The Award Section: Case Keenum’s miracle run continues; Russell Wilson shines for Seattle
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Case Keenum, quarterback, Minnesota. This is a weekly award, because this ridiculous Keenum had a day, again, in Atlanta: 25 of 30, for a season-high 83 percent, with two touchdowns and no picks, in the 14-9 win over Atlanta. But it is more than that. Eight Sundays ago the man GM Rick Spielman chose as his 2017 third-string quarterback—behind starter Sam Bradford and the starter-in-waiting coming back from a serious knee injury, Teddy Bridgewater—came in to the game at Chicago for a hobbled Bradford and beat the Bears. Keenum piloted wins over Green Bay and Baltimore and Cleveland too, and then Bridgewater was healthy enough to return on Nov. 12 at Washington. Coach Mike Zimmer kept Bridgewater on the bench, maybe just for a quarter or two, while Keenum played. This is one of the things I find compelling about his story. Since Bridgewater suited up and prepared to retake his job that day in Washington, Keenum, in four games, is an 80-percent passer, with nine TDs and two picks, for a passer rating of 124.1. Never in his pedestrian five-year career has Keenum had this kind of run, and he’s done it with the hot breath of Bridgewater on his neck.
“I don’t think those things are correlated,” Keenum told me after Sunday’s win. “In my mind I’ve done a good job of keeping my blinders on. I’ve learned to compartmentalize things. Honestly, I am doing the same things I always do, and just trying to be better. I may have gotten better through experience and very good coaching here. Plus, this is by far the best receiver group I’ve ever worked with.”
But there’d never been any sign in his past of the consistent success he’s had this year. “It’s cool,” he said. “You take the blinders off for a few minutes sometimes and look at what we’re doing. We’re in control of our situation now.” Particularly after the Eagles lost and Minnesota took over the top seed in the NFC. Pretty incredible.
Russell Wilson, quarterback, Seattle. Wilson will have starrier games than 20 of 31 for 227 yards, three touchdowns and no picks, with 31 rushing yards added. But there was something about Wilson’s command in the 24-10 win over Philadelphia, breaking the Eagles’ nine-game winning streak. It was a brilliant performance against a team than had won each of its last three games by 28 points, and included the kind of abracadabra plays—including one back-pass that replays showed may have been a forward lateral in the second half—that made me go, “WHOA!” Seattle doesn’t have much margin for error now, at 8-4 in a power conference and with Jacksonville and the Rams on the schedule in the next two weeks. Wilson played this game as if it was the most important game of the season. It was.
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Eric Weddle, safety, Baltimore. In the 44-20 win over Detroit, Weddle, 32, showed a little bit of everything he’s brought to Baltimore in his nearly two years since leaving the Chargers in free agency. And he showed how much he has left. On a safety blitz early in the second quarter, he sacked Matthew Stafford from the blind side, popping the ball loose. The Ravens recovered and returned it to the Detroit 36. Six plays later Baltimore scored to go up 17-0. In the second half Weddle picked off a Lions pass and returned it 45 yards for an insurance score. Big day for a valuable player.
Paul Posluszny, linebacker, Jacksonville. The Jags have a defense of many young stars, and it’s easy to forget the 33-year-old geezer from Penn State, particularly on days when Jacksonville newbie Calais Campbell sets the team’s single-season sack mark. Posluszny was a bigger factor on Sunday in the 30-10 rout of the Colts. He has 14 tackles and 1.5 sacks of the elusive Jacoby Brissett.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Robbie Gould, kicker, San Francisco. What a homecoming. On his return to Soldier Field, the former Bear and current Niner kicked field goals of 33, 28, 35, 34 and 24 yards, the last with four seconds left to beat the Bears 15-14. Gould made every attempt. He scored all of San Francisco’s points. And he got celebrated in the locker room afterward. Can’t imagine that any player had a better, more meaningful day than Robbie Gould.
Tarik Cohen, punt returner/running back, Chicago. I can’t remember a more scintillating punt return in the NFL this year than Cohen’s 61-yarder for a touchdown in the loss to the Niners. Fielding the punt at his 39-yard line, Cohen ran right and for negative yardage with six Niners bearing down on him (San Francisco had the best punt-return defense in the league through 12 weeks), and Cohen pivoted back around his 30, running back to his 24 … and then turning upfield and running up the left seam, all the way for a touchdown. A fantastic return, even if it came in an eventual loss.
Ryan Switzer, punt returner/wide receiver, Dallas. The man with “Believe” tattooed on the inside of his lower lip (true story) made the Cowboys do so Thursday night in the 38-14 rout of Washington. Switzer’s 83-yard punt return for a touchdown blew open the game midway through the first half, giving Dallas a 17-0 lead, and Washington couldn’t get it down to single digits the rest of the way.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Mike McCarthy, head coach, Green Bay. I thought the design and the play-calling on the tying and winning drives in the 26-20 win over Tampa Bay were very good. McCarthy knows he can’t totally trust Brett Hundley in the passing game, so he designed some read-option for Hundley, and that resulted in the crucial two plays of the winning drive. Hundley made a beautiful fake into the gut of Jamaal Williams and ran around right end for 18 to the Bucs’ 41-yard line; then he faked a jet sweep and dumped a pass to Williams along the right sideline for 12 more. One other thing: The Packers won a game they had to have using Brett Hundley (fifth round, 2015) and backs Jamaal Williams (fourth round, 2017) and Aaron Jones (fifth round, 2017) as the key weapons on that final 72-yard drive in overtime. That’s good playing, and good coaching. Kudos to the oft-embattled McCarthy.
GOAT OF THE WEEK
Steven Nelson, cornerback, Kansas City. One of the crazy things about the crashing-and-burning of the Chiefs is their continued loss of poise. Nelson killed them on the Jets’ winning drive in the 38-31 New York victory Sunday. I’ll set the stage: Chiefs up 31-30, Jets driving at the Chiefs’ 4-yard line, 2:39 left in the game. Josh McCown throws incomplete, but Nelson is called for holding/mugging Jets tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. First down at the two. McCown eventually scores on a sneak. Jets go for two. Fail. Nelson gets called for holding again. Jets’ ball at the one, and this time they make the two-point play.
So instead of the Chiefs giving up a field goal and going down 33-31, a Nelson hold gives the Jets a shot at the touchdown. Jets up 36-31. Instead of the Chiefs being down just five, they go down seven because of another Nelson hold. Just bad, thoughtless football.
Quotes of the Week
“What the NFL has done is a good first step. It’s not going to solve the massive problems we have in our cities and states across this country, but it’s a start. And, more importantly, I’m glad we were able to get them to acknowledge their responsibility and role in trying to help solve these problems and injustices. They are making a major commitment, more than they have done for any other charitable initiative, to provide us with the marketing platform to educate millions of fans about social justice, racial inequality and the work players are doing in criminal justice reform, police accountability/transparency and education/economic advancement. For myself and the Players Coalition, it was never about the money or having our voices bought. To hear people call me or anyone else a sellout is insulting. It has always been, and will always be, about lifting the voices of the people and the work of those that fight for them.”
—Malcolm Jenkins of the Eagles and the Players Coalition, on the NFL’s commitment to giving the coalition nearly $100 million for civil rights causes over the next seven years.
“I understand. It was bull----.”
—Patriots coach Bill Belichick to Buffalo coach Sean McDermott, apologizing to him at midfield post-game for Rob Gronkowski’s dirty hit on a prone Tre’Davious White.
“Eli might say, ‘I’ve had enough.’”
—Archie Manning, father of benched Giants quarterback Eli Manning, to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, raising the possibility that the 36-year-old Manning could retire after the season.
Eli Manning said after the game he would play in 2018. Still, the fact that his father could raise the possibility speaks to the raw emotion being felt by the benched Giant.
“F--- you, Tennessee!”
—A fan in the crowd at the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis on Saturday night, after Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano’s unit made a fourth-quarter stand to preserve a 27-21 victory over Wisconsin.
According to Buckeye Sports Bulletin writer Garrett Stepien, the fan yelled it when Schiano was walking up the tunnel, off the field. Schiano, spurned for the University of Tennessee coaching job last week after being promised it, smiled when it was yelled, and pointed up at the man, with another smile.
Stat of the Week
Tom Brady is 55-10 in December in his NFL career, his best month.
Tom Brady is 27-3 against Buffalo in his NFL career, his best record against any team.
Tom Brady is 49-11 in the last four games of regular seasons in his NFL career, his best composite quarter. That last quadrant of the 2017 season begins next Monday at Miami.
Factoid That May Interest Only Me
In a second-quarter play called by former Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, former Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler threw a touchdown pass to former Broncos tight end Julius Thomas, against the Broncos, sending the Broncos to a 9-3 deficit. To celebrate, former Bronco Thomas pretended to ride a bronco in the end zone while several Broncos walked away dispiritedly.
Tweets of the Week
Praying that others learn from my mistakes.. Extremely excited to use my platform to raise awareness against drinking & driving. Don’t put your life or other lives at risk for selfish reasons. #MothersAgainstDrunkDriving #MADD #MyCleatsMyCause #TrustGod @MADDOnline pic.twitter.com/uFgiMzv1S3— Willie Snead IV (@Willie_Snead4G) December 2, 2017
Group of former Giants discussing plan to go to Giants game next week all wearing Eli jerseys on sideline. How will team handle that?— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) December 3, 2017
If Ohio State wins, are they in?— Kirk Cousins (@KirkCousins8) December 3, 2017
No. Evidently not.
College football needs to go to an 8 team playoff. The winner of the power 5 conferences is an automatic berth and then 3 at large teams. Would settle most of the issues we have these days.— Joe Thomas (@joethomas73) December 3, 2017
New section of the column this fall, 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.
Joey Bosa, defensive end, Los Angeles Chargers. The other day, I was discussing with Bosa a column he was doing for The MMQB about a teenage boy he’d met in Houston, Sean, who had twice beaten cancer. Bosa decided to let Sean design his cleats for “My Cause, My Cleats,” the program in which the league allowed players to wear cleats designed to promote a cause that is near and dear to them. Bosa decided on pediatric cancer. So instead of asking Bosa for his Most Valuable Possession, I’ll let him pen his feelings about his Most Valuable Cleats, designed by his high-school buddy.
“Sean educated me on a lot of things about cancer. He told me, ‘Did you know that out of all the money raised for cancer research, only 4 percent goes to pediatric cancer?’ That just shocked me. That is not my world at all. I never even thought of it. I just thought how unfair that seemed. Four percent? Four percent? That just made a huge impact on me … I asked Sean if he wanted to design my cleats this year. I think he was pretty excited about it. I connected him with my rep at adidas, and I let Sean do whatever he wanted. You probably know breast cancer is pink. Pediatric cancer is gold. So they came up with these cleats.
“It’s Sean’s message to the cancer community: CHILDREN DESERVE #MORETHAN4. I love it. I think it’s fantastic. And I hope America gets to see his message from coast to coast.”
From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
This episode’s conversations: Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen, Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel (on the Greg Schiano/Tennessee fiasco) and former Tampa Bay GM Mark Dominik, on the same.
• Wetzel on the social media inquisition of Schiano at Tennessee, and what it portends for the future: “This wasn’t a fresh allegation … The wildfire that this took off on was just overwhelming … Read the story, research it. All this stuff is available. There is nothing not available about the Penn State story … Does anyone care about truth or due process? The next time it could be you. Belong to a church? Coach Little League? Work at a company? That's all Greg Schiano was doing. Working at a company and then something terrible happened, and years later someone told a story about someone telling a story and now your career is done and you have people painting rocks.”