- Philip Rivers provides perspective on the roller-coaster race in the Chargers’ division, and we break down how the big Week 13 games impacted the playoff standings
- Other sections include: Brett Favre on Eli Manning; four reasons Ben McAdoo needs to go now; Michael Vick’s return; why Gronk deserves suspenion; and much more
After one quarter of the 2017 season, this was the AFC West:
Kansas City: 4-0
L.A. Chargers: 0-4
Over the past two months, this has been the AFC West:
L.A. Chargers: 6-2
Kansas City: 2-6
With one-quarter of the season remaining, the AFC West standings:
Kansas City: 6-6
L.A. Chargers: 6-6
“So we’re 0-4,” Philip Rivers said Sunday night, driving down the 405 toward his San Diego home after a Chargers win over Cleveland, “and we gotta go cross-country to play the Giants, who are also 0-4. It’s rough. Just rough. Emotionally, rough. I mean, 0-4. Are you kidding? We get a field goal blocked and lose by three in Denver. Then we miss a game-winning field goal and lose to Miami. I throw three picks and we lose to the Chiefs. Then the Eagles beat us by two. We’re four games behind Kansas City after four weeks. My wife says to me, ‘You know, these young guys on the team, they need to still see it’s okay to have fun and be excited when you’re 0-4.’ So I’m still into it, still trying to be out there having fun with my team.
“We go play the Giants. I remember I’m on bus number three. I got a bunch of guys there around me, and I said, ‘Hey, let’s forget about Kansas City. They beat New England, they beat Philly, they beat Washington … I mean, they’re killing teams. This is the best team ever created! Forget ’em. Let’s just see if we can somehow get to .500 with a chance and see if we can sneak into a wild card.’ And little by little we just started digging.”
The NFL with a quarter-season left is a strange place.
• The top seed in the NFC, Minnesota, is playing a quarterback evicted by the woebegone Rams in the offseason. Case Keenum is 8-0 over the past two months, including a 14-9 win over the Falcons on Sunday in Atlanta. “I guess that’s why we play the games,” Keenum said from Atlanta afterward.
• As of today, the four wild-card weekend hosts would be Tennessee, Kansas City, the Rams and New Orleans. But Jacksonville and the Chargers are damn close to sending out RSVP notices for the first weekend of the playoffs.
• Remember back three months, when the Patriots’ depth chart at quarterback was Tom Brady (1), Jimmy Garoppolo (2) and Jacoby Brissett (3)? At 1:02 p.m. ET Sunday, Brady took the field for the Patriots and started in Buffalo, Garoppolo took the field for the 49ers and started in Chicago, and Brissett took the field for the Colts and started in Jacksonville. Bill Belichick raised them to play well in adversity. In the three road games, past/present Patriot passers went 2-1.
• The Jaguars are not kidding around. After the 30-10 rout of the Colts, they’ve officially proven they can win with great defense and an unpredictable offense. Points allowed in the eight Jag wins: 7, 7, 9, 0, 7, 17, 7, 10.
• July, NFL Network prediction: Giants beat Patriots in Super Bowl 52, Eli Manning outdueling Tom Brady. December, ESPN: With the Giants 2-10 and Manning exiled to the bench, Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen predict coach Ben McAdoo could be fired Monday morning.
• Jared Goff has a higher passer rating and touchdown total than either the 2016 MVP (Matt Ryan) or 2015 MVP (Cam Newton).
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But my favorite story of the year is way out west. I won’t call it the AFC Worst. Too easy. Too true. The streaks, first of all, are amazing. Kansas City won its first five and lost its past four. The Chargers, after the four-game bummer, have had two three-game winning streaks. Oakland lost four straight. Denver has lost eight in a row.
So Denver’s done; John Elway knows he’s got to go quarterback-prospecting in the off-season. “Shocking,” Rivers said of Denver's demise. “We’ve been 4-12, 5-11 the last two years, so I know how things can go south, but I am shocked to see it’s played out there. But after that, I see this division capable and dangerous. Kansas City can score 40 in a given week. Oakland’s explosive, really explosive. And I look at us and sometime I think, man, those two field-goal games and the game I screwed up against Kansas City … we could be sitting here 9-3 and running away with it! But then reality slaps me. I say, ‘Quit saying what could have been! Deal with reality.’ And the reality is, it’s a great race—just kind of a weird race.”
Handicapping the weirdest division in football with a quarter of the season left:
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Games remaining: Oakland (6-6), Chargers (6-6), Miami (5-7), at Denver (3-9)
Record of foes: 20-28.
The Chiefs are mess. Crazy to think that what they have going for them more than anything else is playing the next three at Arrowhead—games they should be favored to win despite entering the last part of the season having lost six of seven. The good news for Kansas City is that the deep-strike ability Alex Smith showed so brazenly early in the season was back Sunday in the Meadowlands, where Smith threw for 366 yards. The bad news: The defense gave up 38 points and 488 yards. To the Jets. And the Chiefs lost their poise badly late in the game. Marcus Peters is a great cornerback. But he does some knucklehead things, such as picking up an official’s yellow flag and throwing it into the 20th row in the end zone. Andy Reid’s got to be worried about this team. The defense that used to be so solid is now so shaky that Josh McCown strafes it effectively. The offense is so unreliable it can lose to the Giants.
I can’t see the Chiefs recovering. I say they finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Games remaining: Washington (5-7), at Kansas City (6-6), at Jets (5-7), Oakland (6-6)
Record of foes: 22-26.
Every one of these games is tricky. And nothing comes easy for the Chargers, except when Nathan Peterman is quarterbacking the other team. But you watch the game on Thanksgiving in Dallas, and you see Rivers playing what I thought was the best game of his pro life (“I was about as in the zone as I ever have been,” he said of his play in the 28-6 rout), and you see Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram (averaging 10.2 quarterback hits, sacks and pressures per game between them, per Pro Football Focus) and you see the dangerous weapon that Keenan Allen is, and you believe. Allen has had three straight games with at least 10 catches, at least 100 yards and at least one score. Why believe more in Rivers to Allen than Alex Smith to Tyreek Hill? Because Rivers-to-Allen has come through big three weeks in a row; Smith-to-Hill has put up more than 100 receiving yards happened three times all season.
I see the Chargers going 3-1 even though there’s nothing close to a gimme in the rest of the schedule, finishing 9-7 and winning the division. Hot team wins.
Games remaining: At Kansas City (6-6), Dallas (6-6), at Philadelphia (10-2), at Chargers (6-6)
Record of foes: 28-20.
I would predict one thing about the offseason if Jack Del Rio returns as coach of the Raiders, which I expect him to do: I bet he goes to owner Mark Davis and tells him to not take a home game away again in 2018—particularly a home game where the home-field edge would be crucial. The New England game got moved from Oakland to Mexico this year, and the Raiders weren’t too competitive in a 33-8 loss, but one less home game is one less home game. “When we looked at the schedule when it came out,” Del Rio told me Sunday night, “we knew it would be a tough, demanding schedule—nine road games, seven home, starting with three of four on the road, ending with three of four on the road. But it feels good to be playing good football at the most important time of the season. What we’ve said all year is stick together, keep fighting and keep believing. Keep improving. I feel like we’re ready for a tough stretch.”
It’s been interesting to watch Del Rio’s usage of Marshawn Lynch, coming off his retirement season. Lynch’s 101-yard game against the Giants on Sunday was his first over 100 yards in 25 months, since his final Seattle season. Lynch ran angry on Sunday, and he ran fresh. His 52-yard TD run was his longest run in three years. “We were aware of not wanting to overwork him early,” Del Rio said. “Now we’re at the point where we’re going to ride him the rest of the way.”
The Raiders are total wild cards. They’re explosive enough to go 3-1 down the stretch, but I think they’re just too inconsistent defensively. I’ve got Oakland winning the first two, losing the last two, and finishing out of it at 8-8.
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I’m not a big fan of interim coaches, at all, unless a team shows good reasons why making such a change makes sense. In the Giants’ case, I do think it makes sense to fire Ben McAdoo on Monday—Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen reported it could happen, in the wake of the Giants’ falling to 2-10 Sunday in Oakland—for four reasons:
1. Three of the Giants’ last four games, starting Sunday with Dallas coming to the Meadowlands, are home games. The last thing the Giants want in this disaster of a season is any sort of organized demonstration against a bad team that just benched its star. These fans hate McAdoo and GM Jerry Reese enough that something like a tailgate ticket-burning Sunday, with mass no-shows, is certainly possible. I also heard Sunday that a group of disaffected Giants fans has raised “significant” money to fly a plane over the Meadowlands if need be, or to buy more billboards in New Jersey, to be sure that Giants CEO John Mara gets the message: clean house.
2. McAdoo cannot survive. His offense was totally unproductive even when the starting cast was healthy. He’s going to get cleared out anyway; no reason not to do it now, even if it may disrupt the development of Davis Webb, the rookie quarterback the Giants need to see by the first round of the draft on April 26, 2018.
3. Mara can look back and wretch about how the removal of Manning went down, but it was time to try something new in a lost season. However McAdoo did it is not really the point; there is no way this could have been done to the satisfaction of those who love Manning—and many do, and all should. He’s a prince of a guy, and he’s done unforgettable things as the quarterback of the team. But it’s time to see what’s behind Manning, and time to seriously consider whether the first pick in a quarterback-available draft should be a quarterback.
4. This is the most minor of reasons, but in New York, I believe, it means something. McAdoo is painfully inept most often in news conferences; he’s just an introverted guy in public who wasn’t made to stand up and face the music against the blaring tabloids. His GM, Jerry Reese, hates doing press and so just does not do it, except for twice a year. That should not be tolerated by Mara. Reese has constructed two Super Bowl-winning teams in 11 years, and that has bought him plenty of time. When you win, you can do anything, and you can act however you want around the media. Ask Bill Belichick. But it’s dumb to think in this day and age that, in the biggest media market in America, you should meet the press twice a year. Reese should not be able to get away with that. And if Mara changes GMs, whoever the new one is—former Chiefs GM Scott Pioli, Green Bay director of football operations Eliot Wolf, or someone else—can’t be allowed to get away with that.
I do realize these will be unpopular numbers to show to Giants’ fans, who do not want to see Manning getting trashed. It’s not a trashing. It’s a realistic view of the fact that the New York offense has been off-track since McAdoo took over—even when the receivers were healthy. There’s a predictability to the offense that defenses playing the Giants have talked about, and McAdoo being married to the West Coast way even when it’s not working.
But here are the numbers you should keep in mind while thinking about the decline of a once-proud offense. What follows is a look at the worst three teams in the NFL since opening day 2016, and their average points per game since then. Compare that to Eli Manning’s numbers over that same stretch, and you’ll see a very good reason why the Giants will have to change head coaches after the season:
|Team||W-L||Points Per Game|
|3. San Francisco||4-24||18.25|
Even With Beckham, No Explosiveness
The Giants have beaten New England in the Super Bowl twice in the past decade, and Tom Brady and Eli Manning remain quarterbacks on the two rosters. This stat should not reflect exclusively on McAdoo, nor exclusively on Manning, nor on the GM nor the injuries the Giants have suffered. It’s a team thing. But the coach and the quarterback are very big here:
• Times since the start of 2016 that New England, with Brady, has scored 30 points or more in a game: 17.
• Times since the start of 2016 that New York, with Manning, has scored 30 points or more in a game: 0.
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From his fan’s perch in southern Mississippi on Saturday night, Brett Favre considered the end of another top quarterback chasing him. Favre started every one of his team’s games from September 1992 to December 2010 … 321 straight, including playoffs. Eli Manning’s streak stopped at 222 games (playoffs included) when he was yanked by Giants coach Ben McAdoo in this lost season. So now the next in line is Philip Rivers of the Chargers. Rivers played his 188th straight game on Sunday. Now all he has to do is play them all for eight more seasons and then some, through September 2025 … when Rivers will be nearly 44 years old.
“My gut tells me I’m like you—I don’t know if it can be done,” Favre said from Mississippi on Saturday night. “But there’s always someone … It’s doable. It’s very hard. So many factors, toughness being one. I just think, obviously, you have to be good for a long time. When it comes to Eli, looks like it might be the changing of the guard, whether it’s his fault or not. I am sorry it ended for him. I love that family. Archie was my childhood idol. I was a diehard NFL fan because of Archie.
“I just hate to see it happen with Eli. He did the right thing, not wanting to keep the streak alive just to keep it alive. That’s not Eli. Will it happen, ever? I think another factor that will play in my favor is guys making smarter choices about their future, with all the information about brain trauma and CTE out there. Guys will wonder, ‘Is it really worth it?’ Maybe they won’t play as long. I never thought of it. We didn’t really talk concussions.”
Coincidentally, it was Eli Manning on the other side when Favre played his last game as a Packer. In the 2007 NFC title game at frigid Lambeau Field (minus-one degree at kickoff), Manning and Favre dueled into overtime. Favre threw a pick. The Giants kicked a field goal. Favre never threw another pass as a Packer.
“I never think about it being Eli on the other side that day,” Favre said.
But that game, in part, propelled Favre to finish his career with the Jets and then the Vikings. I asked him if he’d have some advice for Manning, considering whether to stay a Giant or start over somewhere else.
“It’s doable to move,” Favre said, “and it’s doable to play at a high level. I found it reinvigorating, honestly. For Eli, maybe it’s gotten a little stale in New York—I don’t know. I do know, or at least I think, that he will want to play for the Giants again. And he seems like he’s really healthy, and he’s in a place he can play a few more years. Wherever it is, I can tell him he can be great somewhere else too. You can love another team too. I did.”
Favre’s gut feeling: “I think it’ll be somewhere else for Eli.”
Maybe. I still think that depends on who coaches the Giants next year. If it’s a guy who really wants Manning to stay, and a guy whom Manning really wants to play for, I can see Manning staying. That’s why no one can know the answer to that question until tempers cool, and until we know the Giants’ 2018 plans.
I cannot blame you if you either missed the part of “FOX NFL Sunday” that made me drop my jaw, or if you didn’t get the impact I saw—Michael Vick back in Atlanta, at Falcons headquarters.
“My first thought when I drove up was, ‘I wonder if the gate code is the same?’” Vick said on Sunday from Los Angeles, after his interview of Atlanta receiver Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu aired. “I remembered it, but there was a guard there now.”
On Thursday, Vick made his first trip to the Falcons complex in Flowery Branch, Ga., northeast of Atlanta, in 10-and-a-half years. The most exciting player in football had his career in Atlanta dead-ended when, in 2007, he was sent to prison for 21 months on a dog-fighting conviction. He works for FOX now, and the network assigned him to interview the two Atlanta receivers for a story on Sunday’s show. He arrived Thursday and sat in the same indoor practice facility he used for practice with the Falcons when he was the biggest thing in the NFL.
“The last time I was there,” Vick told me, “was for a spring practice in 2007. Hue Jackson was offensive coordinator and Bobby Petrino was head coach. My last conversation, and I’ll never forget this, Hue told me, ‘Bobby Petrino says you’ll be the MVP of this league in 2007.’ This really meant a lot to me. I fulfilled one-third of my work with the Falcons that year, I guess, with the off-season program.”
But he was suspended by the NFL in August for the dog-fighting, and then sent to a federal penitentiary in Kansas, and the Falcons prepared for life without Vick. Petrino quit late in the season, enraging players and coaches. The Falcons were a mess.
“We’d have been a really good football team,” Vick said Sunday. “I think I’d have worked well together with Bobby. I credit [owner] Arthur Blank and [GM] Rick McKay with trying to find the right coach for our team. But I guess it wasn’t my time.”
The next year, Blank installed Thomas Dimitroff as GM and Mike Smith as coach, and Matt Ryan was taken with the first-round pick, and the rest is history. Vick was released by the team in June 2009, signed by the Eagles, and he had a meteoric tenure in Philly, making the Pro Bowl after some classic Vick games in 2010. Now he’s 37, adjusting to a quieter life in Florida and doing some TV for FOX.
But this wasn’t his first time seeing some Falcons. He’s gotten to know Ryan, and texts him before some games, and had dinner with him and some other players at Blank’s home in Hilton Head, S.C., earlier this year.
“I would say my relationship with the team is good—it’s great,” Vick said. “Everyone has moved on. I had great times in Atlanta. They’ve got a great team now. It was great to be back and relive the great moments I had there. I never want to forget about the things that happened; I want to learn from them, and I have.
“I think about my life now, and I’d love to say I’m on TV because of what I did. But it’s because of the people who supported me along the way and stuck up for me. Think about it … A lot of people have to be on board to hire me to do this, with what I’ve been through. I am so grateful for that. I’ve had a lot of mentors who’ve helped me. So I’m just trying to do the best I can.”
When Vick walked into the facility on Thursday, Falcons pass-rusher Vic Beasley was waiting for him. In 2006, when Vick had a particularly starry year, rushing for more than 1,000 yards and throwing 20 touchdown passes, Beasley was 14, a Georgian who loved the Falcons and Vick.
“You are absolutely my favorite player of all time!” Beasley gushed.
FOX got what it wanted—some good stuff from the normally tight-lipped Jones (“when stuff goes bad … just be men and don’t point fingers,” Jones said) and some star face time between Vick and players. Vick got what he wanted: a bit of closure he never received after leaving the facility and going to prison for nearly two years.
“End of the day,” Vick said plaintively, “it was good. I wondered for a while, ‘What will this be like? How will I be treated? What will happen?’ But it was all good. Mission accomplished.”
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.”
1. I think my first reaction to Rob Gronkowski’s dirty hit was that he didn’t deserve a suspension. He’s no Vontaze Burfict, no gratuitous offender with a long track record. But then I went back and watched it eight or 10 times. It’s gruesome, a forearm shiver from a much bigger man to the back of the head of Tre’Davious White, the Buffalo cornerback. Suspensions should not be doled out easily. But in this era of football, when the ills of hits to the head and head trauma and concussions are rightfully and universally decried, the violence of a hit like Gronkowski’s has far-reaching implications.
• It left White with a suspected concussion. Knowing what we know about the dangers of concussions and how, once a concussion is suffered, future concussions can come easier, it’s inexcusable for a concussion to happen voluntarily. Gronkowski surely didn’t mean to concuss White, but whatever he meant doesn’t matter; it was a purposeful hit to the back of his head.
• The NFL has to show it’s serious about policing hits that result in concussions, particularly those that can be avoided. This is the perfect example of a hit that had nothing to do with football, and it could potentially plague White in the future. If the NFL lets this hit be adjudicated simply by a fine to a player making $6.75 million this season, what’s the lesson?
• A suspension hurts Gronkowski, and hurts the Patriots. To deter Gronkowski from ever doing it again, regardless of his frustration over officiating (he said that’s what made him boil over on Sunday in Buffalo), the league has to come down hard … and show Gronkowski that a simple apology isn’t enough, and show the rest of the NFL that there will be no tolerance for bush-league fouls like this.
2. I think these are my quick thoughts on Week 13:
a. With the regular season 75 percent complete, my MVP top three: 1. Tom Brady, 2. Russell Wilson, 3. Carson Wentz. Why has Wilson jumped Wentz for the time being, despite having won two fewer games? The head-to-head performance Sunday night helped. But more than anything, it’s the fact that Wilson performs at such a high level with a line far inferior to Philadelphia’s.
b. How often does Alvin Kamara make tacklers miss—or make potential tacklers dive by him flailing at air? He is going to be a star in the league for a long time. Look at the way he just blew through the Kurt Coleman tackle for the Saints’ fourth touchdown against Carolina. It’s like Coleman, a sure tackler, wasn’t there.
c. It’s like the Giants’ defensive backs are playing with olive oil on their hands and arms and jerseys. Two absolutely gigantic drops of easy interceptions in Oakland.
d. Tremendous point by Tony Romo on Pats-Bills, with New England near the Buffalo goal line, and the picture showing Tom Brady fake-patting his center on left buttock. (There’s phraseology I never thought I’d use.) Romo made the point that when defensive players see the rapid movement of Brady’s left hand, they’ll think he’s about to start a silent snap count in a very noisy stadium. But if he doesn’t actually hit the center’s rear end but only appears to be hitting it, it’s going to fool the edge defenders and prevent them from getting a fast start off the snap of the ball. Very informative.
e. Big breakup of what looked to be a sure touchdown pass from Philip Rivers to Keenan Allen by Jason McCourty, who punched out the ball at the last moment. McCourty continues to show he absolutely was not washed up when the Titans let him go.
f. When Anthony Lynn dreams, it’s not about winning the lottery. He dreams of a competent field-goal kicker walking through the doors of his practice facility in southern California.
g. Jermaine Kearse: Catch of the day, with his one-hander going to the ground on the sideline against the Chiefs, channeling his inner Doug Baldwin. He’s been a good pickup for the Jets.
h. Memo to FOX: More Chris Spielman. I love his passion and his realness on the games, calling out loafers and interpreting the why of football so well.
i. Lions-Ravens, second quarter, play-action TD pass from Joe Flacco to fullback Patrick Ricard, Spielman disgusted with Lions letting Ricard bleed free from the backfield, the same as with an earlier short TD to Ben Watson: “They [the Lions] just have no communication on that play. This is something that happens all the time. They cannot defend the play-action pass on goal-line and short yardage.”
j. I went back and looked at the first TD, to Watson. Almost exactly the same. And the Lions didn’t cover Watson either. Crazy.
k. Detroit, biggest underachievers in the NFL the past three years: 7-9, 9-8, 6-6. Talk about a franchise wasting the prime of a franchise quarterback’s years. This is Matt Stafford’s ninth season. He turns 30 Feb. 7. He’s taken significant abuse.
l. Stafford isn’t without blame here, though. He was, at best, average on Sunday before going out with a hand injury.
m. Great third-down pass breakup by Minnesota cornerback Mackensie Alexander off Matt Ryan, in a key late-first-half spot.
n. There is no one better than DeAndre Hopkins on the toe-tap on the sidelines … and that includes Julio Jones. Jones might be as good, but he’s not better than Hopkins. No one is.
o. Terrific run defense by Tennessee defensive end Austin Williams, smothering Albert Blue of Houston to force a Houston field goal in a tie game.
p. Kyle Fuller hasn’t had many good games for the Bears in his career, but Sunday was one of them. Great cutdown of Carlos Hyde to prevent a second-and-one end-sweep conversion with the Niners threatening.
q. Horrendous lunging, diving, almost-to-the-ground desperate interception returned for touchdown thrown by Jameis Winston at Green Bay. This is a continuing problem with Winston. This is three years of the occasional brain-cramp throw. That’s got to end, or a potentially starry career will never happen.
r. Yet Winston made some strong plays in the game. All is not lost. He’s just got to take coaching.
s. Man, Jimmy and Dee Haslam want to keep the front office and coaching staff for another year. They don’t want to blow it up again. But this iteration of the Browns is 1-27 with Green Bay and Baltimore at home, then Chicago and Pittsburgh on the road. My gut feeling is the Haslams will do something of either partial or complete deconstruction, and be miserable doing it.
t. I wonder what gives Haslam, the biggest booster of the woebegone Vols there is, more pain: His college Tennessee Volunteers or his professional Cleveland Browns.
u. Cleveland at Chicago. Christmas Eve. Noon. Soldier Field. Provide your own laugh track.
v. Look at the stunting in the run game Joey Bosa did against Cleveland, smashing Duke Johnson to the ground for a loss. Bosa just doesn’t have a weakness to his game—including his instincts. They’re veteran instincts.
3. I think those close to the process believe the Roger Goodell contract extension will be finished by the time owners meet in Dallas on Dec. 13. It may even be done early this week, after the six members of the Compensation Committee finish calling the other 26 owners in the league. I’m told all six committee members are in favor of the final iteration of the Goodell contract, and the final few calls to owners could result in minor changes. According to one source close to the process, the message from the committee to owners is they want to put this to bed so they can focus more “on the important things we need to do as a league. There’s a common feeling in these conversations—the owners want to address TV ratings, attendance, no-shows, the anthem issues, civil rights issues. Basically, the owners want to get on with it.” Does Jerry Jones have time to mount any organized opposition to the Goodell deal? Does he want to still? Time is of the essence now.
4. I think it’s great that Arizona State picked Herman Edwards to be its football coach, and I mean that. I’ve known Edwards for 20 years, and he’s one of the most genuine and good-hearted people I know in any walk of life, and the players he imports to the program will be better human beings for knowing him. Now, as far as winning, I have no idea. Can he recruit? Can he get a good staff to teach and coach the recruits, especially in a big-league conference like the Pac-12? I just don’t know. And while I appreciated the fact that ASU is going to run the program like an NFL team, this definition of the formation of the new programs sounds a tad complex: “The department's New Leadership Model will be similar to an NFL approach using a general manager structure. It's a collaborative approach to managing the ASU football program that includes sport and administrative divisions, which will operate as distinct but collective units focused on elevating all aspects of Sun Devil Football. This structure will allow the department to form a multi-layered method to the talent evaluation and recruiting processes, increase its emphasis on both student-athlete and coach development and retention, and provide a boost in resource allocation and generation.” I truly don’t know what it means. I do know, Herm, you’d better have a quarterback.
5. I think I love every Charger uniform. The sky blue is my favorite. A very close second: Sunday’s deep-blue jerseys, deep-blue pants, deep-blue socks. Sartorially, the Chargers are running away with the AFC West.
6. I think this is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while—the combined forces of Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports and the NFL Players Association to find the NFL’s Most Valuable Performer off the field. You’ll see an NFL player who juggles, another who plays the violin, another channeling his inner Jimi Hendrix. The video alone is worth the price of admission. Lucky for you, it’s free.
7. I think it’d be nice to read this sort of column—in Time, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy wrote about how protesting NFL players are patriots—from an NFL coach. Writes Van Gundy: “Colin Kaepernick has been denied employment for the act of taking a knee to draw attention to the issue of police killings of men of color. Tommie Smith and John Carlos were denied employment and advancement in their post-athletic careers because they raised a fist on the victory stand at the 1968 Olympics. These athletes and many others are risking future contracts and endorsement opportunities to speak out on issues of racial injustice because they feel duty-bound to do so. These are patriots of the highest order.”
8. I think these would have been my four for the NCAA playoff: Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, Alabama … setting up Alabama-Clemson in the national playoffs for the third straight year. Take the over; 85 and 66 points scored in the previous two bowl games between the two.
9. I think, regarding Albert Breer University, I really don’t see how a two-loss team with a 31-point loss to unranked Iowa has much of a case to jump 11-1 Alabama, scarred only by a 12-point loss to an Auburn team that entered play Saturday ranked second by the college football playoff committee. I know Ohio State’s schedule was tougher, but I just can’t get over Iowa 55, Ohio State 24.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Story of the Week, by John Woodrow Cox of the Washington Post, “The wounds they carry,” about six Las Vegas-area high school students who went to the Route 91 Harvest music festival … and the scars they carry with them from the mass shooting two months ago. Cox follows the students to their Homecoming weekend, and the effects of the shooting. Harrowing.
b. Is it time yet to discuss anything pertaining to gun control or limiting the type of weapons or accessories use to perpetrate mass murder by shooting? Or are we still in thoughts-and-prayers mode? Do something, Washington. Have some guts.
c. The cost of Christmas trees has doubled in eight years. Nice look at it by Tiffany Hsu of the New York Times.
d. Hello, Meredith Corp. Be good to your new properties at Time Inc.
e. NFL Journalism of the Week, from Deadspin, on one of the firms overseeing the dispersal of money the NFL is using for the civil rights donations it’s making to players.
f. The problem with groups overseeing supposedly wonderful and worthy and transparent donations and causes is that if they too are not altogether transparent and wonderful and worthy as well, it looks like a sham.
g. Perhaps You’d Like To Have That Headline Back Headline of the Week: “Rose’s departure would be a huge loss for the NBA,” on ESPN.com. I empathize with the multiple injuries Derrick Rose has been through, and the anguish that he must have gone through (and must be going through now) while being injured so much since being NBA MVP, what, six years ago? But Rose, who has taken a leave from the Cavs, has played in 42 percent of his team’s games over the past six seasons. How possibly could he be a huge loss for NBA? He’d have been a huge loss in 2012 or ’13. But time marches on. The NBA’s been growing pretty well without him.
h. Coffeenerdness: Best coffee-related value of my year: Bought a 12-ounce Hydro Flask (one of those great thermal double-walled drink containers) for the morning coffee, and the best thing I can say about it is it keeps the Italian Roast tasting like fresh, piping-hot Italian Roast for a good three hours. I’m sort of a slow coffee drinker, and it’s annoying with a ceramic cup to have to microwave the coffee three or four times in 90 minutes.
i. Beernerdness: Had the Two Roads Holiday Ale (Two Roads Brewing Company, Stratford, Conn.) at a restaurant in Stratford the other night, and found it distinctive and lighter than a normal holiday ale, which I liked. Malty. Not memorable, but a nice dinner beer.
j. There is only one word for the college football coaching business, in which Jimbo Fisher, coming off a 5-6 season at Florida State, gets hired/legally hijacked by Texas A&M for a salary actually close to Bill Belichick’s: insanity. Three words, actually: absolute friggin’ insanity.
k. Run, or drive fast, to see Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri. I’m not a filmofile, but I do recall Frances McDormand’s common-sense greatness from Fargo, and this movie’s brutality reminds me of that one (no wood-chipper here, though). After a cold case of the rape and murder of her daughter is basically abandoned in a small Missouri town, Mildred Hayes (McDormand) begins to attack it. She begins with three billboards in Ebbing, Mo. Thus the title. It’s a bit uncomfortable, but it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while. Go.
l. I believe I have these things in common with Matt Lauer, and these things only: We were born in 1957, went to Ohio University in the mid-’70s to pursue media careers, left Athens in 1979, and ended up working in New York for big media companies.
m. Man, are there any married men left who didn’t hit on younger women? This is awful.
n. RIP, Jim Nabors. “Gomer Pyle, USMC,” about a country kid becoming a Marine, was a fixture in the King house from 1964 to 1969, which explains my weirdo sense of humor. Good man, that Jim Nabors. Amazing, to look back on it, that TV could have made a sitcom about Marine life in the ’60s and, to the best of my memory, never mention “Vietnam.”
o. By the way, Gomer Pyle’s girlfriend from back home in North Carolina had the best girlfriend name in TV history: Lou Ann Poovie.
Who I Like Tonight
Pittsburgh 27, Cincinnati 20. Still gawking at Antonio Brown from the past couple weeks, with his five touchdowns and 20 catches and 313 yards. What’s amazing about Brown is how productive he is when everyone in the stadium knows he’s going to get the ball. They’ll know in Cincinnati too. The Bengals have handled Brown quite respectably in the past three meetings. In fact, Brown had 169 yards and two touchdown catches last week … and he has 162 yards and one touchdown, only, in his last three games against the physical Bengals. I look for Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones to be physical with Brown tonight, and I’m sure Vontaze Burfict will stop by the say hello early in the first quarter too. I just don’t think it’ll be enough for Cincy to win the game.
The Adieu Haiku
The Goodell contract:
It’s a fait accompli, folks.
Jerry wants to puke.
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