it kind of made me sick to my stomach. I got a little heated watching it. As time went by, I started to remember everything.”
“Shocked you weren’t hurt worse?”
“Absolutely. Absolutely. God was really looking out for me there that night. An angel was there, to bring me back to life. My neck hurt a little bit from the whiplash of the hit, but that was about it. To come out of it fine, and then to play the next week, it’s amazing. A blessing.”
“Did Travathan reach out?”
“He did. He hollered at me, and I talked to him. It made me feel better, knowing there was no intention on his part. He’s not a dirty guy. It was just kind of a dirty hit. That’s how the game goes sometimes. No bad blood. I moved past it.”
Adams felt lucky to be playing on Sunday in Arlington. The Green Bay-Dallas rivalry has been ridiculously good in the Aaron Rodgers era. The teams have played three times in Texas in the past five years, and each game tops the previous one for exhilaration:
2013: Green Bay 37, Dallas 36.
2016: Green Bay 34, Dallas 31.
2017: Green Bay 35, Dallas 31.
I guess there’s not much to say when the Cowboys and Packers play deep in the heart, except this: Take the over. And this: Bet on Rodgers.
The Cowboys made one big mistake down the stretch as they took a 31-28 lead with 73 seconds left in Sunday’s game: That’s way too much time for Rodgers. Green Bay had one timeout remaining with 1:24 to play when Dallas, inexplicably, threw an incomplete pass, stopping the clock at 1:18. The Cowboys scored a touchdown on the next play, but instead of the Packers getting the ball with maybe 40 seconds and one timeout at, say, their 25-yard line, they took it down three with 1:13 left. Rodgers, with time, methodically and calmly moved the Packers to the Dallas 12 with 16 seconds remaining.
On the previous play, Adams, an angular and athletic 6'1" receiver earning Rodgers’ trust more and more, lined up wide left on rookie Dallas cornerback Jourdan Lewis. Lewis was stride-for-stride with Adams, and Rodgers overthrew his man. Back in the huddle, before Rodgers called the play, Adams had a message for him.
“Let’s go back to it,” Adams said to Rodgers—and Adams isn’t known as a beggar in the huddle. “Do it again. Throw it back up to me.”
Adams’ assignment was the same—line up wide left, take Lewis to the left side of the end zone … and wait. On the previous play, Rodgers threw a fade out of the side of the end zone, and Lewis’ coverage was good, and it wasn’t close to being completed. The second pass was designed as a back-shoulder throw. “Aaron threw it a little higher, and behind me,” Adams said. “He threw it in a great spot. The first one I saw a little later. The second one was in a perfect spot.” Rodgers threw it three-quarter delivery, calmly, to a spot Lewis couldn’t reach—high and just slightly behind him. Lewis turned back awkwardly and flailed at the ball, and Adams plucked from just over Lewis’s head. Touchdown.
“Aaron threw a perfect ball, which he does a lot,” Adams said. “It feels good to make this catch, my first game-winner, and on the biggest stage in football.”
Pretty amazing day. Pretty amazing 10 days. Adams said he wasn’t sore and had no headaches, even after being targeted 11 times and getting beaten up some during the game. And he didn’t seem all that impressed with himself or what he’d done. Playing in this game was surprising enough. Having the biggest catch of his career added to the stunning moment.
“A miracle, absolutely,” he said. “But miracles happen all the time.”
With Rodgers throwing the ball the way he does in Dallas—and practically everywhere—miracles for Green Bay seem a tad more commonplace.
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When Peyton Manning was drafted by the Colts in 1998, Mike Pence—born in Indiana, raised in Indiana, college-educated in Indiana—was a conservative talk-show host and avowed Colts fan. When Pence was elected to Congress in 2000, he moved away from Indiana for the first time but continued to root hard for the Colts in the Manning glory years. When Pence was elected governor in 2012 and Manning left for the Broncos, Pence continued to root for Manning when he played the Patriots, presumably because of the rivalry between the Colts and Patriots; Pence even tweeted his best wishes to Manning before a Denver-New England game several years ago.
So it surprised no one when Vice President Pence announced last week that he would be attending the ceremony in Indianapolis on Sunday when Manning’s number would be retired at halftime of the Colts-49ers game. Pence would be in Las Vegas on Saturday to honor the victims of the murderous gun rampage there, and he would be moving on to California for a vice presidential appearance on Monday, but he would fly on Air Force 2 with his traveling party for the 1,600-mile trip from Las Vegas to central Indiana to pay tribute to Manning at his halftime ceremony.
With Pence’s trip, of course, there would be a traveling press pool of about 20 and a traveling Secret Service detail of approximately 10 with Pence and about 20 more doing advance work to sweep Lucas Oil Stadium and the Indianapolis hotel where the VP’s party would stay on Saturday night and Sunday morning. There would be an ambulance in front of Pence’s motorcade and a trauma team on alert at a local hospital. There certainly would be other manpower needs associated with a vice presidential trip, at a significant cost to U.S. taxpayers.
Meanwhile, at some point during the weekend, President Donald Trump and Pence spoke, and Trump told Pence—he admitted as such on Twitter—that if there was a demonstration with players kneeling during the national anthem on Sunday, Pence was to leave the stadium.
If there was one certain thing at the 49ers-Colts game, it was that some 49ers would demonstrate during the anthem. This is the only team since the start of the 2016 season to have one or more players either sit or kneel for every game—preseason and regular-season. There was absolutely no chance that this game would go off with 45 Colts standing on their side of the field and 45 members of the Niners standing on their side of the field. For at least the previous 26 games that the 49ers played, first with Colin Kaepernick sitting and then kneeling, and this year with safety Eric Reid leading players in some form of demonstration, the team did something during the anthem. Last week in Arizona, about 30 players kneeled.
So why did Pence show up? This was a fait accompli—that some Niners would kneel, that Pence would walk out, and that it would turn into the story of the day in the NFL.
And in the process, it would cast a gigantic shadow over the ceremony Pence even tweeted about Sunday morning.
Unless he was tone-deaf and had zero press people on his staff telling him, “The 49ers are going to kneel, Mr. Vice President,” Pence knew he would be leaving and joining his boss in chiding NFL players for demonstrating during the national anthem.
Approximately 23 players for the 49ers kneeled. Pence walked out. By 8 p.m. Sunday, the top five stories on the Indianapolis Star website were:
• VP Pence leaves Colts game after 49ers players kneel
• Swarens: Throw the flag on Mike Pence’s walkout
• VP Mike Pence tweets same picture from Colts game
• Doyel: Pence uses Colts for political purposes
• Veterans, activists respond to Pence’s Colts walkout
No popular headline about Manning’s number 18 retired by the Colts or his induction into the team’s ring of honor. Judge for yourself about the motives of Pence, a native Hoosier, at the glorious celebration of one of the greatest athletes in the history of the state. He could have stayed away from Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday. It's a disgrace that Pence copied his boss and hogged a spotlight he had no business even sharing, never mind owning.
But the Vice President of the United States slapped Manning and Pence's beloved Colts in the face. Whether he's a puppet for the President or his own man, Pence trumped a day that belonged to the greatest football hero the state of Indiana has ever seen, and he did it for political purposes. He stole Manning's last great day as a Colt. Mike Pence will have to live with himself for that.
Recapping the rest of Sunday:
• Newton is pretty good at shutting out the outside world, apparently. Newton had an MVP-vintage game in the 27-24 win at Detroit: 26 of 33, 355 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. And the Carolina offense, for the first time this year, showed every aspect of what GM Dave Gettleman tried to build before getting fired in July. Isolate on one play, the six-yard shovel-pass touchdown from Newton to rookie Christian McCaffrey. Newton’s physical presence, and his speed, and the speed elsewhere on offense, made the play happen. At the snap of the ball, rookie wideout Curtis Samuel came in motion from the left. Newton took the snap and faked the jet-sweep handoff to Samuel. Then Newton ran to the left, with Jonathan Stewart to his outside shoulder, as though the Panthers were running the read-option. Two defenders committed to Newton and Stewart, and suddenly Newton stopped short and shoveled the ball to McCaffrey out front, between two defenders. Easy touchdown. What made the play work? Newton’s physicality and his speed threatened the defense. Stewart must be respected as a back running wide. Samuel distracted the D with his motion. And McCaffrey just snuck in for a fairly easy touchdown. At least it looked easy. That’s the kind of play that foretells trouble for future defenses, with the injection of speed and Newton’s post-shoulder-injury health. “Atlanta’s run it sometimes,” said offensive coordinator Mike Shula. “Pitt ran it in college. We’ve seen it. But there’s a lot of good options to it for our offense.”
Shula said he didn’t talk much to Newton about the controversy of the week (more about that later in the column), his belittling of a female reporter. “Luke Kuechly and some of the guys picked his spirits up, I think,” Shula said. “Me and [backup] Derek Anderson and [QB coach] Ken Dorsey were like, ‘You okay?’ And he said he was. We moved on. He’s just so happy today. He loves winning. I don’t think he lets things bother him the way we might think.”
• Thursday night in Charlotte: Eagles (4-1) at Panthers (4-1). We’re seeing Carson Wentz mature before our eyes. And though Arizona looks like it was overrated entering the year, Wentz’s performance was still impressive, waxing the Cardinals on three straight drives to open the game 21-0 after one quarter, on the way to a 34-7 win. “What we do well,” Wentz said afterward, “is mix it up well—play-action, empty backfield, find where the mismatches are. We came out firing and never let up.” Last year, Wentz showed some carelessness down the stretch, rushing his passes and trying to force too many throws. Now you watch him and see the quick but not careless working through progressions. Some young quarterbacks have nervous feet. Not Wentz. His touchdown to Nelson Agholor down the left sideline was the correct decision, the pass placed perfectly. Thursday is going to be a fun game to watch, two young quarterbacks duking it out. “I’ve got a ton of respect for Cam,” said Wentz. “I’ve watched him a lot. A lot to like.”
• Random thought of the week. The Cleveland Browns, in the past two drafts, bypassed Deshaun Watson, Carson Wentz and Jared Goff. Those three are seventh, ninth and 12th, respectively, in the NFL in passer rating this morning … with a combined touchdown-to-interception differential of 29 to 10. The Brown had better love one of the quarterbacks coming out in the draft next April.
• Speaking of Watson … You might have expected the postgame locker room in Houston—after the devastation of losing defensive stalwarts J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus for the year, after losing for the third time in five games—to be relatively hopeless. That’s not the way one observer saw this locker room on Sunday night, with Houston at 2-3 and without local hero Watt and rising star Mercilus. That’s because for the first time in years, the Texans think they’ve found the most difficult franchise centerpiece to find, in quarterback Deshaun Watson. On Sunday night, with the crowd in mourning after the loss of Watt with a broken leg that will require surgery as soon as Monday, Watson didn’t succumb to emotions. He led the Texans to 27 points in the second half, throwing four touchdown passes and keeping Houston in a shootout with the best team in football. Watson is leaving his mark after just four starts:
• The Texans have scored 91 points in the last two games, a two-game franchise record.
• Watson has thrown nine touchdown passes in the past two games.
• His attitude and presence is something coach Bill O’Brien points to a lot. He even used the next-man-up thing after Sunday’s game, after the big defensive injuries. “Praying for those guys,” Watson said. “But at the same time, it’s the National Football League and you have to have a next-man-up mentality.”
It’s weird to simply move on after injuries like that. Weird and cold. But that’s the business of the NFL.
• Todd Bowles is not feeling vengeful. The Jets coach would be within his rights to tell the geniuses on my side of the business (including me) how we had his team all wrong. I gave him that chance after the Miracle Jets, with a 17-14 win over Cleveland, moved into a three-way tie for the AFC East lead (Buffalo 3-2, New England 3-2, Jets 3-2.) Vengeance? “I don’t have time for that,” he told me from Cleveland. “It’s a long season. And everyone else’s goals are not our goals.” Lots of upset specials in the NFL this season, but the Jets being above .500 in October is one of the biggest surprises. Bowles was bullish Sunday on quarterback Josh McCown, the 38-year-old veteran of 10 pro teams. Sunday marked the first time in McCown’s career that he’d won three NFL starts in a row. “We love him,” said Bowles. “He is perfect for our team. He has meant everything to us. He’s a leader for guys all over the team.” McCown’s 71-percent accuracy has been huge, as has his ability to instill some instant chemistry into a bunch of new receivers (Jermaine Kearse: team-high 22 catches).
This should be fun if not necessarily a work of art: Jets-Patriots in New Jersey on Sunday for the AFC East lead. Never thought in 2017 I’d be writing that sentence.
INDIANAPOLIS — When I started in the sportswriting business, in 1980, one of my jobs at the Cincinnati Enquirer was as backup beat writer covering the Reds. In those days, their Triple-A team was in Indianapolis, and a couple of times a year, I’d drive two hours up I-74 to write about some future Red. Indianapolis was sort of old and dusty and definitely minor-league, with a rickety old ballpark and a downtown with nothing happening, at least compared to Cincinnati. Maybe not quite how native Hoosier David Letterman described Indy of the sixties on Saturday (“like a minimum-security prison with a racetrack”), but still far behind mid-sized cities like Cincinnati. More Letterman: “People would say, ‘Dave, we’re planning a trip to Indianapolis, what should we do?’ This was years and years ago. I said, ‘This is what I’d do if I was going to Indianapolis. I’d rent a car and go to Chicago.’”
So now Indianapolis, with its compact downtown packed with hotels and restaurants, has had a Super Bowl—and the city performed so well the NFL might go back for a second one day. Indianapolis has won a Super Bowl. Indianapolis has had Final Fours, men’s and women’s. Indianapolis is even hip, with Manhattan-caliber restaurants like Bluebeard. On Saturday, with two big conventions and a Colts game in town, downtown was bursting at the seams; there was a line at St. Elmo’s. And a crowd of 10,000 to 12,000 people came to the city to watch the unveiling of the half-ton bronze statue for the man who, more than anyone, made it possible. GM Bill Polian always maintained Lucas Oil Stadium got built on the back of Peyton Manning, and the former two-term governor, Mitch Daniels, echoed that in remarks to the adoring crowd. Locals were giving Daniels a hard time about the cost of Lucas Oil Stadium early this century, and he said: “Just build it. Peyton will fill it.” Fitting, too, that the shiny upscale JW Marriott—representing boom times in the first 17 years of this century for $320-a-night rooms in ritzy downtown hotels—could be seen through the legs of the bronze number 18.
“He didn’t do it alone,” Letterman said. “But by God, look around us. He changed the skyline. This used to be a small town. This man has changed the skyline.”
Never wonder again about the effect of a winning quarterback on a city, a state, a region. It’s why every team that doesn’t have Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan spends so much time and money looking for one. As Browns owner Jimmy Haslam told me this summer: “There’s nothing that compares to it. You need a great starting pitcher, a great closer in baseball. You need a great point guard in basketball. But there’s not one position that comes anywhere close in sports, I don’t think, to quarterback in football. If you ask any one of our football people, they’d all say getting the quarterback right is number one. I can tell you this: It’s on the top of our list daily. Once you get that, the game’s much easier.”
Four other thoughts on the Manning event:
• There is no safe haven for Roger Goodell. The NFL can, and certainly will, slough off the reception for the commissioner here, but I found it notable, to say the least. The setup of the program paired speakers together, something I’ve never seen at a public event. The MC made a short introductory talk about each man and asked both to come up at the same time. One spoke, one sat between Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay. Jeff Saturday introduced (oddly) with David Letterman. Bill Polian introduced with the former governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels. Goodell introduced with Tony Dungy. Now why were the speakers introduced this way? And why was Goodell introduced with Dungy, the most revered person in the crowd (save Manning)? Take a guess. When Goodell took the podium to speak, he was greeted by boos from—this is a very rough estimate—about half the crowd of maybe 10,000 to 12,000 fans. It seemed stunning, on such a celebratory day, with such good and warm feelings, that such a folksy town like Indianapolis would rain down boos on a commissioner who went out of his way to fly to Indiana to pay tribute to Manning. When Roger Goodell is booed in these environs, in front of a crowd ready to shower nothing but love on the dais … well, I am dubious, for as long as he is on office, whether he’ll ever rehab his public reputation.
• Teams should build these statues and have these ceremonies more often. The Cardinals did it with a statue of the late Pat Tillman at their new stadium. The Dolphins did it with Dan Marino, the Ravens with Ray Lewis. The Niners should build a Joe Montana statue at their new ballpark and let the fans pay their adoring respects. Ditto Cleveland with Jim Brown, Pittsburgh with Chuck Noll, Denver with John Elway, Dallas with Roger Staubach—and maybe with a triplet statue of Aikman, Smith and Irvin. For years, folks will stop in the northeast corner of the plaza outside Lucas Oil Stadium, and fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, will take photos with the Manning statue, and those photos will go on walls and desks and mobile phone backgrounds, and not just in Indiana. Whatever the costs, it’s worth the current and future goodwill.
• Manning finished his career in Denver with another Super Bowl, and he lives there now. He was ticked off when the Colts moved on from him in 2011, but six years healed every wound. Manning got emotional talking to the crowd. The crowd—at least via signs from as far west as Hawaii, as far east as New Jersey—ladled love on him for an hour. “WE LOVE YOU MAN,” punctuated the affair three times from the crowd. A friend, Angie Six, was in the middle of it and texted me afterward: “Being a part of the crowd was a truly moving experience, enough to make this fan and those around me a little misty-eyed. Standing shoulder to shoulder in the shadow of Lucas Oil Stadium, I saw a diverse crowd of Colts fans: young, old, black, white, Hispanic, men, women. We are all Hoosiers, proud to claim Peyton as our own. When Peyton left to play for Denver, we watched heartbroken from afar. We never had a chance to say thank you. Today, we were able to express our gratitude in person, and the crowd was giddy. The woman behind me said, ‘What a great day to be a Colts fan.’”
• And for the record … It’s not just the business community that benefited from the effect of Manning. The community has $63 million worth of reasons to be grateful: $13 million from grants issued over the years through his foundation, and $50 million in money raised for the children’s hospital in Indianapolis that bears his name.
Football in America: Episode 3—Minneapolis-St. Paul
We started our series (in partnership with State Farm) examining all levels of football—youth, high school, college and pro—with visits to the Bay Area and Charlotte. This week, Robert Klemko, Kalyn Kahler and videographer Steve Raum take us to Minneapolis-St. Paul and weave a tale of close-knit communities and the meaning of football there.
In the tiny town of Cleveland, Minn., 66 miles southwest of the Twin Cities, The MMQB team finds a nine-man football game, the aroma of nearby pig farms wafting over the field. The head coach, Erik Hermanson, doubles as band director. From Klemko and Kahler: “After the final note of the anthem (for which all stand), Hermanson waves his band off the field and jogs over to the sideline, where the Clippers are lined up and waiting. Normally, quarterback Carter Kopet plays trumpet and his prolific receiver, Austin Plonsky, plays trombone, but not tonight. An assistant coach hands Hermanson a headset and a clipboard. Because in a town as small as Cleveland, the band director is also the co-coach. Hermanson, who has coached the football team in Cleveland for 22 years and directed the band for 24, says he’s never been tempted to leave for a program with 11-man football: “I always wanted to be a head coach, and I've always wanted to be a band director, and there aren't many schools you can go to where you could do both.”
Then we get into P.J. Fleck, and youth ball in the inner city, and the Vikings. We’re having a ball taking you across the country and showing you football America.
Next week: Dallas-Fort Worth, where Jenny Vrentas and Kahler see a blend of big-time Texas high-school football, college football and the Cowboys. The high-school portion will be great—Americana, a great dance team, and a very diverse football roster on display.
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Alex Smith, quarterback, Kansas City. The MVP of the first five weeks is having far and away the best season of his life. His 76.6 percent accuracy is absurd; the current record for accuracy in a season is 71.6. Smith continues to throw the ball well downfield, and his three touchdowns and 324 yards led the last unbeaten team in football to a 42-34 win over the plucky but beat-up Texans.
Cam Newton, quarterback, Carolina. The former MVP is starting to play like one again. His Week 5 league-high 355 passing yards, with three touchdowns, led 4-1 Carolina past Detroit 27-24 win in a week full of self-made distraction for Newton.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Vontaze Burfict, linebacker, Cincinnati. Marvin Lewis will tell anyone who’ll listen how valuable Burfict is, and how much he was missed during his September suspension for the brutal hit on Kansas City running back Anthony Sherman. Burfict’s 13 tackles and one sack were vital to the Bengals’ 20-16 win over Buffalo in the Cincinnati rain Sunday.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Adam Vinatieri, kicker, Indianapolis. Vinatieri bookended the game perfectly for the Colts. His 52-yard field goal in the first quarter accounted for the first points of the game; his 51-yard field goal in overtime gave the Colts a 26-23 win. And an extraordinary career gets more extraordinary. Vinatieri turns 45 in December. Since turning 41, he has made 16 of 19 field goals from 50 yards and beyond. Here’s the interesting thing to me: In his first six seasons, Vinatieri hit on 80.4 percent of all field goals. Since turning 41, he’s made 84.2 percent of his 50-yard-plus kicks. Now that’s impressive.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Todd Bowles, head coach, New York Jets. Coaching in the NFL cauldron is a difficult thing anyway. Doing it with a bad team in New York is exponentially more distracting. I’ve got tremendous respect for Bowles, for getting his team to 3-2 with a quarterback put on the street by the Cleveland Browns, a tattered offensive line, and a defense that gave up 45 points in Week 2 in Oakland. Bowles has proven against the odds that coaching, and a smart plan, matter.
GOATS OF THE WEEK
Nick Folk, kicker, Tampa Bay. The difference in New England’s 19-14 win over Tampa on Thursday night? Simple: Stephen Gostkowski, 4-for-4 on field goals. Nick Folk, 0-for-3 on field goals. Folk missed kicks from 56, 49 and 31 yards. The gory details … New England up 13-7, late second quarter: Folk missed a 56-yard prayer, wide right. New England up 16-7, early fourth quarter: Folk missed a 49-yarder, wide left. New England up 16-7, midway through the fourth quarter: Folk missed a 31-yard field goal, wide left.
Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback, Pittsburgh. For his five interceptions, and for a 21-point loss to the Jaguars at home. Both stunners.
Quotes of the Week
“We cannot in any way give the implication that we tolerate disrespecting the flag. We know that there is a serious debate in this country about those issues, but there is no question in my mind, that the (NFL) and the Dallas Cowboys are going to stand up for the flag.”
—Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, to the Dallas Morning News.
“The players should be heard and not crushed.”
—Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, to the Indianapolis Star after the vice president walked out of the stadium following some 49ers kneeling for the national anthem.
“Nice to see the commissioner here today. Forty-eight million dollars a year, and he couldn’t give his job away.”
—David Letterman, at the unveiling of the Peyton Manning statue in Indianapolis Saturday, on Roger Goodell.
“By the way, if you like football trivia, so far this year Eli and Peyton have the same number of wins.”
That held true Sunday, as the Giants fell to 0-5 with a loss to the Chargers.
“One of these teams is going to walk out of here with a win today. We think.”
—CBS play-by-play man Ian Eagle, watching the Giants and Chargers (a combined 0-8 entering the game) slop around in New Jersey on Sunday
“The Giants have to think about the future—possibly replacing Eli Manning at quarterback.”
—NBC Football Night in America analyst Rodney Harrison
Stats of the Week
In their past 49 games, the Cleveland Indians are 40-9.
In their past 49 games, the Cleveland Browns are 9-40.
Kicking efficiency since the start of the 2016 season, as measured by percentage of successful field-goal and extra-point attempts combined:
|Team (Kicker)||PAT Made-Att.||FG Made-Att.||All Kicks Made-Att.||All Kicks Pct.|
|1. Baltimore (Tucker)||36-36||45-48||81-84||.964|
|2. Los Angeles Rams (Zuerlein)||38-38||34-38||72-76||.947|
|32. Tampa Bay (Aguayo, Folk)||39-43||28-42||67-85||.788|
Ian Rapoport reported over the weekend that the Bucs will have kicker tryouts for Nick Folk’s job today. Folk’s still employed, but who knows for how long.
A word about NFL TV ratings. Several words, actually. The NFL is concerned about them. Some people in the league are hugely concerned about them. They should be. A year ago, when the ratings were tanking, most media cognoscenti said it was because the rancorous presidential campaign was sucking all the TV air out of the room, and the marginal football fan was watching Fox News or MSNBC or CNN instead of football. So we’ll skip 2016 ratings for the purpose of this exercise, and compare 2017 to 2015.
In Week 4, ESPN’s Monday night rating for the Kansas City-Washington game was 19 percent lower than the Detroit-Seattle Week 4 game in 2015. NBC’s Sunday night Indianapolis-Seattle rating was down 32 percent compared to the Dallas-New Orleans game in 2015. Now, you can say a lot about that second comparison, namely that any game with Dallas will get a good rating. But no matter what the matchup, to be down by a third, week over week, from two years ago is notable.
Now, I doubt in NBC’s case that a third fewer people watched this year’s game in Week 4 than watched in 2015. People who follow the ratings game closely tell me that some fans are cord-cutters who have found ways to watch that aren’t measured by traditional rating services. Still, the numbers are concerning.
Factoid That May Interest Only Me
Stolen from Pro Football Focus: Dallas center Travis Frederick has not allowed a sack in his last 1,658 pass blocks, since midseason 2014. That’s almost three full seasons of protecting Dallas quarterbacks on pass drops.
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note
You may wonder why I sing the virtues of Indianapolis as a travel city. There is no big-league city that comes close to the convenience, in my book. In part, that’s because you do not need a rental car when you go to cover a game or event there; everything downtown is, at most, a 15-minute walk. Then there’s the airport. It’s a great one, never over-crowded, and it's got a good rotunda of shops and coffee and a wine bar and the underrated Patachou restaurant. I had a 6:35 a.m. Delta flight from Indianapolis to New York on Sunday. Check out this Indy convenience factor:
5:18 a.m.: Finish packing in downtown Westin. Leave room. Get in cab for airport.
5:39 a.m.: Arrive at airport. Go to TSA precheck line. Four people in front of me.
5:42 a.m.: Get coffee.
5:47 a.m.: Arrive at gate A11. Flight’s on time.
Granted, the quick trip happened in part because of the insanely early hour I left my hotel. But trust me: Nowhere else in an NFL city can you leave your downtown hotel room and be at your airport gate in 29 minutes at any time of day. Not even close.
Tweets of the Week
Just so we're clear..— Andrew Hawkins (@Hawk) October 9, 2017
CAN play in NFL:
Kershaw has the heart of a lion, without telling anyone that he does— Pedro Martinez (@45PedroMartinez) October 7, 2017
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.
Adam Thielen, wide receiver, Minnesota. “I’m a big golfer, so there’s not much better than a great set of clubs. But it’s my house. That’s the only thing I have that I can think of that’s really significant—because my wife and I have a son now and it’s where we spend so much time and get to be a family. My parents … we had a good life, and we had a roof over our head. But when you’re a kid, you see MTV Cribs, and maybe you have unrealistic visions about the kind of place you’ll have when you grow up. But we have a dream house that we never thought we’d be living in. So I’d say my house.”
From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
This week’s conversations: Peyton Manning, on the verge of a statue of him being unveiled outside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, and Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell.
• Manning on staying at Tennessee for his senior season in 1997, and not choosing to be drafted by the Jets number one overall that year: “I talked to Tim Duncan. I saw him at a college basketball game that year, and he had stayed for his senior year, which was kind of against the norm, and he just said, 'Hey I wanted to be a senior, I wanted one more year to get ready.’ So that kind of let me know it was okay if I wanted to stay. I threw the injury bug out the window and I just really wanted to be a senior in college. It's by far the best decision I've ever made. I've created some long-lasting memories and friendships my senior year, and of course I was able to stay healthy. When 1998 came around I felt more prepared.”
• Bell on running backs at all levels of football using him as a model for his patient rushing style: “When you see guys like Christian McCaffrey, who was a first-round pick, a guy who was highly touted coming out of the draft, everybody watched him … and the fact that he said that he wanted to reach out to me about the way my running style was, it kind of hit home to me that guys were really looking up to me, the way I run. That's when I realized I'm different. You got guys like [Rams back Todd] Gurley—I hear a lot of comparisons about him to me. When you hear things like that, and I know that running backs are looking up to me, it means everything in the world to me. I got my imprint on the game, and it's a blessing. Now that I am on a big stage, people get to watch me and they see that I'm different, and my style works.”
1. I think these are my quick-hitting thoughts from Week 5:
a. Jameis Winston was inaccurate enough for three quarters Thursday night that, even though Nick Folk will rightly bear a good portion of the blame for the loss to New England, Winston’s misses on several third downs that could have elongated drives were collectively just as big a factor. Third downs converted in the first 43 minutes by the Bucs: zero. There were drops, but Winston has to be better—as does his team.
b. Seems crazy that Tom Brady, in his 18th season and after 275 previous regular-season and postseason games, would have played his first game ever in Tampa against the Bucs on Thursday night.
c. Patriots’ last 10 regular-season games on the road: 10-0. Patriots’ last 10 regular-season games at home: 6-4.
d. Sal Paolantonio with the ride along to work with Eagles coach Doug Pederson Sunday morning. Cool.
e. Great story, too, by ESPN on the guy who stole Vince Lombardi’s hat on the field after the Ice Bowl … and finding the guy, a grandfather in Wisconsin, and getting him to divulge why in the world he would try to steal the hat off Vince Lombardi’s head.
f. Myles Garrett knows how to make a debut. On the first snap of his first NFL game, the first pick in the draft sacked the quarterback—Josh McCown, in this case.
g. Brilliant play design by the Panthers in Detroit, and great orchestration by Cam Newton, to fake the read-option and shovel-pass the ball inside to Christian McCaffrey, his first touchdown of his NFL career.
h. DeShone Kizer leaves the pocket too soon. He’s got to calm down, hang in and give his receivers a slightly longer chance to get free. “He does tend to be a one-read quarterback sometimes,” Ronde Barber correctly analyzed on Fox.
i. Jags back Leonard Fournette, a vet of five NFL games, has scored one touchdown in each.
j. Looks like I was a year too early on the Titans. Or I was dead wrong in singing their praises so loudly.
k. This may be faint praise, but cornerback Jason McCourty has been the best player on the Cleveland defense this year. His first-quarter interception of Josh McCown was the kind of perfectly anticipated play that a smart cornerback makes.
2. I think Cam Newton’s words of apology Thursday night were promising. But none of us except Newton knows the deep-down sincerity of his apology for what he said to a female reporter on Wednesday. (When Charlotte Observer reporter Jourdan Rodrigue asked Newton about pass routes, Newton responded that it was funny to hear a “female” talking about “routes.”) Newton has been widely derided for his smirky 1981-era putdown. That’s all justified. I liked his apology, and it seemed sincere. But I’d make two points here. One: Why’d it take him 30 hours to apologize—and, to a lesser degree, why didn’t he include the reporter in his apology? The fact that he took 30 hours to say he was sorry is concerning. Did it take him longer than a day to realize he was wrong? Or did he know he was wrong and simply took time to do something well thought-out? Two: It makes no sense right now to say, “Great apology. We’re all good.” This is now a wait-and-see thing. Newton said all the right things, and they appeared heart-felt. But it’s his actions now that will speak for him.
3. I think when the Falcons built this beautiful new $1.5 billion downtown stadium, team officials were quick to say they wanted an open-air stadium. Finally, many said; it’s madness that a city in the south, a temperate, lovely American city with a great climate, would have a domed stadium. So the Falcons built a retractable-roof stadium. The roof was open for one game, the opener against Green Bay. And the team announced Thursday it would remain closed for the rest of the football season—it also will be open one soccer game, for the Atlanta MLS franchise to presumably break the single-game MLS attendance record Oct. 22—and then closed for the rest of the season. The reason is because of problems with the mechanization of the roof panels. Getting that roof open has to be priority one for Arthur Blank. Domes stink. Roofs should never be closed, save for relentless precipitation or extreme heat/cold. The Colts abuse it, keeping the roof closed on beautiful Indiana days. Blank has to make sure the problem with the roof is fixed ASAP.
4. I think, barring some miracle of doctored footage, the Dolphins are going to fire offensive line coach Chris Foerster. In a video that surfaced late Sunday, a man believed to be Foerster is shown talking into a camera while he snorts a white powdery substance through a rolled-up $20 bill and talks suggestively to a woman who he apparently believes will see the video. That’s going to be pretty hard to defend. (Update: Foerster resigned on Monday morning.)
5. I think this is one of the great high school football highlights of all time (no spoilers here):
6. I think the most perfect headline of the week was this from Deadspin: “NFL Assures Fans There’s No Tolerance For Racial Slurs At Redskins Games.” It was the perfect response to the NFL saying it would look into Washington wideout Terrelle Pryor’s claims that he had a racial slur directed at him at Kansas City last Monday. There will be “no tolerance” for such language in NFL stadiums, an NFL spokesman said. Except, of course, for the name of team that employs Pryor. Washington’s team name, according to Dictionary.com, is “a contemptuous term used to refer to a North American Indian.” Dictionary.com says “redskin” is “disparaging and offensive.” But that’s okay with the NFL.
7. I think I have never seen the Browns look worse, and that’s saying something.
8. I think the best team in football is Kansas City, and there’s a pretty good gap for number two. My candidates: Philadelphia, Carolina, Washington, Denver.
9. I think the Giants have a few questions to answer, and soon. Such as, Will Victor Cruz get re-signed and start Sunday night at Denver? To have four receivers go down in one game, at least two of them for the season, is hard enough. To do it while going 0-5 when the football world thought they’d make the playoffs is harrowing. It’s going to be interesting if the Giants finish with a very high draft pick (and what stands in their way now?) whether they’d consider taking a quarterback that high, with Eli Manning finishing his 14th season and no one knowing yet whether Davis Webb is a logical successor.
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Story of the Week: by Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic, an examination of the death of Penn State student Tim Piazza at a campus fraternity. Harrowing, beyond disturbing, superbly reported, and very well written.
b. You read that and wonder how young human beings can have such callous disregard for Tim Piazza’s life. And why Penn State looks the other way while hazing and stupid amounts of drinking happen at fraternities. It’s disgusting.
c. According to Piazza’s father, no officials from Penn State went to Tim Piazza’s funeral. Galling.
d. Flanagan reported that a grand jury investigating the Piazza death concluded: “The Penn State Greek community nurtured an environment so permissive of excessive drinking and hazing that it emboldened its members to repeatedly act with reckless disregard to human life.”
e. Las Vegas Story of the Week: by Wesley Lowery, a fellow Ohio Bobcat, on a friendship between two strangers forged when a mass murderer struck a week ago.
f. What Lowery does so well here, among many things, is recreate a scene in the middle of the murderous chaos that was doubtless like so many other scenes there—and made it live so that those who weren’t there could feel the utter despair of the evening. With lines such as this: “Michelle, Michelle!” Robertson screamed as he and the other man took turns performing CPR on Vo, who was no longer responsive. “Wake up!”
g. Is it okay to talk about gun control now? Or are we still in the “thoughts and prayers” period?
h. Is it okay to ask if the rights of the 59 slain people matter, compared to the rights of the gun industry, or compared to the rights of a sane-seeming maniac who stockpiled 46 weapons with multiple add-ons that make guns fire like automatic weapons?
i. Jose Altuve: the perfect baseball player. Carlos Correa: close to that.
j. Houston and Cleveland are so good that it’ll be a shame when one of them doesn’t get to the World Series. Both have answers through the lineup. Both have great bullpens (Cleveland a little better, but Chris Devenski is a good imitation of Andrew Miller) and tough outs through the lineup. The other day Brian McCann batted ninth for Houston against Boston; he’d have been the fourth- or fifth-place hitter for the Sox.
k. Eric Hosmer needs to be on the Red Sox’s free-agency wish list.
l. The Diamondbacks’ uniforms are so hideous that they’re starting to grow on me. Not the hats, though. The hats are legitimately heinous. Speaking of National League uniforms: Can the Rockies do something with theirs? And preferably not in purple?
m. Coffeenerdness: You’ve got to put a little pep in your baristas inside Penn Station in New York, Starbucks. Man, those are some lackadaisical men and women. Twelve to 15 minutes’ waiting time is not good.
n. Beernerdness: A bit of an unusual beernerdness this week … it’s Sober October for me. When you read this section every week, don’t you sometimes wonder, Is Peter King a raging alcoholic? Well, I don’t think so. But I do think moderation is good, and after a summer beering while riding around to training camps and being out with peers and NFL contacts and my team at The MMQB, I thought it would be smart to take a break. First, to see if I can do it (and so far, I haven’t had to beg my wife to please, please, please know I was kidding and I didn’t really mean to refrain for 31 whole days). Second: because it’s healthier. Now, this won’t be forever, and it’s only been eight days, but it’s been a good change-of-pace. Maybe next week I’ll regale you with Seltzernerdness. Come to think of it: Let’s have guest Beernerdnerdness entries for the next three or four Mondays. If you’ve got a beer you love, and you can describe why in 75 words, send to firstname.lastname@example.org.
o. Glad I’m not Jacque Jones today. Or ever.
p. Headlines Are Fun Dept.: Yankees manager Joe Girardi failed to challenge what became a monumental call in Game 2 of the ALDS on Friday. Cleveland’s Lonnie Chisenhall was given first base on a hit-by-pitch with two outs in the sixth inning, enabling the inning to continue, and enabling Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor to hit a grand slam in an eventual 9-8 Tribe win. The New York-area press was (mostly) not kind.
q. NorthJersey.com: “Girardi blunders lead to crushing Yankees loss.”
r. NJ.com: “Girardi’s inexcusable screw-up puts Yankees on life support in ALDS.”
s. New York Post: “Girardi’s legacy will forever be tainted by this debacle.”
t. New York Post back page: “JOE BLOW.”
u. Then there was this from Yankees.com: “Yankee skipper addresses challenging loss.”
v. Credit to Girardi a day later: “I screwed up. It’s hard. It’s hard for me.”
w. RIP, Tom Petty. And thank you very much.
x. Finally, one of our ace editors and a huge influence in the founding and development of this site, Matt Gagne, is leaving The MMQB later this month for a top editor’s job at Men’s Health. When I first was handed the keys to this car in 2013, Matt and I spent hours discussing personnel, strategy, website design and stories we wanted to pursue. He has not once been wrong about a staffing decision we made. Matt has been invaluable in whatever impact we’ve made in this business over the past four-and-half years, and I’ll be forever grateful to him. His editing skills, the ability to make copy sing, is a vastly underrated part of any site’s success, and certainly this one’s. Matt is a growth stock. We’ll miss him, but I’m excited for him and his wife and two young children as he makes this move.
Who I Like Tonight
Minnesota 31, Chicago 13. The Mitchell Trubisky Era begins in Chicago. (I’m a guest every week on the “Waddle and Silvy” radio show in Chicago afternoon drive-time, and in the first five weeks of this season I think they asked me 913 times about when the right time would be to make the switch from Mike Glennon to Trubisky.) The hot breath of Trubisky basically melted Glennon, who would have had a hard enough time winning and proving he was more than a career backup anyway. That will be the story of the pregame tonight. But when the game starts, I like the Vikings big, whether Sam Bradford retakes his starting job or not. That’s because the Vikings have two good quarterbacks right now. The passing line of backup Case Keenum (Pro Football Focus’ sixth-rated quarterback entering the weekend) in the past two games: 65 percent accuracy, 588 yards, three touchdown, no picks, 111.1 rating. Can’t see the Bears stopping either one.
The Adieu Haiku
Stick to sports, you say.
My retort? Tell the White House:
Stick to governing
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