- Sunday proved this season’s weirdness, with the last unbeaten losing and no team asserting itself as the best through the season’s first six weeks
- Other sections include: Aaron Rodgers’ injury; the Pats-Jets controversy; Deshaun Watson’s ascent; Roger Goodell’s huge week; awards, stats, quotes and more
Usually, six weeks into the season, we’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s what in the NFL. After six weeks: New England was the best team in the AFC last year and went on to win the Super Bowl; Denver and Carolina were unbeaten in 2015 and went on to meet in the Super Bowl; Seattle and Denver were a combined 11-1 in 2013, and they met in the big one.
This year? If Week 6 records mean the most, it looks like Alex Smith and Carson Wentz meeting in the Super Bowl in Minnesota in 16 weeks.
This season is just plain weird. The President hijacks the anthem protest and makes it a monumental thing. Three of the top 10 stars in the game are lost for the season (most likely) in a span of eight days; Aaron Rodgers, the third, got taken down Sunday with the same run-of-the-mill ferocity he’d been hit with a thousand times in his life, only this time it broke his right collarbone. The defending rushing champ is likely to start a six-game suspension on Sunday, and it barely registers on the psyche of Football America. Nothing weirder than this: The Saints defense and special teams outscored every player in fantasy football Sunday. The Saints. The winless, lambs-led-to-the-slaughter Giants, their head coach in a bubbling cauldron, dominated in Denver on Sunday night.
Of the 32 NFL teams:
• None is unbeaten.
• Two have one loss.
• 27 have two, three or four wins.
• Few are legit hopeless. Three have zero or one win.
NFL 2017: A gigantic mishmash of mediocrity!
Thank God for the Browns. They’re the only dependable team. They’re 0-6 for the second straight year, and they’re stuck down the same rabbit hole they simply cannot escape. Even the other 0-6 team, San Francisco, is ridiculously competitive. Margin of the 49ers’ last five losses: 3, 2, 3, 3 and 2 points, respectively.
I don’t love any team. But before getting to the newsreel of the weekend (and the coming week), here’s how I see the top five:
1. Kansas City (5-1). The last vision you have of a team is usually the one you remember best, so you might find this strange. But the Chiefs are 15-2 versus teams not named Pittsburgh since Oct. 1, 2016, and they’ve got a 12-game winning streak in a tough division. They’ve just got to protect Alex Smith better and keep Tyreek Hill upright.
2. Philadelphia (5-1). The big story is Carson Wentz, who is growing into a big star before our eyes. But LaGarrette Blount went from the doghouse to being a vital cog in the Eagles’ current four-game winning streak. Now Philly doesn’t go on the road until the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Looks like the Eagles’ most famous season-ticket holder, Mike Trout, will have some frozen January football to cheer.
3. New England (4-2). I’ve got the same questions as everyone else about the defense holding up, and Tom Brady taking a jillion hits, and the end of the dynasty being around the corner. But if it’s close late, and it usually is with the Patriots, you’re going to have to knock them out. Most times, teams can’t.
4. Pittsburgh (4-2). The Steelers are only slightly psycho. Ben Roethlisberger had his nightmare five-pick game eight days ago in a 21-point loss to Jacksonville, but Pittsburgh sandwiched that with strong games on the road against rivals Baltimore and Kansas City. Notice something about those road wins? Mike Tomlin let Le’Veon Bell own them. Combined in Baltimore and K.C., Bell rushed 67 times for 323 yards. That’s the Steelers’ best chance to make the Super Bowl: feature Bell and get ready to pay him handsomely.
5. Houston (3-3). Scott Hanson on NFL RedZone said just what I was thinking as the Texans wiped out Cleveland 33-17 on Sunday. “The Texans’ offense looks as impressive as any in football now,” he said. Last four games: 33, 57, 34 and 33 points, and Deshaun Watson is making everyone in southeast Texas forget the pain of losing J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus.
Now on to the newsy weekend...
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If you want to look on the bright side after the devastating Aaron Rodgers broken collarbone, Packer Nation, think of this: Your team is 4-2, tied for first place in the NFC North with 10 games to play. The Packers are 3-0 at home, and the next five weeks are, relatively speaking, exceedingly kind: New Orleans at home, bye, Detroit at home, at Chicago, Baltimore at home. That takes you to Thanksgiving. Conceivably, the Packers can stay in it while Brett Hundley gets some experience and Mike McCarthy game-plans to hide the QB’s weaknesses.
Realistically, though, no very good team in the NFL is more reliant on its starting quarterback this season than the Packers are on Rodgers. New England could lose Tom Brady and win with Jimmy Garoppolo; the Patriots, briefly, did last year—with Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett. The Chiefs, I believe, would have a better chance to keep winning with the totally untested Pat Mahomes if Alex Smith went down. Philadelphia has Nick Foles. Atlanta has Matt Schaub. Denver has Brock Osweiler (5-2 as a Broncos starter). Who makes that final drive in Dallas last week other than Rodgers, the frisky marksman? Who wins the playoff game in Dallas last year? Rodgers’ rare combination of elusiveness, running ability and precision is unmatched in football, now and maybe forever.
“It’s devastating, no question,” Packers wideout Randall Cobb said. “We still have to play football. We have a long season ahead of us to figure out what we’re going to do.”
My opinion: The Packers should call Colin Kaepernick on Monday morning. Not necessarily to sign him. If I were general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy, I’d want to meet with Kaepernick to see if he’d be willing to come in as a backup to Hundley while he took a crash course in the offense. If they’re impressed enough with his approach and his conditioning, they could sign him and groom him to be Hundley’s backup—and, if Hundley struggles mightily (as he did Sunday at Minnesota) in the next game or two, then McCarthy can judge whether Kaepernick or number three quarterback Joe Callahan gives the Packers the best chance to win. With the bye week coming up after Sunday’s game against the Saints, that would give the staff 19 days between now and the game after New Orleans to see how much Kaepernick could absorb, and to see if he can be better than Hundley or Callahan.
Maybe Kaepernick can be a fit. Maybe he can’t. And this grievance Kaepernick filed could complicate things too. I just know that if I were the Packers, I would want to feel very good about my quarterback situation when the rest of my team is a solid playoff contender.
The injury to Rodgers is a rerun of the 2013 season, when, in the eighth game of the season, Rodgers broke his left collarbone, also in a key division game the Packers went on to lose. The Bears won that day at Lambeau Field. Rodgers returned exactly eight weeks later to beat the Bears at Soldier Field in the last game of the season, the NFC North title game as it turned out. Green Bay went 2-4-1 without Rodgers, using Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien.
This time it’s Week 6. Missing eight weeks would put Rodgers back in the lineup in time for the season’s last four games—though there’s no indication this is the exactly same injury with the same timetable for return, and because this injury is to his throwing side, it’s logical to think it will take longer for him to return. There’s no way to know how long Rodgers will miss, or whether he’ll be able to return this season at all.
Hundley is a fifth-round pick from UCLA with zero NFL starts. Callahan is an undrafted free-agent from Wesley College in Dover, Del., with zero NFL passes. And the line in front of Hundley is battered; both starting tackles—David Bakhtiari (hamstring) and Bryan Bulaga (possible concussion)—could be hampered when they’re needed most.
If you’re waiting for the Kaepernick cavalry, you’ll be waiting a long time. Probably forever. “Brett Hundley’s my quarterback,’’ coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. “Joe Callahan is the backup.”
It’s hard to imagine the Packers surviving this blow and making the playoffs this year. If they do, it will be the best coaching job in McCarthy’s career.
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.”
The NFL meets every fall for a day and a half to discuss league business. This week, on Tuesday in New York, owners will gather and hear from players and NFL Players Association representatives on the contentious matter of players standing at attention for the national anthem. The league has said it will try to devise a plan that would build a bridge with players and assist on their social-justice causes so they’ll stand as one. Advertisers getting major guff from their customers don’t want to continue to take a hailstorm of criticism from those who don’t like anything but what they perceive to be a show of total loyalty toward the flag.
What I learned in the past few days:
1. This could be a seminal moment for the tenure of commissioner Roger Goodell. There’s no sense his job will be in trouble if he doesn’t come out of this meeting with a strong proposal that the players and clubs will adopt. But if there is no significant progress toward an endgame here, I believe some owners could ask by meeting’s end, Are we sure we want to extend Goodell’s contract five years? That’s the current length of the extension Goodell is discussing with the league’s compensation committee—and they’re far down the road in the contract talks.
2. Goodell doesn’t have the kind of political capital with the players, or the players union, to call in any favors to get a deal done that will compel every player in the league either to stand for the national anthem or to not protest while it’s being played.
3. It’s a fractious issue with both owners and players. Usually, Goodell can get the owners at least mostly on the same page. Not this time. You’ve got Niners CEO Jed York telling players he won’t force them to stand, Chargers owner Dean Spanos telling players he’s got their backs, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones saying if players don’t stand for the anthem they won’t play for Dallas. So how can Goodell get some universal policy when said policy would force owners to go back to their teams—some of them, at least—and renounce what they recently told them?
4. The general feeling among club owners and executives seems to be this, voiced by one strong ownership influencer: “The players have to buy into something as a group, or else we’re going to be stuck in this muck and mire. That will be awful for the game.”
5. The league was taking advice and proposals from players as late as Friday night on this issue. Many players want the league to partner with them to work on inner-city problems, particularly in civil rights and relations with police. But the fear in the league office is there will be no universal buy-in from the players, because no one as of yet has a widely shared idea for a league policy.
6. It’s likely that part of the league’s offer to the players would be giving them a week or two this year for their social-justice causes to get the league spotlight—to be part of an ad campaign or social-media campaign. Similar to what the league does with breast cancer, for instance.
7. Christine Brennan of USA Today wrote that players should stay in the locker room during the anthem, and some in the league really like that idea. But others think it could cause blowback from those who would think the players are being disrespectful by being on the field when the anthem is being played.
8. There are differing views among top club officials and owners about how teams should proceed. There is some sentiment for allowing all 32 teams to control their own player activism campaigns, because the issues in Cincinnati might be different from those in Los Angeles. But there’s no clear consensus on it.
9. The solution has to be either driven by the players or widely perceived to be driven by the players, or it could give the impression that the league is being good and generous about this issue just to mollify the players. The players can’t be sellouts.
10. This is the time when a top commissioner has the chops to get a deal done and stop the bleeding on an issue that was nearly forgotten before the President spoke three weeks ago. But building a consensus in the two days allotted for the meeting will be very hard.
Football in America: Episode 4—Dallas
Our series (in partnership with State Farm) examining all levels of football—youth, high school, college and pro—has taken us to the Bay Area, Charlotte, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and now to Texas. Jenny Vrentas, Kalyn Kahler and videographer John DePetro visit a classic Friday night high-school game (with a little Tongan war dance thrown in) in the Dallas ’burbs, a youth league in Irving with 6-year-olds playing tackle football, over to Fort Worth to see Big 12-leading TCU emerging as a national power, and then the Cowboys on a Sunday afternoon in Arlington.
I can’t get past the 6-year-olds in a tackle football game, not with so many warning signs about the developing brain tissue in kids so young that can be affected by blows to the head. I just don’t get it. But the mom of a boy in Irving, Texas, who started at age 6, Lauren Bryant, says: “It’s a little nerve-wracking being a mom; you worry about the hits. But at the same time, my kids love it, so I’m not going to take it from them. Of course you’ve got all the research that shows the whole CTE thing, but football is still very prominent in the state of Texas. You’ve got a lot of kids who are starting this young, and it’s almost like you’ve gotta start this early if you want to be recognized in high school by colleges and stuff.”
This week: Greater Phoenix, featuring the leading touchdown passer in the history of Arizona football, playing nine-man football in a mining town … who rushed for six touchdowns and threw for five Friday night.
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Le’Veon Bell, running back, Pittsburgh. By halftime of the game of the day, Bell was totally confounding Kansas City defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and his troops. Bell had 17 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown at the break, and the Steelers were well on the way to handing the last undefeated team in the NFL its first loss. The Steelers survived to win, thanks to Bell and a great defensive effort.
Jordan Howard, running back, Chicago. Talk about a John Fox kind of game—the Bears ran it 54 times for 231 yards Sunday in Baltimore. Howard was the brute-force key to this win, with 36 rushes for 167 yards.
Tom Brady, quarterback, New England. He’s had better games in his 18-year NFL career (20 for 28, 257 yards, two touchdowns, one picks), but the 24-17 win over the pesky Jets was his 187th career regular-season victory, which is a record for quarterbacks. Add his 25 playoff wins, and Brady’s win total is 212. And counting. The 212 wins are 12 more than any other quarterback ever.
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Vince Williams, inside linebacker, Pittsburgh. In 74 career games over five seasons before Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, Williams had 4.5 sacks. In the dominating defensive effort over the Chiefs, Williams had two first-half sacks, silencing the crowd and setting the stage for the Steelers’ second defensive conquest of the Chiefs in nine months.
Janoris Jenkins, cornerback, New York Giants. Jenkins had a 43-yard pick-six near the end of the first half to put the Broncos in a 17-3 halftime hole. Then, at the start of the fourth quarter, with the Broncos driving to try to cut into a 17-point deficit, Jenkins stripped Demaryius Thomas as he converted a fourth down. The disheartening strip finished off Denver and was a key to the Giants’ major upset.
Adrian Amos, safety, Chicago. One of the most gorgeous interception returns for touchdown I’ve ever seen—and, interestingly, Amos is quite inexperienced at this business. In his 37th NFL game, Amos plucked a tipped Joe Flacco pass out of the air at his 10-yard line, and weaved and bobbed and sprinted down the left side of the field for a vital 90-yard score.
Nigel Bradham, linebacker; Fletcher Cox, defensive tackle; Brandon Graham, defensive end, Philadelphia. Bradham twice made key stops on third-down conversion tries by the Panthers and knocked down two passes. Cox and Graham terrorized Cam Newton all night, combining for 13 hurries, one hit and one sack of Newton, per Pro Football Focus. The three combined for 15 tackles and Bradham, in particular, played one of the best sideline-to-sideline game of an undistinguished career.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Pharoh Cooper, kick-returner/wide receiver, Los Angeles Rams. The first touchdown return of an opening kickoff this year was a doozy. Cooper ran 103 yards up the right side to start the game in Jacksonville, and stunningly pirouetted 360 degrees out of a tackle early in the runback. A superb return.
Justin Tucker, kicker, Baltimore. You’ve got to see the 50-yard field goal Tucker kicked in the fourth quarter against the Bears. I swear it would have been good from 68 yards. It hit two-thirds of the way up the net—on a line! With 3:01 left in the game. Which led this game to …
Michael Campanaro, punt-returner/wide receiver, Baltimore. His weaving 73-yard punt return after the Bears’ ensuing series, plus a two-point conversion pass by Joe Flacco, tied the game against the Bears and sent it to overtime.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Doug Pederson, coach, Philadelphia. I’m a longtime go-for-two kind of guy anyway, but Pederson’s move on Thursday night was one of his many solid decisions in the game against Carolina that got the Eagles to 5-1. A minute into the third quarter, Carson Wentz threw a touchdown pass for Philadelphia, and Jake Elliott kicked the PAT to put the Eagles up 17-10. But on the PAT, the Panthers were whistled for an illegal formation for lining up directly over the center, which is illegal. Ref Peter Morelli announced the penalty in the stadium, saying the Eagles would take the five-yard walkoff on the ensuing kickoff. The game went to commercial. When the break was over, here was Morelli saying, “Philadelphia has elected to go for two points. The ball will be placed on the one-yard line.” Now for a here’s-how-the-sausage-is-made moment: Refs and head coaches have an agreement that if there’s any doubt whether the team wants to accept or decline a penalty, the ref will look at the sideline and the coach will make some sort of signal about his intentions. And so CBS had a camera replaying Pederson yelling at Morelli (if my lip-reading is correct): “Look at me! I wanna go for two!” And so the Eagles did, and LaGarrette Blount barreled in from the one, and it was 18-10 instead of 17-10. Good call by Pederson, obviously; the coach in that circumstance can either take the one point and assess the five yards on the kickoff, or he can go half the distance from the 2-yard line to try for the two-point conversion. I think more coaches should go for two from the 2, but moving it to the 1 makes the call a must-do, even if it means risking taking one point off the board. Smart by Pederson.
Quotes of the Week
“I guess this old cowboy’s got a little bit left in him.”
—Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger following the Steelers’ upset of Kansas City on Sunday, a week after Roethlisberger questioned his own future.
“People are confused on the First Amendment versus patriotism, that if you exercise your First Amendment [rights] you're not a patriot, which is crazy. [Donald Trump] knew he could hit on it and take advantage. I think what we're seeing is the great divider overcoming the great uniter.”
—Jaguars owner Shad Khan, a former Trump backer
“I have so much left. I look to play four or five more years.”
—New Cardinal Adrian Peterson
“I stand anyway. Taking a knee and all that, that’s not going to solve the problem in my eyes. There definitely is a problem out there, but taking a knee and all that—I stand for the people who go to war for us.”
—Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib
“Hey—I don’t want to be the answer to the trivia question about your last touchdown pass.”
—Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, walking into a production meeting for the Thursday night Carolina-Philadelphia game, to CBS color man Tony Romo, as relayed by Romo. The last pass of Romo’s career with the Cowboys was a touchdown to Terence Williams on New Year’s Day, against Philadelphia’s Schwartz-coached defense.
Too bad, Jim. Looks like Romo is going to stay in the booth.
Factoids That May Interest Only Me
Aqib Talib pulled into the parking lot at the Denver Broncos training facility at 6:46 a.m. Thursday, the precise time Trevor Siemian pulled in. “I work,” Talib said.
I see. I asked Someone Who Knows while in Denver about leadership on the team this year, and he said the two biggest leaders in the locker room are Talib and Siemian.
Stat of the Week
Per Pro Football Focus, passing snaps played by Jets defensive linemen Leonard Williams, Muhammad Wilkerson, Kony Ealy, Steve McLendon, Mike Pennel, Lawrence Thomas and Claude Pelon in six games in 2017: 623.
Sacks by Jets defensive linemen in those 623 combined pass-rush stats: zero.
Sacks by Jets defensive linemen in the 2016 season: 18.
Check out the Andy Reid Coaching Tree. All five coaches on it, including Reid, and not a one is below .500 six weeks into the season:
|Team||W-L||Coach||Years Working Under Reid|
|Kansas City||5-1||Andy Reid|
|Philadelphia||5-1||Doug Pederson||7 (2009-15)|
|Carolina||4-2||Ron Rivera||5 (1999-2003)|
|Buffalo||3-2||Sean McDermott||12 (1999-2010)|
|Baltimore||3-3||John Harbaugh||9 (1999-2007)|
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Notes
Airline WiFi stinks. I mean you, Delta. I especially mean you, United. If you can’t make it work so the entire plane can have remotely good connections, scrap it until you can. Stop taking money from customers under the false pretense of providing good wireless connections. It’s never good. I mean never.
I am going to make a confession that will make me seem older than my age (60) and confirm that I am completely out of touch with the youth of America: Until last Wednesday, I had never eaten ramen. I don’t even think ramen was a thing at Ohio University in the late ’70s, when I was there, and it never made it to the King dinner table when the kids were growing up. Shake ’N Bake pork chops, and Hamburger Helper—now those made it to the King table, but ramen … never heard of it.
So I was in Denver, and Robert Klemko of The MMQB lives in Denver, and he and his girlfriend, Dana, invited me to their favorite restaurant, Uncle. It’s a ramen place. I first had to explain that I didn’t know exactly what ramen was. Klemko sent me the menu and I looked it over and said, sure, I’ll go. Uncle’s is a pretty hot spot. We waited about 30 minutes for a table—actually three chairs at a long table, because every chair in the packed place gets used throughout the night. I told Klemko the spicy chicken ramen looked good … but I could do without the soft boiled egg part of it. “That’s the best part!” he said. I went egg-less. The food was really good, particularly the shrimp bun and the ramen, with its noodles and sprouts and tender mouth-burning chicken.
I see why people love this ramen. I see why Uncle’s had a line out the door too.
Tweets of the Week
Don’t want to alarm anyone but the Browns might be terrible at evaluating quarterbacks.— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) October 15, 2017
The national anthem issue is now officially two sides yelling at each other about completely different things.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) October 11, 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.
Adrian Peterson, running back, Arizona. “I have a necklace that I got made in Los Angeles. Pretty simple—24 karat gold. It’s a gold necklace with praying hands, with a diamond in it. I wear it everywhere I go. It reminds me to keep praying. I am not perfect. I stumble. I have stumbled, and I will strive not to stumble again. But I know the heart that I have. When I see this, I see what’s important in my life.”
From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
This week’s conversations: New York Jets quarterback Josh McCown, a veteran of 10 pro football teams, and the first personnel director in the history of the Dallas Cowboys, Gil Brandt, now an NFL.com analyst.
• McCown on his season with the Oakland Raiders and owner Al Davis: “We were hanging out after a game, loading the car up, and this black Lincoln Town Car comes up, the window goes down, boom. He goes [in a distinctly Al Davis Brooklyn accent], ‘Hey McCown, come here.’ It's like a scene out of Goodfellas. My heart is beating fast, and he says, "The second quarter, you threw the ball in the flat. You had [wide receiver John] Madsen on the corner. Why didn't you throw the corner?’ I'm stumbling through the answer, I'm following my reads and doing what I'm supposed to do, I didn't want to sell out the coaches. I kind of fumbled through the answer, and I get done talking, and he nods his head and goes, ‘It's the Raidahs, throw the ball dahnfield.’ And brrrrrrp the window goes up and he pulls off. It was a great experience.
“He was so sharp, even at that age. We walk in and we're hanging out waiting for a team meeting to start, and here he comes in with his walker, and he sees one of our rookie D-ends, and he says, ‘Hey, last year, you played with your right hand down. Now you're playing with your left hand down. Why? Put your right hand down, you had your best games …’ He rattled off the three games in college that he did that—his sack numbers and everything … Commitment to Excellence wasn't just something he had copy written. It was, legit, his life.”
• McCown, with a wife and four children, on the strain of often being an absentee father while he played in one city and his family lived elsewhere, often in Charlotte: “When your employment begins and ends at training camp, it is hard when you've got family to go, ‘Okay, let's move before the school year,’ so we stayed ... We've just learned to manage it. It's not been ideal by any stretch. Thank god for FaceTime. But I also understand that I am not the only guy that works, and works away from his family. We have people serving and protecting this country that spend six to eight months, or years, at a time without being able to see their family. The time away is hard. There were so many nights I hung up FaceTime and hung up times with my kids that I would just sit there and cry and go, ‘Man I don't want to, I can't do it! I can't do it anymore. And then the home game would come and they would come see me, and the joy that they had, and then at the end of the season we would sit down and my kids, especially my two boys, they'd say, ‘Dad, you have to keep playing, we love it.’ They are so supportive and so it's like, I'm sitting there going, ‘Do you really want me to play, or are you just glad Dad is not home to cut off the Xbox?’”
In the podcast, you’ll also hear about this: Opening day, 2004. Arizona at St. Louis. First game of Larry Fitzgerald’s pro life. First snap of Larry Fitzgerald’s pro life. McCown takes the first snap of the season. He hands to running back Emmitt Smith. Smith runs toward the line, stops, pivots, and tosses back to McCown. McCown throws as far as he can downfield. Fitzgerald, covered by Aeneas Williams, jumps over Williams to make the 37-yard catch.
Emmitt Smith. Aeneas Williams. Larry Fitzgerald. Not bad company for McCown.
1. I think these are my quick notes of Week 6:
a. Stunning penalty-yardage disparity Thursday night: Eagles 126, Panthers 1. I would love to be in the officials’ room on Park Avenue to hear the discussion over the fact that the Panthers were not whistled for one hold in a game that has become a clutch-and-grab-fest.
b. I have never heard what CBS analyst Nate Burleson said about rookie running back Kareem Hunt of the Chiefs: “He’s the carpet that brings the room together.” How did I miss that?
c. WHOOOOOOOSH! Marvin Hall just showed up Saturday on the active Atlanta roster for the first time, then got five yards behind the Miami secondary and caught a too-easy long TD.
d. Case Keenum is playing the best football of his life—and looks so confident doing it. His inside shovel pass to Kyle Rudolph for seven yards near the Green Bay goal line was a thing of beauty.
e. The Lions are in the NFC North race because of the Aaron Rodgers injury, not because of good football.
f. The book on C.J. Beathard is he’s one tough guy. Which he showed in the 26-24 loss at Washington. But he showed much more, enough that he’s got at least one more start next Sunday against Dallas.
g. Can someone please teach Jordan Howard that when your team is trying to bleed the clock, you don’t intentionally run out of bounds? Sheesh.
h. Oakland punter Marquette King had a day: four punts, 56.5-yard average, 55.0 net, all four inside the 20.
i. What a pass by Tarik Cohen, the bowling ball of a back for Chicago. He rolled right with a handoff and let one fly, 37 yards in the air, and it nestled perfectly into the arms of Zach Miller in the right corner of the end zone. First Bears rookie running back to throw a TD pass since Gale Sayers did it in 1965.
j. Good for the Chargers winning in Oakland. Anthony Lynn is keeping that team together against so many odds.
k. Jack Del Rio has a big problem, and it’s not only that the Raiders are 2-4. They’re an uninspired, toothless 2-4. They’ve got a must-win game Thursday night against the Chiefs—and they’ve only lost five in a row to Kansas City.
l. Where to start with that New Orleans-Detroit game. Well, I’ll leave you with one note on it: The Cam Jordan tipped-to-himself interception for a touchdown was the biggest play in a game with 90 points scored, and one of the most athletic plays of the season. Jordan’s a heck of a player. The Saints need about five more of him on defense.
m. When he’s healthy, Janoris Jenkins is a top-five NFL cornerback. Showed it again Sunday night with the pick-six in Denver.
n. Could be that I jinxed him, but if you want to see my "Football Night in America" ride-along with Trevor Siemian, here it is.
o. Cam Newton will not put the Thursday-nighter in his time capsule.
p. There is no good reason—nor a crappy reason—to fine a celebrating football player for throwing a football into the stands after a great play. I mean, the player is happy, the player is celebrating, the player gives the souvenir touchdown football to a fan. I do understand the NFL’s reasoning. The league doesn’t want anyone to get hurt in a scrum for a prize football. And if there is an instance of a fan getting hurt beyond a couple of scratches on a ball thrown into the stands, maybe I’d change my tune. But Davante Adams got fined $6,076 for throwing his winning touchdown catch into the stands in Texas last week, and there’s the cutest picture of the recipient, a little girl, cradling it this week. It’s wrong.
q. Thomas Davis still has it, even after three ACL surgeries.
Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling wrap up the Sunday action each Monday morning on “The MMQB: 10 Things Podcast.” Subscribe on iTunes.
2. I think, Luke Kuechly, it’s time for that deep conversation with yourself and with your family and maybe with your good friends on the Panthers. You’re 26, and when you’re on the field you’re as dominant and instinctive as you were in 2013, when you were named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. But with a likely third concussion in three years Thursday night, the danger with playing such a physical position and risking further head trauma is something Kuechly and those closest to him are going to have to consider when trying to decide about his future in football. Kuechly came steaming around right end to get an Eagles’ ball-carrier, and he was met directly by guard Brandon Brooks. Brooks didn’t Kuechly him helmet-to-helmet; rather, he simply stopped Kuechly and leveled him with a strong block into his shoulder/neck area. Players get up from that almost every time … but when players have a history of concussions, even seemingly ordinary contact can be dangerous. Whatever Kuechly does—and he told me last year he planned to play as long he physically is able—the emotion has to be taken out of it. He’s got to make the best call for 50-year-old Luke Kuechly.
3. I think I get the release of NaVorro Bowman—a veteran on an 0-5 team who wouldn’t be there after this season. He’s been one of the best professionals and competitors I’ve covered. I also get the Niners releasing him instead of taking a low-round pick for him. I’ll tell you where I’d go if I were him: Carolina. Great insurance for Kuechly, and a great one-year landing place. Backup plan: Oakland.
4. I think when I saw the Panthers in training camp, coach Ron Rivera was adamant that Carolina was going to be a power-running team. If that was the case, Carolina would be at least one win better than its 4-2 record right now. But in the last two games, Carolina’s running backs have 35 carries for 37 yards. The Panthers should be using the speed and horizontal misdirection of Curtis Samuel and Christian McCaffrey to create uncertainty on the defensive side of the ball.
5. I think it’s only mid-October, and it’s starting to be hard to fathom how a guy who seemed bulletproof on Labor Day, Giants coach Ben McAdoo, will still be in that job in 2018.
6. I think it’s only mid-October, and it’s starting to be hard to fathom how the Eagles won’t win the NFC East, with this schedule over the next four weeks: Washington, San Francisco and Denver, all at home, followed by the bye. The Eagles don’t play a road game until the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
7. I think I enjoyed the NFL Films Presents “Touchdown in Israel” show I screened over the weekend. The show debuts Friday at 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network. Patriots owner Robert Kraft took 18 Pro Football Hall of Famers to Israel, to promote football (the players actually coached a game between two teams of young players from Israel) and so Kraft could show off Israel, which he loves. Most touching parts: At the end of the show, Joe Montana, Jim Brown, Eric Dickerson and others—most emotionally Marshall Faulk—discuss their experiences on the last night in Israel. Faulk, not an emotional sort, struggles to get through his thoughts speaking to the group, because the trip was so powerful to him. “Coming from the Ninth Ward in Louisiana, to be in Israel … UN-believable … And not just to be here, but [struggling to speak] … to be here with some guys who I look up to. I grew up poor. I sold POPCORN in the Superdome just to watch y’all play! [fighting off tears] … Cuz that’s the only way I could get in! … So to be here, and to be friends with y’all, and to hear your stories, and to have y’all listening to my stories, um, is unbelievable. I came here as just a member of the Hall. Man, I’m leaving with some special relationships.”
8. I think I applaud the filing of the Colin Kaepernick collusion case, though I’m skeptical attorney Mark Geragos will find any evidence to prove that multiple NFL owners, or the league office, colluded to deny Kaepernick employment. This may not be the best thing to get Kaepernick on an NFL roster (the dreaded “distraction” that so many teams quake about would be the result of signing him now), but the more noise that’s made about Kaepernick not being given a chance to play the better.
9. I think there’s an overlooked story you should know about it. It happened last week at a small-college football game in upstate New York, St. Lawrence at Union. Two friends from the Albany area from the early 1940s, World War II vets apart for more than 70 years, gathered to renew their friendship at the game in Schenectady, and the emotion that came out left both men weeping. Donald Sommers (Union class of ’45), age 95, and Ted Rosen (St. Lawrence class of ’48), 93, hadn’t seen each other because of the war and because life took them in different directions. Sommers’ daughter Caroline, a New York City-based TV producer, worked for months to locate Rosen, just as a favor to her father, who recently lost his wife. “This is unbelievable, to be able to spend time with such a good friend after so many years,” said Sommers. “I haven’t seen this young man in 70 years! We chose to do it at the football game. I am a very ardent football watcher.” Caroline Sommers was filled with emotion when the two friends stood with the teams from their respective alma maters as the anthem played. “This was a bucket list thing for me to do for my father,” she said. “You know the scene in the Grinch where his heart grows a lot at the end? That’s what this felt like—to do something that made these two great men so happy.”
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week:
a. Story of the Week: by John Branch of the New York Times, “The Girl in the No. 8 Jersey,” on the tragedy in Las Vegas hitting home on a soccer field in California.
b. Stacee Etcheber and the Girl in the No. 8 Jersey should have some rights. Rights to live without the fear of being cut down by some normal-seeming sniper from 400 yards away.
c. Goodellian Story of the Week: by Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal, about an anonymous (but no longer) defender of Roger Goodell on Twitter.
d. Baseball Story of the Week: by Peter Gammons of The Athletic, on the Astros’ Game 4 ALDS win in Boston, writing about the rise of one franchise and the fall of another at Fenway Park on a murky October day. “This is what I live for. This place is so great, so electric,” said Justin Verlander, who almost was a goat in the first relief appearance of his life in professional baseball. “To me, baseball is about the moments, walking up on the mound with something on the line.”
e. And that wasn’t even the baseball game of the week. Cubs 9, Nats 8.
f. I cannot rave enough about Jose Altuve. The man invents runs. Friday against the Yankees, in a scoreless game, he bounced a normal ground ball up the middle, and the throw to first was a tick late. Then he stole second, safe by a whisker. Then, on a single up the middle, his little pistons took him home for the first run of a 2-1 game. The man is Pedroia with 40 percent better power and 30 percent better speed.
g. Justin Verlander with the game of his later career in ALCS Game 2. Then I looked up and saw he’s still only 34. Thought he was older. So glad to see a guy throw 124 pitches and a complete game and no one freaks out. Look how good Verlander was late: In the last four innings, he struck out seven, got five batted-ball outs, walked one, allowed one hit. That’s dominance.
h. Cleveland … that one hurt. Not as bad as losing the 3-1 Series lead last year. But watching Corey Kluber go cold, and Jose Ramirez go colder, will lead to some bummer evenings this winter.
i. Coffeenerdness: Not a good idea to run low on Italian Roast at my two local stores, Starbucks. You do realize I’m an addict, don’t you? STOCK THE ITALIAN ROAST!
j. Beernerdness: I’ve gone Sober October, as you may have read last week, and you filled my inbox with your passion about favorite beers. So I’m going to use the next three columns to feature your choices. The first: from Mitch Clingman of Wisconsin: “I live in Milwaukee but I'm from Minnesota, and I enjoy watching my Vikings while sipping on King Sue, an American Double IPA from Toppling Goliath in Decorah, Iowa. Orange in color, one of the hoppiest fresh noses you will ever find, this is absolutely a life-changing event in a bottle. My leg starts twitching when I take my first sip. I highly suggest giving this one a try in the near future.” Toppling Goliath … well, of course I’m going to try anything from Toppling Goliath.
k. Great job by the Vegas Golden Knights feting the city, the police, the victims and the first-responders at the first home game in franchise history. That 58-second “moment” of silence was marvelous. Truly emotional. Nice start for the first big-league team in the history of the state.
l. Liked the analysis by Don Banks of The Athletic on the quote-unquote Ben McAdoo “losing the locker room” perception. Often, teams settle into cliques during really bad times, and Banks captures it.
Who I Like Tonight
Tennessee 30, Indianapolis 24. I love the battle of the quarterbacks. Who’d have thought Jacoby Brissett might outduel Marcus Mariota on a Monday night in Nashville in October? This will be a competitive game with the Colts having a chance to win in the last five minutes. Tennessee defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s troops are having a very bad year (a league-high 28.4 points per game allowed through five weeks) and may have to make a stop here to win.
The Adieu Haiku
Huge week for Goodell.
Ultimate knotty problem.
It’s mayhem. Trump wins.
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