- The Chargers drop 50-plus on the Bills and might be the best team in their division despite a losing record. Plus notes on the Eagles beating Dallas, the current playoff picture and more
- More sections include: the Saints’ win-stacking ways continue; a big date looming in the Jones vs. Goodell battle; Week 11 awards, quotes, stats, factoids and 10 things I think I think
I don’t know where to start, with six weeks and one game left in the 2017 regular season. I’ll opt for the headlines:
• Chargers, 4-6, best team in fraudulent AFC West.
• Eagles, MVP Wentz put stranglehold on NFC East
• If playoffs started today, Ravens (really?) would be in them
• Peterman throws like “Seinfeld” Peterman in NFL debut
• Bills, playing for defensive head coach, allow 101 points in 8 days
• Jerry Jones seems headed for defeat in Goodellstakes
• Someone stole the Chiefs, who are missing
• Browns 2-35 in last 25 months, but Wentz still can’t play for them
• Last four teams finish bye week; NFL schedules parade
• Brady still king of world
• Cool two-point conversion saves Saints’ streak
AFC West: Bizarroworld
Since Oct. 8, the AFC West’s power teams—Kansas City, Denver and Oakland—are 4-14.
Since Oct. 8, the AFC West’s weaklings, the Los Angeles Chargers, are 4-2.
“I’m glad the division is coming back to us,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said from California on Sunday night. “We dug ourselves a pretty big hole, and this team did not know how to win early on.”
Go figure. Two months ago the Chiefs dispatched New England and Philadelphia, Denver was 2-0, and the Raiders just mauled the Jets to go to 2-0. L.A. was 0-2. Sad sacks. But now the Chiefs have lost all pretensions of being the deep-strike offensive team that embarrassed the Patriots in Foxboro; the loss to the Giants on Sunday made them look like the John Mackovic Chiefs. Denver is on a six-game losing streak, and GM John Elway called them “kind of soft” the other day—a clear indictment of rookie coach Vance Joseph. Oakland lost by 25 to New England on Sunday; no one would have been surprised if it was by 45.
But the Chargers put 54 on the Bills on Sunday, coming off a terrible loss at Jacksonville last week. “Last week we stunk it up,” Lynn said. “Worst lost of my NFL career. Championship teams don’t made decisions like we made last week. So we played this game today angry.”
With Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram playing like the best 1-2 pass-rush threat west of Jacksonville, and with Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen rediscovering their combined greatness, the Chargers are going to be trouble if Kansas City (6-4) keeps slumping and L.A. (4-6) can make up another game or two quickly, starting on Thanksgiving at similarly desperate Dallas.
After the 54-24 rout of the Bills, Lynn told his team it reminded him of a Bible verse—2 Timothy 1:7 … For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. “Our guys have heart, they play for each other, and they refuse to give in,” Lynn said. “I just thought of that verse, because I think it’s who we are.”
The Eagles have clinched* the NFC East before Thanksgiving
The 37-9 annihilation by Philadelphia (9-1) of Dallas (5-5) on Sunday night gave the Eagles a four-game lead (plus tiebreaker edge) over the Cowboys … and it all but assures that this will be the 13th straight year this weird division does not have a repeat champion. The Eagles are just too good, and Dallas just too flawed. For the Cowboys to rebound, missing Ezekiel Elliott and Sean Lee (and probably Tyron Smith too) Thursday against the Chargers, with a season that ends with games against Seattle and Philly, seems just too impossible.
The MVP race now seems to be a northeast affair. Tom Brady and Carson Wentz are both plus-20 in touchdown-to-interception differential, both north of a 103 rating, and both with a good chance of piloting the top-seeded teams in their conferences. Brady’s got a 9-percentage-point lead in accuracy and has thrown for 716 more yards than Wentz. Picking between them could be like picking between Venice and Paris for your honeymoon. And Brady (50 touchdown passes, four interceptions since opening day 2016) doesn’t look like he’s going to give an inch in this race.
The Eagles have never been in such a strong position to win a Super Bowl. And there’s one X factor that could make it even more attainable. Most teams are struggling physically by this point of the season. Philadelphia got back its number one cornerback, Ronald Darby, from injury Sunday night, and he had an interception of Dak Prescott. Second-round cornerback Sidney Jones, recovering from an Achilles tear, could return in December. What a boost they should give, particularly against strong receiving corps (Vikings, Saints, Rams) that the Eagles could face in January.
With six weeks and one game to go …
Playoff matchups if they were played now:
NFC wild-card games: Seattle at New Orleans, Carolina at Los Angeles Rams. Philadelphia and Minnesota would be the 1-2 seeds.
AFC wild-card games: Baltimore at Jacksonville, Tennessee at Kansas City. Pittsburgh and New England would be the 1-2 seeds.
Man, those early AFC games … yikes. Glad we’ve got six weeks to get some clarity there. Jacksonville is one of the most interesting teams the league has seen in years. Great pass rush, excellent linebackers, wonderful corners, suspect offense, injured superstar runner. The Ravens are just 5-5, including a 37-point loss to the Jags. But Baltimore has shut out Cincinnati 20-0, Miami 40-0 and, on Sunday in Wisconsin, Green Bay 23-0. “To be able to come in here—you know we only play here once every eight years—and win a game at Lambeau Field … this is a pretty historic place,” said Joe Flacco after embarrassing the Packers.
The AFC’s biggest game down the stretch is New England at Pittsburgh on Dec. 17. That could decide home-field through the AFC playoffs.
That must have been a testy plane flight home for the Bills
Imagine the Bills’ veterans, embarrassed by the 30-point loss to the Chargers, flying through the night to get back to frosty Buffalo, wondering why Nathan “Five Picks” Peterman was making his first NFL start in a game crucial to the Bills’ playoff hopes. Imagine coach Sean McDermott, who made the call to bench Tyrod Taylor for Peterman, staring daggers at the defense for allowing eight scoring drives—albeit some on short fields after Peterman turnovers.
The Bills, after back-to-back 37-point and 30-point losses, are a mess, and apparently doomed to miss the playoffs again, as they have in every season since the turn of the century. They’ve lost to New Orleans 47-10 and to the Chargers 54-24.
Peterman, the 171st pick in the draft last April, did complete one more pass than he had intercepted. He was six of 14 for 66 yards, no touchdowns and five picks. “I don’t regret my decision,” an unbowed McDermott said after the loss Sunday. “I regret the result. This is in part about winning now and in part about winning in the future.”
Translation: Tyrod Taylor’s not going to be our quarterback in 2018 … The draft has some potentially good quarterbacks in 2018 whom we might want … We have four selections in the first two rounds of the draft including our own, and we could certainly package some picks to move up if we love one of these college guys … and it would be good to find out if Peterman is going to be a part of our future or not in the next six weeks.
Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling wrap up the Sunday action each Monday morning on “The MMQB: 10 Things Podcast.” Subscribe on iTunes.
A window into the aging of football players
So this isn’t as much as a headline of the weekend as it is a realization: I’m not sure Tom Brady’s a total outlier. We’ve assumed Brady, playing so well at 40, is the singular exception to the rule that says football players can’t play so well from their mid-30s to the mid-40s. (And maybe they can’t; except for punters and kickers we don’t have much of a track record on players playing well beyond 38 to 40 years old.) But I think that may be because we’re at the dawn of a new age of players turning this into a lifestyle, the way Brady has.
I visited Dallas tight end Jason Witten, 35, a week ago Monday in Dallas, and spent seven hours with him on his day off, as he recovered and rehabbed while preparing to play his franchise-record 241st game for the Cowboys. I wanted to track Witten because he plays a physical position, he’s 35, he’s missed one game (as a rookie, in 2003), and two practices in 15 years of professional football … and because he’s totally changed how he prepares and how he uses technology to stay on top of his nagging physical issues.
Watch the extended version of the video I did for NBC to see what I mean about Witten’s dedication, and what he does on a Monday.
It’s not just Witten. Lots of people around the league think there’s a metamorphosis going on, and players will almost routinely be playing the most physically demanding positions well into their late 30s—assuming they’re comfortable taking the risks of head trauma they know are part of the gig. “You’re hitting on something I’ve seen for a little while,” Saints coach Sean Payton said on Sunday. “It’s changed the last five, six years. It’s changing now. We just brought in a sleep specialist to talk to the team this year. We have a sleep tank for players, a cryo-chamber, masseuses on Friday.”
Witten says he’s learned from reading what Brady’s done, and learned from the Cowboys athletic trainers who have taught him about dry-needling, an acupuncture-like treatment designed to soothe pain in specific areas of the body; jet-stream-focused water-pressure treatment in fitness pools; and other tissue-enhancing aids like compression pants and deep-tissue massage and dynamic stretching and flexing the day after the body has been stressed or injured. Witten says early in his career he believed the day after the game was for rest, purely, and maybe a massage. Now he realizes he’s got to move, and he’s got to attack his vulnerable areas. ”I feel a lot better this time of year, this year, than I did six or eight years ago at this point of the season,” said Witten.
“I’ve read a lot about Brady,” he told me. “It’s inspiring what he’s doing. I really think he’s changing the game. Tom and his team have created a formula for all of us.”
You’ll enjoy the video, particularly if you’re a person who exercises or who has wondered about some of these players defying convention when it comes to career length.
A few more tidbits …
The story behind the Saints’ two-point play. More later in the column on the Saints, but let’s focus on the two-point conversion by the Saints that tied the game with Washington and sent it to overtime, a game New Orleans won 34-31. After rallying to within 31-29 and needing the two-point conversion, coach Sean Payton took a moment to think of best practices. Every Friday the Saints practice two-point plays or short-yardage plays they plan to use in the game, and they do it against the first-team defense. This Friday they tried tight end Coby Fleener coming across the formation left to right, fast, on a jet sweep, with Drew Brees faking the ball to Fleener as he sprinted by and then turning and pitching to the left to running back Alvin Kamara, who would have only one escort in front of him, tight end Josh Hill. On Friday the defense stopped Kamara cold. “We’ve had that play up [in the game plan] for three weeks,” Payton said Sunday night. “But when it gets stopped in practice, you think about it a little bit. But here we were, and I gravitated to Kamara. I wanted the ball in his hands.” Amazing, really. The 67th player taken in the draft, Kamara had earned the trust of Payton and the staff by Week 11—so much so that in the biggest play of the game, Payton put the ball in his hands. And at the snap, after the fake to Fleener, here came the perfect Brees pitch to Kamara, and he ran left, toward the pylon, and Hill swept away the single Washington defender who didn’t take the bait with the misdirection by Fleener, and Kamara scored. That has to be so rewarding for a coach and for a team, to see a play you love but that didn’t work when you tried it in practice, and then having enough faith in it to call it with a vital game on the line. I love that call.
• As Cleveland continues to lose, and as rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer continues to struggle and lead the league in interceptions, Paul DePodesta, the Browns’ chief strategy officer, will be haunted by the decision to pass on Carson Wentz two drafts ago. DePodesta said the team didn’t think Wentz would be a top-20 quarterback in the NFL. Well, he might be a top five quarterback, right now. …
• The Chiefs are simply not a dangerous team going downfield anymore. Remember the bombs-away stuff Alex Smith did with rookie back Kareem Hunt and wideout Tyreek Hill in the opening-night rout of the Patriots? Gone. Perhaps the best deep chance the Chiefs had against the Giants on Sunday was an option-pass bomb by the tight end, Travis Kelce, that was intercepted. Kelce said, “Teams are running the cover-2 on us, and until we can beat cover-2, we are going to struggle.” In other words, the Chiefs may have to hit some doubles before going back to trying for the home runs. Teams have moved the fences back. …
• The Rams got slapped in the face at Minnesota. Let’s see how they react in a continuation of a tough stretch after the Vikings: Saints at home, at Arizona, Philly at home, at Seattle, at Tennessee.
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These Saints are dangerous. You just can’t put them away. When Washington scored on Kirk Cousins’ third touchdown pass of the game with six minutes to play, New Orleans trailed 31-16, and the team with the stingiest defense in the league over the last month looked doomed.
It was an uncharacteristic day for the New Orleans D, the most interesting new defensive unit in the league. The Saints had won seven in a row entering Sunday’s game against explosive Washington, and defensive coordinator Dennis Allen told him team: You’ve been playing a lot of games that weren’t very close. But this one, I guarantee you, will be different. Allen was right. In the previous four games, the Saints had won by nine, eight, 20 and 37, and allowed just 12.3 points per game.
But Kirk Cousins was making some superstar plays, including one that he’ll remember for the rest of his life. Third quarter, Washington ball at the Saints’ 40, the Saints show an all-out blitz.
“We didn’t just show it,” said New Orleans safety Vonn Bell, part of the young nucleus of the Saints’ back end. “We sent the house.’’
Rarely do you see a blitz like this one. Eight men came, four from the linebacker/secondary unit. Bell was one of the three Saints who popped Cousins hard just as he threw. Amazingly, Cousins had the guts and the accuracy with three men hitting him to find Ryan Grant for the touchdown.
With that score, and with Cousins playing a truly superb game, I asked Bell this: How were you still hanging in, down 15 late, knowing you guys hadn’t played that well?
“No panic, Bell said. “Coach said before the game it was going to be a fight for four quarters, and that’s exactly what it was. When we scored and tied it up, we weren’t really surprised.
The tie. That was a superb call in itself. The Saints scored two touchdowns in the final three minutes of regulation to climb within 31-29, and coach Sean Payton called a two-point conversion play that left Washington flat-footed. Drew Brees faked a handoff to the right, then pitched to Alvin Kamara running to the left pylon. He made it easily.
Now, to keep the sole lead in the NFC South over 7-3 Carolina, New Orleans would have to survive one last drive by Cousins, and overtime. With nine seconds left in regulation, Washington had the ball at the Saints’ 44. Cousins needed a mid-range completion to get into field-goal range.
“I missed so many plays—I just really had to make this play,” Bell said.
Missed so many plays? Bell had 13 tackles … and then this: Bell blitzed from Cousins’ blind side and slammed into him, causing the ball to flutter away.
“We needed a spark then,” said Bell. “We needed energy. I messed up a lot in this game—I know I did. But here, I hit a home run. We needed it.”
Overtime. Washington ball. Vernon Davis drop. Cameron Jordan sack. Samaje Perrine drop. New Orleans ball. Mark Ingram ran 51 yards in two plays against a bushed Washington defense, and Wil Lutz’s 28-yard field goal won it.
Eight in a row now. I wondered what the Saints’ locker room was like, and what this young team thought of itself after three straight 7-9 seasons. It’s mid-November, and the 8-2 Saints have already exceeded their win total of the previous three seasons. “It’s really not something we’re thinking about,” Bell said. “We’re just stacking wins. The only thing that matters is the next one.”
Music to a coach’s ears. Especially with a killer schedule coming up: at the 7-3 Rams, 7-3 Carolina at home, at the 5-4 Falcons. It’s remarkable to watch the development of the Saints after their 0-2 start.
I’m led to believe that the Roger Goodell contract extension through 2024, despite the best efforts of Dallas owner Jerry Jones to derail it, is likely to be signed by Christmas. “If the owners table it to next year,” a source close to the talks tells me, “that’s a win for Jerry. And [the Compensation] Committee does not want to do that for Jerry after the recent events.”
The recent events. Good way to word it—particularly with the Compensation Committee in a legally peacemaking mode right now. Nothing good can come from continuing to joust publicly with Jones, particularly after Jones’s tone in the ESPN.com story Friday in which Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta have him declaring war on Goodell after the Ezekiel Elliott suspension. So even after Jones sent a letter to the committee with an assumption that the committee would put the Goodell contract to full league vote, the six members on Saturday wrote this pointed but non-inflammatory response, as obtained by The MMQB:
“Dear Jerry, We were hoping to avoid the need for further letters, but feel compelled to reiterate our position based on the statements in your November 17 letter. Your letter entirely ignores the May 2017 Resolution, unanimously approved by the owners (including by you), which expressly approved a contract extension with Roger and specifically authorized the Committee to finalize the terms of that extension. As we have stated repeatedly to the full ownership and to each owner individually, the Committee has been working diligently for the past six months to negotiate the terms of the extension and intends to continue to work to fulfill its mandate under the Resolution and to do so in a manner that is fully consistent with the parameters approved by the membership.
“In the interests of full transparency, the Committee intends to continue to review the progress of the negotiations with each owner and to respond to any questions that might be raised. Suffice it to note that the Committee is working in good faith to do the job the ownership directed it to do. And the members of this Committee most assuredly are not ‘trying to subvert the League Constitution’ or ‘attempting to deprive [the ownership] of this opportunity to address the League’s direction.’ Such statements are disappointing and undermine the spirit of partnership that has served our sport so well for so many decades. Sincerely, Arthur Blank, Chairman; Clark Hunt, Robert Kraft, John Mara, Bob McNair, Art Rooney.”
I don’t expect much action this week, in part because of the holiday. There are regularly scheduled NFL committee meetings in New York on Nov. 28 and 29, at which approximately 20 owners/top club officials will gather, with others available via conference call. You can bet there will be some Goodell discussion there. If Jones has a cadre of owners to challenge the Goodell contract, it would be wise for him to have them state their objections at this meeting. The next full league conclave is Dec. 13 on Jones’s home turf—Dallas.
There has been much discussion about the form Goodell’s contract will take. As I explained in part last week (with more details now), here’s the way Goodell’s contract has been explained to the owners:
• A base annual salary of slightly less than $4 million.
• Approximately 88 percent of his compensation, potentially, in bonuses based on league performance in areas such as TV ratings, gross revenue and the new collective bargaining agreement.
One of the problems I hear Jones has with the proposed deal is the potential 88 percent pool would be “very discretionary,” an ownership source said. NFL committees with more than half the current owners on them will all play a part in recommending bonuses for Goodell that the Compensation Committee would be empowered to approve.
The bonus protocol was put in place because Goodell’s old deal was hugely one-sided. There was a provision in that contract that mandated Goodell receive an average of $25 million a year in guaranteed bonuses in a rolling three-year period over the life of the deal. If Goodell did not receive $25 million in bonuses in one year, it would have to be made up over the next two years, and in each three-year period he’d be guaranteed approximately $75 million in bonuses.
Unless some owners besides Jones step up to try to halt the contract between now and the middle of December, Goodell’s contract is likely to get done. The question, then, would be what follows a Goodell extension. Would there be a Jones-led cold war versus the league office and Goodell, the way former Jones mentor Al Davis lived for much of his ownership life with the Raiders? Or would it be followed by Jones being a pragmatic businessman and burying his anger, losing one major battle but realizing he would only be hurting the value of the Cowboys long-term by trying to tear down parts of the league?
I doubt Jones feels like he’s in an equal partnership anymore. And there’s no question he’d like to do something about what he feels is too much of an iron fist wielded by Goodell in player discipline—even beyond Elliott’s six-game ban. But Davis didn’t have his day-to-day existence influenced by how much he could push up the value of his franchise, which is something that’s always on Jones’ mind. Whenever this is over, if Jones loses, I think it’s more likely than not he grits his teeth, takes a deep breath and works within the league structure.
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OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Antonio Brown, wide receiver, Pittsburgh. Three touchdown catches against the defense of Hall of Fame Steeler alum Dick LeBeau is impressive enough. But the third one was one of the prettiest catches of the year, a one-hander on the right side of the end zone, Brown securing the ball against his helmet as he fell to the ground. He continues to be 1 and 1-A with Julio Jones atop the NFL Receiver Greatness Board. For the game: 10 catches for 144 yards in the Steelers’ 40-17 rout of the Titans. This was the first offensive explosion against a good team that Pittsburgh’s had this year, and Brown was the keystone.
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Casey Hayward, cornerback, L.A. Chargers. Per Pro Football Focus, Hayward allowed a 0.0 passer rating in the eight balls thrown his way, intercepting two, batting down two, and allowing one inconsequential completion in the incredibly weird 54-24 rout of Buffalo.
Anthony Harris, safety, Minnesota. With 4:11 left in the first half of a 7-7 game against the Rams, L.A. rookie wideout Cooper Kupp steamed toward the end zone and a Rams’ lead, but Harris, a third-year player from Virginia, forced a fumble at the 1-yard line that turned around a very big game. Harris added a team-high seven tackles in a statement win for the Vikes.
Landon Collins, strong safety, New York Giants. Collins in 2017 hasn’t had a lot of days like the 2016 Collins, the one who was a serious candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. But he was immense in the 12-9 stunner over the Chiefs. He had 14 tackles and an athletic interception of—I’m serious—Travis Kelce.
Matthew Judon, outside linebacker, Baltimore. The Ravens beat a toothless Green Bay team for the first Packers home shutout in 11 years, and Judon, out of that football factory Grand Valley (Mich.) State, led the way. By halftime, this is what he’d done: forced a fumble recovered by the Ravens, stoned Randall Cobb for zero yards, sacked Brett Hundley for minus-12 yards, sacked Hundley for minus-13 yards. The Ravens dominated the feeble Pack.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Stephen Gostkowski, kicker, New England. In a quarter-and-a-half of the high altitude of Mexico City, Gostkowski kicked field goals of 62 (a Patriot record), 51, 40 and 29 yards, missing none. One of the best days of an outstanding career.
Matt Prater, kicker, Detroit. On a day with 23-degree wind chill and 16-mph winds buffeting Soldier Field, Prater stepped up to try a 52-yard field goal in a tie game with 1:35 left. As with many of his pressure kicks in the past couple of years, Prater’s boot was perfect. Detroit 27, Chicago 24. Three wins in a row.
T.J. Watt, defensive end, Pittsburgh. Give an assist to special teams coordinator Danny Smith for a smart, overloaded-to-the-right field-goal rush early in the second quarter, with Watt cleanly blocking a 48-yard Ryan Succop field goal try that could have tied the game at 10. Sparked by this excellent field-goal block design, Pittsburgh outscored Tennessee 30-10 the rest of the way.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Ben McAdoo, coach, New York Giants. So the Giants were one big lost cause, 1-8 coming off an embarrassing no-show performance at the previously winless Niners last week. The owner had to release a statement saying he wouldn’t fire McAdoo during the season. The tabloids mocked McAdoo, and COO John Mara. McAdoo began meeting with his players individually, telling them the season was not lost. McAdoo appealed to fans during the week to come to the game Sunday against the AFC West-leading Chiefs—vanquishers of New England and Philadelphia—and said he loved their chances against Kansas City. In the game, the defense played like the 2016 Giants. The 12-9 overtime win wasn’t really all that surprising. Maybe the man does still have a grip on the locker room after all.
GOAT OF THE WEEK
Nathan Peterman, quarterback, Buffalo. His ascension to the starting job was controversial to begin with, replacing the popular Tyrod Taylor. And the fifth-round rookie had the kind of nightmare game that will be hard to overcome. First 18 minutes as a pro football player: four interceptions. Buffalo never had a chance. The Bills (5-5) lost their third in a row, and barring a miracle finish by the team, a generation of Bills fans seems destined to experience their 18th straight season cheering for a non-playoff team. One more thing: Peterman had more picks in 18 minutes than Taylor (three) had in eight games. Wait, another final thing: Peterman threw a fifth pick in the last minute of the half. What a disaster.
Connor Barth, kicker, Chicago. Down 27-24 with under a minute left, the Bears get a fourth-and-13 run for a first down from Mitchell Trubisky, then a pass from Trubisky to put Chicago in field-goal range. With eight seconds remaining, here comes Barth to try a 46-yard field goal to send the game to overtime. Snap perfect. Hold perfect. Kick 20 feet wide right. A miss is a miss, but this was a ridiculous miss.
Quotes of the Week
“It’s very simple. I cost us the game. … There’s your headline. You can write it.”
—Bruce Arians, Arizona coach, after he chose to go for it on fourth-and-one in his territory, down 24-21, in the fourth quarter. Adrian Peterson was stuffed for no gain, and Arizona lost.
“I was a little taken aback by it. But he was telling the truth.”
—Denver All-Pro pass rusher Von Miller, reacting after another loss Sunday night to the words of club GM John Elway, who called the team “soft” during the week.
“It's going to be hard to yank him out of there right now. He's playing good. I still have really high hopes. You know a lot of things happen throughout the course of this season so we'll just see how it goes.”
—Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer, on the dilemma of whether to continue to play Case Keenum, who has led the Vikings to 95 points in the last three games—all wins—or the man thought to be the long-term starter in Minnesota, Teddy Bridgewater. For now, it sounds like Zimmer will stick with Keenum.
“If you think Bob Kraft came after you hard, Bob Kraft is a p---y compared to what I’m going to do.”
—Dallas owner Jerry Jones, in the ESPN.com story by Don Van Natta and Seth Wickersham about the battle between Jones and commissioner Roger Goodell over the suspension of Ezekiel Elliott, referring to New England owner Kraft dropping his appeals with the league over the four-game Tom Brady suspension in 2016.
That not a Quote of the Week. It’s the Quote of the Year.
“The arm had played a trick on everybody: It hid his brain. Stafford is a lot more like Peyton Manning than people realize.”
—Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated, from his excellent profile of Matthew Stafford.
“At the end of the day, there’s a First Amendment right as an American citizen. You have a right to protest peacefully. Protests aren’t supposed to be comfortable.”
—Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon, who is the only Giant to continue to not stand for the national anthem (he is kneeling), to Bob Glauber of Newsday.
“Mike and Mike signing off.”
—Mike Golic, co-host of the ESPN Radio morning show “Mike and Mike,” in a pretty simple signoff after the 18-year run with Mike Greenberg ended at 10 a.m. ET Friday morning.
Stat of the Week
I’m not sure exactly what word to use about the state of Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, picked 1-2 in the 2015 NFL draft, after 2.5 seasons of their careers. Worrisome, perhaps, particularly with Mariota’s abysmal performance in Pittsburgh on Thursday.
If you combined their passing line in their third NFL seasons, Winston and Mariota, together, would be rated 25th. The combined numbers of the first and second picks in the 2016 draft, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, would place those two fourth in the ratings.
• Winston/Mariota: 83.4
• Goff/Wentz: 101.1
Here’s the stunner … and it is not exclusively the misguided, careless performance of Mariota on Thursday night at Pittsburgh. Touchdowns to interceptions this season:
• Winston/Mariota: 18-16
• Goff/Wentz: 44-9
Factoids That May Interest Only Me
In Dallas last week for a Jason Witten story for NBC’s “Football Night in America” show, I opened up the Dallas Morning News high school coverage on Saturday morning. Eight broadsheet pages, no ads, of high school football. You think the game’s going away? It’s endangered? Texas begs to differ. (And maybe it should go away. But man, look at Texas high school football. It’s ridiculously huge.)
On the endless page of agate, with scores from all over the state, I noticed this one: Plainview Christian 97, WF Christian 96
Whoa. I needed more info on this game. Googled it. Turns out that this was a Texas Six-Man football game. In six-man football in Texas, placekicks are more difficult, because with only four linemen, the path to block the kick is shorter. So a field goal is worth four points, and the extra point is worth two.
According to the Plainview Herald, Wichita Falls Christian, trailing 97-90, scored a touchdown with four seconds left to narrow it to 97-96. The kicker came on. After a 193-point game, it came down to this: make the PAT, and Wichita Falls Christian wins 98-97. Miss the PAT, and Plainview Christian wins, 97-96.
Snap. Kick. IT’S BLOCKED!
Texas Southern is the ultimate NCAA Division I college basketball mercenary. The Tigers do not play a home game this season until 2018. Their first 13 games, all non-conference, are roadies, in every time zone, and paychecks for a school that obviously uses its pre-conference schedule to raise money for the program. The non-conference schedule:
Eastern Time: Ohio State, Syracuse, Clemson, Oakland (Mich.), Toledo
Central Time: Kansas, Baylor, TCU
Mountain Time: Wyoming, Brigham Young
Pacific Time: Gonzaga, Washington State, Oregon
Mr. Starwood Preferred Member Travel Note
Delta flight, Dallas to LaGuardia, Tuesday morning. I board, take my aisle seat, and a few minutes after takeoff, open my MacBook Air to do some work. I hadn’t cleaned the screen in some time, and there was a large smudge in the middle of the screen. I do not travel with a screen care kit, or screen wipes, so I proceeded to begin to wipe the screen with the sleeve of my sweater.
I felt a tap on my shoulder, and I turned around. “Here,” the guy on the aisle one row behind me said, proffering me a single-pack screen wipe. “Know what that’s like.”
“Wow,” I said. “That’s incredible. Really—thanks so much.”
I don’t know exactly why that made such an impact, but I had to thank the guy at the end of the flight. He said, “Glad you could have a clean screen.” That’s a pretty cool thing.
Tweets of the Week
How furious must the veteran players on the Bills be? They've busted their butts this year, defied expectations, played themselves into playoff contention. And then their coach benches a solid veteran for an in-over-his-head rookie.— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) November 19, 2017
Jonathan Kraft relaying a message Jerry Jones gave to Robert Kraft during Deflategate: "I think you all should take your medicine and focus on winning football games."— Ryan Hannable (@RyanHannable) November 19, 2017
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.
Latavius Murray, running back, Minnesota. “I have a custom chain that me and my boys back home from Syracuse had made to honor one of our best friends who passed last Thanksgiving. Actually, our friend was murdered. His name was Jonathan Diaz. So we had chains made for us to wear, and they say, ‘RIP, JD’ to honor him. That’s the most significant material thing I have. I cherish it.”
From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
This week will be a different podcast, dropping Wednesday morning, just in time for the drive over the river and through the woods to Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve gathered some voices from around the NFL—led by an emotional Chargers coach, Anthony Lynn—who have reason to be thankful this year. And we’ll get an interpretation of the Goodell-Jones conflict from ESPN’s Seth Wickersham, who co-wrote with Don Van Natta the powerful piece on the birth of the battle. I urge you to subscribe to the podcast. Lynn has a great message.
1. I think the 297 straight starts at quarterback for Brett Favre will be a tougher record to break than Jerry Rice’s 1,549 career receptions. I note that after Eli Manning moved into second place Sunday with his 209th straight start at quarterback for the Giants.
If Manning were to pass Favre, he’d do it in Week 3 of 2023. Manning would be 42 years, 9 months old. Favre’s 297 games are the equivalent of 18 full seasons and nine games into the 19th.
Not to be disrespectful of Rice’s mark, and that, too, may never be passed. But I think it’s realistic to think a couple of great receivers will come along (or are here now) who one day could threaten Rice’s mark. If Antonio Brown (708 catches, age 29) stays healthy and continues his pace from the past five years—both big ifs—he’ll be around 1,500 catches at age 36. I’m not saying it’ll happen. I just think it’s more possible than a quarterback starting every game for 19 years.
2. I think these are my quick thoughts on Week 11:
a. It’s official: Chip Kelly gave up on LeSean McCoy about nine years too soon.
b. That Khalil Mack sack of Tom Brady in Mexico City was an amazing thing. Did you see it? Mack swatted aside Rob Gronkowski, then slipped by a power-block from right tackle Cameron Fleming and got one huge hand on Brady, dragging him down. Speed, quickness, power … all on the same play.
c. That two-point conversion call by Sean Payton, the fake handoff/pitch and then the toss to Alvin Kamara, was tremendous. Caught Washington flat-footed.
d. Anyone ever see a 100-yard interception return that wasn’t a touchdown before Dre Kirkpatrick did it Sunday in Denver? Bueller? Bueller?
e. Alex Smith is giving all the Mahomes-in-2018 fans a lot of ammo the last two weeks.
f. You sounded good to me, Greg Olsen.
g. Marvin Jones, with the best double move of the weekend. Totally messed with Bears corner Marcus Cooper’s head on what turned out to be an easy touchdown throw from Matthew Stafford.
h. Beautifully designed rub route by Washington on the 16-yard TD throw from Kirk Cousins to Chris Thompson.
i. Cam Heyward is the most underrated great player in football. Hard for any Steeler to be underrated, but he’s the best all-around defensive lineman they’ve had since Aaron Smith—and Smith was underrated too.
j. Jay Cutler was right at the end of last season about retiring.
k. Nice, accurate TD throw from Blaine Gabbert, his touchdown toss to Larry Fitzgerald in the first half at Houston.
l. Poor, inaccurate interception from Joe Flacco, underthrowing Danny Woodhead near the Green Bay goal line, a fairly easy pick for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
m. Matt Moore’s like the Energizer bunny.
n. Myles Garrett’s going to be a great player. We bash Cleveland’s front office for everything else. Let’s give ’em credit for bypassing other options and taking a player who looks like he can play in Von Miller’s league.
o. Still: Hue Jackson is 1-25 as Browns head coach.
p. Is it just me, or did Philadelphia center Jason Kelce, when he introduced himself on the NBC telecast Sunday night, look very much like Jesus?
3. I think Brett Hundley’s play is making moot Aaron Rodgers’ potential return in Week 15. Hundley has played five games since Aaron Rodgers got hurt, including the last 52 minutes of that game, at Minnesota. He’s 1-4. His performance Sunday against Baltimore, in a game the 5-5 Packers had to have to be strong playoff contenders down the stretch in a power conference, was poor. Hundley is just not an instinctive player. He took a fourth-down sack to start the third quarter that was just not smart. I’ve said this before, but this could be a good learning experience for Mike McCarthy. His backup quarterback, on a team when a backup has been needed fairly often, is a very important player, and the backup should be getting some playing time in the fourth quarter of games that have been decided—and maybe in the first three quarters of some other games. Hundley just does not look ready to succeed against pressure.
4. I think I need to note that Larry Fitzgerald moved into fifth place on the all-time receiving yards list, passing Tony Gonzalez on Sunday. With 15,157 yards, Fitzgerald needs 778 yards to move up three more spots, to number two, behind only Jerry Rice in NFL history. He also signed a contract for the 2018 season last week. So there a good chance that, barring injury, Fitzgerald finishes his career behind only Rice. And this came to mind recently: Fitzgerald is a lover of football history, and he respects those who came before him quite a bit. The competition for the all-century team at wide receiver will be fierce, but I think he’d be a strong competitor for one of the four spots, particularly if he finishes second all-time, with a good playoff résumé.
5. I think the announcement in Mexico on Sunday that the league will play a regular-season game there in each of the next four seasons, at least, means the league is likely to play a minimum of five of its 256 regular-season games outside the United States through 2020. That’s a lot of home games for teams to be giving up. Take those 20 games. Three will be Jacksonville “home” games. (I always have thought the Jags are candidates to play more than one home game overseas, but we shall see about that.) Let’s assume the Raiders, Chargers and Rams are four or five of those games, because they have stadiums being built. So 12 or 13 teams—if you assume one per team—are going to have give up a home game each over the next four years. That’s going to be an internal battle across the league in the next couple of years.
6. I think we finish our eight-part series on Football in America this week, with a trip to Pittsburgh to see the Steelers, and to see a cool high school playoff game at Heinz Field. Kalyn Kahler was there and gives you a preview of her story, centering on a highly unlikely upset victory for an upstart high school, Quaker Valley. Writes Kahler: “Coach Jerry Veshio came out of retirement to lead this Quaker team when the previous head coach abruptly resigned in August, just a few weeks before the season. In the program's 62-year history, the Quakers had never reached the WPIAL [Pittsburgh district] championship game, the end-all-be-all game for Pittsburgh kids. In their first appearance at the championship game, played at Heinz Field on a rainy and cold Saturday morning, the Quakers faced Aliquippa, a nationally known football powerhouse, with alums such as Mike Ditka, Ty Law and Darrelle Revis. The Quakers had never beat the Quips, and never really came close. Quaker Valley's lone loss this season came against Aliquippa. But on this day, Veshio's underdogs pulled off an unlikely win, beating Aliquippa 2-0. That's not a typo. Neither offense could score, and Quaker Valley's second-quarter safety was the defining play of the game, helped by Aliquippa's 20 penalties for 190 yards. As the final seconds ticked down on the 2-0 win, Veshio's players dumped a Gatorade bucket of water on him. This, Veshio knew, was definitely better than retirement.” Check The MMQB on Wednesday for Kahler’s fully story, with video from John DePetro.
7. I think I can’t believe Jim Harbaugh would leave Michigan right now. But with the Wolverines being as disappointing as they’ve been this year, I’d probably at least make the phone call Jan. 2 if I were the Giants.
8. I think—and no one will buy this as an impartial opinion because I work for NBC as well as The MMQB and Sports Illustrated—I loved the SkyCam in Titans-Steelers on Thursday night. Here’s why: I love to see what a quarterback sees when he takes the snap, and this was the perfect way to put yourself in the quarterback’s shoes. The running backs’ shoes too, as they took handoffs and looked for holes. When you needed to see a different look, you saw it on replay. If you didn’t like it, that’s fine. It’s just a football game. Why does every one have to be shown the same?
9. I think this is what it comes down to for Jameis Winston: He was drafted with two strikes, like it or not. Whatever happened with the Uber driver in Arizona last year (BuzzFeed reports that a female Uber drive claims Winston grabbed her crotch during a late-night ride; he denies it, passing it off on people he was with that night), Winston cannot afford to be implicated in any sexual misconduct incidents. No matter what happens in this case, he’s rekindled the “aha!” sentiment among those who believe Winston was guilty of sexual assault while at Florida State. He deserves to be judged innocent until the driver’s claims are investigated. But this is a worrisome case for the Bucs. Winston cannot give any reason for this organization to doubt its decision to trust him to be a long-term quarterback and face-of-the-franchise player.
10. I think these are my additional thoughts of the week:
a. Story of the Week: by Ben Cohen in the Wall Street Journal: “An Unlikely Chess Match Tests Limits of Self-Improvement.” This is one of the best stories I’ve read. Totally fascinating. It’s about a 24-year-old San Francisco entrepreneur and gifted learner, Max Deutsch, who set out to accomplish 11 tasks that people just can’t do. He solved the Rubik’s Cube in 17 seconds, for instance. But the biggest task, defeating World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen, after training for one month, was the most exhilarating. Carlsen, a showman, agreed to the challenge. You need to read about it.
b. I will share one thing from Cohen’s marvelous story: “There were bets available. Wynn Las Vegas oddsmaker Johnny Avello said the probability of an upset was 100,000 to 1. No betting house would ever offer those odds. The line that betting house Pinnacle posted, at the Journal’s request, was the most lopsided one that internal regulators would allow. A $100 wager on Max paid $50,000. A $100 wager on Magnus paid 10 cents.”
c. Did I whet your appetite? And the story’s not behind a pay wall either if you go through Facebook.
d. Podcast of the Week: “Pizzagate: A Slice of Fake News,” from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, with assists from Rolling Stone and The Investigative Fund, about the crazy rise of invented news. This podcast, from start to finish, explains the explosion of fake news through one story—the totally out-of-control, phony and outlandish and ultimately dangerous tale from last fall claiming that there was a child sex-trafficking ring run out of pizza parlor in Washington, D.C. In all, the lies about the pizza parlor got 126 million people to see Russian propaganda posts about this made-up story designed to make the Democrats look bad. Tremendous reporting by Amanda Robb and Laura Starecheski.
e. We need to wake up, people. Regardless of your party affiliation or who you hate or you love, fake news is not going away. We can’t stop bots, and we can’t stop the Russians (at least now), but we can have common sense. And we can stop listening to total nut jobs like Alex Jones, who had a part in making this story spread, a story that caused innocent and hard-working people to get death threats.
f. Political Story of the Week: “Regrets? Chris Christie has a few,” by Josh Dawsey of Politico. Really interesting deconstruction of the downfall of a politician.
g. The Celtics are amazing. Brad Stevens is amazing. Lots of great hires/signings by Danny Ainge, and my knowledge of the NBA can fit on a key of this laptop, but Stevens must be really good, given how this team adjusted after the Gordon Hayward injury.
h. Coffeenerdness: People are studying the Starbucks holiday cup, and drawing conclusions about the social meaning of it. Man, get lives, people.
i. Beernerdness: I have your Thanksgiving beer, if you can find it. And it’s pricey, so you might only get a few bottles. It’s a pale ale from the Maine Beer Company (Freeport, Maine) called MO, a standard at this great brewery. It’s not a classic pale ale, though. It’s got a little pine to it, sort of like Pliny the Elder, and very slightly fruity, with a big malt taste. You’ll probably drink two (6.0 ABV) and switch to water or something lighter. Well, you’ll drink two if you’re very lucky.
j. Not too impressed with Sam Darnold on Saturday night in the USC-UCLA game. How do you not have the presence of mind on a scramble with the clock winding down and no timeouts left late in the first half to NOT get out of bounds? The clock ran out with Darnold fighting for meaningless yards. Man, that was dumb.
k. And Darnold’s sailed interception midway through the second quarter, when it legitimately looked, as analyst Kirk Herbstreit said, that Darnold spit the bit on the play. “I want you to look at his feet,” Herbstreit said. “Watch the feet right here, as he’s trying to find his open receiver off to the right. Kind of panicking, happy feet, looking off to the right, didn’t have an open receiver … did not look comfortable there at all.”
l. I’m not saying Darnold should be a third-rounder. His NFL stock isn’t in the dumpster. But Josh Rosen sure looked like a better quarterback Saturday night.
m. Baker Mayfield was stupid to grab his crotch and point to the Kansas sideline Saturday. Kansas was stupid for its captains to not shake Mayfield’s hand before the game. Two stupid things. Mayfield the taunter bothered me. For some reason, Kansas being bush league before the game bothered me more.
n. Lovie Smith, the Illinois coach, is 0-8 in the Big Ten this year, with a ninth loss likely against Northwestern on Saturday. Overall, he’s 2-15 in the Big Ten in his two seasons. Illinois is on a nine-game losing streak, eight by double digits. That’s not good.
Who I Like Tonight
Atlanta 24, Seattle 16. With Richard Sherman (Achilles) and Kam Chancellor (stinger) missing, and left tackle Duane Brown (ankle) likely to be significantly hobbled against instant pass-rush star Adrian Clayborn, the game and probably the playoff hopes of the Seahawks are squarely on the shoulders of Russell Wilson. What else is new? The 5-4 Falcons need the game badly too, and they seem to be adjusting to the different play-calling and personality of offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian after a slow start. I think Julio Jones could have a big night against the likes of Shaquill Griffin, Justin Coleman and Neiko Thorpe. “The one thing I’m really going to miss is lining up against Julio Jones,” Sherman said last week, mulling his future as he faced Achilles surgery. He had the surgery in midweek in Green Bay. “I love playing Julio. I love playing the best. But I honestly think we’ll be okay.” Former Bucs safety Bradley McDougald, who started for Thomas at free safety the past two weeks, will likely sub for Chancellor on Monday night—and maybe for the rest of the year. “We’re thin,” acknowledged the last man standing, free safety Earl Thomas. And who knows what to expect of Thomas? He’s coming off two weeks away with a bad hamstring. This is a game Atlanta should win.
The Adieu Haiku
Keenum, six straight wins.
Teddy, happy to be here.
Winning cures. For now.
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