- Ranking the teams with the best chance to dethrone New England in the postseason, including the Eagles, Steelers, Vikings, Rams, Saints and more
- Other sections include: details of how Schiano-to-UT fell apart; Atlanta’s other great QB; Philip Rivers’ career day; Week 12 awards, quotes, stats and 10 things
An eventful Sunday on the field, but first a few words about the unfortunate story that unfolded off it...
At 2 p.m. Sunday in Columbus, Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano signed a memorandum of understanding to become the head football coach at the University of Tennessee. The Ohio State team would practice for Saturday’s Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin in the afternoon, and Schiano, 51, would board a Tennessee plane bound for a 7 p.m. news conference in Knoxville to introduce Schiano as the next coach of the Vols. Then the plane would ferry Schiano back to Columbus to continue prep for the Wisconsin game.
Meanwhile, word leaked of the deal. And because of allegations that Schiano, who coached on the Penn State staff from 1990 to ’95, knew of Jerry Sandusky’s child molestation, scores of Volunteer loyalists began demonstrating. Someone painted “Schiano covered up child rape at Penn State” on a huge rock on campus. The President’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, wrote on Facebook, “Guess who’s the new head football coach at the University of Tennesse [sic]. Yup. The guy who covered for Jerry Sandusky. #GregSchiano.” This, even though Schiano was never found culpable in the case. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Ohio State hired him since his Penn State days after doing significant background checks, finding nothing untoward.
By 4 p.m. Sunday, Tennessee officials apparently got very cold feet. The athletic director who was in Columbus to make the deal with Schiano, John Currie, left town. The deal was off. Because we live in a guilty-until-proven-innocent social-media world these days, whatever Schiano says now—and he’ll certainly have to address this firestorm soon—probably won’t matter much. In a 2015 deposition related to the Sandusky case, former Penn State assistant Mike McQueary said another coach, Tom Bradley, had told him Schiano saw Sandusky “doing something with a boy.” Schiano denied seeing anything. Bradley denied having any knowledge of those incidents. Schiano was never charged with anything, nor was he deposed in the Sandusky case. In short, this story died legally, in a climate in which the university president and athletic director ended up in prison.
Whether Schiano saw something or didn’t, whether he shielded Sandusky or didn’t, only Schiano knows. He denies it. The legal system in Pennsylvania found no reason to charge him with a crime. No matter. On Sunday, he was convicted in the court of public opinion, and the University of Tennessee dropped a man charged with nothing.
Innuendo won. The witch-hunters won. It’s a sad time in America.
Back to the field...
Sunday night, before the Steelers had a surprisingly difficult time dispatching the Packers 31-28, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin sat for an interview with his former mentor and NBC “Football Night in America” analyst Tony Dungy. Naturally, Dungy was curious how Tomlin approached the looming mega-game with defending Super Bowl champion New England.
The game is in three weeks. Tomlin taped the interview with Dungy on Friday, with three game days standing between the Steelers and the Patriots, the two best teams in the AFC, tied with two losses atop the division.
Tomlin said he did not fear addressing the elephant in the room, the great white whale known as the Patriots. The Patriots-Steelers game on Dec. 17 in Pittsburgh, he said, “is probably gonna be part one. That’s gonna be a big game. But probably, if we both do what we’re supposed to do, the second one is really gonna be big. And what happens in the first is gonna set up the second one … is gonna determine the location of the second one.”
Most coaches laser-focus on the next game. But the Patriots loom so large over this league that it’s tough to stick to that. In the 18-season Belichick-Brady Era, the Patriots have won five Super Bowls and, with a 35-17 rout of Miami on Sunday, clinched an NFL-record 17th straight winning season. Even though 9-2 New England doesn’t have the best record in football, it still feels as if the 10-1 Eagles, and everyone else, are chasing the Patriots.
That’s where we are now: Who’s good enough to catch the Patriots, and who’s good enough to get on a roll to beat the Patriots? With five weeks left in the regular season, New England has won seven straight (by an average of 14.9 points). Other teams are hotter statistically. Philadelphia’s won nine straight, the past three by 28 points each. But the main character on the Eagles, Carson Wentz, and the leading figures on most other contenders won’t have anywhere near the playoff pedigree of the Patriots.
A football season is a living thing. Two months ago the Chiefs were 4-0 and had routed the Patriots and beaten the Eagles. But they’ve fallen way off. Newbies have taken their place. In order, the teams with the best chance to take New England down in the 10 weeks between now and Super Bowl 52:
1. Philadelphia (10-1). Strange season for the Eagles. Nine of their wins have come over teams with current losing records, a five-point win over Carolina the lone exception. But the Eagles’ precocious quarterback is reminiscent of a young Tom Brady. Nothing fazes Carson Wentz, the North Dakotan fond of saying, “It’s just football,” as the games get bigger and the stakes higher. What gives the Eagles the best chance, I think, is their formidable defensive front, surrendering just 3.5 yards per rush and holding quarterbacks to a league-low 73.9 passer rating. Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, per Pro Football Focus, average 7.7 quarterback disruptions (sacks, hits and hurries) between them, and watching Philly play, and watching Cox and Graham buzz around the quarterback consistently, I wouldn't have been surprised to see that average be 10 or 12 per game. I wonder how New England would block them in a potential Super Bowl matchup.
2. Pittsburgh (9-2). The Steelers’ inability to put away mortal teams (5-, 3- and 3-point wins over the Lions, Colts and Rodgers-less Packers, respectively) is bothersome. But Ben Roethlisberger has been playing big games almost as long as Tom Brady. And Pittsburgh’s game-breaking trio of receivers (Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant) is gaining 191 yards a week, on average. In a contract year, Le’Veon Bell has a 91-yard lead in the race for the rushing title, and he could gash the lone major New England weakness; the Pats are last in rush defense, giving up 4.9 yards per rush. Cam Heyward and young-gun pass-rushers Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt will be a speedy load for the Patriots to keep off Brady, who gets hit too much.
3. Minnesota (9-2). The unpredictable team. Case Keenum has won seven in a row at the helm of the Vikings, but he’s never sniffed the playoffs in his career. The way he’s mowing down the opposition, maybe that doesn’t matter. His weapons are not famous, but Adam Thielen, Kyle Rudolph and Stefon Diggs keep beating people. Another tough defensive front, with Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter (18 sacks combined) will be a chore for the Patriots’ edge protectors. Remember how Brady was abused in the Super Bowl, when Dwight Freeney (outside) and Grady Jarrett (inside) combined for 13 hits and sacks? The Vikings can do that to a quarterback.
4. Los Angeles Rams (8-3). Speaking of pressure teams, this is one that could really give the Patriots issues. Aaron Donald is an equal-opportunity destroyer. I watched most of the Rams-Saints game Sunday, and this Jared Goff gets better every week—seriously. You’ve heard of “throwing receivers open?” It’s a quarterback throwing to an open area, leading a receiver more than he normally would. It’s a sign the quarterback is mastering the offense and has the confidence to make a throw a little out of the box. Goff did that on his second-quarter TD throw to rookie Josh Reynolds, motioning for him to go further across the edge of the end zone—which Reynolds did—and Goff lasered a strike to him. The Rams buried a bad loss at Minnesota last week pretty quickly, which you’ve got to do when games matter so much now. “We weren’t going to let Minnesota beat us twice,” defensive leader Alec Ogletree told me from Los Angeles on Sunday night. Huh? “They beat us last week, and we weren’t going to let it hang with us—it was over. Gotta move on.” They did. The Rams put up 415 yards on a good defense, and knocked Drew Brees around most of the day.
T-5. New Orleans (8-3), Carolina (8-3), Atlanta (7-4). They’re almost the same entry, with how explosive each can be on offense and with young impact players on defense ... and with their tough, division-oriented schedules. Check the slate over the final five weeks:
• Saints: Carolina, Atlanta, the Jets, Atlanta, Tampa Bay.
• Panthers: New Orleans, Minnesota, Green Bay (likely with Aaron Rodgers back), Tampa Bay, Atlanta.
• Falcons: Minnesota, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Carolina..
In other words, the schedule could knock out any of the three teams. New Orleans has an edge over both foes, with a 2-0 division record, and with the Jets and Bucs on the schedule might have the best chance to win the division and at least one home playoff game. Saints back Alvin Kamara has become the best rookie offensive weapon in the league, and Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey is not far behind him. Those two have helped the Saints and Panthers, respectively, catch up to Atlanta’s backfield versatility and production. All three quarterbacks have deep-into-the-playoffs experience; Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan have all played in Super Bowls. I’ll give the Saints the edge to win the division and have the slightly easier playoff path—I like their young secondary best. It’s not one that would be intimidated by Brady.
The rest. The Los Angeles Chargers (5-6), the shockers of this group, don’t have much margin for error, but they’re the third-best team in the AFC right now, with a great set of bookend rushers in Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa and the hot quarterback, Philip Rivers, who has played in big games before. He just hasn’t won the biggest … Jacksonville (7-4) could fluster Brady with a deep pass-rush, but it’s hard to imagine Blake Bortles going throw-for-throw with Brady, in Foxboro … Can Seattle (7-4) hang on for dear life? There’s little doubt Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin and that D, diminished though it is, could play big in January. I just can’t see Seattle winning three road games, if it’s a wild-card team, against power NFC teams like the Eagles, to reach another Super Bowl, and a possible rematch of Supe 49.
It’s the Patriots against, mostly, the young and the restless. Should be a fun, and unpredictable, final five weeks of the regular season.
Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling wrap up the Sunday action each Monday morning on “The MMQB: 10 Things Podcast.” Subscribe on iTunes.
This is going to be a great football quiz for Mohamed Sanu to tell his buddies one day, when he’s long gone from the NFL.
“Who,” Sanu will ask, “is the only man in NFL history to throw touchdown passes to A.J. Green, Andy Dalton and Julio Jones?”
“Trick question!” his buddies will shout in unison.
“Nope,” Sanu will say. “It happened. The answer is me.”
A couple of amazing things about the latest installment in the Sanu passing phenomenon. He did it Sunday, in the 34-20 victory over Tampa Bay, in a game the Falcons needed to win in order to have a solid chance to top the tightly contested NFC South for the second straight year. And he did it with one of the prettiest throws of the NFL season. In a tie game early in the second quarter, Sanu lined up to take a shotgun snap with the ball at the Atlanta 49-yard line. He bobbled the ball off a fake handoff, collected it, set up confidently at the Falcons 43, and spied Jones running stride for stride with rookie Bucs safety Justin Evans down the left seam. Sanu threw a high, arcing spiral—no wobble—that somehow was timed perfectly for Jones.
The throw was incredible, the kind a strong-armed passer like Elway or Favre or Vick would have made. And the accuracy … it could not have been placed better had it been affixed there by a Pixar artist. It traveled 57 yards exactly, landing in Jones’ arms at the goal line. Touchdown. The Falcons never trailed the rest of the day.
“It was called,” Sanu said, “and I was glad it was called. I just wanted to make a play for my team. I knew I could do it. It’s really not new to me. When I threw it, I knew he was going to come down with it. That’s Julio.”
But … a perfect 57-yard spiral, lofted to a perfect spot to the best receiver in football?
Sanu sounded like he was explaining how he goes for coffee every morning. To say he was unimpressed with that throw would be a pretty big understatement.
“I mean, we play catch here every day,” Sanu said from the Falcons locker room. “I do this every day.”
Sanu is a Jersey kid, recruited to Rutgers in 2009 by then-coach Greg Schiano as an athlete after being an option quarterback at South Brunswick High. He started at safety and switched to wideout in spring practice before his first season. In three college years, he was only eight of 18 as a quarterback. But when the Bengals drafted him as a receiver in 2012, they saw his history and immediately put in some option routes and pure pass plays. The 73-yard TD pass to Green came at Washington in the second game of his career. The 18-yard touchdown to Dalton came in his third season, against Tennessee. Strange thing: He went 50 straight games (including playoffs) before Sunday without attempting a throw—even though he’d never thrown an NFL incompletion.
Amazing to me that in Sanu’s last 22 games in Cincinnati, and in 19 games (including playoffs) for imaginative Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, and then in the first nine games this year, Sanu never got his name called to throw a pass. Fifty games, no passes. With that arm? Surprising.
“We’ve had some plays for me in [the game plan],” Sanu said. “They just never got called. Since Coach Sark [offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian] got here, I’m pretty sure everybody around here told him I could do this.”
“Did you know you’ve got a perfect quarterback rating in NFL?” I told him. “Higher than Tom Brady.”
“That’s pretty cool,” Sanu said. “He’s the GOAT.”
Sanu’s six-year NFL passing line:
“No surprise to me,” Sanu said. “I’ve been doing it all my life.”
Looks like it.
I cannot allow this weekend of football to go by without going all gee-whiz on what one of the forgotten men of football, Philip Rivers, did against the Cowboys. Rivers played the best game of his professional life on Thursday.
I just didn’t see it coming. Then again, there’s something fitting, something almost a little too storybook, about what has happened this year to the three franchise quarterbacks from the top of the 2004 draft. Ben Roethlisberger (picked 11th in 2004), with two Super Bowl wins on his résumé, was going to pilot the most explosive offense in football in Pittsburgh. Eli Manning (picked first), with two Super Bowl wins on his résumé, was going to follow up on his 11-win season in 2016 and contend for a Super Bowl. Maybe it’d be Roethlisberger versus Manning in Super Bowl 52 this February.
Rivers (picked fourth) is always the third quarterback in the class. No Super Bowl wins. No Super Bowl appearances. He did lead the league in something in 2016: interceptions. This year the Chargers, coming off four- and five-win seasons, moved to the bandbox ballpark in Carson, Calif., south of downtown L.A., waiting for the stadium they’d share with the Rams to be completed. Rivers, turning 36 this season, would be keeping the seat warm for the next quarterback. Maybe Sam Darnold. Maybe Josh Rosen. L.A. guys for an L.A. team.
But here we are, 12 weeks into 2017, and Rivers, with a late surge, is the best of the famous trio this season. The aw-shucks guy from Decatur, Ala., is first among those three in passer rating (95.2) and yards per attempt (7.60), and tied with Roethlisberger in yards (2,948) and TD passes (20).
This week Rivers played his 201st NFL game. I contend the 28-6 victory over Dallas was the best game he’s played in the NFL. Statistically, there’s no question it was. Rivers had never played a game with at least a 135 rating, with 10 yards per attempt, at least 325 yards passing and a completion percentage of 75 or better. He blew those marks out of the water against Dallas: 149.1 rating, 13.2 yards per attempt, 434 yards passing, 81.8 percent completions. I covered his most meaningful NFL game 10 seasons ago, when he outdueled Peyton Manning in Indianapolis in the playoffs. But this game was better, I thought, because of the number of tight-window, downfield throws.
Add three touchdown passes and zero picks against Dallas, and those are all-time numbers for any quarterback in any game … never mind one that the Chargers had to have to keep their ridiculously improbable AFC West title hopes alive. They were four games out after four weeks, but now, at 5-6, they’re one back of Kansas City with five games to play—and 0-11 Cleveland coming to Los Angeles this week.
“You mention that might be the best game of his career,” Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt mused Saturday. “And think of this: He’s 27 of 33, with two throwaways, with all the difficult passes he completed. And playing on Thanksgiving for the first time, which was a big deal for him. Being in it, being there, I can tell you this was a special game, a really big game. Like a playoff game.”
What impressed me so much was the placement of the throws. Rivers always played with the confidence of Unitas, even when the result didn’t match that greatness. But throw after throw, slung in his sidearm or three-quarters delivery, was on point. It helped that he got some hugely athletic catches-and-runs from the monstrously talented Keenan Allen against the Cowboys. Rivers needed Allen. But Rivers did so much on his own.
My favorite throw came late in the third quarter, the Chargers nursing a 9-0 lead at the Dallas 27. Rivers’ tall and green undrafted third-year guy from Western Oregon, Tyrell Williams, got press coverage at the line. Williams knew on this play-call, if he got tight bump coverage at the line, the route would convert to a go. He also knew he’d be Rivers’ first read on the play. Williams read it right. Rivers, from the Dallas 35, let it fly to the right pylon—but not just to meet Williams there. The ball was thrown so the 6'4" Williams could use his five-inch height edge on Dallas’s Anthony Brown. It was a sky ball, thrown on a line but so Williams would have to jump for it. At the 2-yard line, with Brown all over him, Williams leaped for the ball and snagged it over Brown’s head. Just a beautiful throw.
Whisenhunt coached Roethlisberger early in his career, and then Kurt Warner late in his career. “It’s eerie,” said Whisenhunt. “But this game reminds me of that playoff game Kurt played against the Packers [Warner was 29 of 33 in a 51-45 playoff win in the ’09 season] … the accuracy of their throws, how they attacked the defense, how they made their checks. They are just in an elite league doing that.”
I saw Rivers in training camp, and he was the good Chargers soldier, saying all the right things about a move from San Diego to Los Angeles that he hated. “Joe Optimist,” I called him. I said that to Whisenhunt on Saturday. “He is Joe Optimist,” Whisenhunt said, “and he’d been that way since the summer. A lot of guys can be that way, but they can’t all deliver like Philip has. We lost early, but he believes in our scheme, and he knew it was a matter of time before we played well. I believe his optimism is the light that’s carried us through.”
The Chargers are 5-2 since Oct. 2, and four of their final five games come against teams currently with losing records. Think of this, if the Chargers win the AFC West and get the fourth seed in the AFC: They win a wild-card game, and then go to the top seed in the divisional round. Maybe Rivers versus Roethlisberger, paying homage to the ’04 draft; maybe Rivers versus Tom Brady (with an oppressive pass rush helping in both cases). Suddenly, the AFC playoffs don’t seem so boring.
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Alvin Kamara, running back, New Orleans. You’re telling me there were 66 players in the college draft this year better than Kamara? This man is a phenom. In the loss to the Rams, Kamara had 11 touches for 188 yards, with a touchdown run of 74 yards and a touchdown reception of 33 yards. I know the Saints lost this game. But they will be a load to stop on offense by anyone the rest of this year, and assuming they get their secondary healthy and Marshon Lattimore back, they’re going to be dangerous in January.
Brett Hundley, quarterback, Green Bay. Well now. Hundley had been a disappointment, mostly, since replacing the injured Aaron Rodgers, with two touchdown passes in five outings. On Sunday night, against one of the best defenses in football, Hundley had three touchdown throws in three quarters. In a game he had no business being competitive, Hundley was 17 of 26 for 245 yards with no interceptions and a 134.3 passer rating. A brilliant game for a player keeping the seat warm, though it was very hard to tell that Rodgers wasn’t the Packers QB Sunday night.
Julio Jones, wide receiver, Atlanta. For the third time in his extraordinary young career, Jones had a 250-yard receiving game (12 catches, 253 yards, two TDs), in Atlanta's victory over Tampa Bay. It reinforced the fact that if the All-Pro receivers on the 2017 team are not Jones and Antonio Brown something is very wrong with the voters.
Philip Rivers, quarterback, Los Angeles Chargers. I argue elsewhere that Thursday’s performance in the 28-6 must-win over Dallas was the greatest game of Rivers’ NFL career, with his eighth-sharpest game for accuracy, his third-most passing yards, and his fourth-best yards-per-attempt. He was feeling it afterward. “It’s moments and games like this where I go, ‘This is what I dreamed of as a kid,’” Rivers told Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times.
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Ryan Kerrigan, outside linebacker, Washington. Two sacks and, per Pro Football Focus, four hurries of Eli Manning in a game that exposed the Giants’ protection issues and depth. Kerrigan is such a dangerous force in nearly every game he plays.
Bobby Wagner, middle linebacker, Seattle. His acrobatic interception early in the second quarter at San Francisco set up the first points of the day, a two-yard Russell Wilson run over the left side of the line, and the Seahawks never trailed. With a depleted secondary, the Seahawks need the front seven to be dominant. Wagner keyed it Sunday with eight tackles (two for losses), two quarterback hits and a pass broken up as Seattle advanced to 7-4.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Phil Dawson, kicker, Arizona. His 57-yard field goal with 11 seconds left beat Jacksonville 27-24, and from the look of the kick, it could have been a 65-yarder. Great day all around for Dawson, who hit 34-, 42- and 48-yard field goals as well in the upset win.
Stephen Hauschka, kicker, Buffalo. In cacophonous Arrowhead, Hauschka kicked a 34-yard field goal to put Buffalo up 10-0, a 56-yarder (also could have been good from 65) to put Buffalo up 13-3, and a 49-yarder to make the final score 16-10. After missing six extra points and four field goals last year and losing the job in Seattle, Hauschka is 23-of-23 in PATs and 21-of-24 in field goals. He’s been huge in a year when 6-5 Buffalo’s margin for error is quite small. Hauschka, by the way, has made 14 of his last 15 field-goal tries of 50 yards or longer.
Chris Boswell, kicker, Pittsburgh. Very nearly the goat because of a missed early PAT, Boswell hit a 53-yard field goal at wind-swept Heinz Field, tying for the longest kick in the 17-year history of the stadium, to give the Steelers a 31-28 win as the clock hit :00 on the last game of a compelling Sunday.
Tress Way, punter, Washington. Seven punts for just a 44.0-yard average against the Giants, but this eyesore of a football game was won by field position. Way was the biggest factor in that. His seven punts made the Giants start drives at their 20, 30, 28, 3, 15, 6 and 15. Those seven drives netted three New York points.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Sean McDermott, head coach, Buffalo. He got grilled, with justification, for starting Nathan Peterman in his five-pick meltdown at the Chargers last week. But McDermott realized he had to go back to Tyrod Taylor as his starter instead of being bull-headed and sticking with the unprepared Peterman. Against his coaching mentor, Andy Reid, on the road in a game the Bills needed to win to have any semblance of playoff hopes, McDermott and the Bills played a mostly mistake-free game in one of the toughest places in the league to win. Time will tell if McDermott’s “trust the process” slogan will end up meaning the players actually trust what this new administration is selling. But after the jarring benching of Tyrod Taylor and then Taylor’s reanimation, it says something that the players came out and played nobly on Sunday.
GOATS OF THE WEEK
Alex Smith, quarterback, Kansas City. Chiefs down 16-10, 1:25 to play. Third-and-eight, Buffalo 36. Play of the game. Smith throws for what could have been a first down near the right sideline for Tyreek Hill … and Bills rookie cornerback Tre’Davious White steps in front of Hill for the easy pick. Game over. Smith’s fall from early-season grace is nearly complete. Kansas City has one touchdown in its past 28 drives (thanks for the stat, CBS), he was showered with boos leaving the field, and there will be immense pressure on Andy Reid to play rookie Patrick Mahomes on Sunday at the Jets. Reid said he would not change quarterbacks, but if Smith keeps playing like this, Reid will reconsider. Reid is a nice but ruthless man.
Mike Pennel, defensive tackle, New York Jets. To say the Jets beat themselves Sunday does not do the cliché justice. They annihilated themselves with dumb penalties, two dropped TD passes and, well, I’m sure if I sat here long enough I could think of a few other things. But Cam Newton, who had a very bad day, misfired for Devin Fuchess on third-and-11 with 2:17 to play at the Jets’ 48. Pennel, for some reason, played the tough guy and came in and shoved Newton to the ground—a clear roughing-the-passer call. Instead of having the ball after the punt and at their 15-yard line, say, with 2:03 to play, down five, with no timeouts left, the Jets let Carolina wind the clock down to 21 seconds and kick an insurance field goal. Ballgame.
Quotes of the Week
“Don’t bury us yet.”
—Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, after Arizona knocked off Jacksonville on Sunday. The Cards are 5-6 and have back-to-back home games against the Rams and Titans, before finishing at Washington, vs. Giants, at Seahawks.
“Both teams lost their best players. It’s nonsense. It’s silly. I don’t like it. It’s unacceptable.”
—Denver coach Vance Joseph, on the early first-quarter brawl that cost the Broncos Aqib Talib and the Raiders Michael Crabtree in Oakland’s 21-14 victory—Denver’s seventh loss in a row.
“The happiest I’ve ever been in my life is when I’m at MIT. Ever in my life. EVER in my life! Happiest ever.”
—Retired Baltimore guard John Urschel, in Tim Rohan’s superb profile of Urschel that covers why he retired, why he chose math over football and whether he misses the game.
“One of the most frustrating things about my job is knowing that there’s information to be had—for the right price. In our industry, male reporters swap information left and right: Give a nugget to this agent, he’ll tell you a tidbit about this GM; share a rumor with this head coach over here, and he might give you a scoop about his team. But that bartering system can often be a slippery slope for us, as women. ‘What’s in it for me?’ That’s the response I’ve gotten from certain players, coaches, agents, execs, etc., when I’m simply trying to do my job. The implication is always clear, always just beneath the surface. One of the most challenging things for me has been negotiating boundaries as a female sportswriter and accepting that there are some scoops I just won’t get and some professional relationships I just won’t have because I don’t want to deal with certain people in the industry. As competitive and as driven as I am, there have actually been moments in my career where I had to be OK with taking an ‘L’ on a story because it wasn’t worth dealing with the nonsense.”
—A female reporter covering the NFL, to Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated, for his weekly media column.
Stat of the Week
There were 10 quarterbacks picked in the first five rounds of the 2016 draft.
Nine have played. The one who hasn’t, Christian Hackenberg, was the fourth passer chosen in ’16. The nine others have combined to play 113 games.
The quarterback drafted 40 spots after Hackenberg, Jacoby Brissett, started his 12th NFL game Sunday. Brissett will be either a future starter or one of the league’s best backups when Andrew Luck returns for Indianapolis in 2018.
The quarterback drafted 42 spots after Hackenberg, Cody Kessler, started eight games for the Browns last year.
The quarterback drafted 49 spots after Hackenberg, Connor Cook, started a playoff game for Oakland last season.
The quarterback drafted 84 spots after Hackenberg, Dak Prescott, has started all 28 games since being drafted by Dallas and is the Cowboys’ long-term quarterback.
Hackenberg has been active and dressed for two games.
Hackenberg has been inactive for 25 games.
Factoids That May Interest Only Me
Detroit since opening day 2015 (including playoffs): 22-22.
Next Sunday, Darrelle Revis is likely to line up as a starting cornerback for the Kansas City Chiefs at his old home, the Meadowlands, to face his old team, the New York Jets.
The Chiefs will be paying Revis $352,941 to play for them in the last third of this season. The Jets, who fired Revis before the season but still owed him a mountain of guaranteed money, will be paying Revis $5,647,059 to not play for them this season.
Sacks allowed by Giants left tackle Ereck Flowers in the first 47 Eli Manning pass-drops this year: four.
Sacks allowed by Flowers in next 347 Manning pass-drops this year: zero.
Flowers, who used to have the modifier “embattled” as a permanent adjective before his last name, allowed his first sack since Week 2 late in the fourth quarter Thursday night against Washington.
Tweets of the Week
What transpired with Greg Schiano in Tennessee today is a frightening statement about where we are in society right now regarding what is real, what is speculative and that the our reality is that if you yell loud enough there is no difference between the two.— Art Stapleton (@art_stapleton) November 27, 2017
Mike McQueary said Tom Bradley told him Greg Schiano said X. Tom Bradley UNDER OATH said no, Greg Schiano didn't tell him that. Greg Schiano publicly swore what Mike McQueary said happened didn't. So I guess... the UT job was rescinded over hearsay?— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) November 27, 2017
I’m not cut out for this “being a fan”. I liked being the Player a lot better— Justin Tuck (@JustinTuck) November 26, 2017
Tweeted while presumably watching his alma mater, Notre Dame, lose Saturday to Stanford.
Chip Kelly has signed 20 yrs & $100,500,000 dollars worth of contracts...IN THE PAST 7 years!!— Chris Law (@ChrisLaw) November 25, 2017
2010 Oregon Ducks 6 Years 20.5 Million
2013 Philadelphia Eagles 5 Year 32.5 Million
2016 San Francisco 49ers 4 years 24 Million
2017 UCLA Bruins 5 Years 23.5 Million#ChipKelly #UCLA
I feel for the Michigan quarterback.
From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
This week’s conversations: A slew of NFL people on why they’re thankful this Thanksgiving season, led by Chargers coach Anthony Lynn and Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth, and ESPN.com investigative reporter Seth Wickersham on the Roger Goodell-Jerry Jones tension.
• Wickersham on the increasing unlikelihood of Jones road-blocking the Goodell contract extension: “Everyone is always wondering, how many owners does Jerry have? I think that the idea of slowing it down and having a more detailed process is gaining traction. Even if owners don't like the messenger, they are kind of coming around to his message, which is, Look, this is a fascinating moment in the NFL, and there are significant headwinds coming to light. Has Roger performed great at his job? Is he solving problems? Is he the right person to navigate the league through an uncertain time going forward? Has Roger hired the right people? I would contend that Jerry thinks no in a lot of cases, and the people [Goodell] has hired don't solve problems and create more of them. Jerry has four or five owners with him hard, and I think there are 10 to 12 of them who are disengaged, the types that fall asleep at league meetings, just want this thing done and want it out of the headlines … There are owners who are embarrassed by the situation in L.A. and are really upset that a great market like Oakland won't have an NFL team in the next couple of years. Those owners don't know what to do, because they wouldn't mind replacing Roger, but there is no successor, which is both a failure on Roger’s part and one of his greatest sources of leverage.”
Also of note on this subject: CBS’ Jason LaCanfora reported Sunday that the contract with Goodell could be finalized by midweek; a group of NFL owners has committee meetings in New York on Tuesday and Wednesday. I asked one ownership source about the report, and this source said, “I would be shocked if the contract gets done this week, without all the owners there.” We’ll see; LaCanfora could have it nailed. Regardless, without significant organized opposition—by that I mean more than Jerry Jones and four or five owners sympathetic with Jones—the contract is likely to get done at some point soon. Likely, but not certainly. I reported last week that it would likely be done by Christmas, and it may be done by the NFL meetings in Dallas in two weeks.
1. I think Stanford’s David Shaw had better be in the top two, or one, for any NFL team looking for a head coach in 2018. But remember what he told me two years ago about having a better job than any NFL coach, and whoever wants him is going to have to convince his wife that it’s a better place than Palo Alto. Good luck. My sense is that Shaw will one day coach in the NFL, just not in the next couple of years. My early list of calls I’d make if I had a coach to hire, after I called Shaw:
• New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels
• Kansas City special teams coordinator Dave Toub
• Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz
• Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin
• New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.
2. I think I also would fact-find about Carolina defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, University of Washington coach Chris Petersen (who likely wants to stay on the West Coast), Minnesota offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and Houston defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel. I’d phone Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz; I don’t think he’d leave, but I’d make him tell me that. Finally, I don’t know Jacksonville defensive coordinator Todd Wash or Kansas City offensive coordinator Matt Nagy (just 39) but hear good things about them. And as for those who say the pool of available coaches is grim, I would remind you of three names:
• Chuck Noll was an unknown and a distant second to Joe Paterno when the Steelers hired him in 1969. Four Super Bowl wins followed.
• “An inspired choice or a real mistake?” the Philadelphia Inquirer wondered after the hire of Andy Reid in 1999—and he proceeded to win 74 more games than anyone else in club history.
• Robert Kraft told me earlier this year he was warned by former Browns owner Art Modell to stay far away from Bill Belichick—and all Belichick has done is win 235 games in New England.
Moral of the story: There are scores of good coaches out there. They need good quarterbacks and good organizations to succeed.
Last point to make: Jon Gruden might be interested in going back to the Raiders. I hear he loves Derek Carr and would like to see once in his career what he could do with a franchise quarterback. But I think it’s not likely Jack Del Rio gets fired.
3. I think this story about Greg Schiano having a deal to coach Tennessee, then having the deal walked back Sunday evening because of the outcry over what mighthave happened at Penn State connected to the Jerry Sandusky case, over what was never proven and was denied by the relevant parties under oath, over what Tennessee never investigated thoroughly, is a disgrace to thinking people. It also emboldens the screamers on social media, a nod to those who think if you scream loud enough in this current iteration of America you can overcome reason, and a totally unfair slap at a good man in Schiano. The pathetic result of this caper is that the social-media lynch mob won, and no matter how well Schiano does as an assistant at Ohio State, it may never be good enough for him to get a head-coaching job. The water has been poisoned by the crazies. In America today, that matters.
4. I think these are my quick thoughts on Week 12:
a. What a great game Green Bay-Pittsburgh was.
b. Man, Brett Hundley proved me wrong, at least this week. What a tremendous late-fourth-quarter drive, including 72 yards passing, moving the Packers for six first downs and the tying touchdowns—and converting a fourth down with under three minutes left to make the tying score possible.
c. Huge sack by T.J. Watt, nailing Hundley with a minute to go and enabling the Steelers to get the ball back with just enough time.
d. Russell Wilson: To have the Seahawks at 7-4, as beat up as the team is, is a tribute to a very good defense to be sure. But mostly it’s a tribute to you.
e. Thanks, Drew Bledsoe, for the terrific tribute written for The MMQB to the late Terry Glenn.
f. Good stats by Andrew Catalon on CBS: Zane Gonzalez of the Browns has missed five field goals this year, all wide left. Hope you’re renting, Zane.
g. Christian Jones, the Chicago middle linebacker no one knows, sure makes a lot of plays for an unknown guy.
h. When Keenan Allen next negotiates a contract with the Chargers, all he has to do is bring a tape of his last eight quarters in two must-wins for the Chargers, against Buffalo and Dallas, in a five-day span: 23 catches in 27 targets, 331 yards, three touchdowns.
i. The reception, run and stretch for the first down in the fourth quarter by Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs, making the first down by an inch, was a truly great awareness play by Diggs. Kudos to him.
j. Detroit’s Akeem Spence dropping Jerick McKinnon late in the first half for a loss was the kind of textbook run-stuff every defensive-line coach should show his players.
k. Kai Forbath makes me nervous. Very nervous. And if he makes me nervous, imagine what he does to that pepperpot Mike Zimmer.
l. Why, with the game on the line, on fourth-and-eight when the Lions needed a conversion, did Matthew Stafford throw to a blanketed receiver—covered by the Vikes’ best corner, Xavier Rhodes—with almost zero chance for completion?
m. Yikes: Dak Prescott’s passer rating this year with Zeke Elliott in the lineup: 97.9. Prescott without Elliott: 57.0.
n. Looks like Eli Apple is turning into a lost top pick for the Giants, per Paul Schwartz of the New York Post.
o. Prince Amukamara could take the video of his pass-breakup of the Carson Wentz-to-Torrey Smith throw in Philadelphia and show it to young corners everywhere. Perfect timing, mechanics of a pass breakup.
p. Gotta catch that ball, Austin Seferian-Jenkins. That drop of a first-quarter touchdown pass cost the Jets four points.
5. I think I do not mean to be cruel, but this is the truth: Brock Osweiler has gotten two offensive coordinators (George Godsey, Mike McCoy) fired from two teams (Houston, Denver) in consecutive seasons. Also:
• Osweiler has played so poorly in Houston that he had to be traded to Cleveland along with a second-round pick so the Browns would take him. He played so poorly in training camp in Cleveland that the Browns, desperate for a placeholder quarterback, fired him anyway. He played so poorly in Denver in relief of Trevor Siemian that he was demoted the other day from number one to number three quarterback.
• Osweiler is employed in the NFL today. Colin Kaepernick is not. It helps explain why so many people are rooting hard for Kaepernick’s longshot collusion case against the NFL.
6. I think it’s time to sound the TV ratings alarm—if you haven’t already heard it clanging from coast to coast. It looks even worse when considering that the NFL, perhaps rightfully, blamed last year’s ratings decline on the attention magnet that the 2016 presidential election was. But Thanksgiving week is two weeks clear of the election season. So let’s compare some of the numbers to each of the past two years to see where we are (thanks to Sports Media Watch for the ratings info):
• ESPN, Monday night, Atlanta at Seattle: 6.4 rating, a decline of 28.1 percent from Buffalo-New England in 2015 … a decline of 7.2 percent from Houston-Oakland last year.
• FOX, Thanksgiving Day, Minnesota at Detroit: 11.4 rating, a drop of 7.3 percent from Philadelphia-Detroit in 2015 … a drop of 12.3 percent from Minnesota-Detroit last year.
• CBS, Thanksgiving Day, Los Angeles Chargers at Dallas: 12.4 rating, a decrease of 19.0 percent from Dallas-Carolina in 2015 … a decrease of 20.5 percent from Dallas-Washington last year.
• NBC, Thanksgiving night, New York Giants at Washington: 9.7 rating, a drop of 33.6 percent from Chicago-Green Bay in 2015 … a drop of 10.2 percent from Indianapolis-Pittsburgh last year.
A bit of clarification: CBS did the early-window game from Detroit last year; FOX did the early game from Detroit this year. So the numbers on FOX and CBS are window versus window, not network versus network. But in window versus window, the numbers of ’17 versus ’16 were down 7.2, 12.3, 20.5 and 10.2 percent on Monday and Thursday of Thanksgiving week. Not good.
7. I think I don’t want to rain on the Matthew Stafford parade, and I get that he is struggling with a sore ankle, but man, that was an underwhelming performance Thursday in a game the Lions had to have.
8. I think the Eagles have a very interesting road trip coming up: at Seattle on Sunday night, against the beat-up but still dangerous Seahawks; then working out on Eagle season-ticket-holder Mike Trout’s baseball field in Anaheim for the following week; then playing the dangerous Rams (in a preview of my prospective NFC title game) the following Sunday.
9. I think congrats are in order for Archie and Olivia Manning’s grandson, Cooper Manning’s son, Peyton Manning’s nephew and Eli Manning’s nephew. A 70-percent passing day for Arch Manning in a big game. Heck of a game, kid. (And yes, the boy goes by “Arch.”)
10. I think these are my non-NFL thoughts of the week:
a. Op-Ed of the week: from Brent Staples of the New York Times, some good lessons on the legacy of national anthems in our country.
b. Internet column of the Week: The great Joe Posnanski, on (mostly) quitting Twitter at the same time as he gets a kidney stone.
c. Have you considered the two might be related, Joe? That not being on Twitter may have caused this malady?
d. Sports/politics story of the week: by Rick Maese, Isabelle Khurshudyan and Andrew Roth of the Washington Post, on the bizarre intersection of a big hockey star and Vladimir Putin.
e. I looked the other day at SeatGeek just to see about the “Springsteen on Broadway” show, which of course intrigues me. Two tickets to a January show: $4,882. No thanks.
f. I read a book on the day after Thanksgiving. A whole book! “The Rooster Bar,” by John Grisham. As usual, Grisham put his hooks in me, and I finished it in six hours. I had a couple of plot problems (I’m sure Mr. Grisham will call me to discuss), but it was easy and fun and the kind of book I love on off-time. It took me to a place and provided great entertainment and made me think.
g. I am nearly finished with another book I have enjoyed quite a bit: “Ballplayer,” by Chipper Jones, with Carroll Rodgers Walton. Good job by Jones talking about life invading his professional space. Funny how that happens.
h. Annual question: Why are college coaching contracts so incredibly one-way in favor of the coaches?
i. I cannot believe anyone in the Ohio State athletic department looked at that team on the field Saturday and said, “I really love those uniforms.” Black and white? In the game against Michigan?
j. Wow. Michigan 1-5 versus Ohio State and Michigan State, its two big rivals, under Jim Harbaugh?
k. That Auburn-Alabama crowd was ridiculously loud. What a home-field advantage for Auburn. Nick Saban struggled to hear Allie LaForce for the halftime on-field interview. At halftime. When no football was being played.
l. Coffeenerdness: Dave’s Coffee of Rhode Island—you’ve got a good thing going. The stronger the better.
m. Beernerdness: My wife and I spent a couple of days away in Westerly, R.I., over Thanksgiving, and we gave thanks not only for the time away but for our time at Gray Sail Brewery on a quiet street not far from the Amtrak station and a very cute downtown Westerly. The little brew pub next to the brewery is in a 90-year-old home with original murals on the wall, painted by an Italian artist of lovely scenes in the old country. And on the main floor of the house, locals and tourists lounge around drinking good beer. My pick: The Gray Sail Flagship cream ale, easy to drink and light. Lovely. We got a tour of the brewery (a former macaroni factory, of all things) and a T-shirt, and were on our way. How great is it that in cute little towns all over America local breweries are popping up and thriving? Gray Sail is six years old, and the folks there Friday evening included two families in the converted den, with a couple of tykes running around. Strongly recommend that on your trip up I-95 along the New England coast, just over the border from Connecticut into Rhode Island, you stop there and have a beer.
n. I’m not sure of this, and maybe it’s because we had to wait so long for it to come, but this season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” has been fairly meh. Even with the fatwa on Larry. Some of the stuff is more than slightly preposterous. More Susie. More Jeff. More Funkhauser.
o. Happy 64th birthday (Sunday) to one of the best people I’ve covered, Hall of Fame Giants linebacker Harry Carson.
p. Happy 44th birthday (today) to Renaissance man Jon Runyan, the former tackle and Jersey congressman and current NFL exec.
Who I Like Tonight
Baltimore 17, Houston 9. The Ravens have three shutouts this year, and the Texans have allowed 22 touchdown passes and a passer rating of 98.9. If Baltimore, at home, can’t win a game it absolutely has to have (next two games: Detroit, at Pittsburgh) to go to 6-5, the Ravens will soon be playing for 2018.
The Adieu Haiku
Schiano got jobbed.
The moral of the story?
Scream loudest, you win.
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