Houston Texans rookie Deshaun Watson leads the NFL in touchdown passes. The Jets-Patriots goal-line replay review call will live in infamy. Adrian Peterson returns.
Three fat grafs about Sunday’s semi-important things...
• Deshaun Watson is as unique a rookie as I remember in the NFL. Think of Watson since he’s been drafted. He worker-beed his way through training camp, giving deference to nominal starter Tom Savage. He donated his first game check to three lunch ladies with the Texans who suffered losses in the big Houston flood. He struggled to beat the Bengals in his first start, dueled Tom Brady to a close loss in his second start, then threw 12 touchdown passes in his past three games. As you read this, Watson, who might have spent the year on the bench if Savage had torn up foes in September, leads the NFL in TD throws, with 15. And on Sunday, before the game against Cleveland, he wore a Warren Moon jersey in honor of the best quarterback in franchise history. “So much he did for this organization—I just wanted to show my appreciation for everything he’s done, and for paving the way for future quarterbacks,” Watson told me after the game. That’s what I mean: He says the right things, does the right things, and plays the right way. He said he isn’t surprised at his early success, and he doesn’t know why his adjustment has been so seamless. I’ll give you one clue: There’s one person on this planet who’s twice thrown for 400 yards against a Nick Saban-coached defense—Watson, at Clemson. Football’s football. “The reason I’m not surprised is because of the preparation and the mindset I have,” Watson said. Watching him now, he still might lock onto his first read too regularly, but he’s so confident and plays so fast that you figure his progressions will come in time. In his last three games, he’s playing to a 118.3 rating, ridiculous for a rookie. But postgame Sunday, what he was thinking about was the pick-six he threw to Cleveland cornerback Jason McCourty, even after his fourth straight strong performance. “I’m really upset about that pick-six,” he said. “I was pissed off. I hate turning the ball over. That’s going to stick with me.” Music to his coaches’ ears.
• A call that will live in infamy for Jets fans. New England led the Jets 24-14 with 8:31 left in the game when Josh McCown threw to Austin Seferian-Jenkins near the left pylon at the goal line. Seferian-Jenkins caught the pass, and as he was going to the ground near the pylon he juggled the ball in his hands. But Seferian-Jenkins hit the pylon, and then the ground, with the ball looking to be his grasp. The official ruled it was a touchdown. On the review, ref Tony Corrente, in consultation with the officiating command center, ruled there was enough evidence to show Seferian-Jenkins had not re-established possession of the ball through the time he fell to the ground. So Corrente ruled a fumble, a touchback, and no touchdown. The Jets lost by seven. Huge call, obviously, one that separated the Jets and Patriots from the tie in the division entering the weekend to a one-game lead for New England at the end of the day. I reached NFL officiating vice president Al Riveron, who insisted they’d seen enough evidence. “As the runner is going to the ground,” Riveron said, “he loses control of the football. In order for him to re-establish control, he has to have the ball when he touches the ground, and he has to survive the ground—when he hits the ground he must retain control of the ball … He must complete the process of control of the football as he’s going down, and he never regains full control of the ball while he is inbounds.” When I finished with Riveron, I went back and watched the play with all the replay reviews about 10 times. I saw what appeared to be a loose ball Seferian-Jenkins was trying to control, and then seemingly controlling it as he fell. I never saw the clear loss of the football, as both Corrente and Riveron said they saw. On Fox, the last VP of Officiating, Dean Blandino, said: “It has to be clear and obvious. It just didn’t seem to me that this was.” My bone to pick is the same as always: I think to reverse a call, you’ve got to be absolutely certain that the visual evidence is there. It seemed Seferian-Jenkins bobbled it going to the ground, but could I swear to it? No. It could be that Riveron saw a different view than I did, though usually in time the replays will be available in full. Riveron never had to deal with the angst and the anger from fans and coaches and teams as the deputy under Blandino. Now he will.
• Yup, that’s the same Adrian Peterson we used to know. Pretty basic question I had for Adrian Peterson: What’s the difference for you between New Orleans and Arizona? “Remember that first game with the Saints, opening night in Minnesota?” he said. “First snap of the game, I gain nine, and then a play later, I’m out of the game. Here, I got nine on my first carry [eight, actually], and I stayed in, and the opportunities came.” Peterson ran left for eight yards on the third play, around the left end for 11 more on the fourth play, and through a left guard-tackle crease on the sixth play for 27 yards and a fairly easy touchdown. Peterson was as motivated for this game as he’d been for any in a while—even the opener as a Saint back in Minnesota. The results: 26 carries, 134 yards, two touchdowns. “Pretty much fun,” he said. “I go from playing maybe eight snaps a game to most of the game. I knew, I KNEW I would show up and show out.” It’s a pretty instant fit too: Peterson’s good friends with Larry Fitzgerald, and he’ll be staying in the guest house behind Fitzgerald’s house for as long as he wants. How long? Well, Peterson made it clear to me this won’t be his last season, and he made it clear this won’t be his last dominant game of the season. The Cards, and a quarterback who’d been getting hit a lot, Carson Palmer, need him to salvage their season. “What the moral of your story?” I asked. “Control your own destiny,” he said. “Don’t let anyone else control it. It was a little bit mind-boggling to me to listen to guys who played the game, Hall of Famers, who basically thought it was over for me. That stung a little. Disheartening. But that was just more motivation for me.”