Quickly

  • Richard Sherman on Deshaun Watson, after 41-38 Seattle win: ‘The best game any quarterback has ever played against us, and we’ve played all the legends’
  • Other sections include: Roger Goodell’s uncertain future; the injured ironman gets an MMQB column; Week 8 awards, quotes, stats and 10 things I think I think
By Peter King
October 30, 2017

Pretty eventful weekend. ESPN reported 17 owners held a conference call to discuss blocking commissioner Roger Goodell’s five-year contract extension. Two Texans players, in open rebellion against owner Bob McNair for what they felt was equating them to inmates, went on a wildcat strike for a day. The Browns lost in London, falling to 1-23 since passing on Carson Wentz, 0-8 since passing on Deshaun Watson. Defending rushing champ Ezekiel Elliott ran roughshod over Washington, then awaited word in New York this week whether he’d be suspended for six games.

A weekend in the life of the NFL, circa 2017.

Every one of those stories could lead this column, and until about 6:55 on the East Coast Sunday night, the sudden mortality of Goodell was my choice. But not up here. Instead: Seattle 41, Houston 38.

I’m not sure if it was the Arena-Football-like 952 passing-rushing yards between Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson … or the cumulative effect in the second half of this game of tie, Texans lead, tie, Seahawks lead, Texans lead, Seahawks lead, Texans lead, Seahawks lead, Seahawks win … or Jimmy Graham and Wilson meeting on the sidelines after the game-winning pass and the boom mike catching them making this collective sound at their top of their lungs: “AHHHHHHHHHHOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!” … or maybe the seven or eight heartfelt seconds Richard Sherman embraced Watson, the new great lion among NFL quarterbacks after only six starts, a sign of true respect by a cornerback who does not give respect easily.

“What’d you say to Watson?” I asked Sherman two hours after the game.

“I’ll tell you,” Sherman said. “‘You played the best game any quarterback has ever played against us, and we’ve played all the legends. I respect how you hung in there and kept battling and battling.’”

Deshaun Watson nearly willed the Texans to a road win in Seattle, but the Seahawks got it done in one of the games of the year.
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Think of that: The nucleus of this defense (Sherman/Thomas/Chancellor/Wagner) has been together since 2012, and it has played Tom Brady three times and Aaron Rodgers five times in those six seasons. Richard Sherman told Watson his game Sunday was better than any of those eight games Brady and Rodgers have played against Seattle since then.

And Watson lost Sunday. The winner played the game of his professional life. This was Wilson’s 99th NFL game, regular-season and playoffs, and it was his first 400-yard passing game. He threw for 453, which is 68 yards more than his previous best.

NFL
Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson Are Kings as Seahawks-Texans Is Game of the Year, Falcons Finally Catch a Break

Numbers … meh. The drama of the game, the sheer drama, in such a loud place. Watching Watson, 22, duel Wilson, 28, you wanted it to never end. Couldn’t there be overtime? Quintuple overtime? The college overtime? The Buffalo Wild Wings never-ending overtime? In the last 11 minutes, Watson drove Houston 71 yards to go up 31-27, and Wilson drove Seattle 75 yards to go up 34-31, and Watson drove Houston 75 yards to go up 38-34, and Wilson threw an interception (“Just trusting it, and lettin’ it rip—one bad play,” he said), and it looked over. Houston ball, 2:49 to play. Two first downs, and they could run out the clock. They got one. Houston punted.

“No doubt we’d get it back,” Wilson told me. “I had no doubt. In fact, I went to the bench to prepare for the two-minute drive. I went over to the receivers. I said, ‘Hey, we’re probably gonna get the ball back with maybe a minute-thirty left, probably no timeouts left. Maybe one timeout. Be ready for these calls. Be ready for this, be ready for that.”

Seahawks ball, their 20-yard line, 1:39 left. No timeouts. “That was cool,” Wilson said. “It actually happened that way.”

On first down, Wilson, who throws one of the prettiest deep balls in football, lofted a tight spiral 52 yards in the air, straight down the middle, to Paul Richardson, running a skinny post. “My second read there,” Wilson said. But Richardson was single-covered, and Wilson knew, jumper that Richardson is, he’d have a good chance at a 50-50 ball against safety Marcus Gilchrist. Two plays later, no one covered Graham, trolling the middle alone, and Wilson hit him for the easiest touchdown of the day.

“This game’s one of the best for sure, one of my favorites,” Wilson said. “All I know is it was THIS game, the only game today that mattered. The only one. If you have that mentality, hopefully all the good games will add up.”

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With Questions About Owner Bob McNair Swirling, Texans Put On Offensive Show Against Seahawks

This was an emotional game for Wilson. Graham is his best friend on the team, and before the game, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported the Seahawks have had discussions with Houston concerning left tackle Duane Brown; Rapoport hinted that Jimmy Graham might be on the trading block for Seattle. Seattle GM John Schneider said Sunday that Graham would not be traded. In any case, Wilson’s very aware of the world and the business around him, and he certainly knew of the report, and certainly reveled in the fact that Graham, who has underachieved in Seattle, was the receiving hero of the game, with two touchdown catches in the fourth quarter, in the game right before Tuesday’s trading deadline. 

Knowing Wilson, there’s no way, even for a good left tackle, he’d want Graham out. Graham was in Wilson’s 2016 wedding. Wilson went to the funeral of Graham’s manager and mentor in 2015.

Knowing Seattle GM John Schneider, if he thinks he can get a tackle like Brown, just coming off a long holdout in Houston, and the most vocal of the Houston veterans against owner Bob McNair after McNair’s “inmates running the prison” remark in ESPN The Magazine last week, he’ll find another way. The Seahawks are snug up against the salary cap, and if they want Brown, they may have to redo Brown’s deal and redo some of their own contracts. That’s, of course, if Schneider can find a deal to satisfy the Texans by the 4 p.m. ET trade deadline Tuesday. My money’s on Schneider.

It may be moot. But I don’t think so. Schneider is one of the most aggressive GMs in recent NFL history. He knows his offensive line is the major Achilles heel on the team, the one thing standing in the way of what could be the last deep playoff run for an aging defense. To beat Philadelphia’s outstanding front seven, Schneider knows he might have to go get a tackle by Tuesday’s deadline. Joe Staley’s overpriced in San Francisco (and suffered a reported suborbital fracture under his right eye on Sunday), and Cordy Glenn not likely to be freed up in Buffalo. It might be Brown or Colt Anthony Castonzo … and Brown’s better. We shall see.

Wilson made sure he found Watson on the field after the game. “He’s a special, special player, and I’m going to love watching him play in the next few years,” Wilson said. “He was so good today, so special. I told him on the field, ‘God is good. Keep putting the hard work in. It’ll keep showing.’”

NFL
Saints, Seahawks, Eagles: Undefeated in October

Wilson is special too. In a crowded field led by Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz, Wilson’s an MVP candidate for getting Seattle to 5-2 while playing several Sundays in survival mode for getting hit so much. In this game, he put up 41 points … while his running backs rushed 16 times for five yards. That is not a misprint.

Maybe Watson studied Wilson playing hurt. He was doing it too. Sherman was impressed that, late in the third quarter, Watson seemed to hurt his ankle or calf, and it didn’t affect how he played the rest of the game. During a TV timeout, Sherman went to Watson and told him, “Hang in there! Ain’t no time to come out of the game!’”

Said Sherman: “My God, Houston’s so lucky. By next year he’s going to be a top-five quarterback in this league, and that includes the two big dogs [Brady and Rodgers]. He makes you dig to the deepest part of your competitive juices to beat him.”

You know the biggest shame of this day? Because the NFL schedules cross-conference games once every four years, barring a Super Bowl meeting, Wilson and Watson won’t face each other again until they play in Houston … in 2021. So keep this game on the DVR. Cue it up on some ugly February or March day. Maybe you’ll yell at the TV the same way you did Sunday.


Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling wrap up the Sunday action each Monday morning on “The MMQB: 10 Things Podcast.” Subscribe on iTunes.


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Getty Images

It was notable enough to dive into the inner battles over the national anthem issue between the league office and owners in a Seth Wickersham/Don Van Natta story for ESPN last week. But it seemed more jarring Sunday when Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen reported that 17 owners participated in a conference call Thursday to explore roadblocking what seemed to be an imminent five-year contract extension for commissioner Roger Goodell.

Last month, Atlanta owner Arthur Blank, the chairman of the league’s compensation committee, told me he believed the Goodell extension absolutely would get done. Another source said he believes Goodell could sign it at any time but has some minor points in the deal he still wants to address. But in the wake of rising discontent among owners over the anthem issue and what sitting and kneeling players are doing to the league’s bottom line with fans and advertisers, the dissatisfaction of strong owners like the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones cannot be discounted. It’s unclear whether the discord between the league office and some owners could lead to the dissolution of the Goodell pact, though it seems unlikely. But the fact that the past five or six weeks have gone by without a resolution of the contract makes it rise in significance as a story.

Jones is a leader and probably the leader against the extension, or at least against the extension in the way it has been presented. In the Wickersham/Van Natta story, Jones was quoted as saying the Goodell contract “is the most one-sided contract ever.” Goodell made about $65 million in salary and benefits in 2014 and 2015, and Jones said he wanted Goodell’s salary to be more incentive-based.

Because it’s uncertain now if Goodell’s contract is fit to be signed today, or if the owners can still try to negotiate the deal down, it may be a moot point. But as one ownership source told me Sunday, Jones wouldn’t be going to this extent if he didn’t think he could affect the final number on Goodell’s deal—or whether there’s a deal at all. This source also said he thought Goodell would react badly to taking any significant pay cut. The league’s total revenue has risen from about $6 billion when Goodell took over the job in 2006 to between $14 billion and $15 billion this year. The source said Goodell thinks he’s done the job the owners hired him to do: markedly increase revenues and be a discipline-minded steward of the game.

Jones is angry at Goodell for suspending the Cowboys’ star running back, Ezekiel Elliott, for six games, which Elliott has fought and won so far; but if he loses another appeal this week, Elliott could miss Dallas’s next six games. Further, it is believed that Jones feels Goodell is too iron-fisted with player suspensions. Until recently, Jones was a steadfast backer of Goodell. But the suspensions have made him increasingly angry. He also cannot fathom how Goodell won’t put his foot down and force players to stand for the anthem. If players don’t stand, Jones is said to think, then so be it—they shouldn’t play.

“Jerry [Jones] is on a mission,” said this ownership source. “I’ve been in the league a long time, and this is as passionate and vocal as I’ve seen him on anything. He wants players to stand, and he obviously wants to do something on Roger’s contract.”

What Goodell is trying to do with the anthem is simple—he’s trying to build some sort of consensus between a group of players who have different interests in civil-rights issues. He feels if he pushes for a consensus too hard and tries to force all players to stand before a deliberate partnership plan with players is agreed to, too many players would splinter off, and there’d be a much larger group of players standing or kneeling for the anthem. It’s a sticky problem.

It’s unclear which owners are among the 17 who participated on Thursday’s call. But it’s easier to make an educated guess which owners want Goodell to push harder to get players to stand: Dallas, Washington and Houston, certainly. Other teams with owners motivated to get players to stand: Detroit, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Tennessee, Cleveland, Carolina, Baltimore, Indianapolis and the Los Angeles Chargers. I repeat: Those are educated guesses, based on interviews with league people in the past few days.

I don’t believe any ownership effort has the 24 votes necessary to force out Goodell. I also don’t believe there are 24 votes to slash Goodell’s compensation right now. And however some owners feel about Goodell, it’s going to be hard in an era of huge NFL wealth to slash his compensation … particularly when the contract extension is going to cover the next labor negotiations, which could be hugely rancorous.

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But I’ll repeat something that one owner told me before the last New York meetings 13 days ago: Goodell has so few friends on the player side—he has a cold relationship with union chief DeMaurice Smith—and he’s feeling the cold shoulder from more and more owners that he doesn’t have the chips to call in to make tough deals right now. And certainly not something as important to an increasing group of players and owners as the anthem issue.

On Sunday, one prominent club official said he’s reached out to owners and some executives in the league in the past few days, just to ask how they think this story—the anthem, and Goodell’s contract—is going to play out. He said he hasn’t gotten one definitive answer. Just guesses. And he said the other interesting thing is there’s no logical candidate who could build a consensus to be the next commissioner if Goodell is ousted. It’s a confusing time, in part because it’s unclear whether Goodell and his administration are going to be able to do enough to make the players actually trust the league.

With his team playing more than 3,000 miles away, Joe Thomas watched from his home in Cleveland on Sunday.
Courtesy of Joe Thomas

We have a new columnist at The MMQB. Browns tackle Joe Thomas, who sat for the first time in his 11-year NFL career on Sunday, will be giving us some observations, semi-regularly, between now and the Super Bowl. I’ve always admired Thomas, going back to the spring of 2007, when I went to Madison, Wisc., to write about him as one of the top five prospects in the 2007 draft—and found several interesting things in his off-campus home: a keg in the kitchen sink, a deer head with a red padded bra hung on an antler, and Thomas’s laptop elevated by four rolls of toilet paper on the desk in his unkempt bedroom.​

I asked Thomas to write about what it was like to get hurt and see his NFL-record streak of 10,363 straight plays snapped—and about what it was like to watch the Browns on TV for the first time since he was drafted 10-and-a-half years ago.

Below is a quick taste of his first column. For the column in full, click here.


CLEVELAND — It’s strange what you think about when your season is over prematurely—really strange for me, considering in 10-and-a-half seasons with the Browns, since opening day 2007, I never missed a single play. That’s 10,363 consecutive plays, the longest streak in NFL history. That changed last week. I tore my left triceps trying to push away linebacker Brian Orakpo on a running play against Tennessee.

Over and over in the day or two after my tendon snapped, the same words kept coming into my mind: “Move the drill.”

I thought of those words Sunday night, processing the injury. I thought of them when the pain woke me up Monday morning, and before I went into surgery Tuesday to have the tendon repaired. Move the drill.

In high school in Wisconsin, I remember a teammate getting hurt in practice, and laying on the field in the middle of a team drill. The whole practice stopped. Everyone wanted to see how the injured guy was doing. When that happens in high school, when someone is hurt seriously, sometimes the practice just ends. But my first year at the University of Wisconsin, I remember a guy going down in practice, and he was in pain laying there on the field, and everybody stopped to look. After a couple of seconds, one of the coaches hollered:

“MOVE THE DRILL!”

We all just moved about 30 yards down the field and continued practice. I thought to myself: “This is the most savage thing I’ve ever seen in my life!” That was my welcome to big-time football. As a human being, that is really rough. That’s the day I learned: The train keeps going. I’m not the train, I’m a passenger.

Last Monday, I was at our team facility, but I wasn’t in the meetings; I was getting tests, and getting ready to have surgery Tuesday. But the team had to go on. They now have a new left tackle, Spencer Drango. I saw him. I said, “You’ll do a great job Sunday against Minnesota. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.” But everyone in there … they were just moving on. Here I am, confronting my career mortality, and no matter how you prepare yourself, it comes down to this: You’re not that important. When you’re one of the biggest guys on the team, you can think, I’m more train than passenger. As much as your teammates, coaches and friends reach out to you to tell you they’ll miss you, the show goes on. They’re playing. I’m not. Over the years, I’ve seen it: It’s the thing players have the toughest time accepting.

They moved the drill. I’m 32, and I’m the one who’s left behind now. (For the rest of the column, click here.)


Football in America: Episode VI—Chicago

We’re in week six of our eight-episode series (in partnership with State Farm) examining all levels of football—youth, high school, college and pro. This week, Kalyn Kahler, Mark Mravic and videographer John DePetro take us to Chicagoland and, as part of the coverage, a look at football in the place where the first Heisman Trophy was won, the University of Chicago. Kahler writes after Chicago’s 55-12 win over Beloit (Wisc.):

After the game the players run off the field into the small locker room.

“We chose to come to the University of Chicago!” [coach Chris] Wilkerson shouts inside the cramped space, voice hoarse from yelling during the game. The players shush each other in anticipation and look to Wilkerson, standing in the middle of the huddle. Someone shouts, “Tell ’em coach!” They all know what comes next. Wilkerson pauses for a few seconds, then yells, “It ain’t where fun comes to die—”

“NO!” the players shout back.

“—it’s where excellence comes to thrive!”

The players erupt in cheers, jumping up and down, banging their helmets on the metal air ducts overhead.

I love this series. The rest:

Episode I: The Bay Area
Episode II: Carolina
Episode III: Minnesota
Episode IV: Dallas
Episode V: Arizona

LeSean McCoy has 50 carries for 242 yards and three touchdowns over the Bills’ past two games—both Buffalo victories.
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

LeSean McCoy, running back, Buffalo. McCoy reminded me of Emmitt Smith in the 34-14 rout of the Raiders. Not just because of his 151-yard day. If you recall when Smith was at his best, he was great in so many second halves. Jimmy Johnson would use him to bleed the clock in win after win after win. And it was McCoy, with 19 carries for 120 yards (including a 48-yard insurance TD run) in the second half alone, helping the Bills to a 35:37 time of possession and a dominant win. The Raiders knew McCoy was coming, play after play after play, and just couldn’t stop him. Don’t look now, but Buffalo is 5-2 and just a half-game behind the Patriots in the AFC East.

Russell Wilson, quarterback, Seattle. Threw for 453 yards, by far the most in his 99-start career, and put up 41 points on a day when Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls ran 12 times for minus-one yard. “If there was ever any doubts about what Russell can do, there is no limit,” said coach Pete Carroll.

Deshaun Watson, quarterback, Houston. Threw for 402 yards, by far the most in his six-start career, and put up 38 points on the best defense in football over the last five years. “He threw a couple of picks, and nothing changed. He was just totally unafraid,” Richard Sherman said.  

DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Earl Thomas, free safety, Seattle. Smartest safety in football versus the phenom quarterback. Deshaun Watson got the edge first—not sure who was culpable—with a 59-yard TD throw to Will Fuller IV to start this showdown of hot offense and strong defense. On Houston’s next possession, Watson spied DeAndre Hopkins on an incut, and he apparently spied him too much. “[Thomas] is reading the eyes of the quarterback the entire way,” analyst Rich Gannon said on CBS, and Gannon was absolutely right. Thomas got a great head-start, steaming in from his 15-yard line and picking it off with a running start at the 22. The 78-yard touchdown was vintage Thomas.

Carlos Dunlap, defensive end, Cincinnati. The eighth-year pro from Florida has always been the kind of athletic pass-blocker and pass-rusher who can make a big play at any time. Any time, in this case, was with 7:05 left in the fourth quarter against upstart Indianapolis, with the Colts up 23-17. Jacoby Brissett threw, the ball bonked off Dunlap’s outstretched forearms. The ball bounced straight up, and Dunlap caught it and returned it for a 16-yard touchdown. The winning score, as it turned out. Dunlap added a sack of Brissett too.

Marshon Lattimore, cornerback, New Orleans. Saints 20, Bears 12, 1:22 left, Bears driving in Saints territory. On second down, Mitch Trubisky fires deep downfield … and Lattimore, already one of the best corners in the game as a 21-year-old rookie, picked it out of the air at the Saints’ 27. Ballgame.

SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Tyrone Crawford, defensive lineman, Dallas. With the Cowboys flailing around and on the verge of being down 16-7 at the half against injury-decimated Washington, Crawford blocked a Nick Rose field goal try, and Orlando Scandrick returned the ball 86 yards to the Washington four-yard line. After Ezekiel Elliott scored a moment later, this was the effect of the Crawford blocked field goal: A nine-point Washington halftime lead turned into a one-point Dallas halftime lead. Crawford added a sack and forced fumble in an excellent all-around day.

COACH OF THE WEEK

Pat Shurmur, offensive coordinator, Minnesota. Shurmur thought he’d have Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater playing quarterback for him this year. Through the first half of the season, the Vikings are 6-2, and Shurmur mostly has had the well-traveled/abandoned Case Keenum playing some of the best football of his itinerant career. What’s most notable is the varied play-calls with injuries (to Stefon Diggs, most notably, and of course quarterback), and the Vikings enter their bye week and the second half of their season as the clear favorite in the NFC North. 

GOAT OF THE WEEK

Travis Benjamin, punt returner/wide receiver, San Diego. In a 7-7 game in the first half at Foxboro, Benjamin fielded a punt at his 11-yard line, and promptly began running laterally, and then back, and then back some more, until he was a foot deep in the end zone and tackled for a safety. I praised him for his two-touchdown game last week, and even though he added a touchdown reception at Foxboro on Sunday, the 11-yard loss for a safety was absolutely inexcusable in an eight-point loss to New England.


QUOTES OF THE WEEK

I

“We’re confident in our argument. We’re confident that I’ll be on the field for the rest of the year.”

—Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott, looking forward to the appeal of his six-game suspension this week in New York.

The Cowboys are 4-3. Elliott has played in every game. Dallas has played 0-7 San Francisco, the 1-6 Giants, 3-4 Arizona and 3-3 Denver.

Can you tell me that the Cowboys without Elliott for six of the first seven games this year would be worse than 4-3? Now, if Elliott is suspended this week and has to miss the next six games, Dallas will face Kansas City, Atlanta and Philadelphia in the next three weeks without him.

II

“They were swashbuckling out there, man. It was something.”

—Seattle coach Pete Carroll, on quarterback Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson, who combined for 855 passing yards and eight touchdown passes Sunday in Seattle.

III

“I’m not going to play Debbie Downer. There’s lot of teams that would like to be 5-3 right now.”

—Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, after the Panthers beat the Bucs to keep pace with New Orleans in the NFC South. The top three teams—Saints, Panthers, Falcons—are, respectively, 5-2, 5-3, 4-3.

IV

“It will suck the life out of you. It will leave holes in you. But now, you just gotta walk the plank, brother. Eighty percent of your survival is on you. Be you!”

—Merril Hoge, the former NFL running back, cancer survivor and ESPN analyst, on the advice he gave to Chris Mortensen as Mortensen began his 21-month fight with cancer.


Stat of the Week

Point totals in games three through seven for the 2017 Texans and rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson, and for the 2013 Broncos—the highest-scoring single-season team of all time—and quarterback Peyton Manning:

Game Denver, 2013 Houston, 2017
3 37 33
4 52 57
5 51 34
6 35 33
7 33 38
 

Those five games are the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth starts in Deshaun Watson’s career.


Factoid That May Interest Only Me

I

When the Dodgers tied Houston 12-12 Sunday night in Game 5 of the World Series, one of the clocks in Minute Maid Park read: 12:00. Midnight Central Time.

II

The Dolphins have to be one of the most lopsided 4-3 teams of all time. They’ve got a winning record, but have been outscored by 60 points.

In the three losses:
• Miami has been outscored 80-6.
• Miami has had 35 possessions and scored one touchdown and zero field goals.
• Miami has 202 average yards per game, punted 21 times and thrown five interceptions.

“We’re just inept,” said coach Adam Gase. “I’m pissed. I’m tired of the offense being awful.”


Tweets of the Week

I

II

III

IV

V

The Rams running back tweeted this in the first half of Penn State-Ohio State, when Penn State running back Saquon Barkley already had a 97-yard kick return for TD and 36-yard touchdown run.


New section of the column this fall—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. 

LeGarrette Blount, running back, Philadelphia. “That’s easy. In the history of the NFL, there hasn’t been but 51 super Bowls played, and I have won two of them. So it’s my two Super Bowl rings. I have the utmost respect for the Patriots, and I appreciate everything they did for me. It’s a world-class organization. Even though I am here [in Philadelphia] now, I hold no grudge. It’s business. That’s football. You move on. But those two Super Bowls rings are pretty important in my life. They’re put away safely. I bought the two replicas; I don’t wear the real ones. To understand what they mean, think of this: I was a big football fan growing up. As a kid you watch the Super Bowl, and you imagine, ‘I hope I can play in one of those some day.’ It’s pretty cool. I played in two.”


Pod People

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

This week’s conversation: A lengthy one with ESPN reporter Chris Mortensen, who has battled cancer for 21 months. The cancer in his throat and the back of his tongue was eradicated by chemotherapy and radiation in 2016, but it metastasized to his left lung. He is undergoing treatment for that now.

• Mortensen on the stiff sanction the league gave the Patriots—a four-game ban for Tom Brady, the loss of first- and fourth-round picks, and a $1 million fine—for Deflategate: “The bottom line is that the league—[people] I would call influential executives and people on the competition committee—agree with me: This should have gone to the competition committee as just a tweak, find what your rule is and it could have gotten off with just a letter or even if they want to dock them a fourth-round draft pick or whatever. But for what [the sanction] became, it wasn’t worth it.”

SI / Getty Images

1. I think I’ve got one more thing for your to-do list this fall: Get “Football’s Greatest,” the revised and updated version of this 2012 book by Sports Illustrated editors. I’ll give you a good argument starter: How about the top 10 quarterbacks of all time? 1) Tom Brady; 2) Joe Montana; 3) Peyton Manning; 4) John Unitas; 5) Otto Graham; 6) John Elway; 7) Dan Marino; 8) Brett Favre; 9) Sammy Baugh; 10) Bart Starr. 

2. I think that leads me to four salient points that I’d love to argue about:

a. Two Packers quarterbacks on the list, 8 and 10, and Aaron Rodgers isn’t?

b. Drew Brees and Fran Tarkenton out. Sammy Baugh in? I’ll defend Baugh, because I believe he was the best all-around player in history. In 1943 he led the NFL in punting, in completion percentage (and was second with 23 TD passes in 10 games) and, as a safety, with 11 interceptions. Excelling on both sides of the field and special teams puts him on this list.

c. Otto Graham over Elway? History, dear students. History. Executed Paul Brown’s offense to a T, won seven league titles in 10 years, and led his league in passing in four of those 10 years.

d. Brady, number three on the list five years ago, jumped over Unitas and Montana today, after his fifth Super Bowl win. Like that? Or no?

Go buy the book. And send your arguments and your rage to talkback@themmqb.com

3. I think these are my quick thoughts from Week 8:

a. Lovely toe-tap-in-the-side-of-the-end-zone touchdown for Andre Holmes of the Bills. Perfect mechanics.

b. Speaking of lovely: What a throw by Deshaun Watson, rainbowing the TD bomb to Will Fuller. Perfect pass.

c. What a bummer. Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson don’t play each other again until 2021, unless they meet in the Super Bowl.

d. Watching the Eagles’ defensive front this year, all I can think of is brute strength.

e. I’d like to see Aaron Rodgers come back late this year if for no other reason than to see the Saturday night national game in Week 16: Vikings (and Anthony Barr) at Green Bay, Dec. 23.

f. Do not let the weekend go by without thinking of Dont’a Hightower gone for the year with a torn pectoral muscle, and his contributions to two Patriots Super Bowls wins in the last three years. His tackle of Marshawn Lynch at the 1.5-yard-line in Super Bowl 49 made the Malcolm Butler pick possible. And then the crucial strip sack of Matt Ryan in the midst of the Pats’ comeback in Super Bowl 51.

g. Kudos to Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta for the insider story on the league meeting. One owner said of the story: “It’s like they had a tape recorder in both meetings,” meaning players-owners and owners meetings.

h. Speaking of that story, I was amazed The New York Times did not credit ESPN for the original story quoting Bob McNair, which obviously started this firestorm. That’s just wrong.

i. Sure sounds like Adam Gase thinks he’s got some lazy students on offense in Miami. He was beyond pointed about it in the wake of the 40-0 loss at Baltimore.

j. You don’t lose 40-0 in this league unless you either stink, or your game plan stinks, or you make a slew of mental errors. My money’s on the last in Miami.

k. Relax, Steve Smith.

l. The Browns are 1-23 since passing on Carson Wentz, 0-8 since passing on Deshaun Watson. Not that I’m keeping track.

m. This is not insignificant: Stephon Gilmore (concussion) missed his third straight game Sunday. In 5.5 NFL seasons, Gilmore has missed 17 starts due to injury. That’s a full season missed, in effect.

n. Beautiful, textbook drive—New Orleans’ second TD drive of the game against the tough Chicago front, ending with a 1-yard Mark Ingram touchdown dive—and a drive made possible by superb run-blocking.

o. San Francisco center Daniel Kilgore is not going to enjoy watching how Fletcher Cox absolutely abused him on a second-quarter sack in Philly. Cox is such a force.

p. Did you know that when the weather is nice Eagles rookie wideout Mack Hollins rides his bike to Lincoln Financial Field?

q. Joe Mixon, play-action, screen. Gain of 67. Wow.

r. Now that was cool: Tight end Zach Ertz caught a touchdown pass in Philly and found season-ticket-holder/AL MVP Mike Trout in the end zone, and handed him the football. Trout looked like a 12-year-old, cradling the ball happily.

s. Seven games, eight Jameis Winston fumbles (two lost). Not good.

4. I think, just when you think the process between players and owners has flown entirely off the rails, read this piece by Anquan Boldin, one of the participants in the recent players-owners meeting in New York. Writes Bolden about the New York meeting: “The concerns that many players have been expressing about racial inequality in our justice system and society were finally heard. I consider it an example we can all use as we seek justice. The commissioner listened to why players were protesting and then played a key role in putting these players in touch with owners willing to listen to their concerns. He brought us together—and he did so in a highly charged environment and despite outside forces seeking to divide, rather than unite. I was pleasantly surprised by how genuinely receptive the owners were to the issues we raised and how truly respectful they were of our point of view. They more than simply accepted that the players have a point of view. These owners respected and even demonstrated pride in the players for standing up for what they believe in.” Interesting.

5. I think Seattle has good backs, but the Seahawks definitely should have kept Alex Collins over Eddie Lacy. Collins is more talented.

6. I think this is the kind of thing that drives people crazy about owners in any sport—in this case, Washington’s Dan Snyder, in the NFL. The Wickersham/Van Natta story about the contentious NFL meetings quotes Snyder as saying in the meetings that “96 percent of Americans are for guys [players] standing.” That is utterly preposterous. A Marist poll of more than 1,000 Americans in September said 52 percent of those contacted said players should stand for the anthem—a number that went down to 47 percent last week. That’s what happens in the political world today: stupid exaggeration designed to make your side seem stronger.

7. I think if I were advising Cam Newton, I’d tell him one thing: Answering questions you might think are beneath you twice a week for a total of 25 minutes is a very small price to pay to stay out of controversy. Be benign. Be fairly nice. Be there.

8. I think Bob Hohler of the Boston Globe should take a bow for this story on three cornerstone Patriots from the Robert Kraft season-ticket days of a half-century ago. Their later lives were badly tarnished by the effects of playing the game. “If you didn’t play hurt in those days, you weren’t a man,” said cornerback Daryl Johnson.

9. I think it’s hard to imagine a city having the sports day Houston had Sunday (and into this morning). From the opening kickoff of Seattle 41, Houston 38 in Seattle Sunday afternoon to Alex Bregman singling home the winning run in Astros 13, Dodgers 12, 9 hours and 34 minutes elapsed … with only 58 minutes between games. That means greater Houston was pulsating with two of the most scintillating sports events in the history of the city. Amazing.

10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:

a. Story of the Week: by Nick Anderson of the Washington Post, on the continuing craziness of the college application process, centering mostly on the essay, which now matters so much in who gets in and who doesn’t, and where.

b. Really good reporting by Anderson. He found a tutoring place in New England that, in a four-day boot camp for college-bound high-schoolers, works on the essay and the extra-curricular goals, and charges kids $16,000.

c. Madness.

d. Podcast of the Week: The “Radiolab” episode, a previously released pod from 2016 on how the Gary Hart scandal in 1987 changed the way politics was covered forever.

e. Shows like “Radiolab” and “This American Life,” not to mention the news programming during the week and on weekends, make public radio (WNYC in this case) never go off in our house. We are proud supporters.

f. Movie of the Week: “Battle of the Sexes,” about the Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs tennis match that took America by storm in 1973. King was the best women’s tennis player in the world, Riggs the 55-year-old former competitive men’s player who claimed he could beat any woman in the world. They played a best-of-five match at the Astrodome before the largest crowd ever to watch a tennis match, and this movie is about that match. It’s about more, really, and Emma Stone and Steve Carell capture the main characters exceedingly well. I am so glad the makers of the movie didn’t stick to sports. Stone is terrific capturing the personal side of King, who was married but unsure of her sexuality. The scenes of her falling in love with a woman are heartfelt and important. I really liked the movie. Carell’s magnificent in it.

g. Coach Pronouncement of the Week: From Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors, on the occasion of LGBT Night before the Warriors-Toronto game: “Maybe, if you are coming to the game tonight, and your child says what does that [LGBT] mean, explain it to them. Explain the importance of loving the person next to you and respecting him no matter who they are and where they come from. They are human beings, we are all human beings and we are all in this together.”

h. Beernerdness: While I limp to the finish line of Sober October (29 days down, two to go, and it hasn’t been too bad, thanks to my wife/partner in temperance), I thank all of you for helping fill the column with your beer choices. It’s Nathan Gross of Raleigh, N.C., today: “I am lucky with the sheer number of great breweries in my backyard, but one that has stood out to me is an new-ish brewery in Charlotte, Blue Blaze Brewing. The beer is really amazing. I’m a hop-head, but Blue Blaze’s Black Blaze Milk Stout really has me hooked. It’s got a coffee-like taste to it that isn’t off-putting and gives it enough depth to make it really interesting, whether you like coffee or even stouts at all. It’s not overly heavy and you can drink more than one in a sitting, which you can’t say about most stouts.” Excellent job, Nathan. Thanks.

i. Alex Bregman, you can play third base for my team any day. What a defender.

j. I love that Fox super-super-slo-mo replay of the pitches on their way to home plate—so agonizingly slow that you can see the tumble of the curve, the stitches of the ball.

k. Jose Altuve. Great player. Really likes to spit.

l. Judging from the 217 camera shots (so it seemed) in Game 4 of the World Series showing Sen. Ted Cruz in the second row behind home plate, he likes nachos, and Coors Light in the silver bottle.

m. Good call by Joe Buck on the George Springer homer that broke up the Alex Wood no-hitter and the Game 4 shutout with two out in the bottom of the sixth: “Alex Wood gives up one hit. It was loud, and it went far.”

n. In that circumstance—season on the line, any shot at the national title on the line—J.T. Barrett’s fourth quarter has to be one of the most clutch quarters any college quarterback has ever played: 13 of 13, 170 yards, three touchdowns, coming back from 11 down with five minutes left. Completing 85 percent for the game in that environment … that’s a wow.

o. Burn those unis, Ohio State. Man, those gray things, with the bright red shoes. Awful.

p. Another way for me to sound like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino: What’s wrong with having uniform uniforms?

q. 2015: Megyn Kelly, proving to be a tough and formidable moderator in a Republican Primary debate, asks the question of all presidential-debate questions to Donald Trump, about why he has called women he didn’t like “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, disgusting animals.”  

r. 2016: In an interview with Kelly on Fox five months before the election, Trump tells Kelly in another headline-maker that if he does not win in November, “I will consider it to be a total and complete waste of time, energy and money.”

s. 2017: Kelly hosts a segment on the “Today” show about how to dress your dog for Halloween.

t. Just find that strange.

u. Joe Girardi’s Yankees averaged 91 wins in his 10 seasons as manager, and they got to within one win of the World Series in a rebuilding year this year, and he was fired Thursday. Dead serious when I say I can’t draw any definitive judgment on whether he deserved to go, but other than results, one thing always impressed me about Girardi: He had a lot of high-profile guys to manage, and sometimes he had to put a Jacoby Ellsbury on the bench because the player was underperforming, and I do not remember one instance of a player ripping him publicly. (Maybe there was one or two; I just don’t recall one.) That’s a pretty big deal when you manage in New York.

v. Just what we thought about the early days of the NHL season: Vegas and Jersey, combined, are 16-3.

w. Happy 50th birthday (Saturday), Julia Roberts.

x. The University of Florida is going to pay Jim McElwain $13 million to not coach its football team. Somebody help me with that.


Who I Like Tonight

Kansas City 20, Denver 16. So you were expecting Kansas City 30, Denver 6? I’m not. I think Denver makes incremental strides on offense; Trevor Siemian is not as bad as he has played. First four Denver games: 24.5 points per game. Last two: 5.0. Tonight, I expect the Broncos to call on homecoming Jamaal Charles, and not just for a nice standing ovation from the all-red crowd. Charles says he’s healthy as a horse, but he’s carried it only 14 times in the last three games. He wants it more—and I believe he’ll get 10 or 12 touches tonight and be a factor in keeping this game tight.


The Adieu Haiku

Seattle-Houston.
That was beautiful football.
More, please. Lots more, please.

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