- Playing for Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh rallies past Baltimore in SNF thriller. Plus Philadelphia loses Carson Wentz and Buffalo keeps playoff hopes alive in a blizzard
- Other sections include: the Chiefs’ magical ways; the great Miami voting controversy; the ugly ending in Jacksonville; Week 14 awards, stats, quotes and much more
• The best regular-season Snow Bowl of this century, with the best extra point ever.
• The best rivalry in the league producing a 39-38 result and a wild walkoff sack.
• The worst breaking of hearts in a terminally heartbroken NFL city.
• The best social post of the season, lasting all of 15 seconds:
“We got a W today!” Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, lying down, said just after midnight this morning from his hospital bed in Pittsburgh, the sheet on the bed pulled up to mid-chest. There are woo-woos in the background from family in his room as Shazier speaks.
“Y’all scary!” he says with a wide smile. “We know how to pull it off, baby. Here we go Steelers!”
The Steelers did more than win for their fallen teammate. They were planning a late-night hospital trip to see Shazier.
“Alert hospital security,” defensive end Cam Heyward told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Coming back from two scores down in the final five minutes, the Steelers made Shazier smile with the 39-38 victory over Baltimore, then the team FaceTimed with him as soon as the players got into the locker room. Shazier suffered a spinal cord injury a week ago in Cincinnati, and his long-term prognosis is uncertain. For much of this game, the Steelers showed how much they missed him. Ravens back Alex Collins sprinted around the edge on runs Shazier might well have stopped; many of Collins’ 166 rushing/receiving yards were daggers to a defense that badly missed Shazier.
I was sure when firebrands like Hines Ward (2011) and Ray Lewis (2012) left the game that the Ravens-Steelers rivalry would lose its greatness. If anything, it’s better. Harbaugh-Tomlin, Flacco-Roethlisberger, Suggs and the new Steelers’ defensive stars—who hopefully will have Shazier back one day for the fun. But there won’t be many games in this rivarly as good as Steelers 39, Ravens 38.
A quick stat for you: in the past 12 games of the Steelers-Ravens series, it’s six wins apiece. Total points: 275 for Baltimore and, you guessed it, 275 for Pittsburgh.
Three quick questions with Ed Bouchette, the longtime Steelers beat man for the Post-Gazette, who called at 1:35 this morning, driving home from this weird game:
MMQB: Was it a positive that the Steelers were playing for Ryan Shazier tonight?
Bouchette: A positive they were playing for him. A negative he wasn’t playing for them. He’s the Troy Polamalu of linebackers. Troy was a bolt of lightning. Ryan’s the same thing at linebacker … Calls the signals, leads ’em in tackles, makes so many plays, becoming more durable. It was tough, and is going to be tougher without him.
MMQB: What do you know about Shazier’s prognosis?
Bouchette: I don’t know anything. I truly don't. I’ve heard so many things, on both sides of the story. There was some optimism [last] Monday night in Cincinnati, calling it a concussion and comparing it to the Tommy Maddox spinal cord concussion back in 2002. But Maddox bounced back that night. That was nothing compared to this. Nobody has said how he’s doing. I know there’s been reports … but I haven’t talked to anyone who really knows.
MMQB: How will they do against the Patriots next Sunday?
Bouchette: I think they’re gonna get killed. I picked the Bengals to beat ’em. I picked the Ravens to win by one. They’re down 17-0 to the Bengals, and I think I’m looking pretty good. The Ravens are up 31-20 in the fourth quarter, and it looks like I made the right pick. But they’re an amazing team. They’re a confounding team. But against New England, without Shazier in the middle, I just don’t see it. To win, they gotta get in Tom Brady’s face, and they gotta score a ton of points.
Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling wrap up the Sunday action each Monday morning on “The MMQB: 10 Things Podcast.” Subscribe on iTunes.
A strange day in L.A.
Carson Wentz is such a good guy. Intimidated by nothing (“It’s just football,” he says every 15 or 20 minutes about the mega-jump from North Dakota to Silver Linings Playbook-land), happy for his teammates, caring nothing about his numbers except the one on the left in the newspaper standings. This is how good a guy he is: When doctors told him after the game they feared he could have an ACL tear, he got emotional—but still celebrated with his teammates when they came in from the NFC East-clinching 43-35 win over the Rams.
We’ll know for sure about Wentz’s fate later Monday, and whether he tore his left ACL diving for a touchdown that turns out wouldn’t count anyway because of a whistle on the play. But if he is gone, and if Nick Foles has to carry the Eagles’ hopes into January, it’s going to be the seventh significant quarterback injury this year for a team with legitimate playoff hopes: Aaron Rodgers, Sam Bradford, Andrew Luck, Deshaun Watson, Carson Palmer, Ryan Tannehill and Wentz. And it almost makes having two good quarterbacks the new normal for smart NFL general managers. Ironic, really, that the three quarterbacks on New England’s roster on Sept. 1 are now all starting, two of them for teams not named the Patriots. New England has chosen to go all-in on its 40-year-old 29-year-old, Tom Brady. But with so many quarterbacks going down, and so many teams relying on backups, the smart GMs are the ones whose backups are producing well.
Case Keenum’s 8-1 record over the past 10 weeks has made Vikes GM Rick Spielman look like a genius. Ted Thompson doesn’t look so dumb now for sticking with Brett Hundley (3-2 in his past five starts) instead of a veteran in relief of Rodgers. The rest of the relief pitchers are a mixed bag. But the Eagles have legit hopes of winning a Super Bowl, hopes that won’t be ruined if coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich can find enough good things Foles can do in the complex offense if he has to play the rest of the way.
But the bummer is this is the time the league truly needs new young stars, with the ratings down 7 percent and no-shows up and folks worried about the health of the players and the health of the game. The biggest star to come into the league in 2016 was Wentz. The biggest star to come into the league in 2017 was Deshaun Watson. It’s a very bad coincidence that both will be lost for the year, if Wentz’s injury is as bad as it appeared late Sunday.
Philadelphia GM Howie Roseman has done a very good job building up the roster around the quarterback. Alshon Jeffery, LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi have been front-line offensive additions, and the offensive line has survived the loss for the season of left tackle Jason Peters. To win, Philadelphia will have to be a top-five defense (it’s number three now) and play more ball-control; the Eagles average 4.59 yards a carry, and Ajayi will be crucial to keeping that up.
The season’s not over for Philadelphia if Wentz is lost. The Eagles should easily win two of the last three, at least, and cop home field through the NFC playoffs. But they’d likely have to beat two of the following four—Carolina, New Orleans, the Rams, Minnesota—to advance to the Super Bowl. And while the energetic and strong-armed Wentz would have been a fascinating matchup against Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger in the Super Bowl, Foles would have to play a near-perfect game in the biggest game of his life to win on that stage.
If Wentz is gone for the season, there will be black crepe paper hung over the Walt Whitman Bridge today, and there’s nothing I can do to ease the pain. In a cruel season for a cruel game, the Eagles will have to become the best running team in football to survive this.
There’s something about a snow game
Did anyone really care about Indy-Buffalo? Less than half of New York state was getting the game, and not even all of Indiana. But then the snow fell, and it kept falling, and the game was played as the inches kept rising on New Era Field in Orchard Park. Eight inches in all.
“I really don’t mind snow games,” Buffalo running back LeSean McCoy said an hour after the game from his locker room. He was thawed out now. “You feel like you’re a kid out there playing football, playing in the snow like a child. You get tackled and it doesn’t hurt. You’re cushioned. It’s kind of fun.”
The first- and sixth-most productive games in McCoy’s 133-game career, in fact, have come in the snow. His 217-yard day in 2013 against the Lions in the snow in Philadelphia is his best; Sunday’s 32-carry, 156-yard day was his sixth-best.
“To be honest, I haven’t had a day exactly like this,” said McCoy. “I have had better days. The 217-yard day with three touchdowns was in the snow. The difference today was, the winds were extremely strong, and it kept snowing all game. I just tried to plant extra good when I cut, if that makes sense.”
Not everyone liked playing in eight inches of snow. “It is not fun,” left guard Richie Incognito texted post-game. “Everything we practice all week techniquewise goes out the window. The snow basically turned it into a WWF wrestling match. I was just inventing moves out there, throwing people all over the place.”
Like the conditions or not, McCoy and Incognito combined to win the game in overtime. With the ball at the Indianapolis 21, and 1:39 left in OT, the Bills called for McCoy’s career-high 32nd carry. And the call was for him to go through the lane plowed out by Incognito, an excellent run-blocker. But really, how could anyone be great at anything on this ice rink?
Incognito had a tough job here. He’d have to make a combo block. First he’d have to push a strong nosetackle, Johnathan Hankins, off the path to the left, then fire out and contain linebacker Antonio Morrison. “That’s a double-block Richie’s got to make for me to make a good run,” McCoy said.
Incognito did push Hankins—lined up wider left than Incognito thought he’d be, so he had to reach over to push him out of the lane—and then, before McCoy ran into the lane, Incognito engaged Morrison straight up so he couldn’t detour McCoy. And McCoy was gone. “When I got to the end zone, I couldn’t breathe,” he said. “Guys all around me, and I was yelling, ‘I can’t breathe! Yo! Back up!’”
Bills 13, Colts 7, on the prettiest NFL tableau in a long time. “There won’t be another game like this for 10 years,” McCoy said.
One more thing for McCoy, who needs 39 rushing yards to become the 30th player in NFL history to gain 10,000 yards on the ground: I asked him if he was happy to be in Buffalo, and if he still holds hard feelings over the 2015 trade from Philadelphia. I’ve always admired McCoy for his honesty.
“I am extremely happy I am here,” said the Harrisburg, Pa., kid. “Buffalo has embraced me and my family, and they love me here. I love that. But I can’t lie and say I don't love Philly. I do. That was my home. The trade was wrong, and it was weird.”
See? An honest man.
Who would have predicted Kansas City 26, Oakland 0, after 50 minutes at Arrowhead on Sunday? The Chiefs, who had given away a four-game lead over their nemeses the Chargers in two months … who had lost six of seven … who were facing an Oakland team that had put up 31 on them seven weeks ago … who were coming off an embarrassing loss in the standings and in poise the previous week.
And then coach Andy Reid booted off the team for the week his best defensive player, cornerback Marcus Peters, for being such a child in a 38-31 loss to the Jets—throwing a penalty flag in the stands, leaving the field when he hadn’t been ejected, and returning to the sideline with no socks. The Chiefs, losing their poise so critically and so publicly. How very un-Reid like.
Biggest game of the season, with a suspended Peters, with a nervous fan base, against Derek Carr, one of the best deep throwers in football. Why Peters, and why now, before the biggest game of the year?
“I don’t weigh things out like that—at all,” Reid told me from Kansas City after Sunday’s 26-15 win. “I try to weigh what’s best for the team, and what’s best for the kid, regardless where we are in the season.”
It worked. The Chiefs, playing with the poise they lacked last week and in several previous weeks, scored on six of their first nine drives, and the play-design and play-calling was vintage Reid. With offensive coordinator Matt Nagy continuing his play-calling role, the Chiefs badly fooled the Raiders on the series that changed, and probably clinched, the game.
On the last play of the first quarter, Kansas City led 3-0 and had a first down at the Oakland 17. Alex Smith lined up in the shotgun, with running back Charcandrick West a sidecar to his right. Before the snap, wideout Tyreek Hill sprinted from left to right across the motion in front of Smith … but Hill wasn’t done yet. He pivoted and sprinted around the back of West and Smith. The ball was snapped. Hill looked for the ball, sprinting left. Smith pump-faked it to him. As that was happening, West motioned right and waved his right hand for the ball. Five Raiders either went toward Hill or took a step in that direction; two Raiders eyed and followed West. That left tight end Travis Kelce mostly alone in the middle of the field, minimal attention paid. And he steamrolled inside the 1 (originally called a touchdown, and then put back at the half-yard line).
Next play: Three wideouts clustered in a tight triangle split wide left. Smith looked that way a couple of times. Then he simply handed it to the previously slumping rookie Kareem Hunt, and he burst in for the touchdown. Chiefs 10, Raiders 0, and the lead was never in single digits after that.
“Houdini would have been proud,” Reid told me.
Rich Gannon had it exactly right on CBS, when the triangle of deceptive wideouts were flanked wide left. “Look at this Kansas City offense,” Gannon said. “They want you to look over here. It’s a big part of their offensive philosophy: illusion and disguise.”
Told of Gannon’s analysis, Reid, who is as open about his offensive philosophy as president are about nuclear codes, thought of how he could avoid answering with specifics. “Listen, that’s certainly a part of what we do,” Reid said. “We try to do things that have a disguise to them. Teams know that.”
So the Chiefs live for another day … and another huge game. How happy is NFL Network to have the 7-6 Chargers at the 7-6 Chiefs on Saturday at 8:25 p.m. ET, as a standalone game on national TV? On a weekend of terrific games—Rams-Seahawks, Patriots-Steelers, Packers (with Aaron Rodgers presumably)-Panthers—no game will have as much at stake for both teams.
Reid has been confounded by his defense playing well one week and offense not, and vice versa. Until the last 10 minutes Sunday, he got premier play from both sides. “I go in thinking we’re going to play like that every week,” he said. “Now, next week is the same deal. I’ll feel the same way.”
And now it’s the Chargers, coming off a rout of Washington, and the hottest team in the AFC west of Pittsburgh. The Chargers are 7-2 in their last nine, and Philip Rivers has been reborn.
“The Chargers are as hot as anybody right now,” said Reid, “and we’re going to be working on a short week. My mind is right onto the Chargers right now. I’m going to look at their tape.”
A few things you should know this week...
• Surprise! Registering to vote is controversial. The Dolphins announced late in the week that all 75 players under contract to the team—active, injured reserve and practice squad—are now registered to vote, either in Florida or in the place they consider their permanent home. I spoke to one of the first-time registered voters, 23-year-old running back Kenyan Drake, on Saturday for this column, and then praised the Dolphins on Twitter for their efforts to make their players more enlightened citizens. Drake first, then our populace.
Drake is from Atlanta, used to go with his mom as a child to vote, but said he never got around to registering while a player and student at Alabama, or in his rookie year in Miami. But the Dolphins brought in Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of the slain civil-rights leader, to address the team on the importance of voting, and Drake was convinced.
“It was very impactful to hear him speak, especially coming from Atlanta like I do,” Drake said. “I’m not the most political person. But I do appreciate the fact that not everyone through the course of our history has had the right to vote, and I think it’s important we take advantage of it. To have a positive impact as a football player is important, but you can have a positive impact by being a citizen also.”
I asked Drake about the importance of one more voter—and he says he’ll definitely be one now, in the state of Florida. “It’s not just about the national elections,” he said. “It’s about the local elections too. The people we elect locally are important in our lives too.”
Now for the reaction from more than 31,000 people on my Twitter feed. Take a scroll through the replies to this tweet and you’ll see the mixed bag. Some called it a P.R. stunt by the Dolphins. We’ll find out, in time, if it was. But to criticize an organization for trying to make its players more responsible citizens takes a special kind of oaf.
• NFL scheduling is flawed. Green Bay played at Cleveland on Sunday. Aaron Rodgers, the superstar Packers quarterback, was hurt and did not play. So, if you live in Cleveland and want to see Aaron Rodgers, you could have done that in his 13th NFL start, in 2009, when Rogers was 25. The next time you’ll be able to do that, if Rodgers is still playing football, and if he is still playing for the Packers, will be in 2025, when Rodgers will be either 41 or 42. I’ve said it forever: The arcane scheduling model of the NFL needs to cut down the time between interconference games. As it is now, it’s eight years between an AFC team’s visit to a given NFC team. The way to cut it down? Make all 28 non-division foes interchangeable. It’s nonsensical for instance that, between 2008 and 2017, Cleveland plays Jacksonville seven times and Green Bay twice. It’s simple to fix. You play twice a year against your division foes, and the other 10 games are a rotation, home and away, of the other 28 teams in the league. Instead of the Packers coming to Cleveland once per eight years, they’d come once ever five or six. Still a big gap, but not as egregious as it is now.
• You may still think Roger Goodell would be overpaid at $4 million per, and I get that, but I’m told it’s highly unlikely he’ll make $40 million a year in this deal. I hear the same thing about Goodell’s contract that Albert Breer does, and it’s basically that there’s no way the extension will net Goodell $200 million over five years. The deal, essentially, guarantees Goodell about $3.9 million per year in 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023 before expiring in March 2024, with an estimated 88 percent of the deal incentive-based. The fact is that if Goodell hits a few grand slams every year and reaches the max incentives in league success metrics such as attendance, TV ratings, income, etc., he’ll hit or approach $40 million. That’s unlikely to happen. At least not regularly. As Breer was told by one smart league person, Goodell’s likely to earn somewhere in the high 20s in a typical year, with a very good year in the low-to-mid-30s.
• How Goodell should handle the Steelers-Bengals situation. Most times these teams play, there are two or three or four over-the-top hits that we all watch and say: Shameful. This is going to make parents shudder and prevent their kids from playing tackle football. Or something like that. The fact that JuJu Smith-Schuster waylaid the despised (by the Steelers) Vontaze Burfict and then, with Burfict possibly knocked out, taunted him is despicable. The fact that Smith-Schuster did it with beloved teammate Ryan Shazier laying in the hospital, with no idea if Shazier would walk again, exacerbates the problem. The Steelers and Ravens have a bitter rivalry. The Steelers and Bengals have an out-of-control rivalry. Goodell should call both coaches together at the league meetings in March and say, calmly but firmly, that the league has tried stiff fines and player suspensions; now, if those don’t work and the bush-league behavior continues in either of the 2018 meetings between the teams, a suspension of a head coach or head coaches is next. I can’t figure any other way to stop what has been become a stain on the game. Let me also say that both of these coaches are very good men. I have been with Mike Tomlin and his family, and I have the highest regard for him. But this has to stop, and stop now.
• Kudos, Bono. I’m a week late praising Kyle Brandt of NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” show for his interview with Bono, the front man for the Irish rock band U2, which played the Super Bowl after 9/11. In that halftime show—Patriots-Rams in New Orleans—Bono wore a jacket with an American flag liner, and opened it up in his last song to show the flag, and the place went crazy. Brandt got Bono to say some interesting things about the NFL. “They say, ‘Don’t meet your heroes,’” Brandt told me. “They’re so wrong.” Before the interview, in the pre-production meeting with Bono’s people, they said Bono would like to speak about players kneeling during the anthem this season. “He was very graceful, and said some meaningful things,” Brandt said. Bono’s take on those demonstrating during the anthem: “America is not just a country. It’s an idea. It’s a great idea. It’s the best idea the world has ever had. And that’s why it’s okay for people to get carried away … and on that subject, if people want to show their patriotism a different way, you know, taking a knee and all that—I think people who care about their country can never be a problem. They want to make it better. The way they’re respecting their country, I wanted to pull out my jacket, stand by this country, say, ‘I believe in it.’” Bono also said Tom Brady went to Africa with him in 2005, no cameras present, to do some humanitarian work for Bono’s “One” campaign. “That, to Bono, made Tom Brady a saint,” Brandt said.
• RIP Ron Meyer. The former coach of SMU, the Patriots and the Colts died last week after playing a round of golf in Texas. I worked with Meyer after his coaching career on CNN’s NFL Preview show on Sunday mornings in the late ’90s, me on the road at a game site and Meyer, Vince Cellini and others on the set in Atlanta. Meyer was a barrel of fun. I really liked him. He didn’t study the game much after he left it—most often a one-hour phone call with NFL impresario/ace reporter Len Pasquarelli comprised much of his weekly homework—but he was fun to work with because he never took himself remotely seriously. Which brings to mind some of his best lines while he was in football. A few:
• On his impatience to win, when he was hired to coach the Colts in 1986: “Leave the five-year plans to Joe Stalin.”
• When young Dallas Morning News reporter Tim Kurkjian went to the Meyer house in 1982 to see if he was planning to take the New England coaching job after leaving SMU, to his wife: “Honey, did we pay the newspaper bill this month? The paperboy’s here.” (Hat tip, Gary Myers.)
• As a Colts coach: “It is not a crime to be beaten. It is a crime to stay beaten.”
• On his football wisdom, which he often made light of: “It isn’t like I came down from Mount Sinai with the tabloids.”
• In the midst of his Colts tenure: “I never applied for the job, but I don’t think Lee Iococca applied for the job at Chrysler, either. One day, someone just said, ‘How about the guy they just fired at Ford?’”
• Don misses Tom. From Sunday’s long New York Times piece from inside the Trump White House: “Mr. Trump still takes shots at Mark Cuban, a fellow rich-guy reality star, and expresses disappointment that Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback, has distanced himself.” Hmmmm.
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Ben Roethlisberger, quarterback, Pittsburgh. Playing against a Baltimore team that hadn’t allowed a quarterback to throw for 320 yards all season, Roethlisberger threw for 506—the third 500-yard passing game of his NFL life—in the scintillating 39-38 victory over the Ravens. The way he uses Antonio Brown (11 catches, 213 yards, in perfect concert with his quarterback) and trusts him down the sideline is a thing of football beauty. It’s still pretty wild to think the Steelers, down 11 to start the fourth quarter and down nine with five minutes left, pulled this one out. The win, in such large measure, was due to Roethlisberger’s game-long brilliance.
LeSean McCoy, running back, Buffalo. In eight inches of snow, with it not stopping for the entire game, McCoy had a career-high 32 rushes for 156 yards. The final 21 came on the last play of the game, a playoff-chance-enhancing touchdown run to give Buffalo a walkoff 13-7 overtime win over Indianapolis. Man, that was fun to watch.
Richie Incognito, left guard, Buffalo. On said final play of the game, the Bills called a power run on third-and-four from the Indianapolis 21-yard-line—though no one could really tell what yard line the ball was on; it was an educated guess through the storm—and Incognito had a double-block responsibility. He had to push 308-pound defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins out of the hole to his left, then step further into the rushing lane to erase linebacker Antonio Morrison. When he did that, McCoy had the clear path. A tremendous play in ridiculous conditions by a man who has become a stalwart guard for a team that wants to mash the ball.
Cam Newton, quarterback, Carolina. This game against the Vikings was the biggest of the year for Carolina, which had played lousy in other big ones—losses to New Orleans twice and Philadelphia. Fourth quarter, 2:33 left, Carolina ball, second-and-five at the Panther 30. Newton fakes the read-option, keeps, runs over left tackle, and goes 62 yards to the Viking eight. Jonathan Stewart scored the winning touchdown three plays later, and Carolina had a 31-24 win. Newton’s never going to be a 68-percent passer for a season, but he is going to be a man who impacts every game in different ways.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Sean Lee, linebacker, Dallas. The MVP of the Cowboys defense showed that in spades in the 30-10 win over the Giants. Lee had 18 tackles, and his interception of Eli Manning on the Giants’ last-gasp drive with 3:20 left in the game and a 13-point lead ended whatever feeble chance New York had to win. The schedule may be too hard for the 7-6 Cowboys to make the playoffs (at Oakland, Seattle, at Philadelphia), but they’ll always have a chance when Lee is in mission control of the defense.
SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Adam Vinatieri, kicker, Indianapolis. “He’s never kicked in worse conditions than this,” said Steve Tasker of CBS. Down 7-6 in the final 80 seconds at Buffalo. The Colts actually converted a two-point conversion with a pass from Jacoby Brissett to Jack Boyle, but they were called for offensive pass interference on the conversion. That caused a 43-yard extra-point try in the swirling snow and strong winds of Orchard Park, in the snow belt. His linemen worked like mad to clear the eight inches of snow from the launch point, and, of course, Vinatieri would have to attempt the same kind of kick that started his career of wonder … the 45-yard field goal in the AFC playoff game against Oakland 16 years ago. “Same amount of snow as that day,” Vinatieri recalled. “But it was definitely windier today.” He booted it from the right hash, and it looked like it was going to eight feet to the right of the right upright. Three Bills either began celebrating or made the “no good” sign. Too early. The kick hooked late and just inside the upright. What a kick. “Probably the best extra point I’ve made,” Vinatieri said. I should hope so. Sadly, he missed a 43-yard field goal try that would have won the game in the final seconds. But that extra point … that’s a career kick.
Trevor Davis, punt-returner/wide receiver, Green Bay. His deking 65-yard punt return with less that three minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Packers trailing by seven at Cleveland set up the tying touchdown and capped the 14-point Green Bay comeback. The Packers won in overtime.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Joe Woods, defensive coordinator, Denver. The high-flying Jets came to Denver after scoring 38 on the Chiefs last week, and the Broncos were in crisis, with eight losses in a row. Much pressure on the new head coach, Vance Joseph, and the new defensive coordinator, Woods. Both came through. Woods’ scheme and pressure got to the Jets all day. New York managed six first downs, the absurd number of 100 total yards … and, most importantly, zero points. The Jets never crossed the Denver 39.
GOAT OF THE WEEK
The Jacksonville fans. There is much blame to go around in the Seattle-Jacksonville game—Michael Bennett rolling into the legs of Jacksonville center Brandon Linder was terrible in that end-of-game fiasco—but the Jaguar fans were particularly shameful in the midst of one of their biggest wins in a decade. A fan threw something (it appeared to be a can) that hit Seattle wideout Tyler Lockett in the back, and several fans threw things—ice, and something green—at ejected Seahawk defensive end Quinton Jefferson, causing Jefferson to try to climb into the stands after the fans.
Quotes of the Week
“Now if this was a regular game, there’d be a yellow line there. But in this case, it’d be yellow snow. And nobody wants that.”
—NFL RedZone host Scott Hanson, referring to what a yellow line would look like on the snow-covered pitch of the Bills’ home field Sunday.
“This might be Geno’s chin. Not sure. A little soft. That chin’s a little soft there, Geno.”
—ESPN pregame show “analyst” Rex Ryan, holding up a marshmallow on the ESPN set Sunday, continuing his grudge against his former quarterback and current Giants backup Geno Smith.
Smith got punched in the jaw in August 2015 by linebacker I.K. Enemkpali, breaking the jaw and putting him out for two months. Ryan, apparently, has been going to Donald Trump Over The Line Quote School. Does ESPN really want that? Is that what stumping for ratings has come to?
“One thing that's come out of this that's very good, I believe, is the fact that owners are going to have a much more open line of communication with Roger now. At every owners' meeting now, we're going to have an owners-only session, and then an owners session with Roger, with everyone else out of the room.”
—Atlanta owner and NFL Compensation Committee chairman Arthur Blank, to me, on the tangible change coming with the new contract extension signed by Goodell on Wednesday.
“I want to apologize to Josh for last week in Buffalo. Our coaches work really hard. They’re responsible for putting us in a great position to succeed, so I want to get that off my chest. A lot of people see that, and they think the nature of our relationship would be something like that, but it’s really the exact opposite of that. I’ve been feeling bad all week and haven’t had a chance to say it, and he knows how much I love him.”
—Tom Brady on Saturday, six days after cameras caught him shouting on the Patriots’ sideline at offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
“I just remember telling the doc, ‘Save my leg, please.’”
—Chicago tight end Zach Miller, telling Bears play-by-play man Jeff Joniak about the moments and days after he was seriously injured on the field in New Orleans Oct. 29.
Miller, at his home in suburban Chicago, got emotional when he talked about Bears chairman George McCaskey. “Above and beyond,” Miller said. “Mr. McCaskey spent the first three days with me in the hospital in New Orleans. In ICU. Flew home. Think he was here for like two days. Flew back. Did just about everything you could have done to make this easier on us. Which you probably can never repay.”
“We’re facing a new reality in this state. This is the new normal, and this could be something that happens every year or every few years. We’re about to have a firefighting Christmas.”
—California Gov. Jerry Brown, on Saturday, after surveying the damage being fought by 8,500 firefighters, displacing 90,000 people from their homes in southern California.
Stat of the Week
The Giants went back to Eli Manning as their starting quarterback Sunday against Dallas in New Jersey after coach Ben McAdoo benched him a week earlier to look at the other two quarterbacks on the roster. The Giants fired McAdoo a day after that game, a loss to Oakland, and then reversed course, either caving to fan/billboard/airplanes-flying-overhead pressure or to try their best to get to 3-10 in a lost season. It didn’t work. Cowboys 30, Giants 10.
That leads to this question: Should Manning be the Giants’ quarterback of the future, with New York likely to have a top-five pick in a draft that has multiple first-round-projected quarterbacks? Since Manning quarterbacked the Giants to their last Super Bowl win in his age-30 season, 2011, here’s how he ranks against all other quarterbacks in the league (minimum 50 games played) in some major statistical metrics.
In all, 23 quarterbacks have played at least 50 games at quarterback since 2012. (Statistics entering Sunday’s games.)
|Category||Stat||Rank among 23 Qualifiers|
|Yards per attempt||6.99||19th|
Manning, then, is in the bottom five of passer rating, completion percentage, interceptions and yards per attempt among quarterbacks over the past six years. The Giants, whoever the GM and the coach will be in a month, are going to have a decision to make on their 37-year-old quarterback.
Factoids That May Interest Only Me
The replay explanation by Ed Hochuli in the first half of Detroit-Tampa Bay was 87 words long. The 15th word was “therefore.” The 18th word was “indeed.”
The explanation was 27.43 seconds long.
In their past six games, the Steelers have played on Sunday night, Sunday afternoon, Thursday night, Sunday night, Monday night and Sunday night. Five night games out of six. Has that ever happened before?
Rushes in Army-Navy game Saturday: 95.
Passes in Army-Navy game Saturday: 3.
Tweets of the Week
Overtime Record Including Playoffs— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 10, 2017
- Brett Hundley: 2-0
- Aaron Rodgers: 1-7
Highland Park QB John Stephen Jones was offered a full ride scholarship to Arkansas. New Razorbacks coach Chad Morris presented the offer to Jerry Jones' grandson immediately after HP's victory Friday night in the quarterfinals of the Texas State Playoffs.— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) December 10, 2017
John Stephen has a chance to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and play football at Arkansas. Stephen Jones, Cowboys VP and Jerry’s son, is John Stephen’s father.
Source: Stanton from #Marlins to #Yankees is “virtually done.” Close to finish line. Hear #Marlins will get at least Starlin Castro plus good but not top prospects if completed. Again physical review can still be part of this so nothing final, but close.— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) December 9, 2017
Man, you burned the midnight oil, Joel. Heck of a news break on Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees, in the middle of the night.
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 about his most valuable possession.
Philip Rivers, quarterback, Chargers. “Oh, this is a tough one. I’d say my truck. My 2008 F-250. It’s got 75,000 miles and people say to me, ‘Why don’t get a new truck? Why don’t you drive a new car?’ I don’t know. That’s just me, I guess. I’ve got these old boots that I can’t get rid of. They’re just comfortable, so why get rid of ‘em? I guess that’s why I love my truck. It’s comfortable for me.”
From “The MMQB Podcast With Peter King,” available where you download podcasts.
This week’s conversations: Carl Banks, the former Pro Bowl Giants’ linebacker and current analyst on their radio network, and writer Thomas George, author of the book “Blitzed: Why NFL Teams Gamble on Starting Rookie Quarterbacks.”
• Banks on his advice for Giants CEO and co-owner John Mara: “I'm going to tell him that he needs to get a general manager who is a grinder, a football guy. He's got enough suits. He's got enough executives. He needs a football guy. And a coach, I would recommend not a West Coast offense guy. Get a guy who is flexible with personnel, who understands how to adapt to injury and how to adapt to personnel loss and changes in your strengths because they need to get back to football now. It's not about what is en vogue. You've got to get football players and build personnel, something that has been lost, let's be honest. Picking players is not an exact science and most general managers miss more than they hit. But you've got to be able to have core foundation players that you can look back four years later and be like, ‘Okay, where are we signing this guy [to a second contract]? Because he is good for us.’ That's what I would tell John.”
1. I think these are my quick thoughts on Week 14:
a. I will never understand how the Seahawks thought Alex Collins was not good enough to make their team this summer.
b. One of the coolest drives of the year: The Colts drove 19 plays, 77 yards in 9:53 in a blizzard, and then used a 43-yard PAT from Adam Vinatieri to tie the game in Buffalo. That’s the most fascinating drive and PAT of the year. Easy.
c. Underrated player of the year: Since Arizona acquired Chandler Jones in a spring 2016 trade with New England, he leads the NFL in sacks (25.0) and tackles behind the line of scrimmage (39).
d. Speaking of pressure, Case Keenum will be seeing Kawann Short in his sleep for a couple nights.
e. The 27-yard T.J. Yates touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins had to be the greatest throw of Yates’ NFL career, abbreviated as it is.
f. Manti Te’o, 10 tackles. That’s a good career rebound for Te’o, now a Saint.
g. That was one terrible interception thrown by Matthew Stafford in Tampa.
h. I know it’s only two Niners starts, but Jimmy Garoppolo (2-0, 8.9 yards per attempt) is the goods.
i. Davis Webb inactive. Bizarre. Good line from our Conor Orr at the Meadowlands, about the Giants’ approach to quarterback play in this meaningless last month: “This felt like a logjam of competing interests.”
j. Ask yourselves this question, all ye who love the Giants: What purpose does it serve to play Eli Manning in the last three games instead of playing the third-round rookie, Davis Webb, to be able to add info to your 2018 first-round draft decision?
k. The NFL has to explain some of these ridiculous calls, dating back to the Monday-nighter last week in Cincinnati. Phantom calls. All over the place. Antonio Brown’s invisible 15-yard unnecessary roughness call against the Ravens last night. I concur with Sean Payton about the Sheldon Rankins roughing-the-passer call Thursday night; so marginal.
l. Not a good day for Marcus Mariota in the 12-7 loss at Arizona. Just 159 passing yards, 11 rushing yards, no touchdowns, two picks. He’s just not been the dynamic player this year we all thought he’d be in year three.
m. The Bears took Jordan Howard in the 2016 fifth round. He’s given them rushing seasons of 1,313 yards and—with three games left this year—1,032 yards. On a losing team. Nice pick, Ryan Pace.
n. Oakland, 6-7. That’s something I didn’t see coming.
o. Brett Hundley told me last week that one of his goals was to be sure the Pack was still in contention by the time Aaron Rodgers returns. Kudos to him—particularly for coming back from 14 down in the fourth quarter to beat Cleveland in overtime on Sunday. Now Green Bay’s 7-6, a game out of the last wild-card spot in the NFC with a tough slate (at Carolina, Minnesota, at Detroit) and Rodgers almost ready to return.
p. Deshaun Watson-to-DeAndre Hopkins is going to be fun to watch for six or eight years. Really fun.
2. I think I hope for the sake of the franchise, the Giants consider all candidates for the GM job, and don’t have David Gettleman’s name in pen. Not that I don’t like Gettleman; he did a very good job in Carolina. But he’ll be 67 in February. The Giants’ GM job has been sort of what the Steelers’ coaching job is. New York’s had three GMs since 1979, and none has lasted less than nine seasons; Pittsburgh’s had three head coaches since 1969. Maybe Gettleman’s the best guy out there, even if you can’t expect him to be there for more than four or five years. But I’d rather survey the field of GM candidates than pick Gettleman now and let the rest of the field go.
3. I think the combination of Nick Caserio and Josh McDaniels would be a heck of a catch for any team, by the way.
4. I think NFL teams will not have learned very much (surprise!) if Heisman winner Baker Mayfield is the fifth quarterback taken in the April draft. Or fourth. Mayfield is about 6'0¼", and scouts worry about his size. Let’s go back to 2012. Fourth QB picked: Brandon Weeden. Fifth QB picked: Brock Osweiler. Sixth QB picked: Russell (5'10¾" ) Wilson. Height, schmeight. Watch the games.
5. I think—thanks to Deadline.com, and relayed by Pro Football Talk—we’re now seeing what may be part of the future of the Rams and Chargers in Los Angeles. The Rams are really good, obviously. The Chargers might be good enough to win the AFC West this year. On Sunday, the matchup between the 9-3 Rams and the 10-2 Eagles at the L.A. Coliseum was the game of the day in the NFL—and, obviously, the league feared a laconic reaction when its pregame show, FOX NFL Sunday, went to the game site. Now, the pregame show would air from 9-10 a.m. West Coast time, for the 1:25 p.m. ballgame. When ESPN sends its College GameDay show to college campus sites, and the show is on hours before the game, crowds gather at the appointed time. But obviously, it was feared this would not happen with so much time before the Rams game. So a notice was put out on Project Casting, where aspiring actors go to look for work. “Calling all LA Rams fans!… To audition for a role in the upcoming NFL Sunday pre-game show, check out the casting call breakdown below. . . . Come out, bring your spirit, your best NFL gear & join us for NFL on FOX THIS Sunday!” More and more, I sense the NFL is going to have to resort to things like this to try to rev up the market.
6. I think the NFL and the NFLPA need to investigate—the same way I hope the Russell Wilson head-trauma examination from five weeks ago is being thoroughly investigated—the circumstances surrounding the 49ers’ brutal hit on Houston quarterback Tom Savage, and Savage’s reaction to it. Savage appeared to be twitching after the original hit and came out of the game to be looked at by the unaffiliated neurological consultant on the sidelines. Savage was permitted to re-enter the game for one series. Then he was looked at and pulled from the game, prompting an angry reaction from Savage. Bottom line: It’s good he was pulled, but should he ever have gone back in the game in the first place? This is a vital part of the NFL’s efforts to be sure no player ever plays with a concussion or symptoms of one. The program has to strive for perfection, and this didn’t look perfect.
7. I think Jerry Jones is not happy over the Roger Goodell contract. (Not that he would be.) But I just wonder what he’s got up his sleeve for the NFL meeting in Dallas on Wednesday. I bet it’s something.
8. I think the NFL would be making a mistake if it adopted the college targeting rule, which would provide for an ejection if officials judge that a defensive player targeted a defenseless player's head or neck area with an excessive hit, and would be subject to officiating interpretation. Read those last six words again: Would be subject to officiating interpretation. Often a hit that looks way over the top happens (as did the George Iloka hit on Antonio Brown last Monday night in the Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game) when a defensive player looks to dislodge the ball from a ballcarrier. It's a tough call. Often the defender could be aiming for a foe's midsection, but the offensive player could duck or lunge, and then the hit could be helmet-to-helmet. It may not have been the defender's intent, but it just happens. I want to protect players as much as anyone. I'm not saying this is a bad rule. But this rule, if enacted, should be used only on obviously excessive hits.
9. I think, whether you like it or not, I’m taking you into the mind of Andy Benoit right now. Andy’s our NFL tape nerd and true football guru—an incredibly valued and valuable member of The MMQB team. He’s got a fun and interesting life out in Idaho, and he’s opinionated about a lot of things. In his weekly midweek column, you see the other side of Andy. This side:
• “I have always loved holiday lights. If everyone in every neighborhood did even just a little bit of illuminated decorating, 90 percent of our country’s problems would go away. But one caveat: no giant inflatable decorations. They’re tacky and lazy. And, if you live near them, surprisingly loud. (They hum as they stay inflated.) A giant inflatable yard decoration is better than no decorations, but a single wreath (even unlit) is better than a giant inflatable yard decoration.”
• “There are two types of people: clean freaks and slobs. When forced to live together, a clean freak’s and a slob’s most common battleground becomes the kitchen. Clean freaks do the dishes right after eating, while slobs sit around and wait for food scraps to stick to the plates. This one isn’t a matter of personal preference—there’s a right and wrong. The clean freaks are right and the slobs are wrong, and here’s why: If a dirty dish is to ever be used again, it must eventually be washed. Which makes washing that dish an inevitability. You maximize the value of that dish if you recognize that inevitability and clean it right away. Maybe you don’t need that dish until tomorrow night, but by washing it immediately after tonight’s dinner, you have 24 hours of that dish’s cleanliness. That’s 24 hours that the dish isn’t sitting in the back of your mind, yelling Wash Me! It’s 24 hours where the dish is available to be used on a whim. If you wait until, say, the morning to wash it, you get only 12 hours with that peace of mind. All for the same dish-washing effort. Or, actually, for less effort if you wash it up front, since fresh food scraps are easier to remove than old food scraps. If a dish didn’t have to be cleaned, then maybe the slobs would have an argument. But it does, and so they don’t.”
I believe you’ll all join me in pleading: MORE OF THAT, ANDY BENOIT.
10. I think these are my other thoughts of the week:
a. Coffeenerdness: Three hours after putting the espresso roast (new for the week) into my 12-ounce Hydro Flask, it’s still hot. What great inventions—the coffee and the vessel.
b. Beernerdness: Beer nerds will hate me for this, but when I opened the refrigerator Friday for a pre-dinner beer (or two), I didn’t want one of the Colorado craft brews in there, or the Gray Sail wheat beer, or the Allagash White. I had a hankering for a Heineken. Still a good standard when you want a couple of lighter, crisp ones.
c. Football story of the week: by Jim Owczarski of the Cincinnati Enquirer, on the fascinating and new protocol to treat brain trauma, the kind of treatment that could help a legion of former football players.
d. I can’t wait to see Shohei Ohtani.
e. You’re off to a heck of a start with the Marlins, Jeter.
f. Opening day against the Dunedin Blue Jays is only four months away. See if you can build up your roster with some more minor-leaguers.
g. Heresy for a follower of the Boston Red Sox, but I really admire the job Yankees GM Brian Cashman does. He has the benefit of having the Yankee jillions behind him, and of getting players to waive no-trade clauses to play in New York. But he’s still got to put a team on the field to compete with other excellent teams, and he does it—albeit with those big advantages—every year. Did he need Giancarlo Stanton? No. Will Stanton’s gigantic contract eventually cost Cashman one of his young megastars? Maybe. Does another right-handed power-hitter fit his lineup? No. But tell me: If you could get a 28-year-old MVP for peanuts, and that 28-year-old MVP is coming off a 58-home-run year, and he doesn’t appear to have many major flaws except an injury concern (he’s played 120 or more games in one of the past three years), you’d get him …
h. … Even if it makes Jacoby Ellsbury a $23-million-a-year fifth outfielder (Judge, Stanton, Gardner, Hicks, Ellsbury would seem to be the Yankees outfield depth chart, barring a trade).
i. You exist in the world you’re given. Cashman excels in his. It’s easier to excel when you have Cashman’s advantages, obviously. But you’ve still go to do it.
j. So what do the Red Sox do? My advice: pray. And, I guess, overpay for Eric Hosmer or J.D. Martinez. But the Yankees are 12 wins better than Boston, even with one of them on the Sox.
k. If I were the world champs in Houston today, I’d focus on one starting pitcher, and one top bullpen arm. Then it’d be a great ALCS: Yanks versus Astros.
l. Obituary of the Week: from the Los Angeles Times, word comes that the inventor of the SWAT team (and the ransom-deliverer in the Frank Sinatra Jr. kidnapping) has died. Now that’s an interesting life.
m. Story of the Week, by James Sullivan of the Boston Globe, on bookstores making a comeback (yay): “We don’t think of them as booksellers anymore—they’re literary entrepreneurs.” Cool look at people enjoying books around New England.
n. Baseball Story of the Week: from Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times, on just who and what Shohei Ohtani is. The Japanese pitcher/hitter signed with the Angels on Friday, and he could be one of the great stories in baseball history.
o. One more baseball note: Tracy Stallard, 80, died Wednesday in Tennessee. Not much of a reason for you to remember him; he went 30-57 in a seven-year major-league career. But he did have one moment in the sun: He gave up Roger Maris’ record-breaking 61st home run on the final day of the 1961 season—a line drive low into the right-field seats at Yankee Stadium, the only run in a 1-0 Yankees win, played in 1 hour, 57 minutes. “I’m not going to lose any sleep over it,” Stallard said after the game. He pitched a great game against the eventual World Series champs. The Yanks won 109 games that regular season. That’s what I loved about Stallard’s reaction. He pitched well, Maris hit a good pitch (they both said), and that’s all Stallard gave up. No sense crying about it. I like it when competitors (you hear this out of cornerbacks a lot, when they give up huge plays even when they had good coverage) say, essentially, I’ll get ’em next time.
p. Happy 24th birthday, Jacoby Brissett. Lotta football left.
q. Happy 47th birthday, Errict Rhett.
r. Sprint, don’t run, to “Darkest Hour,” the new Winston Churchill movie. There have been so many World War II movies out, many from the British perspective, and so I understand if you’re fed up with the genre. But this one takes a month in the walkup to the war, and in particular Churchill’s monumental decision about whether to negotiate a truce and settlement with Hitler as Germany is on the verge of invading England, or whether he and his country should fight to the death over their freedom. It’s so interesting how everything and everyone in his war cabinet pointed toward appeasement and making a deal with Hitler … but how stubborn Churchill was in holding out. Gary Oldman is outstanding as the prime minister.
s. So Tonya Harding (Google her, kids) got a standing ovation at the Hollywood premier of the movie about her, “I, Tonya.” So … to the people who stood and cheered: You do know that a goon hired by Harding’s then-husband and her bodyguard tried to break main rival Nancy Kerrigan’s leg with a metal pipe before the ’94 Olympics, and that Harding knew about the attack before it happened and didn’t stop it. A standing O. Wow.
t. Save the Boston Herald.
Who I Like Tonight
New England 29, Miami 9. The Patriots have won 15 straight away from Foxboro. They’ve won their last three meetings with the Dolphins by 7, 21 and 18. Miami’s 1-5 in its last six, and the five losses have been by a total of 95 points. You’ll be able to watch your local news tonight, folks. And, with a Pats’ win, you’ll look forward to the game of the year: New England (11-2) at Pittsburgh (11-2) on Sunday at Heinz Field.
The Adieu Haiku
The kid had it all.
Supe dreams: Wentz versus Brady.
North Dakota weeps.
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