- Jared Goff and Sean McVay explain how thievery has helped Los Angeles turn things around, including in Sunday’s 51-17 blowout win over the reeling Giants
- Other sections include: the Saints’ six-game streak; Kirk Cousins’ career drive; the truth about Andrew Luck; Week 9 awards, quotes, stats and 10 things I think
Trying to digest the 6-2 Rams. Let’s start with Jared Goff, on the bus from the Meadowlands to Newark Airport, after his Rams hung 51 on a once-proud Giants franchise Sunday afternoon. The son of a former major-league backup catcher was talking about the World Series just completed. “I loved this World Series,” Goff said of the Dodgers-Astros matchup. “It felt like I was watching the Little League World Series. Every time somebody would hit on a home run, seems like somebody on the other team hit one. It was great.”
Goff and the Rams are hitting a lot of home runs these days too. Goff completed throws of 35, 44, 44, 52 and 67 yards in the 51-17 beatdown of the Giants on Sunday. The reason why the Rams are such a great story—other than the fact that their coach graduated from Miami (Ohio) just 10 years ago, and that they haven’t had a winning season in 14 years—is they are so darn explosive, and so darn likeable.
Look at the NFL’s points per game basement last year ...
|Team||Points Per Game|
|32. Rams (4-12)||14.0|
|31. Browns (1-15)||16.5|
...and the penthouse this season.
|Team||Points Per Game|
|1. Rams (6-2)||32.9|
|2. Eagles (8-1)||31.4|
How have they done it? By stealing, in part. That’s right. Thievery.
On Friday, on the team bus on the way to the Los Angeles International Airport for the flight to New Jersey, coach Sean McVay was telling a story about one of the turning-point plays of their season. It happened in Week 4, against Dallas. Late in the third quarter, down 29-24, Rams ball at their 47-yard line, Jared Goff took a shotgun snap. From Goff’s left, speedy Tavon Austin came in motion. Snap. Ball-fake to Austin on the jet sweep. Todd Gurley circled out of the backfield as though to run a typical running back wheel route. Except he never stopped. He bisected Dallas defenders Damien Wilson and Kavon Frazier and kept going up the right seam. Goff hit Gurley in stride, for a 53-yard touchdown. The Rams took the lead there and never trailed.
“I got that from Andy Reid,” McVay said. “Opening night, Kansas City at New England.”
So I go to trusty NFL Game Pass, to search for Alex Smith to a back, seam route, big play. There it is, eerie in its similarity, early in the fourth quarter, first game of this NFL season.
Smith took a shotgun snap. From Smith’s left, speedy Tyreek Hill came in motion. Snap. Ball-fake to Hill on the jet sweep. Kareem Hunt circled out of the backfield as though to run a wheel route. Except he never stopped. He bisected Patriot defenders Cassius Marsh and Kyle Van Noy and kept going up the right seam. Smith hit Hunt in stride, for a 78-yard touchdown. The Chiefs took the lead there and never trailed.
“K.C. ran it the first game of the season,” Goff said Sunday. “That was straight from them. But you saw how well it fit what we do. They’ve got players like we have. Our coaches do things like that pretty often. It really makes it fun. It’s just like, we come into our meeting Saturday night before the game, and we sit down and look at the plays, and it’s hard to find plays we don’t like. It’s hard to find plays we think aren’t going to work.”
I can’t tell you how many coaches over the years, smart coaches, have told me openly that they steal. Buddy Ryan was one of the first, at the height of his “46 Defense” success . In 1985 or ’86, he told me he watched tape (might have been film) of other teams he admired every week, and he’d copy some defensive wrinkle or blitz. The coaches I admire admit it the way McVay did instead of huffing and puffing and being all proud. McVay knows everything in the game comes around. Goff says when one of these old but new plays gets introduced in practice, “The defense will go, ‘Wow. Cool.’”
“What you notice about Sean,” said Rams COO Kevin Demoff, who led the charge to hire the then-30-year-old Washington offensive coordinator, “is he’s a millennial in so many ways. But he’s really an old soul in football. He knows what works. Like, he said to us he really wanted Wade Phillips to coach the defense. He knew he wasn’t going to do it, so why not get someone who’d done it so well for so long. So the defense is all Wade’s. He took the interim coach [John Fassel] and kept him as special-teams coach, and gave him more responsibilities, like clock management and timeouts. So he knows it’s smart to empower people.”
Interesting that the Rams have gone from the most feeble offense to the most explosive, in nine months. How does that happen? By getting everyone involved. Robert Woods, Buffalo free-agent import, with two TD catches Sunday. Sammy Watkins, Buffalo trade import, with a 67-yard scoring bomb from Goff. Cooper Kupp, third-round rookie, with a catch-in-the-flat and quick lateral for a nine-yard gain to another weapon, Austin. Gurley, with 102 total yards and two more touchdowns. Rookie tight end Gerald Everett with a 44-yard catch, and another young tight end, Tyler Higbee, with a touchdown. And Goff, with his best game as a pro, four touchdowns and no picks and a 146.8 rating.
“The ball’s going to be spread around,” said Goff, “which makes it easy on me. There’s always a good option for me. We’ve got so many talented players here, and for us, it’s like what Tiger Woods says: ‘Winning fixes everything.’” As does fun. And no team is having more fun than the Rams right now.
You know what else is impressive? Winning travels. Look what’s happened the past three games. The Rams flew to Jacksonville and won by 10. Then it was on to London; Rams 33, Cards 0. Then home, then the bye, then on to New Jersey. Rams by 34. Three games, 3,000 to 7,000 miles away from home, and three double-digit wins. It’s strange to say “first-place Rams” in November. But the Rams are trending up. I’ll be surprised if they flatten out in the second half of the season.
Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling wrap up the Sunday action each Monday morning on “The MMQB: 10 Things Podcast.” Subscribe on iTunes.
• We have a newsletter, and you can subscribe, and it’s free. Get “The Morning Huddle” delivered to your inbox first thing each weekday, by going here and checking The MMQB newsletter box. Start your day with the best of the NFL, from The MMQB.
• Question or comment? Story idea? Email us at email@example.com.
Two more takeaways from Week 9, beginning with...
Man, is Drew Brees excited
The Saints snuck up on the rest of the league. Here they are, one of five division leaders with a 6-2 record, and Drew Brees swears: “I’m just telling you, I see this team every day. We’re just scratching the surface.” Look at what Brees did in the feisty 30-10 rout of the Bucs: completed 81 percent of his throws for 263 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, a tidy ballgame for someone used to far more explosive days. But the Saints don’t need that from Brees now. That’s because there’s a very good running game here with Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara (26 total rushes, 145 yards on the ground Sunday, and another 86 receiving yards), and a defense that’s allowed 15 points per game over the past six. Not so coincidentally, the Saints have their first six-game winning streak since 2009.
“They say a quarterback’s best friend is a great running game and a great defense,” Brees said Sunday. “We’ve been getting both.” Another good friend is a good draft—and GM Mickey Loomis provided that. Marshon Lattimore, the 11th overall pick, is probably the leader for defensive rookie of the year. Kamara, selected in the third round, is a latter-day Reggie Bush, with 652 rushing/receiving yards and five touchdowns in eight games. And the defense, with Lattimore starring in a renewed secondary and Cam Jordan playing at his peak only with more help, is a legitimate top-10 unit.
Recent history treated the Saints right. They almost acquired Malcolm Butler from New England in the spring but couldn’t figure the right deal—either for the Patriots or in a contract. So they dealt wideout Brandin Cooks to the Patriots for the 32nd overall pick in the draft, and New England kept Butler. One other X factor: The top two players on New Orleans’ board, in some order, were Lattimore and Texas Tech quarterback Pat Mahomes. So things went very well when:
• Kansas City traded up to the spot ahead of New Orleans, at 10, to take Mahomes. The Saints happily took Lattimore at 11. Lattimore has been a top-10 cornerback in the league this year. It was interesting to hear Lattimore’s post-game talk about the cheap shot Bucs wideout Mike Evans took at him, using a running start and a blindside hit to drill him. “I was shocked,” Lattimore said. “But it’s football. It is what it is. We got the W. That’s all that matters. I’ve seen that before.”
• With the pick acquired from New England, the Saints were going to take Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster. But the Niners jumped them and took Foster. New Orleans took tackle Ryan Ramczyk, which was fortunate: Ramczyk been their best offensive lineman, and he’s played every offensive snap at right tackle.
• In the second round, free safety Marcus Williams was there, and he was an easy pick; now Kenny Vaccaro can play down in the box and do what he does best—play the run and be a cover guy on intermediate routes. Williams has played more snaps than any other defensive back on the team.
“The significance of the draft class can’t be overstated,” Payton said Sunday night. “It’s made all the difference.”
And maybe without all the pressure on him, Brees can be healthier later in the year, and play longer, and keep playing at a high level, the way Tom Brady is doing. “I don’t feel any different than I’ve felt in the past few years,” Brees said. “I feel like, like I’m sure Tom does, that I’ve got a great routine and great process to stay on top of the physical part of the game. There’s probably a lot of similarities between us that way.”
Here’s one: New England is 6-2. New Orleans is 6-2.
That’s the best drive of Kirk Cousins’ NFL career
“It ranks right up there,” Cousins said Sunday night from Seattle.
Come on, Kirk Cousins. That was it—the game-winner in a game you had to have. In order of obstacle: Sunday on a sleety day in Seattle, with four neophyte offensive linemen trying to hold off the strongest and deepest front seven in football, with Russell Wilson doing his typical late magic to put the Seahawks ahead 14-10 with 1:34 left in the game, with the crowd going batcrap trying be the classic 12th man in a stadium full of them, Cousins took the field at his 30. He had 94 seconds and two timeouts to win the game and keep 3-4 Washington in playoff contention.
After an incompletion, Cousins rolled right and here came Michael Bennett. Cousins had been used to flipping the ball hurriedly against the heavy rush, with beginners (mostly) on the line. He never saw this pass land because he got leveled. But Brian Quick caught it with two defenders on him. Gain of 31. Quick got popped hard by Kam Chancellor. “I just wanted to put it out there for him and give him a chance,” said Cousins. “Just a chance.” Now came a deep go by 2016 number one pick Josh Doctson. Cousins had a little time this time, and he overthrew Doctson by half a yard. Fine with Doctson. He laid out for it. First down at the Seattle one. Rob Kelley punched it in from the half-yard line. Seventy yards, four plays, 35 seconds.
“Probably the toughest football game I’ve ever played,” said Cousins. Best drive, under the circumstances, I’ve seen Cousins make, and it’s not close.
If there was ever a referendum in Washington on whether to keep Cousins, this was it. He passed. The team has to figure a way to get a contract done with the looming free agent, and if he can’t get signed, he needs to be retained even if under the costly franchise tag. Not many quarterbacks are winning the game Cousins won Sunday. He might occasionally drive you crazy, but winning is made exponentially harder when you don’t have one of those guys.
There was no protecting Luck from Luck
A few thoughts on the Colts shutting down Andrew Luck until 2018 to rehab his surgically repaired throwing shoulder:
• Luck essentially misses three prime years because of a shoulder injury that should have robbed him of one. The Colts believe Luck probably tore his labrum in Week 3 of 2015 and essentially tried to play/rehab/play through it for the next two seasons. The Colts finished 8-8 in 2015, with Matt Hasselbeck playing in relief in a season that ended with Indianapolis out of the playoffs. If, say, Luck had shoulder surgery on Nov. 1 that season, he’d have been able to rehab it and likely play opening week 2016 at something very close to 100 percent. But he missed 10 games over the next two seasons, and with Luck often playing far below 100 percent, the Colts won just 10 of his 22 starts. So Luck missed or was severely hampered during his age 26, 27 and 28 seasons. In his three seasons at that age, Peyton Manning, Luck’s predecessor, threw for 13,024 yards and 105 touchdowns. That’s the prime of a quarterback’s life.
• Playing through the injury likely necessitated more rehab. When 15 months pass between the time of an injury and the time you have surgery to repair it, what happens? You adjust and adapt things like your throwing motion to evade pain and enable yourself to stay on the field. Plus, your body’s coping mechanisms take over. As one NFL medical expert who did not examine Luck’s records said on Friday, it’s likely scarring occurred and more damage was done by Luck overcompensating, making the surgery he had in January 2017 more significant than it would have been 14 or 15 months earlier. Thus the longer recovery time now.
• Luck could need more surgery, and if he does, opening day 2018 is no sure thing. There’s no indication now that he needs another operation. I’m told it’s not likely. But the Colts and his medical team will take the future as it comes.
• Luck’s a strong-willed guy, as most great players are, but there needs to be an authority figure who dictates how far players can go when it comes to playing with injuries. Maybe that’s coach Chuck Pagano, or his successor. Maybe it’s GM Chris Ballard (which would be smarter, seeing he wouldn’t be as subject to the emotion of week-to-week coaching decisions). But someone needs to step in, even when a player is playing fairly well (as Luck was last year) and be the referee when a player may be injuring himself further by playing.
• Jim Irsay needs to not give any more medical updates. The Colts’ owner tweeted post-surgery last January that Luck “will be ready for season!” That has haunted this process, particularly when fans fully expected the franchise quarterback to play the season. It’s not fair to the fans. It’s okay to say, “We don’t know.” With a surgery like this one, I’d empower one medical official or one club official to speak for Luck and the team. That’s it. The rest of the organization, including the owner, has to zip it.
It’s amazing to me that, assuming Luck plays pain-free on opening day 2018, it will be two weeks shy of three years since Luck played a game without pain in his shoulder. How unfortunate for a player of his stature. But there are lessons in the Luck story for the Colts, and they’d be wise to learn them.
Starting this week at the season’s midpoint, and continuing through Week 17, I’ll give you my top candidates for the Most Valuable Player award.
A couple things to note: Number six this week could be number two next week; it’s pretty close at the top. And you’ll notice I have a player out for the season in the top five. That’s because I think Deshaun Watson was pretty special in his six starts.
I’ve picked 12, because I want to credit all deserving players who I think have a shot to win it. Really, there’s only one I don’t think has a prayer: defensive end Calais Campbell of the Jaguars. He’s the NFL sack leader, and the Jaguars have been so dominant rushing the passer this year that I wanted them represented. Thumbnails on the top five on my list:
1. Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia. Wentz, Brady. Brady, Wentz. Can’t go wrong either way. The Eagles have the best record in football, and Wentz has had dominating games against one excellent defense (Denver’s, on Sunday) and a good one, Washington’s. Wentz led Philly to 85 against Denver and Washington in the past three weeks. He has the NFL lead in touchdown passes (23), and he’s second in yards and third in rating. Perfect example of his impact: Against Denver, he rolled right and, with Von Miller in his face, threw 32 yards down the right sideline perfectly for Alshon Jeffery for a touchdown—with Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib in tight coverage. Wentz has been making these types of plays all season.
2. Tom Brady, QB, New England. The ageless one is as good as ever, and that’s not hyberbolic. By the way, Brady’s regular-season touchdown and interception numbers since the start of 2016: 20 games, 44 touchdowns, four interceptions. This year Brady has survived an injury to Julian Edelman and gotten hit as much as any recent season, but the Patriots are 6-1 since that opening debacle loss to the Chiefs. It’s on Brady.
3. Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City. Amazing to see this man with the dinking-and-dunking reputation entering Week 9 leading the NFL with an 8.4-yards-per-attempt average. Smith has become a good downfield thrower with a healthy Tyreek Hill to target. Smith is a legit MVP candidate … if the Chiefs can stay atop their division. He went until the fourth quarter of Week 9 before he threw his first interception of the season.
4. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle. Wilson belongs in this group because of the success he has had with the worst offensive line in football, and with the shaky nature of the running game. Wilson didn’t play as well Sunday in the loss to Washington, but he still had enough at the end to put the Seahawks in position to win with the TD toss to Doug Baldwin with less than two minutes to play. If the line play and running game improve, Wilson could easily move up this list.
5. Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston. I know what you’re saying: out for the year, they were 3-4 when he played, can’t have him over Aaron Rodgers. Yes I can. In his six starts, Watson led the Texans to 13, 33, 57, 34, 33 and 38 points, the final game the incredible showdown against Wilson in which Watson twice threw touchdown passes to take fourth-quarter leads. Throwing for 402 at Seattle? That’s enough for me to put Watson here. But unfortunate reality check coming soon: Can't win my vote when you start six games.
Finishing up the top dozen:
6. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay
7. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans
8. Aaron Donald, DL, Los Angeles Rams
9. Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams
10. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh
11. Calais Campbell, DE, Jacksonville
12. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas.
• Subscribe to The MMQB newsletter. Get “The Morning Huddle” delivered to your inbox first thing each weekday, by going here and checking The MMQB newsletter box. Start your day with the best of the NFL, from The MMQB.
• Question or comment? Story idea? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Kirk Cousins, quarterback, Washington. Two weeks in a row we’ve seen ridiculously exciting quarterback play down the stretch at Seattle. I would wager Cousins would call the game-winning drive—four plays, 70 yards, 35 seconds, with the season, arguably, on the line—the biggest of his NFL life. His 31-yard completion to Brian Quick down the right sideline, followed by a 38-yard diving catch by Josh Doctson down to the Seattle 1-yard line, and Rob Kelley’s 1-yard dive, gave Washington a 17-14 win and a 4-4 record. Superb clutch performance down the stretch, under a typical Seattle rush.
Andrew Whitworth, left tackle, Los Angeles Rams. Another clean sheet for Whitworth, in the 51-17 skunking of the Giants in the Meadowlands, per Pro Football Focus: zero sacks, pressures or hits allowed on Jared Goff, who posted the first four-TD game of his career. Whitworth also made the pass-block of the day. Facing an impossible third-and-33, Goff dumped a short pass to Robert Woods, and Whitworth got in front and waylaid a Giant to spring Woods. The result: a stunning 52-yard touchdown. Whitworth, who signed with the Rams as a free agent after 11 years in Cincinnati, has been a godsend for an offensive line beleaguered for so long.
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
DeAngelo Hall, free safety, Washington. Hall, two weeks shy of his 34th birthday, hadn’t played a football game in 58 weeks due to injury, and he was a vital piece to the puzzle in a game Washington desperately needed at Seattle. Hall not only totaled five tackles and two passes defensed, but also served as punt returner, with Washington in desperate straits in the return game. Hall may not have many big Sundays left in his NFL life, but he came through when his team had to have a big performance at Seattle.
Cam Jordan, defensive end, New Orleans. The Bucs totaled just 200 yards of offense in a 30-10 beatdown by the Saints, and about six Saints could have been in this space. I chose the best all-around player on their front seven. Jordan’s seven tackles and 1.5 sacks—and two additional quarterback pressures—set the tone for the suddenly defensively imposing Saints.
Jordan Jenkins, linebacker, New York Jets. In the Jets’ dominating 34-21 win over the Bills on Thursday night, Jenkins sacked Tyrod Taylor on Buffalo’s first snap of the game; after a change of possession, New York scored to take a 7-0 lead. In the fourth quarter, Jenkins’ second sack of the game stripped the ball from Taylor. It was recovered by the Jets, and they followed with an insurance touchdown to make it 31-7. This was the biggest impact performance of the second-year linebacker’s young career.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Justin Hardee, cornerback, New Orleans. A superb punt-rush by the former practice-squad player from Illinois led to Hardee breaking free up the middle and smothering a punt from Bryan Anger. Hardee picked up the blocked ball on a perfect hop and ran it in for a touchdown. Textbook example of a block, scoop and score.
Sam Koch, punter, Baltimore. Want to see a fake punt executed perfectly? Look at Koch’s play in the first half in Nashville. On fourth-and-seven at the Tennessee 43, Koch threw a perfect spiral to the gunner on the left side of the field, 23 yards in the air, to convert the first down.
Jaydon Mickens, wide receiver/punt returner, Jacksonville. Thrice waived by Oakland in the past 14 months, Mickens may have found a home with the Jags. His 63-yard punt return, weaving and juking and sprinting, put the game away against Cincinnati early in the fourth quarter.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Doug Marrone, head coach, Jacksonville. His decision to deactivate the best player on his team with the division lead on the line was a bold one. Marrone sat running back Leonard Fournette knowing—presumably—that he had a slew of players in his locker room wondering: Are you going to let this guy get away with three or four violations that none of the rest of us are guilty of? Marrone banished Fournette … and the team responded: 40 Fournette-less carries, 149 yards, a 40:14 time of possession in a 23-7 win over Cincinnati.
GOATS OF THE WEEK
A.J. Green, wide receiver, Cincinnati. Someone has to explain Green’s actions against Jalen Ramsey. Shameful. Ramsey lightly popped Green away from the play in Jacksonville, and Green went crazy, choke-slamming Ramsey and throwing punches at his helmet. A very strange reaction from a player who very rarely loses his cool. Green was ejected.
Mike Evans, wide receiver, Tampa Bay. Midway through the third quarter against the Saints, near the Tampa sideline, Evans took a running start and blindsided Marshon Lattimore, the Saints’ rookie cornerback, like he was trying to knock his head off. Bush league, and totally uncalled for.
Quotes of the Week
“Make no mistake about it: There is zero tolerance, complete zero tolerance, complete zero tolerance by me and by the Cowboys about domestic violence.”
—Dallas owner Jerry Jones, to the Dallas Morning News.
How possibly can Jerry Jones say this? Let’s say there was zero, complete zero, complete zero evidence that Ezekiel Elliott ever touched his girlfriend in anger. (And no one who looks at this case objectively would say that.) What about Greg Hardy? Can Jerry Jones say with any degree of legitimacy that there’s no evidence Hardy abused a girlfriend before the Cowboys signed him in 2015? That’s an incredible statement from Jones.
Now if in Hardy’s case, Jones said the Cowboys believe in giving players a second chance, fine. But that’s not what he said.
“Don’t do that.”
—Carolina coach Ron Rivera, when seeing the over-the-top negative reaction on the field from Cam Newton and Devin Funchess when Rivera called for a field-goal try on fourth-and-short against Atlanta. Rivera took a timeout and changed his mind, going for it and succeeding. But the reaction was … disrespectful, to say the least. That cannot be tolerated by Rivera.
“Regardless of his desires to do different things, he wasn’t as good of a player the second year. I don’t know what happened to him. But he just wasn’t the same person, wasn’t the same player. Again, he was trying to be someone he wasn’t. … I feel like Robert was trying to be Aaron Rodgers, or trying to be someone he wasn’t instead of embracing himself and what he’s good at and building on that.”
—Former Washington quarterback Rex Grossman, on teammate Robert Griffin III, to ESPN 980 in Washington (via the Washington Post’s D.C. Sports Bog), concerning Griffin’s NFL flameout after his offensive rookie of the year season five years ago.
“Dude, you should play the lottery.”
—World Series MVP George Springer, to Sports Illustrated baseball scribe Ben Reiter, in the victorious Astros clubhouse Wednesday night after they won the World Series in seven games over the Dodgers.
Springer, the coverboy for SI’s amazing 2014 Reiter piece declaring them the 2017 World Series champions, was recognizing the work of Reiter, baseball editor Emma Span and managing editor Chris Stone in writing the story, and editing the story, and placing the story on the cover. It became one of the most iconic covers in the history of the magazine. More about that and what’s happened to Reiter since, lower in this column in 10 Things I Think I Think.
“The league’s got to move the trading deadline away from Halloween.”
—A chuckling Philadelphia GM, Howie Roseman, after the frenetic late action on Oct. 31, this year’s trading-deadline date.
Roseman has four children under 10, and trades be damned, he was going trick-or-treating with them late Tuesday afternoon. And Roseman did, not long after making the Jay Ajayi trade with Miami.
“The ball’s not heavy.”
—Arizona coach Bruce Arians, asked about the career-high 37 carries (for 159 yards) for Adrian Peterson in the Cards’ 20-10 victory over the 49ers on Sunday.
Stat of the Week
A tale of two quarter-seasons:
|W-L||Point Differential||Denver QB Rating|
|Denver, First Four Games||3-1||+9.5||89.0|
|Denver, Past Four Games||0-4||-14.0||61.6|
Denver is 3-5, and New England’s coming to town on Sunday. As crazy as this sounds about a guy who is Denver's third-string quarterback and hasn’t taken a snap all season … it’s Paxton Lynch time, if he’s healthy.
At 11:28 a.m. Sunday, the Jaguars issued a stunning tweet, with coach Doug Marrone saying star running back Leonard Fournette would be inactive for violating a team rule. “This has been addressed internally,” Marrone’s statement read, “and further details will not be made public.”
Oh really? Let’s see...
11:52 a.m.: Just 24 minutes after the statement was issued, ESPN’s Field Yates reported part of the reason for the benching was Fournette missing the team photo this week.
12:09 p.m.: Just 41 minutes after the statement was issued, Fox’s Jay Glazer reported that Fournette missed an injury treatment, a workout and the team photo.
12:18 p.m.: Just 50 minutes after the statement was issued, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Fournette missed “some appointments.”
Looks like the Jags really bottled up that story.
New section of the column this fall—My MVP, as part of The MMQB’s partnership with State Farm. Each week, I ask an NFL person what his Most Valuable Possession is, and why.
Jared Goff, quarterback, Los Angeles Rams. “I have a lot of memorabilia that I like, a lot of baseball stuff. My dad [Jerry Goff] played major league baseball, so I was around the game a lot. I might have been about 9, but I was at the ballpark one day and I got Ken Griffey to sign a ball for me. I still have it. I’m really proud of that. It’s cool to have, because I liked him so much as a player.”
Factoids That May Interest Only Me
This is the 50th season in Cincinnati Bengals history. In those 50 seasons, the Bengals have made 106 trades. The Bengals were founded in 1968 by Paul Brown, the same man who founded the Cleveland Browns in 1946.
The royal trade-deadline screw-up last Tuesday—the Bengals nearly traded backup quarterback A.J. McCarron to the Browns, but the trade was not called into the league office by the 4 p.m. deadline—kept one of football’s most interesting streaks alive.
In a half-century sharing pro football in Ohio, the Bengals and Browns have never made a trade with each other.
The number of those 106 Bengals trades in a half-century that have been made with Pittsburgh: zero. I sense a pattern with Bengal archrivals.
Tweets of the Week
Carson Wentz in red zone this season: 14 TDs, 0 INTs, 0 sacks.— Paul Domowitch (@pdomo) November 5, 2017
Scully called NFL games for CBS from 1975 to 1982. His final game: the NFL title game in the 1982 season, and his final touchdown call was “The Catch,” Dwight Clark’s reception from Joe Montana that started the San Francisco dynasty.
Tony Romo: "(Marcus) Peters doesn't wanna tackle, I'm telling you ... He makes Deion Sanders look good."— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) November 5, 2017
A picture or image with a good story behind it.
Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian didn’t splurge on a new car when he made the NFL. He kept the elderly Range Rover he had while a student at Northwestern, complete with on-campus parking sticker on the back window. The sticker is now nearly three years old.
“Believe it or not, that’s a pretty tough decal to remove,” he said last month. “I’ve tried to get it off, but at this point I kind of like it. It’s stuck on, so …”
From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
This week’s conversations: Investigative reporter Don Van Natta of ESPN and Pro Football Focus analyst Steve Palazzolo.
• Van Natta on the the similarities between Roger Goodell and Goodell’s father, former New York senator Charles Goodell: “Roger Goodell is the son of a senator from New York who was a principled man, who ended up losing his senate seat and resigning in principle over a fight with President Nixon … Charles Goodell decided that he was no longer going to support the Vietnam War. I would not be surprised, if the pressure does get turned up on Roger by the more hard-line owners, that this is how Roger sees this fight. If he decides to stay with the players [on the fight over standing for the national anthem], this is a principled fight, like his father fought, and I would not be surprised to see that he would fight it to the end and go out in a blaze of principled glory, if he feels he is being forced to do something against his own conscience. It would be history repeating itself in the Goodell family.”
• Palazzolo on Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, his top-rated QB in the 2018 draft: “He doesn't have the perfect look. He's only listed as 6'2". He might be pushing six feet. He's not tall enough, and some people don't love his arm strength. But the phrase I always come back to is I don't want to be the guy that doubts Baker Mayfield. He is a walk-on who exceeded expectations. He was our top-graded guy last year … top-graded guy this year … was number three back in 2015 … every which way, the guy produces. Under pressure, against the blitz, rolling out, inside the pocket, outside the pocket, the guy just continues to make plays.”
1. I think the smartest thing I heard about why there were six trades (and should have been a seventh with the A.J. McCarron fiasco) on the long weekend of the trade deadline came from one NFL GM in the wake of all the action: “Communication. Information.” I was puzzled by that, and he explained. With so much information out on the street—with the massive info available from sites like Pro Football Focus, with more advanced NFL reporting digging up who needs what and what they might be willing to give, with the knowledge of which teams are down on which players—there are not a lot of secrets around the league. So the idea, for instance of the Jets dealing for Niners corner Rashard Robinson, who had slipped down the team’s depth chart, got easier as the Jets trolled for needed corner depth Monday and Tuesday. In training camp this year, I remember meeting with a front-office guy in one camp, and four or five times in 90 minutes he sent quick texts to peers around the league. I wondered what the activity was about. “Cutdown day,” he said. “Just getting our ducks in a row with a few teams about down-the-line guys.” In other words, fact-finding about some team’s fifth corner—and whether that guy might be worth dealing a conditional seventh-round pick for. Same thing last week.
2. I think this is how I’d analyze the trades that were made, and not made, at the trading deadline:
• Jay Ajayi, the NFL’s fourth-leading rusher last year (1,272 yards, a gaudy 4.9 per rush), is 24 and totally healthy. But trading him was Adam Gase saying to the locker room: You don’t work hard, you don’t have a place here. Gase wanted many of his players, Ajayi being one, to be more dedicated. Philadelphia got a bargain. Amazing to me that a running back with this much upside was fetched for a fourth-round draft choice, which will be approximately the 125th pick next April.
• The Duane Brown deal is good for both teams. For the Texans, because they get two top-100 picks (a three in 2018, a two in 2019, as well as a five in 2018) for a 32-year-old tackle who was going to be unhappy over his contract and owner Bob McNair, and perhaps verbally so if he stayed in Houston. For the Seahawks, this was a must-do deal. Entering Sunday’s game against Washington, left tackle Rees Odhiambo was the 73rd-rated tackle in the league, out of 73 qualifying tackles, per Pro Football Focus. He allowed an alarming 35 sacks/hits/pressures of Russell Wilson. That simply could not stand.
• Jimmy Graham was the player Houston wanted in that Duane Brown trade. But as I reported last week, Russell Wilson was likely going to be very unhappy if it happened. So the Seahawks went a different way. It’s probably best for them, if they’re trying to win big this year.
• So why’d the Patriots finally cave and deal Jimmy Garoppolo to San Francisco for a second-round pick—or to anyone for anything? I cannot tell you exactly why. And I still think it’s a mistake to leave your 40-year-old franchise quarterback without a net for the last three months of the season. The Patriots are a closed shop, but one good theory that I buy is this: If the Pats had dealt Garoppolo to Cleveland in the spring, they knew he and wise agent Don Yee likely wouldn’t have been inclined to sign a long-term deal … and what would that have meant? Cleveland likely would have franchised Garoppolo this March, which could have opened the door for a quarterback-hungry, Garoppolo-admiring team—perhaps Patriots division rivals like the Jets, Bills or Dolphins—to make Garoppolo an offer sheet he couldn’t refuse. The Patriots wouldn’t have wanted to see Garoppolo back in the division. Just a theory, but one I buy.
• By the way, the Patriots should have know last April that Garoppolo was not going to sign a deal to wait behind Brady. Last April, it’s a certainty the Patriots could have done better than the 34th pick in the 2018 draft (approximately) that they got last week. That’s a failure on their pre-draft fact-finding.
• I like the Kelvin Benjamin trade for Buffalo. Check out the numbers in his first two full seasons—1,949 receiving yards, 14.3 yards per catch, 16 touchdowns in 2014 and 2016—and consider that at 26 years old and with the size (6'5", 240) every team yearns for at that position, he’s a worthy gamble. And consider that, if the Bills pick around number 18 overall in each round, they’ve just dealt the 82nd and 236th picks, approximately, for a franchise-type wideout. The move gives the Panthers a chance to morph into the speed team they were moving toward with the draft picks they made this year, but I like Buffalo’s side of this more.
• I believe the Colts were not dealing left tackle Anthony Castonzo unless they got a ransom. That never came. I believe the Colts wanted to deal cornerback Vontae Davis but couldn’t, with his $9 million salary in 2018 an anchor to those chances.
• The Browns blew the A.J. McCarron deal. Say whatever you want about paying too much (second- and third-round picks) for a guy more likely to be a backup than a starter, but from all reports, EVP of Football Operations Sashi Brown did agree to the deal just before the 4 p.m. deadline—and then failed to execute the mechanics of it correctly. Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland wondered to me the other day how Brown could have done this, seeing that he’d made 17 previous trades since taking the franchise’s football reins 22 months ago. It can’t be because Brown really didn’t want to make the trade and so conveniently messed up the mechanics of it; that would only make him look worse because the failed trade was going to leak. And when Adam Schefter reported the bungled deal, the Browns looked a lot worse. I am left with this thought: I do not see how, unless there’s a reversal of play by the Browns down the stretch of this season, owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam are going to let all front-office members return in 2018. This non-trade is a major disgrace, even by the standards of the Browns.
3. I think the one byproduct of the Browns dropping the ball on the McCarron deal is that the reputation of the Cleveland front office is now surfacing. Teams do not like trading with the Browns. They feel Cleveland’s asking price, or the selling price, is too much of a moving target. This is not on every trade, but it is on some trades. I’ve heard from more than one team that it thinks it has a deal with Cleveland, and when the callback comes to confirm the deal, the price changes. Now, lots of times that is overcome, because some deals make too much sense, and pragmatic GMs and coaches realize that even if the price changes, they still want to make the deal. I’m just telling you what’s out there, and I’m telling you that other teams were not surprised the McCarron deal fell through.
4. I think these are my quick thoughts on Week 9:
a. Easiest touchdown catch of Julio Jones’ life, alone behind Carolina’s secondary. Perfect pass. Most stunning drop I’ve ever seen from Jones.
b. There will be a quiz on this sometime in your lives, Washington fans. But this is the offensvie line that somehow didn’t get Kirk Cousins buried in Seattle on Sunday despite allowing 17 sacks/hurries/hits on 37 pass drops: T.J. Clemmings, Arie Kouandijo, Chase Roullier, Tyler Catalina, Morgan Moses. All but Moses are fill-ins.
c. Josh Doctson: You might play a long time in the NFL, but I doubt you’ll have a more meaningful catch, with such a degree of difficulty, than the one you had to the half-yard line, the biggest play in the 17-14 win over Seattle.
d. So much for the death of the Jets’ pass rush.
e. Drew Brees scrambled, looked all over the field, then threw across his body at the last minute for Coby Fleener—it was a perfect example of Brees at his best, two months shy of 39.
f. Alvin Kamara would have been a good value pick at number seven in the first round. And he was the 67th overall pick.
g. Dumb unnecessary roughness call on Baltimore defensive end Za’Darius Smith for a minor touch on quarterback Marcus Mariota in Tennessee.
h. Great touchdown run and stretch over the goal line for a touchdown by Cam Newton, but he’s not going to last long making plays like that, diving into four defenders all trying to wreak havoc on him.
i. How many bad balls can Brock Osweiler throw? How many drops can Denver receivers have?
j. Catch of the Day: Jacksonville wideout Keelan Cole, with a twisting, one-handed, awkward catch plucked out of the sky on a pass by Blake Bortles. You know Cole. Free-agent from Kentucky Wesleyan. Sure.
k. Why wouldn’t you touch T.Y. Hilton down, Andre Hal?
l. The Giants are 0-4 at home after Sunday’s loss to the Rams. They’ve got one home game in the next month, and I certainly don’t see them beating Kansas City in the Meadowlands on Nov. 19. So this team that was a Super Bowl contender on Labor Day now could enter Week 14 winless at home. Stunning.
m. Giants at 49ers on Sunday. Combined record: 1-16.
n. Giants-Niners. Combined players on IR: 31.
o. Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz is one of the best football coaches at any level, and I don’t just say that because of the 55-24 wipeout of Ohio State. Parents who have high school prospects should want to send their kids to play for Ferentz, and not just for the winning. He wins, he loses, he develops people.
q. The curse of Roberto Aguayo lives. Now Patrick Murray is all messed up in Tampa Bay.
r. How do the officials in Houston NOT stop the clock on the sideline completion to DeAndre Hopkins?
s. Gorgeous onside kick by Miami’s Cody Parkey on Sunday night. He even recovered it. Good play design by Darren Rizzi, the Miami special-teams czar.
t. Good look at the current tough life of Tony Dorsett by Gary Myers of the New York Daily News.
5. I think I find it incredible that Arizona (which has lost by a combined 67-7 to the Eagles and Rams in the past month) and Seattle (which had won four straight by 54 points before an agonizing loss to Washington on Sunday) could be tied at midnight Thursday in the NFC West. Seahawks, 5-3, at Cards, 4-4, in the desert.
6. I think it’s okay to say Thursday night football stinks, and on many Thursday nights it does, and it’s certainly unfair to the well-being of players. But I would also tell players that to cancel Thursday night football in the next collective bargaining agreement would be to cut some revenue from the salary cap. Having nothing to do with the TV rights, Amazon this year paid a reported $50 million just to be able to stream the games on Amazon Prime. I’m fine with Thursday night games going away. But let’s not have any bleating over the cap cuts (if there are any) if the package is killed in the next CBA.
7. I think the first time this year I thought, The Giants might have to clean house, was Sunday, late in the third quarter against the Rams, when a once-proud defense had allowed touchdown-field goal-touchdown-touchdown-punt-field goal-touchdown-touchdown-touchdown. (And one of those touchdowns came on a third-and-33 pass play.) I can just envision the smoke coming out of John Mara’s ears. He’s got to be disappointed, even with all these injuries, with how feeble his team is playing. Giants are 1-7 for the first time since 1980.
8. I think this is impressive: Bill Belichick’s next victory will tie him with Tom Landry as the third-winningest NFL coach of all time. Landry has 270 wins, including playoffs.
9. I think this could be the Underrated Book of the Year: “Present at the Creation: My life in the NFL and the rise of America’s Game,” by Upton Bell with Ron Borges (University of Nebraska Press). I say it’s really good though I’ve read only four chapters. The title of the book is pretty accurate. Upton Bell worked and scouted for the Colts in the Johnny Unitas glory days of the ’60s, then ran the Patriots in the ’70s then was a radio host in Boston, then … well, let me tell you about what happened earlier in his life. Bell’s father, Bert Bell, was the commissioner of the National Football League before Pete Rozelle. “He put the schedule together on the kitchen table,” Upton Bell writes. This was 60 years ago. Bert Bell died of a heart attack watching his beloved Eagles in Franklin Field, and the story of Upton racing to get to his side when he lay dying is truly touching.
But the stories from Bell, a white man from the North, about scouting in the South in the ’60s are eye-popping. In 1965 he stopped to get gas at a filling station in a time of great tension, and he said to attendant when he saw the WHITE and COLORED signs for the bathrooms, “That’s terrible.” Bell writes that the attendant looked at him and said: “Keep that up and you may get your brains blown out. If you don’t think so, I’ve got my gun in the office, mister.” Hours before Martin Luther King was murdered in Memphis in 1968, Bell was in the city to watch spring practice at Memphis State, and an assistant coach told him he’d better go home. Bell flew back to Baltimore, and heard the news of the King assassination when he landed.
Present at the Creation is on my night table, and should be on yours if you’re a football history buff.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Podcast of the Week: From Radiolab, the marvelous and consistently great weekly program, this story of a San Francisco man named Oliver Sipple, a man you almost certainly have never heard of. As reported by Latif Nasser and Tracie Hunte, this is the story of Sipple quite unwittingly stepping into history, and that step ruining his life. Or, as Radiolab says: “One morning, Oliver Sipple went out for a walk. A couple hours later, to his own surprise, he saved the life of the President of the United States.”
b. You can’t do a single-episode podcast much better than that. Just tremendous.
c. Story of the Week: From Lizzie O’Leary, of The Cut, on sexual harassment in journalism.
d. I do not know Lizzie O’Leary, but bravo, bravo, bravo. What a culture we have right now, and in the wake of Harvey Weinstein, it is so good to see people like Lizzie O’Leary come out and write things like this: “I’ve covered everything from local zoning meetings to the White House. And every step of the way, I’ve had to carve extra time and effort out of my work to sidestep this recurring gray area. None of the individual instances quite constituted harassment, but all of them were exhausting to navigate. And looking back, I can’t believe what I put up with.”
e. The more this comes out into the open, the better off we all are. I don’t care how ugly it gets. It’s got to come out. Shine the light.
f. On-field Football Story of the Week: by Ben Shpigel of the New York Times, on the Rams’ great punting weapon, Johnny Hekker. “Pound for pound, the best value I’ve gotten for any player has been Johnny Hekker,” said Rams GM Les Snead.
g. Off-field Football Story of the Week: by Tom Junod and Seth Wickersham of ESPN The Magazine, on how much longer Tom Brady can, and might, play football at this high level. Very interesting to note that one of the points made in this highly enlightening story is that Brady’s physical guru, Alex Guerrero, could soon be butting heads with Bill Belichick, over some of the injuries that other Guerrero clients have gotten with the Patriots. “There’s a collision coming,” the story quotes a friend of Belichick as saying.
h. I miss baseball.
i. For such a great World Series, that was a horsecrap Game 7. But good for the Astros. Such a fun team to watch. If MLB put out a video of Jose Altuve’s top 100 at-bats of the season, I’d watch.
j. Baseball Names You Should Know of the Week: Ben Reiter, Emma Span, Chris Stone.
k. Writer, baseball editor, Sports Illustrated managing editor, in charge of writing, editing and placing Reiter’s 2014 story about the rising-from-the-ashes Houston Astros on the cover of the magazine three years ago … and predicting right there on the cover that the Astros would win the 2017 World Series.
l. “It’s been pretty crazy,” Reiter said Saturday. “A publication in Zimbabwe wrote about it. I’ve talked to media in England, Ireland, Australia and Canada, and here, of course. It was mentioned on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.” Did you know that this was, according to Reiter, the fourth or fifth choice for the cover the week SI placed it there? And that golf writer Alan Shipnuck was furious when the Astros piece was chosen over his profile of Michelle Wie? “I think people were angry we placed this story in such an august position,” Reiter said. “No one believed the Astros would be that good. People were skeptical at best, furious at worse.”
m. Now you know the rest of the story.
n. From James Corden’s CBS late-night monologue: “You knew what was going to happen in 2017, and this is what you give us a heads-up on? This is what you tell us? Thanks for nothing, Sports Illustrated!”
o. Dallas Keuchel to Reiter late this season: “I’m gonna tweet at Chris Stone and demand a raise for you.”
p. During the champagne celebration in the Astros’ clubhouse, Alex Bregman introduced Reiter to reliever Ken Giles as The Predictor. Giles exclaimed, “No way, dude!”
q. Coffeenerdness: Give me Italian Roast, or give me death.
r. Beernerdness: I didn’t go that bat-crazy coming off Sober October. I broke the fast with American Pale Ale (Bronx Brewery, Bronx, N.Y.), and you’d think I’d have been frothing at the mouth for it, but I wasn’t. It was early afternoon and I was out for a business beer, and I didn’t even finish it. Strange—nothing wrong with the beer at all. I’ve had it before and it’s crisp and tasty. I think I was just more in the mood for a glass of cab. Thanks, by the way, for the sub beer recommendations in October. I still have a couple of good ones remaining, so look for them in the coming weeks.
s. I’m three episodes into the 10-episode, 17-hour “The Vietnam War,” by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. It is some of the best TV I’ve seen. Incredibly vivid and educational and moving, taking you from small-town America to inside the White House (some remarkable audio tapes of a tormented President Johnson) to the battlefields. What a great piece of work by Burns and Novick. And what a disgraceful war our leaders would not extricate us from, for years. What hit me—and someone said it late in the third episode—is how those who died fighting for the country in Vietnam are no different from the Greatest Generation who fought in World War II. The cause may have been nobler in World War II, the sacrifice was no less in Vietnam. Dying in any war is the ultimate sacrifice for your country.
t. This thought hit me many times watching so far: I am so glad that my older brother, the late Kenneth King, protested the war while a student at William & Mary … and, instead of wearing a cap and gown at graduation in 1971, donated the $35 (or whatever the fee was) to an anti-war group. That caused a major rift between my brother and father, as it did in many families, but I’m so proud of my brother for standing his ground against that war.
u. What amazing video and film. However Burns and Novick got all the footage they used, congrats to them.
v. Incredible how far politicians went to NOT admit that war was unwinnable—and to continued throwing American lives into such a war, year after year.
w. Really good music choices in “The Vietnam War,” such as “Turn, Turn, Turn,” by the Byrds to cap Episode 3.
x. Army 21, Air Force 0. Army: 56 runs, zero passes. That’s weird.
Who I Like Tonight
Detroit 23, Green Bay 16. Okay, Leos. Last Chance Saloon now. This was the big year to make that jump. You had the offense, you had more defensive pieces, you had multiple rushers, you had a better secondary. This was it. And you’re 3-4. You’ve won one game in the past 48 days. You’re the only team in the NFC North with stability at quarterback. You’re starting a three-game stretch (at Green Bay, Cleveland, at Chicago) that can get you back in the race in a middling division. If you win those three games, which you should, you can be 6-4 with the Vikings coming to town for Thanksgiving lunch. But to do that, you will have to win in the state of Wisconsin tonight. You are 1-25 since 1992 in America’s Dairyland. I’m picking you, but I am ye of little faith in your ballclub.
The Adieu Haiku
Not to dump on Browns…
But won’t L’affaire McCarron
cost a job or three?
• We have a newsletter, and you can subscribe, and it’s free. Get “The Morning Huddle” delivered to your inbox first thing each weekday, by going here and checking The MMQB newsletter box. Start your day with the best of the NFL, from The MMQB.
• Question or comment? Story idea? Email us at email@example.com.